PART II: Chapter 1

03/16/01 Friday 2:30 A.M.

Sandi, Tiffany, and Stacy were sitting on Quinn's bed, helping her with her new ponytail. It was the latest fashion, she had just seen it in Waif and it looked really hot. Edgy, even. The top of her ponytail had been divided into three smaller parts, and right now each member of the Fashion Club was braiding a section.

Quinn was excited, and imagined how others would look on her change with new envy. Then again, a small part of her worried about being laughed at for being too edgy. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asked again.

"Quinn," said Sandi, "trust me. Would I lead you astray? ... Oops. Oh, I'm like soooo sorry, Quinn."

Quinn's eyes widened and she gasped in horror as she saw the little braided hair in Sandi's hand. It had come off her head into Sandi's hand!

"Oh, no!" shrieked Stacy, "it happened to me, too! Can you ever forgive me, Quinn?" Stacy was also holding a little pony tail.

"Me, toooooo," moaned Tiffany, also holding one.

"MY HAIR!" shrieked Quinn jumping up. "How could you rip my hair off, you BITCHES!"

Sobbing in grief, she got up and ran over to her three mirrors to see how bad the damage was.

In the reflection, she saw Matthew holding a gun right at the back of her head.

All her mirrors shattered into shards as Quinn fell screaming, the loud report echoing in her small room.

The Fashion Club was gone. Only Matthew was here with her now.

Quinn was instantly running out of her room, but he shot at her again before she got out.

While she moved at an impossible speed, she noticed that the hallway outside was incredibly long, and she heard Matthew chasing her. She had to hide, had to get help -- but everyone was gone. Matthew shot at her again and again and then she was at Daria's room, just as a bullet lodged in the door in front of her.

Twisting the knob, she dove in and slammed the door shut. The doorknob started twisting and Quinn grabbed it. The doorknob kept turning, and she couldn't keep him out. He was too strong and Quinn was already tiring.

"DARIA!" shrieked Quinn in utter terror, "DARIA, PLEASE!"

Daria couldn't come because she was in jail. She remembered that now. Everyone else had abandoned her. But Daria hadn't abandoned her and now she was in jail because of it. Saving Quinn had been a crime. And now there was no one left to save her.

Then Quinn saw Daria's gun on the bed. She knew she couldn't keep Matthew out much longer, so she jumped for it. She grabbed it and turned, pointing it at Matthew who had just burst in. She pulled the trigger.

And nothing happened.

She tried to get the damn gun to work as Matthew quickly closed the distance, but it was only an inert piece of metal. She'd do better to just throw it at him!

Then she saw fire and smoke as Matthew's gun went off only inches from her face. She fell, twisting and the gun shots kept coming as she tried in futility to get out of the way.

Quinn came to, twisting in her blankets, screaming.

Slowly, Quinn became aware that she was in her bed in her dark room, her sheets and blanket wrapped around her. Her heart pounded as she lay frozen, unable to breathe or move.

Matthew's right outside! I have to hide, I have to hide!, thought Quinn in her frozen panic. No, said a calmer part of her mind, he's dead. Unfortunately, the calmer part of her mind was having a hard time convincing the panicking part.

She realized her stuffed dino had fallen to the floor and she started to force herself to move to grab it when she wondered, What if Matthew is under the bed?

Quinn screamed, "AAAAAAAAGGHHH!!!" as she sat upright suddenly because the door to her bedroom opened and Quinn saw Matthew coming into her room.

The light came on. It was her mom in her night clothes.

"Quinn, what's wrong?" asked Helen. "Did you have another nightmare?"

"Yes," said Quinn in a tearful voice, before she started crying in earnest.

"Oh, honey," said her mom, coming to her bed. "Matthew can't hurt you anymore. He's dead."

Helen felt shame at the vicious satisfaction at knowing that and even wishing it had been HER pulling the trigger of the gun that killed him instead of Daria's. And the fantasy didn't come only from the desire to spare Daria prison by going in her place. But she didn't give any clue to this dark, protective feeling that had become the primary focus of her life since all this madness started. She just comforted Quinn who was crying in her arms.

"Would you like to sleep with me?" asked Helen. Quinn was way too old, but Quinn needed her sleep. If it kept the nightmares away, she was willing to indulge Quinn a night or two. Though she might make Jake sleep on the couch.

"No," breathed out Quinn. "I'm fine." Quinn broke the embrace. "I just wish these nightmares would stop, Mom. He's always there, him and his damn gun, every time I close my eyes!"

"Well, try to get some sleep, honey," her mom told her soothingly. "You know we're right here. You're safe." Helen bit her lip as she said that, knowing that, although Matthew was dead, Quinn was now being targeted by people with no devotion to law or justice.

And she wondered how she could afford therapy for Quinn when the legal fees were already promising to bankrupt her.

"Okay," said Quinn, again sounding as if she were 12 instead of 16.

Helen kissed her on the forehead and left. Quinn got up and went to the bathroom, washing all the tears from her eyes. Then, still afraid, she went back to bed. She left the lamp on her dresser drawer on this time.

Quinn lay there, her stuffed dino in her arms, thinking about the dream. Why didn't the gun ever work? She didn't know because she didn't have any ideas of how guns really worked. She just saw on TV and at the movies that you pointed them and fired. Just like she saw happen nearly three days ago. That was it. But there must be something more, or the gun would work in her dream. Right?

"Quinn," said an alto voice.

Quinn tried sitting up to see who was in he room, but she couldn't move.

"Quinn," said the soft, warm voice.

Quinn found she was very tired, but she could barely move her mouth to speak. "What?" she croaked out lightly.

"Quinn," said the comforting voice again, "you are not alone."

"Who?" She meant to say who are you, but her mouth failed her. It didn't matter, the voice understood.

"I'm..." the name was such that Quinn couldn't retain it in memory. "I'm your guardian angel."

Quinn felt excitement rush through her. Of course! Her guardian angel!

"You... saved me... the chandelier...." said Quinn in a light voice. If her mom was listening outside with her ear pressed to the door, she would assume Quinn was only grunting in her sleep.

"Yes, Quinn, I saved you when your dad let that chandelier fall on your head." The voice sounded oddly amused, but also very comforting. "And kept you from getting sick from the bad salad dressing, too. Remember?"

"Why.... where were you...." Quinn meant about to ask about Brittany's party.

"The party, Quinn?" said the angel, sounding regretful. "I'm sorry about that. I was saving myself for when you needed me the most. That time is now. I'm with you, Quinn, and you don't have to be scared of Matthew anymore."

"Safe," said Quinn, almost smiling. She could feel that Matthew had fled from her angel.

"Yes, Quinn, I'm here to watch over you."

"What's.... name?"

The angel repeated it, but Quinn still couldn't understand it. Then the angel said, "You can call me Buffy."

Quinn would've giggled, but she was too tired to do so.

"I'm glad you like it," said the angel sounding pleased.

"Matthew's.... gone?"

"Yes, Quinn. He's in Hell now. I won't let him hurt you anymore."

"Thank..... you," Quinn breathed out, before falling into the first peaceful sleep she had known since Matthew tried to kill her almost three days ago.



03/16/01 Friday 10:30 A.M.

Helen, dressed in her power suit, was driving Daria home from court. The bond had been $200,000. Marguerite was to thank for that, as she let Judge Oliver in on some of the facts that would be coming out of the trial and the possibility of future prosecutions and media infamy. The shady real estate deals he was involved in provided added leverage.

But that meant Helen was instantly out of $20,000. She could cover that, but it didn't leave much. She hoped the defense fund kept piling up or she'd quickly go bankrupt.

Right now, Helen wanted to get Daria home and talk to her privately before any of the defense team got there this afternoon. She was torn between hugging Daria and slapping her. She wanted to tearfully thank her for saving Quinn and castigate her for bringing such pain and stress to her life. But right now she just tried being positive.

She also didn't like that Daria was wearing the same clothes she had been arrested in. They smelled.

Daria finally spoke up. "Have the paparazzi been following you around this entire time?"

Helen smiled nervously. "Not too much, Daria. And it could've been worse."

Daria turned to Helen, curious. "What do you mean?"

Helen snorted. "Most of them are getting their big O's at the cabin owned by Matthew's father, where Quinn went skiing with that Fashion Club of hers. The police are showing off a bunch of guns and right-wing hate literature."

Daria's brows raised a bit at the cynical tone in Helen's words. Finally, she asked, "Is National Review getting slammed again?"

Helen almost laughed at that, more from her frazzled state than anything else. "No, Daria. Matthew's father seems to be involved with some white supremacists and neo-nazi groups, or at least he's on their mailing list."

"Hmph," said Daria thinking about that. "Then maybe they'll forget about me and go after him." She turned her head to face the front again.

"Not likely, Daria," said Helen in a voice that revealed dread. When Helen noticed Daria's concerned face in her rear view, she added, "We think there's a good chance the media will connect you and Quinn to Matthew trying to start a race war."

Daria was stunned. "Sorry," she said staring at Helen again, "did I miss something?"

This time Helen did laugh, but without humor. Then she sighed, "We'll talk about it later. All I'll say right now is that Fillman and a few police officers are hoping to use this to enhance their own reputations and destroy yours."

"Oh." Daria sounded both confused and afraid. Daria had seen Fillman early this morning, and knew he was dangerous to her. She was sure he didn't see her as a person; to him she was just an opportunity, a means to an end. He'd gut her, metaphorically speaking, the same way he'd gut a fish, and with as much thought and care.

"Don't worry," said Helen, trying to comfort her. "The truth will come out in court."

Daria's voice only betrayed a hint of her fear as she said, "An investigation showed that 13 out of 25 people on death row were innocent. How can I trust them not to convict me when I'm not even facing death?"

"Daria, the court lets the guilty off as much as it punishes the innocent! I mean, it doesn't always go one way."

"Thanks, Mom," replied Daria, "I feel so much better now."

"Daria!" shouted Helen, "I am doing the best I can. I know the courts aren't perfect, but many of the people involved are doing the best they can!"

After a beat, Daria asked, "Don't they like fine people for prostitution in courts?"

"What?" Helen never know what Daria was going to say next, but she hadn't expected that one. "Oh, the courts you mean? Yes. What's that have to do with anything?"

"I don't think I trust pimps."

"Daria! The courts are NOT pimps. The women are simply fined for the debt they owe to society."

"Oh. Like pimps do, only they call it a charge for all their services. Do the tax-funded courts also charge for their services?"

"Daria, please!" Helen was getting really nervous. If Daria were to present her twisted views to the court, she would fry. No one wanted to be called a pimp. "Pimps buy Rolls Royces and jewelry for themselves, the money the prostitutes have to pay goes to society."


"Parks, swimming pools..."

"Damn. I'll never be able to hide in another park, knowing how it's funded now. I just thought they robbed people and gave to themselves, calling themselves society. Now that I know parks are actually from pimping, it's even worse."

"Daria!" Helen tried reminding herself that Daria had a lot of reason to feel hostile to the legal system now, but she was also, peripherally, slandering Helen's own profession, too.

"Do you even know how this charge to society is exactly used, or are you just told how it's used?"

Helen did NOT want to go there. "Just trust them, okay Daria?"

"Me? Trust a bunch of pimps? Well, if my own mother says to."

Helen was getting a little fed up, but they were home now. A few reporters were there already. Helen hoped Daria didn't repeat this conversation to the press. If she did, they'd paint her to the public as an anarchist, or even worse, a libertarian.

"Here, Daria," said Helen handing Daria the keys. "I want you to go inside while I deal with this."

Daria was all too glad to comply. She went inside with cameras following her every move to the door, while Helen made a statement.

Daria was stunned to see the front room was a mess. There wasn't a lot scattered on the floor, but everything was out of place, as if it had been hurriedly set out of the way. The floor obviously needed to be vacuumed, among other things.

"Daria!" That was from Quinn, who joyfully ran to her, adding to her sense of unreality. "I'm so glad you're home!" She sounded like she meant it, as she threw her arms around Daria.

Quinn wanted to make sure Daria stuck around to watch over her, even if she did have Buffy to look out for her now. Quinn knew Buffy couldn't be there ALL the time.

"Uh, hi," said Daria, not sure yet how to take this. She finally returned the hug, but she really wanted to spend a month alone in a cabin to think about everything that had happened.

Helen came in, pointedly closing the door behind her. She smiled as she saw Daria and Quinn, but hid it before either one saw it.

Daria broke the embrace to turn to Helen. "What happened to the house?"

"The police happened!" shouted Quinn, getting mad, placing her hands on her hips. "They took my lappie, too!"

When Daria blinked at that, Helen said, "They tore the house up looking for bombs and ammo." She didn't add that they were probably hoping for narcotics, too. "They tore your room up pretty bad, Daria. They took your computer, too, or at least most of it. I haven't touched anything. I was hoping you could clean it up and tell me if anything else is missing. Okay?"

The sense of unreality was being replaced by a sense of violation. Without a word, she turned and practically stomped up the stairs.

When Daria saw her room, she was hit with anger, sadness, confusion, fear, and pain. The barbarians had violated her sanctuary. The sheets and blanket of her bedding lay on the floor with nearly everything else from her closet and under her bed. She slammed her door shut and began putting things in (relative) order.

Several minutes later (and a room that still looked like a mess, but the one Daria was familiar with), she went to take a long shower and get into clean clothes. Then she went down to the kitchen, where she heard Helen and Quinn talking quietly. They stopped and looked at her when she came in. There was a box at Helen's feet, and some papers and files on the table. Helen was drinking some ice tea, and Quinn had a soda. Daria got herself a soda and sat down, too.

"Anything besides your computer missing?" asked Helen.

"Yes," said Daria simply. After a pause, she clarified, "My journal, and my ammo belt." Daria worked to hide her sense of violation and anger as she added, "Oh, and my Montana cabin fund."

"Montana...." Helen began. "Oh, yes. The money you were saving." She grimaced, for she did not know what she could do about that. It would be Daria's word against that of the police, and she knew how that would likely turn out. Even if she could prove it, they could say it was "drug money," as many cops had taken all kinds of cash under that pretense, sometimes without even charging anyone with a crime. Only the naive thought that "only went on in Mexico."

"I don't suppose you can get my money back, can you?" Daria seemed to already know the answer as she asked it.

Helen shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Daria, but I don't think so. But I will see what I can do." She looked at Daria harder, "but please don't use phrases like 'Montana cabin fund' until this trial is over. Your words might be used to slander you."

Daria rolled her eyes. Many people would think well of her if she joined the BATF, but even a slight connection to a militia, or any group that didn't participate in the prevailing group think, was suspect. "Whatever," said Daria, "can you get my other stuff back?"

Helen definitely frowned as she heard what Daria told her. She was glad that horrible faux ammo belt of hers had been taken, but she had no idea what was in Daria's journal. She was sure Daria must be upset, even if she didn't show any emotion at this time.

"I'm sure I can get your journal and computer back," said Helen. "I just hope there wasn't anything they could use against you in it. You didn't write about this in your journal or computer at all, did you?" When Daria shook her head, Helen continued, "Maybe there's something in the files I got from Marguerite last night." Assuming they had even begun to look at the journal, Helen thought contemptuously.

Helen kicked herself for not getting through it all yet herself, but what could she do? She'd be glad when she finally assembled her team and wasn't just one person working alone anymore.

When Daria turned to Helen, Helen summed up last night's meeting with Marguerite. She knew Daria had a right to know and would want to be let in on everything. She was smart and disciplined enough to handle it. She hoped Quinn was, too; she sat silently listening to them talk. Helen knew she was going to have to prepare Quinn for the police, so she let Quinn stay. It would save time later.

Helen sorted through the box and didn't find anything, but she had a hard time seeing what everything was. She finally pulled several files out at once to go through them on her lap. She was surprise when she heard a thump. Looking down, her mouth dropped open as she saw a video tape lying on the bottom of the box.

Forcing herself to stay calm, she took the tape out and put it on the table where Daria and Quinn both stared at it in silence, knowing what it was. Helen continued to look through the files until she found something.

"Yes, Daria, there is stuff here." She shared with them photos the police had apparently taken of Daria's room, focusing on her skeletal theme items. Helen sighed, knowing she would have to block that evidence from going to the jury. It wasn't even circumstantial evidence, it was only meant to assassinate Daria's character, so she thought she had a good chance at suppressing it.

Daria's journal wasn't there, but there were photocopies of some pages. Most of it was just as superficial as the photos, but one entry at the bottom of a page caught her eye:

"Anyway, the sun is setting, the moon is rising, and I can hear the lonesome sigh of the wind outside my window--no, wait, that's Quinn's blow dryer. The future is an enormous question mark, and I don't know what lies ahead. I only know that if it moves, I'm shooting it. Daria."

Helen groaned. This wasn't proof, but it was bad. She would make sure to block this evidence from showing up. She let Daria see it when Daria looked a question at her.

Daria just shrugged. What's the big deal, she wondered.

Then Helen asked about everything that happened in the last three days and forced herself to listen calmly, despite her growing anger. After Daria finished describing her experience among Lawndale's Finest, Helen passed on the message Anthony DeMartino had given her for Daria last night.

Daria seemed shocked by that, but nodded her thanks to Helen for sharing it with her. Helen was pleased to see Quinn was touched by that, too, and had to resist the urge to reach out and stroke her hair again, the way she had last night while talking to Andrew Landon on the phone.

Helen turned to Daria to see her staring thoughtfully at the tape. "Yes, Daria," said Helen, "I want to see what's on this tape, too." She got up and took it into the living room, with Daria following right behind, and Quinn slowly catching up.

The footage started off with the date showing 03-13-01 8:33 A.M. Jane walked up to the Crafts building and looked around. She went in, and came out moments later with Daria. Then there was a cut, and then nearly the same scene showed the next day at 8:29 A.M.

This time, footage followed Daria and Jane into the hallways of Lawndale High. They hadn't even gotten to their lockers when they could see classmates running. DeMartino showed up yelling at students, but he somehow looked scared himself, even if there wasn't a clear image of his face. He seemed to be herding students, and a few teachers, outside. Daria noticed the nurse Jodie couldn't find as one of the adults running out.

The footage then showed Jane starting to go with the crowd coming near Mr. DeMartino, but Daria pulled her shirt up. She got something out though it was not clear yet what it was. Jane came, with Mr. DeMartino following, and she grabbed Daria's arm. Daria shook off Jane's hand and began running. Jane stared, and then her own arm was grabbed by Mr. DeMartino. She struggled as she was being dragged away, but her struggles seemed halfhearted. The scene suddenly cut off.

The scene changed to Daria taking a stance, holding what appeared to be a gun in a two-handed grip, and firing. There was no footage of what she was firing at. A minute passed, and Daria unloaded her weapon and put it down. Then she seemed to collapse on herself.

Quinn appeared and hugged her, and they huddled together for the passing of about five minutes. Helen nearly broke down in tears, watching her two daughters on the screen. Then Jane reappeared and reached towards Daria but didn't actually touch her. Another minute passed and Daria turned to her. Then the two Morgendorffer sisters got up without losing physical contact, and began to follow Jane off camera.

The scene changed, with the time going back a few minutes, to a school hallway littered with books and papers. It was otherwise empty, except for two people. Quinn was running, and Matthew quickly appeared behind her.

Matthew stopped and pointed the gun in Quinn's direction, and a hint of fire seemed to be caught on film. Helen gasped involuntarily as she saw Quinn suddenly fall, roll, and face Matthew who rapidly closed the distance between them. She was on her hands and knees staring up into the gun that Matthew now pointed down at her face, clearly visible, in a two-handed grip, almost touching her, or so it looked on camera.

Then Matthew jerked three times in rapid succession. Fire came from Matthew's gun, but it had jerked up, missing Quinn by a wide margin. Quinn pulled herself up a bit and seemed to be screaming.

Funny, Quinn thought, seeing this, I don't remember screaming.

Then Matthew pointed the gun at the ground, and fell to his knees. Then he collapsed, seeming to be only inches from Quinn, who was cringing away from him.

The tape went blank. All three Morgendorffers stared silently at the blank screen for at least two minutes before Helen used the remote to turn it off. She wondered when this footage would be released to the news hounds, and how much of it would be shown on the air. She would look into getting more footage of Matthew's attack added into the evidence and news footage both.

Especially, Helen thought, of how Matthew snuck a gun into school. She was very curious about that, although she it would be paranoid to think that the police had smuggled it in for him.

But she was now convinced that she would be able to clear Daria of all charges, other than taking a gun to school and violating the Gun Free Zones Act and Project Safe Neighborhoods. With all the other evidence collected, the defense attorneys should be ecstatic for everything except the federal trial.

The federal trial didn't have a set date yet. Helen desperately hoped that the BATF would choose not to press charges, but she knew that was extremely unlikely. The BATF was as zealous as it was brutal, and regularly played tricks so dirty that, she had heard, even other government agencies were shocked.

Daria was clearly in violation of federal law. According to that law she would spend several years in a federal prison cell. The reputation of the BATF made no difference to that.

Helen was also wracked with guilt and confusion. Her view of someone with a gun had been of people like Matthew, not Daria. Decent people didn't have guns. All a gun did was invite trouble, which was why Helen had made Jake sell all his guns years ago. She sniffed; she still didn't trust Jake with a gun. She hadn't changed her mind on gun control, she still believed it was necessary; but she wished now it could be achieved in a better way, one that didn't hurt the innocent as much as, or even more than, the guilty.

Daria was locked in a psychic storm of distress and guilt and anger that she wouldn't show to the outside world at all. She had planned for this since Matthew had shoved that gun of his in her face nearly two weeks ago.

Every moment came back to her with crystal clarity. She stared into that barrel, knowing that the extinction of all that she was could happen at the jerk of a finger. And others had been threatened as well. The only reason she hadn't run when Trent walked in front of her was because she was still frozen in panic. This ignoble weakness still ate at her.

But she had learned, with all her senses shocked into full awareness, an important lesson that night as Matthew turned to stare at all the guns aimed at him: The best way to fight fire is with fire.

She had gotten a gun the very next day, from a man whose name she would never reveal. She owed him Quinn's life, and possibly her own. Who knew how many other lives? And to her utter amazement, he'd agreed to extend credit to her, even though he would not be able to pursue the matter by legal means if she chose to rip him off. She doubted he would resort to illegal means of redress, either. He had trained her almost every day on how to use, care for, and keep a gun. And he had helped her plan what she would do if she needed to.

Then Matthew had shown up, yelling at Quinn. Daria had called 911 while Jane went out to tell him what Daria was doing. He yelled out loud at Jane and Daria both, though Daria couldn't make out his words. Then Quinn came on the phone and gasped that Matthew was after Jane.

Daria had hung up, gotten out her gun, and run to the stairs, going down to the living room ready to empty her clip into Matthew. There were no cameras here. Unless Quinn saw the entire shooting, then she would say the gun had belonged to him.

But when she could clearly see the front room, Jane was alone and the front door was open. Jane had yelled at her to hide the gun. Daria had done so, slipping it into the pouch under her shirt, and was going to the door when Quinn ran past her, crying. When she made it to the door, she had seen Matthew's car pulling away. So she had hidden her gun in her room again, and gone downstairs to wait for the police.

After she learned of the restraining order, her dread deepened, and she resolved never to be caught off guard by Matthew again. He had done so twice, and she felt a superstitious dread at the phrase, "third time's a charm." She would even take her gun to school until she felt that Matthew was no longer a danger to them.

She and Jane had discussed how they would do it, but there were so many things they hadn't counted on, or had considered unimportant in their inexperience. Not the least of which was this gnawing guilt that she had taken a life with a squeeze of her finger. She was comforted by DeMartino's message that her mother had passed on to her, but only a little.

Such power, thought Daria, should not exist in the hands of anyone. To take a life should not be so easy!

Meanwhile, Quinn felt growing anger and shame as she thought about how Matthew had controlled her so much, and in the end, tried to kill her, too. Maybe that was the ultimate domination? Someone else always had to save her. Someone else was always in control. She thought she was the one in control with silken gloves over an iron fist, but she now saw how everything she did was in response to what someone else did. Quinn was not in control, she was controlled.

On the footage, she looked like a baby cowering from Matthew. She hoped that it never was played on the news. All she did was run, cringe and cry. And that's about all she had done since she came back. That someone tried to kill her filled her with inexplicable shame.

Quinn resolved to grow up and learn to take care of herself. She would get a gun just like Daria had as soon as she possibly could.

I wonder how much Daria will charge to help me get my own gun?, Quinn mused. It's going to have be a really chic gun, though, one that can double as a fashion accessory, like on all those TV shows..

"Daria," asked Helen suddenly, "where did you get your gun?"

"I'm sorry," said Daria, "but that information is classified."

"Daria!" Helen was in no mood for this. "If I'm to help you, I need to know where you got the gun!"

Daria looked down for a minute, and then looked back up. "I got it at a gun show in Newport." That was a lie, of course, but there had been a show there last Friday and Saturday, when she was supposedly with Jane, and no one knew when she got her gun. But she felt terrible because she knew she was likely to get people she had never met in trouble. But she wasn't about to turn on the one who had helped her.

Besides, she told herself, squirming, those gun shows probably do sell to a lot of shady characters.

Helen crossed her arms and looked as if she wasn't sure she believed what Daria just told her.

Finally she said, "Fine, Daria, let's at least get your story straight." And with that ambiguous statement, Daria made up details from what she had learned of the show on the net.

She'd alone, borrowing the Lane car under false pretenses, claiming a private medical exam in the same town as the gun show, hinting that it had to do with an unexpected pregnancy. No, she didn't remember the dealer well because she had paid more attention to the gun. No, she couldn't describe him except that he was an "older, white guy conservatively dressed." He had given her tips on how to shoot it and she had practiced using it.

"And the Teflon?"

Daria swallowed. "I read about that on the net, Mom. I bought some of that at the Handy Dandy."

True enough. The stuff was also used in cleaning skillets. She wouldn't reveal that her source had put it on for her and showed her how to do it for herself in the future.

And so it went, until there was a knock at the door. "Oh, dear," said Helen getting up, "that's probably your defense team, Daria." Helen recognized that knock.

"Defense team?" Daria sounded surprised, and even a little scared. "Um, Mom," said Daria nervously, "I.... I don't want to talk to anyone right now!"

"Daria, this is important!" When Helen saw Daria showing rare vulnerability in her eyes, she relented, trying not to grind her teeth. "For now, Daria." Then her face scrunched. "It's past noon. Daria, will you please fix you and Quinn something?" When Daria looked at her blankly, she added, "Please?"

Daria sighed and went into the kitchen with Quinn following.

"So when are you going back to school?" asked Daria.

Quinn didn't reply for a minute and Daria didn't press her. Then Quinn said, "They're just having counseling today. But I don't think I want to be weak anymore. Can you show me how to be strong like you, Daria?"

Daria almost laughed. Her, strong? She was barely strong enough to keep herself from screaming and sobbing nonstop 24/7 these days. Daria fished out two microwavable pizzas and started preparing them. "I don't know if I'm that strong, Quinn," said Daria finally, and a little weakly.

Quinn didn't believe it, but she could see Daria was struggling with a lot. She let it go for now. She still had Buffy for the time being. Still, Buffy left her once and might do so again, and she wanted to be ready to take care of herself.

While the first pizza was being nuked, Daria turned to Quinn and asked, "So is the Fashion Club going to declare Kevlar in season?"

"Ha, ha," said Quinn weakly. "They haven't called me at all." She sounded a little hurt.

Daria was getting two more sodas out when she asked, "Have you called them?"

Quinn shook her head. "No.... I'm not sure why. I think I'll talk to them Monday."

The microwave dinged, and Daria put it on the table. "Enjoy."

Quinn was momentarily flushed. She would've gotten it! But then she almost never did. She ate it silently while existing in some newly discovered and unexplored part of her inner world, a part of herself that no one, not even Quinn, had ever seen before.

While Daria was zapping her own pizza, she called Jane. Jane picked up after three rings. "Hello?"

"Hey," said Daria.

"DARIA!" Jane sounded happy. "I've been waiting here today hoping I'd hear from you!"

"So you didn't go to school, either?"

Jane snorted. Then she said, "You're out of jail aren't you?"

"Yeah," said Daria. "Listen, they didn't place you in a cell with anyone, did they?"

"Yeah," said Jane, "someone named Greta. She was either a cop or someone trying to turn in information in exchange for something, so I just kept telling her about my art work until she begged me to shut up."

"Good," said Daria relieved. "I had a Beth do the same. I hope she doesn't reveal to the police that I got my gun from S-Mart."

Jane started laughing, "Oh, you didn't tell her Ash got it for you, did you?"

Daria and Jane had watched Army of Darkness on a recent Bad Movie Night. Daria, the proud owner of a new .32 Mark II pistol, liked the scene where Ash is being tormented by his evil counterpart. The evil counterpart stops when he gets a shotgun shoved in his face and is blown away. "Good, bad," said Ash philosophically, "I'm the guy with the gun."

"I did tell her that," said Daria. "I can only hope she doesn't turn me in." She smiled into the phone a little. "I so hope we're not being listened in on and recorded right now," said Daria with fake concern, "maybe we shouldn't talk about that over the phone."

"Probably a good policy," said Jane getting more serious. "The police tore our house up and took our computer. Not that you can tell. Trent's wondering if we'll ever get the smell of bacon out."

"They tore up my house, too," said Daria frowning. "But I don't think they found anything. They took my computer, but anything they'll find will be circumstantial at best. They got a lot of stuff, but nearly everything they're trying to use against me is almost laughable, and Mom seems to think she can get me off on everything. At least on this trial."

"And if they find all the bodies we hid, they'll never take us alive, freaking friend."

"Don't even joke about that. If they get that on tape, they'll use it as evidence against us."

"What's with this we, kemosabe?"

"They're probably not listening it, but I'd rather be overly paranoid now than regretful later."

"Have you called Tom yet?" asked Jane, sounding more serious. "I hear his family is suspected of being drug lords."

Daria snorted, having heard about that from her mom. "As stupid as the Lawndale PD is," said Daria, "it's no wonder they still can't catch that burglar that keeps stealing all the appliances in crash and dash burglaries."

Jane decided against saying she had the computers and coffee pot from the old school Lawndale's cybercafé and later coffeehouse safely stashed away. So instead, she told Daria, "I talked to Mrs. Sloane. They already know about being suspects, and she told me not to call over there again, nor are you to call. Just thought you should know."

Daria frowned deeply at that, but shrugged it off. "It might be for the best anyway," she murmured.

"Hey," said Jane, "I'm going to Dega Street soon to pick up some new supplies, since a lot of my old paints were ruined by some tests the police put them through. Then Mom yelled at me yesterday and now she's feeling all guilty. Gave me a bit of cash to get set back up. You want to come?"

"I want to," said Daria, "but there's a coven of lawyers in the living room that wouldn't let me."

"When can we get together?"

"Maybe this afternoon? But I'm not sure really."

Quinn washed her own plate and left, reminding Daria of her pizza. She got it out, much cooled, and started nibbling on it while she kept talking.

"You coming to school on Monday?" asked Jane.

"I don't know," said Daria. "I haven't heard anything on that. I'd be kinda surprised if they let me, though."

"Yeah," said Jane, "well if they won't let you go, then I don't go. It's called solidarity."

"Sounds more like a useful excuse."

"Whatever," said Jane sounding uncomfortable all of a sudden. "Hey, call me as soon as we can get together, okay? I want to go get my art supplies."

Daria felt disappointment, and wondered if she had said something. "Okay, freaky friend."

"Hey," said Jane encouragingly, "hang in there. We'll be watching Sick, Sad World together in no time."

They said their good byes then, and Daria hung up envying Jane being able to go to Dega Street. She felt as if her own home had become a jail cell of another sort, but one she wasn't sure she dared leave yet. Especially if those reporters don't go away, thought Daria glancing out the window.


03/16/01 FRIDAY 2:30 P.M.

Jane was almost through shopping when she stopped in Heresies, Lawndale's newest (and coolest) bookstore. If someone thought a book to be immoral or dangerous, you could find it here. It was almost as big as Books by the Ton.

One of the books on sale was The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. Flipping through it, Jane thought it was an amazingly well-written manual on how to learn without school and enjoy doing it. There were even comprehensive chapters on overcoming legal problems, getting into top colleges, and just about anything Jane could think of wanting to know.

She found another one and bought both of them. Daria almost certainly wasn't going to be allowed in school for awhile, and if that were the case, then Jane wasn't going to go, either. Maybe she'd give one book to Daria as a gift and give herself a gift of dropping out of school!

Finished with her shopping, she left and started walking back to Dega Street when she overheard some of the local "artistes" talking, and the name Daria came up more than once. She looked to see five artist-types, mid-20's, drinking cappuccinos and lattes at one of the outdoor tables of one of the coffee bars. She casually went to sit at the nearest table and listened in, setting her bags beside her as if she needed to rest her arms.

"Yeah," said a red-haired woman, "they say she got her gun from the same right-wing group Matthew was in. The real reason she shot Matthew is because she had just found out he had been dating her sister on the side."

"And Matthew and Daria were a couple?" This from a blonde.

"Yeah," said the redhead, "I heard he lured her into the group, but then started seeing her sister, too."

"I heard," said a lanky man with long, brown hair in a ponytail, "That Daria and Matthew were to convert Quinn, but when she refused and threatened to turn them all in, the group decided Quinn had to die! But Daria couldn't let Matthew kill her own sister while she watched. So at the last minute, she took out Matthew instead."

Jane should be furious. But this was funny. It was too much like seeing an episode of Sick, Sad World being made up right in front of her.

"What cause or group was this?" asked Jane, a smirk on her face, "Some people dabbling in Nazi rituals, or what?"

"Not dabbling," said a dark-skinned man with Indian features excitedly, while pretending to be shocked, outraged, and disappointed. "Neo-Nazi all the way. They were champions of the second amendment while protesting the IRS!"

"Hmph," said Jane, "Why would Nazis want the Second Amendment, and oppose the IRS?"

"They want minorities to keep killing themselves," said the redhead in a tone suggesting she thought Jane wasn't sophisticated enough for them.

"And that's why they want white people to have guns, too? Besides, how can you have a Nazi police state without taxes?" Jane sensed a shift as the others were shutting her out. No fair using logic, she thought.

The dark skinned man spoke up. "Daria, a lifelong outcast, is of German descent. Which you would know if you knew her last name was MORGENDORFFER. It's German for Morning Village. Germans can't help but stereotype people. Many of them even go as far as to hate them. Like once they were against the Jews, and now the Germans are against the Scientologists. It's in their blood."

The others murmured assent. Jane wondered if they were literally insane, or if this was just another aspect of human stupidity she hadn't experienced until now.

"I guess you aren't of German descent," said Jane wryly, "since you don't stereotype or persecute others for their views or ancestors. But what about Quinn? Do you think Quinn was a random mutation?"

"You don't believe us, do you?" said the blonde, "You think the media are involved in some huge conspiracy? So you get your news off the internet or something?"

Jane blinked. This is on the news? she wondered in shock. That District Attorney lady had talked about the police thinking Daria and Jane were drug dealers with Matthew; she didn't say anything about Nazis. Are they saying I'm a Nazi, too?

She filed that away to think about later, but she felt her mouth getting a little dry. "A conspiracy to sell papers and air time," said Jane, a little more subdued, "Sure. That's why they try to upset and entertain people so much. To make money, and to be more valuable to their advertisers by drawing you in with chicanery and fear. That's why I prefer Sick, Sad World. It sorta spoofs all the other news programs."

"You watch Sick, Sad World?" asked the redhead in a tone that said Jane really needed to evolve.

"Hmmm," said the pony-tailed man. "The corporations do own the media and thus control what they put out, and by extension the rest of us. They also own many of the politicians. I suppose that might count as conspiratorial."

"That's different!" the redhead nearly shouted. "I'm talking about FALSE conspiracies."

"Ah," said Jane, "when someone, like say the World Health Organization, says fluoride is poisonous and corporations shouldn't force taxpayers to drink it at their own expense, that's a no-good conspiracy. But if someone, like say the media owned by the evil corporations, says that tobacco companies put a chemical in cigarettes to make them more addictive, that's a real conspiracy?"

Every one of them glared at her. Jane was finding this fun, but also scary. Just then she saw a squad car driving by slowly. She resisted the urge to wave at them, or act like she was selling stuff she didn't want the cops to know about.

"The SPLC!" shouted the blonde suddenly, bringing Jane's attention back to the group. "It's on the SPLC web site. They showed pictures of Daria, Quinn, Matthew, Jim, the KKK, and several Nazi leaders together."

"Really? This news off the internet instead of the media mired in the corporate conspiracy?" said Jane rhetorically. "Aren't the SPLC and ADL both organizations infamous for mostly quoting each other, and simply taking a few bad examples and painting everyone else with the same wide brush? And then you must send them money so they can fight these evils -- evils that they alone can tell you about?" Casual contempt dripped from her voice.

"That's not true. I've read about these militias in at least seven different journals." The dark-skinned man sounded annoyed.

"Sure," Jane nodded, "but did you check the footnotes? Every reference I've seen, no matter where I read it, was quoting either SPLC or ADL or both."

Daria had complained about this not too long ago, which was why Jane had the replies on the tip of her tongue, but a small part of her mind suddenly wondered, What if she really was dabbling in something weird with that secretive gun nut? And have the police finally caught him, too?

She felt a hint of sweat at that thought, for that gun nut knew her name and Trent's, too. He may be really smart with a bit of idealism to his character, but he was also a mental case that was a bit too excitable. Could he really keep himself hidden? And if not, would the police find out about Jane's connection to him?

"Do you have a point?" asked the lanky one in a peevish tone, bringing Jane back out of her thoughts.

That sounded familiar to Jane, but she couldn't place it. "Never mind. You say they were together? How did you recognize Daria and Quinn with their white robes and hood on?"

"Um, no," said the blonde hesitantly, "They weren't together exactly, but the SPLC wouldn't have put the pictures side by side if they didn't belong together."

Jane giggled. Then stopped and said, "Oops, that didn't even pass the giggle test." She actually felt a little better, since whatever had just come out on the news was, at best, vague. She remembered the ridiculous reports that had come out right after the shooting at Lawndale High. They were just as confused as what she was hearing now.

"What!?" asked the redhead, clearly annoyed with Jane.

"Never mind," Jane repeated. "I was just wondering, what if instead of fearing the so-called Nazi conspirators, you were fearing the Jewish conspirators? Or, if instead of right-wing hate mongers raining terror down on the land, you feared minority mobs raining terror down on the land? Would you be any different from how you are now?"

The pony-tailed man definitely spoke to her as if she were a slow child. "We know that their group was into guns and the shooting, ahem, sports. That seems enough to be suspicious about right there. Many second amendment fanatics are known racists, antigovernment reactionaries, and disciples of Hitler."

"Q.E.D.," said Jane trying not to laugh, "I'll try to remember the difference so that my particular hates and prejudices remain fashionable. And I'll keep it in mind the next time I see some cops or soldiers that seem to appreciate their guns too much. But you didn't answer the question." The casual contempt was back in her voice, and she told herself to cool it. But now she was starting to get mad, too.

They were all glaring at her, and she was starting to feel what her mom called "hate vibes" radiating from these champions of the oppressed, the compassionate spokes-entities of the weak. They didn't answer the question and weren't going to, either. So there.

She wondered how they'd have handled all the discrepancies that Daria could have pointed out to them. Probably just say it was Nazi propaganda and not think about it. That's the beauty of ad hominem attacks, Jane mused to herself.

But if having a gun meant you were a Nazi, Jane wondered with a sense of resentment, what would they think of art being equated with Hitler? Pasting a serious expression on her face, she asked, "But on a related note, what do you think about Hitler's career as an artist?"

All five of them flinched as one, as though they had all been slapped. Obviously they got the reference. They pointedly got up and moved to the next table. They formed a much tighter circle to continue their gossip.

Jane shook her head in amazement. That conversation was downright Dada-esque. This was suddenly not so funny-yet-infuriating, but simply depressing. For the first time, she really could imagine people hysterically burning witches at the stake. The world really was an asylum.

She wanted to get herself and her supplies home. But since she had some more money left, she decided to get some cappuccino pillow packs for Trent, first.

Jane went home and turned on the TV. While she let the TV drone on, she set up her supplies and started to paint..

She saw that Jim Foster was apparently some kind of Nazi, and Matthew was trying to start a race war with the shooting. The reporter insinuated that Daria and Quinn were selling methamphetamines with Matthew to raise the money for the guns and ammo to start the said race war, but no one knew why Matthew tried to shoot Quinn and got shot himself by Daria in the end. Some suggested that Matthew tried shooting Quinn because she was "too weak" to shoot members of minorities, and Daria shot him at that point.

She noted that the talking head never said any of this. It was all "reports indicate" or "reliable sources have informed the authorities," along with a lot of "maybes" and "possiblies" and "probabalies"

She watched, incredibly tense, waiting to see if her name would come up. It didn't, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She finally switched to some cartoons and went to look out her window, grateful that there hadn't been any reporters waiting for her when she got home. She was pretty sure that they'd want to interview her before long.

And Trent, she thought.

She thought she should talk to Trent, but he was still asleep in his room. He had a gig tonight, so she figured she could tell him when he woke up. She went back to her room and continued her painting.

A bit later, her canvass had a rough a scene of Daria tied to a stake with a Hitler mustache being placed on her. All the people around her wore Nazi armbands while carrying signs saying, "Say No to Hate!" and "Hitler is Evil!"

But she didn't finish it at this time. Instead, she set her brushes to soak and went downstairs to make some cappuccino for herself and Trent. It would be time to wake him up for his gig soon, and she wanted to wake him up a little early so she could talk to the one person she could talk to about her life.

Especially about a dark secret she now carried about the day of the shooting that she knew she could never let Daria know.



03/16/01 FRIDAY 6 P.M.

Daria lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. She'd come upstairs after her dad came in the front door threatening to kill all the reporters. Her mom had demanded that he calm down and not make death threats, and he'd said they were asking about Daria and Quinn starting some race war.

So what her mom feared was happening. It didn't make any sense. She'd shot Matthew, how could she be with Matthew?

Helen had already fired one lawyer, and another left of his own volition. Two down, two to go. After calming her dad down, her mom when on trying to figure out which one would defend Daria in court.

It was all out of Daria's hands. Control of her own life belonged to other people. Feeling tired all of a sudden, she'd come up here, hoping to sleep.

Her room still held a sense of violation, but it remained the place she wanted to retreat to. She couldn't sleep, so she fantasized about hiding in some isolated cabin after she'd robbed a bank. Maybe she'd even fall in with some cult or patriot group, as long as they provided good networking and support against the authorities. In the rage that she kept hidden under her intense sense of self-control, she definitely considered many of the "extremists" to be the lesser evil at this point.

Her bittersweet fantasies (and first serious considerations of a plan to live them out) were interrupted by Helen calling her down. She frowned and looked at the clock. She hadn't even been up here for an hour! With a sigh and a moment to collect herself, she went to see what her mom wanted.

Helen was downstairs with Ms. Karen Morrison, the lawyer chosen to be Daria's representation. The other lawyer had gone home, though he was still on the team.

Helen didn't give him much thought right now as she was still steaming over a police report of an interview with Jake. He told her he hadn't said anything! But this report claimed he said he didn't KNOW anything. He'd confirmed that Daria was unaccounted for and not at home during the times that Warner thought she was conducting her drug business at the Zen.

She would bring it up, but Jake probably wouldn't even remember it. He was upstairs popping valiums. She left him alone.

This didn't prove Daria was into anything. It just meant she wasn't home. But it wouldn't look good. Juries, Helen knew, tend to follow the line that people don't get arrested unless they do something wrong. Circumstantial evidence was often enough to make someone fry.

She didn't want to say anything to Daria right now. The girl seemed to be showing real fear whenever she let her guard down for a moment. Helen would do enough worrying for both of them.

Daria, now in the living room with Helen and the lawyer, sat down, looking apprehensive for some reason. Daria looked at the lawyer and saw a woman about Helen's age, with short, stylish chestnut brown hair, prominent nose with freckles, glasses, and wearing a power suit darker than Helen's, but otherwise about the same.

The lawyer smiled at Daria, trying to relax her. "I'm Karen Morrison," she told Daria. "I'm going to be in charge of managing your defense under your mother's supervision. I want you to know that I think we can clear you of nearly all charges. We might even get you enough sympathy that we can get the one charge--that of having a gun--to nothing more than probation."

"Um," said Daria unconvinced, "that's good to know." Daria saw tension around her mom's eyes and knew that she wasn't as sure as Ms. Morrison was. But she was trying to make Daria believe it.

"But," said Ms. Morrison, "I need to ask you for some of the details around the acquisition of the gun."

"Okay," said Daria steeling herself, and ransacking her memory for what she had told her mom earlier.

And so it goes on, Daria thought. Everybody hitting her with the questions over and over. It just never stopped. She may have taken a life, but she saved many other lives as well. Why couldn't they let up on her?

Ms. Morrison piped in, "The good news is that there is just enough public opinion in favor of Daria, along with pressure exerted by the NRA, that Mayor Grant is going to remain neutral in this specific issue and promote crime control over gun control. The NRA want to keep him in place to keep another, ahem, 'gun grabber' from getting in."

"Will that affect my ability to sue Autuga Arms and Taurus?" asked Helen.

"Huh?" Daria didn't know where that had come from.

Helen looked to Daria and remembered she was there. "Oh, Daria, I figured out how to cover the costs of your defense and therapy! I can sue the manufacturers who made the guns that you and Matthew used. They should be more careful about who buys their guns and how they're used."

Daria blinked a couple of times before asking, "Won't that alienate the NRA?"

"We don't want to depend on the NRA anyway," Ms Morrison observed. "Your image won't be helped by that association."

"And besides, Daria," Helen added, "Mrs. Alice Brand, the one overseeing the legal aspects here in Lawndale for HCI, has agreed help in your defense as long as you explain, on video, that you felt you had no other choice."

Daria gave her mom and her defense lawyer a suspicious look but nodded her head.

"Good," said Helen sounding pleased. "They'll want you say you hate guns, but that shouldn't be too hard. After all you've been through, I'm sure it's true."

Daria shook her head a bit. "I don't know about that. I don't take sides, remember?"

"Not even your own side?" asked Ms Morrison pointedly; there was a hint of steel under her voice.

"Mmmm," grunted Daria. "Okay, but don't alienate the NRA until I'm sure I can go through with this."

"Of course you can go through with this, Daria. You need all the help you can get," Ms Morrison smiled.

"And maybe we can get guns away from people like Matthew when this is all over with." Helen sounded grimly hopeful.

"And away from people like me, too," Daria pointed out.

"If people like Matthew don't have guns, then you won't need guns." Helen's face was still pleasant, but her voice had real steel in it too. "The NRA will keep fighting the laws used against you, while fighting Fillman who's prosecuting you. They don't want HCI putting someone in the mayor's office and possibly going on to become a more powerful politician down the road. So it still works out" Helen's voice was darker here. She hated both Mayor Grant and Roger Fillman and hoped they both fell off the face of the Earth any day now.

"I don't know," said Daria doubtfully, "the NRA could still pull their money. And I don't see why HCI would want to defend me."

"Daria," said Helen, "if HCI paints you as someone who had no choice and only did what you did because there were too many guns out among the public, they'll not only take up covering your defense, but they'll remove their support of Fillman. That means he loses a lot of his motivation and resources for prosecuting you in the first place."

Daria was still skeptical. "So HCI will stand aside and let the NRA-loving mayor have Lawndale?"

Helen smiled down at Daria. "Mrs. Alice Brand says she's running for mayor in the next election!"

Daria felt real uncomfortable becoming a spokesperson for some group. But if it meant staying out of prison, maybe she should do it. She was still debating this internally when Quinn came down.

All three looked at Quinn with bemusement as she went up to her mom, put her hands on her hips, and said, "Mom, I want to get a gun."

Bemusement turned to shock all around. Helen felt her heart skip a beat. She forced out a laugh. "Quinn, you've been through a lot. I'm sure you can see why you don't want anything to do with a gun."

"I do, Mom," said Quinn, sounding very determined. "If I had a gun, one that works, I could have shot Matthew instead of running! I wouldn't have to be scared!"

"Remember your nightmares, Quinn. A gun doesn't work. Your dreams are trying to tell you something." Helen's voice was steely again.

"My dreams are telling me I need my own gun," said Quinn stubbornly. "One that works. One that belongs to me." She had just woken up from a Matthew nightmare, and she was getting really tired of this. Obviously, Buffy couldn't watch over her 24/7. She wanted a gun in her dream that worked, and the only way she could see to do that was to get her own gun.

"Quinn," sighed Helen, glancing at Daria, "being afraid might be the worst reason to get a gun."

"Besides," added Ms. Morrison, "it's illegal."

"It's illegal for me to buy a gun, not have one," said Quinn somewhat haughtily.

"Quinn," said Ms. Morrison, "we have the police so that we don't all have to defend our lives all the time."

Daria rolled her eyes and wondered how much attention she even paid to the actual events of the case. "Yeah, Quinn," said Daria in all too familiar voice that instantly annoyed Helen, "and we have dentists, which is why I'm throwing my toothbrush away."

Quinn smiled slightly, as Helen and Ms. Morrison both looked pained.

"Guns don't always work," said Ms. Morrison,

"So?" asked Quinn crossing her arms.

"So you shouldn't depend on them," said Ms. Morrison.

"All too true," said Daria in an all-too-familiar tone, "that's why I'm going to go throw the fire extinguisher away, too."

"It's not going to happen, Quinn," said Helen firmly, "end of discussion." She made a motion that said she was tuning Quinn out.

Quinn was suddenly close to tears. "I want to be able to do something other than cry and beg next time, Mom, please! The nightmares are almost over, but they still happen sometimes!"

Helen's face took on a guilty shade, and she got up and hugged Quinn. "You don't need a gun, sweetie, because Matthew is already dead. Let it go."

"There are other Matthews out there," said Quinn, a bit of steel in her own voice now.

Helen gritted her teeth. She was too tired to deal with this, but she didn't want Quinn to break down in hysterics or a crying fit. "Tell you what, Quinn. There's a self-defense course taught over at Middleton. I'll sign you up and then we'll look into some other kind of self-defense program that is more long term, like karate."

"Karate wouldn't have stopped Matthew," said Quinn stubbornly.

Helen sighed, "IF--If you show yourself responsible enough, I will.... think..... about letting you learn to use a gun." Helen swore she could feel her blood pressure rising as she said that.

"So when does this class start?" asked Quinn, sounding much more cheerful. Even if she never got her own gun, she would learn how to shoot and then she could figure out why Daria's gun never worked in her dream!

"I don't know, Quinn. I'll have to look into it," said Helen sounding tired.

"Is it that WSD Class over at Middleton?" asked Ms. Morrison.

"Yes," said Helen. "That's the one."

"The class for beginners is held on the first and third Sundays of every month," said Ms. Morrison. "The classes are a combination of seminar, self-defense moves, and drills. I've taken it myself more than once, and refer many of my clients there. Good introduction, designed for the women who go to classes at Middleton, but open to anyone who pays for the course." She turned to Quinn and added pointedly, "And they teach you that you don't need guns."

Quinn kept her own counsel on that. "Can I start this on Sunday then?"

"Probably," said Ms. Morrison thinking. "It's $60, or so it was the last time I checked, per class. Here, let me check."

"See if Daria and I can take the class, too," Helen added. She wasn't going to leave either of her daughters alone right now.

"Sure thing," said Ms. Morrison.

"Hey, wait a minute," said Daria, "I'm not going to some class where you beat up on life-size dolls or something."

"Daria," said Helen firmly, "if you can learn to shoot a gun and how to get rid of fingerprints on guns, then you can take at least one class on how to use something OTHER than a gun to defend yourself!" When Daria just stared relentlessly at Helen, she added with a nasty smile, "Do you really want Quinn to be able to beat you up?"

Daria surrendered, maybe even sulked. Helen was glad they could do something as a family, even if Jake wouldn't be going. Helen felt a lump in her throat when she contemplated the possibility that Daria wouldn't be taking part in anything with the family any more if she were sent to prison.

During all of this, Ms. Morrison made her call. Hanging up after a quick talk, she said, "They have room. Class starts at 2 PM, lasts until 8 PM." Helen's face showed she thought that wasn't entirely to her liking. "And," Ms. Morrison added, "Mrs. Craft even said she'd let the Morgendorffers take the beginning class for free."

Helen smiled a bit at that. The lawyer in her wondered if the group planned to use Quinn's name in advertising somehow, but decided they were probably just being good people. "Well, it should help work out some of the adrenaline," said Helen. "Okay, Sunday then."

"Okay," said Quinn, bouncing back upstairs.

Helen let out a breath. She hoped this helped Quinn feel better, and she would drop this ridiculous notion of having a gun. Weren't they in enough trouble as it was?

Helen looked to Ms. Morrison, her eyes pleading for understanding. "I'm sorry about that. It's been very hard on Quinn."

"I know," said Ms. Morrison. "You see as many cases as I have, and sometimes I think about getting a gun, too."

And then it was back to Daria.

"Daria," Helen said, "Mrs. Brand and her people will be here on Monday. I want you on your best behavior."

"I'll try not to shoot anybody."

Helen frowned but looked to Ms. Morrison. "So how are we on the murder charge?"

"They're calling it Second Degree Homicide," said Ms. Morrison, "saying it was premeditated. The video footage clearly shows that it was justifiable as Homicide by Necessity. The only footage they can exploit is Daria sneaking the gun in, but that's a lesser law in of itself, and I'm confident we can convince the jury that it was a precautionary measure under extreme circumstances, and not premeditated homicide."

Helen asked, "Can we do anything about how the police 'questioned' Daria and Jane?"

"No, unfortunately," replied Ms. Morrison. "The Reid technique is perfectly legal in America. There are even classes that some police officers take in order to learn how to crack their suspects."

"What they did to Daria can't be legal!" snapped Helen with some heat.

"It is," she said again. "Some people feel that criminals have too many advantages, so the police learn to crack suspects in other ways." She shrugged. "Some would say the police don't really care about stopping crime but in making their departments look good and confiscating what they can. Some allow meth dealers to operate for months in hopes of achieving bigger busts and more property and money to seize for themselves, or at least their departments."

"Damnation," muttered Helen. This case was really opening her eyes, and she didn't care for it. It reminded her of how she saw the world when she was younger, and that just was uncomfortable.

Daria piped in with, "What did I tell you about trusting pimps, Mom?"

"Daria!" cried Helen, "you're not helping your case with your insights!"

After a moment Ms. Morrison said, "I think we can all use some rest." Taking up her papers, she repeated they had enough dirt on the Lawndale PD and there was a good chance of acquitting Daria. She crisply walked to the door with Helen beside her, and her hard heels clicked on the entry. Her briefcase in hand, she left into a light afternoon rain, not bothering with an umbrella.

Daria still sat where she was, silently appraising her mom. When Helen turned to Daria, her own eyes widened and her face reddened at Daria's scrutiny.

Daria cleared her throat. "Do you really think I have a chance?"

"Yes, Daria, I do," said Helen, walking back. She sounded confident of that much at least. She sat beside Daria, hugging her. "I've got a wonderful defense team, and you definitely had some extenuating circumstances. When it comes to light that the police released Matthew with his gun, we might even get all charges dropped." Helen swallowed, as she didn't really believe that last part.

"So how many cases has Ms. Morrison won, anyway?"

Helen tensed, causing Daria to tense. "She's defended many women who were charged with killing or shooting an abusive husband or father. She has had some success with that."

Daria rolled her eyes. "And some failure, too, then?"

Helen grimaced. "Well.... she got into prosecuting people over ritual abuse based on hypnotically retrieved memories, and that didn't turn out too well." In fact, Ms. Morrison turned out so bad as a prosecutor that she was almost disbarred. But she made a good defense lawyer and was willing to work a lot cheaper than most other lawyers.

Helen also left out how Ms. Morrison would choose her cases by measuring how likely it would gain her name recognition since she was aspiring to be a writer for feminist legal causes, in spite of her inexplicable support of Bill Clinton over the charges regarding Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick, simply because she didn't want to alienate the people at Ms. magazine.

She definitely left out Ms. Morrison's most notable failure. A 4'9" woman had shot a man who topped 6' and turned out to be a serial rapist looking for a new victim. She didn't have a permit for the gun because the city she lived in gave gun permits only to government workers and those connected to them. Despite Ms. Morrison's defense -- surely not because of it -- the woman did more time for possession of her gun than the rapist she wounded had done for his last rape. Helen just knew with the other lawyers helping, Ms. Morrison would do better for Daria.

But Daria felt her hopes sink as she saw Helen forcing her smile.

Helen saw Daria's face fall slightly and hugged her again. "Don't worry, sweetie, everything will turn out fine." She got up then and went into the kitchen.

Daria ignored the phone message machine when it came on, but picked it up when she heard Mr. DeMartino's barely coherent growl.

"Hello," said Daria.

"Daria," growled Mr. DeMartino. "I'm glad you're out."

"Um, thanks," Daria replied. "Will that be all?"

"No," growled Mr. DeMartino. "I'm afraid the school board has just made it official. You're not to return to school, Daria. The law is on their side. So I thought I should tell your mother what the stupid miscreants just called to tell me."

"Okay," said Daria. In truth, knowing she wasn't going back was something of a relief. Helen was there now and Daria just handed it to her. She hoped her mom wasn't getting psychic.

"Yes?" asked Helen a little brusquely

"Mrs. Morgendorffer," started Anthony.

"Helen, please."

"Helen," growled Anthony, "It is my sad duty to tell you the school board has kicked Daria out of school. She is not to show up at all. Her locker was cleaned out. Anything that wasn't school property has already been taken as evidence. I'm sorry, Helen. I argued for her, but they hid behind the laws."

Helen was frowning, but she had expected this. She knew if it had been anyone else's kid, she'd support such a decision herself. She sighed and said, "Thank you, Anthony. I expected that."

"It's still not right," he grumbled.

"Thank you for standing up for her."

"Not a problem. And I will continue to stand up for her."

Helen said good bye and hung up.

She didn't know what to say so she sat down beside Daria and hugged her. "I'm sorry, honey. I don't want you leaving the house right now anyway."

Daria sat there enduring her mom's affection. Helen withdrew when Daria finally picked up the remote and flipped on the TV and started channel surfing. Helen was about to get up when her eyes widened.

"Daria, stop!" cried Helen, putting a hand on Daria's arm with the remote. "Go back to the last channel!"

Daria sighed and did so. It was some news program. Daria couldn't see what had upset her mom, though she had a bad feeling as she saw a man who was listed as Mr. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Legal Center.

"The Lawndale PD," he stated, "have evidence that Matthew was a cell of one raised to believe in government conspiracies and racist ideology, as his father, Jim Foster has done. We also believe he inducted Quinn and Daria Morgendorffer into carrying guns and drugs to support the first strike to start a race war."

"Excuse me?" Her dad had yelled about something like this and her mom had mentioned it, but it had seemed like such an impossibly stupid idea then. Now, hearing it stated on TV as fact, she reeled as the reality of it struck her.

Helen stared at the TV, leaning forward, even as she answered. "He's looking for a new cash cow. He's fallen on some hard times and he's desperate to inject some life into the SPLC."

Now the news was explaining so-called "Nazi ideologies" that sounded like they were ripped out of Sick, Sad World or a market tabloid.

Daria felt sick. "Why does he have to drag me and Quinn into it?"

"Because Matthew's family isn't worth suing. Ours is." Helen shrugged, still staring at the TV. "Also, someone dead isn't as scary as people who are alive, like you and Quinn. Kids don't have a good reputation, you know. Every time you hear of a teenager on the news, it seems they're doing drugs or killing someone."

"That's funny," said Daria, looking at Helen. "Every time I hear of a teacher on the news, it's about pedophilia. Are all teachers pedophiles then?" When Helen looked back at her in surprise, she continued with, "Every time I hear of a plane on the news, it crashed or blew up. Does that happen to all planes, or even most of them?"

"Daria," said Helen a little desperately, "I never said it was right. It's just how people are. The bad is flapped in front of them all the time until the bad is all they think about."

Daria rolled her eyes. This was certainly becoming educational. Why had her mom always been telling her to be more positive? "So why is he after me and Quinn? And why does he think he'll get away with it?"

Helen leaned back a bit. "Dees won a suit against a KKK group a long time ago and made himself a millionaire. He dedicated his life to finding other cash cows and didn't really care who he went after as long as they couldn't defend themselves well in court. One of the reasons I stopped supporting him was because his stories kept getting debunked in the end, with no apologies from him. And of the victories he did win in court, the victims he was supposedly suing for got only a pittance of the settlements."

Helen didn't feel like mentioning the scandals with his wife, stepdaughter, and other family members. Nor the sleazy fund raisings, the settlements that went almost entirely to him, and the alliances with groups that seem to actually promote racial intolerance--the same intolerance he benefited from. In the end, Dees seemed to be as sleazy as Lawndale's current mayor, but more successful.

Daria was still trying to figure this guy out. "So he practices a form of McCarthyism?"

"You could say that," said Helen as she returned to watching the show. My jury!, Helen was thinking as she watched this with a growing sense of horror.

"And in the old days, if he were Catholic he would be calling any anti-Catholic organization, like the Protestants -- or any group too wealthy for its own good, like the Templars -- as a group of evil villains in order to justify robbing them?"

Helen sighed. "Daria.... fine, yes, that's pretty much it."

"And I'm supposed to trust the same courts he gets away with this in?"

"Daria!" Helen, now truly angry, almost sent Daria to her room before she calmed herself down. She reminded herself that Daria was only 18 and in a situation that was jading even her. Daria was normally cynical. Why wouldn't she be more cynical still about this?

"So what is this 'cell of one' that Matthew inducted me and Quinn into, anyway?" asked Daria more calmly.

Helen blinked at her a couple of times trying to get her mind back on track, before saying, "Basically, they're leaderless cells, typically a lone individual, acting out on the hate propaganda of some white supremacist organization."

"So Matthew, Quinn, and I are a part of a group without a group?"

Helen's mouth dropped open for a moment before she nodded. "That's another way to put it, yes."

Daria snorted and crossed her own arms. "Perfect. So monsters like me can drop on people from the trees and rooftops raining terror down on the land with our bombs and guns. And it can't be disproven, because our invisibility is proof of the truth of his claim. That's even better than the satanic panics of the 80s. So people had better be afraid and support Dees with their generous donations before violent anarchy descends on the land."

Helen's face got red. She forced herself not to yell at her for being cynical and tearing down things she didn't understand. Regrettably, it seemed Daria understood it even better than she had.

Maybe the problem was she, as a successful adult, had bought into the game and had to ignore the rotten smell to get along with everybody else and sleep (somewhat) soundly at night. She swallowed and looked to the TV again, more worried about how the court case would come out than she had been earlier.

The pointless lesson on Nazi beliefs, which had nothing to do with anyone (except possibly Jim Foster, though he probably found some of the stuff ridiculous, too) was over. Now cheerful music played as people who looked to be nearing orgasm chewed gum, which was followed by another commercial of people celebrating their ability to wait and order at Taco Bell.

Then it came back to Bush being introduced as someone about to speak on the Lawndale shooting.

"The principal and another student were shot. Then one of the shooters shot the other one in the back. This appears to be a case of vigilante justice. But we will not... let any person... at any age... take the law into their own hands. No one should have the gall to say..." Bush squinted at the camera, or more likely at the words he was being fed right by the cam. "To say that I think you should die and take that life."

Helen gasped. The nerve! Just what was he famous for in Texas?

"I plan to send out a message," said the Bush image, gaining momentum, "that we will not tolerate this kind of brutal crime. We will not live in fear. One of the shooters is already dead. It is my hope that the state of Virginia will tell the other shooter that his life is forfeit, too."

Helen was speechless. Once again, he practiced what he would deny everyone else. Was leading by example too radical a concept? And why did he refer to Daria as 'he'?

Someone asked a question Helen couldn't hear.

Bush leaned his ear to the audience slightly as he asked "I'm sorry, what?"

The voice was clearer. "What about the details about the second shooter saving her little sister from a drug dealing stalker? How does that change things?"

Bush shook his head and then squinted his eyes again. "That doesn't change anything. She brought a gun to school which is supposed to be a safe learning environment. She should have picked up a phone and called 911, not picked up a gun. More so.... I have helped sponsor such laws to make all schools safer. And if you use a gun illegally, then you will do hard time. At the very least."

Bush took another question, listening with his hand to his ear this time.

"How can schools be made safer?"

Bush looked down for a moment and then looked back up. "I'm glad you...I'm glad you asked me that. I am. I will make every school safer by giving the BATF more powers to go into schools, and if necessary, handle security detail at the schools that are quickly becoming battle grounds spinning out of control. By keeping armed and prepared agents and deputies in our schools, we'll finally get guns out of our schools."

Helen thought Bush was supposed to be FOR guns, not against them. She didn't understand this. She really had to stop listening to Bush when she was this tired. She never could make sense out of what he said. She was pretty sure that there was no logic in whatever he had just said.

Then the scene switched to Ashcroft. Maybe he'd say something else. Wasn't he supposed to be a civil libertarian or something? Libertarians, Helen knew, were into guns, right along with sex and drugs. That's why Libertarianism was known in some legal circles as a felony waiting to happen.

Ashcroft did seem to see guns in the same light as sex and drugs, but that view could hardly be called libertarian. He briefly mentioned the Gun Free Zones Act and the Project Safe Neighborhoods that, with the help of the BATF, automatically prosecuted anyone in order to get violent gun users off the street. This included anyone who even possessed a gun at school except under stringent circumstances. He seemed to think this program had reached out to "both students" and the students had rejected its help. Now one was dead and the other would pay the price.

This was not the reaction she would've expected from them. If this was what she was getting from Bush and Ashcroft, could she really expect help from the NRA? Helen bit her lip without knowing it.

As for the BATF, she remembered when those psychos tore up Daria's Highland classroom, destroying it and brutalizing Daria's teacher right in front of her. Daria had faked being sick for a week to avoid going back to school after that. What was the BATF doing, other than terrifying people and killing them, that they could be trusted to diminish violence?

Some even said the heavy handed tactics of the BATF were the prime cause for the growth of militias in the 90s, who were reacting against their perception of the growing illegal violence from the government. If the BATF inspired that much alienation in the people they served, she didn't think they would be very good at preventing violence in schools, either.

Helen didn't blame Daria when she sighed and went upstairs without saying a word. She'd let Daria be alone awhile before she checked on her. She wondered if she could afford to miss the rest of this news cast. She finally decided yes, and switched it off.




03/16/01 FRIDAY 8:00 P.M.

Mystik Spiral was in an emergency meeting in a dark corner of the Zen.

"I don't know," said Max. "A lot of the regulars aren't here, and the new people... something's not right about them."

"They're cops," said Nicholas

Trent looked at him. "Some of them are," he rasped. "Others move differently. They're with someone else."

"Who?" asked Max.

Trent shook his head. "I don't know, yet." He was still reeling from what Janey had shared with him a couple of hours ago. He was also worried about Daria and Jane, though he wasn't actually thinking of them consciously at the time. Trent added, "But I don't think we should play here for awhile."

The others made faces. They didn't like turning down gigs, but they all sensed a storm brewing. It seemed a lot of strange people were eyeing them in ways that were disturbing, even hostile.

Trent had already tried calling McGrundy's for more gigs, but they were still repairing the water damage in their ceiling. If they couldn't play at the Zen either, they wouldn't have any real gigs for awhile. That was the only reason they were still here at the Zen at all.

They looked up when two tattooed guys, one with very short brown hair, the other shaved bald, came up to them. Only the one with hair wore a shirt.

The one with the shirt spoke up first. "Hey, we just got here from California. We're sketchin' pretty bad. Do you know where we can score some crystal?"

All four members stared at them in shock. They had been solicited before, but this was the fifth one today, all within the hour of their getting here.

"No, man," said Max, "we don't do that shit. And the building is crawling with cops, so you shouldn't ask around here anyway."

The two looked at each other, back at Mystik Spiral, and then left without another word.

Trent let out a breath. "Okay, that's it. I'm outta here. I'm taking the Tank, but I'll pick you up later if you want." There was no point in staying if one left, but it was polite to make it more of a request like that.

All three grumbled out noises that said they were ready to leave, too.

As they were leaving, the newly hired bouncer lumbered up to them. "Hey, I was told to tell you that if you walk out now, you won't get paid for anything you did tonight, and you may not be invited back."

All four muttered something like, "whatever," and kept going. Trent paused long enough to say, "We won't be here tomorrow, either. We don't know when we'll be available again, but the Zen is a little to hot for us to play in right now."

The bouncer gave a slight shrug and went back.

While Mystik Spiral was loading up the Tank with their instruments, six men approached them in a group. They were a little too well-dressed for the regular clientele, but not so much that they would stick out. Trent turned to them while the others kept loading the Tank.

"Hey, we hear you got some good crystal."

"You heard wrong," said Trent.

"Everyone is fingering you, man. Look, we don't mind new talent moving in, but it's impolite to set up shop without getting to know the locals. Have you heard of Evil Ed?"

The name sounded vaguely familiar, but they couldn't place it. After looking at the others behind him, he turned back and shook his head.

"He's someone who's curious where you're getting all your supplies and equipment. He's willing to pay a lot of money for the information, and he'll likely set you up and expand your customer base."

Trent shook his head. "Unless you're talking about our instruments, then this is a huge misunderstanding. We have nothing to do with selling drugs." The Tank was loaded and Mystik Spiral now stood behind Trent.

"If that's the way you're going to be, then what you just said had better be the truth."

Trent nodded. "It is the truth."

"Then get your skinny ass out of here, motherfucker. If I were you, I wouldn't come around here for awhile."

None of them said anything. This was just one of the things they were worried about happening. They played it cool and left without another word. The six men watched them until after they had driven out of sight. Then they went back into the Zen.

Two men in a car in the Zen parking lot saw it all, even if they couldn't hear what was said. A meeting between Daria's thugs and Evil Eddie's! Obviously, the bust of Daria Morgendorffer was sending shock waves through the criminal underworld, causing restlessness and borderline panic. Warner must be right about the Morgendorffer-Sloane connection for the methamphetamines. And they had caught at least one profile of nearly everyone with their camera. Detective Warner would be pleased with tonight's work.

They went inside to talk to an informant to try to find out what the meeting had been about.

As the two plainclothes policemen walked into the Zen, another man recorded their movements on a camcorder. Beside him lay the bionic ear with which he had listened in on the entire meeting between Mystik Spiral and Evil Eddie's men. He debated going after Mystik Spiral but decided against it. He had a pretty good idea where he could find any of them, and they weren't important enough yet.

He drove his car over to the parking lot of Denny's and the closed shops. But instead of going into Denny's as he frequently had these last two days, he grabbed his miniature digicam and microcassette voice recorder and wandered back over to the Zen to see what else he could learn.



03/17/01 SATURDAY 7:30 P.M.

Tom Sloane's cell phone rang.

"Dammit, not again!" he exclaimed as he picked it out of his pocket. This was the only way his mom would let him out of the house. He'd tell her he didn't feel like going anywhere with her calling all the time, but that would just encourage her to keep calling.

"Hello," said Tom, not bothering to hide his exasperation.

"Tom?" His mom's voice came through the phone. "You've been gone quite awhile. We'd like you to come home right now."

Tom smiled as he heard Elsie's voice in the background. He couldn't hear what she said, but by the sound of it, his mom should be frowning right now. She hated being kept at home almost as much as he did.

"I just finished having a bit of pizza. I'll be home in a little bit. Okay?" He let her know by the tone of his voice he didn't care if it were okay or not.

There was a pause. Finally, "Just don't go see Daria. I don't know how much is a big misunderstanding, but I don't want you hanging around anyone who carries a gun. If she were to think you were about to break up with her to go with someone else, she might shoot you before she calmed down."

"Fine," said Tom shortly, "good bye." He hung up before his mom could repeat something else she already said a thousand times.

That line about breaking up made him uncomfortable, too. He sighed in relief a minute later when it didn't ring again. He heard Cruxshadows on the radio and turned it up, willing it to wash out his mom's constant nagging.

Sorrow sings
her kisses in silence
and adjusts the blinds to keep the light
from mocking everything I feel
She dances slowly
a silhouette upon the curtains
but her eyes seem to cry
only empty tears
I beg for comfort with inadequate verse
it meant so much to me.... and so little to her
and I am sinking into a mountain of self pity
why can't I simply disregard all the things I feel?
"where is my angel when I need him most?"
"tell me now where did he go?"

While Even Angels Fall was a short song, it powerfully moved him. But he shook his head and noticed that he had driven right by Daria's house. His heart skipped a beat when he saw a light in Daria's window. He drove for a little bit considering.

A block away, he parked his car and pulled out his phone, calling Daria. He wasn't surprised when he heard Quinn's voice on the phone going, "Hello?"

"Quinn?" asked Tom, "can you please let me talk to Daria? It will be hard for me to call her later."

"Sure," said Quinn, sounding a little depressed, and then he heard her cry out to Daria. Then the clicks of Daria getting on and Quinn hanging up.

"Hello?" asked Daria, as calmly as if she hadn't been all over the news lately, with even the President of the United States flaming her!

"Daria?" asked Tom, both concerned and excited, "It's me."

There was a pause. Then, "Hi. I thought you weren't supposed to talk to me."

"I'm 18. My parents can't dictate what I do."

"So are you alone?"

"You could say that. I'm in my car. Can I come over?"

"Tom," said Daria, "the police are watching me. They want to know who I meet, if I have my own drug cartel, where I got the gun from..."

"I'd like to know that, too," interrupted Tom, "but I'm glad you had it."

"And everyone around me is now a suspect to them," said Daria as if Tom hadn't spoken. "Your parents are right. You should stay away from me."

"Dammit, Daria, what good is nepotism if I can't get away with doing what other people shouldn't?"

Daria sighed. "Ok, come on over. But I doubt Mom will let me leave. And right now, I don't feel like leaving. Or much for company."

"Say no more," said Tom. "I just have to talk to you for a little bit anyway, make sure you're okay...."

"I'm not."


"I'm not okay."

"I'm right by Glen Oaks. See you at the door?" Tom frowned as a car went passed him. He was sure he'd seen that car before.

"Sure," said Daria.

Daria hung up and walked slowly, almost resolutely, down the stairs. Helen and Jake quit talking when they saw her at the foot of the stairs. They watched silently with a concerned expression as she went to the door and opened it.

"Daria," said Helen, instantly standing up, "where are you going?"

Daria didn't even turn to look at them. "To make a cash withdrawal at the Circle K with my Nazi Express Card."

"Daria," said Helen in a tone full of foreboding, "I don't think you should leave right now." She was speaking as both her lawyer and her mother.

"It's okay, Mom, I'm just waiting for my connection to the drug cartel I work for to show up." Both Helen and Jake's mouth dropped open at that, but before Jake could freak out, Daria finished with, "Ah, there he is."

"Helen," whispered Jake in a near panic, "our little girl is a drug lord!"

Helen rolled her eyes as she got up. "Just relax, Jake, I'll take care of this."

Helen walked to the door and stood behind Daria. She had mixed feelings when she saw Tom getting out of his car. "I don't know, Daria. His family made it very clear to me that they don't want him to see you."

"It's only for a few minutes, Mom," Daria replied with something of a pleading expression on her face. "Don't you think I deserve at least a little closure?"

Helen started to say something and then closed her mouth. She kissed Daria on the top of the head instead and walked back to the couch.

"Hey, Daria!" said Tom brightly at the door.

"Hey," said Daria, "Come on in, but watch out for the pendulum trap and land mines I put in."

Tom walked in, smiling wistfully. He exchanged polite greetings with Daria's mom and dad before following Daria up to her room. Daria unplugged her phone and sat down on the bed. Tom sat down beside her.

"Why did you unplug the phone?" asked a curious Tom.

"A jacked in phone can be used to eavesdrop on a room by people who know how. I don't think it's admissible without a warrant, but they might have one. I just don't want to give them any more ammunition to use against me."

Tom's eyes were wide now. "You think they're watching you that closely?"

"No, but better safe than sorry," replied Daria nonchalantly. Then her voice broke. "Just in case, I didn't want them to hear us now." She held onto Tom and cried on his shoulder.

"Actually," said Tom with a voice revealing how disturbed he felt while he held her, "we've had a couple of detectives come by. They asked me a bunch of WEIRD questions about what we did. I told them it was none of their damn business and they threatened to arrest me. Luckily, my folks are the type to get away with kicking them out on their rears. But they were spooked by that, too. That's why they don't want me around you. Not because of all the stuff being said on TV." Tom's brows furrowed. "Though that doesn't help."

"Right now, you would be wise to stay far away from me," said Daria, still tearful but pulling away. "They think your family is running cocaine or something, and I'm your representative to the little people of Lawndale."

"Yeah," said Tom, "Mom and Dad said something like that. They got it from some of the people they support with donations and all. This is serious stuff, Daria. Even rich people get murdered by the police in this country for their possessions."

Daria gave Tom a look that said she wished she could help but didn't know how.

"Oh, listen to me!" said Tom. "You're the one facing prison for the next several years, and I'm the one whining about our situation."

"Being target practice is something big to worry about, Tom. Maybe you should stay close with your family now and distance yourself from me as much as possible."

"Hey, Daria, I can stay with you, if you want. Even if my family disowns me, I'll do it." His distress and confusion made his voice tight.

After awhile, Daria pulled back. "No, Tom. Stay with them. I don't know what kind of future, if any, I have. I'm just glad you came this one time."

Tom seemed lost and confused, as if he wasn't sure what he wanted to say or ask. Finally, he asked, "Can I ask where you got the gun?"

Daria tensed, but sensed only curiosity in him. "You can ask, but I won't tell you."

"Why not?" asked a disturbed Tom. "Don't you trust me?"

"I trust you, Tom," said Daria, "But a secret isn't a secret if three people know. This is serious. And if you were to know, you would be guilty of conspiracy and obstructing the delusions of justice for not telling what you know."

"I'll plead the Fifth."

Daria laughed. "Tom, you know the Constitution doesn't mean anything, unless you've got the money to purchase your so-called rights through an army of lawyers and politicians."

"I'm rich," said Tom, a little uncertainly.

"Your family is," said Daria.

"We'll pretend you didn't tell me."

"Tom, they're very good. The police almost made me tell. I wouldn't blame you if you broke under pressure. But I would blame myself for telling you." Tom looked more and more upset. So Daria sighed and said, "In case it makes you feel better, I haven't even told Jane."

"Really?" Tom sounded incredulous.

"Really." Jane might have known already, but Daria hadn't told her. And she was hoping to get Tom to feeling better.

"Okay, then," said Tom. "I'm glad you're out of jail, and you've got my support. I'm even sending money orders to your defense fund when I can get away with it."

"Thanks, Tom," said Daria, and meant it. She was wiping away the last of her tears.

They stared at each other for awhile, and then Tom's cell phone rang. "Dammit!" He reached in and switched it off.

"The 'rents?"

"My bookies," he quipped. Then he cleared his throat. "I should be going, Daria."

"I know."

Tom sighed. "It's going to be hard for me to see you at all. But I will do my best."


They hugged once more, and then Daria walked him down the stairs and to the door. Shutting the door behind him, Daria hurried past her mom and dad before she started crying again.



03/18/01 SUNDAY 12:30 P.M.

Quinn didn't know what to think when her mom told her the police would likely come for her. She made her practice saying, "There were no drugs," over and over again, and, "I want a lawyer, call my mom." At first she was scared that the police would come for her, but soon she was hoping the police would come for her THEN, so she could get away from her mom for awhile.

But the ordeal was finally over. She had gotten away by explaining she wanted to pick an appropriate outfit to wear to the WSD Class today, and they had less than an hour before they had to leave.

But after going upstairs, she paused. What she had on was nice enough, she wouldn't want to get anything nicer sweaty, and what she really wanted to do just then was talk to her sister. She knocked on Daria's closed door.

She rolled her eyes when she heard Daria say, "Trespassers will be shot," and entered anyway.

"We're gonna have to go soon," she told Daria.

"I know," said Daria with resignation, staring up at the ceiling. "As we speak, I'm plotting my killer moves to accidentally use on Mom."

They were silent for maybe a full minute. "Daria?" asked Quinn.

"Yeah, Sis?"

Quinn either accepted the comment or ignored it "I sometimes see your gun in my dream. Sometimes I'm in your room like I am now, and the gun is where you are now. I try to use it, but it won't work. What am I doing wrong?"

Daria turned her head towards Quinn and said, "Um, it's your dream, not mine."

"I think I should just point and pull the trigger, but it doesn't do anything."

Pointing and squeezing the trigger was a big part of it, but there was more. Still, this didn't seem to apply to Quinn's question. "Maybe it means you don't know how to take care of yourself, or you're too scared to try? Maybe too scared to even be your own person?"

Quinn shook her head. "I am scared in my nightmares, but I see what guns can do. I see what you did. The gun should work for me, too. But it doesn't. I think it means I need my own gun. If I had my own gun, I wouldn't feel so helpless. And if I didn't feel so helpless, I wouldn't still have those nightmares."

Daria actually grimaced. "Quinn," she said, "one thing I learned even before I got that gun was that no one should have the power to be able to say, 'You should die,' and make that person die."

"Then why did you get a gun?" asked Quinn, curious.

"Because I was scared," said Daria, looking back up at the ceiling. "Because I don't like not being in control, and I most definitely wasn't when Matthew pointed his gun at me. When everyone else pulled their own guns.... well, I just learned that the way to fight fire is with fire." She shook her head. "Pandora's box has been opened, and guns are a part of our world now. Heck, before guns it was swords and bows, so maybe I should be glad. But I saw the gun I got as an evil, if a necessary one."

"Oh," said Quinn, looking down at the floor.

Then Daria sat up, putting her feet on the floor. "Quinn?"

"Yeah, Sis?" Quinn sounded amused and smiled slightly, which almost made Daria close up. Almost.

"Do you see me differently? You know, after I killed..., right in front of you and all?"

Quinn's jaw dropped. "Of course I see you differently, Daria!" She laughed as Daria's head drooped down some. When Daria looked back up, Quinn said, "Daria, I don't see you as some killer. You shot him to save me, not to kill him. You're a life saver, not a murderer."

She sounds like she believes that, thought Daria in astonishment. "Quinn, I killed him. Maybe I had a good reason, but Matthew will never have a chance to turn his life around, or have a life, or marvel at another sunset again. Me. I did that. I pointed a gun at him and made sure he would never do any of these things again!" Daria's voice was rising and starting to break.

"Matthew will never hurt me or anyone else again," said Quinn calmly, sitting down on the bed beside Daria.

"He might have changed," said Daria, a little stiffly. "It's.... it's just not like in the movies. You know they shoot someone and then go on to the next scene. It's not like that at all. I keep seeing him there, dead. I did that. I've seen his mom on TV. She hates me. I can understand why. Sometimes I think everybody's right to hate me."

"Would it be better if Mom hated Matthew?" asked Quinn.

"No," said Daria, voice definitely cracking. "He started it. It was all his decisions. I just wonder if in killing Matthew I didn't somehow become the monster he was."

"You're not a monster, Daria," said Quinn, sounding a little annoyed. Daria was supposed to be the strong one!

"It's cool in the movies, but when people really do it... when I really did it.... it's just.... just different." Daria was looking at the floor again, her voice betraying self-doubt and guilt.

Quinn stared sadly at Daria for a few moments, watching Daria fighting not to cry in front of her, before asking her "Am I evil, Daria?"

Daria almost said something sarcastic, but just shook her head no.

"Was Matthew evil when he shot people and tried to shoot me?"

Daria sighed. "Yes," she said, looking at her a moment.

"Then didn't you do good by stopping him? He would have killed more people. He would have killed me. I don't know if a gun is evil or not, I don't know if a fire is evil or not, but I know you're not evil!" Quinn's voice was rising now, in passionate defense of her sister.

Daria blinked in surprise at Quinn's words, and struggled to hold tears she felt coming close to the surface. "Um, thanks," she finally managed calmly.

"Remember that, Daria," she said with conviction, "when you see Britney Spears saying you're bad. You're not bad. You're my sister and I love you."

Daria just was not ready to deal with any of this. So she focused on the one thing she could deal with. "Britney Spears?"

"Oh," said Quinn sounding peeved, "I know you don't care what fashionable people say, but she was saying guns and violence and hate and drugs are bad, and she made it sound like you represented all these things!" Quinn was obviously upset. "And me, too."

"What," began Daria, revealing her contempt of Britney Spears, "should I care what some corporate product has to say about me or you?"

"It's bad, Daria. This whole situation is bad."

"You don't say." Daria's sarcasm was back, but there was a tiny smile on her lips.

"I'm serious, Daria," said Quinn in a dire tone, warning her to take this seriously. "I'm glad for what you did, but Britney is trying to make you even more unpopular than you already are."

"Quinn," Daria said, "A corporation takes a few losers, dresses them up, writes their music, then has them played everywhere until people finally think they're good. This not only sells CD's, but everything else, too. They're not artists, they're corporate investments to sell creams, gels, and clothing and everything else to everyone. Then to top it off, they have to read their 'political opinions' written out for them beforehand, so that those opinions take, too. As if some boy band or blonde asset would have any knowledge or experience about what they talk about....."

"It's doesn't matter, Daria!" interrupted Quinn fiercely. "Even if she's a puppet, she's still a puppet master!"

"Puppet master?" Daria almost said something sarcastic again, but she was surprised by the feelings of warmth she suddenly felt for Quinn... and the beginning of true respect for her.

"If she says it's so, then it's so. Next issue of Waif will probably show what she said, or say words just like it."

"It's not just about fashionable clothes, then, but fashionable thoughts," replied Daria.

"What's fashionable to say. And what's wrong with that? It lays the rules out clear so anyone who wants to play knows how to do so."

"Why would I want to play?" Daria asked matter of factly.

"Because you want to win, Daria. You don't want to be alone." There was real pain in her voice. "But then," said Quinn lowering her eyes, "maybe I am alone. Everyone ran. Only you stayed with me. Thanks, Daria."

Daria was more and more uncomfortable. Part of her liked Quinn's good will toward her, but part of her felt scared of it, too. "You're welcome," she said. A beat later, she added, "I'm glad you're alive. It makes me think it was all worth it." She tried very hard not let her habitual sarcasm taint her sincerity.

Quinn smiled a little sadly for a moment before she frowned again. "What did my popularity get me anyway?" Quinn, arms crossed, looked away from Daria, and Daria had to strain to hear her. "Nothing I thought I had. And now I find I might be unpopular 'cause everyone says I'm some Nazi freak on meth that was trying to start a race war. Britney spoke against me, too, you know." She sighed. "In the end, all I have is you and Buffy."


"You were there for me, Daria. Everyone else just ran. Left me alone."

"I was worried about myself, too, you know." I'm still worried, about us both, Daria added silently.

"Oh, please," said Quinn, looking back up at her, "you could've run and you wouldn't be in the trouble you're in. You saved me, Daria. That's something no one else was willing or able to do."

Daria was getting acutely uncomfortable. Why had she saved Quinn? Why wasn't she mocking Quinn right now? Most of all, she wondered, how can I care so much about Quinn and yet shoot a boy in the back? And when I cried afterwards, was it because I felt bad about doing it? That I almost lost a sister? Or that I knew I was just going deeper into Hell? Did I do the right thing, or am I just as bad? All killers invent labyrinthine justifications for what they do. And am I not a killer?

Daria wasn't ready to wade through all that just yet. So she focused on what she was ready for. "Who's Buffy?"

"You remember my guardian angel?" asked Quinn casually.

"Yeah," said Daria crossing her arms.

Quinn's face went down again. "She came back. You were right, Daria. She went away until I needed her. But I'm glad you were there, too, because she hadn't made it back yet. She can't be around all the time. But she can be around sometimes." Quinn looked at her again. "I asked her to give you what help she could, too."

For some reason, Daria felt like crying, and she didn't even know why. Part of her wanted to throw her arms around Quinn and pour out all this love she kept locked away within herself, and another part of her wanted to call her stupid and get up to march away angrily.

Instead, she just asked, "Um, thanks. How did you learn, uh, her name?"

"She told me the night before Mom got you out of jail." Quinn looked up to Daria and then crossed her own arms.

"Oh," said Daria, uncrossing her arms. Leaning back a bit propping herself up with her hands, she asked, "Can you tell me about that?"

Quinn studied her for a moment. Then she said, "I was having nightmares again, but then she came and made the nightmares go away. She told me Matthew was in Hell and couldn't hurt me anymore and that I could sleep safely again." She crinkled her brow a bit. "I still have nightmares, sometimes, but it's not anywhere as bad. And now I can sleep for several hours before they happen." She looked back up. "But then I call Buffy and I can go back to sleep."

"The angel is really named Buffy?"

"No," said Quinn, "but I couldn't understand her real name. So she told me to call her Buffy."

"Oh," said Daria blinking. "What does she look like?"

"She's invisible," said Quinn. "I can't see her." She cocked her head, considering. "I don't even think she's really a she. That's just how the angel shows up for some reason."

Daria looked away, worried. But she wasn't going to try to destroy her sister's belief again if it kept the nightmares away.

"Don't worry, Daria," said Quinn with confidence, "there's hope for us now."

"Hope," mused Daria, "was another demon from Pandora's box. And maybe the cruelest one of all."

"Ohhh!" said Quinn angry, "Daria, don't try to ruin a good thing! You saved me, and now I'm going to save you!"

Daria blinked again.

Helen entered the room then and responded to the tone in Quinn's voice, since she didn't hear the words. "I can't believe," she said testily, "that after all you've been through, you still find it amusing to tear each other down."

"Um, yeah," said Daria, "I'm sorry, Quinn."

"Me, too," said Quinn, trying not to laugh. She threw her arms around Daria and whispered in her ear, "Well... no I'm not actually."

Daria returned the embrace, and forgot her fantasies of hiding in a cabin and joining a militia.

Helen sighed. "Is there any length you two won't go to in order to be sarcastic to each other?" Shaking her head, she said, "Come on, we're going to be late."

Sighing in unison, they got up. Daria put on her green jacket and the two left with their mom.



03/18/01 SUNDAY 2:30 P.M.

Women's Self Defense Class, commonly known as WSD, consisted entirely of women, most of them college age, a few older. Daria and Quinn seemed to be the only high-schoolers there. Right now, people were informally mixed, most sitting on the floor or on mats, and a low buzz of casual conversation filled the large room.

Daria was flipping through the book that they all got as part of the class called Self-Defense: The Womanly art of self-care, intuition and choice by Debbie Leung. "This is one of the most ridiculous books on defending yourself that I've ever seen," said Daria critically.

"Just how many books on self defense have you seen, Daria?" asked Helen

Daria looked up at her mom. "A few," she said. "But even if I hadn't, I'd still say the same and hope it was true."

"I don't know," said Quinn, "some of these pix show some really good ideas on how to hurt someone. I just wonder why they dress in such shabby clothes."

"Maybe they don't want to get blood on their good clothes," said Daria, a bit of her dark humor showing through.

"Ewwwww!" screeched Quinn.

"So what's the problem, Daria?" asked a peeved Helen. "That they can defend themselves without a gun?"

Quinn interrupted with, "But none of the guys have guns like Matthew did. I don't think any of these would've worked when he was shooting."

"What I mean," said Daria, "is like Chapter 3 tells the reader, 'The key to preventing assaults is having accurate information about who assailants are, why they assault women, and how assaults happen.' And it all sounds good until you get further into the chapter."

"What's wrong with the chapter?" asked Helen, actually curious.

"Well," said Daria, "you get to who are the assailants, and the answer can be summed up as most, if not all, men. Like here, it says, 'In the reports studied, the assailants were all men.' Great, now I know the assailants, so I can be safe. All I have to do is look out for men! And a high percentage," she continued, pointing down on a page, "89% to be exact, are men the woman knows. So beware of all men I know, especially. And why do they attack? Power, domination, control."

"Yes, that is a little vague," agreed Helen.

"A little?" went Daria. "The point is that if you see the pattern, you'll be safe, if you don't, you'll be raped or assaulted. So what's the pattern? All men. About 50% of the population of the world, including 9 out of every 10 men I know! Who is the one male I can trust not to rape me? Mr. O' Neill? Mr. DeMartino? Dad? Tom? So now I'm aware of the pattern, and it's totally useless!"

"Daria, please," said Helen, looking through Chapter 3. She had to admit, it looked as if Daria were right. But maybe it would become more helpful after she read the rest of the book.

Then Helen found a factoid, with a reputable footnote, that made her smile. "Quinn," she said, "right here it says that in 93% of all rapes, no guns were present; only 1% of all crimes involving handguns resulted in fatalities; and women are less than half as likely as men to have a gun used on them in a crime. Most guns used in those few crimes are never fired, and those that do often miss, and rarely cause serious injury and death to the 2% actually shot."

"Those 2% can be killers, though," added Daria.

"See, Quinn, you don't need a gun. You can learn all you need in this class. And I'll sign you up for the martial arts class of your choice. How's that?"

"Mo-ooom," went Quinn, "the only reason I wasn't shot was because Daria shot Matthew first. The only reason SHE wasn't shot was because all those people at the Zen pulled...."

"Quinn!" whispered Helen fiercely, "Don't talk about that now!"

"I think what Quinn means," said Daria helpfully, "is it's better to have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it. And I think those statistics are very encouraging myself. It says guns aren't anywhere as dangerous as you think they are."

Helen blushed. "No, it means they aren't needed. And if we sue those gun companies and win, guns will become even less common, and thus less dangerous overall. End of discussion."

Quinn got mad, but reined herself in. She knew showing anger wouldn't help her case at all, but she was frustrated because she didn't know what would help her case. At least Daria seemed to be on her side, though she was avoiding eye contact with her right now.

Daria and Quinn both looked up as a familiar form stood over them.

"Hello, Daria, Quinn, Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Ms. Barch in her tone of voice that was least hostile.

"Uh, hi," said Daria.

"Hello," said Helen, "thank you for supporting my daughter! I heard you spoke up for her."

Ms. Barch crossed her arms. "Well, the school board is made up of all males, except for two women, and they're married to males. You can't trust any of them. And I think they have the law on their side in this. The law that was written by men."

"Um, yes," said Helen, suddenly very uncomfortable.

"Excellent work handling that male scum, Daria," Ms. Barch said to Daria before turning to Quinn and asking, "Have you finally accepted that the only thing men are good for are beating up on and using as target practice?" She seemed to be asking someone if they accepted that drinking binges were a bad idea.

"Um.... I just want to get a gun," said Quinn, not noticing Helen's shocked face turning into a glare directed at her.

"Guns have their uses," said Ms. Barch, "but they aren't anywhere as much fun." She turned back to Daria. "Here, I thought you could appreciate these." She handed Daria a thin yellow booklet and a magazine of some kind.

"The SCUM Manifesto?" asked Daria.

"Society for Cutting Up Men," said Ms. Barch. "Real smart, good writer, like you, Daria. Read her and find your destiny."

"Um, okay," said Daria. She looked at the magazine. "The Matriarch's Way: The Journal of Female Supremacy." She looked back up to Ms. Barch. "Thanks." Daria's voice was completely neutral and could be taken in any way.

"Sure, Daria. Read those, and then think about them. I know that in time you will come to see how rational the ideas presented in both are." She turned to go, saying, "The presentation is about to start, so I'll be seeing you two soon enough."

As Ms. Barch left, a woman with Indian features that looked young enough to be in college, but old enough to have been there awhile, was giving an introductory speech, explaining the mental and verbal skills of self defense, as well as some basic physical moves one could use in some circumstances.

Someone asked out loud, "What if the guy attacking you gets madder? Are you sure what you teach will work?"

The speaker cleared her throat. "Assault victims of all kinds will carry their wounds for years, decades, and a lifetime, if she survives at all. Don't tell yourself that you will be hurt even worse if you resist. But having said that, no, there are no guarantees when it comes to self-protection. However, self-defense training can increase your choices and options and your preparedness."

Quinn raised her hand.

"You don't need to raise your hand here. Did you want to say or ask something?"

Quinn put her hand down and loudly asked, "Can't a gun increase your options and preparedness?" She hoped the lady would say yes, thus convincing her mom to get her a gun.

Helen's jaw dropped. It never occurred to her, in her worst nightmares, that QUINN would say something like that! She struggled to maintain her composure and hoped she wouldn't have to leave, dragging both of her daughters with her. There'd be hell to pay!

The speaker seemed unperturbed, neither amused nor disturbed. "Guns are just one option among many others, such as pepper spray, persuaders, and stun guns. But all of these devices cannot be counted on to work against all attackers at all times, especially if you don't have it on hand when you need it. You should also be aware that 70% or more of sexual assaults and battery will come from people you are close to, not from a stranger. Think hard if you can use any of these devices on someone you know."

An older woman about Helen's age was up by the younger speaker now. "Guns are also easily taken away by your attacker, and so are a liability."

The younger speaker countered, "Not if one knows how to prevent that. AWARE--Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment--teaches handgun retention, taught by the same people who train police officers. AWSDA--American Women Self Defense Association--also sponsors some good firearm training courses. But there are limitations to everything, and you should learn what they are when deciding when and where and IF to use a tool, be it a gun or something else."

The older woman shook her head. "Mace is better."

The younger laughed, a little harshly. "Attackers have overcome mace simply by closing their eyes. The companies that market them say it's a natural physiological reaction, but many from AWSDA will tell you not to trust the chemical sprays. And anything has the potential to be taken away and used on the victim."

"I can't believe you're championing guns over mace."

"I'm not. I'm simply giving facts to allow others make up their own minds, and decide what works for them. Any tool is a tool you need to learn how to use well. Getting sprays or persuaders or a gun and not learning how to use it is like wearing a swimsuit to the beach without learning how to swim. You look good, but you'll likely drown if you don't know what you're doing. So go out and learn how to use these tools and then decide what works for you."

"I must tell all Middleton students that Middleton has a strong policy against any handguns...."

"Despite growing violence against women," said the younger speaker.

"..AND," the older speaker said pointedly, staring hard at the younger, "we know that guns escalate violence rather than stop violence....."

"Oh, yeah," said the younger in a fully sarcastic tone by this point, "using a gun on a guy with a knife trying to rape you will make him more violent, but not mace."

"... and Middleton has barred guns from campus for that reason!" The older woman was now glaring at the younger meaningfully.

The younger speaker crossed her arms, saying, "If I recall rightly, that policy went in effect after the QB missed the championship game because he was wounded by the woman he tried raping to celebrate another game. A pastime he had a reputation for. Middleton has to keep its priorities straight, and I hear the gambling circuit also raised hell over that."

The older woman had gone pale, and looked afraid for some reason. "Thank you, Angeline," she said in a tight voice, "for trashing our school to the new students."

"Hey, you want them aware of how dangerous men are. I think I just helped tremendously."

"This is just more of your trying to start an undergraduate chapter of the Second Amendment Sisters. Give it up, already, it's NOT going to happen!"

"Why do you want to disempower women?"

"Why do you embrace the phallic cult of death?"

Another older woman quickly came up and stepped between the two instructors, who looked as if they were going to put on a free demonstration of martial arts technique on each other right then and there.

Clearing her throat and smiling, she said, "Thank you, Angeline and Jacklyn, for introducing the class to some dark realities. You both made wonderful points. Both of these women are among our instructors here with us today." She swallowed and resisted looking at the instructors on either side of her.

Daria and Quinn were both smiling in mild amusement. This wasn't as boring as they'd both feared it would be. Then they saw two women come up, one being Ms. Barch, the other one a young Asian woman.

"The other instructors, besides myself," said the woman speaking now, "are Risa and Janet. And I'm Kim. As you can tell, we encourage a variety of philosophies and styles here at WSD, though I must point out that Jacklyn is right in that no guns are allowed on Middleton grounds, and being caught with them, even in self defense, will result in immediate arrest and expulsion."

"Still better than being raped," said Angeline.

Kim cleared her throat again. "I personally represent FIST--Feminist In Self-Defense Training--which is explained in the books you all got as part of our class. It is a more intuitive and verbal form of self defense. The greatest weapon any of us can use is our mind."

She came closer to people, walking by the women who were sitting on the floor or on the mats. "The first thing you must accept is that you CAN defend yourself. This is the first step. You have to tell yourself this over and over until you believe it. Once you believe it, you can do it."

Daria rolled her eyes without thinking, but kept listening.

"You need to get to the point that should you ever be woken up from a sound sleep because someone has broken in and attacks you, the first thing you think is, 'I can defend myself!'

Yeah, thought Daria, Right, I'm waked up in the middle of the night by a guy ready for the attack, and almost certainly bigger and stronger, and he's gonna have every advantage, even if I do defend myself. I'm glad this class is free.

"Come on, everyone," Kim continued, "I want to hear all of you say you have the right to defend yourself!"

Quinn's voice was the only strong one. She seemed to be into it. Everyone else's voices were mere mumbles, or halfhearted at best.

"Say it again," said Kim.

Daria moaned and she got her arm slapped by her mom. Daria frowned and prepared to say, "Kill me quickly, please," when Kim told them to say it all again.

But Kim didn't say it again right then. She said, "Okay, I sense many of you are having a hard time believing that YOU can defend yourself, even though every single one of you can. Even if you're on crutches, there are ways for you to defend yourself. But right now, let's deal with some simple, everyday situations you might easily find yourselves in....."

They all ended up taking turns pretending to be overbearing males such as men who couldn't accept no, and others who harassed, pestered, or tried insisting women do some things, like dancing with them. (Daria repeated many of the lines she had used already on others, which often flew over the head of the woman pretending to be a man, just as it had on the original recipients.)

That was followed by practicing shouts and yells for when the situation got more intense. Daria was surprised and a little disturbed by how good she felt yelling. Did she have so much anger within her that she welcomed this release? If so, why didn't she consciously feel it?

Quinn was really getting into the yelling. Daria was getting worried at how eagerly Quinn would shriek and how primal she sounded. Ms. Barch kept egging her on. "What do you do when you see another man that you can tell is just like Matthew?"

"AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!" Luckily, she just stood there, as all the rest of them did. Her shriek truly bordered on blood curling.

Others were shouting, including Helen and Daria, but neither were as intense as Quinn, nor did either think they COULD be if they wanted to be.

Then they were all taught different ways to hit, strike, kick, and more, working with big pillows that only roughly resembled the human body in any sense. They learned a variety of techniques to break out of holds. The students took turns holding padded shields to practice blows using elbows, fists, the bony side of the forearm, and feet.

Yet through the entire class, not one situation was covered remotely like the situation of Matthew in Lawndale High on the morning of the shooting.

But the class finally came to a standstill when Quinn was practicing shouts and blows on a shield. Everyone else turned to stare in shock, and a little fear. Angeline was holding the shield and was backing up rapidly while Quinn, seemingly possessed in a berserk rage, was trying to get past the shield at her, though she did not actually try to jump around it.

The class got very quiet, except for Angeline's grunts and Quinn's screams that bespoke pain, grief, fear, and rage. Her thrusts were clumsy but still threatening and coming faster and harder. Angeline brought the shield up to block a horizontal fist. Quinn spun and kicked at her knee.

Angeline dodged, but didn't fully get out of Quinn's way, and she fell with a short yell herself. Quinn leaped at her with a murderous shout, but both Angeline's shield and feet came up. The shield prevented Quinn from grabbing hold of her, and her feet pushed Quinn over her completely. Angeline was instantly on her feet while Quinn was twisting to get back on hers.

Quinn was grabbed from behind by Ms. Barch. Quinn instantly shot both of her fists up in the air to break the hold on her, but Ms. Barch was ready for that move. "Easy, Quinn," said Ms. Barch sounding impressed, "there are no men here."

Quinn struggled a few more moments and then stopped, fighting tears.

Helen, looking worried, wondered if it had simply been the adrenaline that triggered such an episode in Quinn. She wanted to get her in therapy, but the lawyer in her didn't want Quinn talking to anyone about the case before it was resolved in a court of law. Instead, she saw Daria not too far away and went up to her.

Helen lightly placed a hand on Daria's shoulder. "The night before you came home," Helen began, "Quinn screamed when I came in the room to check on her after she had another nightmare. She told me later that she thought I was Matthew, whom she was sure was in the house. I'm not surprised, as that's typical of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But what do you think would've happened if Quinn had a gun in easy reach that night?"

Daria acknowledged the point with a slight shiver, and Helen withdrew to let it sink in before Daria could come up with some rejoinder she thought clever.

Class wound down early not long after that.



03/19/01 MONDAY 8:30 A.M.

"Hey, Quinn."

Quinn jumped, almost dropping her books. Just standing in front of her locker she was already breathing faster than usual. She couldn't stop trembling. Her first day of school since the shooting was being really rough.

She turned to face Scott, a guy she had seen Matthew talk to more than once. "Hey," she said, afraid, part of her actually expecting Matthew to suddenly appear, gun blazing.

Scott looked sad. "I'm.... I'm sorry about what happened and all. I never thought he would do anything like that. I mean.... I'm sorry he's dead, but I'm glad you're not. I just.... just wish he hadn't done what he did. I never would have guessed....." Here his voice broke.

Quinn felt his sympathy and was grateful for it. "It's not your fault, Scott," she said, still trembling slightly.

"I should have known. But I didn't have a clue." He shook his head, looking at the floor.

"None of us did," said Quinn, now opening her locker.

"I can't believe you're back so soon," said Scott, finally looking up at her.

"Oh," said Quinn, "I'm stronger than you'd think." Quinn wondered why she wasn't pulling his strings. She knew the techniques for twisting men around her finger, she just didn't feel like using them.

"I guess," he said. "Anyway, see you later, Quinn." He turned and left as if too upset to talk anymore.

"Yeah," said Quinn, "later."

She went to class, and Stacy grabbed Quinn and hugged her the moment she entered the classroom. "Quinn, I'm so glad to see you! I would've called but my mom wouldn't let me!"

Quinn gently disentangled herself. "Yeah, my mom's being pretty strict right now, too."

Stacy kept looking at Quinn as she followed Quinn to her seat. Sandi was watching them neutrally, while Tiffany was leafing through an issue of Waif. The three J's were there, all of them smiling, but they waited for her to sit before they said anything.

"Hey, Quinn," said Jeffy, "My dad got me a gun, so I can protect you instead of your cousin!"

"Hey, I'll get a bigger gun!"

"I'll get a gun that shoots more bullets!"

Quinn listened to them in openmouthed shock, and behind her Sandi and Stacy listened in wide-eyed amazement at such a dialogue.

Then someone began shooting out in the hallways. This time, it sounded like an assault weapon.

Terror froze Quinn's body and she grabbed her desk so hard she could actually feel the blood trying to squeeze through her fingers. The three J's forgot her and kissed the ground, as did half of the other students in her class. Mr. O' Neill was hiding under his desk. Then the shooting stopped.

Quinn, trying desperately not to hyperventilate, was crying and shaking and finally let out a sob.

She looked around. The Fashion Club were all mirroring her terror. Stacy was quietly sobbing and Quinn had never seen THAT expression on Tiffany before.

Are they wondering the same thing I am? Quinn wondered. Is the gunman going from classroom to classroom, killing everybody in his path? Should we all run now? Or would that single us out? Maybe he'd run out of ammo before he made it here?

She looked to Mr. O' Neill for some sign to reassure herself, but Mr. O' Neill was loudly crying himself, still hiding under his desk. She was on her own. Where was the authority that was supposed to "protect" her? Where were her admirers? All she had was herself. And maybe Daria. She was glad Daria wasn't here because she realized she cared for Daria as the only person who stood behind her when things got rough.

Buffy? Buffy, where are you?, asked Quinn silently. But she felt nothing but gut wrenching fear, and the tears that slid down her face.

During the shooting, she had forgotten the entire WSD Class yesterday. Not that it taught how to defend yourself from a mad gunman, Quinn noted bitterly. She wanted a gun of her own. That was the only thing that would help her. Until then, she would have to depend on Daria's gun, and that was no longer an option. That's what the dreams have been telling her, Quinn realized.

The intercom came on, and Mr. DeMartino's voice filled the school. "There is NO shooter, I REPEAT, there is NO shooter!" The com seemed to click off, but Quinn thought that just maybe she could barely hear Mr. DeMartino cussing up a storm. Surely that was her imagination?

The 'com came back on. "The police have been called. But it SEEMS that some COMEDIAN in need of some SERIOUS help thought it would be FUNNY to throw some fireworks into the hall. I promise you that if I FIND this person, he won't be LAUGHING at ALL!"

The 'com clicked off again for a moment before continuing with, "After the police have arrived and have been made AWARE of the incident, I will release everyone from class EARLY. It's not as if you learn much anyway even under the BEST of circumstances." Quinn thought she knew when his eye bulged in that rant.

No one cheered. All around her, Quinn saw faces that looked to be in shock. "Is this what they call shell shock?" Quinn wondered out loud before she realized she had spoken. No one showed any sign of having heard her. She took no offense. She knew exactly how everyone around her felt. She probably felt it more than they did.

Quinn suddenly felt comforted, as she felt Buffy near her.

The next few minutes felt like hours, but they were all released to the cafeteria where they could leave, call someone to pick them up, or wait for one of the buses that were theoretically on the way.

Quinn saw Scott. He was walking toward her aggressively. She flinched, but he calmed as he came closer.

"I'm really pissed over that sick joke," he said, as if trying to hold back a rage with tremendous self control. "I can't imagine how it must have affected you! Are you okay?"

Quinn nodded and said, "Yeah, I'm okay." It was a lie, but one that would have to do for now.

She saw all three members of the Fashion Club staring at her, somewhat disapprovingly. "I'll see you later, Scott," she said as she went over to them.

"Yeah, later," Quinn heard Scott say.

"Quinn," said Sandi when Quinn joined them, "I hope you're not going to date him. He may be popular, but he was friends with that Matthew guy. And you're already under enough suspicion of all kinds of things as it is."

"Um, yeah, Sandi," said Quinn, still distressed over what had happened. Why is she being such a bitch?, Quinn wondered.

She's just being herself, Buffy replied silently in Quinn's head, and Quinn let out a little laugh.

"Gee, Quinn," said Sandi disapprovingly, "I'm glad you find this so amusing, but the Fashion Club has been particularly hurt by your association with Matthew."

Quinn's eyes widened. "Sandi, you were happy to come to the cabin with us. So was everyone else!"

"That was before I knew Matthew was some geeky Nazi speed freak, Quinn." Contempt dripped from Sandi's voice.

"Well I didn't know about any of that, either," said Quinn. "I think a lot of people are lying about that, anyway. And if Matthew hurt anyone especially it was me. Are you going to try to kick me out of the Fashion Club just like you ran and left me alone with him?"

Stacy and Tiffany turned away, but Sandi focused on her, her jaw dropping open.

"Like excuse me, Quinn," said Sandi, "but when someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting people, I run. I thought everyone knew to do that. Why did you just stand there, anyway?"

Quinn began to fight tears, but she kept her voice steady. She heard Buffy say to her, Never mind her, Quinn. She's just jealous of you. She's especially hated how you outdated her, and now she has a chance to punish you for dating so much. And the reason you didn't run was because you knew he would raise the gun to shoot you the moment you ran.

"Oh, yeah," remarked Quinn quietly.

"What?" asked Sandi.

"I mean," said Quinn, "Matthew would've shot me in the back if I ran, or made any move to escape. I had to wait until he was distracted from me before I could run."

Sandi glared harshly at Quinn a moment longer, then softened her expression. "I'm sorry, Quinn. This has been hard on all of us. I remember how scared I was when I ran. I didn't think about it. I just did it. And then I.... I realized Stacy and Tiffany were there, but you weren't. I was... I was mad, and scared, when I saw you were still there by Matthew. I kept thinking, why didn't she run, now she's going to be killed." Sandi's voice actually cracked a little, and Quinn felt guilt for mentally calling her a bitch.

"It's okay Sandi. He's dead now anyway."

"Do you forgive us, Quinn?"

"Of course, Sandi. I never was bothered by your running. I was glad you got away." Quinn felt her innards twist at the lie she just told, and still felt the anger at having been abandoned, and then not called at home afterwards. "But why didn't you call?"

"Oh," said Sandi, "my mom was being a bitch. All the stuff on the news just got worse and worse. And... I didn't know what to say anyway."

"Me neiitherrr," moaned out Tiffany.

Stacy smiled guiltily at Quinn. "Please forgive us for not standing by you, Quinn. Or calling you."

Quinn smiled at them. "I'm just glad we all got out of that okay."

"Exactly," said Sandi. "And I think we should all have a makeover. A change in appearance to encourage others to change their appearance. And decorations. We can make this school look not so.... so like when Matthew started shooting it up."

"That's a great idea!" said Quinn excited. She frowned a little. "But I don't want any ponytails."

"Awesome idea, Sandi!" shouted Stacy, "and I don't want any ponytails, either!"

"Me, neitherrrr," said Tiffany again, also excited.

"You guys are the best," said Quinn, suddenly meaning it. Her life was starting to feel a little bit normal again, and she felt control over her own destiny coming more and more into her hands.

"Can you all make it to my place, tonight?" asked Sandi. "My mom won't be there, so there shouldn't be a problem with Quinn coming over."

Quinn frowned at that but just said, "I'm sure I can talk my mom into it." Especially if I promise not to ask her to get me a gun for a week.

The others agreed enthusiastically, and Sandi finalized it with, "Then it's a date."



03/19/01 MONDAY 9:00 A.M.

The cameras were being set up in the front room by the crew for Handgun Control Inc. while Helen nervously talked with Mrs. Brand who, Helen hoped, would be Lawndale's next mayor. A woman in the later stages of middle age, she retained a trim figure (making Helen uncomfortable), but also wore glasses. She did seem to be excessively made up, but that wasn't too bad. She would have looked more dignified if she hadn't colored her hair red and permed it quite so tightly, but even so, she was still more dignified than the current mayor or Fillman.

"Daria and Quinn both have suffered a lot from the attacks of this boy," Helen was saying at this point, "I just recently found out he had stuck a gun right in Daria's face! I can't imagine what it must have been like for her." Helen was giving enough for sympathy, but careful not to give away too much.

"Yes," said Mrs. Brand in a critical tone of voice, "it's too bad she didn't feel able to come to you or call the police."

"Yes," said Helen, instantly cooling off towards Mrs. Brand. May you burn in hell, bitch!

A young woman in a wheelchair came up and told Mrs. Brand, "We're pretty much ready when you are."

"It's about time," says Mrs. Brand critically. "We've got so much to do and so little time to do it in." She turned to a bemused Helen. "Bring down that girl of yours and we'll begin." Having issued her commands, she turned away from Helen to find others to micromanage.

Helen checked her glare at Mrs. Brand's back when she heard the young woman laugh quietly. Her face reddened and she smiled apologetically at her. "Sorry," said Helen quietly, "it's just that things have been rough for me, too."

Helen examined the young woman more closely. Medium build, brown hair, and freckles on a wide face. She wore simple button shirt and jeans which Quinn would judge harshly, along with simple tennies. She had a bright, happy face which was a contrast to the wheel chair she was in and the people she was around.

"I can imagine," the young woman replied to Helen. "My name is Kathy Farlow, but everyone calls me Kat." She extended a hand towards Helen.

Helen gracefully shook her hand. "Is Mrs. Brand always so.... driven?"

Kat laughed again, but still quietly. "No, she's usually worse. I think she's nervous what Daria will do to her if she's her usual self."

Helen smiled, in spite of the implied slander about her daughter. "So why do you work with her?"

"Oh," said Kat somewhat dismissively, "she's what we have around here. Her fire is a needed thing, I'm afraid. I don't think I could do anywhere as much as Mrs. Brand does for getting dangerous firearms out of reach of the angry, suicidal, and disturbed." She shrugged. "She doesn't seem to appreciate what I do, and doesn't care that I need time for my classes at Middleton. That's rough on me, but I still believe in the cause, even if I also think Mrs. Brand is a bit caustic."

Helen smiled a little more. "It's nice to see someone young and passionate who still believes in something." She sighed. "My own daughters, unfortunately, don't. My youngest is obsessed with clothes and dating, and Daria, well.... I'm afraid she's just a bit too cynical to take part in anything."

"Hm, yes," replied Kat. "I feel cynical a lot, too. But you know what, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

"Call me Helen, please," said Helen, enjoying Kat's confidant approach and youthful ideals.

"Helen," said Kat, "the doctors told me I would never walk again after my spine was struck by a stray bullet....."

"How awful!" said Helen, and meaning it. She blushed when she saw Mrs. Brand turn to glare at her, knowing she hadn't gotten Daria yet.

"Yes," said Kat. "But I worked at it. And when I graduated from Cedar Creek High, I walked up to get my diploma. Maybe I used crutches, and walked from my wheelchair, but I still did more than my doctor ever said I would!"

"That's amazing," said Helen sincerely, "maybe that means you will walk one day completely again."

Kat nodded, and her voice choked slightly. "I worked for that, and I got it. That's when I knew I could do anything. And I know I can save others from sharing the same fate I've been dealt. We may not stop all violence, but because of us, there will be fewer in wheelchairs or coffins. That's worth working for, and that's why I do all that I do. Even with you-know-who."

"That's great," said Helen, meaning it. She looked up. Mrs. Brand was back.

"Kathy," said Mrs. Brand, "can you please see what else Mr. Jensen has for you to do?"

"Of course," said Kat crisply, and with a flick of a switch began wheeling off toward an older man with a clipboard, though the older man was still young in Helen's sight. Helen would guess from Mrs. Brand's tone and glare that she did not care for Kat at all.

"Oh, let me get Daria," said Helen blushing again under Mrs. Brand's displeasure. She blushed harder as Mrs. Brand turned her back on her without a word and went to find someone else to glare at.

Helen went up and knocked on Daria's door before opening it. Daria was sitting on the bed with her arms crossed. She looked up at Helen very nervously.

"Daria, they're ready for you," said Helen, smiling encouragingly. "Don't worry about a thing. Just try to be pleasant, and I'm sure it will go great. They know that people will listen to what you have to say, and so they're going to try to make you a friend of their cause if they can."

"Or crucify me," said Daria. "Well, I might as well go down and ask the viewers if we can all get along." She got up, showing resignation.

"Daria," said Helen with some concern, "Try to show a better attitude. These people will help you, and hinder Fillman's ability to hurt you." When Daria gave her a deadpan stare, she added, "Come on, Daria, big smile!"

Daria gave a big smile.

"Okay, subtle smile," corrected Helen. She wasn't sure if Daria was being sarcastic or not, but big smiles just didn't look right on her. She sighed as she saw Daria's face resume its cold, deadpan expression. "Let's go," said Helen, sounding just as resigned as Daria looked.

Daria came down behind Helen, looking almost like a condemned criminal approaching the gallows. She saw the older woman that she knew was Mrs. Brand standing by an older man whom she didn't recognize. He seemed to be floating about the older woman and she wondered if there was a relationship between them. Another man with blonde hair, glasses, and a clipboard, was just starting to sit down on a chair that wasn't Morgendorffer property. A woman in a wheelchair was situated by the couch. She looked only a few years older than Daria herself, and smiled nervously at her. Helen led Daria to the couch where they both sat down. Two men held cameras, while another had a screwdriver out, working on an apparently nonfunctioning camera.

"Hey," said the woman in the wheelchair, barely a foot from Daria. "I'm Kat." She extended her hand, and Daria nervously shook it.

The older man that had been by Mrs. Brand came up to Daria. "Hello, young lady," he said. "I'm Mr. Preston, and I'm here to guide the others in filming this interview." He was a bit overweight, humpty dumpty style, with thinning hair that looked as though it had been gelled. He stared at her warily for some reason before nodding his head.

"I hope my story helps you," said Daria neutrally, wishing he would stop looking her over with critical eyes.

Mr. Preston chuckled. "I'm a retired journalist. By the time I'm done with the footage, you'll help us whether you want to or not." He turned his head, saw Mrs. Brand sitting down and walked over beside her to speak with her.

Daria blinked, unsure if that was meant as a joke or a threat.

"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Brand loudly from her own chair (also imported) in response to whatever Mr. Preston had said, "let's get on with this. We have a very tight schedule to keep." She pointed at a few people, introducing them. "This," she said pointing to the older man standing next to her, "is Mr. Preston. This is Mr. Jensen," she added, pointing to the blonde guy in glasses, who was now biting his nails. "And the woman in a wheelchair next to you is Ms. Kathy Farlow, commonly called Kat." It was obvious she didn't like that diminutive. "She was in a school shooting, too, and she didn't come out as well as you," she added crisply, and in a tone that implied Daria should be ashamed of the fact.

And so they began, with Daria narrating the events she had listed for her defense. But after the basic story, they obviously wanted more.

"Let's go back to this gun show, Daria," said Mr. Jenson. "Tell us exactly what you remember."

Daria was filled with annoyance and struggled to hide it. Everyone wanted to know where she got the gun! "I wasn't paying too much attention," said Daria evasively, "with Quinn's boyfriend on my mind, I didn't have eyes for anything other than a small gun I could carry around without others knowing."

"We'll get back to that later," said Mrs. Brand, "right now tell us about the gun show. You say it was held in Newport?"

Daria nodded.

"And?" asked Mrs. Brand pointedly.

Daria's own annoyance began to show. "And what? I told you I don't remember much. Why is this even important anyway?"

Mrs. Brand took a long, deep breath. Then, speaking slowly as if to a mentally challenged child, said, "These gun shows are the most common source for felons and children like yourself to get guns. They're then used in acts of violence. We're dedicated to stopping that violence. We would also like to make Project Sentry, where those who supply any child under the age of 21 with guns and the training to use them, a federal crime." Mrs. Brand was disgusted that this law wasn't applicable in Virginia. Yet, she reminded herself grimly. "So what we need from you, Daria, is for you to help us document just how dangerous these gun shows are, and why they need to be more tightly regulated."

Daria seemed to lose her annoyance, though Helen's heart sank when she heard a voice that boded ill. "I've researched this at the public library. If you add in pawn shops to gun shows, you have roughly 10% of where felons get their guns. 80% get them from family, friends, and the black market."

"Their friends get them from gun shows," replied Mrs. Brand dismissively.

Daria rolled her eyes. "Uh, huh, and you followed them to find this out?"

Mrs. Brand leaned forward as the blood rushed to her face. "Gun shows, especially in Virginia, don't have to check out anyone and can sell guns to anyone." Including to smart ass thugs like yourself, Daria

"She knows what she's talking about," added Mr. Preston meaningfully

Daria shook her head. "Anyone who does so is open to prosecution by the BATF, who sometimes send in undercover agents just to see if they can buy such guns without any kind of background check. It typically doesn't go well for those who do, even if they aren't a federally licensed dealer."

Mr. Jensen's lips thinned with exasperation as he listened. "Where did Matthew get his gun but from his grandfather. HE got it from a gun show! The police weren't even able to track it with NLET. That gun could have been used in all kinds of crimes. It was in the hands of a drug dealer! Just like your gun, Daria, it was gotten at a gun show. Now will you tell us what went on at the gun show you went to? Something we can use? Please?"

"Well," said Daria, sounding accommodating, "I saw many guns at the gun show, many of them machine guns of some kind. But I did have to duck several mass murderers, since these guns cause violence."

"I'm not surprised," said Mr. Preston, seeming shocked by Daria's adventure there, while the others stared at her suspiciously.

"There were three mass slayings there," continued Daria, "but a bunch of NRA guys in black cowboy suits covered it up. I think one of them was Charlton Heston as the others kept calling him Moses, and I heard him mention something about visiting the planet of the apes."

Mrs. Brand's eyes narrowed and filled with menace.

"And I know it wasn't just the gun show, because when I was at the police station, one of the cops shot a bunch of people right in front of me." Daria looked at them. "You know, why do cops at a desk need a gun? And why do they need guns to fight crime? Aren't guns a liability to them? Something a criminal can take away?"

Helen laughed nervously to fill the silence. Why is Daria so mad? wondered Helen, or is this just a clever attempt not to answer questions about the gun show? I better drill her on this before Fillman gets her on the stand. "Daria," she said, "let's stay on topic."

Daria turned to look at her mom beside her. "I thought you were just going to sue the companies that made them. So why are you going after the gun shows? Just how many people's fault is it that Matthew started shooting and tried to kill Quinn? Why can't it be Matthew's fault?"

"If Taurus hadn't made the gun Matthew used, he never would've shot those people or tried to kill Quinn with it." Not to mention the stunt the Lawndale PD pulled thought Helen bitterly, but I can't mention that, yet.

"Absolutely," said Mr. Jensen. "Gun companies should show responsibility for that!"

"You can't, or shouldn't, be able to sue them when they have no authority over who buys their products. If you feel so strongly that they should be held accountable, then try to arrange a system where the individual gun makers have to issue permission to buy their products."

"But Daria," Kat said, "why would they reduce their profits by refusing to sell?"

"If they have to pay a wergild for the violence and gross irresponsibility of someone they gave permission to buy, then they'd be more careful. And if guns are as bad an influence as you say, then this system would see the prices for guns become astronomical to cover the wergilds. Eventually, no one could afford to maintain a gun company, they'd be out of business."

Everyone blinked at this, uncertain. Mrs. Brand tried to speak more than once before she finally coughed out, "Daria, it's the fault of the gun makers that these tragedies occur! To put them in charge of deciding who can buy a gun is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse!" Her tone suggested that she wasn't sure about Daria's sanity.

"Why can't we blame Matthew, or his family, or maybe the drug laws that made his career so profitable, or a thousand other things? Or why not sue car manufacturers for the next case of road rage, especially when they have no say over who can and can't buy their product?"

"Should we blame you for bringing a gun into Lawndale High?" asked Mrs. Brand pointedly.

"Mrs. Brand," said Helen quickly, "Daria did the only thing she could think to do at the time. It's sad that guns are in the world, but since they are, Daria did all that she could under the circumstances. It's those who put the guns in the world who should pay the piper."

"You should thank me for saving lives," said Daria.

Mrs. Brand's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped open at such a proclamation. Then she shook her head. "You added to the violence, Daria, you didn't stop it. Don't ever fool yourself otherwise. You may have saved your sister's life, but a world where you're forced to defend yourself with a gun isn't the kind of world anyone should live in."

"If it wasn't for me, she wouldn't be alive at all," said Daria.

Mr. Jensen laughed bitterly. "I hate that NRA attitude. Daria, you've been around these gun nuts for a short while, and they've already left their mark on your impressionable psyche. A gun simply invites violence. There's nothing 'cool' about having one for emergencies. That macho, defend yourself attitude is the last thing this country needs."

"Or," said Kat, "that women have to live in fear unless they get a gun. I've seen the ads, Daria. It's all about fear. Through fear, they pull you into their lies of the need of a gun for self-defense."

"Doesn't your group also use fear to pull people into the lies of needing more gun control?" asked Daria. She was expressionless as several faces turned hard or hostile towards her.

"Get that NRA garbage out of your head, Daria!" shouted Mr. Jensen. "Jeez, this stupidity of so many gullible people who'll believe anything a bunch of gun nuts tell them is so.... it's so....."

"Why do you want people on their mailing list to be on yours instead?" asked Daria deadpan.

Mrs. Brand interrupted with, "Cut it out, Daria!" She glared at Helen as she said it. Then she relaxed a bit and complained, "We have the facts, we have the figures, and yet the NRA is the one that stops us with lies and fear. I understand Mr. Jensen's frustration. You're young, Daria. Please remember that we've lived longer than you have and know more than you do."

"And Charlton Heston is my age?" asked Daria.

Mrs. Brand shook her head, saying, "Heston is a paranoid windbag who thinks we're going to take all his precious guns. No, we just want sensible gun control, and we'll even leave a few for legitimate purposes like hunting or recreation."

"And self-defense?" asked Daria.

Mrs. Brand sighed. "Too many people can't tell the difference between self-defense and preemptive strikes or revenge. So, no, that's not legitimate. And the NRA has just gotten too much power by making people afraid of crime or afraid that we're trying to take their guns away."

"So there isn't crime to be worried about? That's why you're NOT trying to ban guns?"

Mrs. Brand shook her head. "Not the way the NRA means it."

"Do you think when I get to be Charlton Heston's age, I'll finally understand? What about you, are you his age yet?"

"Daria," said Mrs. Brand in a dire tone, "you need to calm yourself down. You need us as your friends, not your enemies."

After a minute of silence, Mr. Jensen continued, "Every time we get enough people to pass a bill, the NRA spoils it. But we have popular support! Then the NRA tells a bunch of scary stories about needing to defend yourself and threatens the politicians and our bills fail! I hate that!"

Daria rolled her eyes over that. Why did so many people think popularity meant something? "When the scary stories they should believe are the ones you tell." Daria raised an eyebrow and asked, "If you have popular support, then what does the NRA have to do with it anyway? Can't all those people who support you vote? Especially since so many gun owners are violent sociopaths and unable to vote due to past felonies, or dead from suicides and accidents?"

"The NRA know how to mobilize their people better," said Mr. Preston with some desperation.

"And they also have 7 million members compared to our 50,000," added Mr. Jenson with disgust. "It hurts how little money and support we can get, compared to some monolithic entity like the NRA."

"So you don't have popular support?" asked Daria mercilessly.

"What we don't have is the financial reserves that the NRA does," replied Mr. Jensen.

"Financial support given by their popularity. But you might have more money if Sarah Brady shared her wealth more. And she might find more listeners if she didn't charge up to $5,000 for people to listen to her."

Silence fell on the room, and Helen felt her heart go faster as she saw Daria alienating her allies. She wasn't sure what to say, but she placed her hand on Daria's shoulder and willed her to be quiet.

"I don't get people like you, Daria," said Mr. Jensen. "Why is it so many people are willing to sympathize with the NRA types rather than with those of us trying to make a safer world? A world in which you wouldn't have to carry a gun to feel safe. Don't you want that, Daria?"

"Of course I do," said Daria. "But what you're making is a world where I can't carry a gun. Only the bad guys can." She crossed her arms and added, "And maybe if you didn't equate all those school board members, housewives, office holders, grannies living alone and other normal, gun-owning people with violent sociopaths, you wouldn't alienate so many people."

"I don't care what people do," said Mrs. Brand, "There's no excuse for carrying a gun. It's just a bunch of paranoid fascists that are so concerned over their so-called right to bear arms. They're always going on about the second amendment like it means something. All that amendment is about is the national guard anyway."

"Right," said Daria, "established in 1903. When was the 2nd amendment drafted?" She had gotten a long lecture on this from the guy who got her the gun. He went on forever about how Congress could pass laws regarding what kinds of guns the militia could have, but could not pass laws on the kinds of guns people could have in their home. Not to mention they were expected to provide their own guns most of the time, too. But Daria just didn't care about such esoteric points.

Mr. Preston piped in with, "Even many companies understand the wisdom of gun control, and bar their employees from having guns. They don't want to see their work places turn into war zones as another disgruntled employee takes the entire office out."

"Actually," said Daria, "they're more scared of being sued by the robber's family should the robber get shot by the delivery girl or cashier."

"In which case," said Mrs. Brand, "they should hand over the money and let the police handle it."

"What if the robber is also a killer? Or a rapist?" asked Daria

"It doesn't matter, Daria," said Mrs. Brand, "more guns equal more violence."

"Then why is America much more violent after nearly a century of gun control? Why were the victims of most mob violence first disarmed by law? Why did Scotland Yard report the UK experienced a rise in violent crime, including gun violence and gun smuggling, after gun control was instituted there? You can point out other sources report less, but all those sources were funded by the groups that pushed for gun control in the first place, making them unreliable. Unless Scotland Yard jacked the figures up to preserve their budget, then it seems almost a maxim that where gun control goes into effect, violence and gun crime become worse."

Mr. Preston shook his head. "The reasons we've had more gun control is because of more gun violence. Gun violence causes the gun control, not the other way around."

"Please," said Daria, a bit contemptuously. "The rates jumped higher where gun control went into effect, than where it hadn't. And how do you explain 1901, when there were approximately 230 reported murders in the entire United States, even though gun ownership was a fact of life?"

"Statistic back then ignored a lot," said Mr. Jensen, "and investigation standards were not what they are today. The murder rate was surely higher than that, and many killings of people of color weren't counted. Not to mention the suicides, and all the children killed with guns."

"A child is killed every day by a gun." added Mrs. Brand. "From accidental misuse as well as from suicide and murder. That's a strong reason for more gun control, too."

Daria uncrossed her arms, but her voice wasn't cooperative. "If you count people up into their mid-20's, including gang bangers smoking crack and fighting over territory, as well as soldiers in combat situations, then yes, I can see how you came up with a figure like that. But according to the CDC and US Bureau of Justice, most of the dead who were legally children -- that is, 17 and younger -- died as suicides or in drug related disputes. Over half of the gun deaths you count are people who are legally adults."

"Like it or not, Daria, Virginia is getting more gun control, thanks in part to the horrendous events that took place at your school for which you have been expelled."

"Good," said Daria. "The moment we have the same gun control as Washington DC, then the sooner we can enjoy their low murder rate, too." Daria turned to her mom. "Are you aware of just how little gun violence there is in our nation's capital?" Helen responded only with a look of concern and confusion.

Mrs. Brand responded, "The reason they still have violence is because of your state's lenient laws, which is why the laws of your state must be made stricter."

The others nodded in agreement, and Helen smiled slightly, though she still looked confused.

"Right," said Daria as she crossed her arms. "If the availability of guns is the cause of the problems in D.C., then why doesn't any place in Virginia have a comparable murder rate? Why is the murder rate for the entire state of Virginia, rural and urban areas combined, significantly less than that of Washington D.C.?"

"There are other factors at work in Washington DC," said Mr. Jensen. "The fact remains that the other factors cause gun violence because their criminals come to Virginia to buy guns...."

"From gun shows!" interrupted Mrs. Brand.

"From gun shows," continued Mr. Jensen, "to take back to Washington DC to use in criminal enterprises there."

"Fine," said Daria, "why can't you support Project Exile then? That focuses on drug dealers and other such criminals with guns. Heck, it even registers non-criminal gun owners when even convicted murderers off parole are spared such invasions of privacy."

"Project Exile is a good idea that doesn't go far enough," said Mrs. Brand, blinking in surprise at Daria's knowledge of the subject. "Since criminals have no respect for the law, they will still carry guns. The only thing we can do is get guns out of the hands of criminals. That means out of the hands of everyone else because their guns will only be stolen by the criminals."

"Guns are too dangerous to own, anyway," added Mr. Jensen.

"Then take a safety class," replied Daria, "and recommend them for your friends."

"Not good enough," said Mr. Jensen. "And guns are a danger and a threat even when not being used. All guns should be avoided."

Daria smirked. "Then stay away from military bases and any cops you see."

"You think guns aren't dangerous?" asked Mrs. Brand incredulously.

"Of course they're dangerous," said Daria. "So are bath tubs and pools and trampolines and cleansing agents. So are stoves and alcohol and cars. Last I heard, a family with a backyard pool was 20 times more likely to cause a child's death than a family with a gun, but I don't see people making Freddy Fish programs to teach pool safety. At least guns have a purpose, to fight crime and protect yourself from attack, unlike those dangerous swimming pools."

Kat touched Daria's forearm lightly. "Daria, the only purpose of a gun is to kill."

"Exactly," said Mr. Preston

"The purpose of my gun," said Daria, "was to protect me and my sister."

"Your gun," said Mrs. Brand, "equipped you to be a killer like Matthew. In time, your gun would have been used to kill someone innocent."

"Like it's only a matter of time before I become a prostitute?" asked Daria.

Mrs. Brand blushed furiously.

"If there hadn't been such easy access to guns, Daria, we wouldn't have so many school shootings....."

"Yeah," replied Daria, "just ask Japan and the Chinese what gets used on people in THEIR schools." Daria wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't heard of the multiple murders by knife wielding maniacs in the Orient.

Mr. Preston cleared his throat and added, "Guns cause crime, Daria...."

Daria interrupted the rest of what he was going to say with, "And matches cause arson. Besides," she added, "a gun has as many uses as a pair of shoes. Some are made for work, play, and sports. Some are just for styling. There are activities made for every kind of firearm out there. It's a sport that builds mental discipline and hand-eye coordination. They also dissuade people like Matthew from attacking you."

"Which is all well and good, Daria," said Mr. Jensen, "until the gun owner thinks his or her spouse is cheating on them, or their child is rejected by a crush, or wants to take that gun to school to shoot his girlfriend, or it's stolen by a criminal to be used in the horrific crimes we hear about every day!"

"Why would anyone own a gun, when the potential for personal tragedy, and the social consequences are so high?" added Mr. Preston in sad bemusement.

"Maybe for the same reason we give police guns, despite those same risks?" responded Daria. "And before you mention the training they receive, which many civilians can also receive, are you aware of the high rate the police have for all kinds of violence, domestic abuse, suicide? And given all they face on a daily basis, it's understandable. Just as it's understandable that the police can't be everywhere, which is just one reason why people carry guns themselves, and are allowed to use them under extreme duress, to be reviewed by the police, just as the police themselves are reviewed for the use of their own guns. I mean, if a physically fit police officer who carries all kinds of useful items and has help at the touch of a button needs access to guns, then doesn't the 50-year-old arthritic woman home alone when an intruder breaks in?"

Mr. Jensen shook his head and clasped his hands together over his knee. "Any gun owner could become violent. A bad day and he kills himself, or his family, or everyone at the local McDonald's...."

"... but anyone who wants a gun to defend themselves from such a lunatic is paranoid?"

"Damn it!" Mr. Jensen was obviously getting fed up with Daria.

"How about that Luby's in Texas?" added Daria. "All those guns that could've stopped that mass murderer were out of reach in the vehicles because there were gun laws against taking guns into a place which serves alcohol. And none of his victims were able to take HIS guns away from him. The gun laws killed them and aided a mass murderer in carrying out his despicable act. If you're so willing to sue the gun manufacturers for making guns that kill, then shouldn't someone sue you for the gun laws that you get passed that also kill?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Daria!" shouted Mrs. Brand in surprise at such a notion, "it's massacres like that which inspire us to do what we do!"

Daria raised both of her eyebrows as she asked, "So unlawful gun use proves we shouldn't have lawful gun ownership?"

Mr. Jensen sighed, and slowly said, "The only way to ban gun violence is to ban guns."

Daria sighed, and slowly asked, "Like the only way to ban malpractice is to ban doctors?"

Mr. Jensen spoke more normally as he continued. "Look at all the insults, disrespect, cutting people off on highways. You really think such a society needs guns?"

"Hmmm," said Daria, "if people had guns, I would think people would show more respect. And maybe we could use a little of that."

"That's fear," said Kat, "not respect."

"Yeah. People are afraid to do anything about all the jerks out there, because someone--someone with a gun and a badge-- will step in and avenge the criminals, crooks, and jerks."

Mrs. Brand shook her head, "Bad people are the ones who carry guns, Daria."

"Don't tell me," said Daria, "tell the police."

"Daria!" Helen had just known Daria was going to do this. Why couldn't Daria just let it go. Didn't she understand she was helping Fillman by alienating Mrs. Brand?

Daria sighed, then looked at her mom. "I saved Quinn's life, and maybe the lives of other people. Matthew wanted to end that life. Am I to understand that I am as bad as Matthew?"

"I'm afraid so," said Mrs. Brand, drawing Daria's gaze back toward her. "You stooped to his level by using a gun."

"There's a difference," said Daria. "Matthew initiated violence. I stopped that violence. Some would say that if I ignored the situation as 'not my problem,' then I would be as bad, or even worse, than Matthew."

Mrs. Brand sneered, "So you don't care what you do, shooting people whenever they, ahem, threaten you?"

"Lady, that doesn't even begin to follow," said Daria with a bit more heat. "If Matthew had done what he wanted, Quinn, and others, would be dead. I was in a life or death situation, and reacted in a way that left me and the other would-be victims alive. Good? Bad? I was the one with a gun. I guess it's up to philosophers to determine if Matthew was good or bad, and the same with me."

"No, Daria," said Mrs. Brand, with something of a smile, "it's up to society to decide. I'm going to give the people who are tired of living in fear of the gun culture a voice in deciding that no, they don't want to put up with the violence guns bring to our society every single day."

"If you want to stop violence," said Daria, "work on birth control or something Studies have shown that when rats get too crowded together, they turn on each other, and even act with sadism towards one another. That might be what's happening with our species right now." Daria knew there were reasons to think this wasn't necessarily true, but she was curious how they'd handle an alternate explanation. Were they really trying to stop violence? Or were they actually after guns without even caring about the violence? She really did not know.

"That's for other people to do," said Kat, who actually sounded sympathetic, causing Daria to blink at her in confusion.

She thought these people hated her, condemned her for what she had done, even if she had saved lives. It wasn't as if she didn't often blame herself at times, to be hearing them trash her too for saving a life. Why couldn't they at least acknowledge that she had done some good? Maybe then they wouldn't annoy her so bad. Does Kat understand? wondered Daria.

Mr. Jensen added, "We're here to get rid of the ways that kill people and are used in violence, not population control."

Daria replied, "So how come banning all those dangerous household cleansers aren't on your list? They kill a lot of people, too, as do cars. Why not push to have only licensed people to clean the home to prevent more needless deaths and injuries, especially of the actual children that get into them? Or mandatory car pools that might reduce death of children in car accidents? You could push for government agents to drive people around, too." She saw a bunch of blank looks in return.

"Banning cars and chemicals are stupid," said Mrs. Brand. "You need to keep a house clean for it to be a healthy place to live, and children are very messy. You need cars to take them to a doctor."

"And you might need guns to protect your child from an attacker, a stalker, or a violent criminal invading your home at the dead of night," replied Daria.

Mrs. Brand shook her head again. "We have the police for that."

"LA Police Chief Bernard Parks and his department couldn't even save his own granddaughter from being murdered outside a L.A. restaurant. That happened a little over year ago, along with gunless violence, such as the stabbing death of a woman in a wheelchair" -- Kat flinched -- "and if the police can't protect them, how can they protect you?"

Mrs. Brand shook her head. "You have some interesting ideas, Daria, but we are focused on stopping gun violence. That takes up all our time as it is."

"I stopped gun violence at my school," said Daria.

"With another gun," said Mrs. Brand with some exasperation. "Daria, in a civilized society, we call 9-1-1."

Daria bit back a retort at that. Instead she said, "In case of emergency, call 9-1-1."


"If help is delayed in arriving," continued Daria, "then kiss your defenseless butt good bye."

"A gun," said Mrs. Brand, "is even more useless for defense."

"Criminals will kill you in the time it takes for you to draw a gun out," said Daria, "but they'll let you call 9-1-1 and wait for the police to arrive?"

Mrs. Brand sighed and looked down for a moment before she looked at Daria again, saying, "I'm sorry that you felt you had to defend yourself. I'm trying to make it so that no one ever has to defend themselves again. Why can't you see that I'm really on your side? All you have to do is trust me."

"You get onto me for not respecting the life and rights of stalkers and murderers, but here you and your cohorts are exploiting every tragedy you can, using twisted facts and fears -- just like the NRA -- so that you can scare the people into supporting you with their money and their votes. You're just another politician disguised as a crusader, Ms. Mayor. Too bad more students couldn't have gotten killed to help your campaign."

"That's enough, missy," said Mr. Preston. "It's true she has plans to run for mayor of Lawndale, but to make this a better town, and then a better state, and then a better country. Why are you attacking her for that? Don't you care that guns take lives every day? Can't you see the need for reducing guns, possibly abolishing them outright?"

"But do you even care that legitimate governments killed over 200 million people in the twentieth century? Plenty of them even died under UN supervision, or as a consequence of their actions?" asked Daria in response. "This does not count war and it does not count crime caused by bad laws. There is no deadlier force on this planet, natural or manmade, nothing at all that is deadly than government. Governments kill a lot of children, too. How are you 'any better' than whatever bad governments you care to name if you stoop to their level and use a government yourself? Doesn't that make you as bad as the person who uses a gun to stop a killer?"

Every single mouth had dropped open, and several forgot to breath. Even Mrs. Brand was speechless.

"We-we-we're trying to, uh, stop those deaths," said a rattled Mr. Preston.

"You're trying to stop the ownership of guns," said Daria. "There's a difference."

"We're trying to stop those deaths by preventing ownership of guns," said Mr. Jenson firmly, as he made a slight adjustment to his glasses.. "Government is a risk, but not as much as risk as individuals...."

Daria interrupted him with, "What are governments made up of, if not individuals whom you don't trust?"

"And anyone can go off, Daria," added Mr. Jensen somewhat harshly. "Anyone. If a cop goes off, every other cop knows it, and usually see signs of it before it happens. If an individual goes off, there is usually very little warning. My own father was a good man who found out Mom had an affair. He shot the guy, shot her and then shot himself. He might have shot me if I had been home then. The police were already there when I showed up. No one ever guessed he would do something like that. So it's not the same thing, Daria, it's just not. Ordinary people can't have guns, because no matter how good they think they are, and how good they might actually be at any given time, there are incidents which can trigger a murderous episode, and a gun in easy reach is the last thing people in that situation should have. Even you, Daria."

"Are you saying," asked Daria, "that people are too stupid or too crazy and too evil to have guns, but they should know this and give them up?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Brand bluntly. "People should enjoy living in a society afflicted with less violence. As Mr. Jensen was saying, guns make that violence all too easy, and all too efficient."

"And yes, we use government," said Mr. Jensen, "would you prefer a privatized service?" His tone dripped contempt at the very thought of privatized security.

"A privatized service, unlike government, actually has to produce something of value to get the money." Daria shrugged. "Unless they just buy a contract from a senator or congressman."

"Be that as it may," said Mr. Jensen, "privatized firms are prone to corruption and abuse. Governments are not."

This time, it was Daria whose jaw dropped open. "Excuse me," she finally said, "why are governments immune to the weaknesses that affect firms? I would think the privatized firm would be less affected than government because they have to provide value for the dollar they get."

Mr. Jensen sighed and said, "Governments are answerable to the people. Businesses are not."

"Oh, come on," she replied. "If people don't like the service one firm offers, they'll take their money to another firm that does give them what they want. That's very answerable. You can't say this about government. Especially when most people feel trapped by a political party, too scared to 'vote for the other guy,' because he fears the other party is even worse."

"Daria, elections make government answerable to all the people, not just the ones with money."

"Then why," replied Daria, "in an age of widespread contempt for Congress, do incumbents have around 98% reelection rates? How many people really wanted either Bush or Gore as President? Is the common maxim that a Presidential election is a choice of 'the lesser of two evils' not an admission that the choice of a good is no longer considered much of a possibility?" She took a deep breath while they gawked. "Besides, if the shareholder votes that determine who runs corporations cannot provide a 'democratic' check on the power of the CEOs because of power-politics, how is a Federal election--with far more power at stake, hence more motive for corruption--to be automatically assumed to be an accurate reflection of 'the will of the People,' assuming we grant that 'the People' is a real entity that can override individual wills? And aren't 'the People' vile and corrupt, which is why we need a government, at least in your theory, anyway?"

Mrs. Brand's face was livid. "Your continual lack of respect ..."

"Hey!" interrupted Daria, "you're the one who thinks everyone is too stupid to have a gun, and that the more intelligent people should recognize that. Worry about your own lack of respect before you worry about mine."

Mrs. Brand's narrowed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and squeezed her hands into fists.

Mr. Jensen turned to Helen. "Has she had this chip on her shoulders for long?"

"No wonder she got a gun," said Mr. Preston before Helen could speak, shaking his head. "The lack of trust in authority by young people today is very disturbing." He looked at Daria meaningfully and pointed to Helen saying, "In my day, we had respect for our elders and the authorities. Ask your mother if this isn't so."

Daria glanced at Helen. Helen blushed.

"It's obvious that she is an ignorant and spiteful child," interrupted Mrs. Brand, tired of the nonsense. "There may be problems with government, but there are even bigger problems without government. It is certainly better to allow the government to install the BATF in our public schools than it is to have young hoodlums getting into gun fights when they're supposed to be getting a safe education."

"The BATF?" Daria's eyes widened.

"We like the idea of getting the BATF directly involved in schools," said Mrs. Brand, "even if Bush was the one to suggest it."

Helen shifted nervously. "The BATF raided Highland High School the year before we moved here," said Helen in a way that revealed her disillusionment in the BATF as a legitimate organization. "They beat up Daria's teacher right in front of her and tore up her school. The explanation they gave for doing that was so bizarre that I can't even remember it. I know they had to be lying." Helen didn't mention the worst part, right after she filed suit against the BATF.

"Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Mrs. Brand scandalized, "I begin to see where your daughter gets her unedifying lack of respect for authority from! It's people who don't respect authority who are the most likely to get a gun and take the law into their own hands, thus making themselves criminal, and a danger to the rest of us."

"The reason they beat my teacher up," said Daria, "is because he reminded them of due process. Is that something you think people should get beat up for?"

"The BATF," said Mrs. Brand, "obviously thought he had a gun."

"They were looking for two boys who hadn't even shown up that week," replied Daria, "except to break a TV set and run."

"Be that as it may," said Mrs. Brand, "the BATF is more than just maintaining order with necessary force. They also do fingerprinting, investigation, and carry out preemptive measures. Right now, there's insufficient fingerprinting, forms, and waiting periods which is why we have so many school shootings today."

"Yeah," said Daria rolling her eyes, "compared to the heavy school shootings in the 50's back when guns were everywhere, and could even be gotten by mail order." Daria leaned forward a bit. "Besides, you missed the point that if it's wrong to use a gun because bad people have used guns for bad things, so good people shouldn't use them, then good people also shouldn't use governments. I repeat, government is the most deadly force on the planet....."

"Daria," said Mrs. Brand, "it is a pipe dream to think we would ever live on a world without a government, so we might as well get what good we can get out of it."

"It's also a pipe dream to think that we will ever live in a world without guns, so why don't you adopt the same cavalier attitude towards guns as you do governments? After all, an armed populace can stop the deadly effects of governments, or so many governments wouldn't try disarming their citizens before carrying out final solutions and collectivist farms."

"As if your having a gun would stop the government from doing anything." Mrs. Brand's voice dripped with contempt.

"Oh, yes," said Daria, returning the contempt, "who could ever think that 160 million armed citizens could possibly defeat an army of 2 million cops and soldiers following orders to take them off to a collectivist farm?"

Several blinked, and the entire group from HCI even looked vaguely afraid of Daria for some reason.

Kat was the first to speak. "Daria, I don't think we can get rid of guns, or governments. But I do think we can limit the detrimental effects on society by both. A gun put me in this chair and that's what I focus on. I'll leave the governments to the Gandhis of the world. I just want a world where there are fewer deaths and less crippling by stupidity and by enraged gun men."

"Then why not teach gun safety and responsible carrying and use to the law-abiding and focus on those who break the laws? The real laws that deal with hurting other people and their property, not with what they have or do to themselves."

Mrs. Brand shook her head. "Gun safety courses only teach violence."

Daria crossed her arms. "And fire safety courses turn kids into arsonists."

"The gun culture itself," said Mr. Jensen, narrowing his eyes at Daria, "is well known to do more than teach oxymorons like 'gun safety'. They are known for spreading anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia, which also serve to increase violence in society. So a gun safety course is very different from a fire safety course."

When all else fails, thought Daria, turn to accusations of racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. Which is completely different from accusing people of Communism or hating America.

"Tell me," said Mrs. Brand, "how much truth are there in the reports that you and your sister were helping Matthew start a race war?"

"Mrs. Brand!" cried Helen, "that is sheer sensationalism! There are aspects of the case I am not a liberty to discuss yet, but I assure you when the truth comes out, everyone will know how ridiculous such slanders are!"

"I'm waiting for the truth to come out about your daughters," said Mrs. Brand, "sneaking a gun into school, involved with a dope dealer, hanging around shady characters, and why the police let the Lane girl go while keeping your daughter. And didn't you even let your youngest child go to that cabin used by the Foster in custody now?"

"None of us knew then," said Helen, her gut clenching in guilt and fear for her daughters, "even the District Attorney didn't expect to find anything when they searched the cabin. They were just hoping to find where he got the gun!"

"It makes too much sense," said Mr. Preston, shaking his head, "that your daughter with a gun would truck with known Nazis and hate mongers."

"Excuse me?" asked Daria. "Are you saying you have to be a Nazi to have a gun? Have you heard of ad hoc attacks and straw man arguments and why they're not respectable?"

Mr. Preston smiled at Daria with an expression that struck her as somehow cynical. "It is well known," he said, "that nearly all gun enthusiasts are white males, and their girlfriends, who believe in white power, Hitler and the like. There's no point in denying it."

"Have you heard of the JPFO?" asked Daria. "The Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership? It's a lively organization dedicated to stopping another Third Reich, preserving Israel, and maintaining the right of individuals to have firearms. There are several other groups that you obviously never heard of, like Armed Females of America and the Second Amendment Sisters, not to mention AWARE and other feminist groups teaching women to use guns, and there are the Pink Pistols which can hardly be called homophobic, and also Black Man With A Gun...."

"Black Man With A Gun?" interrupted Mr. Preston squinting. "That sounds like some racist organization. Are you sure there's such an organization?"

"Black Man With A Gun was chosen by Kenn Blanchard to show how the words 'gun' and 'black man' have been conditioned in most people to create fear, that is, racism. Like the JPFO, Mr. Blanchard shows how gun control is racist, and detrimental to racial equality."

"Is this man you speak of black?" asked Mrs. Brand doubtfully.

"If it matters," said Daria, "then yes. You can see his pic at his website, Look them up if you have anymore questions about them. Assuming you don't have a problem with his race or his religion."

Every single member of HCI was staring in Daria in shock or anger, while Helen smiled very nervously. Helen was both awed and intimidated by her oldest daughter's intellect. She also worried that Daria knew all this stuff. It wasn't from just some day spent on the library computer. Helen wondered again about where Daria got her gun, since she was pretty sure the gun show was a lie. Meanwhile, Daria just gave everyone an emotionless deadpan stare, her feelings locked safely away from these people.

Then they all turned as the living room door open. "Quinn?" asked Helen, seeing her youngest come in. "What are you doing home?" She got up worried and went over to her. "Was your first day back to school too hard for you? Did you have an episode? Why didn't you call?"

"I did call, Mom," said Quinn, "the phone just rang and rang."

Helen blushed, remembering she had let the battery get too low and the phone was recharging. The answer machine itself was turned all the way down for the interview cum hostile debate. "I'm sorry, Quinn," she said, "so what are you doing home?"

Quinn told her about the fireworks prank while they all listened, and all reacted in shock and disgust at such a prank. "Anyway, Sandi's dad gave us all a ride home," said Quinn.

"That is like so sick!" said Kat heatedly.

"I know," said Quinn, "Jimmy had just said he got a gun and would protect me, but he just cowered on the floor when the fireworks went off. Mr. O'Neill just cried under his desk."

"Do you see, Daria?" asked Mrs. Brand triumphantly. "This is the fear we're trying to stop! Don't you want your sister to not live in terror everyday of someone with a gun?"

"Huh?" asked Quinn, "Daria saved me. I'm glad she had a gun. Heck, if Matthew had a knife or a sword, I'd still want Daria to have a gun. I doubt she could've stopped Matthew with her scrawny muscles."

For a split second, an expression broke on Daria's face, but it vanished before anyone could identify it.

"Not if Daria learned martial arts," replied Mr. Jensen.

Quinn shook her head, a haunted look on her face. "Daria and I took a self-defense course just yesterday. It didn't offer anything of value for dealing with a gun. Or a sword. And when I thought...." Quinn stopped a minute and swallowed. "When I thought someone else was shooting up my school again, I realized that everything I learned was useless. All I wanted right then was a gun of my own." Quinn looked Mr. Jensen over. He sort of looked like David, only with blonde hair and more meat to him, Quinn realized, and instinctively warmed to him.

"But guns aren't a solution!" shouted Mrs. Brand with some despair. "Don't you see that!?"

"And martial arts is?" Daria asked.

"This is what I mean," said Mrs. Brand, "we must combat the romance of guns and the myth of arming for self-protection."

"You're right," said Daria smirking, "guns aren't needed for defense, which is why the army only has 3 million of them."

"Guns just beg people to go out and commit violence," said Mr. Jensen, making Daria think of a broken LP.

Daria raised an eyebrow. "Like a short skirt or naked face causes men to rape?"

"Hey, yeah," said Quinn, "there was a lot said about men causing violence in that class." She scrunched her face. "Oh, and Mom read something out of a book that said most rapist didn't use guns."

"Quinn," said Kat, "I was in a school shooting, too. The reason I'm in this wheelchair, and will be for the rest of my life, is because one of his bullets pierced my spine."

"I'm sorry someone didn't shoot him first," said Quinn, sounding sad for Kat.

"Even if someone had tried, Quinn, I could still be stuck in this damn wheel chair. See, he wasn't even aiming at me. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was hit by a stray bullet. He never even know he had shot me, since he shot himself before the cops arrested him."

"Ewww!" cried Quinn at the thought of such an incident... and very glad Daria had shot Matthew before he could shoot her.

"I think it's sad you feel you need a gun for protection," said Mr. Preston, shaking his head very sadly. "I know you women want to be liberated," he added. "You should be, too! But a gun is not the way to do it."

"So if there really had been a shooter at school today," said Daria, "you'd rather Quinn use martial arts instead of her own gun? That's very compassionate of you."

"No one should have a gun," said Mr. Jensen, "and children are especially a danger to themselves and everyone around them when they have access to guns. Especially children like you and Quinn. You may not believe you are still children, but you both are. The brain doesn't stop developing until you're 25."

Quinn's instinctive warmth for Mr. Jensen turned to ice. Learn how to dress before you criticize me, geek! she thought bitterly at him.

"The brain doesn't ever stop developing until death," said Daria. "It's constantly changing through life, affected by physical and environmental factors, and the lifestyle of the person." She shook her head. "And that factoid of the brain being immature until 25 is just more narcissistic baby boomer drivel to explain why they should stop their own children from doing what they themselves once did--questioning authority, thinking for themselves, and developing independence. And having fun."

Mrs. Brand cleared her throat and said, "My son killed himself with his father's gun. If there hadn't been a gun, he would still be alive today. I don't know if Darren would have used a gun the way Mr. Jensen's father did, but my son, faced with a temporary problem, found a permanent solution before he could think about it."

"I'm sorry," said Daria, "but the rest of us should not be forced to pay for his mistakes."

Mrs. Brand pulled some files from a satchel near her, and a couple fell out of her grip.

"Let me help you with that, please," said Mr. Preston

"I can deal with it very well, thank you," said a curt Mrs. Brand.

Mr. Preston backed off while Mrs. Brand got them back in order. She then handed one of them to Daria, who took it very cautiously.

"Inside, Daria, you will find pictures of people who were all killed with a gun in 1999," said a grim Mrs. Brand. "Many of them are kids. My son is among them."

Daria looked through a few. She felt horrible, but she wasn't going to let Mrs. Brand win with a tactic like this. "So does the other file have photographs of all the people saved by a gun in '99?"

"What did you say?" asked Mrs. Brand, her eyebrows raising.

"You know," said Daria, "someone who saved herself or her children from a home invader? A man that stopped a robbery, even without firing a shot? A police officer that was saved in the line of duty from a violent assault?"

Mrs. Brand's face grew very red. "You are truly without compassion."

Daria's face hardened. "Excuse me, but a file for this year could have include many faces from my school in it, such as Quinn's. But because of the gun I had, they are NOT another statistic for you to use. Why are their lives meaningless to you, but these lives lost are meaningful? Do you only care about lives if you can use them in your crusade?"

Mrs. Brand began to tremble, and it was obvious she was keeping herself under control only with great effort. "We use cases of murder, such as the case that almost killed your sister, to make sure that they will not happen again. Your way leads only to more violence. Our way will see that these tragedies don't happen in the first place."

"Her name is Quinn, and she's alive because of a gun you think I shouldn't have had. In short, you helped put Quinn's life in danger with your passionate stupidity, just as the passionate stupidity others shared with you were partly responsible for the massacre at Luby's! Had I obeyed the laws and statutes, and followed your advice to call 911, then Quinn would be dead. Not just by a gun, but by gun control laws."

"That's quite enough," said Mrs. Brand crossly, "Our laws will keep guns out of the hands of hoodlums like Matthew as much as vigilantes like yourself."

"Yes, by making it harder for even cops to have guns on school grounds, you can make it also make it harder for a crazed gunman to shoot helpless students." replied Daria, her voice thick with sarcasm. "And I'm so sure the government can control guns the same way it controls drugs."

"Gun control works, and it works a lot better than everybody shooting it out like it were the Old West!" said Mrs. Brand hotly, her hands clenching into fists.

Daria crossed her arms. "You mean like how gun control prevents gun ownership in Beirut and Northern Ireland? Read Mencken's essay The Uplifters Try it Again and catch a clue from history. One thing I learned is that a gun trumps gun control laws, and all your way does is to ensure that the very worst among us have guns while the rest of us live at their mercy. I care about people too much to simply stand aside and let you inflict such a horrifying life on them."

Quinn crossed her own arms. "Exactly," said Quinn a little crossly. "Sorry if I'm not a statistic you can use."

"Mrs. Morgendorffer," shouted Mrs. Brand, "please correct your daughters at once!"

"For what? I may not agree with them... fully.... but they've done nothing wrong." Helen was both heartened by the bonding Daria and Quinn had obviously done, but also frightened for what they were supporting each other in.

"Your younger daughter dated a known drug dealer carrying a gun for the 'gifts' he bought her, and your other daughter shot him! They've both done things I'd NEVER allow my own children to get away with, and they are now spouting NRA lies in a most disrespectful tone to justify their criminal and sociopathic behavior!"

"I know I've made mistakes, Mrs. Brandon," said Helen, a little coldly, "which is something I'm sure you've never done before and so can't understand. But saving Quinn's life is never wrong."

Quinn looked down, biting her lip, in a mixture of shame and gratitude for her mom's words.

"Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Mrs. Brand in a more formal tone. "Are you, a member of this organization, siding with your vigilante daughter who opened fire in a school hallway?"

"I...." Helen paused, before sighing, "I may not like what she did, but I am very grateful for what she accomplished." When Helen saw the HCI crew staring at her waiting for more, she sighed again and added, "I'll have to think about it and get back to you."

"Uh, oh," taunted Daria, "your organization will be in even bigger trouble if too many of your members start doing that.."

"And as for you!" shouted Mrs. Brand at Daria, "You're going in the Time Out Room on the Million Mom March site!"

"Hey," said Daria, "why don't you see if you can get those million moms to join your organization? Then you'd have a lot more of the financial support you were saying you wanted."

Mrs. Brand got up. "Pack it up, we're leaving!" Everyone got to work at once.

"Nazi," said Mr. Jenson casually to Daria as he passed her. Daria couldn't tell if he really believed that or not.

Kat looked disturbed, but she patted Daria's arm before wheeling off to help the crew get packed up. Daria got up and headed back upstairs to the sanctuary of her room. Quinn got up and left a minute later.

"I'll have you know, Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Mrs. Brand to Helen who now stood alone, "that what went on here will be shared with the organization you used to be a member of. But we're going to have to cut much of what your daughters said out of our film. Because of this, we feel we have no obligation to live up to our side of the bargain. Not when your daughters spouted NRA propaganda and claiming they could solve their problems with bullets. You, as a mother, leave much to be desired."

"But Daria saved my other daughter's life!" Helen understood why they were upset, but couldn't they see why she had such mixed feelings over the entire incident?

Mrs. Brand crossed her arms. "She had a gun in a way that violated the law. That makes her a criminal with a gun. Yes, she saved your other daughter from another criminal with a gun, but she would just as likely have shot someone who made fun of her glasses."

"That's ridiculous," said Helen, fully confident in this. "I can't see Daria shooting anybody except under the direst circumstances. She gets into enough conflict at school the way it is already!"

"Mothers," muttered Mrs. Brand. "Always defending their children, no matter how heinous."

"You know," said Helen, her voice rising, "if you're really so scared of someone shooting you over your having irritated them somehow, maybe you should work on not pissing people off!"

Nothing more was said after that. Shortly after (but not soon enough for Helen), the last of them left. Helen shut the door behind them with more force than necessary.

Then she sighed and struggled against tears. She should be furious with Daria, but the last few moments made her realize just how judgmental they were to Daria. As tormented as Daria already was, no wonder she was so irrationally defensive. If only her defense wasn't such a good offense! moaned Helen silently. The tears that threatened to burst forth were partly of frustration and disappointment, but mostly because she suddenly realized just how deeply in hell Daria was at this moment. And poor Quinn! She'd love to kick in the balls whoever set off those fireworks.

Should I go talk to Daria and Quinn? wondered Helen, and if I do, which one do I talk to first? Probably Quinn, since her first day back at school must have been awful! But Daria obviously has a lot of anger, and guilt too, I think. And I know she's hiding something big! She knows too many details and had them on the tip of her tongue! Who the hell is this guy who taught her to shoot, and what did he indoctrinate her with!? She wanted to hate this unknown person, but he had also helped to save Quinn's life, and she couldn't hate that.

She sighed then, and decided it would be better to call Mr. DeMartino first and see if she could get the NRA people again. Then she could decide how best to deal with both her daughters.




Quinn knocked on Daria's door and entered. Her sister was already lying in bed, trying to shut out the world. "Daria?" she asked. "Are you okay?"

"No," said Daria. "But I'll feel better after I have a drawbridge I can raise. What do you want?"

For a minute, Quinn bit her lip wondering the same thing, as she heard Daria's depressing music.

You think you're smart
You're not, it's plain to see
That you want me to fall off
It's killing me let's see
You've got the gall
Come take it all

The jury is coming
Coming to tear me apart
All this bitching and moaning
Come on it's on

I'm trapped in this world
Lonely and fading
Heartbroke and waiting
For you to come
We are stuck in this world
That's not meant for me
For me

"What is that?" asked Quinn disturbed.

"Static-X, Not Meant For Me."

"It's so depressing, why are you even listening to it?"

"It matches my mood," said Daria. "Look, Quinn, I've already been bitched at today. Do you think you could go to your room and leave me alone in mine?"

"I wanted see how you're doing, Daria," said Quinn, feeling a little hurt. "I thought we liked each other now."

"Hm, yes," said Daria. "Yeah, we do. But I'm going to prison, Quinn. You shouldn't get too attached to me. And I should get used to living in a cell like this."

"You're not going to prison, Daria," said Quinn sounding as sure as she could. "Mom won't let that happen, and Buffy is helping, too."

It was maybe a full minute before Daria said, "Quinn, I appreciate your support, but I'm very unpopular. You don't want to be around me. My lack of popularity is contagious."

Quinn laughed a little. "Oh, Daria, I don't care what those people downstairs think. They don't have any style. All they have is fear and outrage. They're nothing."

Daria smiled a little. "Thanks, Sis."

Quinn snorted a little. "I'm glad you had a gun, Daria. I would like you to get another gun. And I want a gun, too."

Daria turned her head disbelieving towards Quinn. "Still having nightmares?"

"Not as often," said Quinn. "But they're there still. But it's not just about the nightmares, it's about standing up for myself." She looked Daria in the eye. "And standing up for you, too."

Daria's eyes widened a bit, and a little emotion actually seeped through her defenses. Then she said, "If you stand up for me, Quinn, you'll be an outlaw or a terrorist, and all the sheep who once adored you will turn against you."

"If the world still celebrates Bonnie and Clyde, maybe in 50 years, the world can celebrate the outlaws Quinn and Daria," replied Quinn lightly. "And you'll finally be popular!" She didn't laugh, but there was a hint of laughter in her voice.

Daria turned over and in a sleepy voice said, "Quinn, I didn't get much sleep. Can we talk later? I do want to talk, just not right now." In truth, Daria was suddenly fighting tears.

Quinn sighed. "Okay, Daria. But you can come to me now." After Daria didn't respond, she quietly left Daria to herself, shutting her in her room. She went to her own room, got on her own bed, and started flipping through her newest issue of Waif. She also felt the need to be alone for awhile.

QUESTION AUTHORITY: 'Do you take plastic?'

Oooh! thought Quinn annoyed, another corporate blonde rock star shares her make-up secrets. This was getting depressing. Thanks to Daria she was beginning to see the gears and levers pulling behind all the glamour, and she didn't like it. She was annoyed with Daria and Waif both at this moment.

Now she turned another page in Waif. "Your Next Crush" it read. How pretentious! Quinn turned the page, without realizing she had just used one of the vocabulary words David had taught her last summer, annoyed with Waif in general.

"Ever Dream of a Celebrity Wedding?"

This caption was above a bunch of cutesy "teen" handwriting, done by someone like Val for sure, and advertised a website. One that would advertise more products, Quinn thought glumly. More people I have to please, because I need them to take care of me. But who really cares about me?

Next article was how to be happy. It included keeping in shape, being seen, pretending your life is wonderful and.... big surprise... wearing their products. Plenty of the products had corporate logos on them. Sheesh. Not only were the boy bands and the like groomed into billboards, but now they wanted everyone who read their magazines to become a walking billboard to sell their product.

Another page (after several blatant ads, as opposed to ads disguised as articles and quizzes) and there was an "informative article" hawking more products, while pretending to be objective. Did everyone do what they were paid to do? Maybe Quinn should demand a piece of the action before she went any further on the popularity train!

Or maybe she'd just crop her hair off. Quinn actually cracked a smile at the thought.

Quinn stopped a moment. Why would she crop off her own hair? She LOVED her hair. It made her beautiful. Then she blinked. And I realized that my beauty couldn't get me what I wanted. That's why I had that nightmare about my hair! Matthew destroyed that illusion. Quinn wondered why she would crop it off herself though. Maybe, I don't WANT to depend on others anymore!, she thought.

Then Quinn realized she didn't have a clue about how to be independent in any real sense. She would still have to use her cuteness and popularity to get others to take care of her until she was ready to take care of herself. She frowned looking down, realizing she was in the power of the people who owned this magazine. They used fear of being unwanted and unloved to peddle their products. Like Matthew used fear, and those geeks downstairs used fear, and Daria said the NRA used fear. Did everybody use fear to get what they wanted? Quinn wondered, It was nasty, why use fear at all?

She didn't blame them, really. Her Fashion Club pretty much tried controlling others, too. If they had the money and the resources that these magazine and band owners (the politically correct word, Quinn remembered, was "sponsors"), would they be any different? Then Quinn frowned deeply as she realized that it wasn't only the boy bands and blondes and magazines that were owned, but also the politicians..... and the schools like Lawndale High. Quinn sensed disturbing implications of that realization, but couldn't figure them out right then so she filed it away to think about later.

Oh, that was ridiculous Quinn told herself. Everyone knows better than that. Didn't they? Quinn suddenly wondered who "they" and "everyone" were in that maxim she had told herself over and over but had never thought about before. Why would anyone know better if the same sponsors also sponsored the public schools and the government itself?

Quinn sighed. No doubt about it. She was getting depressed, and she would wind up like Daria or Andrea or Jane if she kept up these musings. But it was sobering and depressing to realize that in the attempt to gain the illusion of control, she was being controlled and manipulated into taking care of others, and doing the bidding of people she had never even met!

The phone rang. Just as the first ring died off, Quinn picked it up. "Hello?" She hoped it wouldn't be more reporters.

"Hey, Quinn," said Sandi's voice. "I was thinking we could work on creating some kick ass curls with the new solar rollers I got. If you could sleep over, then we could all get up early and help each other get hair like we never had before."

Quinn forgot all her depressing thoughts. "That's a great idea, Sandi!" replied Quinn sitting up.

"So do you think your mom will let you sleep over?" asked Sandi.

"Um... I think so," said Quinn. "I'm not sure." And Mom is rather busy.

"Will she let you come over tonight?"

"I don't know yet," said Quinn.

"What, didn't you ask yet?" Sandi's tone of voice reminded Quinn vaguely of Mrs. Brand.

"Um, no," said Quinn. "Mom and Daria and stuff were talking to reporters when I came in. They asked me a bunch of questions, too."

"Will you be on the news then, along with your cousin or whatever?" Sandi didn't sound pleased.

I hope not! Quinn thought, before saying, "I don't think so. Daria rubbed them the wrong way and Mom sorta chased them out. They were geeks, and I left them as soon as I could. They're leaving now, but I don't know if they're all gone yet."

"Well, call me back as soon as you find out," ordered Sandi.

"Sure," said Quinn. They said their byes and hung up, and Quinn worried that her mom would deny her request to sleep over. And what if Quinn had more nightmares over at Sandi's house? And if they were all just being puppets on the strings of Waif, then should she even bother to keep up the facade? Especially when they all left her alone to die?

"Buffy," Quinn said quietly, "what should I do? Should I keep this up when it doesn't get me anything I was after in the first place?"

It's a game, Quinn replied Buffy faintly in her mind. You shouldn't throw any advantage away. You just need to learn to play better.

"Daria doesn't play, and she seems happy," said Quinn. She pursed her lips and clarified, "Happier than me, anyway."

Daria just plays with a different strategy replied Buffy. Learn from her, but don't copy her. You must find your own way, Quinn. Yes, many people will try to control you, even complete strangers. You, in turn, will try to control them. It's the natural human instinct to shape the world around you and make it pleasing to yourself. It doesn't have to be a bad thing as long as you remember that not all of the things you need can be bought or sold with casual currency.

"Like what?" asked Quinn.

Like love

"Yeah," said Quinn sadly. That was it, she realized. No one loved her. They loved the damn clothes and the style, not her. She thought about all the boys she dated for what they had, and realized they dated her for what she had. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. She knew then that some things would need to change if she were to ever become happy again, but she still wasn't sure what.

Something else bothered her. "Buffy?" asked Quinn.

Yes, Quinn?

"I'm having a hard time hearing you now. Why is that?"

I'm having to recharge myself, Quinn. Don't worry. When you need me, I will come back. It takes energy for me to talk to you and help you, and I have to rest after doing it.

"Can you help convince Mom to let me spend the night over at Sandi's?" asked Quinn.

I can try, Quinn, but I won't put all I have into it so that I can be sure to have enough to keep the nightmares away, later tonight.

Quinn nodded to her invisible angel, then took a deep breath and went down to bargain with her mom. In the end, she had to agree not to talk about the case, not go anywhere other than Sandi's house, and not ask for a gun for an entire week. This, in addition to pleading the necessity of needing to keep her place in the Fashion Club, barely convinced Helen. And Buffy, thought Quinn. "Thanks Buffy," she said quietly, once she was back in her room.

You're welcome, said Buffy's quiet voice.

"Are you okay?" asked Quinn in concern. "I can barely hear you!" She glanced at her door worriedly, for if anyone passed her door, they would've heard her.

I need to rest, said Buffy, especially if I'm going to keep the nightmares away tonight.

"Oh," said Quinn. She frowned. "Maybe you shouldn't talk to me for awhile until you're more rested."

Good idea, Quinn! Buffy responded. I'm off for now, but if you're ever in danger, I'll be back! Otherwise, I'll see you just before you go to sleep. Bye!

"Bye," said Quinn a little sadly. She called Sandi and told her she would be dropped off by her mom as soon as her dad got home a few hours later. Then she lay on the bed, feeling tired herself. She wondered about Buffy's weakness, and why it took her awhile to show up when she thought there was a shooting.

But there wasn't a shooting, it was only firecrackers. Yes, that was it, Quinn decided.

Quinn fell asleep a little later, dreaming of being a butt kicking martial artist that was fighting a vampiric infestation of Lawndale. Not that this dream brought her pleasure or exhilaration. It was scary, but it was still better than those dreams in which she did nothing but run and scream.




03/19/01 MONDAY 6:30 P.M.

And so it was, with all their necessary accessories, that Quinn, Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany gathered for their Fashion Club meeting, or what Sandi like to call their "date." But Sandi was annoyed that Stacy and Tiffany were spending so much time asking Quinn how she was, and if she had any idea about Matthew being a racist drug dealer. As President, she had to keep the meeting on topic, and tonight it was a struggle to do so.

Sandi couldn't get a handle on her feelings about Quinn. Part of her was glad to still have her alive, and part of her wished she was no longer competition. She felt insecure next to her, but also guilty that she had run and left her behind. Part of her wanted to hold Quinn and beg her forgiveness, and part of her wanted to take the opportunity to get rid of Quinn and make her an outcast. But in the end, she realized she was glad Quinn was okay, and she preferred Quinn's company to those geeks and dweebs that thought there was some truth to Quinn being a racist. I went to that cabin myself Sandi thought, and I didn't have a clue! If I didn't know, how could Quinn have known?

"Look!" said Stacy excitedly, turning the Waif to face the other members of the Fashion Club, "CHANEL has a lot of new stuff we can get to enhance our lifestyle and look good doing it!"

The others closed in for a closer look, even if they had all already at least skimmed it earlier in the day when they were preparing how they would answer tonight at the meeting.

"Have you tried the new Infusium 23 leave-in treatments and gels?" asked Sandi with a warmth in her voice, as she showed them an ad. "Really good. Once, after my dad made me ride in the back of my grandfather's truck, I got some split-ends, and the Infusium 23 gel fixed them right up."

Quinn, Stacy, and Tiffany looked at Sandi in horror. To ride in the back of a truck, with the wind ripping through your sensitive hair! And truck beds aren't exactly the cleanest places to sit. Quinn thought there were laws against such threats to fashion. A collective "brrrr" went through the Fashion Club, but the thought of the miracle that was Infusium 23 caused the release of endorphins right after.

"I think," said Sandi, "that we have all had a very stressful week." Nobody dared to mention it was Monday. "Therefore, I decree that we shall now go on a shopping spree and get the things that will make us look even better, and by extension, make those who gaze upon us forget all the recent troubles."

"What a GREAT idea, Sandi!" said Stacy excitedly.

"It's suuch aaaa gooood ideaaa," moaned Tiffany.

"And so altruistic!" said Quinn. She lost a bit of her smile as her friends all turned to stare at her.

"It is altruistic, Quinn," said Sandi glaring a bit. "But no need to sound like a brain."

Quinn blinked. "Sorry," she said. "I think it's a great idea, Sandi. But what about the reporters out there. My mom will kill me if I talk to any. I'm not even supposed to leave your house until school tomorrow."

"Not a problem," said Sandi, who also couldn't afford to be caught with Quinn out in public by her own mom. "We shall go incognito."

Quinn barely refrained from chastising Sandi for using a 4-syllable word.

Unfortunately, incognito meant wearing all black, complete with shades and a black beret that would go so well with the night. With luck, thought Quinn, We'll get mistaken for Goths.

Happily, the reporters were easy to bypass. True enough, they infested the mall. But most of them were just eating or asking random teens about the shooting. A few of those asked seemed to love to talk and the reporters focused on them. Sandi was so cold and caustic to any that came near that the reporters gave them a wide berth. Apparently, none of them recognized Quinn, as her picture hadn't been released to the public yet.

But it can't be that hard to figure out who I am and what I look like, thought Quinn. There were those people that sat in the car outside sometimes, they have to know what I look like. And some of the guys here have to know who I am. Quinn couldn't help but feel nervous. Her mom would kill her if she found out Quinn had come out here. Stacy got so nervous herself once that she suggested they duck in some lame Christian bookstore. Luckily, Sandi was just as concerned about her own mom finding out and was more than up to the challenge of dissuading the reporters before they got too interested.

So their mission to acquire some new lip liners, blush, and powders at House of Beauty was a success. Stacy, having light brown brows, got the BefeFit compact. Quinn got the Hard Candy compact. Tiffany got the Lancome compact. Sandi got the Chanel compact. Each geared according to their brows, as advised by Waif.

Stacy was still looking at some lip gloss. Sandi, of course, was looking closely at the megasized colour crayons, her index finger on her left hand on her lips, and the fingers on her right hand brushing lightly over the touching pencils as if she were communing with them. Sometimes, it was fun enough to just consider whether or not to get something. This was something that Quinn had forgotten how to do recently and now tried to get back into.

"I waaant too get the puush button braid thiiiiing," said Tiffany. "Wheeeere iiis iiit?"

"Tiffany," said Sandi, "You even had trouble with the Quick Braid Hair Braider. Let's wait to see what others think of it first."

You mean on what Waif says, corrected Quinn silently. It hardly mattered if Waif was paid to say that by their sponsors, it simply became true once Waif printed it and it got read by the masses who were too insecure to find their own style, or to challenge the crowd.

Quinn shook her head again. There she went thinking about things again. Her friends were dealing with the situation by NOT thinking, and seemed to be happier for it than she was thinking about everything. If she didn't stop, she was going to wind up as depressed and unfashionable as Daria.

"Oooo, an Eliza Essential Eyebrow Kit!" moaned Tiffany. "And on sale for only $85!"

The others gathered around, including Quinn. She wasn't surprised to see it was by CHANEL, nor did she bother to mention that nearly everything they bought this time, as usual, was from CHANEL, from the eyeliner to the lipstick. She sensed that if she voiced her suspicions that their fashion advice was actually advertisement plugs disguised as helpful articles, they would impeach her and kick her out of the Fashion Club.

They were finally back at Sandi's house, and they pretty much just got ready for bed after they got home. They finished with putting the solar rollers in their hair, having decided to leave them in overnight. According to Waif, this helped the curls last longer and avoided the damage that could be caused by a blow dryer. In any case, they were going to have to get up early anyway, and Quinn did feel very tired. She hoped Buffy would keep the nightmares away. Sandi would probably never let her sleep over again if she woke up screaming.

And Quinn did relax into a nice floating sleep. She even saw Buffy, a woman in flowing white robes and flowing blonde hair with just a touch of cosmetic decoration to enhance her image without distracting from her radiant beauty. At times, Quinn herself was Buffy. She'd be able to handle anyone. She didn't even need a gun! Then Quinn realized she was asleep and someone was grabbing her.

She came to with a gasp, and looked about in fear as she tried remembering where she was. Sandi was in her night clothes looking at her with bemusement and for some crazy reason, Quinn thought she was at school. Then she remembered. "Oh," she said, still a little to close to sleep.

"Good morning to you, too," said Sandi, still bemused. "Everybody else is already awake, Quinn. As Vice President, you should be, too."

"Of course, Sandi," said Quinn, regaining her senses.

"I don't even know how you slept so hard anyway," remarked Sandi as they went to join up with the rest of the Fashion Club. "The rollers are supposed to be soft, but I found it hard to sleep all night. Next time, I'm sticking with hot sticks. Or maybe I'll try some steam rollers."

So it's okay if Sandi wants to improvise, thought Quinn sourly.

A little later, they were unwinding the rollers from their hair. It looked as if they might be a little late, but they refused to rush this delicate operation for which they had stoically gotten up an hour early.

"Maybe next week we should use some bigger solar rollers," mused Sandi. "Waif said that the bigger the rollers, the bigger the hair."

Quinn spoke without thinking. "Actually, Sandi, the smaller the roller, the longer the curl. I mean you can pull it really tight, of course, but curls from big rollers fall out a lot easier than from those made by small rollers or pin curls."

Sandi looked as if she'd been slapped in the face. "Gee, Quinn," said Sandi in a peeved tone, "Waif said quite clearly to do it the way we're doing and the way we'd agreed. I'm not throwing away all the things I bought to do it this way just because you prefer pin curls."

Quinn looked over at Sandi annoyed to see Sandi glaring at her. "I was just thinking that as much as we do this, we can improvise for ourselves a little bit."

Sandi's eyes widened at such an outrage. "And the people at Waif magazine and the models they interview know less than you do?"

Quinn wheezed out a disarming laugh. "I'm just saying our hair would last longer with smaller curls, and that since we're not in New York we may know something about the peculiarities of our area that they don't, and I don't see why we shouldn't save ourselves a little extra money for Cashman's!"

She wasn't about to bring up that her family was getting more and more strapped for cash because of Daria's legal fees. The Fashion Club had somehow agreed to never mention anything to do with the shooting without actually saying anything.

And she wasn't about to mention that all those experts at Waif and their models just might be whoring out their endorsements, or that they knew nothing about life in Lawndale.

Perhaps a bit of the attitude Quinn suppressed was evident, because Sandi's glare sharpened and she crossed her arms. "So you do think you're smarter than me, and all the experts at Waif magazine. Are you thinking I'm a lousy President of the Fashion Club?" Sandi's voice dropped into bitter sarcasm. "You, Quinn Morgendorffer, know better than Waif magazine and the rest of us."

"No, no, of course not!" Quinn laughed disarmingly. "I was just thinking out loud, not saying you didn't know anything, really!"

"We'll see," said Sandi still miffed, but slightly placated.

On what Waif says, Quinn thought silently and peevishly.

"Ohmigod," said Stacy in awe, as all the rollers were finally out. They all understood. They were beautiful. Their hair had become their glory, cascading down to their shoulders and below in a profusion of stylish curls. All the important people said so, and now even they had to agree there was some truth to it. But would the beauty stay? They'd fight to see that it did. This was one way to show they had control in their lives.

"Do you think my hair is frizzy?" asked a suddenly anxious Stacy. "What if we get bubble hair?"

Quinn hid her annoyance. There were many products to soothe Stacy's fears, but was it EVER enough? They had already used the right volumizer, rollers, and everything else. They were specifically made to prevent frizz. What else did Stacy want?

"Stacy," replied an irate Tiffany, "don't spoil the moood."

The annoyance passed. Quinn and Tiffany had curls, but not anywhere as thick and curly as Sandi and Stacy. Still, Quinn mused smiling, my hair is so beautiful! She felt a tinge of horror that she had thought about cropping it off yesterday. I like Daria, thought Quinn, but she is definitely having a bad effect on me.

Or was this one way corporations controlled their lives, Quinn darkly mused. Even with all the products, Stacy still felt vulnerable and ugly. They needed the validation. Part of the beauty of being in the Fashion Club was that they could provide each other with the validation they needed to be fulfilled.

Quinn wanted to be in control of her own life, not be in someone else's control. But she didn't know how to ask, and she knew these were disturbing questions to share. Gods, how she knew. It wouldn't be appreciated on top of all the other trauma they had all experienced. And while Quinn needed a sense of control, she also needed her friends.

And so for a few moments, Quinn completely forgot Matthew, Buffy, and the entire shooting at Lawndale High.

"I hope David likes it," said Sandi, disrupting Quinn's contentment, if maintaining Quinn's sense of normalcy. "He's taking me to Chez Pierre tonight."

"Billy is taking me there, too," said Tiffany, with only a slight drag on her words. "On Monday."

"Ted's going to show me his telescope Saturday night," began Stacy, but silenced herself when she saw Sandi glaring at her.

"Stacy," went Sandi in her usual stiff tones, "do you mean you, a member of the Fashion Club, have accepted a date with a geek, and the two of you are going to do geeky things together?"

"No, of course not," Stacy replied blushing. "This is another Ted," she said unconvincingly, "he was going to find some shooting stars for us to wish on after Chez Pierre is all."

Sandi continued to glare at Stacy. "I don't want any of our members to be seen with a geek in public. It could bring down all our images."

"Stacy," added Tiffany, "use your brain."

Stacy swallowed and looked down, moaning slightly.

"Not too much of a brain," continued Sandi. "You don't want to turn into Quinn's cousin or whatever." Sandi saw Quinn pause, and focused on her. "So what dates have you got planned?"

Quinn smiled a bit shyly. "I think I can use a bit of a break. I'm kinda burned out on guys right now."

Sandi glared at her. "Quinn, what's the point of looking good if you can't get others to want you, and to do anything they can to win your regard? Besides," she pronounced in a professional tone, "there will be rumors by vengeful males and jealous females that you have turned into a lesbian. We can't let you drag down our image any more than you already have, either." Sandi turned away and didn't see Quinn seethe as she added, "As President of the Fashion Club, I will have to keep a close eye on both of you to see that you don't sully the fine name of our club."

Quinn was obviously irate, but she said nothing, merely tried to calm herself down. She needed this normalcy too much right now to throw it away by letting Sandi know what a stupid bitch she was being. Or to let her know the she, President of the Fashion Club, was as much a puppet as she was a puppet master.

But Quinn would be more than that. The cosmetic companies would cater to her--not the other way around. She would learn to play the game Sandi was a slave to, but she would play it as a master chess player instead of a pawn for the producers of magazines like Waif and Val. This, Quinn vowed.



03/20/01 TUESDAY 8:30 A.M.

Quinn was at her locker with Stacy when she heard a wolf whistle and turned to see Scott admiring her. She smiled and blinked up at him, especially as he admired her specifically.

"Looking good," said Scott sounding pleased, walking up.

Quinn laughed a little nervously, but loving the compliment. "Thanks, Scott," said Quinn. Waif had said that was better than saying, "Of course."

"So you're ready to date again, then?" asked Scott, flirtatiously. "So soon?"

Quinn blinked at that a bit more uncertainly. "I'm not sure yet," she honestly said. Well, she knew she didn't want to, but she also knew she couldn't let Sandi catch up and pass her in the dating game they played against each other. Not to mention what Sandi had said earlier.

"I'll be glad to take you out and treat you right," he said. "You like Chez Pierre, don't you?"

Quinn smiled more naturally then, as the old habits started to fall back in place.

"Excuse me," said Sandi's spiteful voice from behind Scott. "But we have Fashion Club business to discuss."

Scott scowled as he looked at Sandi passing him. Then he turned to Quinn. "Anyway, I'll talk to you later, okay Quinn?"

"Yeah, later," said Quinn a little encouraging and a little nervous. Then she glared at Sandi.

Sandi glared back at her. "I hope you're not going to go with Scott. He was acceptable before, but no longer, with his friendship to Matthew."

They started going to class together as Quinn said, "That's former friendship, Sandi. No one is Matthew's friend anymore."

"I hope," said Sandi testily, "that you don't mean to date him."

"Of course not, Sandi," said Quinn, deciding she wasn't ready for a fight over this. She still felt nervous and exposed to danger in the halls of Lawndale High, and wanted to keep her friends around her.

"That's good to know, Quinn," said Sandi sounding pleased. "So who are you going to go out with next?"

"I'm not sure yet, Sandi," said Quinn, hoping she wouldn't get another speech from Sandi about that.

"Take your time, Quinn," said Sandi unexpectedly. "I'm going out with David Bintliff myself, tonight. He's taking me to Chez Pierre, you know."

You bitch!, thought Quinn. She would definitely have to have a date by the end of the week now. "That's great!" she said, hiding her sudden resentment.

Then they met Tiffany in class and were talking about dates and future prospects, and flirting with some of the guys. As predicted, the Fashion Club was met with all kinds of admiration and envy. Unfortunately, Quinn and Sandi fell into their usual competitiveness in trying to prove which one of them was THE most admired and envied. That set the theme for the day.

As the bell rang for lunch, Mr. O'Neill picked up a piece of paper and read from it, "Quinn Morgendorffer, please wait." She was annoyed. People should remember who she was, especially Mr. O'Neill, since she was in two of his classes, now that Mr. DeMartino was principal and Mr. O'Neill was covering his history classes. She was certainly popular enough. But she was also nervous about what he wanted. Lately, she was always nervous at school.

"Yes?" asked Quinn, after Mr. O'Neill shut the classroom door. She hated feeling nervous all the time at school.

"Quinn," asked Mr. O' Neill with concern, "I wanted to ask you how you felt. I tried asking for you on Friday, but I found out you hadn't shown up."

Thank God, thought Quinn, glad to have skipped the all-school, all-day counseling session, I would've been mortified, having everyone stare at me, the girl some guy tried to kill, or even blaming me for having it happen in the first place!

Mr. O'Neill continued, "I was going to speak to you yesterday, but then there was the horrible incident with the firecrackers."

"I'll never forget your sobbing," said Quinn, sounding sympathetic, instead of the bitterness she suddenly felt towards him, the three J's, and even the Fashion Club.

Mr. O' Neill swallowed and continued with, "Quinn, you need to get your feelings out. I see you walking around all tense and I know what you must be going through."

Quinn looked up at him directly then. "Has someone tried to kill you before?"

"Um, what?" asked Mr. O' Neill. Then what she said sunk in. "No, of course not!"

"Oh," said Quinn. "Then how do you know how I feel?"

Mr. O' Neill suddenly felt very nervous. "Well, uh, I was a psych major at first...."

"What happened?"


"You said you were a psych major at first? Why did you stop? What did you change your major to?" Quinn was actually curious. Lately, she'd been wondering about other people a lot more than she used to, wondering what made them tick and what made them do the things they did. Such answers could help her figure out how people were manipulating her, and maybe even how she could manipulate other people.

"Well, it was such a long time ago...." said Mr. O' Neill evasively. Then he saw Quinn frowning at him and he tried bringing the conversation back on track. "The point is," here he looked down at his paper again, "Quinn," and looked back up to continue, "that you endured a very traumatic experience here at Lawndale High. You really need to talk to someone, but your mom, uh, well..."

"My mom," said Quinn pointedly, "doesn't want me talking about the case until it's settled in court."

"Yes, and that's most unfair," said Mr. O' Neill. "You need to talk about what happened with a trusted adult, like Ms. Manson or myself. Unofficially, of course, and no one to repeat the things you say!" He laughed a little nervously as he saw her give him a look more fitting for Dorian, or Daria, or whatever her older sister's name was. The one with the gun.

"Speaking of which," he added, "people who carry guns often do so because of a mental disorder. You should talk about Dorie, too, to see if she also needs help."

"That's DARIA!" shouted Quinn.

"Eep!" went Mr. O'Neill. "Yes, of course!"

"The kind of help I could've used," said a peeved Quinn, "is the kind of help that kept Matthew out of school. I'm glad Daria had a gun, or Matthew would've killed me."

"Karen...." began Mr. O' Neill.

"That's Quinn!" stated Quinn sharply.

"Eep!" Mr. O' Neill straightened and said, "Uh, Quinn, uh, your sister may have saved your life, but she destroyed a life, too. One that needed help, but he didn't get that help because he didn't talk." To Quinn's stony face, he added, "I don't want to see you or, um, the girl with the gun become a new Matthew, going down the path of becoming a hardened criminal, dead before anyone knows anything is wrong."

"Can I ask you something?" replied Quinn sweetly.

"Sure, uh, Quinn." He had to look at the paper again before he said her name.

"If you went back in time to just moments before Matthew started shooting, and you find yourself right besides Daria, and she's just about to pull her gun out, and you can stop her, what would you do?"

Mr. O' Neill's face went very pale and he bit his lip. "Um, I'm not sure...."

"I'm going to die, what do you do?" Quinn had an intensity Mr. O' Neill had never seen before.

"Quinn, you're upset, and you have every reason to be. But imitating monsters isn't the way to defeat them. No, Matthew needed earlier intervention, so I'd go further back in time. As I'm trying with you, and your sister, before it's too late for either of you."

"Matthew is coming after me. Daria doesn't have a gun, but I do. I pull it out to defend myself, and the other people around us. What do you do?"

"Quinn!" cried Mr. O' Neill, shocked, confused, and upset. "I'm not wishing he shot you! I'm just trying to stop you and your sister from slipping down the same slippery slope as Matthew is all!"

"Matthew was a junkie who tried to kill me, and all your...." Suddenly, the door burst open. Quinn spun around, gasping, her eyes wide in fear.

Ms. Barch came in, blinking at Quinn. "Hello, Quinn, how are you doing today?"

"Leave me alone!" shouted Quinn, hurrying out, pushing past Ms. Barch who was surprised by the vehement reaction.

"All right," said Ms. Barch, crossing her arms and staring at Mr. O' Neill, "what did you do to that poor girl? Isn't she traumatized enough as it is?" Mr. O' Neill gulped under that glare and tried to explain.

Outside, Quinn got control of herself and tried to get her mind back on track. She had actually been scared when Ms. Barch came in, and had thought that Matthew had come for her again! Her lip trembled slightly as she feared for her sanity. Maybe she should take a sabbatical. It was obvious that many students weren't showing up now.

She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she needed to go to the cafeteria to meet the rest of the Fashion Club, and that brought her back to the idea of finding a date to show Sandi who the REAL winner for beauty and popularity is. I've already gone out with the J's before, thought Quinn. And I need to find someone I haven't dated yet, to stay ahead of Sandi. That didn't leave many guys, at least not within the "acceptable stock."

Just then, she heard Upchuck, a guy she hadn't dated before (and wouldn't date ever), say from behind her, "Quinn, my dear winsome princess with the beautiful locks, would you care to change your image further by having a dashing gentleman, such as myself, to escort you, my dear?"

Quinn was NOT in the mood for this. "Leave me alone, Upchuck!" shouted Quinn, taking up a slightly defensive posture.

Had she left right then, Upchuck would have merely growled, "Rowwrr, feisty," and gone after different game. But as Quinn simply stood there, he was sure that she was just playing hard to get. "But I can treat you so right, my dear, and I will if you but allow me to escort you to Chez Pierre, tonight." As he saw Quinn's glare, he added with less confidence, "Or the night after?"

"Puh-lease," said Quinn, turning to go away.

"But I have such a suave suit that would go well with a woman of such beauty as yourself and your sexy new tresses." Upchuck took a step closer and ran his hand lightly over her hair.

"YAH!" shouted Quinn, as she spun towards Upchuck and struck out with the heel of her hand towards Upchuck's nose. Luckily, he turned away, and only got it on the chin. But it was still enough to knock his head back into a locker. Then, seeing what she had done, she took off running as everyone stared in shock.

Smooth move, thought Quinn in dismay, who's going to ask me out now when they're scared I'll beat them up? Then she realized someone had already asked her out. She would go find him now and accept.

Upchuck, watching Quinn hurry away and ignoring all the stares of the few other students still in the hall, fondly rubbed his chin where Quinn had struck him. There was some pain there and where his head hit the locker, but not much. And it was worth it to know that Quinn was so overwhelmed by her mad desire for him that she couldn't help but be afraid in his presence. Not to mention, "Feisty!" He went off, dreaming of when Quinn could accept her feelings for him.

Jane Lane, who had returned to school for the first time just to find out what was being said about Daria, watched Quinn leaving in a hurry. What the hell is going on here?, she wondered. She made a mental note to tell Daria about this later. That just wasn't Quinnish at all and it made her nervous. What effect was this whole sordid incident having on the Morgendorffer sisters? And what effect would it have on her?



03/20/01 TUESDAY 2:30 P.M.

"This time," Helen was saying, "I don't want you pulling what you did last time. If you feel tempted to add something that is not a direct answer to a question, stop yourself before you begin. You can't afford to alienate these people, Daria."

"Don't worry," said Daria, "If they act like those gun control people, I'll just challenge them to pistols this time and be done with it."

"Daria!" cried Helen, "Don't say things like that, either! You're in enough trouble as it is!"

"I hope they're closer to sane than Mrs. Brand's cult was," replied Daria offhandedly.

Helen sighed. "Mr. DeMartino did tell me that a couple of them could be a little strange to those not used to them. Be that as it may, they're still valuable allies since you went and alienated HCI!" She didn't mention that DeMartino called a couple of them "clowns" in that tense voice of his. "And these people are very nice, Daria," she reminded Daria. "I don't know how Mr. DeMartino talked them into coming over so quickly." It wasn't TOO amazing, but it was unexpected.

The doorbell rang. "Oh my god, they're here!" gasped Helen. She calmed her breathing. This had to go better than with Mrs. Brand.

Opening the door with a welcoming smile, her eyes widened and her smile faltered when she opened the door to see Mayor Marvin Grant and a dignified woman her own age smiling at her. Behind them, she saw some older men taking cameras and equipment out of a van. She just blinked in surprise at the reviled mayor standing before her. She preferred even Mrs. Brand to him. But the lawyer in Helen finally got her to move her face to smile, even if she remained at a loss for words.

"Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Mayor Grant cheerfully, "I'm glad to finally meet you!" He extended his hand, and Helen weakly shook it.

"Hello, Mrs. Morgendorffer," said the woman, "I'm Ms. Jenny Kane. We're here to interview Daria. Mayor Grant was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to interview with us at the same time." Helen handled her hand a bit better.

She was dressed in a no-nonsense but tasteful power suit, with her chestnut brown hair in simple cut, held in the back with clips. She had earrings and a necklace with a cross on it. The mayor, of course, was his usual polished, overweight self. His bald pate covered with an obvious toupee finished the look that was designed to look very conservative. He was, after all, to bring back morality to Lawndale's politics.

Helen laughed politely, and very, very nervously. "Won't you come in?" she said, her voice slightly forced. The things I put up with to keep Daria out of prison! thought Helen morosely, and I bet she doesn't even appreciate it!

The crew was soon set up in the Morgendorffer front room, rearranging it to look a lot Handgun Control Inc. had. Daria and Helen were back on the couch in exactly the same place as before, giving them both an ominous sense of deja vu.

"Okay," said a man dressed more like a corporate executive than a politician, lawyer, or journalist. "Let's get this set up. Roll it, Ned." Ned looked to be the youngest, but even he was probably in his late 20's, with light carrot top and dark shirt and jeans. He simply put the camera up on a stand to take them all in and sat beside it.

"Okay," said Ms. Kane, "let's all introduce ourselves. I'm Ms. Jenny 'Raising' Kane, former mayor of Cedar Creek. And I am the NRA."

"I'm Mr. Win Alexander," said the man dressed as an exec, "and by the grace of God, Virginia's future congressman. And I am the NRA." He appeared to be in good physical shape, with clean-cut brown hair. The gold watch he wore was almost gaudy. He had an odd tie with a Statue of Liberty at the top, a flag below it and a bald eagle below that.

"I'm Mayor Marvin Grant of Lawndale, and I am the NRA." He didn't seem inclined to say anything right now, which surprised Helen.

"I'm Ned Steele," said the one by the camera, "proud son of the Confederacy, and I am the NRA." The others pursed their lips over that, but quickly recovered.

"I'm Cori Powers, retired Marine, and I am the NRA," said the man that seemed the oldest among them, dressed more like a blue collar worker, though his clothes were very neat. His muscular frame suggested he was in very good health despite his gray crew cut hair, "extra weight" and occasional hacking cough.

After a few moments, Helen spoke up as she realized they were all staring at her. "I'm Helen Morgendorffer, mother of Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer."

Daria rolled her eyes. "I'm Daria Morgendorffer, the most unpopular brain Virginia has ever seen. And I am soon to become an alcoholic." She felt Helen's glare; nobody else showed a reaction.

"Mayor Grant," said Mr. Alexander, "where do you stand on deterrence in schools? Should teachers and students, if caught in one of these media-hyped killing sprees, be able to shoot back if they are able? "

Daria blinked at that. Deterrence? What does he mean by that?

"I'm glad you asked," said Mayor Grant, "I'm thinking all teachers should at least have the option of being armed in order to protect our kids from the growing number of Goths, ravers and other malcontents that afflict our schools and neighborhoods. We cannot allow cabals of thugs, such as the Trenchcoat Mafia, to run free in our schools. Someone has to protect our children."

Mr. Alexander then asked, "Should they face charges if they use a gun that is not approved by law or if the original attacker dies in the process?"

Mayor Grant shook his head slightly. "I am a big believer in law and order. However, I feel some of the laws are wrong and should be changed. I would hope all teachers would use approved guns, but I also hope to add many guns to the approved list. If a sociopath, already blazing away in a school hallway, is put down, then that teacher should get a medal, not the contempt of society by being charged with a crime."

Mr. Alexander then gave a brief description of the shooting at Lawndale High, and allowed the mayor a response.

"Well young Daria here was obviously under some very hard circumstances. Since teachers weren't allowed guns, perhaps she did the only thing she could. I plan to change things so that Daria, and other teenagers, don't have to live in terror of a mad gunman by allowing deterrence in our schools."

"A question, if I may," said Helen unexpectedly. Mr. Alexander frowned momentarily, but nodded his head. "If this deterrence had been in operation at Daria's old high school when the BATF came in and destroyed Daria's classroom right in front of her, not to mention brutalizing her teacher who presented no threat, how would the situation have resolved itself? Would they have felt so 'fearful of their safety' that they just wiped everyone out?" Helen had to content herself with that. She wanted to scream at her guests for being out of their fucking minds.

The NRA folk looked back and forth between each other. Then Mr. Alexander replied, "I do not have the facts of the case which you are speaking of, but I imagine that teachers can be seen as deputized by the government they already work for. The BATF could simply have told the said teacher to carry out the appropriate actions, as they would any deputized civilian, and had the teacher deal with it. Only if a single teacher could not handle the request would the BATF show up. And then to back the teacher, not assault or shoot him."

Will there be razorwire around the school and numbered uniforms on the students, too, you fascist bastards!? shrieked Helen silently. She swallowed that statement, licked her lips nervously, and said, "I thought the NRA did not like the BATF."

Mr. Alexander shifted nervously. "It's true," he stated, "that they were often too quick to shoot and got away with many atrocious acts that shocked anyone in the civilized world that learned of them, and too often escaped justice for their misdeeds and oversights under Clinton. However, we think under new leadership, the BATF might be fixable. Though I would prefer the BATF dissolved, with jurisdiction over firearms given to a different federal agency that has other concerns, so that it doesn't need to exaggerate problems with guns in order to justify their funding."

Helen could only nod. She feared she would scream at them if she opened her mouth again. When she filed the law suit against the BATF, she had learned they were incredibly abusive, prone to breaking in doors at 4 A.M. in ninja garb and gunning people in beds and showers and getting away with it. Other atrocious acts included stomping pets to death while the bound prisoners watched helpless.

One particular instance stuck in her mind. In 1992, the BATF filed false charges against a part-time police officer, and the judge threw the case out of court for that reason. Perhaps the BATF did not get its way in court, but they did get away with slamming the officer's wife, Kimberly Katona who was seven months pregnant, against the wall to "subdue her" until she miscarried, while her husband was handcuffed and forced to watch this. Not even Matthew had been that depraved, and not even the Gestapo of Nazi Germany had raided homes wearing ski masks at four in the morning without identifying themselves. And the BATF got away with these vile acts over and over again.

To Helen's horrified amazement, such brutality was defended by fellow liberals for pretty much the same reason police brutality was defended by the factions backing McCarthy when it was believed the cops were fighting Reds. The BATF were fighting "right wing extremists," and so were given a free pass to commit any atrocity to suppress the enemy.

Her own law suit, filed on behalf of the many parents who also had children that watched the BATF brutalize their teacher, was thrown out of court, and she was told in no uncertain terms to forget the case unless she wanted to place her family in grave danger. She had left for Lawndale not long after, and she thought she had forgotten it. But the memory and the anger hit her now with the force of a bullet.

Shut up, Helen, don't say anything, she told herself silently, you won't help Daria by venting your rage on that. But how can they justify bringing those sociopaths into our schools!? I thought they'd be against the BATF!? Now that Bush is president, they're okay!? Helen smiled tightly and tried to swallow her rage and calm her breathing.

While Helen tried to regain control over her emotions, she listened to Daria, who was now telling the story she had already repeated many times already. She wished she had something to drink, but she didn't want to leave Daria alone with these people--or these people alone with Daria.

"Well, Daria," said Mr. Alexander, "it certainly sounds like self-defense."

"It most certainly does," said Ms. Kane. "I'm glad you had that gun." She didn't catch Mayor Grant frowning at her momentarily after she said that.

"That Matthew boy was a rabid dog that needed to be put out his misery," added Mr. Powers. "You did the right thing."

After a moment, Mr. Steele asked, "What's with the reports of you and a race war?"

"Pure sensationalism," said Helen on her daughter's behalf. "There isn't even any evidence linking Matthew to his father's beliefs, and the only evidence of Mr. Foster's beliefs is that he was on the mailing list for Nazi and white supremacist publications."

"What she said," added Daria. "And it boosts the ratings."

"That's horrible!" cried Ms. Kane. "I hope you sue them!" she added to Helen.

Helen smiled a wicked smile. As soon as the trial was over, she had a frigging list of everyone she was going to sue, from the Lawndale PD to certain news stations, not to mention the gun manufacturers. But all she told Ms. Kane was, "I will. But many reporters are smart enough to not make definitive statements. They only insinuate with ambiguous statements. That's hard for me to claim liability against." But I will make an example of the few who crossed the line into libel and slander! added Helen silently.

"Damn the media anyway," muttered Mr. Powers, "with their liberal, unpatriotic, ungrateful voices trying to tear down this great nation. I hate them and how they pervert the First Amendment to include their trash and their lies."

"At least Hollywood seems to love guns," said Daria. "Good guys beating the bad guys in shoot outs. And everyone loves it. But now that it's happened to me in real life, it seems everyone hates me." Sometimes, thought Daria morosely, I hate myself, too. Why isn't this soul searching ever done in the movies? How do all those heroes and heroines, with their blazing guns, deal with the emotional hangover of what they did?

Mr. Steele spat out, "Used to be an actor or actress couldn't curse or swear on a movie screen, and now look at what's tolerated, all kinds of foul language and disgusting acts pollute and corrupt the psyche of America teenagers. They may have guns, but they glorify sex and drugs and godlessness, too. Singers and songwriters talking about 'capin' 'the man' or just rival gang members, and referring to women, the precious jewels God gave us to love and cherish, as 'bitches and hos'. That's not entertainment, that's filth that degrades the viewer."

"Yeah," said Daria deadpan, "I think we'd all be better off watching movies of desperate outlaws and jaded lawmen while listening to songs of divorces, drinking, getting your mom out of prison, and getting into fiddling contests with the devil."

The visitors shifted a bit, and one of them coughed. Finally, Mayor Grant asked, "I take it you don't like country?"

Daria shrugged. "I don't have anything against it," she said honestly. "It's just that so many people seem to think that some quick and easy solution will solve the ills of the world. Some want to ban guns. Others want to ban profanity. Some people say that to teach gun safety is to turn kids into killers, while others say that to teach safe sex is to turn kids into rapists and nymphomaniacs." Daria shook her head. "I just get tired of all the instant gratification schemes that keep being inflicted on all of us, despite the fact that they don't work."

Mayor Grant got up, a bit too quickly Helen thought. "It's been real nice chatting with you gents, but I got a job to do."

The NRA folk all exchanged good byes as Helen walked him to the door and Lawndale's mayor finally left to go get a drink somewhere.

"He's a fine mayor," said Mr. Alexander after the door shut behind Mayor Grant. "You should be glad you got him after your town made the mistake of voting in that reprobate first."

"With all due respect," said Helen, returning to her place on the couch, "I wasn't aware that he did much of anything except speak to the press every once in awhile, usually to steal credit for the hard work of someone else."

Mr. Alexander shook his head a bit. "He's a lifelong member of the NRA, a good Christian family man, and he's been pushing to get DARE more active at Lawndale High. Something the former principal of Lawndale High has requested."

"Hmph," said Daria, annoyed that what she had just said had apparently been ignored or forgotten. "I've always wondered why DARE was taught by cops who had one week of training, and often the contempt of other cops, instead of by pharmacologists and physicians. Maybe if it were, it might be effective."

Mr. Alexander frowned. "Many kids join DARE, so I think it's effective."

"Many kids wear the DARE shirts," said Daria, "so they aren't harassed as much. Many of them aren't even members, and those who are members are not the type to do drugs anyway. The DARE officers expect certain answers, and we learn to give the right answers to avoid a counseling session or a bad grade. And DARE never mentions that when students do tell the officers that their parents do some pot, that their parents will likely go to prison, their possessions will be seized and sold, and the student who meant well is going to go to the hell of foster care."

Mr. Alexander shook his head. "The parents shouldn't be doing the drugs anyway without understanding the possible consequences."

"And what of the consequences of hysterical drug laws to society? Why release violent offenders early so there will be room to make someone busted for pot serve his or her full sentence? Why create such a large class of offenders who are harmed by the prisons much more than they are by the drugs, and everyone else is harmed with them? Why destroy so many families? Let's be clear, here. The drug laws do more to destroy families than the drugs themselves."

"I'll have you know," said Mr. Alexander, "that I happen to participate in DARE, and it's a fine program."

"I heard Ted Nugent is into DARE, too."

"He is," said Mr. Alexander, "and he's on the NRA board of directors."

"Strange then that DARE is opposed to violence as well as drugs, and has defined violence as owning a gun," said Daria. "I would think the NRA would consider DARE a brownshirt program that turns kids into snitches that become a danger to any parent who exercises his or her second amendment rights."

"DARE may have its drawbacks," admitted Mr. Alexander, "and SOME DARE officers get a little too zealous toward guns after having faced off against too many armed gang members and drug dealers, but there's no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water."

"Who says one has to? There are plenty of reputable organizations that encourage sobriety, using real facts. That's important, because once we find out DARE and the Partnership for a Drug Free America lied about something--and both tell so many lies that we all find out, even when we don't touch anything ourselves--they lose all credibility, and even inspire reaction formations in a few to go out and do the drugs that they had been told are evil."

"DARE has its own strengths," insisted Mr. Alexander.

"Yeah," said Daria, "turning students into snitches. That's the only thing it does better than all the other legitimate organizations out there that DARE likes to pretend don't exist. So why does the NRA give its support to DARE?"

"Because," said an increasingly agitated Mr. Alexander, "DARE keeps dangerous drugs out of our schools."

Deadpan, Daria asked, "Like the laws that I'm being charged with violating, and the liberal preaching of the evils of gun ownership, keep dangerous guns out of those same schools?"

Helen was secretly enjoying this, and she knew that the war on drugs had a lot to do with why the shooting happened at Lawndale in the first place, but she couldn't reveal that. She also realized she needed to stop this from going the way it had with the HCI people. After a moment, she remembered Daria mentioning Project Exile and decided to change the subject to that. "Mr. Alexander," said Helen, "what can you tell me about Project Exile?"

After a moment, everyone calmed down. Mr. Alexander nodded his thanks and replied, "Great program, goes after CRIMINALS with guns. Instead of pursuing more victim disarmament, it uses the gun laws already on the books."

"Started in '99, right?" asked Daria

"Yes," replied Mr. Alexander, with a warning in his voice not to push him again.

"So the gun laws it helps to enforce would include those used to justify Waco and Ruby Ridge?"

Mr. Alexander silently swore. She was too smart to be asking this innocently. She was probably with those damned PMSing Armed Females of America, a lesbian with the Pink Pistols, or with those damned GOA extremists (ignoring that the Nuge was with the GOA as well as DARE). They were always trouble that caused more harm than good with their no-compromise positions. "Those are complicated cases," he said neutrally, after a moment of mulling it over. "There was a lot of wrong doing in the two infamous cases you cited, but that's not to say the laws being enforced are themselves bad. Necessarily. It seems the fault lies with Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, not with the men who put their lives on the line for the rest of us." .

"The Exile laws are badly written," said Ms. Kane, eliciting neutral expressions from everyone else. "As soon as the NRA has time, we're going to give that law a much needed polishing."

Then the front door opened and all turned to see who had come in.

"Hi, everyone," said Quinn, "don't shoot, it's just me back from school." There was type of bantering to her voice, rather than the cynical sarcasm of the brainy one, that caused everyone to take an instant liking to her. She was cute, too.

"We don't mind, little lady," said Mr. Steele kindly. "Always a pleasure to see such a pleasant belle as yourself."

Quinn blinked at him and smiled. She wasn't exactly sure what he just said, but she knew it was a compliment. "I'm taking a self-defense course ," said Quinn, a hint of flirting in her voice. "I'm hoping to learn to use a gun soon, too." She hoped that impressed them and maybe they would help convince her mom into buying her a gun. And this isn't asking mom to buy me a gun, which I won't do since she let me spend the night over at Sandi's thought Quinn with some satisfaction.

"That's great," smiled Ms. Kane. "I'd be happy to take you to the shooting range to teach you, Quinn. I'm a firearms instructor myself, and I can also teach you some other ways to defend yourself."

"It's great," added Mr. Alexander, "that you are responsible enough to learn to take care of yourself. If you want, I'll show you my...."

"Quinn," said an alarmed Helen, "we had agreed. You take the course I signed us up for and THEN we'll talk about finding someone to teach you to shoot." Helen made a mental note to sign Quinn up for more classes to delay this ridiculous request of hers. Hopefully, she could get this mess cleared up and get Quinn some professional help.

"Oh, come on, Mom," said Daria. "Quinn might someday need to liven up a Monday."

Quinn, Helen, and the visiting NRA folk, frowned. Some frowns were puzzled, others seem to recognize the reference to Brenda Spencer, the teen that shot up a nearby elementary school in 1979 because she thought it might liven up a dreary Monday.

"Jim's Paintballing Jungle is having a Morgendorffer special," said Mr. Powers, seemingly to tune Daria out for the moment, inspiring expressions of shock on all three Morgendorffers. "We could all go out and get familiar with paintballing anyway."

Quinn laughed weakly. "Um, okay Mom. I think I'll go upstairs for awhile and get started on my homework."

"You do that," said Helen sweetly, but with a little anxiety in her voice. When Quinn was upstairs, she turned to the frowning NRA reps. "I'm sorry," she said, "but she's just experienced a shock and has shown signs of extreme stress. I'm afraid for her to hear the sounds of gunfire so soon after the shooting...." Helen shook her head.

"We understand," said Ms. Kane, looking at the others meaningfully. "It's great you're so protective of your daughters."

The others grumbled, but seemed willing to let it drop.

"Such a fine young lady," said Mr. Steele wistfully. "I can't believe there are still girls that come home and go do their homework first."

Daria smirked. "Listen to your instincts, for they do not deceive you."

"You know, Daria," said Mr. Alexander, "you should follow your sister's example of responsibility and hard work. Those two traits will help her go far in life."

"And here I thought," said Daria, "her best attribute was her looks."

"You are to be commended," said Ms. Kane to Helen, "on having such a daughter that believes in responsibility, self-sufficiency, and hard work. It's not something that schools teach anymore, so whenever a child displays it, I look to the parents of that child to thank them for raising a member of society that contributes to it, rather than leeches off of it." She smiled warmly at Helen's look of amazement at her compliment.

"Absolutely," said Mr. Alexander. "The liberals have even gotten the schools to pipe the trash, filth, and homosexual agenda to our impressionable children there, while getting rid of prayer and the Ten Commandments." He shook his head regretfully.

Daria blinked. "Are you talking about sex ed?"

Mr. Alexander looked at her warily. "Yes and no, Daria. They refuse to teach responsibility or the importance of marriage and family values, and instead teach acceptance of perversity and homosexuality, and give out free condoms. They even help students get free abortions behind their parents back." He shuddered in disgust.

"Actually," said Daria, "sex ed was horribly dull and boring for me. I never knew anyone to get a free condom or abortion, and the teachers were either too embarrassed or too scared to teach much, or were filled with hate and spite or moral condemnation. They made us say the most mortifying lines to one another that no one will use in real life, and bogged the lessons down in such terms and vague illustrations as to be mostly useless. And they made us carry around these creepy lifelike dolls that we had to take care of, too. I still have nightmares about that doll following me around and calling me mom." She shuddered.

Mr. Alexander shook his head. "Daria, I'm familiar with what the schools do. They teach depravity, promiscuity, and having premarital sex and abortions."

"Well, what do I know anyway?" asked Daria. "I just go to high school. Or did. And you may be right. After all, many schools stopped teaching gun safety or closed their shooting clubs because it turned students into killers that took out their entire school."

"Learning to care for guns teaches responsibility," said Mr. Alexander, "but teens are not emotionally mature enough to handle sex, and are all too easily seduced by the pleasures of it without realizing the pain that comes after it."

"And they promote that homosexuality and feminizing our boys," added Mr. Powers in disgust. "They're just an instrument for the homosexual agenda."

"Homosexual agenda?" asked Daria. "Dare I ask what that is? Or would that entail educating me about sex?"

Mr. Alexander blushed. "The homosexual agenda is part of the larger liberal agenda. The homosexuals also want to encourage sex between members of the same sex, and they do it by putting their insidious message into textbooks, sensitivity training, and sex ed."

"Are the Pink Pistols part of this agenda?" asked Daria.

Mr. Powers broke out into a coughing fit.

"The Pink Pistols?" asked Mr. Steele.

"A gay and lesbian alliance," Daria replied, "mostly libertarian in politics, that encourage an end to hate crimes against the GLBT community by arming themselves and learning to use their guns. They also stand up for the second amendment."

Mr. Steele shuddered and looked very disturbed.

"Yes," said Mr. Alexander in a tight voice, "and they have caused dissension among us, especially among the more gospel-believing Christians. I think they are the gay agenda's Trojan horse to destroy us from within."

"Real men love Jesus," added Mr. Powers, now recovered from his coughing fit.

"Daria," said Mr. Steele, "do you want the schools to teach your children that it's okay for boys to have sex with boys, and girls to have sex with girls? Can you imagine what the locker rooms would be like? Are actually becoming?"

Daria blinked. "I don't have any children. And thanks to those creepy dolls, I doubt I ever will."

"Oh, come on now," said Mr. Steele gently. "You're 18. It's about time to be thinking about marriage and children, who will be going to school themselves before you know it."

Daria blinked at such familiarity. "Are we acquainted?" she asked.

"The point is," said Mr. Powers, "we need to make the dimwitted Demo-commucrats realize our nation's need to restore acknowledgment of God as the primary reason this country even exists, as the Founding Fathers intended."

Daria nodded. "Since many liberals were educated in liberal schools and encouraged to be stupid crack whores too lazy to work, this shouldn't be a problem for you."

"You wouldn't think so!" cried Mr. Powers, "but their hatred for Christianity and decent values is intense, Daria!"

"Maybe," said Daria, "they're so obsessed with destroying America because they're in thrall to Satan?"

"I knew you were smart enough to see that!" said Mr. Steele excitedly, but had to repress a shudder as he watched Daria regard him with that creepy deadpan expression of hers.

"Most of all," continued Mr. Alexander, "we should stand up for the second amendment rights of every American to defend themselves and work to overturn Roe vs. Wade, thereby ending the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives yearly, just as we should remove the ability of the liberal, activist judges on the Supreme Court to legislate from the bench, and should restore the Ten Commandments to the forefront of American life."

"This country was founded by armed Christians as a Christian nation that is tolerant of ALL religious beliefs," said Mr. Powers. "The founding fathers envisioned a nation with its roots in godly, Christian principle, with the Ten Commandments at its center. The term 'separation of Church and State' is found NO WHERE in the Constitution, but rather was intended as the freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion."

"Immigrants can come here and practice whatever barbarian, pidgin religion they want," added Mr. Steele, "but don't expect us to change our beliefs or way of life to fit in with them. Or be forced to pay for their indoctrination in godless schools, or the medical bills of illegal aliens, or to send money to feed them so they can grow up to hate us." He shook his head vehemently. "And I don't mind if Mexicans and other people want to come up here to work, but to preserve our cultural identity, we must require ANY immigrant to have a Work Visa or Resident Alien documentation or be DEPORTED. The illegal aliens count for a lot of the gun violence anyway."

Mr. Powers continued with, "I was reading somewhere that Christians make up 87% of the population of the United States, and I personally think it's high time we stop allowing the 13% ungodly liberal minority to tell us what is acceptable in American society. They would just love to turn control of this country over to the U.N. You know, the anti-American, antigun U.N. socialists. This is treason, which is, unless I miss my guess, punishable by death. Death by firing squad."

"I've lived my entire life in the South," said Mr. Steele with obvious pride. "I was born in Augusta, and have lived in Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia. I am a radical conservative, too, and because I am a proud descendant of several Confederates, I see nothing wrong with assassinating those who would stop the re-forming of the Confederate States of America. I am dedicated to preserving their legacy and heritage. There is no doubt in my mind that my ancestors fought for the side that was right. I hope you're proud of your heritage, too, Daria."

"I don't know," replied Daria uncertainly. "Highland and Lawndale are the areas I was raised in, which makes me a Southerner too, I guess, but the uranium in the drinking water didn't instill a lot of pride in me."

Mr. Steele added, "Think hard, Daria, you are either with us or against us." He snorted. "And think what the liberals are about to do to you. Don't you see that our way is saner, whether we clean house in this great nation, or whether we secede to form our own nation, as we are legally able to do?"

Daria cocked her head quizzically at Mr. Steele. "The Civil War didn't end in defeat for you, did it? To you, it's just a cease fire that lacked a concise victory."

"Exactly," said Mr. Steele. "As C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis put it, 'The contest is not over, the strife is not ended. It has only entered upon a new and enlarged arena.' You should read Southern Patriot if you haven't already. It will explain it all."

"Hmmm," said Daria. "I have heard of that book. Supposed to be have good documentation but it's also said to be poorly written. Still, the latter is a value judgment. I might get it out of curiosity one day, but it had better be fully documented. Even then, there's always the question of truth, and who it belongs to."

The guy who sold her the gun loved to talk about things like this with her. But he seemed to have his feet on the ground a lot better and wondered if he could possibly help her with these lunatics that were supposed to defend her. These people would do her PR and give expert testimony to defend what she did in court? Fillman would eat them alive.

"Relativism," said Mr. Alexander pointedly, breaking Daria out of her reverie, "is damned un-American if you ask me. And the truth is there are two forces at work in America today. One is the liberals that have brought this country to the brink of ruin with their godlessness and relativism. The other is the God- fearing Americans who want to keep America strong and true, with strong morals and family values."

"These liberal, unpatriotic, ungrateful people are out to destroy America by destroying those morals and values," added Mr. Powers.

Daria blinked at that. "Destroy America? I thought they were too lazy to do anything like that."

"Mr. Powers is right," said Mr. Steele. "By promoting homosexuality, relativism, and multiculturalism, and by taking God out of our schools and culture, they are destroying the very fabric that holds this country together as the greatest nation on God's green Earth. And they don't seem to be lazy about doing that at all!"

Daria shrugged. "Times change. People change. Today, most people don't feel threatened by gays and lesbians, or other cultures, or new religions. That doesn't mean they're out to destroy anything. Just that they change, along with the times. It can be called growth, even adaptation." Daria resisted using the word evolution; they seemed to accept the concept of "survival of the fittest" but she doubted that they accepted the rest of the theory of evolution.

Mr. Steele shook his head. "It's a proven fact that the United Nations is trying to become a world government, and already acts as if it has jurisdiction within our borders. The U.N. promotes many of these anti-American forces. They even let people speak there on behalf of Gaia, an Earth goddess!"

"Whatever," said Daria shrugging. "What's that have to do with us right now?"

"Gun control is another major focus of the U.N. It repeats the lies of Sarah Brady."

"Maybe they see the same things that Sarah Brady does, without consulting her first."

Mr. Steele smiled at her as if he found Daria's naiveté amusing. "Those people who were here before us were with a shady organization called Handgun Control Inc. They're a front for the CIA."

Ms. Kane put a hand to her face muttering, "There he goes again," while Mr. Alexander sighed.

"Oh, come on," said Daria rolling her eyes. "You'll get no argument from me when you say they're stupid, but they weren't incompetent enough to be CIA."

"HCI was originally funded by Edwin Wales," said Mr. Steele, "a company man that spent his life working for the CIA."

Daria shrugged. "So?"

"So HCI is a front for the CIA!" Mr. Steele was starting to get fed up with her. Even for a girl, she could be dense.

"Aaron Zelman wouldn't say that," replied Daria.

Mr. Alexander blinked and broke into the conversation. "You know Mr. Zelman?"

Daria nodded slightly. "I know of him."

"What do you think of him?" asked Mr. Alexander cautiously.

Daria shrugged. "Right of me, but he seems to have a sense of honor that's rare among political organizers." She blinked a bit. "I do wonder about some of his books. He makes some excellent points, but other points fall flat. More than that, they can get downright annoying."

Mr. Alexander frowned. "Annoying?" he asked annoyed. "How's that?"

"Like he seems to love smoking. Unless someone he doesn't like does it. In one book, a woman who was supposed to be Hillary Clinton evilly forces other to breathe in her secondhand smoke, but then when a good guy lights up, he fills the room with the fresh fragrance, thumbing his nose at the freedom haters that want him to be polite enough not to smoke around them. That kind of stuff."

"That's kind of nitpicking, isn't it?" asked Mr. Alexander reproachfully.

She shrugged. "Maybe. But he should apply the same standards to both sides, not use a different measuring stick for each. And the JPFO itself has some really good articles, too, but I saw one article in there that accused America of hating freedom because we weren't doing enough to help them eliminate the Palestinians. Like we're Hitler lovers if our government doesn't force us to pay for genocide. But Zelman didn't write that, that was just on the site."

"I bet you liked the article by Dr. Sarah Thompson on arming students in schools," replied Mr. Alexander. He frowned as he remembered that same woman writing a damning letter to the NRA for not being perfect.

"That was interesting, yes," said Daria. "But there are many differences between our schools and theirs. Israel has a common enemy that they are taught to hate from early childhood on, and live in fear. America doesn't have that kind of enemy that bonds us together. We just hate each other instead. And if nothing changed but the guns, I think Eric and Dylan would've shown up in Columbine as suicide bombers instead of with guns. And you'd probably hear more about jocks shooting Goths. I mean, schools suck, and bringing in a bunch of guns isn't gonna change that."

"So you're against Zelman and the JPFO then?"

"No," said Daria, "I don't care one way or another really. There are things I admire about it and things that don't inspire confidence in me at all. But that's how I feel about everyone else, too, including myself. And that's not relativism, that's cynicism."

"I don't think it's a CIA outfit either," said Mr. Powers getting back to the subject, "but HCI needs to be stopped. They're traitors of the worst kind, selling out our traditions and sovereignty in exchange for a higher rank in the new world order. They hide behind freedom in order to destroy it. Any resemblance to their trash and the real world is purely in the minds of the idiots who believe the lies. They have nothing good to say about Bush, they just want to destroy what is right and proper."

"Bush thinks Daria is a boy who should be put to death for murder," replied Helen with a forced casualness.

"Did he really say that?" asked Mr. Alexander doubtfully.

"Honestly, I saw it on the evening news," said Helen, "But I'm not sure what he says, ever. I often feel that he's speaking word salad, yet it almost makes sense. But he was very clear that Daria should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

"Keep paying attention, ma'am," Mr. Alexander said, "you'll finally figure out what he really said."

May you go on a blind date with Mrs. Brand thought Helen in a silent curse to Mr. Alexander and Mrs. Brand both.

"Bush may be a problem," said Mr. Steele to the frown of others, "but he's a lot better than Gore. There's a conspiracy to disarm America from factions domestic and foreign. Gore is a part of that treasonous behavior, and Bush, along with those of us with the NRA, will help fight to keep America free."

"And here I thought it was all just plain stupidity," said Daria.

The others laughed, seeming to be genuinely amused. Daria, of course, showed no reaction. Helen bit her lip wondering if any of them caught the ambiguity in her statement.

"You're smart, Daria," said Mr. Alexander, "You know, I'm sure, how guns have ensured America's freedom and liberty not only from foreign powers, but from domestic tyranny as well."

"Oh, yeah, guns have really kept America free of tyranny, witch hunts, military suppressions, attacks on citizens, police brutality, invasive government agencies and obnoxious bureaucrats."

"Daria," said Ms. Kane, "it would be much worse if people were not prepared and equipped to resist tyranny. There's a reason the Dred Scott decision was made, keeping firearms out of the hands of slaves."

"But too many people don't want to exercise their right to bear arms," said Mr. Steele, "or live up to their responsibility to resist tyranny."

Mr. Powers grumbled, sounding oddly like Jake. "People have turned into pussies in this country. The Commies have long tried to weaken us from within, and they finally managed to inject their poison in us in the 60's that's still killing this country to this day. We could've won Vietnam if we had the support, but even then everyone wanted to throw all our bombs and guns into the sea. And it only got worse after that. Rights for this and rights for that. We need a return to conservative leadership and...."

"Wasn't it Democrat presidents that got us into Vietnam?" interrupted Daria. "And technically, wasn't it a Republican president who saw the war end in defeat?"

Mr. Powers shuddered. Then he shook his head saying, "Daria, if anyone lost, it was Vietnam. Americans failed them because of the leftists that sabotaged the war effort on behalf of the Communists."

"Let's see, the Vietnamese rebelled against the western colonists, used guerrilla and militia tactics like America's founding fathers, kicked out all the western powers that were exploiting them, and then did the same to China when China invaded right after. You know," said Daria deadpan, "you might be right about armed militias resisting tyranny. Now they live free in a blissful Communist utopia as a direct result of their patriot militias."

Mr. Powers stiffened. "I have a daughter with a mouth as smart as yours," he spat. He didn't like this girl. She made him think things that were uncomfortable, and made him fear that others might think of the same thing. He loosened his collar just a bit. He'd never known a teenage girl could be as frighteningly intelligent as this one.

"Her name wouldn't be Melody, would it?" asked Daria. For some reason, the idea that this Mr. Powers would like her Melody Powers stories disturbed her.

"No," he said coldly. "My bitch of a wife kept me from teaching her any respect, but I bet your own mother would love it if someone tamed that mouth of yours."

Mr. Alexander spoke up. "Now, Cori, Daria is just young and ignorant of all the factors involved. Just calm down and don't pay so much attention to the girl child."

"Daria has a way of saying things that make people uncomfortable, but she's hardly a smart aleck," said Helen, a little crossly, "and I don't appreciate your profanity or your threatening my daughter!"

"I quite agree," said Ms. Kane tightly to Mr. Powers. "It is not your place to teach Daria anything. Daria is an intelligent, young woman who is by law an adult. While you are in her home, you should show her the proper respect as is seemly for a gentlemen with manners.

"You," she continued, pointing at Mr. Steele who suddenly looked nervous, "I'm proud of my southern heritage, too, but I don't babble about crusades to strangers. I understand your comments about lethal force were simply to express the passion you feel that underscores your message, but it makes you seem like a dangerous firebrand. Leave it alone and save it for those who know how to handle what you're talking about."

"Excuse me, ma'am," replied Mr. Steele, "I'm just so fed up with the direction the country keeps going!"

"We're all frustrated with the direction this country is going in," said Ms. Kane, "but tearing down everyone that disagrees with us Jerry Springer style, let alone the threats of violence, isn't the way to foster the cooperation we need if we're going to take this country back. I'm sure when you learned to act as a proper southern gentlemen, you learned proper manners and courtesy expected of a house guest, and having reminded you of your upbringing, I hope you have the pride to live up to it."

"Yes, ma'am," said a chastened Mr. Steele.

Daria was shocked at how she turned them around. No wonder she was able to get elected. I wonder why she's not in office now?, she wondered. She tamed them without even using a chair and a whip.

"Obviously," continued Ms. Kane, "Daria has learned to use a gun with lethal efficiency and gone on to do so when lives were at stake. She is NOT some 'liberal Commucrat,' or whatever other insults you've used today. And just because she's not a Christian doesn't mean she's a liberal doing the devil's work or actively pursuing a homosexual agenda. And I believe her about her experiences with sex ed. All schools aren't the same, you know. We are in the more godly states, after all, and both Ms. Li and Mr. DeMartino are conservatives who support the NRA, as well as being the past and present principal of Lawndale High."

Mr. Alexander looked around. The others were waiting for his lead. He sighed and said, "Thank you, Miss Kane, for pointing out the obvious. Daria, I'm sorry if we seemed to have lost our temper. We have had to put up with so many liberal jerks, and we're so heartbroken with the way our values are spit upon and done away with that sometimes I think everyone not with me is the enemy..... passions get in the way." He sighed and shook his head.

"Thanks," said Daria in a cautious tone. "I don't believe in God, but I don't have anything against Christians. I don't have anything against gays or lesbians, either, and I don't think people should go to prison or lose everything they've worked for just because they smoked a joint. And I don't think calling people names is the way to show you disagree with them."

Mr. Alexander lifted a hand toward Mr. Powers before he could actually say whatever it was he was about to say. "I can deal with that, Daria. A lot of libertarians are the same way...."

"The libertarians," said Mr. Powers in a strained voice, "want to legalize drugs and prostitution, and many of them are homosexuals and atheists that believe a woman should be allowed to get an abortion!"

Mr. Alexander kept his hand up toward Mr. Powers and kept talking as if Mr. Powers hadn't interrupted him. "And we have long worked with the libertarians on this one issue that we can agree upon; the issue that we all have the God-given right to defend ourselves from those who would harm us, and have stood beside each other to support each other's second amendment rights. I trust that we can do the same."

"You sure you can trust me?" asked Daria deadpan. "I not only missed church my entire life, but I've had my mind and morals ruined in liberal schools."

Mr. Alexander started to sigh but caught himself. "It's obvious you're not a liberal, nor are you out to destroy this country. We briefly talked with Mr. DeMartino and he had only good things to say about you. We forgot what a fine young lady he said you were because we have had to put up with our country being attacked everyday by the liberal establishment, along with attacks on our values and our religion and we've gotten a little too sensitive about it. After it happens so many times, we tend to pull together in the face of apparent opposition and defend our values and our beliefs with a good offense."

Daria sighed and said, "Well, if you've spent years putting up with what I have these last few days, then I can understand why you overreacted. I'd probably do worse myself. So I apologize for taking some of what you said personally."

"You happen to be one of the most intelligent young ladies I ever met," continued Mr. Alexander, "and of course you ask questions about what you see. That's what intelligent people do. Anyway, I'm sorry that we mistook you for just another mindless product of the liberal schools. I apologize, too."

"I'm red-faced myself, ma'am," added Mr. Steele.

Mr. Powers glared for a moment, then lowered his eyes. "Me, too," he grunted.

Daria took in a breath. "Apology accepted," she finally said. "Group hug." She smiled as she saw uncertainty break out on the faces around her. "Kidding. But I know what you mean about dealing with personal attacks all the time. I've never been popular, and these last few days, everyone has been at my throat, and I figured you were the latest would-be lynch mob."

"Daria, you're among friends here," continued Ms. Kane. "We understand that guns are important for defense, and we understand the liberals that want to make an example of you for having the audacity to defend yourself and the lives of those you love." She shook her head sadly. "Those who can take care of themselves don't need the liberals, and those who don't need the liberals, terrify them. Whether you read NewsMax for the passion it incites in you, or are with a libertarian that is passionate about the Bill of Rights, or are an intelligent young woman who dares to look at the liberal engineering and honestly say it sucks, we're here to help you, and I hope that we can help each other now."

Daria nodded her head. "I can use some friends. It's just everyone has been after me. And the things they say about me on the news...." Daria bit her lip as she shook her head slightly and turned away for a moment.

Ms. Kane, hoping to get things back on a civil track by showing everyone the common ground they shared, asked Daria, "You don't blame guns for the problems of the world, do you, Daria?"

Daria shook her head, regaining her composure. "No, I don't blame guns for the trouble of the world. The trouble is caused by stupidity. But I don't see guns as salvation, either." She relaxed slightly as Mr. Alexander sat back too, speaking with Mr. Powers too quietly for her to hear.

"Would you rather have faced Matthew with a knife or sword or with bodily contact, than with a gun?" asked Ms. Kane.

Daria shook her head. "No. But if all we had were blades, I would've shanked him instead of shot him, while his back was turned."

Ms. Kane laughed nervously. "Daria, he had a definite advantage in any kind of physical confrontation. When guns became involved, he lost that advantage. Because he never bothered to learn to use his gun, you were actually at an advantage. Can't you see how the rule of brute strength was overcome the day guns came into being and truly made us all equal?"

"As long as everyone's an armed psycho, things will balance out," said Daria calmly.

"Exactly," said Mr. Powers, his earlier anger seeming to have dissipated. "You know for someone who wears a skirt, you actually have more balls than most of the sissies of America. Well done."

Daria stared at him with a deadpan expression, while Ms. Kane glared at him. The sad part, Daria realized, is that he's really trying to pay me a compliment.

Mr. Alexander cleared his throat. "No," said Mr. Alexander, his annoyance showing again, "When psychos are locked away and only decent people have guns, then things will even out. Seriously, Daria, what if everybody, or at least the teachers at Lawndale, had a gun? Do you think Matthew would've tried what he did?"

"Yes, I do," said Daria. "He was desperate and crazed on methamphetamines. If he had more time to prepare, he might have tried a suicide bomber approach. And frankly, I know the teachers at Lawndale High. Mr. O' Neill would forget the safety or misplace it, Ms. Li would be a target by students and faculty alike, and Ms. Barch and Mr. DeMartino would've already shot it out."

"Daria," said Mr. Alexander trying to sound reasonable, "this lack of respect in authority does not do you credit."

"Wait. You are getting onto me for a lack of respect for authority? When you're the one trashing the schools, the United Nations, and even the federal government?"

"Yes, Daria, I am," he responded in a heated voice. "I am running for Congress, and I believe in lawful authority, as opposed to liberal treason. I help Mr. Nugent with his DARE program, even if you don't like that. I believe those who do violence should be locked up, and yes, that includes people who smoke pot as they are violence and destruction waiting to happen."

Daria replied with, "How about people who drink?"

Mr. Alexander's eyes narrowed at Daria. The comments about respecting authority and this drinking question were obviously meant to call him a hypocrite! "Do you think we're so idiotic or hypocritical," he started with grave dignity, "that you, a sheltered teenager, know more about how to run the world than we do?"

"Mr. Alexander," warned Ms. Kane. "It's just a question."

Daria looked at him deadpan. "Is that a trick question?"

Mr. Alexander got up. He had tried, but she was impossible. "Okay, that's it. Apparently, Daria thinks she's the only one smart enough and responsible enough to have a gun." As the others got up, obviously about to leave, he turned to Helen. "Mrs. Morgendorffer, perhaps we can work together on this case, and perhaps not. But if we do, I strongly urge you to muzzle your daughter."

"I told you," grumbled an irate Powers, "she would've served our cause better if she and that sister of hers had been dead!"

"Excuse me?" cried Helen loudly, standing up with obvious anger.

Mr. Alexander frowned at Mr. Powers. "Never mind him. There was some stupid talk earlier that if she had died and it was shown how a gun could've saved Daria and Quinn, we could work up a lot more sympathy for the victims to be able to have guns in so-called 'gun free zones' and so prevent another such tragedy. He is speaking in anger and has taken leave of his senses."

Helen was speechless.

Daria didn't seem disturbed at all as she asked, "But if that happened, wouldn't HCI just have used it to show why guns had to be banned once and for all, even beyond gun free zones?"

"I suppose a bunch of liberals would have, yeah," said Mr. Powers with a little heat, even as Mr. Alexander calmly said his name. "But since you'll do anything to tear down this country, at least you would be stopped."

"He's the one you should muzzle," said Ms. Kane angrily, glaring at Mr. Powers, as she passed Mr. Alexander.

"Powers," Alexander said it louder that time to be clearly heard by all.

"I'm so glad you have the right to have a gun," said Daria. "And for your encouragement to be sure I always have one."

"But that would be acting responsibly, and you wouldn't want to do that," grumbled Powers.

"That's enough," said Ms. Kane loudly.

"Hell it is!" shouted Mr. Powers, "I had to deal with her kind of pacifist crap from Commie protesters after I came home fighting for their freedom to be Commie protesters! There's a war coming, Daria, and when it comes I plan to be ready for it because I believe in my country!"

"Impossible," said Daria. "By the time the war starts, you'll either be committed or dead from that untreated case of syphilis you picked up in Vietnam."

Ms. Kane reminded him, "She's not a pacifist or a Communist."

"The hell she isn't!" shouted Powers. Turning to Daria he added angrily, "Go to your HCI friends for help, 'cause I wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire!"

"Why don't you go to them for help," replied Daria curtly. "They wish Quinn and I had died, too, and are just as moronic as you, serving an organization that is dedicated to more funds and support rather than to solving any problems because that would only serve to cut back on their funding and political clout."

"What?" Mr. Alexander said that calmly, but was the very picture of offended dignity.

"You heard me," said Daria crossly. "Personally, I think Sarah Brady and Ted Nugent play S&M roles with each other at luxury resorts with all the money they rack in for the crusades they pretend to represent to bilk the gullible. Their extravagant lifestyle shows they have more in mind than making a better world, though. It would be so perfect of how both of your organizations serve themselves and empower each other rather than the gullible people it can find and convert into your Jerry Falwellian con games."

Mr. Alexander looked to Helen again. "I again urge you to put a governor on your oldest daughter's mouth!" Then he followed the rest of the NRA folk now in the process of leaving.

"Can you blame her for thinking the way she does?" asked Ms. Kane bitterly. She turned to Helen and Daria. "I apologize for my compatriots' lack of good judgment and good sense. I hope we can iron out our differences later." With that, she turned and walked out the door.

The lawyer in Helen stopped a curt reply to the men still inside her home. But she said nothing as the NRA reps walked out the door. She had to admit that despite her desperation for their help, she was glad they were gone.

When she turned, she saw Daria was already going up the stairs. She sighed, but let her go. She wanted a little time to rest and think about what the repercussions of this would be.

Upstairs, Daria slammed her door close behind her. The world is full of idiots, and they demand respect!? fumed Daria. She almost kicked the wall but stopped herself. No need to damage my Docs, thought Daria glumly. They're not worth it. I'm just upset because of this guilt that haunts me. Even Lady Macbeth felt guilty, why shouldn't I?

She found an old Metallica CD that Trent had given her last Christmas. It wasn't her thing, but right now she was in the mood. She put it on and let herself fall backward on her bed seething, trying to calm down.

Feel no pain, but my life ain't easy
I know I'm my best friend
No one cares, but I'm so much stronger
I'll fight until the end
To escape the true false world
Undamaged destiny
Can't get caught in the endless circle
Ring of stupidity

Out for my own, out to be free
One with my mind, they just can't see
No need to hear the things they say
Life is for my own to live my own way

Rape my mind and destroy my feelings
Don't tell me what to do
I don't care now, cause I'm on my side
And I can see through you
Feed my brain with your so called standards
Who says that I ain't right
Break away from your common fashion
See through your blurry sight

After a couple of minutes, Daria suddenly realized she hadn't seen Jane face to face for nearly an entire week. A sense of guilt, disappointment, loss, and fear took hold of her. She had only talked to Jane for short periods so far on the phone.

Daria flipped the Metallica off and put in the Quiet CD by Bella Morte. Then she lay back down, pursing her lips, as she began forming a plan on how to sneak out of the house to see Jane for awhile


03/20-21/01 TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY, different times

(We open in Lawndale, as the cam takes a scenic route through the neighborhoods. We see Pizza King, and several excited teens coming out.)

MOORE (VO): Kids killing kids. Shoot-outs at the OK Corral.... right in our school hallways ....rumors of race wars and conspiracies and drug-crazed shooters ...... something just wasn't right. Had things changed that much.... from when I was a kid? I knew I had to find out. My name is Michael Moore, and this is my search for what is really going on in America.

(Scene changes to Michael Moore eating pizza in Pizza King)

MOORE (VO): Lawndale is your average little town in America. Here teens grow, fall in love, and yes, have their hearts broken once or twice. It is, in fact, a microcosm for a nation gone mad.

Matthew Foster, a student at Lawndale High, ate at this Pizza King, as do many other kids his age, including his girlfriend, Quinn Morgendorffer. <Picture of Quinn, taken from yearbook of the previous year, overlaps scene> Yes, Matthew had it all, a good American boy growing up in a good American town with a beautiful girl at his side.

But what few knew was that Matthew had many problems that shamed him. A mother on disability took care of him, and the checks were being cut down to combat welfare fraud. The disabled need to work like everyone else.

His mom, believing her gun-obsessed ex-husband was going to kill her, as he had threatened to do on numerous occasions, had a gun herself: a Model 608 .357 Magnum revolver. Yes, now she was safe in case her husband took pot shots at her from a roof somewhere.

The father frequently 'forgot' to send alimony and child support. Perhaps he was too busy with his group which didn't like minorities and welfare. And he didn't seem interested in bringing his son with him to shooting events anymore. But he did have an extensive gun collection that he had taught Matthew to use.

Father and son, I remembered my days as a boy shooting with my dad. My dad would share with me all the things that interested him and tried to turn me into the man he wanted me to be. <b/w footage of small boy with crew cut shooting toy gun> It was fun as I imagined gunning down all those fearsome Reds.

Like his old man, Matthew blamed the black man for his own troubles, and other minorities. Civil rights were a plague in the land, and the only thing to save America was what has always saved America from fear of the black man. A gun.

And then, as frequently happens in turbulent teen romances, the girl broke up with the boy, and Matthew pined away with heartache.

<Cut to Lawndale High>

But Matthew had learned from his mom and dad what to do when something went wrong. That's why Matthew brought his mom's home- and self-defense gun to school, like so many other boys under the stress of Bush's new America, and took a proactive approach.

<Scene of Mack and Ms. Li being treated by EMS.>

If he was after his girlfriend, why did he stop to shoot a black man and his Asian principal?

<Cut to home scene of Mack. Mack and Jodie are sitting on the couch facing Michael Moore.>

MOORE: Why do you think he shot you?

MACK: Maybe because I was charging at him?

MOORE: But he had a gun. You're bigger than he is, but you're not bigger than a gun.

MACK: I know that.... now. But he just shot Ms. Li, and it was obvious he was going to shoot Quinn. And then anybody else in the way. I didn't think. I acted....

JODIE: ....Stupidly

MACK: ....Thanks. Yeah, I acted stupidly, but I couldn't just lie there letting him kill innocent people. It <Mack's voice chokes a little> was not right.

MOORE: How much do you think your being black had to do with being shot?

MACK: Honestly, I don't think that had anything to do with it.

JODIE: Lawndale is a very white town, and caters to white people and white tastes. But the racism here is more of an insensitive kind than an overtly hateful kind.

MACK: <subtle humor in his voice> I think Daria would have simplified that statement by saying Lawndale is just stupid, period. 'You're entering Lawndale, IQ limits strictly enforced.'

JODIE: <slight smile> I think Daria would use a word more like 'narcissistic' for many of the people, and 'oblivious' for the rest.

MOORE: How racist is Daria?

MACK: Daria? Not at all.

JODIE: She's not biased. She's an equal opportunity cynic, regardless of race, age, religion, gender, or ethnicity.

MOORE: <very sympathetic> So Daria and Matthew both gave you a hard time?

JODIE: Um, no. Daria is something of a loner, but she's been friendlier towards us than many other people outside our extracurricular activities. Matthew was someone completely different. He didn't like us, but I think that's because he thought we were better than he was, or that we thought we were, because of all our extracurriculars.

MOORE: So you think he didn't like you because you're a football player and you're a student council member?

MACK: <Noticeably slower in his speech, and Jodie covers a brief giggle with a cough>: I think he shot me because I was trying to stop him from shooting Quinn or anybody else.

MOORE: Do the football players bully the other kids at Lawndale High?

JODIE: No. A few of them sometimes annoy people, but only by accident.

MACK: <talking to Jodie> Yeah, and they annoy other people on the team the most.

MOORE: <puts hand on Mack's shoulder but takes it off after Jodie and Mack both look at his hand, him, and frown, but continues in an almost tearful voice> How are your injuries healing up? Are you going to be able to play football ever again?

MACK: <smiles big> Yeah. I was lucky. The bullet "slid around" my chest. That happens sometimes....

JODIE: Sometimes, as in people sometimes win the lottery and never have to work again.

MACK: They thought I might be out for months, but after five days, they sent me home. I go back to get the stitches out later next week sometime.

JODIE: Mack is something of a hero. Everyone is congratulating him on trying to stop <chokes a little> Matthew. That may have been very stupid, but it was also very brave. And he bounced back so well. He's still officially Captain of the Lawndale Lions.

<Cut to hospital room where Ms. Li is sitting up in bed talking silently while Moore's voice overlaps the scene>

MOORE (OS): Mack and Jodie seemed a little too preoccupied with their extracurriculars to know much. So I decided to talk to Ms. Li. She was the other nonwhite to be shot by Matthew as he was literally gunning for his girlfriend.

MS. LI: ....And he voluntarily gave me permission to check his bag for weapons, hmph, but he had a gun under the shirt. You know, Zero Tolerance aside, that was even worse than the nail file I confiscated earlier! Hmmm..... <Ms. Li pulls out hand tape recorder from under the bed and speaks into it:> Find out why Quinn smuggled a nail file to school under the cover of "fashion accessory." <Puts tape recorder back under sheets. Moore visibly surprised by this, but says nothing.> I don't understand it. I do so much for the staff and students of.... Lawwwndale High.

MOORE: Have you ever found a gun before?

MS. LI: Good heavens, no! Lawndale High is a fine school, and we never had this problem before!

MOORE: Then why did you conduct random searches for weapons?

MS. LI: To make sure no one would. I never would've done it if I realized I could be shot while conducting a voluntary weapons search! Maybe now those tightwa... er, I mean, maybe now the wise members of the school board and mayor can finally see fit to get those new cameras, update the security systems, Kevlar vests for the faculty, bullet proof skylights and guards. After all, a secure student is a happy student. It's all for the students.

MOORE: Why did you have metal detectors, and cameras, and bomb-sniffing dogs if this had never happened before?

MS. LI: The kids are getting rebellious. It's from all the years of liberal parenting, and despite my best efforts to encourage responsibility, the kids are on a downward spiral. Still, I had hoped to discourage such flagrant violence by installing such deterring measures. I know it's true that it leads some students to try to 'break the security,' but I'm sure none could. Only Daria had the requisite intelligence and misanthropy to smuggle a gun past them, and she's too antisocial to do it for anyone else. And since the Board of Education said it was paramount to secure a safe learning environment, I took all precautions before the liberals can grant even more protections to violent thugs and sociopaths.

MOORE: I, uh, see. Any ideas how both Matthew Foster and Daria Morgendorffer got a gun onto school grounds?

MS. LI: No, unfortunately, they have not released that part of the footage yet. But I am confident the truth will come out.

MOORE: You say he was stalking Quinn, but that doesn't explain why he shot you. He wasn't stalking you, was he?

MS. LI: I don't know why he had to carry out such hostilities against me. I do so much for that school for so little pay and appreciation, and this is the thanks I get.

MOORE: Do you think he shot you because you're Asian?

MS. LI: Well <takes a deep, shuddering breath> I've been here recovering wondering why anyone would want to shoot ME, and <chokes a little>.... I think Mr. O'Neill is right, we must get those sensitivity classes funded! <Ms. Li makes a quick statement into her microrecorder>

MOORE: How close were Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer to Matthew?

MS. LI: I don't know. I thought Quinn was closer but just before he shot me, Quinn was obviously distressed to see him. I think Daria might have meant for him to kill her. If you saw the video footage just released, you see Quinn fall before he himself is shot. Daria thought Quinn was shot and then shot him!

MOORE: Why would Daria do that?

MS. LI: Oh, Daria is a crafty girl, extremely untrustworthy. I have reason to believe she's intimately involved with several paramilitary organizations, especially the publishers of Brutal Mercenary magazine! I'm not sure I believe what is said about Quinn, but I am sure that Daria holds some very dark secrets underneath her cold, callous exterior. She and Jane Lane both! The entire Lane family are a bunch of ne'er-do-wells. I'm sure Jane Lane, rather than Quinn or Matthew, helped Daria get a gun into school, but I can't prove it. Only the police can do that.

<Ms. Li talks into tape recorder again while Moore talks off screen, and an outside shot of Lawndale High comes into focus.>

MOORE (OS): Decades after the Civil Rights movement, and yet racism seemed to be Lawndale's dirty little secret. It was a truth too horrible to bear, and it would explode in a hail of gunfire.

<Cut to view of bumper stickers in parking lot--we don't see what parking lot, what town, etc-- saying, "Crime Control Not Gun Control," "Work Harder, Millions of Welfare Depend on You!" "Don't Let Clinton Gore Your Gun Rights," "The South Will Rise Again," "Gun Control is Hitting Your Target," and "First Gun Control, Then Total Control." As camera pans back, we see guns in gun racks in pick up trucks. It looks to the viewer as if it's the parking lot of Lawndale High, though Lawndalians would never recognize it as any parking lot anywhere in the vicinity of Lawndale at all. Moore continues.>

Matthew may have been taking out his hostility against the black man and yellow menace, but he was only warming up for his girlfriend Quinn.

<Cut to close-up view of a bumper sticker with the words, "If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it's yours. If it doesn't, HUNT IT DOWN AND KILL IT!" Superimposed is a picture of Quinn and Lawndale High.>

What Matthew didn't count on is that he wasn't the only American to learn to deal with his problems with a gun. Quinn's older sister, Daria Morgendorffer <show picture of a suspicious, frowning Daria with a background of "gun fighting in the Old West music"> also decided to solve her problems with a gun. And her problem was with Matthew. What her problem with Matthew was is still a mystery. A mystery I hoped that maybe I could solve by asking the right questions.

<Jake getting out of car at the Morgendorffer residence; we see Moore walking up to him from a few feet behind>

MOORE: Excuse me, sir?

JAKE: AAAAAAAAHHHH! NO, you can't have my money! I need it all, damn parasite!

MOORE: No, you misunderstand. I'm Michael Moore and......

JAKE: I have a bottle of wine I'll probably never finish. I hated it. It's too sour for me, but I bet you'll drink anything. <Jake looks over Moore's shoulder into the camera> DON'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE ANY DECENCY! LET A MAN BEG FOR BOOZE MONEY WITHOUT PUTTING A CAMERA ON HIM YOU VULTURES!

MOORE: Sir, I don't want any wine....

JAKE <still yelling at camera over Moore's shoulder>: It could be YOU living on the streets next!

MOORE: I wanted to ask you about Daria

JAKE: Daria? She doesn't have any drugs so you should go away right now.

MOORE: No, I'm making a doc.... <We see Helen come out and walk up to Jake and company>

HELEN: Jake! What are you screaming about out here? <Glares at Moore and crew>

JAKE: He's some wino panhandling

HELEN: I'm sorry, but we are facing stiff legal fees. I must ask you to panhandle somewhere else.

MOORE: NO! <Jake and Helen flinch> I mean, no, I don't want any money. I was hoping I could talk to Daria.

JAKE <barely heard>: Helen, I think he wants to buy drugs from Daria.

HELEN: JAKE! You sir are not welcome here. I give my statements at....

MOORE: I'm not a reporter

HELEN: That what are you?

MOORE: I'm making a documentary

HELEN: About?

MOORE: The rough times our kids now face, like drug-crazed stalkers.

HELEN <thinking a moment>: You can call Ms. Morrison and leave a message on her machine. She'll be the one to decide whether or not you can interview Daria and then she'll make a recommendation to me.

MOORE <hint of pleading in his voice>: Mrs. Morgendorffer, my films have won international awards. I'm only passing through Lawndale and I can't afford to wait for an appointment. If you want me to help poor Daria, I need to do it right now.

HELEN <crossing arms, voice full of suspicion>: Ask me a question, and I'll answer for her.

MOORE: Can't she speak for herself?

HELEN: I will protect my daughter by any means necessary. I can't help but feel I should protect her from you.

MOORE: Did Daria try talking to Matthew before she opened fire?

HELEN: Such facts will come out in the trial. No one will talk about that before. Goodbye

MOORE: Mrs. Morgendorffer, a legal question?

HELEN: What!?

MOORE: Violence has been going down since the passing of the Brady Act and ban on assault weapons. I would think that means it works. Don't you?

HELEN: That went into effect in 1994. Trust me, I helped to pass it. But violence had been going down since 1991, and seemed to have more to do with the last of the boomer children -- who were into fighting over drug turf -- growing up and vanishing from the scene.

MOORE: What was your reaction when you found out your youngest daughter had been dating a racist?

HELEN: The facts of that will come out in court

MOORE: What's it like knowing your other daughter took a human life?

HELEN: It's far rougher on her than it is on me. What's hard on me is that so many people give such a damn about Matthew's humanity, but Quinn and Daria were just fodder for statisticians! And seeing how Handgun Control Inc. and similar organizations have expressed disappointment that there weren't more deaths to help their cause has only disillusioned me with them. Such people are more than willing to trade human lives for success, and hate it where life prevails when it inconveniences them. It has really opened my eyes.

MOORE: You were in the peace movement yourself. What happened to the world and its values to give us this bleak world where everyone wants a gun to defend themselves? What ever happened to the good vibes of the 60's?

HELEN: Yes, I remember the 60's. I remember how cops and national guardsmen acted above the law, sometimes with lethal violence. I remember how motorcycle gangs and about everyone else took advantage of our enlightened ethics to hurt us over and over again. I especially remember how we said that people old enough to die for their country should have the right to vote. Now it seems to be that someone with the right to vote shouldn't even have a gun. And for what? So mass murderers will be safe in school?

MOORE <shifts uncomfortably>: Matthew threatened your daughters. It must be a good thing he's dead. I'd like to tell her that myself, if you don't mind.

HELEN: You, sir, need to leave this instant.

MOORE: I'll leave as soon as Daria tells me to <sees Helen pull out cell phone, hits 3 numbers and then starts talking into phone>

(OS) Wow, they were really nervous. What did they feel they had to hide? I decided to try to find answers somewhere safer. If I were a shady lawyer from Texas with one daughter a criminal and the other a vigilante, I'd be nervous, too. Especially as Daria had virtually no friends whatsoever. Except one for sure.

<Scene changes to gazebo outside Casa Lane. Jane is talking to Moore>

MOORE: What was it like to discover your friend had shot someone dead?

JANE: No big deal at first. But then I found out she shot him twice in deadly spots on either side of his spine, and then for an encore got in a head shot. To shoot that steady in such a situation took nerves of steel and lots and lots of practice. I think she's even a natural! I'm DAMN proud of my amiga.

<Resignation crosses face> On the downside, Matthew didn't suffer anywhere as much as he should have. It's said he died like almost instantly. He did stuff, but he was already dead, it's just his body didn't figure it out right away.

MOORE <gulping>: But there were bullets and blood and stuff. Was that cool?

JANE: Since it was Matthew's, it was very cool. At least from her perspective. If there's one thing Daria can't stand, it's racist Nazis that try to kill her sister just because her sister had the temerity to break up with such a jerk after he showed signs of being a racist Nazi. Being against hate myself, I say fry those redneck bubbas. But I told Daria, 'Don't let him know you have a gun, because if you do, Matthew will attack you instead so he can use your own gun against you.' Would she listen? Of course not. And now she's... .oh, wait, Matthew didn't get it away from her did he? Oh well, I'm sure it will happen next time.

MOORE <biting lip and gulping>: What about the next time? What if you got in a fight with Daria? If you were in an argument over a boy? Would you still feel better that she had a gun then?

JANE <slaps her own forehead>: I never thought of that, but you are 100% right. Gun owners like Daria are such a threat that we should ignore any supposed rights they have to stop them! It's not like she's Matthew. Thugs like Matthew are actually good for the economy, especially with all the legal fees they generate for the courts and pay out to officers that handle their cases, so they're just a problem we have to put up with <shrugs>. The young, old, disabled and stuff are just dead weight anyway. Fuck 'em. That's why we respect the rights and humanity of people like Matthew anyway, to weed the weak from our species, thereby assuring a better generation of stronger humanity.

MOORE: That's kind of cold, isn't it?

JANE: Hey, you're the one who'd rather see a girl dead than defended with a gun. And besides, the deaths of people like Quinn and Daria are just the necessary sacrifice we must make in order to not prevent people like Matthew from weeding out the weak or generating legal revenues. Guns are just 'way too dangerous for this reason, and so aren't worth the risks to society, the way whiskey and motorcycles are. I'm going to try to get Daria to give up guns and take up drinking and driving when she gets out. Separately, of course.

MOORE: Mr. Fillman seems to think Daria isn't a recreational shooter, but a vigilante.....

JANE: It's worse than that! Did you hear what that Fillman guy had to say? 'Other women dissatisfied with how the law has treated them might take the law into their own hands if all Daria gets is probation.' He's absolutely right! We can't have people taking the law into their own hands, or how would all the lawyers and judges draw a pay check? Sure, they throw people like Matthew back out into society, but it's really for our own good. Don't people understand how important such a system is? And the place people like Matthew have within it? Why do people like Daria have to screw it all up for everybody else? Huh? I hope she fries.

MOORE: I'm starting to think that maybe you don't REALLY think guns are violent deaths waiting to happen and don't care ...

JANE: Of course I care! I LOVE Prohibition! It always makes things so much more interesting, more profitable, and often easier to get. We need lots more of it. We need it for guns, 'cause their shooting ranges are too noisy, and for silencers because they're too quiet.

While we're at it, I thought we could take care of internet porn and cyberstalkers by getting rid of computers, or at least severely hampering their memory. Oh! And think if we got rid of cars, or at least lowered the speed limit to 20 miles an hour! BEAUTIFUL! No more accidents, or road rage, or drive-by shootings. Heck, get rid of gas, too. It's used to make Molotov cocktails, as well as by arsonists.

MOORE: Surely you don't think such prohibition is possible?

JANE <blinking hard and looking surprised by such a statement>: I don't see why not. I mean can you show me where in the Constitution cars, gas, and computers are specifically protected?

MOORE: Guns aren't really protected you know. I mean where do you stop? Nukes? Do you want people to buy nukes?

JANE: I'd love to have the money to BUY one..... but could you imagine the insurance you'd have to get on those things?

MOORE: Uh, um, and I can see having 18th century guns, can't you. But did you know that guns are hardly mentioned by the founding fathers? Those people were scared and wanted to own slaves, but if they were such gun nuts, why was it so rare they ever said anything about guns?

JANE <smiles and nods head avidly>: And how often were things like outhouses mentioned? I always thought they were rare myself, not 'assumed to be there' or anything. I think they wore diapers myself. Oh, wait. Those don't get mentioned very much, either. Maybe it's best if we don't think about that one too much. <Jane shudders>

MOORE: Why don't people feel lucky that they can get black powder weapons?

JANE: Yep. And if they feel they have to have something newer, they can join the National Guard, like the Bill of Rights intended. And while we're at it, only registered groups with government permits should be allowed to publish or broadcast anything, that must be what the first amendment had in mind, right? Well, I guess quill pens for everyone is OK.

MOORE: You're not really serious.

JANE: Sure I am! Words are dangerous you know. Why, ANYBODY could go off and shout fire in a crowded theater, which would, of course, lead to massive deaths as everyone jumps up screaming and running for their dear lives in a mad panic. I know 'cause Daria and I have done that at school more than once. We killed off half the school that way.

MOORE (OS): I had my doubts about Jane Lane's honesty or sanity -- and then this wreck of a van, with a big anarchy sign on it, pulled into the driveway. Some of the strangest looking young men I've ever seen started getting out of it. Jane said they were "Mystik Spiral," a band. She didn't say a band of what, and this seemed like a good time for me to leave and get into my own van.

<Camera shows rapid progress to a van. From the van, the camera turns and we see Mystik Spiral glaring at the camera. We hear the smothered curses of Moore, and then the camera goes off. Resumes in Pizza King where Moore is eating pizza.>

So who was Daria Morgendorffer? Good question. She got good grades, but didn't seem interested in extracurricular activities. She had a few friends, liked to read, and watch a program called 'Sick, Sad World.' Her mom and dad didn't have a gun. Her mom had made her dad sell his guns years before. So where did she learn to use a gun? Was it really from a right wing hate group, possibly the same one that trained Matthew to be a killer?

Daria wasn't telling, and her family and friends were determined to keep her secrets safe. But I knew no secret is safe and so I went to find answers on my own.

<Cut to office with walls covered with pics of models, actors, singers. Val sits in chair talking silently to Moore across the desk from her while Moore drones on, off screen>

Val, editor of Val magazine, told me she had spent a day with Daria. An All American Girl with cutting edge flavor, but there was still something dark and hidden about Daria Morgendorffer. I wondered if Val was talking about Daria or about Lawndale itself.

VAL: ....That's why I called her the anti-teen.....

MOORE: <holds hand up casually> The anti-teen?

VAL: She's so dark.... so sinister! Such a spiraling-down drag! And she doesn't even care about her appearance! Not even lipstick! I can't believe how well she fooled me, Val!

MOORE: But obviously, she cared for her sister....

VAL: That is so whack! Her sister Quinn is edgy! Good clothes, takes pride in herself, has an active social life. She rocks! Daria is a <shudders> brain that only pretends to have these things, and seethes with hatred and jealousy for Quinn's coolness. I also think Daria is a lesbian. She kept trying to get me to bring her back with me to NYC! Can you believe it! Like that would ever happen. But I get hit on by all kinds of teenagers, straight and lesbian....

MOORE: If Daria hated her sister, why did she shoot Matthew before Matthew could shoot Quinn?

VAL: Daria may be a brain, but she's not very cool. Because smart is cool and Daria is definitely not cool! I mean, she doesn't even wear nail polish. I think she was so, like, eager, that she shot before she meant to. Maybe he even heard her and was turning around. I guess we'll never know. I remember how she would look at me with cold, reptilian eyes behind those whacked out glasses....brrrr! <Val shakes all over for a moment before striking her normal pose.>

MOORE: Do you think Daria Morgendorffer was racist?

VAL: Hmmm. Racism is uncool. Daria is uncool. Therefore, Daria is a racist. Yes. <Val continues talking, smiling and pointing at herself with a thumb.>

MOORE <off-screen> This was strange. An All American Boy and an All American Girl with a dark side in an All American Town with a dark side that many people knew about, but no one openly discusses?

<Cut to Lawndale High>

In my day, guns were common, but when we got into a fight, it was exchanging a few punches and everything was okay. Only a few girls would act that way. But here we had an All American Boy and an All American Girl packing guns to school. Why? I decided it was time to find out.

<Cut to inside Lawndale High. We see Moore's back walking ahead as the camera follows. The camera closes in on Anthony DeMartino glaring at Moore and seeming to cuss colorfully under his breath.>

MOORE: Hello! I'm doing a documentary for the NRA and I thought.....

MR. DEMARTINO: You won't be thinking ANYTHING ever again if you don't leave NOW!

MOORE: This is for the NRA! Here's my card

MR. DEMARTINO: If you're with THE NRA, then why don't you know that I HAVE forbidden any and all reporters from school grounds?

MOORE: I'm not here to talk to students, and the school is about to close anyway.

MR. DEMARTINO <grumbles a bit, then>: Keep it SHORT!

MOORE: Have the students been taught the importance of the second amendment to resist tyranny?

MR. DEMARTINO: About the ONLY thing students LEARN is how to SLEEP through class with NO consequences for refusing to put in an honest day's work, especially if you're on the FOOTBALL team or CHEERleading squad!

MOORE: Have the students ever asked weird questions, like why the second amendment doesn't include protecting an individual's right to own a nuclear missile?

MR. DEMARTINO: The FEW students who have the brain cells to wonder about ANYTHING would already know the ANSWER to such a question!

MOORE: Well, could you humor me, please? I'm one of your students. Why doesn't the second amendment cover nukes for private use?

MR. DEMARTINO: Oh for Christ's sake, you've truly reached a new pinnacle of stupid, so you DO make a believable STUDENT and that's NOT a compliment!

MOORE: Humor me, please?

MR DEMARTINO <heavy sigh>: Do you have ANY idea what such a weapon would cost? What your neighbors would likely do to you unless you had some legitimate purpose....

MOORE: Excuse me, legitimate purpose? You mean as if Ethiopia offends you for getting too much of your tax dollars?

MR.. DEMARTINO: You CERTAINLY got the 'stupid' down PAT! I mean legitimate as in using them as earth movers in the asteroid belt.

MOORE: Oh.... okay, um, go on.

MR.. DEMARTINO <glaring harshly, breathing faster than he should>: Not only would you have the price, but there would be the insurance cost. Even in a world with very little to no government, which it would almost certainly TAKE to allow you to buy such weapons on the open market, and that would assume a reason for them EXISTS or the costs of making them for consumers would be PROHIBITIVE all by itself. The COSTS would be literally astronomical. Happy?

MOORE: Do you think then that people shouldn't be allowed to buy nuclear weapons at the Wal-Mart simply because the second amendment protects their God-given right to own a weapon?

MR. DEMARTINO: DID your MOTHER drop you on your HEAD!? Even KEVIN has more sense than YOU! And as he's a KID, he has an EXCUSE! What's YOURS!?

MOORE: No offense, please, don't shoot! I understand what you're saying about the risks and costs it would take to buy, or even produce, a nuclear weapon. The idea that the student might question is, just how strong is the second amendment? Is it really absolute? Or are there limits to it?

MR.. DEMARTINO: There are LIMITS to everything, even STUPIDITY has limits which I thought I found in KEVIN, but you have expanded my horizons for how FAR stupidity can go!

MOORE: I'll do more studying. So what limits are there on the second amendment? Should this Kevin get a nuclear weapon?

MR.. DEMARTINO: SHOULD? Hardly. But you are confusing a right to with should.

MOORE: Ah! So people shouldn't get their own nukes?

MR.. DEMARTINO: Until there's a legitimate reason for them, no. There's a difference between arms and armaments. The latter is not something you carry with your arms, and on this most people will agree that the Bill of Rights did not intend to cover nuclear weapons, though respectable arguments that it does also exist.

You can learn more about WHY all the Bill of Rights came into being and how all the individual rights depend on each other to exist.

However, I think the consensus is to say guns equals nukes and so are covered is like saying that because we have cats that roam freely then lions and tigers should be able to walk freely as well. But that doesn't stop people from getting them anyway, especially with the collapse of the now defunct Soviet Union.

MOORE: Yes! So isn't the second amendment useless then for fighting the government? I mean even if everyone has an AK-47, how can they stand against a government with nuclear weapons?

MR. DEMARTINO: Why, oh why... no, I must not KILL him, that's what those NRA jerks WANT me to do, I'll find out which ONE of them sent this moron to me and kill HIM! That's...

MOORE: Sir? Could you please answer the question?

MR.. DEMARTINO: Only a truly MAD man, such as myself, would even be TEMPTED to use them on one's own home ground. Nukes wreak HELL on real estate and your tax base. If a government did use nukes, it would destroy its host, and it, as a parasite without a host, would die. That's the simple answer as SIMPLE is all you could POSSIBLY understand! I urge you to take remedial SECOND grade, and I will attempt to educate you further, possibly giving Kevin extra credit for tutoring you!

MOORE: So why do people make such a big deal about small arms then, if they're useless against all the big, bad weapons put out by Lockheed?

MR.. DEMARTINO: Have you NEVER taken a HISTORY class EVER!!??

MOORE: Um, well.... I could use a refresher.

MR.. DEMARTINO: Look to the American Revolution to see how guerrilla tactics and simple guns tore down the far superior war machine of the BRITISH. Does this help, or do you need a more modern example?

MOORE: Well, a quick illustration wouldn't hurt....

MR.. DEMARTINO: Au contraire, I find you VERY painful! Do you think the Viet CONG had the nukes, the bombing, the air superiority and superior naval missions to overcome several nations, including the United States? And then to repel China? Which had its own nukes and unbroken supply lines? I mean that, do you really THINK this is why America was expelled from Vietnam?

MOORE: Oh, um, okay. Damn that's a lot of film that's going to have to be cut.


MOORE: Um, nothing! Thank you for answering. So you share the NRA creed that guns work to make people safe? And this feeling justifies more guns?

MR.. DEMARTINO: MORE than it justifies VICTIM DISarmament. But I could understand why YOU would be opposed to the people you TALK to having GUNS!

MOORE <gulps again>: Have you, uh, brought a gun to defend yourself in case of another shooter?

MR. DEMARTINO: If you don't LEAVE now, then the very last thing to happen to you in your life is to learn the answer to that question. <Reaches slowly behind his back>

MOORE <turns toward camera walking away from Mr. DeMartino>: Thankyouforyourtime

MOORE: <OS> Unfortunately, Principal DeMartino was a member in good standing with the NRA and didn't seem to want to talk to me. Even after I showed him my NRA membership card, he ordered me off school grounds, even though it's a PUBLIC school. I decided to take a roundabout way outside and see if I could find anyone brave enough to talk on the way out. But that's a tall order, given the power of the NRA.

<Camera shows Timothy O'Neill, holding a book on Karl Marx, looking uncertainly at camera as cam approaches>

MOORE: Excuse me, sir? I'm Michael Moore, and I'm making a documentary ....

O'NEILL: I'm sorry, but we're not supposed to talk to the press. Anthony says it only encourages them.

MOORE: I'm not with the regular press. <Smiles slightly when he sees O'Neill's book on Marx> I'm an independent film maker, and I work with the World Socialists who are trying to overcome capitalism. My mission is not to make millions off of gun tragedies and terror like the regular press. It's to stop further tragedies, instead. I even donate some of my profits to several prominent gun control organizations. Don't you care enough to stop future tragedies by talking to me?

O'NEILL: Oh, well, I guess that's different. You're really with the World Socialists? <Moore nods.> Ok, but only for a minute.

MOORE: How long have you been a teacher here?

O'NEILL: Oh, for over 10 years now.

MOORE: So you'd say you know the students of Lawndale High very well then?

O' NEILL: Yes, I would. Since Anthony made principal, I've been covering some of his classes, too. I'm so glad the substitutes have finally been showing up, but I've gotten to know even more students even better because of all the extra classes I've been teaching.

MOORE: So why do you think these kids would open fire in a crowded school? Why not agree to meet at the OK Corral to avoid shooting anyone but each other?

O'NEILL: Matt <shakes head sadly> poor Matt. He never did learn to deal with disappointment. He should've been in my self-esteem class. And Maria? I think I graduated her too early from self-esteem class....

MOORE: You mean Daria had low self-esteem?

O'NEILL: Daria! She did. I'm not sure about now. I think she was just scared for herself and her sister when she shot Matthew, but people who get guns are said to be insecure. Lynn is obviously under stress now, and it's obvious she had been terrorized by Bradley. But I'm very surprised her sister Dorien did what she did.. I guess she felt helpless to do otherwise.

MOORE <blinking hard as he tries to keep up with the names>: Have you noticed racist tendencies from, uh, either of the two shooters?

O'NEILL: Oh, no. I don't think so. Bradford was a bit surly, but not badly so. Darla was a bit, um, antisocial, but she still seemed to like people.

MOORE: Do you think it's strange that after a shooting, the school would put someone who is a member of the NRA as acting principal? Do they expect him to shoot back if there's another shooting?

O'NEILL: <Laughs disarmingly> Oh, Antonio? Oh, no, he would never do anything like that... I think.... he's the only one with the qualifications that was willing to take the job. And it's only temporary. Some say he's a bit too brash, but many in Lawndale like how he seems to discourage the media folk from out of town from hanging around, imposing themselves on our students. No offense.

MOORE: Does Principal DeMartino have a gun?

O'NEILL: Uh, I don't know. You'd have to ask him.

MOORE: If he had a gun, do you think he'd bring it to school with him?

O'NEILL: I think he said something regarding that about 'not opening himself up to temptation,' so I think he wouldn't.....

MOORE: How have the students been affected? Any of them bringing guns from home now?

O' NEILL: I don't think so. We certainly haven't had any more problems. You know, for someone who isn't trying to scare people, you sure are making me very nervous.

MOORE: A lot of scared people with guns out there right now. It's all right to be afraid of scared people with guns.

O'NEILL: But....<sighs> Oh, never mind. It's hard to think about. You know..... <O'Neill stiffens, then sobs> It's.... just so.....hor-hor-horrible!

<We see Moore put his hand on O'Neill's shoulder. O'Neill throws himself into Moore's arms and sobs on his shoulder. Suddenly, the camera shifts and we see an angry Ms. Barch stomping forward>

MS. BARCH: Who are you and what are you doing to my Skinny, you, you MAN!??

MOORE: I'm Michael Moore, ma'am, and I'm an independent film maker trying to stop future gun tragedies, and he needed some comfort...

MS. BARCH: I comfort him, you disgusting male! God, you even look like my ex-husband, all sloppy and scraggly and filthy and fat..... <Ms. Barch reaches for O'Neill and yanks O'Neill away from Moore. O'Neill shrieks as he's pulled away and then buries his face in Ms. Barch's bosom.> There, there, Skinny, I'll keep this man from exploiting you. <Glares at Moore.>Go back to your wife you abandoned after all the years she put up with you, instead of messing with my man!

MOORE: We're all upset over the shooting here. There are too many guns here....

MS. BARCH: There are too many men here!!! And look at the shooters, they were nearly all men! Even in the Old West is was the same, just like today. Guns were everywhere, but the violence was concentrated where the young men were, you filthy male. It's not gun control we need, it's testosterone control!!!

MOORE: Wasn't one of the shooters here female?

MS. BARCH: Daria? One of the better students here not always trying to please the men around her.

MOORE: Val said she thought Daria was a lesbian

MS. BARCH: Daria? Hmmmm..... doesn't matter, sleazeball. So what if she doesn't cater to you men!? Is that such a threat!? And if so many men are bigger and more violent than decent folk not tainted with Y-chromosomes, then it just proves how much foresight Daria had to get a gun. I wouldn't expect the male-dominated system to stop that stalker hunting Quinn! Not when you men stick together when you're not shooting each other a part!

MOORE: But bringing a gun to school, taking a life in cold blood....

MS. BARCH: She saved several lives, including her sister's. I bet that's more than you've ever done! Stop trying to destroy that girl, who had sense enough to cap one of you violent males! Why do you have to come here and upset my Skinny and everyone else, you lying piece of garbage?!

MOORE: You misunderstand. I'm only trying to help. <Moore lays hand on Ms. Barch's shoulder>

MS. BARCH: You...You... VILE CREATURE!!!! <Punches Moore who falls over and then Barch runs away as O'Neill falls on floor. O'Neill sits up and crawls against wall where he continues to cry.>

MOORE: <Holding hands over nose, eyes tearing, in obvious pain, and we see a little blood> Beech broke mah nose!

MS. BARCH: <comes running back with a gun in her hand> Here, you man, Daria was right, use your own phallic symbols against you! DIE, FILTHY SCUM!!!!!

MOORE: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!! <Bumps into camera, which drops. We catch brief view of Moore, his arms outstretched in front of him, and a couple of other people running for dear life before the cam bounces off a wall and lands on the floor at an odd angle. We see a triumphant Ms. Barch walking back to Mr. O'Neill.>

MS. BARCH: <sweetly> It's okay, Skinny, I got rid of him for you!

O'NEILL: <face expressing horror> But, Jan-Jane-Janet..... you have a gun!!! <Another brief sob>

MS. BARCH: Oh, this, don't worry about it, Skinny! <Barch pulls out a Virginia Slim, puts it in her mouth, uses the gun as a lighter, and puts it away. She takes a drag off cigarette.>

MR. DEMARTINO: <off-screen, but we soon see bottom part of Mr. DeMartino standing over Barch and O' Neill> Mr. O'Neill and Ms. Barch! I should fire the BOTH of you! But seeing how he should never, EVER come back under ANY circumstances, I think I will be LENIENT and ignore your handling of the situation, especially as he was not AUTHORIZED to be here at ALL!

O'NEILL: Uh, Thank you. I had just finished up making my lesson plan for the week and was just leaving when he accosted me, Andy!

MS. BARCH: Let's go, Skinny. You can take me to that Thai restaurant again.

O'NEILL: <gulps> Sure, Jan, er, Janet. Whatever you say.

<Anthony turns grumbling and stomps away. Camera switches off.>



03/22/01 THURSDAY 5:30 P.M.

Daria, wearing a sun hat, sun glasses and Jane's red jacket, entered Pizza King with her friend. So far, they had managed to ditch the one reporter that had recognized Daria, though he was no doubt looking for them if he had recovered from the kick Daria gave his ankle.

The freaking friends were comforted by the normal smells of baking pizzas, but unnerved by how all conversation stopped. They could barely make out whispers as everyone pretended not to be watching them.

"I don't think this is such a good idea, Jane," said Daria, her voice shaking just a little.

"Come on, amiga," said Jane, "That's just the sound of respect. We can have any table we want. Want Britney's table? Just ask her if she's willing to die for her table and see how fast she offers it to you."

"Jane, that's not funny!" Daria said that with more heat than she meant to put into her voice. She suddenly found Mrs. Brand's words haunting her.

"Relax, Daria. This will all pass, once they get use to seeing you again." Jane hoped she was right. She knew that only some students acted as if they believed the reports that Daria had been trying to start a race war. More students actually made fun of the news heads on TV, mocking them mercilessly, sometimes with absurd caricatures.

"Daria!" This was from Jodie, sitting with Mack at a table not far from them. "Why don't you sit with Mack and me?"

Jane turned to Daria, smiled reassuringly and walked over to Jodie's table. Daria followed.

"How are you two doing?" asked Jodie, when they sat down across from Jodie and Mack.

"I'm just surprised you'd want a racist like me sitting with you," said Daria sullenly. Mack and Jodie seemed a little taken aback.

"Look, Daria," said Mack, "Unlike many people, we can judge the facts for ourselves. It's obvious they're blackballing you."

Jodie pulled out a piece of paper. "Here, Daria," she said, "My dad asked me to give your sister a copy of a letter to pass on to you, but she's been acting a little too strange for me to trust her with it."

"Thanks," said Daria taking the offered page. "What's it about?"

"Something he sent to one of his newsletters after they printed a short blurb about you."

"What did the article say?" asked Daria. She recalled her mom saying Mr. Landon had promised any support of her defense that he could manage.

"It barely said anything. But what it did say is not something I'm going to repeat, as I try not to spread what I know is a lie."

Jodie handed a piece of paper to Daria. Daria took it, skimmed the unimportant stuff and then read the content of Mr. Landon's letter to the editor:

"I see that you were quick to assume Daria was a hateful right-wing racist (as if you can't be one without being the other), but did you even look into these reports at all? I've personally met Daria Morgendorffer and found her a polite, pleasant, intelligent young lady. Furthermore, she saved my daughter's life.

"My daughter is good friends with Daria and confirms my view that such reactionary claims about Daria are spurious. Even prejudicial. And would you be so quick to claim racism if the wounded black boy (my daughter's boyfriend) had been the one to stop Matthew's would-be morning of terror?

"False claims of racism hurt the rest of us. Let us not lessen the impact of our experiences of racists and racism in society by allowing it to be turned into an ad hominem attack by those who would exploit such claims against those they oppose for their own political agendas that have nothing to do with combating racism."

Daria blinked a few times and then handed it back. "Thanks." She didn't sound sincere, but she was.

"No problem," said Jodie, who understood. "He said there's a good chance they'll print it, too. He also said that you did the right thing. You saved your sister's life. Matthew is the murderer here, not you. Thanks to you, no one other than Matthew was killed."

Daria looked down at the table. Then she looked back up, deciding to change the subject until she could deal with her feelings. "Oh, by the way," she said, "did you hear? Yesterday, some muckracker investigating the shooting got arrested for sexually harassing Mr. O'Neill AND Ms. Barch, at the same time."

"Really?" said Jodie, sounding disturbed. "I can't imagine why anyone would harass either."

Mack laughed. "Barch? Barch!? Oh, man, I would've loved to have seen that!" Mack kept breaking out in snorts and laughter as he thought about that.

Daria shrugged. "It's just what my mom said. She heard this from her District Attorney friend. The guy had stopped at my house a couple of nights ago to talk to me and Mom had to call the cops on him." She shook her head. "Mom didn't think he was a reporter 'cause he looked like a bum in need of a haircut and a shave."

Jane grinned then. "I think I saw him myself the day before," she said. "Looked like a bum. Asked me a bunch of dumb questions, thought Daria was a racist and stuff."

"Oh! We saw him, too!" said Mack. "He had a beard and wore a baseball cap?"

"That's him," said Jane. "He do get around, don't he?"

"And he tried molesting Barch and O'Neill?" asked Jodie shaking her head. "Well, he did put a hand on Mack. I just thought he was being sickly sweet or something."

"Way too familiar to someone he had only just met," added Mack.

"He counter charged that Ms. Barch assaulted him and even shot at him," said Daria casually, "But all Ms. Barch had was a lighter gun, and he wasn't supposed to be on the school grounds anyway. Mr. DeMartino even backed their story."

"Wow," said Jodie, "If Mr. DeMartino backed Ms. Barch, then it really must've been his fault."

"The cops took the camera for evidence," continued Daria. "I heard they gave it back to him and charges were dropped when he dropped the counter charges, paid some fine, and left town." She smiled. "They don't know if he's gonna keep working on his so-called documentary or not, but no one doubts he's going to leave Lawndale out of it, after what happened to him here."

"He'll be back," said Jane. "But what a business. Make people pay money to leave Lawndale!"

"You wouldn't have to bribe ME to leave Lawndale and forget about it," said Daria, "But I would be willing to pay if it were the only way to leave. The only reason to take a cam with me when I left is so I'd have something to remind me why I should never go back."

Daria was back in full control of herself, and she smiled as she remembered her mom telling her, the night after she got out on bail, not to get any ideas of taking the Lane car and trying to make it to Mexico or something. She'd have to tell Jane about that. Jane and Daria went to order a pizza and then went back to talk some more with Jodie and Mack.

If any reporters were at Pizza King and had penetrated the thin disguise, none took photos of such an "unlikely" meeting. It was maybe an hour later when Jane asked Daria if she wanted to get home first.

"No," said Daria, "I'm going to catch hell for this, so I might as well get all I can out of it."

"That's the story of my life," replied Jane.

So it was Casa Lane that Jane and Daria went to, but both stopped upon entering, wide-eyed, as they heard Trent's hammering away at his guitar, wailing away at some new song:

"....No rhyme or reason, Insanity is always in season, They took you away, using laws so profane, my guitar I'll play, to ease my pai-ai-aine!!!"

"Wo," said Jane, "Trent is reaching new heights of.....whatever."

Daria nodded, and they both headed to the basement to get a closer look.

Trent, shirtless, was covered in sweat, seeming in an altered state of consciousness. A cup of what looked to be half full of cappuccino sat nearby. Oblivious, Trent continued:

"Under the gun! Under the gun! I wish you could stay, but armed men took you away, and you're under the gun! Under the gun!" Trent energetically played his guitar and then continued in a much more haunting voice, almost a heavy metal ballad, "Don't they see the hypocrisy? Why couldn't you stay with me? Is this how it was meant to end? You'll always be my freakin' friend!"

Here, Trent began a long wail sounding like a damned spirit that had just given up the last of its hope, and then he reached for the cup. After a brief screech of his guitar, the noise and wailing stopped at once. He took a drink, saw Jane and Daria looking down at him, and spit the cappuccino out.

"Jane! Daria! How long have you been there?"

"We just got here, Trent," said Jane, smirking. "How long have you been wailing like that?"

"I don't know. I think this stuff really inspires me." Trent took another drink. "Hey, Daria, I'm glad you got out. Um, did they let you out, or did you escape?" Trent seemed to be genuinely curious.

"I'm out on bail," said Daria.

"Cool," said Trent. "I'm really glad to see you again." He sounded very sincere. For the first time in ages, Daria blushed in Trent's presence.

"Daria and I are going to watch Sick, Sad World. Come join us when you're done," said Jane turning away, pulling Daria away.

"Okay," said Trent casually, as he took the guitar off and finished his cappuccino in one last gulp

After getting some more cappuccino from the kitchen, Jane grabbed the box of tin foil and they went up to her room.

"What's with the foil?" asked Daria, as they got comfortable on the bed

"Making beanies," replied Jane, turning on the TV with the remote.


"For what's coming on Sick, Sad World later."

The theme music for Sick, Sad World came on and Jane turned it up with the remote.

A young boy on a farm calls out, "Luuuuuuuckyyyyy!" He smiles and holds his arms out. His smile is replaced by uncertainty and then screaming as a rottweiler attacks him.

"Dog days ahead, thanks to the NRA! But bad Luck for Jimmy next on Sick, Sad World!"

Daria cleared her throat. "I don't think I'm in the mood to see anything about the NRA. Not even on Sick, Sad World."

"Relax, Daria. That's the National Rottweiler Association. Remember, we saw a report about them earlier on Animal Maulings?"

"Ohhhhh. All right then."

Trent came in with another cup and sat down beside Daria.

Jane handed Daria a beanie. After a moment, Daria shrugged and put it on. Trent was next. And then she made one for herself.

They continued to watch with serious expressions as several rottweiler attacked people. Then a few minutes later, Daria began to see into her friend's twisted mind. An old but dignified man in the process of running papers through a shredding machine was talking into the camera. The caption read "Real Life Cancer Man, the Council on Foreign Relations."

"Why do people always blame us for what's going wrong in the country? Who provides so many jobs, low taxes, accurate media, and good Republican and Democratic candidates to choose from on election day? The CFR!"

"But don't those people suck?" said a woman with an accent.

"What!?" said the old man. "You're fired!"

"You can't fire me," said the woman, "I don't even live in America."

"If I don't own your company yet, I'll own it soon just so I can sack you!"

"Uh, I meant no disrespect. Go on with what you were saying.... sir."

"Yes. As I was saying, everybody else seems to think that if you're a white person that owns several corporations and politicians, you must be corrupt. It makes me glad my friend owns the federal agencies and law makers, or we'd probably be outlawed tomorrow.

"But you people seem to think all we care about is money and power. It's not true, I tell you! Don't we megacorporate power players and elite politicians who do so much for all you little people deserve a break for once?"

"I'm convinced," said Jane, as the show went to commercial.

"Good," said Daria, "but which one of his corporations should we buy stocks in? Or should we just contribute to his presidential campaign?"

"I don't know," said Jane. "Maybe if we hadn't worn these beanies, we would know."

"I knew we shouldn't have worn them," said Daria as they both took their foil beanies off and tossed them in a nearby trash can. Trent followed suit.

Sick, Sad World went to the eye in green, with the voice going, "No one would stand between him and his girl--except the girl's older sister!"

Daria's eyes went wide as she looked at the screen. Actors with scarred faces and ominous demeanors were portraying Daria and Matthew as gunfighters while tumbleweeds blew past them in the hallways of some shack with a blackboard in the background. Each glared at the other with mean, narrowed eyes as they waggle their fingers over a six gun at their side in their hip holster. An actress playing Quinn hid behind Daria in fear; while other actors portray students and teachers lying face down on the ground.

"School on the Firing Range--Next on Sick, Sad World!"

"That's it!" said Daria, turning off Sick, Sad World.

"But Daria," said Jane, "Don't shooters deserve a break for once?" As Daria harshly glared at Jane, she threw her hands up and quickly said, "It's just a joke, Daria!"

Jane's phone rang then. "Yo," said Jane. Then she looked to Daria. "It's for you, amiga."

Daria raised a brow as she took the phone. "Hi, Mom," she said.

"Daria," said Helen, "I think you've been out long enough, do you have ANY idea how long I've been calling to find out where you are?" Before Daria could say anything, her mom continued with, "We'll talk about it later. Have you talked to any reporters?"

"Um, no," said Daria. She didn't think kicking one with her Docs and running counted as talking. "We just had pizza and came here to watch Sick, Sad World, just as I said."

"Like you said to Quinn before you slipped out!" shouted Helen crossly.

"You were busy," said Daria, feeling her gut clench at the tone. She knew there'd be hell to pay, but she had to get out if just for a little while.

Helen sighed exasperated. "You can save your excuses. I'm coming over to pick you up right now."

"No, Mom, that's...."

"Good bye!" said Helen, hanging up.

"Dammit!" said Daria handing the phone back to Jane. "Well, Mom's pissed."

"Mission accomplished," remarked Jane.

"And coming over to pick me up."

"Oh, bummer," said Jane with more regret.

Trent broke out in a snore.

"We don't have much time," said Daria quickly. "I need you to get a message to you know who."

Jane narrowed her eyes and started to refuse, but Daria quickly laid out what she wanted. Jane felt sadness at what she heard, but promised to pass along the message her dear friend had given her. She hugged her fiercely when Daria's mom knocked loudly on the door of Casa Lane and Daria had to go home.



03/23/01 FRIDAY 5:45 P.M.

Scott and Quinn had just ordered at Chez Pierre. Quinn was relieved that she could talk her mom into letting her go on this date, after she promised not to ask her for a gun for another week and that she wouldn't talk about the case with anyone. Her mom almost changed her mind over "her part" in Daria going AWOL yesterday, but she convinced her mom that she had understood that Daria had already gotten permission to go. And, in the end, when Helen remained stubborn, she'd threatened to break down into tears.

She was lucky. Her mom didn't know that Scott had been friends with Matthew. Quinn was sure her mom wouldn't let her go if she knew, even without the incident of Daria making her so mad. Her mom was bad enough as it was, and had first demanded she be home by 6 P.M. by the absolute latest, though she finally talked her into making it 7 P.M.

She smiled slightly at Scott; his blue eyes worked well with his blond hair. His clothes seemed a bit more geared to someone going to a job interview, but Quinn didn't mind. She was just trying to give herself, as well as Scott, a little closure, and maybe to show that Matthew had no control over her. She would not live in fear because of her dead ex.

Taking a sip of her water, Quinn asked, "Just how well did you know Matthew, anyway?"

Taking a sip of his own water, he pursed his lips and thought before answering. "I'm not sure, Quinn," he finally said. "If you asked me that a month ago, I would say pretty well. But after all that's happened, and everything that came out.... I don't really know how well I knew him."

Quinn nodded her head in understanding. "I know what you mean. I knew so little about him, really, but I didn't even think about all the stuff I didn't know until... recently." Quinn cleared her throat a little and took another sip.

Scott smiled shyly. "Did you know Matthew wanted to be a chemist?"

"No," said Quinn, surprised.

"He did," said Scott. "Though he thought about joining the police, too. He wanted to be a member of a bomb squad." When he saw Quinn blink at that, he added, "Matthew loved knowing how things worked. I think that's why he liked drugs, too. He liked watching how chemicals affected people, physically and mentally. And maybe for the sense of power, too." He shrugged his shoulders.

"The drugs had power over Matthew, not the other way around," said Quinn calmly.

"Maybe," Scott allowed. "He said taking a little could help him study and do his, um, job on the side. But I think he started taking too much." He shook his head, and his voice wavered just a bit. "He and I were gonna go to Middleton together, using the money he made from his, uh, hobby. He said he could pay for himself going through the police course that Middleton teaches there, or to learn chemistry more and try for a scholarship at a better school."

Quinn shook her head. "He never told me any of that," said Quinn. "He just bragged about how much money he was getting, what he was getting away with, and the things he could get me." Not to mention threatening me, she added silently.

"Yeah, he could be private sometimes," Scott allowed. "But he didn't want to be trash like his family. I'm sure you heard all that crap on the news about his dad and all. Matthew wasn't into that kind of stuff at all." He frowned. "I mean, you never caught anything like that from him, did you?"

"Of course not," said Quinn. She didn't tell him about the political forces at work behind the news reports, as she didn't fully understand it, and she wasn't supposed to. In fact, she shouldn't be talking about Matthew at all, Quinn suddenly realized with a guilty start. So she tried changing the subject. "What did... I mean, what do you plan to do after graduation?"

"Me?" asked Scott. "I've always wanted to be a mechanic. I got the touch for it. I can usually tell what's wrong with a car just listening to it." He smiled a little as he added, "I worked on his Pontiac Firebird and my Ford Mustang both." He frowned a little. "But you have to be careful about driving such cars around Lawndale too fast, unless you're part of the Lawndale Lions. Makes me wonder if it had been better to have gotten cheaper cars."

"Does Middleton teach about cars and stuff, too?" asked Quinn, smiling encouragement at him.

"Oh, yeah," replied Scott. "They got a full automotive department. I'm in luck there."

"I'm sure you can still go," said Quinn in a hopeful tone. When she saw him staring down at the table, she added, "I mean, can't you?" When he nodded his head, she felt uncomfortable as she realized he must be dealing with Matthew's death still.

"Quinn," Scott finally said in a voice that revealed uncertainty, "I.... could you look at some poems that Matthew left me?" When Quinn looked uncertain herself, he spoke faster, "I never did make sense out of them, and ever since.... the incident.... I've been going through them over and over. Something was eating at him. I don't think it was you, but maybe you could help me figure out what it was." He stared down at the table.

Quinn smiled tentatively. She wanted to comfort him a bit, but she really wasn't interested in whatever Matthew had left Scott. "Scott," said Quinn softly, "Matthew was on crystal. He was an addict and getting worse. That's all there is to it." Quinn couldn't help but marvel at the seriousness and clarity in her voice, and she felt both grief at innocence lost and pride in wisdom and maturity gained.

Scott shook his head, only barely looking up toward her. "No," he said firmly, "he wasn't." When he saw Quinn's skeptical look, he sighed and said, "Okay, he was. But there was a reason he gave himself over to those drugs, a reason for why he hurt me.... hurt you.... hurt both of us. I want to know why my friend threatened to kill me!"

Quinn shook her head saying, "It was the crystal, and maybe his family....."

"Please, Quinn," whispered Scott intensely, as he moved a hand toward her own, touching her fingers, "just look at them. I need to know what you know so I can... put it all behind me."

"All right," said Quinn resignedly, "let me see them."

Scott perked up a bit. "Well.... um, I didn't bring them with me," he said. When Quinn blinked at him in confusion, he clarified, "I didn't even think of having you look at them until I heard you describing a side of Matthew I didn't see until the day he... snapped."

Quinn sighed. "I don't think there's any help, Scott. Neither you and I can do anything to undo what he did except go on with our lives."

Scott squeezed her hand slightly. "But I want to know, Quinn. I want to know why he betrayed me, and betrayed you. I don't think it was anything I did. I don't think it was anything you did. You're probably right about the crystal. But I need to know, Quinn, that it wasn't my fault. Can't you please look at what he wrote and tell me that it's not our fault?"

Quinn gritted her teeth a bit. She didn't want to see what he wrote, see anything that would remind her he was a human being with a heart of his own. But she didn't want to leave Scott to the pain of not knowing... and her own pain at a rejection that came when he had hit her, and then tried to kill her.

"Bring them to school on Monday and I'll look at them," said Quinn.

Scott shook his head. "I don't want to bring anything on school grounds where it can be taken away. Look, it's short. You can probably go through it in like five or ten minutes. Okay?"

"I don't know," Quinn began, shaking her head no.

"Five or ten minutes, and then you tell me if anything makes sense. If not... then tell me something later if something becomes clear. I just need to know, Quinn."

"Okay," said Quinn tremulously. She smiled nervously back at Scott when he grinned at her.

Their dinner arrived shortly after, and they mainly talked about school while they ate.

"Oh, hi, you're Quinn Morgendorffer!" A dark hair woman, probably mid-30s, was standing over them at their table now. No one ever did this to her before, and she found she didn't care for it. This woman wasn't even fashionably dressed, though she was passable enough for Chez Pierre.

Quinn frowned without realizing it and shrugged her shoulders. Then she remembered to smile, but she made sure it was a distant smile. "Yeah." Go Away, Quinn added silently.

"Quinn, I heard about everything that happened. We all support you!" Her eyes treated Quinn like she were a celebrity.

"Really?" Quinn smiled a little more warmly, but she still felt tense.

"Who's this? Your new boyfriend?" The woman was now sizing him up, seeming to memorize him for some reason. This bothered Quinn for some reason she couldn't put her finger on.

"We're just friends," said Quinn. Then considering Scott's feelings, she added, "for now, anyway."

"Well, he is handsome enough!" she said smiling at him that made Quinn start to feel a little territorial, despite herself. "You should go for it before someone else picks him up."

Scott frowned, too. He didn't like women this forward. It was disrespectful. "Thank you for your support, but we're trying to have a private conversation."

Quinn hid a smile. That may have been rather direct, but so was this woman who intruded without invitation. "Yeah. We're talking about something personal. But thank you," said Quinn, allowing the woman a chance to withdraw gracefully.

The woman lost a little of her smile, but leaned forward as she said in a confidential tone, "I have experience as a counselor. If you need to talk to someone, I can help."

Quinn shook her head no.

"Anytime, then," said the woman who would not leave. "Let me give you my number." She pulled out a pad of paper, scribbled on it, and then handed it to Quinn. It said, "Mary Bentliff," with a phone number on it. "Call me if you need to talk, Quinn. I've been in some rough places and tight spots myself."

"Um, sure," said Quinn. She sagged somewhat in relief when the woman finally retreated. Then she looked at Scott who was staring at her smiling mischievously and she smiled back.

"I wanted to ask her," said Scott calmly, "if she was standing in for my grandma. She acted so much like her."

Quinn laughed politely. "I'm just glad she's gone."

"Speaking of gone," said Scott, "you ready to leave?"

Quinn nodded and Scott took the ticket to figure out the tip. Quinn felt uncomfortable as she noticed several people were sending guarded looks their way that seemed to question and speculate. She wondered how many were talking about her and Daria.

Scott came around and held a hand out. Quinn got up herself, but did grab his hand before she did it. This was the expected response, and she was glad that Scott seemed to have better class than Matthew did. Unless Matthew taught him everything I showed him, thought Quinn a bit nervously.

She was glad they were leaving. Once outside, she noticed it was starting to get dark, and a few cars on the road were already using their lights.

Back in Scott's Mustang, Scott asked, "Hey Quinn, can I see that number that woman gave you?"

Quinn shrugged and handed it to him.

"Thanks," he said, and dropped it out his window. "I hate her perfume, and that paper smells like it. That's better."

Quinn laughed politely again, but was a bit uncomfortable. Then she noticed the woman who had given her the number coming out of Chez Pierre. She didn't seem to see them at all as she went to wherever her car was.

"They probably kicked the bitch out for smelling the place up," said Scott with some dark, possibly even cruel, amusement.

"I wonder if she got stood up?" said Quinn out loud. The idea of going to Chez Pierre to eat alone was very strange to her. Chez Pierre was where you went to impress and be impressed, and you needed arm candy to go with all your other eye candy.

"I'd stand her up," said Scott as he started up the Mustang.

"You'd tell her you'd go on a date with her?" asked Quinn teasingly.

"If it were the only way to get rid of her, sure," said Scott as he pulled out. Once on the street, he turned on his radio and turned it up when one of his favorite bands came on with Greed..

Two faced!
I feel you crawling under my skin
Sickened by your face
By the way, to think that you're so fucking kind?
You ain't!

Hard to find how I feel, especially when you're smothering me
Hard to find how I feel, please someone help me!

I knew when an angel whispered into my ear,
You gotta get him away, yeah
Hey little bitch!
Be glad you finally walked away or you may have not lived another day

Quinn was finding the song was messing with her mind. "Um, Scott?"

"The music bothering you?" asked Scott loudly to be heard over the music. Seeing Quinn nod her head, he flipped it off and didn't seem to mind. "That was just a little Godsmack is all."

A few minutes later they were pulling into the driveway at his house. A one story house Quinn noted critically to herself as Scott came around to her door, and there was another car in the driveway that didn't look so good. So how was able to afford the Mustang? Quinn frowned momentarily before she dismissed it as something unimportant for the moment. It was unimportant at the moment, and the other car might look a lot better in some real light.

She let him open the door for her and help her out. Scott knew what Quinn liked. Maybe she would consider him for a boyfriend. She frowned momentarily when she remembered Matthew knew she liked this treatment, too, and wondered what secrets about her that Matthew had shared with Scott. Or if he had exaggerated his "sexploits" with her as guys were said to do.

They went in. The house was silent. Scott turned on some lights and went over to a countertop in the kitchen and picked up a note card of some kind under a light already turned on over the sink.

"Dear Scott," he read, sounding oddly amused, "Will be out for the night. Don't wait up for me." He threw it into the trash and then turned to Quinn who stood in the doorway to the kitchen. "Mom's gone. Want some wine?"

Quinn shook her head no. "Nothing, thanks. You wanted to show me some poems?"

"Just one drink, Quinn," said Scott. "I need it." He opened the fridge. He pulled out a can of beer that said Budweiser on it. "I love cold beer. Do you?"

Quinn shook her head no again, and Scott remembered Matthew said Quinn was hard to get to drink. When she did drink, it had to be something fruit flavored. For some reason, she thought wine coolers were nonalcoholic like root beer. Scott dug out a strawberry wine cooler. His mom would be pissed at his taking that, but so what?

"Here, Quinn, have a wine cooler. I want to make a toast or two. Or three." He seemed to find the comment he made to be funny and laughed a bit.

"Wine coolers have alcohol in them," said Quinn. "My mom....."

"You mom will never know," said Scott, letting the refrigerator door close and walking up to her. Quinn apparently knew they had alcohol in them now. Oh, well. "Look, just a drink. You don't have to have it all. Just a sip when we toast. Okay?"

Quinn shook her head no again. Scott rolled the cap off and handed it to her again. Quinn put up her hand to stop him, but he pressed the cold bottle into her hand. Finally, she clasped her hand around it. She thought she could use a drink anyway. When Scott smiled, she asked, "What do you want to make a toast to?" She forced a little laugh out herself.

"To us," said Scott. "We were hurt by our mutual friend, but we survived, and will continue to survive!"

Quinn clanked her wine cooler against his can of Bud and took a drink. She licked her lips to get the bit that didn't make it in her mouth. She wondered if alcohol counted as illegal drugs since she was underage. She normally didn't like feeling of being out of control when she had these, though. She was prone to crying jags that messed up her makeup.

But half a bottle won't hurt me, thought Quinn as she took another sip. She did like the taste. She frowned again remembering that Matthew knew she liked Strawberry wine coolers until she found out they were alcoholic. How much did Scott know?

"To new hopes, new days, new experiences," said Scott holding his can toward her.

Quinn tapped her bottle to his can and drank again. She smiled slightly and held her bottle up. When Scott raised his brows, Quinn said, "To the phoenix that rises from her ashes, may we find new strength and hope!"

Scott seemed to like her toast, for he clanked his can to her bottle a little more forcefully and took a longer drink. So did Quinn.

"To good memories rising out of the bad, like spring out of winter!" said Scott. Another clink and a drink. Then Quinn realized she had drank half the bottle and suddenly got a little nervous.

"Oh, Scott," said Quinn as she realized she had drank nearly half the bottle. "I'd better stop. If I drink the whole bottle, I'll feel it!"

"That's the point," said Scott, before holding up his can again. "To not living in fear!"

Quinn smiled tolerantly at him and completed the toast. But before he could declare another one, she turned around and asked, "So where's your bathroom?"

Scott quickly passed her. "This way," he said. Quinn followed him through the front room into a hallway. A bathroom was right in sight once you went in. It was better quality than she expected, even having two door in it. She closed the door behind her and freshened herself up and checked herself in the mirror. She even took a minute to reapply a bit of her makeup before she went back out, remembering to pick up her wine cooler just as she went to leave.

When Quinn turned off the light on leaving, she noticed nightfall had fully come and suddenly found herself hoping she would be going home soon. She took another drink without thinking as she opened the door to the hallway.

She saw a red and black light on in one room down the hallway. Looking down the other way a moment, she saw one room looked like a home office right by the bathroom and a room with a closed door was way down to the other end of the hall.

Heading towards Scott's room, she saw there was a dark bedroom opposite of his, but she didn't even look in it as she entered Scott's room.

Like Matthew's room, he had posters of sports cars and naked centerfolds, one with twins that suggested a lesbian theme, on the wall that she studiously ignored, except to hate how much thinner than her they appeared. There was a bed by a chest of drawers, and a desk in front of the window looking out into the front yard. His room wasn't entirely tidy, but not as bad as Daria's.

"So, um, where are the poems?" asked Quinn.

"One last toast," said Scott holding up the beer can. "You might be glad for it before you see them."

"Um, okay," said Quinn nervously, raising her wine cooler.

"To us," said Scott. "Now, big drink." He finished off his can and tossed it in a can with the pic of a football player on it. Quinn just took a single swallow and he frowned when he saw that. "Come on, Quinn, finish it off. It's a good toast."

"No thanks," said Quinn. "I've had enough. I really don't handle alcohol well."

"The reason," said Scott coming closer, "that you don't handle alcohol very well is because you almost never drink any." Scott was right by her looking down into her eyes and he smiled. "How are you going to handle all those college parties and socialite dinners if you can't even finish a single drink?"

Quinn smiled back nervously again and took another swallow. "I'll have the rest of it just before I go," lied Quinn as she put it on Scott's desk.

Scott took another step to be right by Quinn. He leaned down to kiss her and Quinn dodged out of the way. "I'm sorry, Scott," said Quinn, "it's just.... I'm not ready for anything yet, you know what I mean?" She hoped she wasn't hurting his feelings, but she really wanted to go home now.

"You were ready enough to go out with me, so soon after your sister shot Matthew." There was an edge to his voice.

"Um....yeah," said Quinn, feeling a prick of fear. "And I think I was wrong on that. I mean I had a nice time and all, but I would like to go home now."

Scott shrugged and said, "Okay. But before I show you the poems, I wanted to ask you. Is it true that you and Daria plotted to kill him?"

"What!?" asked Quinn in stupefied shock. "Of course not! We're not drug dealers or racists or Nazis or anything else the news keeps saying! Please believe me, Scott!"

Scott nodded his head. "I believe you." Then Scott's face scrunched up as if he didn't fully believe her. "Except I don't know how Daria knew to have a gun the day he went to kill the two of you. That doesn't make any sense. And a lot of people are acting like you and Daria really do have connections. I really don't know what to think, Quinn. So what's the deal with you and your sister?"

"Nothing, Scott," said Quinn with some exasperation. "Daria won't talk at all." When Scott kept looking at her, Quinn crossed her arms and said, "Look, can you just show me the poems or take me home, please? I'm supposed to be home already."

Scott nodded and went to the head of his bed. Reaching between the mattresses, he pulled something out and pointed it at Quinn.

Quinn looked closely at what he had and then her eyes widened.

A gun! Not as big as Matthew's, and a caliber of some kind instead of a revolver, but Quinn was suddenly groaning, terrified, her mouth dry.

"Why?" she stammered.

Why what, she didn't know. Why was this happening to her over and over again, why was everyone pointing guns at her, trying to make her do things she didn't want to do, even make her die.... why everything. But all she could verbalize was why.

"Why?" said Scott, "because I don't see how his bitch of a girlfriend and her sister could stab him in the back, turn him in, and then shoot him dead in the hallways when he tried to get you back. But too many think there's more to it than that. A guy was asking me about you, too. So even though I know most of what I hear is bullshit, I'm sure there's something going on. You and Daria rip him off? Huh?"

Quinn shook her head no, saying, "N-no! Why, why....."

"Why, Quinn?" Scott repeated, "'Because Matthew was my friend. And my partner. And I know you held drugs for him, and I think you and Daria were a part of something bigger. And I want to know about it, Quinn. Dealer to dealer, or whatever you and your sister are."

Quinn thought fast. This time, she wasn't cry like a baby. Not like in the hallways of Lawndale High. She had learned how to defend herself. But WSD Class hadn't taught her how to handle a gun pointed at her.

Why couldn't Mom let me have a gun!? shrieked Quinn silently, not thinking about the problem she'd have at getting to it right now if she had one on her. Quinn shook her head. "No," she said in a tiny voice that pleaded for mercy, "it was nothing like that."

She screamed as Scott lashed out at her with the gun in his hand. Pain blossomed on the side of her head and she fell down crying. Even so, she fought the urge to beg him not to shoot her.

"Don't you fucking lie to me, bitch. I swear to god I'll blow your fucking head off!"

"Please," begged Quinn. Damn, she already lost, but she didn't say it all.

As Scott reached for her, Quinn shrieked and tried to jump up to run, but before she got up, she was knocked back against the wall as Scott kicked her in the head. She fell on her hands and knees, with the room jumping about her. Then Scott kicked her again, this time in the abs, and Quinn suddenly knew terror as she realized she couldn't breathe.

What she now realized with utter despair as she fought to take a breath is that her self-defense class never taught her how to make your muscles stop shaking in fear, how much more force and experience a violent male could put into his own attacks, and just how unthinkable it was for her to do the same acts of violence.

She couldn't even breathe! She just gasped, and she felt her angel coming for her. She knew she was going to die here tonight, if she could feel Buffy coming for her. But she still tried to suck in air as Scott grabbed her hair and dragged her to the bed, while she clasped at Scott's arm clumsily.

Scott slung her on the bed and Quinn finally realized she was breathing again. She gasped over and over again, sucking in air. The room still wobbled slightly and she feared she might throw up before she caught her breath again. She was pathetically grateful that she had already peed in the bathroom just moments ago, because if she hadn't, it would've been one more humiliation now. She wondered how many more humiliations she would endure before he finally killed her.

She knew she was going to die. Otherwise, why would her angel be here waiting for her? And she knew her angel was here, because it was a feeling she could feel down to the very core of her being. She was comforted by her angel's presence, though still very scared of what else she would face before she died.

Where are you, Buffy!?, Quinn mentally shrieked, I'm so scared!

I'm here Quinn, replied Buffy's alto in her mind, I will help you with what you need to do.

But her sense of hopelessness began to be nudged aside by growing rage as she saw the utter contempt Scott had in his eyes as he looked down at her. At the moment, he was even pointing the gun to the floor as his face was twisted in disgust. Then Quinn realized she had been sobbing uncontrollably, blubbering wordlessly, even saying Buffy's name out loud once, with tears and snot running down her face, and the taste of blood in her mouth.

Scott pulled open a drawer and threw down a stained shirt. "Here," he muttered, "wipe off your face and shut the fuck up before I just put you out of your fucking misery."

He couldn't believe he'd heard a story about how she beat up Upchuck. Granted, Upchuck was a pussy that was probably trying to hide his homosexuality, but he knew now the stories were greatly exaggerated. Like many others probably are, thought Scott with contempt in his eyes as he watched Quinn clean herself off. But he had to know, and then he had to have his revenge.

She'd seemed as shell shocked as the rest of the school after he threw those fireworks in the hall, too. A little message from him that just because Matthew was dead didn't mean they could live without fear of retaliation from his friend. It was perhaps the most eloquent funeral speech that would be made on Matthew's behalf, directed at the rest of the world that had stolen his best friend away. His loathing of Quinn and Lawndalians in general now oozed out of him, and he savored Quinn's terror.

Quinn finished by using part of the shirt to blow her nose. She hiccupped at Scott, "Can't I please go home, now? I really don't know....."

"Shut the fuck up!" Scott was pointing the gun at her again. This felt so much like her nightmares that she wondered briefly if this were a dream. But, no, the gun was different enough and the pain was very real. This was really happening to her. Again.

He grabbed her hair again and shoved his gun to the side of her head. She felt the barrel pressed against her temple. She instinctively grabbed at the hand holding the gun, muttering, "Please, Scott...don't."

"Do you want do die, Quinn?" Scott said that so calmly.

"N-no, Scott, please...." Quinn's tears began in earnest again, her voice pleading once again.

"Then let go of my hand." Scott was still very calm.

That's when Quinn recognized she could feel where Scott's index finger went into the trigger. Before she allowed herself to think of it, she stuck her index and middle finger (middle catching momentarily) behind the trigger. Then completely focused on Scott, she screamed and brought the heel of her hand to the side of his nose with crashing force.

Scott jerked away, barely saving his nose, and tried to pull his pistol with him. But Quinn twisted the gun against his thumb, the way she had learned how to break out of an assailant's grip in WSD Class. The gun was suddenly in her hand and for a moment Scott, who was grabbing at his nose and face with both hands, and Quinn, who now held the gun, were equally stunned by this sudden change of events.

Scott lunged back towards Quinn, but he felt too much fear to go as fast as he should. Quinn adjusted her grip and pulled the trigger. A huge report filled the room, ringing in both of their ears. Scott ducked, but he also came close enough to hitting Quinn that she pulled back a little, missing Scott only by a small margin.

Scott kept low as he turned, and took off for the door. Quinn felt heat and liquid on her hand. She realized her finger was bleeding, and she didn't know why. But she saw Scott up and running and she pointed the gun in his general direction. Screaming, she pulled the trigger again and again and again, the reports echoing loudly off the walls. She was still half sprawled on Scott's bed and she got herself up.

This wasn't another nightmare. This was real, and the gun worked! She was through running and crying and depending on someone else to save her. She went to the door, ready to shoot in case Scott was going to try to jump her. She shut his door and found there was a lock on it. Another thing about the real world is that locks worked so much better than in nightmares. She turned the lock and then went to the window, the gun still in one hand.

My purse, thought Quinn. She moaned when she remembered it was in the bathroom! Her phone was in her damned purse! She looked around and didn't see a phone and she didn't have time to ransack the room. She had to act, now!

She went to the window and shrieked when she saw there were clamps screwed in, locking it shut. She didn't have a screwdriver on her and she wasn't about to look for one in his room. She briefly thought about shooting the window out but didn't know if it would work.

Quinn shivered at the thought of having to face Scott without a loaded gun. She knew he was way too strong and capable for her to take on with nothing more than her fists and her fearful fury. The gun in her hand was now her most precious personal possession because it turned the odds in her favor.

She went back to the door and listened. Then she shut the lights out and gave her eyes a minute to adjust to the dark. She was going to have to run and she wanted to be able to see. Finally, she slowly unlocked the door and opened it slightly.

When no explosive force came, she stepped back and let the door come open. Quinn was on one knee with the gun pointed in front of her. She listened and heard him in a distant part of the house, but she couldn't tell what he was doing. She took several deep breaths and prepared to run.

Quinn hopped out of Scott's room, back on one knee, the gun pointed out in front of her. Quinn heard an ominous KER-KLATCH and she instinctively ducked and rolled into the other bedroom as a huge explosion and flame came from the dark room at the end of the hallway, the door now opened. The report was deafening, louder than even the gun Matthew used at Lawndale High.

What the hell was THAT!?, Quinn thought, even as she knew: Another gun, probably a shotgun! Quinn wondered what would've happened if she hadn't rolled out of the way and shivered.

Making a keening noise, she quickly shut the door of this room with both hands and again twisted the lock on the doorknob. She went to the window without turning the lights on. Again, through the streetlights shining in, she saw the damned clamps keeping it shut and bit back a scream of frustration.

"Please, Buffy!" whispered Quinn, "help me!"

She moved back towards the door but stopped as she heard Scott right outside.

"Open up the door, Quinn, or I blow you the fuck away!"

Quinn said nothing, but went prone on the ground, leaning on her side, and kept the gun pointed roughly at the door. Her tears began again, but she made no noise this time.

The door made a splintering noise as Scott hit it with something heavy and Quinn barely kept herself from crying out.

"QUINN, GODDAMIT, OPEN THE GODDAMN DOOR OR I'LL BLOW IT AND YOU THE FUCK AWAY!" His voice was almost guttural, ringing with power. Quinn almost obeyed it in the mad hope for his mercy, but instantly stopped herself.

Quinn was so terrified. But she crept forward a bit, and hoping, she fired a shot at the door. Would it go through?

Scott was cussing, and it sounded as if he ran.

It was a bluff. It had to be. Why would Scott run when he had her cornered? Did she dare wait him out?

Quinn crawled up the door and looked under it. No sign of him. She could definitely hear him back wherever he was when he had first shot at her.

Maybe he had run out of bullets? If she had run immediately the first time, she might've made it out. She wasn't going to wait again.

Taking deep breaths and fighting the instinct to hide, she opened the door and came out shooting in the direction of the bedroom, screaming after the first shot was out of her gun. She saw some kind of closet light was on in the room down at the end of the hall, but no Scott. She kept firing in a mad panic as she made it to the bathroom at the opening into the front room.

Then just as she was by the bathroom, she heard an ominous silence from the gun. Her ears were still ringing from the shotgun blast and her own screams, and she hoped that silence didn't mean what she think it meant--that the gun in her hand was now an inert piece of metal, just like in her nightmares. She never knew how horrible silence could be.

She remembered the bathroom had a small window that she couldn't possibly squeeze through. Could she yell for help or use her phone? What if the battery in her phone was dead again? Did she dare depend on someone else to save her again?

Quinn heard Buffy in mind say, Run, Quinn, run away now!

Then she saw Scott standing in the far bedroom, aiming a long gun at her. "Drop it, Quinn! NOW!"

Quinn held up her hands and let the gun drop from her hands. Then she ran into the front room for the first door she saw: A door that went into a fenced back yard, but there was no furniture between her and it. She heard Scott yelling and running after her and Quinn started screaming herself.

She heard him behind her, closing in, as she unlocked the door and ran out to the gate. As she undid the gate she heard Scott making it outside, or maybe Matthew's ghost, running behind her to catch up. Would he shoot her? Quinn would just keep running if he did.

She only made it a few steps out of the gate when Scott ran into her, knocking her down. Scott fell and rolled past her himself, but Quinn didn't have a lot of options at this point. She was pretty much cornered, and if she tried making it back into the house, he'd catch her.

They both got to their feet staring at each other, his face full of rage, her own full of terror. The look on his face said he would kill her. That's when she noticed he no longer had a gun.

Where's his gun!? thought Quinn, a little confused. Did Buffy take it from him? It was a small blessing, however, whatever the reason for it. His mass and fury and willingness to use violence made sure he still had the definite advantage here.

Quinn crazily thought Scott looked vaguely like a Velociraptor from that movie Jurassic Park as he continued to slowly move in close to her. A car drove by and she opened her mouth to scream, but it passed too quickly. Scott leaped at her. She turned to run and he quickly caught her, throwing an arm around her neck.

Without thinking (which would have undone her), Quinn threw her head back as hard as she could and felt violent contact with his nose and mouth. Scott screamed. His grip loosened. She reached up and grabbed one the fingers around her throat, and yanked it backward. Scott screamed again. Quinn twisted out of his grip.

"YAH!" Quinn screamed herself as she kicked at Scott's knee before letting his finger go. She didn't connect in the way she wanted to, but he still lost his balance, falling to one foot with a scream, a puff of mist coming out of his mouth in the chill night air of March. Again, Quinn was off running, trying to get around the car.

She made it around the front of the car and took off with a new burst of speed. Scott moved to catch her, not by going around but by cutting Quinn off as she passed his mom's car. As long as Scott could hold both sides off, Quinn was effectively trapped, unless she wanted to climb a fence or run back into the house.

Quinn felt Scott grab at her as she made it by the hood of the Mustang, but she mostly shook him off. Mostly. He did get a grip on her left arm. She instantly turned and brought the heel of her hand against his face, using another scream, and then kicked at his knee again.

Before her foot could connect, she felt Scott's fist connect to her face and she went with the blow, turning away. Unfortunately, Scott still held her arm, and that blow cost her as she momentarily tried getting her balance and fighting posture back. Too late, she tried twisting her arm against his thumb to escape. Scott closed in on her again.

She dodged the next blow, but he closed in, fearing her escape. She felt her back crash into the Mustang as Scott shoved. Quinn's knee jerked up to Scott's groin, enough to make him cry out in pain and he bent over some. Then Quinn brought both elbows down on Scott's arms and he lost what little grip he had. Quinn brought one arm back and then lashed out at Scott's throat with the heel of her hand. She got more chin than neck, but it knocked him back enough for Quinn to get away.

Quinn had only taken a few steps when Scott's bulk collided into her again, sending Quinn crashing into the Mustang's trunk and then falling to the ground. Screaming, Quinn brought her exposed side up into the elbow-hip-knee triangle that she'd practiced in WSD.

Scott, who was already pouncing on her, quickly tried guarding all his sensitive spots instinctively, having made the shocking realization that Quinn knew how to hurt people. The result was that he crashed to his knees, only to be kicked in the face by her (a good blow, but he'd been hit just as hard by a guy's fist once before) just before she rolled away from him and started to get back up.

Scott desperately grabbed at her to keep her on the ground and out of the direct light of the street light so his superior strength could have the desired effect and he could proceed to knock every damn tooth out of her mouth before killing her.

His clumsily grabbed her, but he couldn't get a firm hold. Scott finally grabbed her hair and pulled just as Quinn grabbed one of his fingers (unknowingly, the same one she had grabbed before) and twisted it back.

Both screamed as Scott pulled Quinn's hair and Quinn bent Scott's finger backward.

Quinn's vicious scream echoed off the walls. Two neighbors inside their home had no idea what they heard, only it sounded scary. "LET GO OF MY HAIR, FUCKER, BEFORE I BREAK YOUR FUCKING FINGER!"

Scott had never imagined Quinn could talk like that. But then he'd never known she had any idea how to fight, either.

"Let go of my finger," shouted Scott, real pleading in his voice, "and I will!" Then he screamed again as Quinn bent it back more. He released her hair and started begging in a sobbing, high-pitched voice, "Leggo, leggo, leggo!" Over and over, sounding almost like a child.

Quinn was now on her feet with Scott's finger locked in her merciless grip. Scott, on his knees before her, mewled pitifully as tears and snot ran down his face, with a bit of blood from his nose and mouth, turned an odd color by the street lights. Both of them exhaled large, fast puffs of mist.

Quinn remembered when their positions had been reversed, and the fury she had felt at the contempt in his eyes. He'd tricked her, betrayed her, played on her sympathy, tried to get her drunk, made her disobey her mom, mocked her good nature, and had tried to kill her AGAIN. Remembering, she almost rammed his finger back to break it. Almost. But even now, she couldn't be that much like him. She wasn't Matthew, dammit. She made sure he couldn't hurt her, and held on.

As if waking from a dream, Quinn's familiar thought processes slowly began to resume, and she marveled at what she had done. She had defended herself! Part of her was exuberant, but another part of her was still scared. She knew this wasn't over.

Can I run now?, Quinn wondered. She didn't dare go back into the house to get her purse all by herself. And then as she thought of running for the nearest pay phone, she imagined him going back to get the gun and then coming after her in his Mustang. She tried to imagine where the nearest phone would be, but she didn't know this neighborhood at all.

Quinn was thinking about going door to door until she found someone who would hide her and call her mom and the police when she heard another car behind her. Unlike the first car, this one stopped.

Then red and blue lights began flickering behind her, but she kept her eyes on Scott who was on his knees sobbing in a wordless shriek now, helpless in her grip. She heard a car door open, and a ker-klatch like she heard before. Strangely, the sound just made Quinn more angry instead of afraid.

"I'm an officer and I'm armed!" shouted an imperious voice. "Let him go!"

Scott continued screaming, irritating her ears. Slowly, Quinn turned her head. She had to squint to see a policeman behind a patrol car, pointing a shotgun at her. She heard sirens approaching.

Quinn let Scott go and jumped away from him as he fell prone, still screaming.

"DON'T MOVE!!!" shouted the cop, his threatening tone full of dire implications.

As Scott just lay on the driveway, now sobbing instead of screaming, fully illuminated by the flashing red and blue lights, Quinn turned around, put both hands on her hips and demanded, "Just whose side are you on anyway!?"

"Don't Move!" repeated the cop, "and put your hands where I can see them!"

Quinn imperiously stuck her nose in the air in a gesture of contempt, while keeping her hands on her hips, and stared down the barrel of the third gun pointed at her in the last few minutes. "You can see my hands just fine where they're at!" she said, contempt dripping from her voice.

"I'm not fucking kidding! Put your hands up or I'll shoot!" The flashing red and blue lights, mixed with the adrenaline in her system, made Quinn feel almost as if she were in a dream.

"Ooooh!" shouted Quinn, "join the club!" There was real rage in her voice, and her hands stayed defiantly on her hips. This was THE worst date she had ever been on!

"Goddammit!" shouted the cop, obviously taking real aim down his shotgun at her.

She looked over her shoulder at Scott. He was in a fetal position on the cold driveway in the flashing lights, the hand with the finger she bent held up in the air like a claw and his other hand holding his crotch, and still crying audibly. She glanced back uncertainly at the cop.

Another cop car showed up then, lights and sirens blazing, and another police officer exited the vehicle, pointing a service pistol in her direction. A spotlight from that car was quickly aimed at her, making her turn her face from that glare. She could tell others were very near from the sirens.

Grudgingly, Quinn raised her hands. She noticed then that her finger was still bleeding, from the first time she had fired Scott's gun at him. "My finger's bleeding," said Quinn loudly, "Do you have a Band-Aid?"

The search and arrest happened soon after. The one searching her did look at her hand and asked her what happened.

"I don't know," said Quinn. "It started bleeding the first time I shot the gun at Scott."

"Finger was probably too close to the ejection port," he said. "The casing cut you."

"Oh," said Quinn. "I never shot a gun before. My mom's going to let me learn to use one, though."

For some reason, the three cops nearest her, including the one looking at her finger, broke out laughing. Then the one looking at her hand put a bit of gauze and a sticky strip around it. But then she had her hands cuffed behind her and she was put in the back seat of a squad car. As she relaxed, a huge lethargy came over her. She leaned her head against the car window, only partially looking at the police going in and out of Scott's house and Mustang, while other were around Scott. The places where she had been hit and kicked were starting to throb with a painful vengeance.

She vaguely wondered how badly her makeup was messed up. Is there blood in my hair?, Quinn wondered as she recalled hitting Scott's face with the back of her head. She could taste a little blood in her mouth from when Scott hit her in the face with his gun, but she didn't think she bled outside of her mouth. She could definitely feel herself swelling up in many places. With my light complexion, she thought, I'm going to look REALLY bad.

Then she frowned in renewed interest as she recognized the woman that had interrupted her date with Scott earlier. Here she was with a camera around her neck, and what appeared to be a tape recorder in her hand. A damn reporter. Quinn felt a sense of betrayal over this, but she realized it was unimportant.

She saw another car drive up and a man looking vaguely familiar got out. He went inside the house. Moments later, he returned with a couple of cops and got Quinn out of the back seat. A female officer said she needed a "breathing sample" and had her blow into a device. Quinn had to do it twice. Then she left.

The man turned to the reporter who was taking pictures of the test Quinn was just taking. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said polite but crisp, "you need to distance yourself from the scene of the crime."

"Just one question, Detective Warner," she said quickly, "is the arrest of Quinn Morgendorffer related in any way to Jim or Matthew Foster?"

"I said you need to distance yourself," Detective Warner repeated. The woman finally backed off, but only a little. Quinn was glad to see she was almost as stubborn with detectives as she had been with her and Scott.

Quinn loudly asked, "May I have my purse, please? I want to call my mom!"

Detective Warner turned back to her, and she noticed the familiar guy smiled coldly at her. Then she placed him. He was the one who'd talked to her and Mom at Lawndale High on the morning of the shooting. He simply shook his head now and said, "It's being entered as evidence."

"Evidence!?" shouted Quinn shocked. "For what!?"

"For what happened here," he said gruffly.

"What.... Scott tried to kill me, that's what happened!"

"Why would he do that?"

"Because Daria shot Matthew!"

"And you just tried to shoot Scott, didn't you?"

"Yeah," said Quinn indignantly, "after he beat the crap out of me and tried shooting me first."

"He shot first?" His brows raised unbelieving

"No," said Quinn, "but he pointed a gun at me and beat me up before I tried shooting him."

"Why didn't he shoot you when you got your own gun?"

"Because I took his gun away from him!" Quinn was getting really sick of this.

"So he was unarmed when you fired upon him?"

Quinn suddenly knew fear again and swallowed. "He was still attacking me," she said, leaving out that he was running away for most of the shots. "I'd like to call my mom now, please."

He nodded. "I'm sure you would. Care to explain the booze and drugs to me first, or to her?"

Quinn blinked in confusion. Her mom said not to say anything about holding Matthew's drugs under any circumstances. "There were no drugs," she said firmly.

Detective Warner smiled in genuine amusement, and then he chuckled.

Quinn blushed and then remembered her mom said she was not to talk to any adults about Matthew, especially cops, without her present. Remembering that now, she blushed harder. She was going to be in big trouble. "I want a lawyer," she said in a much more subdued voice.

Detective Warner laughed out loud at that. "I see you took lessons from your older sister, but you ain't her." Warner, shook his head in genuine amusement, knowing he'd crack this meth whore in no time.

Quinn suddenly remembered Scott claiming to be "partners" with Matthew, and her eyes bulged open as the implications became clear to her. She swallowed as her gut clenched in panic as she repeated in a weak voice, "I want to call my mom now."

Detective Warner frowned as he remembered Mrs. Morgendorffer and that she had to be allowed to be present during interrogation of Quinn, since she was still a minor. He gritted his teeth as he wondered if Quinn's admission to attempted murder (or at least attempted voluntary manslaughter) would be inadmissible in court.

I can still have Scott Rhodes testify against her. Have them both testify against each other, unless they do what I want, decided Detective Warner.

Deciding on a course of action, he casually pointed at Quinn and told another officer, "Take her down to the station and give her the breathalyzer test. Get a urine sample, too. And I'll want to talk to her within the hour, or as soon as Mr. or Mrs. Morgendorffer can make it down there! Try to get the father down there without the mother if you can. And I want the suspect here scheduled to take a lie detector test, ASAP!"

Lie detectors were useless except for detecting stress, but with Mrs. Morgendorffer watching for anything she could use against him, the bitch, he'd have to use such desperate measures to attain a conviction.

Then he walked over to where Scott was now sitting up but obviously in worse shape than Quinn. He knew Scott was supposed to be under surveillance. They knew he had helped Matthew get the gun into Lawndale High. This suggested a possible involvement with Matthew's other illegal activities. The drug and narcotic field tests just done within the Rhodes' residence had confirmed that involvement.

The more important reason that Scott Rhodes was under surveillance was that they had knowingly watched Matthew Foster go into Lawndale High with a gun. A gun he'd smuggled in with the aid of Scott Rhodes. Now they needed a legitimate reason to get a warrant without revealing their other information.

The Rhodes kid had been smarter than the Lane kid, and wore a jacket with a hood when he'd let Matthew inside, effectively concealing his identity, and then hiding his jacket while off camera. A jacket the police had just now found in Scott Rhodes' closet, just before finding the stash of drugs.

They could still get him on purely circumstantial evidence, but it was just too risky in terms of losing the case. That could lead to their mistake coming to the attention of the public, which would then lead to mass firings, law suits, disbarment for Fillman, and possibly even criminal charges and disgrace for himself.

Especially when it came to light that he and two other officers on the scene had watched the two boys enter the school and then refused to go in to stop Matthew until after a tac team had shown up. And that they'd sent the tac team in while they waited safely outside.

Roger Fillman had agreed it was too risky. Better to wait for Rhodes to get careless, and then catch him with the drugs, if he had any. If the situation got desperate enough, one cop would phone in an "anonymous tip of a crime in progress" to give the police license to search his home without a warrant.

At least Roger Fillman will be happy to learn we not only caught Scott Rhodes with the drugs without anything coming to light about our connection to the incident at Lawndale High, but that we busted Quinn Morgendorffer with him after she took part in another drug related shooting, he thought happily.

What Detective Warner did NOT know was where the officers assigned to watch Scott tonight were. There's going to be hell to pay over that, he told himself.

What really disgusted him was that it was the damn reporter on the scene now who had followed Quinn and Scott to the Rhodes residence from Chez Pierre. Then she called 911 when she heard gunshots from within the house. Oh, yes, he told himself again, there's going to be hell to pay, as soon as I find out who had been assigned to watch the Rhodes kid! That should have been us, not some damn reporter!

But Quinn knew nothing of this as she was finally placed back in the squad car. She wondered why Detective Warner seemed so pleased to be arresting her. She couldn't understand why the reporter was focusing on taking more pictures of her being put in the car before she went to get a clear shot of the police with Scott.

Quinn didn't know what was going on exactly, but she had a strong feeling that she, like Daria, was now totally screwed.