Part III


03/23/01 FRIDAY 8:30 P.M.

Detective Warner was outside the station smoking a cigarette, talking to a man whom Helen assumed to be another detective, as she drove up. He dropped his cigarette to the asphalt, blowing smoke out one last time, and stomped it out.

Helen had a wild urge to run him down. Instead she stoically parked, took a deep breath, and looked around. She'd hoped Marguerite would be here already--she was so grateful she'd managed to reach the DA at home--but apparently she hadn't arrived yet. Much as she'd hoped Marguerite could walk into the station with her, Helen had been too tense to wait longer at home, she had to come. She'd have to do this on her own; she just hoped her friend showed up in time.

She got out, prepared to be all businesslike about this. The other DT went back inside the building before Mrs. Morgendorffer had stepped out of her car.

"Thank you for coming down so promptly," said Detective Warner, almost sounding sincere. There was a bit of a hard smile at the left corner of his mouth that offset the apparent sincerity in his voice.

It took all her will not to yell at him. What they did to Daria was an outrage, but now that she knew just how responsible they were for this mess getting started in the first place, she wished them all a horrible death. She smiled a cold smile to match Detective Warner's mocking one and said, "Let me get my daughter, Detective."

"I'm not sure that's a possibility," said Warner, sounding regretful.

"Anything is a possibility," said Helen brusquely, "including criminal charges against Lawndale's finest with a colossal lawsuit by several families that you wouldn't believe."

"Well, let's see what happens," said Warner shrugging, heading into the station.

Helen Morgendorffer was led through an entrance and into a nondescript hall with multiple doors off it. There were very few cops here at all. She wondered how many were out at the site of the shooting and drug bust.

"Do you have the boy she made the mistake of dating in custody?" asked Helen tightly, "Or did you let him go to find bigger drug dealers for you?"

Detective Warner almost spun on her then, a cold glare set on his face, but he controlled himself and acted as if he hadn't heard her. He stopped by a door and stuck a key into it. "We have him," he finally said in a noncommittal tone of voice. The door opened and he motioned Helen in. Helen went in to see a table with two chairs on one side and one chair on the other. A mirror covered the wall behind the two chairs. Detective Warner came past her and looked at himself in the mirror before turning around and facing Helen. He did not sit down.

This is the room, Helen thought, where they handcuffed Daria to a chair and... and... Helen put it out of her mind as she heard the footsteps of two people outside the open door. She gasped as a female police officer escorted Quinn into the room.

Quinn was a tussled mess. She looked at the floor, crying softly as she was brought in. Helen went over to her, and Quinn looked up at her. Helen stopped amazed, her mouth hanging open as she saw her daughter's face. A huge bruise was already swelling under her left eye, another bruise was forming almost beside her right eye, and the right side of her jaw was swollen and discolored.

"Has she seen a doctor!?" exclaimed Helen. She didn't trust herself to say anything else. She looked down prepared to demand the handcuffs be taken off but saw she was unrestrained. The index finger on her right hand was in a bandage.

"I should think so," said Warner coldly. "Have my orders been carried out, Sergeant Lanny?" The "sergeant" was said with a slight mocking emphasis.

"Yes," said Sergeant Lanny. "Her face is marked up. Too bad. It was quite pretty." Quinn started crying harder then. "She's got another beauty mark on her left ribs. Doc doesn't think any ribs are cracked, but you should get her to see a REAL doctor, ASAP." She looked Quinn over. "She has a little blood in her hair, but it's not hers. It belongs to the guy who attacked her. Her mouth was busted enough to bleed, but only a little. I doubt she'll need any dental work done." She said this without a trace of feeling in her voice, except her contempt of the doctor, and her despite of Warner.

Quinn's escort seemed oddly dispirited for being a sergeant, and Helen couldn't figure out why she was doing grunt work. Not that she cared. She wanted to claw her eyes out, right along with Detective Warner's, for laying a hand on Quinn. As far as she was concerned, since these cops had let Matthew go and thus started the chain of events that led to tonight, they had assisted that boy in beating Quinn--and then had the gall to arrest her!

"Thank you, Sergeant Lanny," said Warner gruffly, "that will be all."

Lanny turned and left without a word, closing the door behind her. Helen went up and drew Quinn into her arms, who started crying harder.

"Oh, rest assured," said Detective Warner coldly, "Scott Rhodes looks a lot worse than she does. Unlike Quinn, he DOES require medical attention. They think she may have broken his finger, in addition to the nasty beating she dealt him. Shot at him, too, by her own admiss--"

"An admission inadmissible in court!" Helen cried, almost in a shriek.

Warner shrugged. "Hardly matters. She failed to kill Scott as she intended, leaving a valuable witness, and forensics think there's enough evidence to show she did, in fact, try to murder Scott."

"If anything, it was justifiable as self-defense," said Helen. "I know my daughter, and she's incapable of attacking anyone!"

Warner rolled his eyes. "Have a seat," he said, "and we'll get started."

"My daughter is not saying anything to you. I want to speak to her alone. And I'll have you know, Reid technique or not--" She didn't trust herself to say anything beyond that for fear of being arrested for terroristic threats. She was sure he'd love it if he could get her in jail and have Jake monitor the interrogation.

Warner frowned. "We're still gathering evidence at this stage, Mrs. Morgendorffer, but it's clear your daughters are involved in some very serious crimes. I'm not sure I can let her go. If we talk about it now--"

"No," said Helen coldly, "you've done quite enough as it is. The truth will come out in court, and I will test the validity of your 'evidence,' or lack thereof, in a court of law!"

"I'm sure you'll try. That's why--" He frowned at a knock at the door.

Helen moved away from the door and Detective Warner, pulling Quinn with her.

"What is it!?" yelled Warner, approaching the door. He stopped when he saw the door was being unlocked.

The door came open and Marguerite entered, escorted by another detective. Helen smiled gratefully.

Detective Warner's brows rose, and he threw a suspicious glare Helen's way. "It's not often that the District Attorney sits in on an interrogation," said Warner coldly.

"I've already looked at the evidence," said Marguerite just as coldly, "and decided that until more conclusive evidence comes in, I'm not pressing charges. Since Mrs. Morgendorffer won't let the victim say anything anyway, I came down here to tell you that you can save yourself the trouble."

"The evidence," replied Warner in a voice of restrained rage, "is still being collected and processed as we speak. There is no way you could even know what it is!"

"Au contraire," said Marguerite, in a rare show of what she liked to call her 'French' upbringing in Louisiana. "There are plenty of officers concerned with the way some matters are being investigated, and they complain to anyone who will listen." She met his cold glare with her own. "You have ample evidence that the boy hid drugs in his home. Drugs you had to uncover. By the way, what made you think to bring drug dogs to a domestic dispute?"

Detective Warner's breathing increased. "Earlier intelligence told us the boy was probably a dealer, and he maintained a cordial relation with Matthew Foster before his untimely demise at the hands of the SUSPECT'S sister. Drugs were found in a hollowed-out compartment between the mattresses of Scott's bed. Dogs seemed prudent, as they turned out to be."

"Spare me," said Marguerite, "your department is known for its lackadaisical attitude. You went in looking for drugs specifically. Otherwise, you'd simply throw the two feuding love birds in jail and let them post bail or call their parents."

"Weapons were found on the scene, including a gun used by the suspect," added Warner.

"A weapon, I'm sure, that belonged to the boy you brought in." Marguerite looked at Quinn's face. "I've seen pistol whippings before, Detective, and I recognize that mark by the VICTIM'S left eye."

"Be that as it may," replied Detective Warner a bit more calmly, "she still took the gun away from him and tried to shoot him while he was unarmed. If she were so innocent, why didn't she just hold him and call the police, instead of emptying the mag through three bedrooms, including five into the master bedroom down the hall, which was in the other side of the house from the room in which the alleged beating took place?"

"Maybe because she had already been fired upon barely over a week ago, despite the quality law enforcement in this town, and she was not thinking clearly due to past trauma," said Marguerite scornfully. "Or maybe she was scared and in a life-threatening situation, Detective. Especially as I'm told she was being fired upon by a Benelli M3 super 90, semi-auto pump shotgun, from the same master bedroom!"

Detective Warner coughed as he saw Helen's furious gaze settle on him with a new intensity. "The other gun jammed after firing once." He shrugged. "I'm waiting on forensics to tell me more."

"So did you catch Quinn with a gun in her hand? Since she's alive, I'm assuming the answer is no. Given the reputation of Lawndale's finest, it was probably a good thing she didn't pull a cell phone out."

Detective Warner shook his head coldly. He hated the bad case of "contempt of cop" this black bitch demonstrated. Not much he could do about it at the moment, either.

"No," said Marguerite, as if she were cross examining a defendant on the stand. "You found her, beaten to a pulp, barely holding her assailant down, in a neighborhood she didn't know, wondering how she was going to get away." She cleared her throat. "Unarmed."

"As was the boy," replied the detective.

"A boy in good physical health that weighs nearly twice as much as Quinn and is a whole head taller than she is." She shook her head and added sarcastically, "I'm sure Quinn had nothing to worry about."

"Quinn has already been found in the company of one drug dealer," replied Detective Warner. "I find it very odd that she was in the company of another, so soon after the prior shooting, too."

"So you think Quinn is a dealer, too?" Marguerite asked in surprise.

"Or a user," the detective replied. "I'm waiting on the results from the urine sample."

"So what did the strips say?"

Warner coughed. "The strips are temporarily not to be found. We'll either get them when we can spare a man to look, or do it the old fashion way."

Marguerite rolled her eyes, wondering if this was incompetence or something worse. She thought about telling him she wanted his urine analyzed after the strips were found, but decided against it. Instead, she said, "I assume you had her take a breathalyzer, too." When the detective merely nodded, she added, "Well?"

"Trace amounts of alcohol in her system. Itself a crime," he added.

"But one you can release her into her mother's custody for," Marguerite responded, "since your test found no other drugs?"

"Even now, we're gathering evidence," added Detective Warner meaningfully. "I know we have Quinn's fingerprints on a Glock 32. I also expect we'll have another warrant soon. Maybe a warrant for you, too, Mrs. Kramer, seeing how you're tied into all of this somehow."

"So you have nothing but purely circumstantial evidence to make even a probable cause for the charges you're levying against the victim." It was a statement more than a question.

"Since Fillman is prosecuting this case, I think I'll leave that to his discretion," he replied disdainfully.

"I thought Fillman was prosecuting the shooting at Lawndale High?"

"In which the suspect's sister was the shooter. I'm sure Fillman is just covering the bases," said Detective Warner, who was growing very uncomfortable. He'd never been interrogated in the interrogation room before, and found he didn't care for it.

"Oh, Fillman is about to have much bigger problems. Unless you want to join him, I suggest you cover your ass, which includes releasing Quinn into her mother's custody right now."

A silence settled on the room. Marguerite and Warner glared at each other, while Helen glared at Warner herself as she held a crying Quinn, and the other detective stood by quietly.

The other detective cleared his throat. "I think we should let her go," he said.

Detective Warner blinked in shocked surprise, while the others showed no reaction. "Excuse me, Cartwright," he said, "but why by all that's reasonable would I want to do that? We should get the information now!"

Detective Cartwright shrugged. "We can press charges later when we have all the evidence in, and can measure it against the statement Quinn Morgendorffer has already given us." He raised a brow. "I assume she's already given a urine sample?"

Detective Warner nodded. "Yes, and she's scheduled to take a lie detector test Monday morning, too."

"There you go," said Detective Cartwright. "We can still arrest her and press charges after the evidence has been investigated, and the results of the lie detector are in. And if our suspicions prove to be grounded in fact, our case against her will be the stronger for it."

"And if the suspect runs?" asked Detective Warner, deciding that this was the best course of action after all.

"If she runs, we know who to go after," replied Detective Cartwright nonchalantly. "She's not going anywhere. I'm more interested in dealing with the other suspect in custody before he can concoct too much of a cover story. We already know he's clever."

Detective Warner narrowed his eyes as he thought a bit. Finally, he pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and wrote on it before handing it to a furious Helen. "Monday, 10 A.M., Quinn Morgendorffer will have to take a lie detector test. Be there, or I'll send someone to get you. If I haven't already."

Helen fought back the urge to leap at him and beat him until he lay dead. She took the paper with a free hand without a word.

"Okay," said Detective Warner, "cut her loose."

"This way, Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Detective Cartwright.

"But this isn't over," added Detective Warner, just as all three women were starting to leave.

"On that much," said Marguerite, "you are absolutely right."

Once outside, Helen gratefully began to thank Marguerite for coming down, but Marguerite stopped her and led them to her SUV and motioned them to get in. Once inside, Marguerite said, "Quinn, I don't want you to say anything. I'm going to just say a few things to your mother and you talk to her later. Alone. Got it?"

"Oh... okay," she said. Her voice still held tears in it, and she was obviously exhausted.

"Helen," said Marguerite, "this doesn't look good at all. I bought you some time, but I'm afraid that's about all I can do for you."

"Thank you for all that you've already done," said Helen.

Marguerite let out a pent up breath. "I've got a P.I. investigating the events. Believe me, after years of working with the local law enforcement, I've found him useful more than once. Especially as he's not as bound by red tape like the more proper law enforcement."

"Has he found anything out?" asked Helen.

"Yes," said Marguerite. "Problem is, he's not sure what's going on. Something big, though, and it looks like your daughters are involved somehow. But," she added quickly, "he does NOT believe that your daughters, or anyone they know, are drug dealers or users of any kind. But the local alpha of the methamphetamine market is nervous about something." She added emphatically, "For now on, keep your daughters at home! At all times!"

"But Quinn has to go to school!" protested Helen.

"Have someone drive her to and from school," replied Marguerite, "someone other than Daria, because that wouldn't look good at all." Not to mention what the press and Fillman would make of Daria being on school grounds.

"What's going on in the police station, Marguerite?" asked Helen. "I detected a lot of hostility between officers. What are the office politics there?"

"Sorry, Helen, I can't share that, yet," was all she would say.

Helen was hurt, but accepted it. Marguerite had done far more for her than she had any right to expect. "Thank you for the help you have given me," she said sincerely.

"I'm still helping, Helen," she responded. "I just can't say how I'm helping just yet."

After that, they said their good-byes, and Helen started to drive Quinn home. In a dispirited voice, Quinn honestly told her everything, even about Buffy (which Helen decided to ignore for now), on the way home. Helen had to park in the driveway and let Quinn finish talking for fear she would stop once she was around other people.

"Did you know this boy was friends with Matthew?" she asked.

"I knew they talked," said Quinn. "I had no idea they were close friends or even partners in anything." That was partially true, though Helen caught something in Quinn's voice that made her suspicious.

Helen cleared her throat and said, "I hope you can say all this for the lie detector." When Quinn said nothing, she sighed. "Well, it's getting cold out here. We'll talk about that test later. Right now, I want you to go upstairs to bed and get some rest. I'm going to try to get you a doctor's appointment as soon as I can. Tomorrow, if possible. Are you hungry?"

"No," said Quinn.

"Then I want you to go up and get some sleep, okay?" Helen hugged Quinn before getting out.

Quinn quietly got out and followed her mom inside. She looked at the floor with a feeling of guilt when she saw Daria's eyes open in shock at the sight of her.

"What happened to you?" asked Daria shocked. She knew Quinn had been arrested, but she had no idea she had been beaten up.

"Bad date," she said in a low voice. "Do you mind if I just go up and go to bed?" she asked. When Daria shook her head, a concerned expression on her face, Quinn went up to go to bed. She did nothing more than pull her clothes off and get into bed, not even bothering to clean herself up. She was asleep less than a minute later.

But back downstairs, the day continued for Helen and Daria. "Where's your dad?" asked Helen.

"Still upstairs, sleeping off the valiums," said Daria.

Helen frowned. Jake was getting addicted to those uppers and downers. It might be wise to let those get out of his system for awhile. "Okay," she said. It was still good not to have him freaking out right now. She could deal with him tomorrow.

"What the hell happened to Quinn?" asked Daria.

Helen sighed, and then summed up the high points. "Do you know this boy at all, Daria?"

Daria shook her head. "I knew of him, like Matthew. Which is to say I knew he existed in Quinn's grade, and that's it."

Not long after, Helen and Daria were eating lasagna on their own, sitting on the couch as they ate, watching the sordid incident being played out on the news.

"The sister of the shooter," said a female reporter, "Daria Morgendorffer who shot a boy last Wednesday, has also been arrested for shooting at a friend of Matthew Foster tonight. A boy she had also been dating, just as she had dated Matthew Foster." The scene switched to police as the reporters asked, "Were any Nazi flags or other hate paraphernalia found at the scene of the shooting?"

"At this time, we have not completely gone through all of the evidence," said Detective Warner.

The scene changed to show a house surrounded by police tape and police cars. A gleeful account of drugs were given, along with footage showing bullet holes in several walls, including a big round one at the end of a hallway.

"The question we must all ask ourselves," said the reporter grimly, "is why have our children become so obsessed with sex, drugs, guns, and hate?"

"I hope they don't show less restraint than they already have," mentioned Daria, as the scene changed to that to show Mayor Grant. "Or the problems THEY'RE obsessed with might turn them into the same kind of talking head as Jerry Springer."

"Yes, we've had another shooting," stated Mayor Grant on TV. "This time, either a domestic dispute or a drug related one. Police are sill looking into the matter. This is what we have police for. I say let them do their job. I'll have answers when they give them to me."

"Is the shooter's sister, Daria Morgendorffer, a vigilante likely to come after the boy who attacked her younger sister?"

"Daria Morgendorffer is a disgruntled vigilante, but I doubt she'll have a chance to take another life. As your new mayor, I am seeing to it that law and order are coming back to Lawndale, and with more funding to hire new police and upgrade their equipment, these young hoodlums will be taken off our streets once and for all!"

"Are stalking cases still going to be a problem?"

"Stalking? Oh, yes, those were a problem. But not for long. Not while I'm mayor."

Daria rolled her eyes. "Tell me, isn't violence, not to mention other things like the economy, worse since he became mayor?"

Helen didn't stop watching the TV. "Yes, Daria, but as long as he can prosecute you, it looks like he's doing something, and people feel better."

Daria replied, "Who says human sacrifice to appease the gods for better fortune and prosperity ever went out of fashion?"

"Shhh!" said Helen, still listening.

"Are the accessibility of guns a problem, Mayor?" asked one reporter.

Mayor Grant seemed to laugh a bit. "Of course not, and with the Eddie Eagle program run by the NRA, and Project Safe Home, guns will become even less of a problem. The real problem we have is the media and its sick, sensationalist trend to glorify the very things our kids are doing. The AMA has proven the Brady Bill useless, but the Free Congress Foundation has done a study showing our music and movies are teaching our kids to act violently, promiscuously, and to misuse guns."

"Huh?" asked Daria. "Did that make sense?" When no answer came, she added, "I wonder if Mrs. Brand's group, Handgun Control or whatever, will try to buy off the AMA now."

Speak of the devil thought Daria bemused, as Mrs. Brand came on the screen.

"What Mayor Grant would have you ignore is that this recent crime wave of youthful violence that is happening under his shift is exacerbated by the accessibility of guns. I share Mayor Grant's antipathy towards a media that glorifies sex and violence in music and movies, but the point remains that guns are far too accessible. As your new mayor, I will work to correct BOTH problems which have been overlooked for far too long."

There was an instant babble of voices. One then asked, "So you ARE running for mayor then?"

"That is correct," said a proper Mrs. Brand.

The scene changed to Mr. Fillman outside. "Since the District Attorney Marguerite Kramer is doing nothing but protecting the kids who commit these acts," said Fillman, "it is up to me to do what she will not. Furthermore, I will see to it that all goths, punks, and antisocial loners with guns are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to get them off our streets. I also propose to help shut down centers that attract these hoodlums to our area, such as The Zen and McGrundy's."

Helen wondered why he didn't make his announcement that he would be running for mayor. Didn't matter much. Helen hoped he'd be disbarred before long anyway. Finally, she turned it off as the news went into a report on the stock market, which was still falling.

"Daria," said Helen, "you can't go sneaking off anymore. I've got it from good authority that there are people you don't want to meet who are curious about you. Like with Quinn, they may think you're drug dealers who aren't paying a percentage or whatever these people tend to think. Promise me you won't sneak out of the house again."

"I promise not to sneak out of the house again," said Daria solemnly.

Helen sighed. There was something in Daria's tone that she didn't like, but she couldn't put her finger on it. "I hope you don't, for your own sake," she finally said, getting up.

I didn't say WHICH house I wouldn't sneak out of, thought Daria without a smile. But I will sneak out of THIS one as I'm going to have to look into means of disappearing. I'm so sorry, Mom, Dad, but I can't wait around for this and do nothing to take care of myself.

Daria, the assigned scapegoat, went up to her own room then to wonder if she should include Quinn in her plan to run and hide before she could be sent to prison as some trophy conviction for opportunists like Fillman or Brand to make mayor on.

Soon, she comforted herself.




03/24/01 SATURDAY 11:00 A.M.

Quinn, lying on her bed as she talked to Sandi on her cordless phone, was stunned at what she heard. Detective Warner had just left Sandi's house, after asking Sandi and her entire family what they knew of Quinn! He'd left, presumably to talk to Tiffany and Stacy, and their families next (since neither had called Quinn or Sandi yet). Quinn felt ill, and it wasn't just from the painful throbbing radiating through her.

"Quinn," Sandi was saying, annoyance in her voice, "I told you not to date him. And now you have placed the fine reputation of the Fashion Club in peril."

"I know you told me, Sandi, but he was so cute, and I had no idea! I wish I had listened to you now."

"Your arrest has made the Fashion Club look most unbecoming. And all your friends are now suspects in major crimes. My mom is all over me for hanging around you after your thing with Matthew and Scott. She doesn't want you over here."

Quinn laughed weakly and very nervously. "I can't leave the house anyway," she said, "except for school."

There was silence for several moments. Then Sandi added, "And the police may take you away. You have not only brought shame to yourself, but onto the Fashion Club."

Several more moments before Quinn asked, "Are you kicking me out, Sandi?"

There was more silence before Sandi replied, "Well, Quinn, you can stay, but you are most definitely on probation. And you can only date people after I, President of the Fashion Club, have approved them."

Quinn laughed weakly. She wasn't going on anymore dates in the near future anyway. "Okay, Sandi."

"Nothing is okay about this, Quinn," replied Sandi testily. "You were almost killed, and you may go to jail or prison. Do you know what people wear in prison?"

Quinn noticed that the question barely bothered her. "Yeah, Sandi," said Quinn in a tired voice.

"Are you okay, Quinn?" Sandi truly sounded concerned.

"No," said Quinn. "I'm... Scott hurt me, Sandi. I look really ugly right now." She was silent for several more moments before she added, "Mom managed to get me an appointment to see Dr. Baur at one today."

"Do you think you will need plastic surgery?"

"No," said Quinn, "I don't think so. But my face is... it's pretty banged up." After several moments, Quinn noticed Daria staring into her room. She covered the phone with one hand and asked, "What?"

"I need the phone for a minute," said Daria. "I want to call Jane."

"Okay," said Quinn, before saying into the phone, "Sandi, Daria needs the phone. I can call you back when she's done."

"No, don't call over here," said Sandi. "If my mom finds out... well, it's just better if I call you."

"Oh, well five minutes or so should be fine. Right?" When she saw Daria nod, she added, "Yeah, five."

"I think I should call the other members and warn them about the detective coming over."

"Oh," said Quinn. "Okay, then. Bye." She hung up feeling depressed. "Okay," said Quinn, "phone's yours. Take as long as you want."

Daria came in and looked at her, making Quinn very self-conscious. "I heard you hurt him pretty bad back."

"Yeah," said Quinn. "I can't even believe I did that! It just happened."

"Good," said Daria, the coldness in her voice startling Quinn. "I'm glad you hurt him, Quinn. I wish I could hurt him, too."

Quinn let out a breath that she had been holding, relieved that Daria wasn't speaking coldly to her. "Oh, Daria, he's not worth it." She shook her head. "It's weird. I don't feel like I won or anything. I mean I KNOW I took care of myself and I should feel good over that, but after the thrill of it went away, I've just felt tired and beaten ever since."

"You're alive. You're whole. What he did do to you will heal. And that's because of what you did. You didn't even... well, you didn't use a gun to beat him, even if you did shoot at him."

Quinn snorted. "He sure ran when I took his gun from him!"

"Hmph," said Daria, crossing her arms. "So you CAN take someone's gun away from them."

Quinn smiled a crooked smile which had an appealing roguish charm, even if Daria hurt just looking at her face. "I used my charms and got him close."

"He tried using another gun on you, didn't he?"

"Another gun?" asked Quinn as if she couldn't believe the question. "Not just any gun, Daria, it was a SUPER gun!"

"A super gun?"

"I heard Mom's friend call it a super shotgun! Pump AND automatic! I can't remember anything else about it. But it was LOUD. My ears didn't stop ringing until after Mom got there!"

"Hmph," said Daria, not sure what to make of that. But she was very glad Quinn didn't have to endure Warner and Cartwright the way she had. "Well, I better call Jane, so maybe she can come over here and keep me company while you're away." When Quinn smiled at her sadly, she added, "And I'm glad you hurt him, Quinn. It's worth something to me." Then she left to call Jane.

Quinn lay down and almost went to sleep. She felt comforted as she felt Buffy near. Except for emergencies, Buffy only came around when she was about to sleep now. "Hi, Buffy," she whispered.

Hi, Quinn! replied Buffy warmly. Don't worry about the nightmares. I'll keep them away.

"Yeah," muttered Quinn. She couldn't remember dreaming anything last night. She just lay down and didn't get up until her mom woke her for a late breakfast, and to tell her she would be seeing a doctor later today. She cleared her head and thought at Buffy, I still can't believe everything that happened last night. And he tried to use some kinda super shotgun on me, too!

Yeah, said Buffy, but I made it so it couldn't shoot!

Quinn smiled a little at that. "Thanks, Buffy," she muttered out loud, "you're the best." She was asleep almost right after.

She was woken up by her dad a little later. She blinked as he helped her get up out of bed. He hugged her and she yawned. Then, blinking groggily, she followed him down the stairs. He looked back at her and smiled reassuringly more than once.

Daria was watching some cartoon downstairs. Quinn was mildly curious, but the pain in her head was too much to think through. It's funny, she thought, I barely even notice it now, and yet it's still something that affects me.

Following her dad into the kitchen, she saw her mom in the process of making sandwiches, with mayo, tomatoes, lettuce, and slices of cheese. Quinn couldn't remember the last time she had seen her mom do that.

"Hey, sweetie," said Helen, "we'll be having sandwiches soon. And then we'll be leaving. Don't bother doing more than dressing okay. He won't be looking at your clothes, and makeup will get in the way."

"Um, okay," replied Quinn in a low voice. She hadn't even thought about makeup. She didn't know what to think about that. But while she was thinking about it, she said, "Mom, I won't ask for a gun, 'cause I promised not to--"

"Quinn," Helen interrupted, "you don't need a gun. Haven't you learned that?"

"Um... no," said Quinn. "But that wasn't what I wanted to ask. I want to take more classes. I'm not sure what, but I'd like to learn more."

Helen smiled nervously. "I think that's a good idea, Quinn." She lost her smile. "But first you see a doctor! Luckily, Dr. Baur works weekends, but I still had to work hard and agree to pay extra to get him to see you today. And we can't be late!"

"I've been reading that self-defense book we got from that class," continued Quinn, "and it has some good stuff in it, but... I need something more."

"Okay, Quinn, I will find something out on Monday, okay?" When Quinn nodded, Helen went into the living room where Daria was still watching TV. "Quinn is going to some more classes. I think you should go, too." She let out a breath when Daria just shrugged. "But you're not to leave this house for anything else."

"Yes, Warden."

"Daria," said Helen, "you're not a prisoner. You're in protective custody. Remember that."

"Luckily, visiting hour is almost upon me."

Going to get her purse, Helen pulled out a twenty. "Here's to ORDER a pizza. You're not to leave this house, Daria. Jake will be around and while he may be distracted, he hasn't had any valium today, and won't have any until I get back. So don't even think of sneaking out!"

"He may be awake, but he's still too slow and clumsy to catch the likes of me and Jane."

"Daria," said Helen putting her hands on her hips, "are you sure you'd rather spend time here with Jane instead of coming with Quinn and me?"

Daria blinked. "In the house we'll be, and cause no trouble, you'll see."

"Ugh, Daria," said Helen shaking her head, hoping Daria wasn't planning on becoming a poet. "I left sandwiches in Ziplocs in the top drawer in the fridge. Should you and Jane prefer something more nutritious than pizza." She left for the kitchen again then as Daria rolled her eyes.

Daria hurried to the door when she heard Jane's knock moments later. She couldn't keep a smile off her face, though she did manage to twist it so it looked somehow dangerous. They went up to Daria's room and ordered a pizza. And for a short while, Daria almost forgot the dire future she faced.

Then they decided they had better go down to the living room. Jake wasn't the best person for catching things like pizza delivery men, at the door. Even when he did answer the door, he might not be coherent and could end up scaring them away. Especially of late.

"Hey," said Jake joining Daria for a little one-on-one time. He was hip enough to let Jane take part, too. "You're the art chick, right? It's chick now, right?"

"Actually Dad," said Daria, "it's 'ho' now. As in, 'ho, ho, a hot babe' or something like that."

"Really?" asked Jake excitedly.
"So you're the art ho, right?"

Jane crossed her arms and glared at Daria. "I paint a little," she said noncommittally.

"I did some art back in my day, too," said Jake reminiscing. "The others, they made fun of me and called me a sissy and a dirty hippie. But I showed them," his voice was rising, "I married a wonderful ho and had two beautiful hos for daughters, while those who made fun of me are dead, or wish they were!" He clenched a fist as he added, "Or that's one way to look at it, anyway."

"Uh," said Jane swallowing, "so, um, what was your best work?"

Jake looked confused a moment before he admitted, "I'm not sure. I was usually tripping when I did something really good. Not that the day trippers could relate to it. Hey, it is 'tripping' now, right? Where you do LSD?"

"That would be 'charge the battery' today," said Jane helpfully.

"Right," said Jake, "I'd get the most amazing inspirations when I charged my batteries, and everyone else loved it. Helen especially loved to charge batteries with me and we'd finger paint some of the exquisite works of arts with our paints."

"That's, uh, uh," Daria was blushing very red.

"Sounds like an interesting time," said Jane with a straight face. "So you charged your batteries with her, your most beloved ho? UMPH!" That time, Daria hit Jane in the stomach with her elbow.

"You bet'cha!" shouted Jake. "Ol' Jakey can share some stories of my own youth."

"Tell us about the pot and the hooker you did in college," suggested Jane.

"What?" asked a disturbed Jake, "how did you know about that?" He looked truly upset that anyone knew and blushed as Jane smiled at him, and Daria continued to blush on her own.

Daria finally sighed and said, "There are a lot of reporters in town, aren't there, Dad?"

Jake blinked at the sudden change in conversation and frowned in displeasure, muttering, "Lousy talking heads always distorting what I say! Oh, 'can you spare a moment, Mr. Morgendorffer,' well no, I can't!"

"... and all kinds of politically active people, too," continued Daria the moment Jake paused. "They're going to put a strain on the market. Maybe you should look into investing with some of the entrepreneurs that would provide film and tape and other things they would need? Or the local temp service?"

"And escort service?" piped in Jane helpfully.

Daria glared at her for moment, but returned to her dad when he said, "You know, that's a great idea! Everyone is into beefing up the security right now, that I don't think many people have thought of that! Thanks, Daria!"

"Sure, Dad," said Daria, "I just hope someone isn't already working on profiting from this situation right now." She spoke a little more slowly. "As we speak. Getting a corner on the market."

Jake's eyes were getting wider and wider. "Say, Daria, do you think you and Jane can talk amongst yourselves while I make a few calls?"

"Well, since we're not in the DMZ school, I guess that's okay," said Jane before Daria could say anything.

"Great!" he cried, before trotting upstairs.

"What?" asked Jane innocently as Daria glared at her.

She sighed. "I never realized how useful all those years of playing with his head would turn out to be," mused Daria. "All this time I just thought it was fun."

"But are you sure it wouldn't be more fun to have pulled a gun and yelled at him to leave?" asked Jane.

"Not anywhere as challenging," answered Daria.

"Either way," said Jane lightly, "you're due for a karmic zapping." Jane instantly felt bad for saying that, as she remembered what Daria was facing. Just then the doorbell rang.

Pizza box in hand, they returned to Daria's room. She pulled the plug on her phone and put on a CXS CD to muffle their conversation (without agitating them too much to think clearly) and asked, "So have you talked to him yet?"

Jane swallowed and shook her head. "It's hard, and the one time I tried to go, the same car kept turning down streets all around me."

Daria frowned. "Cheap bastards. They can't even afford more than one tail." She shook her head in disgust, though she was glad they were that easy to sniff out. "Still," she said, "it's not like you can't think up a reason to see him."

Jane blinked and nodded her head. I just don't want to do it, thought Jane. And if I go with her, I become a criminal along with her. If I stay, I lose her, and might become a criminal anyway.

"Why do you want to run?" asked Jane. "You might get off, but not if you run."

Daria stared at Jane awhile before answering. "I won't get off. The media is trashing me everyday. The jurors know that if they acquit me, they'll be trashed. Best to just sacrifice me and hope the world is a little better for it."

"But," said Jane, "your family, your life!"

"I have no life anymore, Jane," replied Daria. "And all I'm doing in bringing pain to my family. If I disappear, the media will have a field day with it. But if I can stay gone, they'll eventually find something else to blow out of proportion. Someone missing just won't keep the interest of the sheep. Then it will be over for my family."

"But not for you," said Jane, "or those who love you."

"I'm getting burned any way I go, Jane," said Daria. "Might as well end it now. Besides," she added bitterly, "if I manage to escape, neither Fillman nor Brand can make mayor on me." She shook her head in disgust at how the world worked. She looked back up to Jane and asked, "Will you help me, or not?"

Jane sighed long and hard. "I'm your friend, Daria. Of course I'll help."

While Daria and Jane began discussing plans of an illicit nature, Jake was eating a sandwich Helen had left him. He put the sandwich down on a saucer when he heard a loud knock and headed for the door hoping it wasn't another reporter prepared to take his comments and twist them into something that would later infuriate Helen. By the time he got to it, it was obviously two people knocking on it. He couldn't help but be a little nervous, even if it didn't sound EXACTLY like cops trying to break the door in.

Opening the door, he blinked as he saw two boys Daria's age on the step. One had thick, blond hair while the other had dark hair and both were poorly dressed. The dark-haired boy wore an AC/DC shirt, while the blond wore a Metallica shirt. There was something disturbing and vaguely familiar about them. But he'd once looked rebellious, too, and didn't want to act as if he had forgotten all about that stuff. "Hey!" said Jake, "can I help you, dudes?"

"Uh..." said the dark haired one, "Yeah. Does Dia-ria live here?"

"Yeah, yeah, Diarrhea!"

They both chanted, "Diarrhea, cha, cha, cha!"

Jake didn't know what to make of this and vaguely wondered if this was another valium-induced dream. "You need the bathroom?"

"Or your tool shed!" said the excited blond, "boiiiiinng!"

"Uh..." said the dark-haired boy. "Dar... uh... Daria?"

"Oh, Daria!" shouted Jake. Was this some kind of slang they were using? Or did they have a speech impediment? "You want to see her? Are you here to have pizza with them?" As the two boys continued to laugh and mutter to each other, Jake invited them in and yelled up, "Daria! Hey, Daria! You got more friends!" Jake couldn't believe it. He did hope Daria would pick up better friends soon. He briefly wondered if Daria met them in jail. That's ridiculous, she wouldn't be placed in a cell with boys, he thought as he went back to his sandwich. "Just go on upstairs!" said Jake as he went back into the kitchen.

Snickering, the two ascended the stairs. They heard The Cruxshadows through a door and stopped.

Mother of motion, the eyes can't capture time,
falling emotion, the blind now lead the blind,
we commit indiscretions, and omit our sins from sight,
in a world of intangibles, too many things seem right

No hand to scribe, the sinking sickness I have seen,
no face to judge until you've been the monster I have been,
to hunger is noble, where beauty is silent sleep,
my hunger is noble, but my pain is driven deep.

Cruelty and consequence cannot eliminate this relevance
Your selfishness, your hatefulness cannot take away my
Cruelty and consequence cannot eliminate this relevance
Your selfishness, your hatefulness cannot take away my
innocence from me

"That music sucks," said the dark-haired boy, "Must be Daria's room, huh, huh, huh."

"Yeah, yeah, Daria's room! Heh, heh, heh! And she's sucking in it, heh, heh, heh!"

Then, as the blond opened the door, they both chanted loud enough to be heard over the music, "Diarrhea, diarrhea, cha, cha, cha!"

Daria and Jane, both sitting on the bed eating a slice of pizza, looked toward them in shock. Then Daria's mouth dropped open, and a mix of anger and confusion crossed her face. She turned the CXS off and shouted, "What are YOU two doing here!?"

The two walked in, chortling still, while Jane continued to stare wide-eyed. "Your dad said we could like have some of your pizza," said the dark-haired one.

"Whoa," said Jane to Daria, "I think your dad just figured you out and is giving you some serious payback. Or maybe it's karma?"

Both took a slice of pizza and sloppily ate a slice while the blond one started rummaging through Daria's CDs. "Hey!" shouted Daria to make them stop, but she was still too stunned to act appropriately. "What are you doing here!?"

"They're here to eat pizza, Daria, don't you listen?"

The blond one stopped rummaging through the CDs long enough to say, "Yeah, we're suppose to ask about guns and bombs and drugs and stuff."

"Shut up, Beavis!" shouted the dark-haired one, slapping Beavis on the head.

"Ow! Cut it out Butt-head!"

"Where did you come from?" asked Jane with a mix of caution and curiosity.

"They're from Highland," said Daria annoyed, "and I have no idea why they followed me here." She looked back at the duo. "Who told you to ask about all that stuff?"

"Uh..." started Butt-head. "It was like on TV and stuff."

"Hey!" shouted Beavis raising a hand in the sign of the horns, "Metallica!" He had recognized the cover art of Ride the Lightning. "Hey!" he shouted again as Daria, still on the bed, snatched it from him. "Give it back! OW!" The last was from when Daria's right Doc kicked him in the face, knocking him back.

"So you came all the way from Highland to see if I had any guns or drugs?" asked a disbelieving Daria. "Aren't there enough people in Texas with that kind of stuff?"

"Yeah," said Butt-head, "but we don't like them."

"Awwwww," crooned Jane brightly and almost sincerely, "they like you!" Only Daria heard the dark humor underlying her comment.

"Yeah," said Beavis, "she has a cool name! Diarr--"

"Do you mind!" shouted Daria. "Damn, you're like 18 and you're still carrying on as if you were six!"

"She said ass," said Butt-head to Beavis.

Beavis chortled a bit and added, "And sucks, too! She said... sucks ass!" They both started chortling like demented gremlins.

Jane looked to Daria. "Don't you wish you still had your gun?"

"Yeah, baby, I have a gun for you, cocked and loaded," said Butt-head, drawing a surprised look from Jane and an annoyed one from Daria.

"Yeah, yeah," said Beavis. "And what's the deal with the chick? You lesbian or something?"

Butt-head's eyes went wide. "Cool!" His face went back to normal. "Just pretend we're not here, baby, and act naturally."

Beavis wasn't done. "Hey, Butt-head, look! Daria's girlfriend doesn't have any tits, either!"

"I definitely wish I had a gun," said Jane, losing her patience.

"Look," said Daria, "it's been interesting and all, but this isn't a good time. So if you don't mind, you can take another slice of pizza, and I'll even give you the Metallica CD, as long as you go back home right now."

"No, no!" shouted Beavis, "I want to see you and the chick do each other!" He went tense then, with his fists clenched tightly, as he shouted, "Boinnnnngg!!!"

Daria marched past them angrily and shouted out of the doorway, "DAD!"

Butt-head, only a few feet away, reached out and grabbed her arm. "Hey, baby, let Butt-head make it all better. OW!" This last as Daria hit him in the chin with the heel of her hand.

"GET OUT!" Daria wasn't kidding.

Beavis was laughing, "Holy shit! She's a dyke, Butt-head! A total dyke!"

Butt-head rubbed his chin, frowning. "Bitch. No one treats Butt-head that way."

Beavis chortled some more, looking between Daria and Jane. "Yeah! Daria's like the bitch, 'cause she's wearing the dress and stuff! And the chick here is like the guy cause of her pants and short hair! So, uh, Butch, do you like do Daria doggy-style or what? Make her get on her knees for you or what?" As he chortled some more, Butt-head joined in with him.

Jane reached under Daria's bed until she found the aluminum bat Daria started keeping there. She stood up brandishing it. "I think you should leave."

"DAD!" shouted Daria again.

"I'm your daddy," said Butt-head, grabbing Daria's arm again. "Don't make me spank you." Beavis started laughing again. "At least until I show you delights such as you have never known before."

Daria saw Butt-head was tense, waiting for her to strike. So instead she hmphed and stroked his hair with her left hand. As he moaned and came in closer, she twisted her right arm out of his light grip and brought her elbow to his face, getting him right on the nose, causing him to shriek and pull back. Before he got too far, Daria followed up with a kick to his knee. As he bent reflexively, grasping at his nose with one hand while reaching down with the other, Daria brought the bottom of her fist into Butt-head's face in a downward hammer blow.

"AAAAAA!!!!" This was from a surprised Beavis who had been too busy laughing at Butt-head getting his butt kicked by Daria to notice Jane swinging the bat at the back of his knees. He fell moaning, unable to get back up right away.

A minute later, Daria, holding Butt-head by his shirt and hair, and Jane, dragging Beavis by his shirt and ear, were at the front door.

"Open it," said Daria coldly to Butt-head in front of her. Butt-head held both hands over his bleeding nose, and while he wasn't crying, tears of pain still fell down his face.

"No way, dyke," he finally replied. Then Daria shoved his head into the door. "OW! Cut it out!" Then he twisted his head to try and see a laughing Beavis behind him. "Shut up, Beavis!"

"Hey, Daria," said Jane casually, "remember your saying you wanted to experiment with cock and ball torture?"

Butt-head opened the door. Both were taken out on the step and thrown screaming onto the sidewalk.

"GO HOME!" shouted Daria. She looked up and took a deep breath trying to calm herself when she noticed an old car parked across the street and down a little ways with two men inside of it. She swore she could see one of them taking pictures. She was about to say something to Jane when Jane gave a light cry of surprise.

A fire engine red 2001 Chevrolet Corvette, about to pass by, suddenly stopped and parked. Daria touched Jane's arm and nodded to go inside. They quickly shut the door behind them and went to the front room window to watch the two cars.

Beavis and Butt-head slowly sat up, moaning. "Beavis, you dickweed, I was about to score but you kept messing it up and stuff."

"No way, ass munch! You were like getting your ass kicked by the Daria chick and stuff! I was gonna score with Daria's lesbian girlfriend, but she like got all mad over you acting like an ass goblin and stuff! OW!" The last was when Butt-head slapped him.

"Shut up, butt monkey... uh, hu, hu." Butt-head forgot what he was about to say as he finally saw the Corvette, and the hot babe getting out of the car.

Both boys sat silent as they watched her approach, her walk seductive. She had long, blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and a figure that was a perfection of feminine curves. She smiled, the expression seemed both pleasant and threatening. Both boys slobbered as she slowly approached them.

Suddenly, Beavis's eyes went wide. "Hey, Butt-head! It's that chick! The one we were gonna do in Washington or Seattle and stuff! The one I lost the picture of!" He scrambled to his feet.

"Forget Daria," muttered Butt-head, jumping up beside him, "we can do her."

"Oh, we're gonna 'do' it, all right," said the woman as she came within touching distance of them. With the speed of a striking snake she lashed out at Beavis as he came close to her, an upward heel of her palm that knocked Beavis's head back. She followed that a mere second later with a punch to the side of his neck, causing his body to suddenly bend over backward from the angle of the blow, then followed with a knee to his exposed crotch. Beavis was gasping, down on his knees and clutching his neck with one hand, his crotch with the other. He fell all the way over as the woman stomped the back of his head with her right foot, and then slowly twisted into a fetal position. He continued to twist and thrash as he struggled for breath. This happened all in the span of five seconds.

Butt-head, done blinking at what he had just seen, lunged at the woman and tried to punch her. She deftly blocked his clumsy blow with her left arm, then wrapped it around his right arm, twisting it down while bringing her right elbow up to his throat. He tried to back away, but she moved her elbow so that her right arm locked at his throat to the side of his neck, holding him firmly. While he was trying to regain his equilibrium lost due to the two grips, she brought a foot to his knee, then her knee up to his crotch. Twice. Then she brought the arm she had been holding at his neck back and lashed out with the palm in an upward thrust, letting go as she connected. Butt-head fell backwards and sprawled on the ground, apparently unconscious, his face a bloody mess.

Inside the Morgendorffer home, Daria and Jane, who had seen everything, stared wide-eyed. "She's going to kill them!" cried Jane in disbelief, "with her bare hands!" She turned in shock as Daria went to the door. "Hey, where you going!? DARIA!" Daria had run outside. Jane ran after her. All too quickly, they were outside, a mere six or seven feet away from the woman standing over the prone and injured Beavis and Butt-head.

"They're not worth... it," went Daria. She barely got the last word out as the woman trained a pistol in her direction. Jane stopped right beside her. All three women then noticed two men on the street--the ones that had been in the older car.

"Police!" one shouted, pulling his gun. Before he could get it to bear on the blonde, she had turned to him and two shots from her own pistol rang out. He fell as one bullet hit him in the head.

The other man, jaw hanging open and fear evident on his face, clumsily reached for his own side arm as he stared at his fallen partner. A moment later, when he remembered, it was too late. Three more shots rang out. His own gun, which he had just pulled, fell when a bullet struck his forearm beneath the Zylon body armor he wore. Another grazed the side of his ribs. It hurt like fury. Then the third creased a bloody line across his cheek. He had no idea how badly he was injured, only that he was hurt bad. "Fah-give me!" he cried hysterically as he fell, "fah-give me!"

The woman, who had knowingly shot two police officers without a trace of hesitation, instantly brought her gun back to bear on Daria and Jane. Both were speechless and accepted that they were about to die as there was nothing else they could do.

"Damn, damn, damn, damn!" shouted the woman with the gun. Then she smiled cynically at the two younger women staring at her gun with resignation. "Don't worry, Daria. It was just personal with these two idiot boys. A debt I owed them. I don't plan to kill them as they'll suffer far more alive. But I had to show them a little pain. The two cops interfered when they shouldn't. As long as you both stand perfectly still, I won't shoot you. Bye."

Daria and Jane just stood rooted to the spot, while one cop continued to cry in a low, incoherent moan, and Beavis and Butt-head started moaning softly themselves, still lying motionless on the ground. The woman with the gun lightly jogged to her car, her gun arm tense. She moved with the grace of a dancer and neither Daria or Jane doubted that she could aim and fire with deadly precision in a split-second. She got into her Corvette, spun around to avoid damaging her tires on the fallen police officers, and sped away. She was obviously as good with a car as she was with a gun.

The moment she was out of sight, Daria told Jane, "Call an ambulance!" It didn't occur to her to say, "Call the police." Without stopping to see what Jane was doing, she ran over to the cop who was still moaning. "You're going to be all right," she told him as she bent down to see just how badly he was hurt.

In a very faint voice, he moaned, "Fah-give me, faht-er, fah-give me." He looked at Daria as she took off her jacket and her shirt and began to hold the shirt against his face. "You," he said softly. "You... should run."

"What?" asked Daria, wondering why a cop should tell her to do what she was planning anyway.

"They want you, Daria. Not... your fau't. It wa' an accident. But... they want you now and you need to run! Fah-give me." The words were muttered.

Daria took in a breath and thought fast. "Why should I run? What was an accident?"

He shook his head, not seeming to be aware of her anymore. He was fading. "Fah-give me," he almost whispered.

"I'm here to hear your last confession," said Daria. She didn't know much about Catholic last rites, but she guessed that was what this cop had in mind. And she had to know what he said, as blasphemous as imitating a priest right now might be! "I need to hear about the accident."

He just muttered, "Fah-give me," one last time, almost inaudibly, as he fell into unconsciousness. He still breathed, but Daria knew he would die if the ambulance didn't get there soon.

Jane came up to her with some towels. "Your dad's on the phone with 911," she said breathlessly. "He thinks you're hiding up in your room. He was so into some call over some money deal that he didn't even realize what was going on."

Daria blinked at that, but wasn't surprised. With the towels, they bandaged up the dying officer as best they could. The wound in the forearm didn't seem that bad, so Daria canceled her plan to use her shirt as a tourniquet. Still, she doubted if she would wear it again. She had a couple of more almost just like it anyway. She suddenly noticed she was wearing nothing but a bra from the waist up and put her jacket back on.

Two squad cars showed up almost immediately. They came out with guns drawn, but they put them away and got a first-aid kit when they saw what was happening. Several more police and a couple of ambulances showed up not long after. Both cops were alive but in serious condition--one with the head shot not expected to make it. Beavis and Butt-head, both beaten to a pulp, were also carted away.

Both Daria and Jane gave as complete a report as they could, leaving out how they beat up and threw out the two guys themselves, along with an accurate description of the woman.

Daria didn't mention that the woman had known her name, a fact that creeped her out. It's possible she recognized me from the news, Daria thought, but she had a very bad feeling about it. And why did she let us, as witnesses, live?

Daria and Jane even talked to Detective Cartwright. To their surprise he didn't seem to hold them in any suspicion, and even thanked Daria for her attempt to help the fallen officer. Daria and Jane both were bemused by that. News teams showed up, and Daria knew she would be on the TV again. She hoped they would say something nice about her this time, but suspected that was a vain hope.

Jake had been questioned in the house. When he finally realized Daria wasn't inside, he came out and ordered her back in. Daria and Jane both went in. The cops were obviously preparing to do a statewide search and ignored them. Even though no one could tell them the plate number, a new model Corvette driven by a "striking" blonde couldn't be that hard to find.

Helen showed up as the last of the police and reporters were leaving. She hurried inside. She was stunned at hearing of two cops shot outside her home, and that Daria and Jane had been held at gun point. She insisted on Jane having someone pick her up, and Trent came inside for awhile before she left with him. Helen shared that she'd seen a car following her almost all the way to the doctor's office, but not on the way back. She didn't know if they had a better tail on the return drive or if they'd forgotten about her.

Only Daria and Helen were still up when the news came on later that night. Jake was upstairs, sleeping on a valium, and Quinn was fast asleep on her own. Daria and Helen didn't say much as they watched the footage. They heard that the first cop shot had died, and the other was in critical condition. A drawing and computerized portrait of the woman described was shown on the screen, already with a reward of $10,000. To Daria's relief, beyond insinuating that her house was dangerous, the talking heads didn't say anything about her.

But even Daria and Helen were shocked speechless when they learned of another homicide that day: Mrs. Brand. From the wounded survivor, Mr. Preston (the one Daria had suspected was Mrs. Brand's lover), they got that Mrs. Brand had been driving and they were stopped at a stop sign when a car pulled up alongside them.

Mr. Preston, riding shotgun, hadn't been able to see the driver. In the passenger seat was a man with long, unkempt blond hair, wearing a blue-plaid shirt and black bandanna tied over his face. Only his blue eyes and dirty hair showed. He aimed a short shotgun of some kind out the window and blew Mrs. Brand away, killing her instantly. Mr. Preston was also wounded when at least part of the slug went through Mrs. Brand and cut into his arm. He was expected to make a full recovery. A mostly useless sketch was given of the shooter, along with the description of an older model car used by the assailants.

Helen kept shaking her head. She'd hated Mrs. Brand, but she hadn't wanted anything like this to happen. "What's happening in this town!?" Helen cried rhetorically. Daria only shook her head and went upstairs for bed.




03/26/01 MONDAY 9:00 A.M.

Agent Fleming, BATF, entered the meeting room where his team was assembled, sitting around a table. Agent Bork was already there, the only one standing, checking the slide projector.

"Tell 'em, Bork," he said sitting down at the head of the table.

Bork nodded just before the lights dimmed. He had a carousel loaded and advanced it to the first slide.

"As most of you know, Daria Morgendorffer was arrested on multiple charges. The charges we are interested in are the violations of Project Safe Neighborhoods and Gun Free Zones Act. The details of this are all in the file. The gun, made by Autauga Arms cannot be traced past its original sale. It apparently was sold to a 'hobbyist' at a gun show and somehow ended up in the possession of Ms. Morgendorffer. She used it to fire on the drug dealer that she claims was stalking her sister, and was, in fact, about to shoot her. I assume everyone has read the files and seen the footage on this?"

When no one admitted to having skipped this part of the assignment, Bork continued. "The interesting part is that this girl was trained to shoot and shoot well by someone unknown at a place unknown. Her gun was also coated with Teflon to hide fingerprints. It is surmised that she is involved in the sale or distribution of methamphetamines, and that she has armed escorts that provide bodyguard service for her. This was particularly helpful to her in that Matthew Foster, the boy she shot later at Lawndale High, had pulled a gun on her earlier at a place called The Zen and her armed bodyguards intervened. And as of Friday, her sister, Quinn Morgendorffer, got into another shooting with Scott Rhodes, the supposed partner of the young man Daria had shot in her high school. Quinn was supposedly dating both of them at the time of the shootings." A few agents laughed lightly.

"Quinn fired upon him with a Glock 32. We know that it was stolen, but we are not certain if it belonged to Scott Rhodes or Quinn Morgendorffer. Each claims it belonged to the other. Both left prints on the gun.

"Rhodes attempted to return fire with a Benelli M3 super 90 shotgun. It belonged to his mother, Mary Rhodes, who had purchased and registered it seven and a half years ago. Benellis are expensive, and some are suspicious where she came up with the money for it, as she is in a low income bracket. She claims to have 'saved up' for it. She kept the gun, along with a few other firearms, unloaded but in easy reach in her closet, along with several kinds of ammunition.

"The boy apparently doesn't know much about guns: he tried using the cheap birdshot ammunition and it failed to cycle. The result was he was able to get off one shot before the shotgun jammed."

The photo switched to one of Helen. "Here we have a picture of the defendant's mother, Helen Morgendorffer. A former leftist activist, she still dabbles in political actions. She was once called 'Hippie Helen,' or 'Helen the Hippie.' A little over three years ago, she threatened national security by filing suit against the ATF. She was persuaded to drop the suit. Her name was flagged in the database."

Another pic was shown, this time of Beavis and Butt-head. "These two young men, Beavis and Butt-head, were involved in the incident over which Mrs. Morgendorffer attempted to file suit. Also involved was a middle-aged neighbor of theirs, Tom Anderson, of Highland, Texas. He was charged but later released. When we were not able to bring him to trial, we began to look into other acquaintances of these two boys. There were few to speak of; one of them is Daria Morgendorffer."

Bork coughed and added, "What only a few of you know is that these boys were made honorary members of the BATF. I am not at liberty to discuss the reasons for this, only that these two are much more resourceful and talented than they appear. They were instrumental in averting a colossal disaster in an incident that remains classified."

The photo changed to one of Beavis and Butt-head in a hospital with heavy bruises on their faces. "Because of the former relations with Daria, the boys were recruited to go in and gather intelligence. Apparently, Daria ascertained their true motives and beat them to a pulp.

"Now, here's where it gets even more interesting."

Bork switched the photo to that of Beavis and Butt-head on the sidewalk outside the Morgendorffer residence. An annoyed Daria and Jane look down on them, and Daria is yelling something. "It would seem that Daria and her associate, Jane Lane, knew the boys were working for us."

Another photo switch, and a picture of a blonde approaching the boys. "Enter Dallas Grimes. We first met up with her in the incident that Beavis and Butt-head helped us to avert. Her ex-husband, Muddy Grimes, was holed up in Highland for awhile, although we didn't know why he went there or whom he met. Until now."

A mug shot of Dallas Grimes appeared. "We successfully convicted her of stealing the X-5 Unit, a biological weapon of mass destruction, from an unspecified Army base..."


"Um, yes, forget you heard that. Anyway, we never did learn of her connections or who had contracted the theft. She was sent to Alderson, a minimum security prison for women in West Virginia--"

"Excuse me," asked Agent Riley, "did you say MINIMUM?"

"Plea bargain," said Agent Bork, "and maybe some tampering with the judge. We're not sure about that. But she was put under extra guard as she was known to be a skillful cat burglar and manipulator, not to mention handy with disguises." Here Bork coughed a bit and asked, "Chief?"

"Tell 'em, Bork," said Agent Fleming.

"Yes. Fears of her escape proved to be unfounded. She was released. The paper trail is muddy, but apparently she was sprung by the CIA. The CIA, of course, won't answer our questions about why, or even if, it happened. They simply express a polite ignorance on the matter. Even more confusing is that one CIA agent in the field asserted to one of our agents that Dallas Grimes was a bad apple not to be trusted. He also said Dallas Grimes was not her real name and gave us two other identities, that of Dorothy Gill and Leslie Slate, both with documentation. However, she has used these identities only infrequently, and the electronic footprints are few and confusing. At this time, we don't know what alias she is going by, or what she is doing, or if she's even working with the CIA, someone else, or herself."

"Excuse me, sir," said Agent Bentley, just a little nervously. "Are you saying this woman now works for a kid?"

Bork blinked at that. "Unknown, but the two young men told Agent Butler that they were attacked by all three females. However, it's more likely Dallas Grimes works for someone else but receives her orders through Daria."

Agent Bentley shook his head. "I'm sorry, but this is just too unbelievable."

"Agent Bentley," said Agent Fleming, "do you have any idea what kids these days are capable of? Don't you read the papers?"

"A girl has a bad day and shoots up a school is one thing, but a girl that commands a criminal operation with armed bodyguards involving drugs and weapons and employing CIA spooks is another matter."

"Agent Bentley," said Agent Fleming, making a note to recommend Agent Bentley not be promoted for such insights, "I suggest you talk less and listen more. The security of our nation is at stake here." He turned back to Bork and demanded, "Tell 'em, Bork!"

"Yes," said Agent Bork, a little nervously himself. "The reason we have delayed pressing charges on Daria is that she faces more serious consequences by the local laws. More importantly, we're hoping to find her source. Sooner or later she's going to go to him, or her."

"Shouldn't this be a matter for the DEA then?" asked Agent Riley.

"The DEA is more concerned with pot and cocaine. Methamphetamine is mostly done by drug dealers that specialize in it."

"Even so," said Agent Riley, "this seems to be more involved with drugs than weapons."

Agent Bork took a deep breath. "It gets even more interesting." Taking another breath, he hit the button again six times. Each mug shot showed a man of Middle Eastern appearance. Bork read off the names of each. "They were intercepted by FBI after attempting to make a deal to buy samples of diseases from CDC. More importantly, they were found with several bomb-making materials, including large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, lye, hydriodic acid, ethyl ether, hydrochloric acid, and toluene. Many of you are familiar with these and know that, like Teflon, several innocent domestic products and uses are known for these chemicals. However, they can all be used for criminal, and murderous, purposes. And when mixed together, you have all that you need for methamphetamines."

Agent Bork saw he had the team's interest with mentioning the chemicals and fertilizers, but some were furrowing their brows again at the word methamphetamines. He decided to get to the point. "During interrogation, the suspects all claimed to have gotten the materials from methamphetamine dealers in Virginia--"

"Lawndale?" interrupted Agent Bentley again, skepticism still evident in his voice.

"Newport," corrected Bork. "Further investigation and anonymous tips to the BATF have shown evidence of an organized effort to corrupt the police and politicians throughout Virginia, and even in DC. The M.O. is similar to that of the Mafia, using standard bribery and blackmail, but these people seem to consider themselves separate from the mob, led by a shadowy individual referred to as 'Wild Card'. For unknown reasons, they seem to have an interest in vice cops especially. Even more disturbing is the assertion that they are willing to ignore certain long standing, unspoken agreements, such as refusing to do contract killings on police officers and politicians. And they're also willing to do contract killings on drug lords and Mafia figures. People on either side of the law can apparently make deals with them to kill individuals and set off bombs. There have been minor busts, but the greater organization behind it remains a mystery."

Agent Riley asked, "So it's a job for the FBI then?"

Another click showed a pic of a restaurant called The Thai House. "Using the information gained, FBI raided a meth lab that was hidden under a Thai restaurant. It seems the smells of the solvents were piped out along with the cooking, and the owners had a lot more cash than their business was making. Still, no one suspected a meth lab operating underneath the restaurant, until the apprehended terrorists revealed the information to the FBI during interrogation."

"FBI, then," said Agent Riley.

"Several accelerants not used in the production of methamphetamines were also found. The same kind of accelerants used in some recent firebombings, including that of multiple churches, not to mention suspicious insurance claims. More disturbing are several new forms of methamphetamines called 'Ice Cold' that are quickly being labeled CDS."


"Controlled Dangerous Substance."

"DEA, then," said Agent Riley.

"The CDS and methamphetamines seem to be part of the operation, but not the operation itself. The actual operations seem to be the arson, criminal and political violence for a price, and the smuggling of bombs and firearms and methamphetamines."

Agent Riley asked, "Why isn't the DEA handling this from the drug angle?"

"They use informants like everyone else. The informants trade information on their rivals for getting the competition off the streets. In return, the cops who bust the competition rack up a lot of arrests. This works to the benefit of both the officers and the criminal informants: the officer has a good arrest record; the criminal gets rid of his competition and avoids arrest himself. Regrettably, personal chemistry often develops out of this alone that compromises the officer's dependability to enforce the law."

"Add to this that some are dumb enough to partake of the drugs, particularly those working undercover," added Agent Fleming, "and the gift giving common in business deals, as well as the blackmail that can easily arise out of such situations, and you have a lot of compromised officers."

"How bad is it?" asked Agent Bentley.

"Unknown," said Agent Bork, "but it seems to be getting worse. And a DEA agent recently died from snorting too much of the new 'Ice Cold'."

"Those looking into the evidence rooms of the DEA report that missing evidence is common," stated Agent Bentley, "so how do we know this just isn't business as usual?"

"We don't," said Agent Fleming, "but this is one stone we can't afford to leave unturned!"

"I should also point out," said Agent Bork, "that multiple federal agencies have undercover agents investigating this right now. Probably along with the local police."

Agent Bentley added, "And we don't know how many have been compromised." It was a statement, not a question.

"Not only that," said Agent Bork, "but those who haven't been compromised are still ineffectual for this investigation. Why pursue a tough case when you get paid the same to monitor meaningless intelligence that allows you leisure, as well as a greater chance of living long enough to collect retirement?" Shaking his head, he added, "The DEA, IRS, and FBI are particularly notorious for lackadaisical investigations."

"It gets worse," said Agent Fleming, slapping the table once. "Tell 'em about the runners, Bork."

Agent Bork cleared his throat. "Local police officers working their informants have repeatedly stumbled across CIA operations running into Central America, something Dallas Grimes is said to have participated in herself years ago. While the informants are typically criminal, they are also ordinary civilians for the most part."

"If civilians," interjected Fleming, "can tell who the CIA are, not to mention can acquire the same informants, possibly through compromised officers and agents, then any foreigner could use this network to launch attacks on America's intelligence agencies. More importantly, successful attacks would inspire attacks on other agencies. I'm sure I don't have to point out that we here at the BATF are considered particularly noxious by some extremists right here on American soil."

"So we will be taking over this investigation?" asked Agent Riley.

"The FBI and DEA are conducting their own investigations. The BATF has been invited to play in this game because of the weapons and crimes involved. And because we are the ones who have the anonymous tipper who has never steered us wrong."

"What's in it for this informer?" asked Agent Bentley.

Agent Bork didn't know, and that made him nervous. But instead of saying that, he said, "The informant is a person who uses a voice modulator to disguise his or her voice, and never speaks for more than a single minute. This informant managed to attain Agent Fleming's private cell phone number, which suggests he or she is an agent in the field who doesn't trust the agency he or she works for. So far, the information has always proved accurate. And then there's Daria Morgendorffer." Bork flicked the switch to show another pic of Daria. "Our informant told us to watch Daria and Dallas Grimes would show up, who could lead us to 'Wild Card' if we made her a deal."

"Okay," said Agent Bentley, "you have this Daria Morgendorffer involved with some shady characters. But is there anything other than this informant that makes you think she's with 'Wild Card' and his group?"

"Daria Morgendorffer claimed to have obtained her gun from a gun show in Newport, Virginia. Yet we had agents there and none recall seeing her. There is, in fact, no evidence that she even went there. But she still knew details of Newport's activities. So surely she went. Can you see where this is going?"

There was some muttering, but one asserted, "Coincidence?"

"Maybe," said Bork. "But according to our tipper, there's a much bigger stake at play. The methamphetamine is not only to build capital for the greater operation until it's self-sustaining, but to create addicts that serve as expendable assassins. That's the beauty of it. The hit man doesn't know the target and doesn't care. They barely know the person who gives them their drugs. It's essentially a re-creation of the assassins of the Old Man of the Mountain, killers that were devoted to him due to their dependence on hashish and other drugs. Not too mention that today this 'Ice Cold' gives the users feelings of megalomania and rage."

"How does this group get established in an area?" asked Agent Bentley. "And how do people employ their services?"

"By aggressively replacing local meth dealers and supplanting them," said Agent Bork. "They then put the word out. The FBI has already made a handful of busts of people who agreed to pay for assassins and arsonists, but none of the busts could go any higher. It seems the cabal itself uses a lot of disguises and unlikely representatives--like Daria Morgendorffer perhaps--that leave packages of material off while dressed as a delivery person, or drop off cards with pictures and addresses of targets."

Then Agent Bork flicked to a new pic, this one of a man in cuffs, escorted by federal agents. "Posing as members of this new underground reality, FBI agents were contacted by a Mr. Wayne Miller, who wished to blow up the 'mom & pop' store he ran with his wife in Washington DC, so he could end his marriage, get out of business at the same time, and collect an insurance settlement to boot."

He shook his head. "In order to avoid suspicion, he requested the entire block be blown up! He expected to be able to buy this!"

"Sounds like a nut to me," said Agent Riley.

"FBI posed as such agents based on the information that others out there are offering such services for sale, right in our nation's capital. All the evidence points to a new player, one not bound by the old rules. This new player could generate chaos, violence, and anarchy on an unprecedented scale. And the worse it gets, the more money they stand to make.

"Interrogation also showed that this group was willing to do favors without regard to the unspoken agreements between law enforcement and organized crime. For example, contract killings against police officers aren't allowed by most crime families, who attempt to maintain courteous, if not friendly, relations with the police. This group doesn't care about that. And they're willing to take jobs--from Colombians to Mid-East terrorists, from neo-Nazis to the CIA. We've already found members of the Russian and Serbian mobs buying and selling weapons, and the FBI claim to be watching a member of the Camara family seeking to do business... though whether the Camara family is sincere in wanting to do business or trying to sniff out the competition for retaliation is unclear.

"In the words of one, 'Wild Card' is an example of American free enterprise in action; he sees a service that others are willing to pay for and he provides it. As Wild Card is taking over the market, he can charge exorbitant fees for his services."

"So, is this Daria involved in selling this 'Ice Cold'?" asked Agent Bentley.

"So far," said Agent Bork, "no 'Ice Cold' has been found in Lawndale. But the local alpha for methamphetamines is nervous because he claims someone is intruding on his territory, winning his lackeys away."

"If he's a user, maybe he's just paranoid," said Agent Bentley.

"That's not an IF we can afford to trust in," interrupted Agent Fleming. "Especially as Lawndale is experiencing a dramatically increased murder rate this year!"

Do you think the local alpha might have something to do with it?" asked Bentley. "After all, maybe he's Daria's boyfriend, which could explain nearly everything else around Daria."

"The FBI is investigating Garfield Edwards, a.k.a. 'Evil Eddie'"

Agent Riley asked, "So what are the other drug lords and mobsters saying about this?"

"Methamphetamine dealers are normally separate from your other dealers. The trade seems to be dominated by the alternative white subcultures, particularly the 'biker' people. Most dealers use their own product and are prone to unpredictable and violent rages. The labs can often be found by the smell alone, and if not by the pungent smell, then by the dead plants and wildlife in the immediate area around the meth lab."

Agent Bentley asked, "Why aren't more drug lords and crime families into this market?"

"The more organized crime families usually avoid these drugs as it entails more risks and less profit than the other drugs," replied Agent Bork. "When they do involve themselves, dealers are more prone to robbing and killing each other--another reason for the more cautious and organized criminal to avoid it."

"So how are these drugs different from the, uh, more standard drugs?" asked Agent Bentley.

"One quarter of a gram will keep a newbie, ahem, 'rocking' for about 48 hours, or more, and is sometimes called the 'poor man's coke.' It's also more addictive than either coke or heroine. Crystal meth is the favored form for snorters, ether-based meth for shooters. Shooters will often work out deals with diabetics to buy needles, which they refer to as 'rigs,' but also as 'points' or 'darts'."

"At least is sounds easy to catch," said Agent Riley. "Why not hunt down the meth labs, kick ass, and take names?"

"More and more, meth labs are becoming mobile. They will make one batch and move their lab. Meth labs are also frequently guarded by booby-traps of a chemical nature, and sometimes by attack dogs that are almost insane from having methamphetamines used on them."

Agent Riley nodded. "So these chemicals are a growing menace in Virginia, despite the risks in creating and using these methamphetamines?"

Agent Bork nodded. "Not to mention that this new 'Ice Cold' showing up in Virginia is the most addictive and long-lasting yet, and also more prone to driving people to berserk rages and delusions of grandeur."

"Did this Scott Rhodes sell this new 'ice'?"

If 'Ice Cold' is in Lawndale, it hasn't been found yet." Unless Wild Card already owns Lawndale's vice cops, thought Bork.

Bork switched the pic again and this time a mug shot Jim Foster appeared on the screen. "This is Jim Foster, whom you also have read the files on, the father of the young man Daria Morgendorffer shot, the man with an arsenal in his cabin. Connected, at least peripherally, to multiple white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, he becomes another link. Especially in that one of the neo-Nazi groups, close to Newport, have a taste for the new 'Ice Cold.' The FBI busted three such people in Newport not long ago trying to make contact with the group under investigation."

"So if this is a neo-Nazi group" asked Agent Bentley, "why are they selling to Muslim terrorists then?"

Bork shook his head, though few saw him do it. "Whoever 'Wild Card' and his cabal are, they are businessmen first and foremost. They see a market and provide for it. They sell death and destruction to anyone who can pay, be that person a native or foreign terrorist, of any ideology. They seem to be reaching out to such extremist groups, however, and it's interesting that the father of the boy shot by Daria Morgendorffer, and dated by Quinn Morgendorffer, was connected to one of those groups."

"Yes, sir," said Agent Bentley, "it is. But I can think of other explanations that sound more likely. All except for Dallas Grimes showing up."

Bork nodded. "On the night of the beating of our operatives, two Lawndale police officers attempted to intervene and both were shot by Dallas Grimes. One was killed by a well-placed shot in the head. The other suffered a grazing wound to the head, another to the forearm, and the poorly cared for soft body armor made with Zylon was hit and penetrated by one bullet. However, Ms. Grimes was obviously aiming for the head, and maybe even the hand. "

"I know this," said Agent Bentley. "Do you think Dallas Grimes is the one who armed Daria and taught her how to shoot?"

"Unknown," said Bork, "but what is known is that she shot those officers with Teflon-coated KTW bullets."

There was some muttering over that. KTWs were illegal for civilians to use due to their armor piercing qualities.

"About the very same time, in Lawndale two unknown white males, faces and arms covered up and wearing gloves, drove up beside Mrs. Brand, nationally active in Handgun Control, Inc., and opened fired with a .20 gauge shotgun using slugs. The car the killers used was found the next day. It had been stolen just the day before and given false plates. Mrs. Brand had just announced that she was running for mayor shortly before the hit. More importantly, she was dedicated to bringing Daria Morgendorffer to justice and apparently had a heated disagreement with her a few days before."

"Maybe the killer at large is this 'Evil Eddie'?"

"No, Evil Eddie was under surveillance at the time of the slaying. This is someone different." He paused a moment. "The car was stolen from Newport."

"I see what you're saying, sir," said Agent Bartlett, who was obviously disturbed by this revelation, "but are you sure it's enough? Why don't we just go in, clean up, and pass on whatever information we find to the FBI and let them deal with it?"

"Agent Bartlett," interrupted Agent Fleming , "are you willing to leave our national security to accountants with delusions of being streetwise? Are you aware of the chaos a bunch of drug-crazed and completely deniable assassins seeming to strike at random could have? Especially in DC?"

"Kill the head," added Agent Bork, "and the body will fall."

Several blinked at that. "You mean we're dealing with revolutionaries?" asked Agent Bentley.

"It hardly matters," said Agent Fleming. "Anyone can buy political violence with deniable assets for assassins. Revolution is what's for sale, whether it's ordered or not. Not even the President of the United States himself is safe."

"Especially," added Bork, "because he seems to be so unpopular, with accusations of stealing the election haunting his presidency." Bork swallowed. "And with the growing disrespect for authority by the people whom the government serves... well, extremists might finally get their way."

"Not only that, but in Langley, Virginia," added Bork, "our tipper has said a few were disaffected CIA agents, who hold a grudge against America, and the CIA in particular. And as it stands, even two-bit vice cops come across drug- and gun-running schemes supposedly done by the CIA. They are ignored for a variety of reasons, but once found--and they're easy to find once you've got a good informant--then the damage done to the CIA, and to the rest of us as a result, could be incalculable."

Agent Bentley asked, "Doesn't the CIA have its own defenses?"

"The CIA is fucked up," said Agent Fleming in disgust. "They couldn't find their own ass with a flashlight. They use the Top Secret label for purely bureaucratic purposes while refusing to 'flag' serious reports of terrorist activities with it. Even their web site has been hacked and crashed by hackers who are most likely kids pulling a prank. No, it's up to us to stop this menace threatening our nation."

"How?" asked Agent Bartlett.

"By finding Dallas Grimes. According to our tipper, Dallas Grimes is in the inner-circle of this cabal. And to find her--" Bork flicked the switch repeatedly, showing the pic of Daria, Jane, and Dallas Grimes standing over Beavis and Butt-head, "we go where Daria Morgendorffer goes."

"Everyone," added Agent Fleming, "this is top priority! The President of the United States wants constant appraisal of the situation! We're to find Dallas Grimes and bring her in, preferably without the CIA knowing about it. To find her, we will watch the Lanes and the Morgendorffers. Especially Daria Morgendorffer!"

Somehow, Agent Fleming managed to say that with enough gravity that even Agent Bentley lost his skepticism. Everyone got up to prepare to go to Lawndale.

"Everyone, get your gear," added Agent Fleming just before he left to prepare himself, "we're going to Lawndale and kick some ass!"




03/26/01 MONDAY 3:00 P.M.

The Russian was mad about something. She tried calming him down. "N'yee byeespahKOYtyeess!" she said over and over. But he kept talking faster and faster. Damn! Why does the Russian tongue have to be as fucked up as English?

Well, the English and Russian speaking people had been exposed to enough alien cultures, it shouldn't be much of a surprise, but it was frustrating now. "Look!" she said, but stopped as he blinked in confusion, his annoyance still there. She sighed and slowly said, "GahvahREET zhyehs' KTOnyeebood'pah ahnGLEEskee?"

Fuming silently, he turned and stalked away. After a few steps, he began cussing in Russian. Dara caught the gist of it anyway. Dara, known to the BATF as Dorothy Gill, Leslie Slate, and Dallas Grimes, sighed and glanced around the bleak but busy chop shop. She was in the quieter section, near the office and away from most of the noise. The Russians can be intense she observed, but they can be really useful when you get them on your side, too.

She had been dropped off here after getting back to Newport; she'd abandoned the Corvette in Lawndale, turning it over to Russian operatives. She had planned the entire assault and realized from the beginning that she might need to ditch her car. Since the only reason she had gotten the Corvette was to be recognized as Dallas Grimes by the BATF, this was of little concern to her. She'd had a member of Borislav's group ready with an auto transport, and the Corvette was probably already shipped out of the country by now.

Russians are quite good with shipping cars to other countries, she thought with some assurance. She smiled remembering that cars were smuggled into Russia, too, and that the cars often had other contraband in them, because the border guards "aren't looking for cars, which were taken care of by someone else."

She herself had been dropped off at a mobile meth lab that had just made a batch of Ice Cold in Lawndale and was now ready to be moved back near Newport. While in the lab, she had gladly dissolved the long blonde wig in anhydrous ammonia, since it had served its purpose of identifying her to the BATF. Now her hair was chestnut brown, shoulder length, and curly.

Unfortunately, last time she was here in Borislav's chop shop, she had still appeared to be a blonde. Her change in appearance now spooked some of Borislav's workers. Even worse, the Russian who met her was belligerent and paranoid. And didn't seem to speak English at all.

It was only a few minutes later, when an older, overweight man in an Armani suit came down. With him were four rebyata, the elite bodyguard favored by those who could afford them, who looked at her the way snakes look at a mouse. This was Borislav.

She had only met him a couple of times when she was escorting Wild Card, but she relaxed a little. His English wasn't great, but between his understanding of English and hers of Russian, they should be able to communicate. And he was ever the businessman first.

She also had an understanding with his "faction" (for want of a better word) of the organizatsiya in Russia, having done a job for them in Moscow, having a secure offshorski in Latvia that she got with their help, and giving them a percentage when she used Vladivostok to meet with Chinese and Japanese interests for weapons smuggling. She had delivered weapons to them on more than one occasion, but that had always been in the States.

As usual, Borislav seemed friendly enough, if a little patronizing. After getting her to sit in a chair, he sat beside her, put a half-smoked cigar to his lips and lit it up. He pulled another cigar out of another pocket and offered it to her. "SeeGAHro?"

"No," Dara replied as calmly as she could. I'm not gonna say, 'Nyet', she thought with annoyance. I know you can speak some English, so do so! She thought it, but did not say it. One could be casual with Borislav if one were profitable. But one NEVER gave him an order. Not more than once anyway.

He sneered. "You probably like Amereecanskeyah seegaritti, too, eh?"

She shook her head. "I don't smoke." Why is it so many people assume I do?

He raised his brows in surprise at that and then shrugged. "Your loss," he said in much clearer English, if still heavily accented. "Forgive me for my smoke, but you, my dear, need a bath."

Dara smiled in bitter understanding. Some of the chemical smell from moving the mobile meth lab still lingered about her. Worse than used cat litter, she thought, 'Ice Cold' might be one of the hottest things on the streets right now, but it sure does stink! "If you need help in finding some locals for a translator, I can find someone for you." She said that as politely as she could, nodding her head to him, as if offering to do him a favor.

"No, no," he said with a heavy accent, "I'll be goot. My current interpreter is in your DC, among your nomenklatura." He shrugged. "I'm still learning English, but I have more to learn. So, Darya, how may I help you?"

"It's DARA, not Daria."

"My apologies, DARA. How may I help you, Darya?"

"Have you got my car yet?" she asked. It wouldn't do to force the name issue. Dara was a masculine name in Russian, so of course he insisted on using Darya. After all, Russians were often as egotistical as many Americans when it came to thinking they were the highest standard to which the rest of the world should aspire.

"Ah, straight to business. I like that," he said. "Your order is peculiar. A 1996 Ferrari and a 1990 Subaru. Both can be gotten, but it will take a little more time."

"I hope you got the Corvette to Europe already."

"Lenin... St. Petersburg," he said jovially. "A geeft for my... nephew?"

She nodded her understanding, and smiled a roguish grin at him. "Just don't let the American cops find it," she said.

He laughed. "No, we own police there, and your laws don't apply to us."

They're not my laws, she almost spat out before clamping down on her tongue.

What was frustrating was that she recently traded in her old Mustang as part of the deal for the Corvette. Too bad, but she'd had to get rid of the Mustang after she'd gunned down a meth dealer who turned out to be a popular biker and the other bikers had pursued her. She'd managed to get away, but she was sure they had seen and memorized her tags. She'd had to get rid of it.

Her hair had been red then and she had fake freckles on her face at the time of the hit, not to mention being dressed like a biker chick. But changing her appearance wouldn't do much good if they caught her in her old car. She'd expected to have at least one of the cars she'd ordered by now and she seethed with frustration. Silently, of course, it had to be kept hidden from Borislav.

"What happent to your... your," he motioned helplessly at her own, non-wig, hair. "Uh, Kraseevee?"

"Beautiful," she supplied.

"Yes. Your beet-ee-full hair?"

She smiled at him. "Don't you like my short, brown hair? I can always get another blonde wig when I need it." Besides, she thought to herself, that unmanageable Barbie hair, my own or the wig I just used, already served its purpose. I'm so glad to be rid of it!

He shrugged. "Your long, blonde hair was truly stunning."

She smiled a little flirtatiously at him. "Maybe I should get another wig. Right now I don't have a car and I might have to ask others for a ride."

Borislav twisted his lips and then snapped his fingers and said, "Since we art slow, I vill, uh, grant you a car of your choosing. Bonus!" Whether a Russian was cruel or kind, they tended to be magnanimous about it. Which is one reason they made such good friends and terrible enemies.

They got up and he led her into a large garage. Several men gave her menacing or appraising looks. Despite her instinctive fear, feeling the violence in these men, she looked as calm as Borislav, a no small figure in the Russian Organizatsiya (or, more honestly put, Mafyia), did beside her.

She didn't doubt he'd pay a small fortune for the X-5 Unit if she cared to get it back (assuming someone else hadn't stolen it by now--and that American agents hadn't stolen it back, or something deadlier). She'd heard they'd even bought some nukes from renegade agents. Or, supposedly renegade agents.

She stopped. A 1995 Toyota Supra Turbo! Perfect for her disguise as a Middleton student. She hadn't enrolled under an alias yet, but she could work at setting it up. A rich girl who had been bumming around in Europe and now looking to get into an easy college and find a man. Yes.

"I want that one," she said.

Borislav laughed. "Fine, fine, it's yours! Happy now, my beety?"

"Very," she said sincerely, not even minding his atrocious accent anymore. The two specific cars she ordered were also essential to her plans. And now with a third useful car thrown in as a bonus, this was going to be an amazing deal for her. I just hope the other cars get here within the week! But I don't dare bitch too much about it. She turned her eyes from the car back to him and said, "I can't wait for the other cars, too. Let me know when they arrive. And if there's anything I can do for you." I hope I'm not too blatant, she thought too herself critically.

"It's no problem," he said smoothly. "I know how much you need car." He turned from her and barked in Russian. Shortly a man scurried down and handed him an envelope. He handed it to her and said, "Here is everything you need. Papers, keys, and more. Now if you will excuse me, Miss Daria, I am a very busy man." He smiled and nodded to her and turned away as Dara returned the smile and nod, silently shrieking, It's DARA!

The car was but a small part of her disguise, like the hair, the clothes, and everything else. To keep from being sniffed out was a matter of how you walked, moved, talked, ate your food, what words you used, and a thousand other small things. She couldn't even think of it all consciously. She could only "absorb and store personas" which she triggered by some kind of shtick like a phrase, facial tic, hand motion, or similar act to "activate" the desired persona. In her line of work, it was an essential skill for survival. And anyone that survived in the field with the CIA, or even in its office politics, learned this skill early on. It was especially useful when you were being hunted by several officers and agents of the law.

She frowned briefly and checked the seatbelts. She had an irrational fear that they had been cut out, but they were there. Some Russians hated seatbelts, and to wear one in the car was to insult the driver, or to say you couldn't drive. Stupid, she thought. I trust myself, but there are OTHER idiots I don't trust out there. Deep down she knew she checked because she hated how others had always tried to control or limit her, and thus she dreaded a Russian cutting her seatbelt out just so she couldn't use them.

Shaking her head at her own petty (but not unreasonable) paranoia, she drove out of the garage door that had opened for her. On the street, she pulled her Queensryche: Operation Mindcrime out of her vest pocket and put it in as she began to make her rounds. Not long after she was at a part she loved and turned it up:

Hey Nikki you know everything
That there is to do
Here's a gun take it home
Wait by the phone
We'll send someone over
To bring you what you need
You're a one man death machine
Make this city bleed

She loved this tape about a gullible kid turned idealistic revolutionary, only to learn how the world really works. She'd never been much of an idealist herself, but she could still relate to some of it. And what she couldn't, well... it amused her. Especially with all the idealists and zealots and other fanatics that she'd dealt with lately, all of them wanting to inflict violence on others for high-minded reasons. They weren't just amusing fools, but useful tools.

She had learned about the ugly cruelties of the world from an early age, long before she was recruited by the CIA. And it wasn't from a love of country, or even a love of power and excitement. It was simply because she had been effectively drafted. Luckily, even the CIA didn't know her as 'Dara,' unless they found out through Wild Card.

Dara wasn't the name she was born with. Oh, no. But it was her true name. When she had been named by her parents, she had belonged to them, and through them, had belonged to their system as just another lamb to be fleeced. Now, she was invisible, and was no longer that poor, wretched girl from Texas.

She'd learned early that there was no one to take care of her but herself. Both at home and on the streets she was at the mercy of someone else. And some authority figure was always there ready to burn her. It started with her Uncle Rob and Grandpa and ended with Administrator Wilson. And all those people had names for her, names (or even a number) given to her like a pet who must do her master's bidding.

She hated them all. The so-called "authorities" preached a good game but were among the lowest of lowlifes. Yeah, her family would protect her from molestation and exploitation--except for the exploitation and molestation that went on within the home. School was the same. And finally, so was the government which preached that it protected humanity from itself while exploiting humanity in every fashion possible. Unlike a street criminal, it even followed its victims around and forced them to pay for their own victimization.

Not that some of those tax dollars haven't ever found its way in my pocket for a murder or two, thought Dara with grim amusement.

But there was one name she cherished. It had been given to her by a krew of ragged street kids, when she was a homeless runaway, living on the streets: Dara. As Kane put it, "She'll dare to do ANYTHING, man!" And it was true. Not that she was one of those pathetic losers that had to meet any dare or feel defeated. Oh, no. She chose her battles, dared to fight them, and did so with cleverness as well as boldness.

Despite a few months she spent on the streets, she later made it into Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas, with a gymnastic scholarship where she studied computers, electronics, and business for four years. She became an intern after two years, and the skills she'd learned while hanging with a krew served her well with some hobbies she developed as an intern. She hated pervs and hypocrites and she loved screwing them over. She'd learned all about "respectable businessmen" as a runaway. They'd screwed her, literally, when she was vulnerable, and now it was their turn to be shafted.

As an intern, she did favors for her hacker friends on campus, including learning to hack buildings as well as computers. For the most part, she gained information that hackers could use, and made a nice profit from it. After a year of this, and learning some more useful tricks from her hacker friends, she became a professional burglar specializing in corporate espionage and other high-security break-ins, stealing research data, account information, and similar materials on a contract basis. She did it because she needed the money, but also for the great satisfaction she got in proving herself correct on what idiots the people in authority were. They never suspected the sweet, blonde intern had either the ability or the will to fuck them over. They definitely did not know she was their karma.

She still wasn't sure how she was found out by the CIA. No one else caught her, but she was recruited right after graduation. One of her friends was either a head hunter that used her and then sold her name to the Company, or maybe they had been watching him, and from him they found her. It didn't matter. What it came down to was join or be prosecuted.

She did what she always did. She rolled with the punches and survived. The CIA was more fucked up than she had ever imagined. The Top Secret marker was saved for petty bureaucrats and their stupid games, while serious threats to national security were allowed to wile themselves away in some tray, hardly looked at. Luckily, the other groups out there played as many head games as the CIA, and most of the discovered threats were nothing more than training exercises for the day hostile groups and countries really did make their move, assuming they ever did.

She had never been a "clandestine service operations officer." She was just a deniable asset, codenamed Angelica (at least that was better than Nikita and Jezebel, which belonged to two others like herself). She was drafted for the dirtiest jobs, for working with the grimiest of managers.

She had been haunted by the fact that she was ultimately expendable to these bureaucrats who cared nothing for her. And the hell of it was the Company cared more about her than her own family did simply because of what she could do for them. It was only a matter of time before Dara would be betrayed, abandoned, or killed; there would be no one to care enough to investigate or seek justice on her behalf. And the Company knew it just as much as she did.

Her skills were improved in all areas, particularly in burglary, fighting, smuggling, and assassination. She did jobs where she helped run guns south and drugs north. Even the two-bit vice cops would sniff them out but knew better than to prosecute them. The CIA could probably even get away with blowing fucking missionaries out of the sky. They thought they were All That, but in truth, they were just lucky that the rest of the world is just as fucked up as they themselves were.

Finally, making her own connections, she struck out on her own. Damned if she'd let someone else get the benefit of her risks and hard work, only to take the fall when that same smug superior fucked up, as he often did. She had to mess around some to get back into the gun and drug circuits other than through the CIA, but she'd learned well. She even married that slob Muddy just to get hooked into the Texas Syndicate. Damn asshole was a convict who drank too much and did too much meth when he could. But he was easy to control until she tried getting rid of him.

So of course she took the contract with the Chinese agent for the X-5 Unit. Something like the X-5 Unit was far too dangerous to leave inside a military base with its fucked up soldiers that were into drugs almost as much as Muddy anyway.

Getting it had been a cakewalk, really. All it took was sleeping with the right scientist on the project and getting him to brag in bed to her. He had been as easy as her Chinese patron claimed he would be. To be on the safe side, she drugged him, took pix of documents and passwords she found, and downloaded his files for good measure. After that, she just waltzed right in and took it. It was so easy, and it had all been her. She chose to leave Muddy then and there and go solo.

Unfortunately, her disguise hadn't completely fooled the cams, nor did the fake fingerprints on her plastic glove that left the prints of the scientist she seduced (and got her into the safe holding the X-5 Unit). After all, BATF Agent Fleming rode her ass shortly after she had scored the unit. Of course, Muddy was after her, too.

Then, to her horror, she was finally caught. The authorities didn't get her real name, and wouldn't until a full investigation by the DSI or NSA on her crafted identity as Dallas Grimes was carried out. Between laziness and budget cuts, that was unlikely. She would've escaped on her own, too, but her fingerprints--her REAL fingerprints--had alerted the CIA that she was in custody.

She had almost formulated her escape plan when she was unexpectedly released into the custody of her CIA manager. He had told her the BATF had reneged on their agreement not to prosecute, but the CIA had gotten someone to convince the judge to put her in the minimum, instead of a maximum, security prison in Virginia. And from there he had quietly gotten her out.

She avoided the Chinese agents now. She had a cordial relation with a member of the Yakuza, who had contracted her to retrieve some embarrassing documents once, and he told her some things about the Chinese that made her even more wary of them and their agents. The Yakuza agent still remained in contact with her, and was VERY interested in what she was working on now. I wonder what the Chinese agent would've said about the Yakuza? she wondered, grimly amused as she frequently was.

But she wasn't sure what to do about the CIA. After she had the predictable conflicts with them, she left on her own. I could've broken out of that pathetic prison myself, she thought contemptuously.

But she frowned, remembering the last time she talked to Oscar Wilson (if that were his real name), the Staff Operations Officer from the CIA that ultimately "managed" her. He had demanded the names of all her contacts as repayment. She'd refused and left, with them showing signs of pursuit. Whether they were having fun with her, faking her out, or just incredibly stupid wasn't a guess she was ready to make yet.

She was amazed at how quickly Wild Card, a former CIA agent like herself, managed to make her a sweet, sweet deal promising profit and revenge. Still... it was odd that Wild Card contacted her not long after she ran. He must still have connections within the Agency. No big surprise there. But they both cultivated their own private connections as much as they possibly could.

After that fight with Wilson, they told me to run, and while I know how to vanish and become someone else, it took a long time to hide the fear on my face or the hate in my eyes. Sometimes, the fear and hate slip, too. Damn, I'm glad I don't do Ice Cold. I'm paranoid enough as it is. She smiled self-depreciatingly at herself, while congratulating herself for being strong enough to survive without the crutch of drugs. That was the reason she was out here and Muddy was still sitting in a maximum security prison.

After taking a blessed shower and getting into clean clothes, she went to the flat she rented for a young hacker of no small ability. He was young, horny, and idealistic, and very much in awe of her. He was a wonderful tool. She even enjoyed the sex she had with him sometimes. She hoped she never would need to kill him.

Letting herself in, she noticed the flat was a mess as usual. She stepped over books and pamphlets dealing with what he called 'geek stuff' as well as conspiracies, anarchism, libertarianism, and even the paranormal and flying saucers. "So how goes it?" she asked. He understood, of course, that she was referring to his task of cracking the CIA d-base.

"I'm in!" cried UpSing excitedly.

She smiled a bit, still amused by his nick. "Upgrade to the Singularity" was his full name. The one he had chosen for himself. He was trying to prepare himself for the life of an immortal god by using new technologies. As if that wasn't hard enough, he was going to try to drag everyone else into the Singularity with him, kicking and screaming.

Since he was only 20, she found his folly cute. Being a young male, he was easy to wrap around her finger. He was hormonally-driven and rebelliously idealistic. And a probable genius and definitely a skilled hacker.

What made him perfect was that he realized he needed her more than she needed him. She had gotten to him before the cops did, the first time he tried cracking the CIA d-base, just before she ran herself. Since then, he had gotten better and now she hoped he was good enough to hack the CIA without getting caught at it. That she frequently fucked him and covered his bills with money to spare cemented his loyalty to her.

"So have you corrupted my files, fingerprints, and records?" She rolled her eyes when he bit his lip.

"Not yet," he hurriedly explained. "But I am in. I'm routing through a computer I've hacked into in Washington DC so if anyone detects my intrusion, they won't be able to connect me to here."

That was likely, but not guaranteed. She'd prefer to tap into the grid from a more anonymous source, but given the time required, that would be impractical without some more sophisticated equipment, which she was not yet willing to invest in. Still, they had security that would likely tell them if he were being traced, and that's also why she rented these kinds of flats for him. As much as he enjoyed this electronic B&E, he'd probably work for a lot less. What she had grown bored with was still intensely exciting to him. Still, hacking the CIA, so soon after hacking the BATF, was something to be proud of. She rewarded him with a kiss and tasted Jolt cola and some kind of sugary cereal on his breath.

He smiled a minute, and then frowned as he said, "I did see Wild Card's file. They claim he's still active."

"Did you download his file?"

"Of course."

"Good. I'll look at it later."

"What if he really is working for the CIA still?" he sounded truly disturbed by the idea. "Maybe we're working for the CIA, too, and don't even know it!"

Dara hated the thought. Could others be using her hate to control her, the same way she and Wild Card used the ideals and ambitions of others to control them? It was a disturbing thought. She fought against the instinctive paranoia rising up in her again. "I'll take a serious look at this file you downloaded," she promised him sincerely. "And you've earned a bonus for getting it."

His eyes narrowed. "So you DON'T know!"

"Most people in my line of work don't know who we're really working for," replied Dara casually. "Especially those of us into small jobs like information, petty favors, and even throwaway assassins." She shrugged. "You're an anarchocapitalist and transhumanist. If I were to approach you for the CIA, it would be as a libertarian hacktivist in college, someone rebellious from the CATO Institute, sick of the talk with no action, or even a militant member of the freedom movement that ended all my conversations by saying '4/19.' If you were more leftist, I might even act as a socialist or a communist."

"But you wouldn't show up as someone claiming to rescue me from imprisonment and to help strike back at the pigs?" He seemed to have been thinking hard about this since he found Wild Card's file. And now wondered if she was using him for the CIA.

Dara gave him a steely gaze. "No," she finally said. "You anarchists and libertarians are notorious pacifists. Many of you don't even realize just how much truth there is to the saying that political power comes from the barrel of a gun, or how violence is the basis of all government."

"Not true," said UpSing, "we realize it all too well!"

Dara shrugged. "Those who meet the violence with violence are criminals if they lose, respectable governments if they win, or submissive sheep if they do what they're told. The last don't even face much violence. They submit to the very threat of it, often with the same dedication of someone suffering Stockholm syndrome, identifying with the government that exploits them. You anarchists fall in with the criminals or the sheep."

"But doesn't more violence lead to more violence?"

"Of course it does," she said sweetly. "And so does submission and slavery," she added in a more steely voice. "You need to get this, 'we are the world' crap out of your head. Each and every one of us is a nation of one, even if we willingly submit to other nations of one. Whatever bullshit ideals we may pay lip service to, we are still people who manipulate the world around us--and violence is just one of those methods. Hell, you've read Nietzsche. It's that 'will to power' thing. The 'will to power' exists in everyone, even the sheep that brag about being sheep. On a societal scale that leads to governments, or as you anarchists like to describe it, pirates. You, as a hacker, should know this."

"I'm just not an anarchoterrorist," he said, a little sullenly, "and I believe people should work together instead of fighting over everything."

She laughed, genuinely amused. "No, you just put viruses and worms in bank accounts which eat up the money of the rich, who simply replace it with the money of the poor. You also cracked the IRS files and got all kinds of personal information that you sold, didn't you?"

"Yeah," he said, "so people could disguise themselves like you and I do and hide!"

"Oh, you really don't know how that information is used? How the information you sell is sometimes used to destroy those people's lives by stealing their credit cards, bank accounts, government benefits, and the like? You don't think you're harming anyone when that blue-collar home is repossessed? Or when one of the sweet soccer moms suddenly finds herself arrested for what someone with the stolen information you sold them has done?

"And what if the CIA traces your intrusion to that computer you infected in DC? What do you think will happen to the poor, naive owner? You really think this is somehow morally superior to the quick, painless death I tend to inflict on the predators of society, whatever side of the law they happen to be on?"

He blinked hard at that, and his breathing increased. Finally, he shook his head. "How can you stand it?" He sounded to be in genuine pain.

She shrugged. "I accept the nature of the world, and my own dark nature. I don't hide from my strengths, I embrace them, and use them to overcome those who would overcome me."

"You're not an anarchist for real, are you?"

She giggled. "You ever think I was?" He was cute enough that she felt amused tolerance instead of exasperation.

"Are you a nihilist then?" He looked kind of confused, but still cute.

"That, or I'm a Machiavellian," she said. "We see things as the anarchists do, only we don't try to change the game--there's no point as the game is intrinsic to human nature, inevitable, and can't be overcome--we just work at becoming the best players of all. We're practical, not idealists."

"Then why are you helping me?" asked UpSing.

"It just so happens with me that I have a grudge against the same people you do. In fact, I have a grudge against them for reasons rather like your own. But I harbor no illusions, or even desires, about making the world a better place."

"I call bullshit on that," he said. "You wouldn't be doing all this if you didn't want to take the Oppressor down. And you're too independent to want to simply take over. You wouldn't have the patience for telling everyone else what to do."

She shrugged again, silently agreeing that she didn't care about taking over. But she added, "I deal with all the others out there... the anarchists and the fascists, the Christians and the Muslims and the Objectivists, the libertarians and the communists... and I'm just different from all of them. They believe in things so strongly. But me, I don't care about saving humanity from itself or helping humanity reach the Singularity or turning into glorious star beings or reaching the Age of Aquarius or Horus. I'm not interested in wasting my time with your revolution that slips through your fingers whenever you think you're doing it. I have only one reason, and it's perhaps the easiest to understand."


"Yep." She smiled sincerely. She appreciated not having to point out the obvious. "Making me disappear was Their biggest mistake. I'm invisible now. I leave no traces, no footprints and They can't see me coming." He could hear the capital 'T' in Their and They.

"So what happens when you get everyone?" he asked curious, and a little sad for her. "Do you get me, too?"

Not unless you cross me." When he looked at her with some doubt, she added, "You're a hacker whom I trust and whose skills I'll want to use again, no matter what happens. I don't throw away people like you. I'll even do a little to keep you from danger, as long as it doesn't compromise me or my major plans." She gave herself a brownie point for saying she trusted him with a straight face.

"But if I became a hindrance to your plans?"

She smiled grimly at him. "It would be in your best interests if you did not hinder me, or cause me to suspect you of working against my interests."

He swallowed, decided to change the subject, and asked a little hoarsely, "How do you know that you worked for the CIA at all to begin with?"

She shrugged. "My administrator knew the proper pass codes to show he was acting under presidential orders, whatever that's worth." When she saw him smile cynically, she smiled back just as cynically. "Yeah, I'm sure you could get those codes, too. I might even commission you to do that for me one day."

"So you don't know. You're just as in the dark about who you were really working for as I am when I do jobs for you."

"You work for me and for the advancement of your own interests," she stated. After a moment she added, "In the end, I don't really know what organization claimed the allegiance of those calling themselves the CIA. It could've been the Illuminati for all I know or care. But I know the individuals, the nations of one, that my nation of one has declared war against. And those nations of one have declared war against proactive freethinkers like yourself, just as they are trying to destroy me or bring me back under their control, so we are in a position to be allies. Don't screw it up." She began fluffing out her hair with her fingers as she sat on his bed.

He blinked. "You want to destroy the federal government! Not just someday, but... but yesterday! For real!" He just realized that she wasn't speaking theoretically. She was dead serious. And seriously deadly.

Dara stopped fluffing her brown hair, tossed her head, and looked at him again. "So what if I do? It brings an end to the careers of many of my enemies, and those who hunt for me. It's in my best interests to see the federal government destroyed. And as long as you continue to prove useful, I'll even help you survive the chaos as the new order is born."

"And for the revolution? What then?"

She shrugged again. "Maybe you can shape it to your own anarchistic visions. Frankly, I don't care if you find a bunch of anarchosyndicalists, like those that actually took Barcelona for awhile during the Spanish Civil War, to replace the current order, though you'd all be well-advised to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Machiavelli's The Prince before you try making your anarchist order."

UpSing sniffed, replying, "I'd rather base a society on Spooner, Mises, Virginia Postrel, Robert Anton Wilson, and Buckminster Fuller. And if you want a classical text, then add Etienna de La Boetie's Discourse de la Servitude Volontaire." Of course he would give the French for Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, a radical text with profound insights that influenced many later anarchist thinkers on both the left and the right.

Dara laughed lightly and added, "Well, when you'd rather win, try my reading list." She went back to fluffing her hair nervously as she changed the subject. "I've got a new car I'd like you to file for me, too."

"All too easy," he replied nonchalantly, drawing another smile from Dara.

She got up and rewarded him with another kiss, this one more lingering. She had to admit that for a young, idealistic computer hacker, he really was cute. Given his ability and willingness to learn, he was a pleasure to bed, too.

A little later, from a pay phone, she dialed in a free phone call to Agent Fleming's personal cell phone. (She had to love UpSing's sneakies that fooled the phone into thinking she paid.) She had the voice modulator on, as usual for these calls.

"Fleming," said the gruff voice she had come to despise.

"Fleming," her electronic and sexless voice intoned. That always got his attention. She hadn't led him wrong yet. Yet. "Have you heard of the shooting outside the Morgendorffer residence?"

"Yes. We're thinking of arresting Daria Morgendorffer and interrogating her, but we haven't decided."

"Not a good idea, if you want to catch Dallas Grimes."

"Why is that?" asked Agent Fleming suspiciously.

"Because Ms. Grimes is supposed to watch Daria. Take Daria away and you remove her reason for being in Lawndale."

"She's still there?"

"You have to ask? Daria is too important. Dallas can't leave. She's just run to ground, waiting for the cops to think she's out of state. She's ditched the Corvette and gotten a 1996 Ferrari."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Again? I told you, she is competition. I need her removed. Permanently, if you can manage it. Time's almost up."

"At least we have one thing in common," gritted out Fleming. "You keep in touch and give me any information in finding her, and I'll personally see to it that she never bothers society again... or you," he added.

"Understood," replied Dara, a.k.a. Dallas Grimes, hanging up. Falling into my web so beautifully, you self-righteous prick! she thought to herself, leaving the phone booth. Some days, it was good to be alive.

Thanks to UpSing, she had known the BATF was sending in operatives on Saturday, and she'd planned to make her presence known then. She'd even taken the trouble to get the blonde wig and Corvette so she could be recognized by Fleming.

In addition, Wild Card owned some of the Lawndale PD, although not all of them. Those that belonged to him had instructions to leave her alone. Apparently, the cops that had interfered with her that day weren't under Wild Card's supervision. Too bad. For them. But her shooting them definitely helped underscore her presence to BATF Agent Fleming, which was all to her liking.

The fact that the operatives were those despicable boys Muddy had sent after her from Highland and she first met in Los Vegas was just extra chocolate on the cake. She'd enjoyed beating the crap out them. Regrettably, she had to leave them alive to identify her.

And it's a very small prelude to what I'm going to do to you, Agent Fleming, she thought with vicious satisfaction.

Driving away, she made what preparations she needed to get herself back to Lawndale. She turned on the tape and Queensryche filled her new car again.

They've given me a mission
I don't really know the game yet
I'm bent on submission
Religion is to blame
I'm the new messiah
Death Angel with a gun
Dangerous in my silence
Deadly to my cause

Speak to me the pain you feel
Speak the word (revolution!)
The word is all of us

I've given my life to become what I am
To preach the new beginning
To make you understand
To reach some point of order
Utopia in mind, you've got to learn
To sacrifice, to leave what's now behind

Speak to me the pain you feel
Speak the word (Revolution!)
The word is all of us
Speak the word (Revolution!)
The word is all of us

Seven years of power
The corporation claw
The rich control the government,
the media the law
To make some kind of difference
Then everyone must know
Eradicate the fascists,
revolution will grow

Her parents, particularly her nasty grandfather and uncle, many of her teachers and coaches, the preachers of the damned Bible Belt, the police that worked with pimps and other criminal figures for an exchange of favors and profits, the administrators, the CEOs and managers--all very guilty.

Like Agent Fleming. She wondered if he had any kids, and if he molested them. Probably, she thought. The authoritarian fucks are usually the most perverted of all and love lording it over everyone else. As her hatred flared up, she again swore that she would have her revenge. No one owned her anymore, and anyone who thought otherwise had better be ready to die. Those who had caused her particular harm were obscenities that she could only wash away with their own blood.

Thanks to the fucked up circumstances that fucked up Daria Morgendorffer's life, Daria now became the key to that vengeance against the one known as Fleming. It's End Game for you and me, Agent Fleming, and you're too much of a clueless idiot to know it! And then... onwards to D.C.!

She sang along with the tape playing in her new 1995 Toyota Supra Turbo with real passion, even if that passion was born of hatred instead of ideals like all the fools she and Wild Card planned to play for their own advancement:

The system we learn says we're equal under law
But the streets are the reality, the weak and poor will fall
Let's tip the power balance and tear down their crown
Educate the masses, We'll burn the White House down!

Speak to me the pain you feel
Speak to me the pain you feel
Speak the word (Revolution)
The word is all of us...





03/28/01 WEDNESDAY 6:00 P.M.

Daria liked the logo of the AWSDA: The fisted rose. Why was that chosen? Because the rose was beautiful and durable and prickly, and the woman's fist around it was one that could endure it, give it to someone, or hold on to it. There was an odd poetry she appreciated about that.

Ms. Ribner, a "sifu" of Wing Chun, was a part of the AWSDA--The American Women Self-Defense Association. The woman who ran the WSD class had referred Helen to AWSDA when Quinn had begged for more training. The class included men and women of all ages. This time, there were a few boys and girls obviously younger than Daria and Quinn. Two of them seemed more proficient than many of the adults.

Daria still didn't know what to think of this. At least her mom looked more ridiculous than she felt, but Quinn was already starting to look as if she were getting the hang of it, even though she was obviously a beginner. At least most everyone wore street clothes and not some uniform that they made you buy. Three walls had large mirrors on them, similar to a ballet class.

Daria saw Helen was measuring all the faces around her as she struggled to keep up with everyone else. Quinn's heavily bruised face was drawing many sympathetic glances. No doubt she hopes she can get some of these people on the jury, thought Daria.

Wing Chun seemed to start off with how to step up and how to pivot on your heels and move your hips. Most of the others around her were doing their sets fairly slow. They were to practice until their bodies could make the moves naturally and easily. It sounded like endless repetitions, sets, and drills. Ms. Ribner claimed there was more to it than that, and it did seem more informal than she had expected, but so far it was all repetition for the beginners as they were led through the motions over and over again.

The sifu working with their group was a man barely taller than Daria and of slight build. He had undeniable grace and firmness and he talked as he led them through the basic moves.

"Turning is very simple, but it is the most important thing in the system. You must learn to turn naturally if you are to learn Wing Chun. We use turning as a basic movement, or use it to move forward or backward, but we do not go straight forward or backward."

Earlier, they had seen some demonstrations that were as impressive as they were fast, involving lightning reflexes and simple, graceful, yet brutal, counterstrikes.

Daria liked how some of it was explained in no-nonsense terms. Like why did they prefer a vertical to a horizontal fist? Because the trained vertical first had 100% better forearm pinning ability, while the horizontal fist that she, Quinn, and her mom had learned in WSD class only had about 10% more stopping power than an untrained vertical fist. Wing Chun also taught how to put the most power into any punches you made, something of real value to those with a build as slight as herself and Quinn.

With three empty hand forms covering the basics of this art (at least if she understood this correctly), it struck Daria as being much easier to learn than she expected. Of course, she knew there was more to it than just the basics. She saw more advanced students using kicks, too.

Wing Chun also used long poles, spears, and butterfly knives, once the basic moves had been mastered. Training consisted of forms, a wooden dummy with several sticks that taught the body to respond to the counters of kicks and punches, sand bag training and finally freestyle sparring. She heard them talking about "sticking hands," but she wasn't sure what that was yet. Right now, she was content to wait on asking.

All in all, Wing Chun seemed to be an art form based on well thought out sequences of body mechanics and leverage. She also came to see how the triangle positions she had learned in the WSD Class had been developed. By using these positions and movements, strikes were not dependent on power and strength, but by redirecting (even stealing) the force and strength of the attacker. This seemed underscored by the necessity of three people working together, the Sifu, the student, and a partner, to learn Wing Chun. And their motto, "See it, practice it, feel it." A trinity. A living poem.

The movements the beginners like her were using looked silly. Maybe if done faster, and while wearing brass knuckles, she thought, we'd look more respectable. Especially with spikes. There were plenty of obvious beginners in the class. Many of them didn't seem to be strong. Some looked outright overweight, underweight and/or generally unhealthy. Yet some of the underweight ones seemed to have a strength that belied their appearance, and the stocky ones moved with a grace that belied their weight. Some were obviously more advanced, and moved with the grace and balance of a dancer.

Their sifu continued with, "You must learn to train your vision, so that you can see with both primary and peripheral vision. The fighting vision must act as one whole vision. A whole vision viewer can see all the areas on and around the opponent.

"When countering an opponent, never look at or into your blocking hand. Instead look over your strike, and you will see your blocking hand as well as all of your opponent's limbs.

"Conserve your breath by deep breathing with your diaphragm. Breath is always lost no matter how well your body is conditioned. Conserve by being efficient and effective in combat. In combat, always breathe slightly deeper with your diaphragm. Develop your focus and breathe in each sparring session."

The moves they were practicing now were still simple, but a little more complex.

"Multiple moves will require slightly longer discharges of breath. In desperate combat, there is no way to have smooth and rhythmic breathing or movements. Do not waste your breath or your moves, but if you make a mistake, press forward for it is all good if you prevail in the end. Blow out your air when you counter. Use a single block if you can, but no more than two. The third MUST be a strike."

He seems to know what he's talking about, thought Daria.

"When learning any reflex skill, you must train yourself to be attentive without trying to predict what your opponent will do. Tell yourself that you do not care which hand or leg will attack.

"The untrained mind and body will always wonder, become hypnotized, or make a gambling assertion as to which limb will attack during combat. Without proper reflex skills, a person will have to work twice as hard and will take twice as long to perform an action that is too late. This is called being double weighted."

Daria noticed that despite the simplicity of the moves, she was getting tired. Her muscles were just starting to ache. She noticed her mom was actually sweating and looking nervous. Quinn seemed wholly into this. Maybe she was a natural.

"During application drills," the sifu continued, "learn to wait for the strike to get close to your body before you move to counter. Do not move to counter an attack too early.

"Train your body to receive fist and leg strikes at moderate levels of impact. Train your mind to tolerate fear and train your body to tolerate contact. There is no need to go into shock at minor injuries. Continuous exposure to progressive strikes and attacks with increasing speed and intensity will refine your skill.

"Learn to put aside fairness and kindness to those who mean you harm and develop intensity and ferocity. This will grant you the courage and the fighting spirit needed to survive. But do not confuse this trained and refined courage with the chaos and disharmony of rage and casual violence."

Daria couldn't help but sigh in relief when Ms. Ribner clapped her hands three times and everyone stopped doing their exercises. She saw her mom go to one of the chairs by one of the mirrored walls and collapse into it. She looked as if she might be in a little pain and she definitely appeared exhausted.

"What did you think?" asked Quinn, bringing Daria's attention back to where she was.

"I don't know yet," said Daria. "I'm sure it will be useful somewhere. Now if they could just get the Yoda stuff out of it, I think they'd have a real good system."

Daria and Quinn turned as Ms. Ribner joined them. "I don't think Wing Chun has any 'Yoda stuff' in it," she said approaching. "There are concepts within it that may strike people as unnecessarily spiritual, but they are truths understandable to the practitioner. If you want pure fighting force, you might try Krav Maga instead, but I don't think it provides as much for the student as Wing Chun or many other systems."

"Krav Maga?" asked Quinn, genuinely curious.

"Krav Maga," said Ms. Ribner, "is the Israeli defense system known as 'Contact Combat'. It's an instinctive system designed to be quickly learned by men or women. It develops rapid responses, quickly executed defenses, fighting spirit, and the ability to apply techniques under stress. It's physically demanding and intensive."

"Sounds great," said Quinn sincerely.

"If that's for you," said Ms. Ribner. "But Wing Chun offers many insights about yourself and the world around you while you train. While it may take longer to learn enough to use as self-defense, it's also a simple system that can be easily learned by men and women both."

Quinn blinked. "That's great," she said after a moment. "I wanted to go ask someone I saw something. Is that okay?"

Ms. Ribner smiled sardonically. "Sure. Just don't offend people around here." Her tone was joking.

After Quinn left to talk to several of the ones she'd seen looking at her, Ms. Ribner turned back to Daria who calmly gazed at her. "You're a deep one, I can tell," she said to Daria. When Daria just stared at her blankly, she added, "Your face is still and unreadable, and yet I can see that brain of yours working behind you eyes."

Daria sighed. "We came here hoping to learn to defend ourselves. And a lot of this stuff is good, but--"

"It will take time?"

"Yeah," Daria replied.

"Yes, Wing Chun is an easy system to learn, the harder part being that process of unlearning what you had learned before."

Daria blinked at that. "And another thing is I don't trust mysticism or psychobabble. In my experience, most people who relied on one or the other were usually screwed-up. Or looking to screw someone out of everything they have."

"I'm not trying to screw you over, Daria," said Ms. Ribner plainly.

Daria tightened her lips as she wondered how Ms. Ribner learned her name so easily. "You know me from the news, don't you?"

"Yes," she said. "Sounds like a tough situation you and your family are in. But after watching you and your mother and sister today, I think you'll come out of this okay."

"I wish I shared your confidence," said Daria.

"Learn what you can, Daria. Wing Chun will not only teach you how to defend yourself, but will give you insights into yourself and the world around you. You'll grow as a person, and others will recognize it even before you do."

"Would Matthew?" asked Daria.

Ms. Ribner paused before asking, "The boy who first started shooting at your school, right?" When Daria nodded, she added, "Yes. I don't know how much that would've changed things, but the interactions between you would've been different. Your learning Wing Chun would have taught you social moves that might have defused or otherwise handled the situation without anyone getting hurt."

Daria's lips tightened. She was getting really sick of people telling her how evil she was. She could tell herself that, without the rest of the world jumping in. "I didn't use any eastern mysticism or martial arts, and if I had, I don't think it would've worked. I used a gun instead."

"You used what you knew," said Ms. Ribner casually.

"If I had tried your way," added Daria, "my sister and I would be dead."

Ms. Ribner paused, sensing the defensiveness in Daria. "I do not think you are a bad person for using a gun, Daria. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not a priest who says you are going to hell for not having faith or for not being a fatalist and accepting whatever some callous deity or fickle fate and chance sends you. You did the best you could in the circumstance you were given. You are remarkably aware, and yet you still lack harmony. That's okay. Most people learn to walk, talk, think, and act haphazardly from birth. What martial arts can do is teach awareness of the mind and body that bring you into harmony within yourself and the greater world around you. Harmony is something we learn. And I like your sister. I'm glad she's still alive. Thank you for saving her."

"It just seems," said Daria, "that he had a gun, and I didn't know what else to do."

Ms. Ribner nodded sympathetically, catching the guilt and sadness and loneliness barely cracking in her voice. Most listeners wouldn't catch it, but Wing Chun had taught her to really hear. "I understand. I'm not against your having a gun. Just remember that people facing someone with a gun respect the gun, not the person. If the gun can be taken away, so can the respect. Martial arts is something inherent and can't be taken away. A gun is a tool, and sometimes it's the best you can do. But while a gun can take down a martial artist, the martial artist will learn lessons that will help prevent such situations in the first place, and when she can't avoid them, it's not something that can be taken away from her. And she's less likely to lose her gun to an attacker, too, as well as less likely to need one in the first place."

"Cool," said Daria. "It's just the Yoda stuff just doesn't hold up to me. Too many people, including me, see passivity and yielding as a sign of weakness. I heard that in the women's self defense class. Some muggers will ask for change and the woman who stops to help is considered weak and therefore attacked."

Ms. Ribner shook her head. "It's not the same thing, Daria. Yielding is not fatalism, it's not surrender, and it's not giving up." She clasped her hands in front of her for a moment as she added, "When I was your position, I was told that the concepts I'm after don't translate into English very well. And even in the languages that are better suited for explaining this, it is still something one must experience before you understand it. Like sex."

"I'm not so sure sex is all that it's said to be, either," said Daria wryly.

"Sex, like other aspects of life and interaction, is often gone about wrongly, and so isn't the experience many are searching for. But you noticed the people in my class. You saw the students defeating skilled attackers, even if only in exercise. They did it by yielding at the right time. But they didn't give up, or even just get out of the way. "

"So you have no problem with FIST?" Daria was thinking of the book she got from WSD Class.

"Feminists In Self-Defense Training? Of course not. For introducing women to self-defense, it's a wonderful beginning."

"I didn't find it very helpful--"

"Why not?"

"Mostly it was telling me stuff that wasn't very useful, like beware of all men."

"Reading the rest of the book helps to put it in perspective," said Ms. Ribner, a bit of amusement in her voice. "And FIST styles are martial, but they're also an art; they're something you come to learn intuitively, which can sometimes provide the best form of thinking and strategizing of all."

Daria snorted and definitely frowned. "That's why I don't like mysticism and intuition and all that. Every cult leader and advocate of tyranny would agree with that statement. With the Inquisitors it was 'deeper indwelling of the Holy Spirit' that replaced reason and rationality, with the Nazis it was 'the voice of the Aryan blood and the voice of the Fuhrer,' with the Communists it was the Dialectic. Everyone out to hurt others denies reason first and says there is something better that can't be explained, but must be trusted and obeyed."

After blinking at this litany several times, Ms. Ribner laughed. "You are remarkably aware, but that is not what I meant at all!" She chuckled a bit more before adding, "This is not about surrendering your awareness to another, or allowing another to attempt to impose harmony on you from without." She shook her head. "It's rather the opposite. Martial arts teaches attentiveness to every little thing, from your thoughts to your actions. When untrained, whether you act as your habits dictate or consciously choose to act in a random fashion, you are reacting to details you haven't become aware of.

"Martial arts teaches you to pay attention to those details. Through the exercises, you will become aware of your own tensions, resistance, impulsiveness, and all that arises from the societal programming and life experiences. As you become aware of them, you can learn to adjust and correct them, which brings you into harmony. Someone who demands you simply obey them because they 'know what's best' is conning you. The only true teachers and guides are those who lead by example, not by word of mouth that requires blind faith because you can't see it in action."

"So we come, we see, and we believe what we're told?"

"Not at all. The styles teach awareness of the relation of the mind and body, attention to detail, to the person with other people. With practice, the student learns to send messages to the body that result in the fluidity of movement that you've seen here today. You come, you see, and you experience for yourself."

"So how do these exercises help the mind?" asked Daria.

"By working with the body, we can develop our minds. There is no gap between mind and body; they are one."

"I can see that there's some truth to that. But I didn't experience anything greater than that today."

"The exercises that are repeated over and over not only strengthen the body but also teach the awareness that leads to harmony between mind and body. You are essentially repeating your first lessons at carrying yourself in the world from when you are a toddler, but this time you learn better ways to be aware and how to act and when to not-act. And it takes just as long to learn the basics."

"Upgrade," said Daria neutrally.

"That's one way to look at it," she replied. "It's a better way to use your power. Most important is to try to create power from our mind, not from our muscles. That means we control our muscles, not the other way around. That requires awareness. With awareness, comes harmony."

"Fine," said Daria, "it helps you, but I don't see why you have to get all mystical about it."

"As you become more harmonious," Ms. Ribner replied, "all that you do becomes more harmonious, more aware. By doing this, you not only eliminate the disharmony from yourself, you influence and inspire those around you by your change and growth to follow your example. This leads to social harmony, and helps eliminate the kinds of unfortunate situations that started this."

"You mean," said Daria crossing her arms, "that learning martial arts not only improves the student, but the world around the student?"

"Wars, domestic and child abuse, even poverty and disease come from a lack of collective harmony. By learning harmony and inspiring it in others, the world around you is improved."

"Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?" There was only a trace of the amused cynicism for anyone to hear in her voice.

"No," she smiled, with a touch of amused cynicism of her own, "the Communists attempt to overcome the collective disharmony of capitalism with another form of collective disharmony."

"Which ideology has your experiences taught you to be the correct one?" The sarcasm was only evident as she said "experiences."

Ms. Ribner cocked her head a bit as she answered. "That's hard to answer, Daria. All I can say is harmony. Maybe 'No Way' is the way." She shrugged. "Look to Taoism for more."

"I heard Taoism was used by some anarchists."

"This is believable. However, many sifus discourage political activism of any kind, believing it to represent egotism at best, and inspiring violence at worse. Those who fight aggressively against the 'authorities' are often suffering from their own lack of harmony, and if they succeed in overthrowing the current system, they merely replace it with a new form of disharmony. That's not to say an anarchist or political revolutionary can't act with harmony and defy the existing rulers; nor is it to say that a king or politician can't act with the same harmony. It would be a better world if more acted with harmony, whatever their overall ideology and leanings. In a harmonious world, government could possibly become irrelevant so that anarchism also becomes irrelevant."

"The imposition of order leads to the escalation of disorder, and vice versa."

Ms. Ribner blinked. "You're familiar with the Tao?"

Daria shrugged. "No, Robert Anton Wilson."

Cocking her head, she asked her, "Have you heard the Taoist teaching, 'it may be good, it may be bad'?" After Daria shook her head, she continued, "A farmer lost his horse and his neighbor expressed sympathy for his loss. He said, 'It may be good, it may be bad.' Later, the horse returned, leading other horses. His neighbor congratulated him on his good fortune. He said, 'It may be good, it may be bad.' The next day, the farmer's son tried riding one of the new horses but was thrown and broke his arm. When his neighbor sympathized, he replied, 'It may be good, it may be bad.' The following day the king's men came through their village, looking for conscripts to fight in the king's war. Because the son was healing from a broken arm, he was deemed useless and left behind."

She gave a moment for Daria to digest this. "Do you understand the moral of this story?"

Daria shrugged. "You're saying that all that has happened may be good and it may be bad?"

"I'm saying," she replied, "that there is good and bad in everything that happens to us. Rather than looking for absolutes, look to what good there is and what good can come from it, even from what happened to you and your family. What we do with our fate is left to us and our attitude. We can do so much more when we become aware of these little nuances and achieve harmony with them. Mind, body, and awareness."

"So maybe with Matthew dead, he won't kill an entire family elsewhere?"

"Maybe," she said neutrally, "or maybe you and your sister will come to learn greater harmony through this and pass this harmony on to others. Then there will be less violence overall. This is why the sages cultivate the 'wait and see' attitude."

"I don't get that part," said Daria, "he might have destroyed my sister's life. He failed to kill her, his friend didn't manage it either, but my life is ruined. By the time this is all over with, I'll probably be as much of a sociopath as he was."

"I doubt it," said Ms. Ribner. "Bitter, maybe, or even an outlaw and revolutionary in the most extreme of cases, but not a sociopath. And if you learn minimal muscular effort that relies on the harmonious movements to be successful in resolving conflicts, it will cause you to question all you have learned about strength and power. You may even grow serene."

"Serene?" asked Daria in disbelief. "I'm not the mystical type. I just don't see myself as serene."

"You're young, and you don't know that yet. As with any art, Wing Chun also encourages self-exploration and expression which translates the new lessons of harmony and new insights about strength and power into relationships. The external exercises aid the internal look and the exercises with partners and opponents provide a mirror in which to see yourself, and how your actions affect the other. And things just might not turn out so bad after all."

"So?" asked Daria. She wasn't sure if the sifu was making sense or spouting word salad.

"So," added Ms. Ribner, "the guilt you're carrying is a burden that does not help you or anyone else. I'm not promoting moral relativism or defending sociopaths, either. I'm saying you're carrying so much guilt and grief inside and it's destroying you. You're looking to punish yourself even more than you look to punish others around you. Daria, I'm measuring you, and I like what I see. I'm not your enemy, and I wish you weren't your own enemy."

Daria blinked at that, fighting to maintain a grip on her feelings. Part of her wanted to yell at this bitch for going all Timothy O'Neill on her. Part of her wanted to collapse into sobs on her shoulder. But mostly, she was stunned, looking back at how she tended to attack those she needed for allies, and how she attacked herself when not attacking them. She was amazed that Quinn had stuck by her, and felt relief that she hadn't been as harsh on Quinn as she almost had been more than once.

"You okay?" asked Ms. Ribner. "Do you need a moment?"

Daria shook her head. "No. I'm fine." She glared a moment at Ms. Ribner, daring her to comment further. When no further comments came, Daria asked, "So how's this training the body suppose to help me explore myself and reach enlightenment anyway? I just don't get that part."

Ms. Ribner paused a moment considering before she answered, "As you outgrow your old concepts of strength and power--or upgrade, as you called it--you begin to look at new ways in other areas of your life as well. If you learn harmonious actions and minimal violence, your words, actions, and other forms of self-expression will follow suit." She smiled a bit. "And most of the time, other people will see the change in you before you see it in yourself. Many people want to see that change in themselves."

"Hmph," said Daria, "I'd figured most people learn martial arts because they just don't want to get beat up. Especially by others who have learned it."

"There is that, and we accept that reason. Martial arts are a means of defense. But the world would be a much better place if most people who dabble in martial arts didn't just learn enough to win a few fights but made martial arts an ongoing learning experience to the day they die. They'd be healthier mentally and physically, too."

"So how does this help AWSDA then?" asked Daria. "To teach women to use violence less?"

She shrugged. "Maybe. It's more accurate to say it teaches when to give and when to push, and just how, exactly, one gives or pushes. Giving isn't defeat, either. It's a strategy like anything else." When Daria just stared at her, she added, "Have you heard of the Bodyguard's contributions to women's emancipation?"

Daria shook her head.

"They were a group of women who snuck away from their homes to learn jujutsu. Two sisters in a prominent British family even climbed down the drainpipes of their house to learn this art. The women campaigning for women's suffrage suffered a lot of abuse, including whippings and beatings by police officers. The Bodyguard protected the workers from thugs on either side of the law. Sometimes they met violent cops head on and defeated them, but they also knew when to fall back and flow around those who stalked them as well as when to press forward. Those who attacked them usually had no idea when to do which, and so frequently failed in their efforts."

"So is it about teaching how to use violence strategically, or how to avoid violence?"

Ms. Ribner took a moment to collect her thoughts. "Everything you learn will dissuade attackers. Your genuine confidence, your balanced walk, your awareness are all means to avoid criminal assault, and sometimes even legal assault. By your increased awareness of yourself and your world you will not lose control so easily that you feel a need to resort to desperate measures.

"Likewise, your stance is more likely to inspire respect instead of envy and bitterness, and if others turn poisonous against you, you will know how to deal with it. You will learn better ways to resolve situations, but when you are attacked--or even when you must attack, though this should be rare if it happens at all--then you will be prepared for it. Being prepared is often enough to prevent the need for a cure in the first place."

"So you teach the soft instead of the hard martial arts?"

"Soft and hard categories are more acceptable in the West than in the East. The East tries to avoid categorizing as one thing or another. Wing Chun is especially resistant to being categorized as soft or hard. It's not about whether a style is 'hard' or 'soft' but about balance and harmony between them. By learning this harmony within yourself, you also learn to achieve this balance with the people and the world around you."

When Daria stared at her quizzically, trying to understand, she added, "Water is like this. It can softly flow around you, and it can hit you with a force capable of crushing and killing you. It is neither hard nor soft but both. This is the ideal of martial arts."

"Maybe," said Daria, beginning to shut down. She was finding this talk as emotionally exhausting as the exercises had been physically tiring.

"Daria," said Ms. Ribner, "our experiences define our perceptions and then our perceptions define our experiences. The trick in life is to keep our perceptions from becoming so ingrained that we fail to see other sides of the story, and other possibilities that exist around us."

"Yes, Master Yoda."

"I'm sure you see all those people on the news," continued Ms. Ribner, ignoring Daria's sarcasm. "Their perception of right and wrong pigeonholes their perceptions about everyone else according to their own experiences, and they fall prey to egotistical righteousness and the belief in the supremacy of their views, as if no other perception was as right as their own. Which is not only false for themselves--at best, they're right only some of the time--but is definitely wrong in regards to other people. Other people have had completely different experiences, and thus have completely different perceptions."

"Who are we to say who's on the dark side of the force?" asked Daria.

"If people do not realize that we are evolutionary beings who need to change constantly, they will ruin not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them, such as yourself. Ultimately, if we can't learn to see beyond our own perceptions--and the feelings of righteousness it inspires as we try imposing those perceptions on everyone we can--it could even lead to the extinction of our species." When Daria just stared at her, she smiled slightly as added, "Wars don't make one great. But Wing Chun can help you can see inside yourself, and as a result, see those around you more clearly." She smiled a little more as she saw Daria catch the phrase Yoda used in The Empire Strikes Back.

They both turned as Quinn rejoined them. She motioned for them to continue.

"It seems everyone," said Daria, "from the NRA to Handgun Control, wanted me to become their spokesperson and when I wouldn't, I was this evil villain out to destroy America. I learned to hate them all, just as they came to hate me once I didn't dance to their tune. More than that, it was like they all had someone close to them who offed themselves, or shot them, or took their precious country away from them as if it wasn't anyone else's country, too, and it's all my fault."

"They're scared, Daria," she said, "of change, of other people, of themselves. Many of them are haunted by the same guilt you feel but project it into the people around them where they can handle it. Taking responsibility for our lives and actions, especially in the case of a suicide of a loved one, is painful. Blame is easier and shifts the pain of taking responsibility. They, like you, need to learn to see actions without blame. When that happens, then you can all learn patience and to forgive others--and yourself."

"The NRA say I'm not American or patriotic enough, HCI says I'm too sociopathic, and you think I'm not enlightened or something." added Daria sullenly, and hating herself for the bitterness in her voice but unable to stop it.

"I do not blame you for anything in my life, Daria, and I don't blame you for what you did. You did the best you could with what you had. So does everyone else. Regrettably, this Matthew had less than you did--perhaps not in intelligence, for I understand the boy was quite intelligent--but in knowing his own heart, or having a family he could depend on. He was helpless in a world that spit on him, and he learned how to shape the world in his own way while gaining the respect he needed for his own validation. Now that the world is spitting on you, I hope you can learn a better way to gain respect and acceptance, or even learn to not need the validation of others."

Unnoticed by Daria, Quinn tensed, as she suddenly saw how alike she and Matthew were. Different in many outward ways, but deep within, they were so alike. She blinked as she felt tears of compassion for the man who abused her and ultimately tried to murder her; she did not have to struggle to keep from crying, but she felt her hate dissolving, giving way to pity. The small part of her that was vindictive took some satisfaction in knowing that Matthew, while alive anyway, would have preferred her hate and fear to the sense of pity she now had for him. She swallowed and tried to rein in these feelings until she was alone.

Daria shook her head. "If we're not to judge--"

"Don't confuse judgment with awareness," interrupted Ms. Ribner. "And I'm not telling you to become apathetic. It's a two-way street. It's not where you forgive your enemies and offer them your other cheek. You simply reserve moral judgments while being aware of how they affect your inner and outer harmony and adjust yourself so you remain in harmony--and reserve moral judgment on yourself for what you do, as well."

"I don't know if I can do that."

"It's as hard as catching the wind at first. All that we are is a result of habits. Nearly everything we do is the result of a habit, a behavior we have learned for better or for worse. Even our thoughts are habitual. They can all be changed with conscious effort in time. It will happen gradually, and others usually notice even before you do. Some even find a day dawns that they have achieved inner peace and contentment."

"Um, whatever," said Quinn who was tired of waiting for a good breaking-in point (not to mention having to deal with these unexpected feelings). She drew a slight smile from Daria who mistook her need to interrupt with simple (and refreshing) shallowness. "I notice a lot of people here have good posture and stuff. Is this stuff used by models?"

"Oh, I'm not sure," Ms. Ribner said hesitantly. "I don't think so, though good posture and health are encouraged by these arts. If posture is your main concern, you might want to look into Tai Chi. That's not too demanding and I understand many follow it for posture and health." She shrugged. "But it usually takes longer to be able to learn how to defend yourself from attack."

"Is Wing Chun one of the popular forms of Kung Fu or whatever?" asked Quinn.

"Master Wang Kiu said that Wing Chun is a jewel among the martial arts. There are other good martial arts but among these Wing Chun stands out. It is simple, elegant, effective and enjoyable to practice. And despite the simplicity, there is a multitude of expressions that can take a lifetime to explore."

"Art," said Daria, thinking of Jane.

Quinn's bruised face crinkled in some thought before she spoke again. "What if I were to become an actress of a sitcom or movie, what's the most popular style?"

Ms. Ribner blinked several times at that. "It would depend, I guess. If you're more of an action heroine, then something like Krav Maga. If you're more into martial arts movies, then Wing Chun has a long tradition in the filming industry. Bruce Lee originally learned Wing Chun before he formed his own style, Jeet Kune Do, or the Way of the Intercepting Fist, and he's an icon now."

"Is Bruce Lee related to Jet Li? He's cute. So's that other guy."

Ms. Ribner smiled. "You know, I honestly don't keep up with that." She shrugged. "Try the internet, I'm sure it will answer any questions you have regarding movie stars."

"Like how many liposuctions or breast implants they've had?" asked Daria.

"Ewww," said Quinn, facing Daria, "no one wants to know THAT! That's private stuff!"

"Do you know how Wing Chun came to be?" asked Ms. Ribner.

Daria and Quinn shook their heads.

"A Buddhist nun living in the Ch'ing Dynasty named N Mew--spelled N-g, M-u-i, so don't get confused if you want to read up on her--studied various animal styles of Kung Fu--such as tiger and crane--and found them unsuitable to her body type. So she paid attention to her body and formed her own. She made her own style that fit her small stature and weak arms. Since she did not give very effective strikes at the midsection of a larger man, she developed kicks and punches to the head and lower legs, and she formed a new aggressive style that won many matches against the male masters of the art, thus legitimizing her style. She later taught this to a an orphan she had picked up, whom she named Yim Wing Chun, which means 'beautiful springtime' or 'hope for the future.' She passed all her skills and knowledge on to her and she then passed it on to others. It remains popular to this day."

"That's a nice story," said Quinn.

"Ah, the feminist martial artist," commented Daria.

"Wing Chun is not about brute strength, but about correct positioning, feeling, timing, and strategy. A woman your size, Daria, could beat up a man over six feet tall and weighing over two-hundred pounds. Skill more than makes up for size, and that was the original intent of the art."

"So it's not for the men?" asked Quinn quizzically.

"Many men practice and teach various styles of Wing Chun," she said. "But many women today do choose her style as it fits with women easier, and to honor her accomplishments among the male masters of the art. And as I said earlier, Bruce Lee was taught this art and he made it famous in the West."

"You said he made up his own style?" asked Daria.

"Jeet Kune Do, the way of the intercepting fist," replied Ms. Ribner. "Yes, he developed his own style. He didn't get to pass on all he knew, but he did create his own style which is also very popular, and an outgrowth of Wing Chun."

"An upgrade?"

"Another style," she corrected. "Martial arts is truly different strokes for different folks. What's important is what works for you. Because we all have our physical and mental differences, we all are better suited to a certain style than to others. I think you would be better suited to Wing Chun, but you might find Jeet Kune Do works better for you." She shrugged. "Or another style altogether."

"Like Krav Maga," said Daria. "Can you tell us more about that?"

"It is used by police, soldiers, agents, terrorists, and others. It makes me think of street fighting, personally. But for quickly learning how to take an attacker down, even one with a gun shoved in your back, it's hard to beat." She shook her head. "It has its points, but it's more martial than it is art."

"Well since we seem to have made some people pretty mad at us, and I may be going to prison, maybe that's what I should look into," said Daria.

Ms. Ribner looked a little distressed. "Yes, if you're in immanent danger. And don't forget to call AWARE, too! They provide tremendous support for those being stalked." After a sigh, she added, "Just remember that Wing Chun, and other styles, have a lot to offer you, too. And when you go to learn a new system, empty your cup before pouring in a new type of tea. You can make your own style that works best for you later, once you have learned the foundations of the various arts and styles you learn."

Helen, who noticed Ms. Ribner's look of distress, joined them, wondering which of her daughters had just distressed her. "Hi!" she said, still sweating a little. "This was a wonderful class."

"Thank you, Mrs. Morgendorffer," said Ms. Ribner. "I'm just worried that the more martial benefits of my class might not be timely enough for your daughters' needs."

"Pardon me?" asked Helen, slightly confused.

"Perhaps it's best if you all took some Krav Maga classes," Ms. Ribner replied, "at least for the immediate future. These methods will help deal with stalkers, and so can AWARE."

"Stalkers?" asked Helen. "Oh, I see. It's a bit unusual. There is a possibility that some people who shouldn't be allowed to walk freely, let alone have a gun, might come after my girls. It's not exactly the same."

Ms. Ribner shook her head. "There are many similarities. Krav Maga can help. Wing Chun can, too, but it takes more time. I prefer Wing Chun myself, but you're in an emergency situation. I can speak to a friend and get you to visit a Krav Maga class or two free of charge."

"Thank you," said Helen, not sure what to say or think.

"Krav Maga can also teach you how to deal with a gun, at least in close quarters," continued Ms. Ribner. "And do you own a gun?"

"What?" replied Helen, almost stunned. "Of course not!"

"I think you should get one," said Ms. Ribner, "at least until this situation gets cleared up. Again, contact AWARE, they will help you find a gun suitable to you, teach you to use it, how to keep anyone from getting it away from you, how to keep it from falling in the wrong hands, and more. You can also look into A Mother's Arms. They're an excellent group for a mother in need of having a gun to defend herself and her children."

"A Mother's Arms?" asked Helen mystified.

"It's a nonprofit group helping mothers to learn to use guns in the face of serious threats, and to keep those guns, and any children that stay in their home, safe."

Helen shook her head in amazement. "I never heard of such a group. The very concept is strange to me."

"The wrong people are after your daughters," said Ms. Ribner, "and you say they have guns. If they use those guns from a distance, it would be in your best interest to have your own gun. And the very presence of a gun has often been enough to discourage an attack in the first place." She shook her head. "If it's not enough, then you definitely should get your own gun, before any one of these people bring their own guns. AWSDA can help with guns, too. You might even want to look into signing up for a course at Thunder Ranch or similar group."

"I don't like the idea of solving a problem with a gun," said Helen hesitantly.

"I hope no one would," Ms. Ribner replied, "or with any kind of violence. But as long as the wrong people are armed, then the good people need to be armed, too, or the good people will live at the mercy of the wrong people."

After several moments Helen said, "I'll look into it."

Ms. Ribner looked concerned but nodded her acceptance. "I can tell I gave you something to think about which you haven't thought about before. It is, and should be, your decision. But please contact AWARE and Mother's Arms and talk to one of the members. See what they have to offer before you reject them. I'd hate for any harm to come to your daughters that could otherwise be prevented."

Helen smiled nervously and said nothing. When Ms. Ribner excused herself and left them, she let out a big breath. "Quinn," she said, "did you tell her to say that?"

"No!" said Quinn, "she said it all on her own!"

When Daria saw Helen staring suspiciously at her, she sighed and said, "I'm just as surprised as you are."

Helen sighed herself. "Come on, girls," she said, putting an arm around each of her daughters and leading them out to the car.




04/02/01 MONDAY 7:45 A.M.


In March of 1996, a deranged man walked into a school in Dunblane, Scotland, and killed sixteen children and one teacher. In the aftermath of this heinous tragedy, British politicians sought to reduce violent crime by enacting an injudicious ban on all handguns. Handgun owners were given a February 1998 deadline to turn in their firearms--and they did. The UK was supposed to become a much safer place--but it didn't. Not by a long shot.

As reported in a May 14 article in the Edmonton Journal, England's recently released gun-crime statistics for the first five years following the gun ban indicate a very different outcome than that which was forecast. According to the article, "the incidence of gun crime in England and Wales nearly doubled from 13,874 in 1998 to 19,070 in 2000. And the incidence of firearms murder, while thankfully still very small, has risen 65 per cent,"

The article details statistics from another report issued last year by Britain's Home Office, which reveal that there has also been a dramatic increase in robberies in recent years. They report that robberies, "rose by 24 per cent in 2000 alone and, since 1998, there has been an increase in the annual average of muggings of more than 100,000. England alone has nearly 400,000 robberies each year, a rate nearly one-quarter higher per capita than that of the United States."

Do gun bans serve to reduce violent crime? When law-abiding citizens are disarmed, is their society a safer one? England's plight is just the latest example to show us, yet again, that the answer is "NO."

Unfortunately, the gun grabber's solution to the failures of their gun control is more of it. What else would you expect from a liberal? The country is insane, if you accept the definition of insanity as trying the same thing over and over to see if it will work "this time." YOU are the cure. Stand against the forces that want to turn all of America into Lawndale High, where good, honest folk live only at the mercy of sociopaths.

The vultures are already swarming. Senators, congressmen, councilmen pushing and shoving to be the first to climb on top of the dead bodies to get a better photo op and shrieking for the same kind of laws that left the dead defenseless in the first place.

I urge you, as Virginia's next Senator, not to listen to the lies of the gun control lobby. Listen instead to the facts. God bless.

Mr. Win Alexander


Daria sighed and looked up, putting the Lawndale Gazette down. Quinn was silently eating breakfast, and her mom on the phone just gasped. She wondered what it was. Had her dad just defended himself with a gun? Or maybe Aunt Amy? This did seem to run in the family.

"You'll... assume?" Helen was taking deep breaths now trying to calm herself. After a moment, now looking at Daria and Quinn who were both looking at her in concern, she asked, "Anything else?" After a few more moments, she said, "Good bye," crisply and hung up. Then, turning away, she dialed on the phone again. "Hi, Ms. Ribner, this is Helen Morgendorffer. You said I should talk to AWARE and A Mother's Arms, and now I agree. I want to talk to them ASAP, and if they handle emergency cases, then I want them to know I am one. And I was wondering if you could get me and my daughters into that other class you mentioned. Soon. My number here is..."

As Helen gave off the number, Quinn asked Daria, "What was that about?"

Daria just shook her head. But she was really worried.

Helen hung up and slowly put the phone away. She took a few deep breaths before turning around to find both of her daughters looking fearful. She smiled to calm them, and their faces registered a little more fear.

"Mom?" asked Daria, "What's wrong?"

"What makes you think anything is wrong?" asked Helen.

Quinn looked to Daria. "She's kidding, right?"

"Okay, fine," said Helen. "Quinn, you're not going to school today, and you're confined to the house with Daria."

"Mo-oom!" shouted Quinn, "I was just asking!"

Helen sighed loudly. "Yesterday, Scott Rhodes was released on bail into his grandmother's custody. As of this morning he is missing. Police are looking for him, but so far he remains missing." Helen almost cried when she saw the look of terror on Quinn's face. She hated to say what was next. "The boy's grandmother claims her .38 revolver is missing."

Quinn shut her eyes and tried not to cry. Daria bit her lip and was torn between rage and despair.

"He assures us," said Helen bitterly, "that we are under constant police protection."

Rage won in Daria. She got up and stomped out. Part of her wanted to comfort Quinn, but she feared her mom would say something that would unlock the rage in her and she'd shriek at them all. And then go outside and do the same to the pigs out there, with an assault thrown in for good measure. She wondered if her Docs counted as a weapon. Considering that someone who threw a jelly donut at a cop was charged with assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon, I would say so, thought Daria.

Talking to Jane on the phone calmed her enough that she could sit down to write a Melody Powers story. One in which Melody blasted her way first through Chinese secret agents, and then through corrupt cops and vicious drug dealers controlled by sinister Chinese agents. Before she knew it, hours had passed, and she felt surprisingly hungry. As if she'd been working out rather than sitting in her room.

Daria went back down. Quinn wasn't there. She was probably in her room. Maybe staring out her window. Maybe she should go talk to her. But she was curious whom Mom was on the phone with. She caught it was her defense attorney, Ms. Morrison. Her eyes widened when she heard her mom say something about having Geraldo Rivera arrested for criminal trespass!

The radio was on and NPR was coming through. She frowned and went to turn it off. It was interfering with her eavesdropping.

"Daria, don't!" said Helen. "They're supposed to talk about the case any minute now."

"Oh," said Daria. Then she started to make herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As her mom turned her discussion onto more arcane aspects of the case, she ended up hearing more NPR than her mom on the phone.

"Since the recession began at the end of February or the beginning of March, women continue to lose jobs," said the feminine voice on the radio.

"More, Bush's gag order, the restatement of President Reagan's policy instituted in 1984 and overturned later by President Clinton, cut off U.S. funds to any international family planning organization that offers abortion counseling or services with their own privately-raised funds, lobby the host government for liberalization of abortion laws, or provide information about abortion."

The voice changed to that of a woman sounding at wit's end. "Right now," said the grim voice, "Bush's global gag rule has led to the closure of clinics, cuts in health care staffing, dwindling medical supplies. This has caused countless women, children, and families to be without access to vital health care services. Not only that, but millions of dollars have been cut to several clinics and countries, and contraceptives are not getting to several areas that desperately need them, leading to the spread of AIDS. Bush is killing these people because he doesn't want women to have control over their own bodies. He might as well be pointing a gun at these women and pulling the trigger himself."

The former voice resumed "Bush has also cut services to the military, just one of them being the availability of abortions at military hospitals. As a result of current policy, women serving abroad must gain the permission of their commanders to leave, and must use personal funds to travel long distances to get away from dangerous areas such as the Middle East, to places where they can find privatized services."

Music came on then and a bunch of announcements for funding and future programming, as Helen put the phone down on the table and sat down by a cup of tea. A male voice on the radio said, "Many of you are familiar with the case of Daria Morgendorffer, who shot down a drug dealer in her school of Lawndale High. Drugs, weapons stockpiling, and racist ideology are obviously involved with both the shooter and the victim, the latter being a shooter himself who shot his Asian principal and a fellow African American student before turning on his girlfriend, Daria's younger sister. A little more than a week later, Daria's younger sister would get in a shoot-out with another drug dealer at the drug dealer's home. Since then, several disturbing new factors have become apparent. NPR's Laurie McKenzie reports."

A woman's voice filled the radio again. "I'm talking with Mr. Hunt, the new lawyer overseeing the legal aspects of the case in Lawndale for HCI, or Handgun Control Inc. Mr. Hunt, what is the interest of your group in this case."

"Well, I'd think that would be obvious," said Mr. Hunt. "Here we have proof positive that there are too many guns lying around and children are dying as a result."

"Has the support for Daria from feminist organizations, including the National Organization of Women, surprised you?"

"Yes. I understand in hindsight. They see a girl that stopped a horrible stalker. This is a good thing in itself. However, they overlook the fact that, had the gun laws been stricter, Matthew Foster never would've had a gun in the first place. For that matter, neither would Daria Morgendorffer. The altercations never would've gone beyond assault, and he probably wouldn't have done even that when he didn't have a gun to oppose the police for his heinous acts. The National Organization of Women should see this. Some do. But enough support remains that the organization itself is keeping its distance while more radical feminist groups are even raising money for the defense of Daria Morgendorffer."

"How has the case of Daria Morgendorffer's younger sister being involved in another shooting affected the views of everyone involved?"

Mr. Hunt laughed cynically. "The NRA? Not at all. The N.O.W. is more nervous about supporting the Morgendorffers, but not enough to join us on this important fight. To us it demonstrates that this is beyond a case of domestic abuse and stalking, but a case involved in drugs and racist ideology."

"Who was the shooter that shot Officer Corelli, who is still recovering in ICU, and Officer Delancey, who died shortly after the shooting. Do you have any clue on who was involved in this shooting?"

"No," he said. "We have sources that say the shooter is a woman somehow connected to the Morgendorffers, but nothing beyond that. It is unknown if she is a drug dealer, a member of a hate group, or just a random shooter. But it's telling that she had a gun and she didn't shoot Daria Morgendorffer, even though the girl was a witness to her serious crime. As to why the Morgendorffer sisters have not been arrested, we don't know. Detective Warner of the Lawndale PD has expressed frustration on this himself, considering both girls to be, and I quote, 'menaces to society,' unquote."

"With the brutal slaying of Mrs. Brand, the candidate for mayor of Lawndale and former executive officer of HCI in Lawndale, aren't you worried about yourself, now that you're filling that position?"

"Oh, yes," he replied. "I'm sure Daria was behind that murder. Mrs. Brand reported Daria as belligerent and hostile, openly championing the gunning down of anyone who stood in her way, and we have footage being developed that proves this to be true. But she will know justice. And we will make sure that no other young sociopaths get their hands on another firearm."

"We understand that senatorial candidate Win Alexander, a high ranking member of the NRA, is opposing you. How much of an obstacle have he and the NRA proven to be?"

The man sadly said, "They are willing to spend millions defending Daria and her family. I hope it has become clear what kind of people the NRA are when they even champion children shooting up their schools."

"How much resistance do you face?" she asked him.

"Unfortunately, a lot," said Mr. Hunt with some exasperation. "The NRA puts out millions of dollars in propaganda to twist the facts. We're not like that at all. We just want some common sense gun control. We can't figure out why we get so much opposition. Didn't the guns-for-everybody president, Ronald Reagan, get gunned down by a mental patient that bought his weaponry over the counter at a gun shop? The conservatives should be helping us!"

"So what do you think will come out when this is all done?"

"I honestly don't know, except it's going to be dirty. I agree that places like the Zen need to be shut down. Jane Lane, who was originally arrested with the shooter and who, sources tell me, helped her sneak a gun in the school in the first place, should be arrested. Her brother is a member of the band, Mystik Spiral, that police believe may be doing and running methamphetamines. It looks fairly clear the Morgendorffer girls are drug dealers, their mother knows it and is covering up for them, and that these shootings aren't self-defense but the battles over drug turf."

"And what about a race war?"

"The evidence is mostly circumstantial. However, Matthew Foster's father is a known member of several racist hate groups and it seems certain he influenced and armed his son. It is undeniable that everyone involved in this are white, except for two victims, an Asian principal and a black football player. I'd say there's some fire to that smoke myself."

"Thank you, Mr. Hunt, and good luck with your project."

"Thank you," replied Mr. Hunt.

"This is Laurie McKenzie, reporting for NPR, National Public Radio."

As NPR wound down, Helen was livid. "He... she... ooooo!" She stomped over to the counter and started to make herself a sandwich.

The radio played the music for the news on the hour. A report about an American spy plane crashing into a Chinese fighter jet yesterday was the first line of discussion.

Helen sighed. "I hope this will take some of the attention off of you. I mean this spy jet case could be really serious! At least Bush won't be making any more boneheaded comments about you."

Just then, the news mentioned the shootings in Lawndale, from the school shooting to Quinn and then that of the police officers, and then reported that Bush had a statement. "We need," said George W. Bush over the radio, "to stop the exquisite sex and wholesome violence that underscore our children."

"Did that make sense?" asked Daria, truly bewildered, while Helen stared gape-jawed at the radio.

Next was a report of Enron repurchasing Chewco's investment in JEDI for $35 million, netting Enron executive Michael Kopper $10 million. Vice President Dick Cheney was quoted as saying, "Our energy commission has hailed this buy out, and just goes to show that the economy is not doing so bad after all, despite nay-sayers among the liberal elites. This will mean safer and more efficient energy for all, and more jobs for all."

Daria calmed her down with, "What were you saying about having Geraldo Rivera arrested?"

Helen blinked, and then shook her head bitterly as she spread peanut butter on a slice of bread. "He wouldn't leave. I called the police. They showed up in two to three minutes. Geraldo looked more surprised than I did."

The phone Helen had left on the table rang. Daria picked it up, saying, "Hello."

"Daria?" asked Jake.

"Yes, Dad?"

"Where's your mother?"

"She's venting steam right now. She just heard the news."

"About the case?"

"That, and things like China blowing up one of our jets."

"Lousy, stinking Communists," griped Jake. "Oh, we're China and you're an enemy nation in our airspace, so we'll send our jets after you. Just what were they thinking!"

"Maybe," said Daria slowly, "they were mad over some of the nuclear secrets we sold them."

"We?" asked Jake weakly. "Daria, have you and Jane or Quinn been, uh, selling anything I should know about?"

"If I answered that, you would probably be killed." Daria suddenly frowned, then smiled, at the thought that the cops were listening in on this conversation.

"Give me that, Daria!" shouted Helen grabbing the phone. "Both of you, this is serious!" After listening to Jake for a minute, her eyes nearly closed. "Jake, what did you want when you called?" She blinked and said, "Jake, we have a lot of money coming in. We can always use more, but given the economy, investing in the stock market isn't a good idea." Her eyes went wide. "Enron? Yes, I heard. I don't like it." Daria watched and ate calmly as Helen shook her head and said into the phone, "No! I don't care if the government says they're good..." Helen wandered into the living room.

Daria, finished eating and bored, frowned at the radio. Someone was talking about Enron and what the latest buy out meant for the economy. She went to turn it off, and then got curious. She flipped the dial around, looking for some of the "right wing crazies." Maybe they said her shooting a guy was good. Or maybe it would just amuse her. Especially when Mom comes in and I tell her it's making perfect sense. She smiled wickedly.

She found it rather frustrating. It seemed everything was music that was so old it was on the radio before Mom and Dad were born, or in another language, or some sports, a weird Christian station where everyone had some kind of accent that she couldn't place or music she identified right away, or commercials. She stopped on Paul Harvey for a minute and listened to him report an urban legend as fact before her nerves couldn't stand that voice anymore. Then she finally caught a voice that sounded somehow fanatical, and yet without the weird accent so many of the Christian radio people had. She went and got some milk while she listened.

"... Bush's 'Job and Growth Plan' will save the economy, his tax cuts will increase jobs and prosperity for all. It's not what the liberal whackos call 'misdirected tax cuts' or 'mismanaging the economy.' What would liberals know about mismanaging the economy? They continue to tax all people so that people can't pay the bills, and then call the corporate entrepreneurs evil when they can't afford to pay their workers more or hire more workers after they've been taxed of nearly all their capital.

"Then the liberals shout raise the minimum wage and the 'evil fat cats' lose more money and so let more people go. As a result, the economy sinks. LIBERALS NEVER LEARN. Now Bush's 'Job and Growth Plan' will cut taxes and bring America new jobs, finally doing something right... If Bush can make the changes he wants to the Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) it would give millions of dollars to job providers all across the country, thus creating new jobs, thus creating prosperity. Heck, with IBM and others, it could save them BILLIONS. We're talking BILLIONS of new jobs, and the liberals, I don't understand it folks, the liberals are against this! Don't these people ever learn?"

Job providers? wondered Daria. They mean the rich, who aren't anywhere as likely to spend any gains, then? How would that improve the economy? Daria shook her head.

"Daria?" asked Helen entering the kitchen, "What's that?"

"I don't know," said Daria repressing a smile. "But he's making perfect sense."

"Making sense!? That's it, young lady, THERAPY!" She walked briskly over and turned it off. "I hate that voice. Don't play it again."

Daria crossed her arms. "Don't tell me what to do, liberal."

"WHAT!? You watch your mouth young lady or I'll, I'll..."

"Ground me?" asked Daria pointedly. When Helen blushed, she finally showed mercy and gave that enigmatic smile of hers that Helen hated--but it was obvious she was more relieved this time than annoyed. When she saw Helen smile nervously, she changed the subject. "Dad being crazy again?"

"Your father feels he should be doing more. You can't fault him for that. And no more telling your father you're a spy for China. His nerves can't handle it." Helen, having finished her sandwich, got a pickle to nibble on. When she didn't seem inclined to say anything else, Daria excused herself to work on her story.

Daria tried to work, but other concerns kept intruding in her mind. After awhile, she found her story wasn't helping her escape any more and she put it away. She spent the next few hours reading Making the Twinkie Defense Work for YOU until she fell asleep over the book.

Her dad woke her up to eat supper. At the table she thought about asking Quinn how she was doing, but she seemed cut off from everyone. That worried Daria, but she also understood. She'd be more worried if Quinn were her old self.

Back in her room, she caught another thrilling episode of Sick, Sad World The last one was called Prophets of Doom, where Jehovah's Witnesses on crystal meth went berserk and tried cutting their way into the front doors using chainsaws and axes of people who refused to listen and making them listen to them witness for Jehovah.

She was gathering the energy to grab the remote and turn it off when Scott Rhode's picture flashed on the screen. There was a thousand dollar reward for information leading to his arrest.

Curious about what else would be on the news regarding Scott and her sister, she decided to flip around and see what other news programs were coming on. Her jaw clenched as she saw two of the NRA loons that had made a spectacle of themselves in her home now on TV. Mr. Alexander still wore the tacky tie that was supposed to be patriotic.

"Why are so many feminists coming out on the side of Daria?" asked a reporter. Daria listened more closely, heartened that SOMEONE supported her, even if more than a few were probably like Ms. Barch. She smiled at the heresy of the footage of two women holding a huge sign that boldly said DEAD MEN DON'T RAPE.

"Disgraceful," said Mr. Alexander. "I want you to know, I fully support a woman's right to self-defense, but signs like that are just disturbing."

I find it disturbing that you're disturbed over that, thought Daria.

"And look over there," said the interviewer pointing at some other people, "there are some, from the Pink Pistols, a group of homosexuals fighting for gun rights! They claim to be libertarian, not liberal. What do you think of that?"

Mr. Powers still sounded like he was on speed. "The Libertarian Party has become a pack of pro-homo, pro-wetback, pro-abortion mutts who will hunt with ANYONE! These are positions that are completely out of touch with the nation and quite frankly, OUT TO LUNCH! They are the politically homeless who are just looking for more injured mutts with home they can huddle up and lick each others wounds."

Mr. Alexander smiled and added, "The Libertarian Party means well, and is certainly a better choice than the Democratic Party. However, my associate is as correct in his statement as he is passionate in stating it." He leaned forward a little and looked directly into the camera. "But now is not the time for partisan politics. Our children's lives are on the line. Contrary to what some say, we do not support Daria or what she did, though we are glad she only managed to shoot that one drug dealer before he could actually kill anyone. We endorse RESPONSIBLE gun ownership and use, not wild, teenage vigilantes."

"What about protest votes? Do you think you will lose any votes that way?"

"Unfortunately, a few bad apples in the GOP, who are being pursued and thrown out as quickly as can happen, have caused some to act like rats in a sinking ship. Friends, I'm warning you that the liberals are VERY united and will WIN in future elections and measures if we can't stick together. I understand why some feel we in the GOP are not doing enough, but what you must also understand is we're doing all that we are able in the face of liberal politicians, organizations, and media. And their preaching fear is sometimes more effective than our preaching truth. This is NOT the time to cast protest votes for the Libertarian Party. To do so is to damn this country to liberal domination. You stand with us, or you stand against us. Right now, as united as the liberals are, there is no other alternative. If you think we are not doing enough, imagine how much worse it will be when the government, media, and country are wholly liberal instead of partially liberal." He shook his head and emphasized his next statement: "A vote for libertarians is a vote for liberals."

"Indeed, a scary thought. I want to thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us. I know how difficult it was for you to arrange time to be here today."

"Thank you," returned Mr. Alexander, just before the show went to break. Daria changed the channel, sarcastically thinking Damn liberal mudslinging.

Her eyes opened wide as she saw the outside of her own home on one channel. She had seen a lot of this lately, but she was amazed by who she saw talking on the screen: Geraldo Rivera, whom her mom had arrested today.

"Estimates are that there are over 1 million Nazis in this country," said Geraldo Rivera on the screen, "The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their hate crimes, aggressive recruitment and horrifying terrorism. The odds are that this is happening in your town."

Footage of bullet holes in Scott's house and in the halls of Lawndale High were shown as Geraldo's voice continued, "Guns gives these twisted teens the power, dominance and control that they crave. Some of these kids are miserable enough to kill and use neo-Nazi ideologies as an excuse and for a sense of being part of something bigger and meaningful."

The footage changed to that of the guns and Nazi paraphernalia taken from the cabin owned by Roger Foster, and then to that of Daria being escorted away from Lawndale High on the morning of the shooting.

"As many of you know, I was personally attacked by the leader of the White Aryan Resistance Youth program, so I am taking a HUGE personal risk by pursuing Daria Morgendorffer, even without the implications of the chain of violence and murder that surround America's most nefarious teen."

On the screen he walked up to the front door of the Morgendorffer's house, while some kind of 80s beat slowly played, suggesting courage in the face of danger. Mr. Rivera knocked on the door. Waiting briefly, he knocked again. The door opened and one could make out Helen, if you already knew what she looked like.

"Please, sir," she said stiffly, "go away now before I call the police. I assure you, they will arrive quickly and dump your butt in the jail so they can collect the money in fining your rich butt."

"Mrs. Morg--" began Mr. Rivera, but Helen slammed the door in his face. After a minute, he turned around, shaking his head and spreading his arms. "Apparently, Daria Morgendorffer is so guilty that her mother, a lawyer who knows the importance of the media, cannot allow her to make a simple statement. I think it's clear how Daria Morgendorffer turned out the way she did."

The following news program reported her and Quinn as drug dealers. They also said Officer Corelli had regained consciousness briefly, and they hoped he would have information that would reveal the shooter. Strange that they don't mention Beavis and Butthead, thought Daria idly. They had been mentioned on the day of the shooting, and then only vaguely referred to the day after. Now, it sounded as if some woman talking to Daria coldly turned and shot the two cops for no reason other than sheer rabidity. She knew that meant something, though she didn't know what, but she was content to let her subconscious work on it for now.

She came back to the Fox channel. Fair and Balanced reporting was going on in the "No Spin Zone" with a blonde woman for a guest and Mr. Bill O'Reilly presiding.

The woman in a blue dress, with long, blonde hair falling over her shoulders, was looking out of the screen. "I remember when I was stuck on a bridge in Washington DC," she was saying, "and someone who meant me harm was approaching. I didn't have a gun as it's a felony to have a gun in Washington DC. The results aren't just one of the highest murder rates in the country, but the criminals like that man walk up to women like me without fear. I am woman, I can vote, my body is sacred, and yet I can't defend myself and my body from harm."

"Do you think," said Mr. O'Reilly, "that liberals WANT you to be mugged, WANT you to be raped, WANT you to be murdered, so they can then use that to impose more of their laws and gun control on society?"

"I don't know, but they obviously have a very sick mind. They KNOW what effects their laws have, and their solution is always more, more, more. Either liberals are evil, or they are very, very sick. Otherwise, why do they force women to be so helpless? Or for that matter, why do they cast suspicion on our police and military and then insist only our police and military have guns?"

"So what happened with the thug on the bridge?"

"Oh," said the woman with a hint of humor, "a man came along and helped."

"Was he a liberal?"

They both laughed, along with the audience.

"I want to show you something," said O'Reilly, "to prove that liberals know what you know, indeed what we all know." He turned to someone off screen. "Roll that tape we found." Turning back to his guest, he added, "You're not going to believe what we found."

Footage came on marked, "Arms & The Woman. CBS 60 Minutes. Broadcast Sunday 10 October 1993." Daria saw one of the reporters from the show, but she wasn't sure if it was Mike Wallace or that Safer guy. She didn't watch the show enough to be sure which was which. (She only recognized Bill O'Reilly because MAD magazine satirized him so much.) He was saying that in 1989, Smith and Wesson introduced a gun line called the "Ladysmith." By 1991, sales of guns to women doubled. "Why," he wondered, "do 15-20 million women own guns?"

He went to footage of an interview with author and Firearms Instructor Paxton Quigley. She asserted that training women to use guns is a form of equality, a form of feminist empowerment. She pointed out that men have used guns as tools for hundreds of years, while traditionally many women have not. The interviewer noted that she had once been a gun-control activist with HCI.

He showed a clip of her teaching the use of firearms, and then returned to the recorded interview. She told how a friend had heard a man breaking into her house. She called the police and begged for help. The man broke in, raped the woman, and left. The police arrived 30 minutes after the emergency call had been placed. That, Quigley said, was when she first decided to buy a gun. In time she came to reject HCI and its anti-gun dogma.

"The simple fact," said the interviewer, "is that women are buying guns like never before."

A nurse in Kentucky, Rhonda Carter, reported how she routinely carried a gun on the advice of her husband. He was a police officer who worked nights. Getting out of her car late one night, she was grabbed by a man who ripped her clothes and stated his intent to rape her. In the struggle, she shot him and he died of a bullet in the heart. When asked if she had any remorse (and Daria heard Bill O'Reilly's audience groan in the background), she said, "No. He attacked me and I defended myself. It sounds callous, but no."

Then a woman named Sylvia Hazzard was interviewed. She had carried a gun in her purse. One night she was kidnapped at gun point and forced to drive to an isolated area in the local mountains. Her assailant raped her. He then ordered her to put her clothes on and get out of the vehicle. Her cigarettes and purse (with gun inside) were on the floor. She asked if she could get her cigarettes, and he pointed his gun at her head and told her, "No. You won't be needing those." Ms. Hazzard said she felt sure, at that moment, that he meant to kill her, and so she had nothing to lose. She grabbed the purse and got her gun. The rapist fired and missed. She fired and hit. The rapist died. She told the interviewer that now she won't go anywhere without her gun. (Daria heard a faint cheering of O'Reilly's audience.)

The next interview was with Sarah Brady of Handgun Control, Inc. Ms. Brady claimed that while handguns may make women feel safer, women are in fact less safe after buying a gun. She proclaimed, "If more guns made us safer, then America would be the safest nation in the world."

Ms. Brady then blamed the gun industry and people like Paxton Quigley, who had once worked for her, for needless gun deaths.

In return, Paxton Quigley told that she has trained some 3500 women to shoot and that these women have told her amazing stories. A brief cut was shown of her telling how a stalker with a restraining order against him continued to stalk his ex. The police failed to stop him. His ex, armed and trained to use her gun, did not fail. There were some real similarities with Matthew in that case, only it seemed that woman didn't go to prison the way Daria was likely to do.

Then the scene went back to O'Reilly and his guest. "Sarah Brady and the CDC went on to say that guns were a health hazard."

"I wonder how much grant money CDC got for that?" murmured the blonde.

Bill O'Reilly laughed cynically, "I hope it's not enough to make them sleep easy at night. Now the question is, if the liberals know women are safer with guns, then why are they trying to stop women from having guns?"

"As you say," replied the blonde, "they know. So they must be evil, or very, very sick. They most definitely hate America. A liberal will bleed for a serial rapist and his rights while ignoring the rights of a woman. In fact, a liberal disarms women to make it easier to rape them in the first place."

"I still don't get how the media will defend rapists and batterers if a woman defends herself with a gun and yet feminist organizations continue to use them as their Bible," O'Reilly said. "That seems inconsistent."

The woman added, "The New York Times has viciously denounced Attorney General John Ashcroft for having the temerity to suggest that the Second Amendment protects the 'right of the people to keep and bear arms' as it most certainly does. What the paper is doing, besides attacking the Constitution, is defending the Central Park rapists. I think the feminist organizations are starting to wake up and realize that. Maybe they'll realize that the papers are lying to them when they demonize us, too."

"In a country where the National Organization of Women have attacked any woman that even suggested impropriety from a Democratic candidate, have opposed Republicans that have tried to pass a victim's rights amendment that would stand by rape victims more than the rapists, and have even joined Hillary Clinton in destroying any woman that dares tell the truth about Bill Clinton, can feminism be trusted?"

The blonde shook her head, a look of disgust on her face. "First, you have to realize that the National Organization of Women is not about feminism, it's about partisanship. Second, they got a huge government grant to back the Clintons. Third, they need women to be victims to justify the socialized evil the Democrats are trying to force on us all. It's not feminism, it's communism. Tammy Bruce, who served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, is beginning to tell us what went on inside the N-O-W, and it's not pretty, and it's not about empowering women, but empowering the Democratic Party. More and more women are coming to realize this, too."

"So women could start to vote Republican?"

"Tammy Bruce did. Still, plenty of women would rather have daycare centers than a strong military, so the Demoleftists will promise them diaper changes and no police or military protection against those foul perverts who would despoil women and children." She snorted her contempt and added, "And disarm the law abiding, thus empowering the criminals, and when rapes rise, as they will, blame the guns instead of the liberals who are soft on crime and evil in their policy making."

Bill O'Reilly, shaking his head, went, "Can you imagine how evil it is to try to deny guns to women, and to the elderly, and to those most vulnerable by criminals, only to defend the rights of these scumbags after they strike? And how can women support this?"

Also shaking her head, the blonde replied, "I think women are finally waking up to what is going on, and how the National Organization of Women has betrayed feminism and betrayed women by defending rapists and by defending dirty old men like Clinton."

"Do you think the feminists will start to listen to us? Is it really possible?"

The woman shrugged. "Our audiences are primarily people who work for a living. But it is possible that as the economy improves under Bush's tax plan, and liberals continue to defend rapists and homicidal stalkers, that they'll start to trickle over to our side. Believe me, when you're facing down someone who wants to hurt, rape, and kill you, as a woman, you learn real fast that guns are our friends!"

Bill O'Reilly shook his head. "No, they equate gun control with peace."

"Whether on a national or personal scale, peace comes through superior firepower. That's another point I think the feminists are starting to realize."

"Well I sure wouldn't harass a woman with a gun," said O'Reilly to laughter, "maybe make some obscene, just kidding." He and the blonde laughed. "Well, I think we know who the true feminists are, though, don't we?" said Bill O'Reilly. The crowd cheered wildly.

"Not the liberals," replied the woman. "Another thing about liberals is their always being against America. Everything is the fault of America, or third world savages are good. You can't say what we're saying right now, the truth, without them shouting, 'McCarthyism!' A term they made up after defaming a great man that probably saved this country."

"As I said before, my guest is Anne Coulter," continued Bill O'Reilly, "author of numerous books and articles, and one of the women most feared by liberals for telling the truth about Clinton, and for telling the truth about them. If you haven't gotten her excellent, excellent books, like High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, I strongly recommend them. I especially ask the feminists to read about the sexual crimes and rapes committed by Clinton that the National Organization of Women defended, aided, and abetted. Then I think you'll agree that Anne Coulter is perhaps the TRUE feminist. Now let's take a look at some of the pseudo-feminists."

Footage obviously recorded elsewhere came on, but it was unclear if it was collected by Fox specifically, or through another network. A female talking head was saying, "According to the National Women's Law Center, 17 million women would receive no tax cut under Bush's plan yet three million families headed by women with children have an income below the federal poverty rate That's a large group that gets no benefit. Four out of 10 single mothers and nearly 5 out of 10 African American and Hispanic mothers would see no benefit."

The scene changed back to O'Reilly who said, "Don't you liberals understand that you can get jobs now? Well, not now, but soon. They also blasted Bush for his reinstating Ronald Reagan's Gag ruling of 1984, which doesn't give money for those who practice abortions." He shook his head before adding, "Liberals can't stand smoking, but they got to make sure we can have our abortions! Women can't be trusted with a gun, but serial rapists have got to be afforded every right, especially if the rapist is a minority. Then provide welfare by taxing people into poverty. I don't get their hypocrisy!"

"Me, neither," returned Ms. Coulter, "but I'm all too used to it."

Daria sighed, rolling her eyes, as she remembered just seeing Mr. Alexander of the Republican Party on another channel declaiming Daria's feminist supporters as "disgraceful" and "disturbing." In contrast, the liberals of NPR expressed disappointment that the NOW was taking a neutral stance and feminists in general seemed to be backing her.

Of course, both Mr. Alexander and this show were promoting partisan agendas over real issues, just as they were accusing their wild-eyed counterparts on the other side. They should call this show, 'The Kettle Hour, Where We Prove the Pot is Black!'. Daria smirked, thinking of how the Democrats would likely respond by saying the show promoted marijuana use. Then she focused on the sideshow again:

"Let me play some footage of someone sane for a change," said O'Reilly. "An interview done with Mr. Ralph Reed." The screen showed Ralph Reed talking outside a building with what looked like late afternoon traffic going by. The interviewer was male, but you could only tell by his voice.

The voice asked, "Why do these liberals only give one side of the story?"

"I don't know," said Ralph Reed, "that is an excellent question."

"What can we do about the liberal media?"

"Ignore it."

"Ignore it?"

"Sure," he said, "Twenty-five years ago, most people got their news from ABC, CBS, or NBC. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. The gatekeepers of the dominant media have lost their monopoly on information. But I, and other good Christians, haven't watched a major network in years. I get in the car in the morning and listen to Rush Limbaugh. On the way home, I listen to Sean Hannity. At night, I watch Fox News.

"People are starting to wake up to the bias of the media at large and turning to Fox. That's a good thing. We're going to take this country back. Remember the words of Ronald Reagan, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant: It's that they know so much that isn't so."

"To that I can say 'amen,' Mr. Reed. Thank you for talking with us today."

The show returned to Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter. "Now," said O'Reilly, "let's take a look at footage taken today outside the building in Newport where Mr. Alexander was speaking."

The scene showed many people standing outside a building. Most look respectable and some hold signs, but other protesters were not as demure.

O'Reilly explained, "A lot of this is over a girl who shot a drug dealer, gun blazing. He was trying to kill a girl who had a restraining order against him. But he failed because another student was armed. Maybe she wasn't entirely blameless herself, but she still saved her sister. And this has exposed the idiocy of liberalism and gun control laws and what they really think of women, don't you agree Anne?"

"Oh, absolutely," said Ms. Coulter, "the REAL feminist is a supporter of the NRA. Ask Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment. They're just one group of women that knows for women to be safe and secure, they need a couple of pounds of iron to even things out. And a gun is worth a ton of restraining orders."

"Let me show you this part," added O'Reilly.

On the screen were more protesters. One was a woman with a placard that read, "CIA Approved Fox News Channel," and another had a sign that read "Vote Republican" with a swastika emblazoned across it. Another sign showed a hooded KKK member with the phrase "compassionate conservatism?" Another was a red flag with the Fox logo and the swastika. On it was inscribed "We instruct, you obey." Another showed the GOP elephant with 666 on it.

"Look at these people," said Mr. O'Reilly. "These liberal reactionaries equate any who dissent from their hardcore socialist line to be Nazi hate mongers out to destroy America. Their continual use of scare tactics, false claims of media monopoly by the right, hypocrisy in upholding the morals of their own leftist candidates, and acting as if they're martyrs valiantly persevering against vast persecution makes me sick."

Ms. Coulter shook her head in disgust. "They're like escapees from Pescadero Mental Institution."

He stared now at the camera, seeming to look right at the viewer, "Well, I'm tired of these un-American Communists trying to destroy all decency in support of their lying politicians, Communist News Network, and siccing the ACLU on anyone who thinks Christianity is what this nation was founded on. We should be able to speak our minds, but the socialists try to shut us up at every turn, and brainwash our children in public schools."

He shook his head resolutely. "Will the liberals look out for you? No, and neither will the wealthy, not the greedy corporations, and sure as hell not the media. Our news station is under constant assault, but I'll be looking out for you."

"Great," said Daria out loud to herself, "We have a really wealthy guy who works for a greedy media corporation to protect us from the greedy corporations." She flipped channels again, now utterly bored, and paused on one that showed an interview with Scott Rhode's mother. Apparently she was more worried about losing her home to drug seizure laws than about her son missing and with a stolen gun.

Daria hit the remote to turn the TV off when she heard a knock at the door. She was bored with all of it by then anyway. She couldn't remember the last time she had watched so much in one sitting, but she did remember now why she didn't make a habit of it. "Enter," she said.

Quinn came in, closing the door behind her, and sat down on Daria's bed beside her. Quinn hadn't shut herself in Daria's room before. Daria knew this was going to be good. Then Quinn asked, "What were you watching?"

She only blinked once before answering, "The responsible adult's version of gossip and rumor mongering at Lawndale High. Just... nothing. Unevolved monkeys flinging crap at each other." When Quinn just looked down, her voice softened. "What is it?"

Quinn looked back up. "Daria," she asked in a tone Daria hadn't heard Quinn used before, "what do you think happens to us when we die?"

Daria blinked in surprise. Before she thought about it, she said, "I think we're taken to Chicago and forced to vote Democrat till the end of time. Why?" When Quinn continued to stare at her pleadingly, Daria took in a deep breath and exhaled. "Sorry. I forgot to wear my tinfoil beanie before watching Fox." Quinn smiled only a little. "So this Scott person really has you bothered, huh?"

Quinn nodded. "Buffy can only be around for awhile. I had to depend on you to save me at first. And then Buffy kept the nightmares away, but only most of the time. Then when Scott tried killing me... all Buffy did was cause his supergun to jam. I mean that's good and impressive and all but that wasn't enough. It was the stuff in that women's self-defense class that helped me. I mean Buffy helped a little, but still... I'm scared."

"Do you have nightmares about Scott, too, now?" asked Daria.

"Yes," said Quinn. "But the guns in my dreams work now. So do my martial arts. But I dreamed Scott crawled through my window and chased me. He was also Matthew at the same time. I didn't have a gun. All I could do was run. He shot me and I woke up."

"Where was Buffy?" asked Daria.

"I don't know," said Quinn. "She says it tires her to do too much. So I guess she was resting. That's why she's not enough to save me. I have to save myself."

"Why couldn't Buffy tell you not to go on a date with this Scott anyway? I mean it couldn't take too much energy to check out your date, right?" asked Daria. Right after she said it, Daria wished she hadn't, but it was too late to take it back then.

"I don't know," said Quinn. "I guess Buffy didn't know."

"And Buffy doesn't know what happens after we die, huh?" asked Daria cautiously, but believing Quinn wasn't going to freak out on her.

Quinn shrugged. "I asked, but the answer didn't make any sense. That happens sometimes. Like when I tried to get Buffy's true name, I just couldn't hear it. Some things we weren't meant to know."

Daria caught herself from an exclamation at that point. Quinn needed all the comfort she could get with Scott on the loose. After a pause, she said, "Well, I certainly don't know, Quinn. But I know while I'm alive, I'll do whatever I can to keep you alive, too."

Quinn broke down and cried then, and without any thought, Daria embraced her, with Quinn returning the embrace. "I don't understand," cried Quinn, tears dropping down her face, "I worked so hard for everybody's approval but yours and in the end it was you who stood up for me. I just don't get it."

"I'm pretty comfortable in my hell," said Daria, a little teasingly, "and it just wouldn't be hell without you."

Quinn actually laughed a little at that. Then she looked at Daria again. Daria felt anger again as she looked on her battered face. "I used to wish Matthew in Hell," said Quinn, "only I don't anymore. I mean, it's like he was already in Hell, and now he's free. But I'm still stuck here in Hell, even with a guardian angel, and I don't know how to get out."

"Huh?" asked Daria, in true confusion.

Quinn wiped a few tears away, and pulled slightly away from Daria. "Everything Matthew did was so people would like him, be impressed with him. He wanted to be 'the Man' or 'all that' or whatever. But he was from a trashy home with parents more fucked up than ours." She swallowed. "I mean really fucked up. And in a way it's kinda impressive what he managed to do."

"It just cost him his soul," said Daria, finding it weird to hear Quinn casually use the word "fuck."

"The world bled his soul dry and then he managed to make do with what he had," said Quinn. "And you know why I dated him?"

"The mind boggles," said Daria calmly. "His hot car, his money, his popularity which grew from these things, competition with the Fashion Drones, or something like that."

"You're seeing the trees, but not the forest," replied Quinn casually.

"Huh?" asked Daria. Quinn was definitely changing. She just hoped the changes were good and not bad.

"It's all about image, Daria. Matthew didn't have anything, so he made an image that he had it. And I did the same."

Daria shook her head. "I'm sorry, I really don't understand. But I want to."

Quinn smiled. "I know. That's why I came to you. And I'm not sure I understand, either." After a pause, she added, "I worked to achieve popularity. No one really cared for me. They were concerned with themselves and their projects. I got to be the same way. And I needed someone to care for me, someone to make me feel safe. And I thought I had it with my looks and by winning all the right games. But I wasn't popular at all. When I need them everyone just runs or falls on the ground or cries under their desk. It was all an image that meant nothing. Only you're here for me. You and Buffy."

"Um," said Daria, amazed that Quinn would have such insights. She swallowed as she remembered Quinn surprising her with an insight into why she, Daria, was so unfriendly. That had happened when Quinn was crying over David, her tutor, for his rejection. She had to admit, in her own way, Quinn was very intelligent--almost as smart as Daria herself, just not in a "brainy" way.

Quinn smiled at the one word Daria managed to get out. "Matthew needed to be loved and cared for. He got that by becoming someone that people were dependent on. By doing that, he also became rich and got all the right clothes, the right car, and everything else. He even got me to complete his image. I did the same with him. He was just a way to get back at Sandi, to play the game. We used each other and we were both after the same thing. And neither one of us had what we thought we had. It was all..." Quinn shook her head, "illusion."

"Quinn," said Daria concerned, "this is true of a lot of people. At least you can see through it now--"

"I didn't WANT to see through it," exclaimed Quinn. "I'm scared seeing through it. Okay, I was scared before, only I didn't know of what. But now I know what I'm really afraid of and I don't know what to do about it! At least before, I thought I knew what I could do and so I had hope!"

"Um," said Daria, "what do you think you'd need now?"

"I need to be strong, like you or Buffy," said Quinn. She looked up to Daria then and added, "and you're a lot stronger than you think you are, Daria. Really, you are. I can see that now. I'm the one who's weak."

"Is that why you wanted the gun and the classes in martial arts?"

"Yeah," said Quinn. "I don't know if it's enough, but it's a start. When Buffy did all she could to save me, it came down to what I can do. It was enough for that night. Except for the police."

"I don't know if there's anything you can do about them," said Daria.

"There's always something you can do. You can be invisible. You can find strength with others. You can become rich enough that the law doesn't want to touch you."

"You have... a plan?" asked Daria, stunned that Quinn would think like that.

Quinn nodded. "Become the best damn martial artist ever," she said. "And learn to shoot. Get a gun as soon as I can. Take acting lessons. Become a movie star, either martial arts or action, I haven't decided. Achieve such fame and wealth that no cop would dare touch me, and have a bunch of bodyguards around me."

Daria blinked. She quickly decided not to mention Marilyn Monroe... or Bruce Lee. "That's... some vision you have there, Quinn. I'm impressed."

"Thanks," said Quinn. "Buffy was telling me that I shouldn't give up all that I had learned, only to be aware of its limitations. That's what I'm doing now."

"Actually, Quinn... that's a decent plan. I mean there will be the tabloids, other people of your caliber, the dirty deals, maybe even blackmail and extortion... but I've heard much worse. I really do think you can do it if you want."

Quinn smiled a little at Daria. "Thanks, Daria. That means something to me. You're really smart. But..."

"What?" asked Daria.

Quinn shrugged. "It's going to be many years before that happens. And it could only be a few minutes until Scott breaks in and kills us all." She leaned back into Daria, and Daria embraced her again. This time, Quinn didn't cry.

"We're under police surveillance," said Daria. "After what happened the last time there was trouble, I doubt they'll be caught by surprise again. We're safe."

"The cops are stupid," said Quinn, still leaning against Daria.

Daria smiled. "Yes, they most certainly are. But Scott isn't exactly experienced or resourceful. I'm not saying he's dumb, but he would be stupid to come here. If he's smart, he'll be a long way from Lawndale by now."

A couple of minutes later, Quinn looked back up. "Thanks, Daria." She kissed Daria on the cheek and hugged her again. She got up and left, saying, "G'night."

"Goodnight," said Daria, feeling a little dazed by all of that. Not even bothering to get ready for bed, she lay down and went to sleep figuring she'd rather clean herself up when everyone else was asleep.

Quinn got ready for bed. In her room, she put on an Opeth CD. She giggled a bit as she wondered what the Fashion Club would do if they knew she even had an Opeth CD. As the prog-rock played softly, she glanced nervously at her window and turned her lamp off, leaving the room in darkness. Then she went up to her window and stared out. She saw what she assumed to be the police watching her house.

"Buffy?" Quinn asked. She felt Buffy approaching, so she said her name again to help. "Buffy?" Quinn said it softly so that no one was likely to hear her talking out loud. She could talk silently, but it was harder that way for some reason.

Yes, Quinn? Faint, but solid.

"Are those the cops?"

Yes, Quinn.

"Are they scared or bored?"


"Will they stop Scott if he comes?"

Buffy said something that didn't translate into Quinn's mind and Quinn sighed. She felt a bit of an apology from Buffy.

Quinn went back to her bed and chose the dark. It would be harder for Scott to see in or get in if he made it in. "Matthew had to be the best. He had to have the money, the car, the best girl, and everything. He needed it because he needed everyone else's validation. Aren't I the same?"


"Why?" Quinn's voice was weaker now.

You hadn't learned enough to be on your own.

"I've learned so much now, Buffy," Quinn mumbled sleepily.

Yes, but are you ready to learn to stand up on your own feet without being carried by everyone else?

Quinn blinked, surprised by her own answer. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I am."

Buffy began shining brightly and Quinn squinted against the light of it. She found she could barely move, like the time Buffy first came to her. "Buffy?" Quinn asked. "What's happening? Are you leaving me?"

Yes, Quinn. I was here to get you on the path. I leave you this light to shine in your soul. You will be your own guardian angel. Everything you need is within yourself. A little bit of me is in this light, and I will come again when you truly need me to stand by you. Until then, you are your own Buffy.

Quinn felt a Power deep within her wake itself, a Power she never even suspected she had. Her entire body sang with the ecstasy of it and she silently laughed in pleasure. She went deep into sleep, and when Scott came for her, it was Scott's gun that didn't work. Quinn walked up fearlessly and took the gun out of his hand and twisted it with her hands. Scott ran. Then Matthew leaped at her, a vampiric demon. A swift horizontal fist and Matthew was blown into oblivion.

As she fell into empowering dreams that promised her a Power within, Opeth played Death Whispered a Lullaby:

Out on the road there are fireflies circling
Deep in the woods, where the lost souls hide
Over the hill there are men returning
Trying to find some peace of mind

Sleep my child...

Under the fog there are shadows moving
Don't be afraid, hold my hand
Into the dark there are eyelids closing
Buried alive in the shifting sands

Sleep my child...

Speak to me now and the world will crumble
Open a door and the moon will fall
All of your life, all your memories
Go to your dreams, forget it all

Sleep my child...




04/02/01 MONDAY 11:00 P.M.

FBI Agent Chin had been undercover in Lawndale for months, working with the amphetamines dealer known on the streets as "Evil Eddie." It wasn't a job she'd wanted to do, but the FBI said they thought he was involved in selling weapons to foreign and local terrorist organizations. Neither the DEA nor the BATF could be trusted, her boss had told her. And Evil Eddie had been looking for a secretary as part of his "new image" of moving up in the world shortly after the disappearance of the previous alpha of methamphetamines.

She was the first of three agents to apply. He hired her almost on the spot. This surprised her for she had been told he was one of those "Aryan" racists. She later came to realize he wasn't particularly racist, though many of his associates were. He even chastised those who called her gook, chink, or slant. He'd had some bad experiences with African Americans, but he just coldly dismissed any that weren't rivals, and not many were in the same market. And he had the useful misconception that the FBI didn't hire people of Asian descent.

Agent Chin had been working with the FBI and the criminal underworld for a couple of years now and she was hard pressed to say which was more paranoid and more plagued by idiocy and SNAFU.

For the last six months she had been on the inside, working from a front known as Sherman Storage that supposedly held furniture and other supplies in rented self-storage units for people on the move, watching every move Evil Eddie made and dodging his romantic overtures.

But he eventually let her in on his "secret" which wasn't that tightly kept in the first place. He had even seemed to come to respect her, but he still tried getting into her pants by persuasion and endless flirtation. All the while, she sabotaged his schemes, filed reports on his operations, and reaped valuable information on his business and his clients. And her boss, Patterson, STILL wasn't satisfied because he wanted the terrorists or their connection.

She held on because she thought there might be something to it. Eddie had been getting more and more paranoid, and Agent Chin didn't think he was using his own product or any other drugs. But he had a history of drug abuse, so he could've been slipping back into it. But then again, what if he knew someone else that the FBI was really after? Someone who might want to silence Evil Eddie? Maybe this new "threat" of his was the one the FBI was looking for.

Evil Eddie came up to her and kissed the back of her neck. She twisted out and he laughed lightly, enjoying their dance. She wondered what he would do if she ever kissed him back. He just smiled at her and handed her the keys to the van. She took them, blinking, and he said, "I think we're gonna finally catch these motherfuckers."

"Who?" asked Agent Chin. She had been trained well not to assume.

"The sons of bitches that have been cutting in on my territory," he said. "Did you call McGrundy's?"

"Yeah," she said, "Mystik Spiral is playing there. So far, they're the only band they have signed up."

"Makes sense," he replied, "since that's the first place we go." He frowned. He'd had them followed, and even sent people to talk to them directly, and by all appearances they didn't have anything to do with his product. So why were the fingers still pointing at them? He was hoping to find out tonight.

Agent Chin narrowed her eyes. "I don't like this, it sounds dangerous."

He flashed his eyes at her flirtatiously again. She sighed in exasperation as he said, "Worried about me, huh?"

"Worried about having to find a new employer," she said, and he laughed.

She quickly walked into the garage to see half a dozen armed thugs standing and smoking cigarettes. Every one of them had a gun in sight, and one of those guns looked like a Mac-11 SMG. Another had an AR-15 right beside him. They all stared at her and she got the impression that some didn't like her and that they were all jacked up. She swallowed. She jumped a bit when Evil Eddie came past her, slapping her butt.

"We're leaving," said Evil Eddie harshly to the men. He almost never talked to her that way. One opened the back of the van and the others piled in, one grabbing the AR-15 before he got in.

Agent Chin was nervous. They looked high on the shit Evil Eddie made, and she didn't know how anyone could remain alive, let alone sane, once they put that stuff in their veins. For that matter, how could any sane person put that stuff in their body in the first place? But she also knew if they were pulled over by the cops, it could be a blood bath. Two cops had just been shot, and one of them was dead. But if this led to whomever she had been hired to find out about, then she didn't see any other option. She'd been at this long enough and wanted it over. So she got in and drove.

But nothing came of it. McGrundy's was calm, having just opened after repairing some water damage. It wasn't Evil Eddie's type of place, really, though he didn't mind it. But he was too excited to enjoy what little of it he could, and then disappointed. He glared angrily at Mystik Spiral playing on stage, and Agent Chin passed a trained eye around. She noticed that someone took a picture of them. They struck her as being cops and she chose to say nothing to Evil Eddie, but it made her nervous. Did whoever called them also call the police? If so, why? Or was the contact a cop? If so, what game were they playing? She'd have to ask her support team to look into it as soon as she had a chance.

Agent Chin studied Mystik Spiral and didn't think they had anything to do with drug dealing. They were musicians. They might be users, but probably of pot, not speed. H at worse, and she doubted it.

"Come on," said an annoyed Evil Eddie. "We're leaving."

Agent Chin readily got up. Another thing she had to be nervous about was the two guys Eddie had left in the van. If he stayed inside for too long, they had orders to come in ready for trouble. Jacked up, paranoid, and heavily armed, trouble was assured if they came in.

Back in the driver's seat, she listened calmly as Eddie slapped the dashboard and issued forth a storm of profanity.

"Where the fuck were they!?" he finally demanded.

"Could it have been a ruse?" she asked out loud.

"What!?" shouted Evil Eddie, and Agent Chin flinched slightly. "I'm sorry," he said more calmly. "What?"

She wished she hadn't spoken, but he'd become pissed again if she didn't. "What if someone was wanting to get into your house while we were gone? To steal, plant a bug, or..."

"Or worse," he said more calmly. "Yeah, I see what you're saying." He pulled his cell phone out and hit a button. "Yeah," he said, "It was a wash. Anyone try breaking in?" He listened a moment and then said, "I want you to check around. Just one of you, but keep in touch. Something's fucked up." Then he hung up.

Agent Chin knew he had only two people there. And could they really be trusted? The adrenaline she was hooked on began pouring into her system and she secretly relished it. Sneaking a glance at Evil Eddie beside her, she asked, "Any word on the Rhodes boy?" FBI wanted to know where he was, too. So far, all leads turned up nothing.

He snorted. "When I find him, he's dead. I haven't found him yet."

They were now on the final street. She slowed down so as to casually pass the house and get a good look before pulling in. She wished she could turn the music off, but Evil Eddie wouldn't like that. He loved his metal. She had rolled her eyes when she found out he got his name because of his earlier devotion to Iron Maiden. Being tall and gangly, at least in his youth, with long, blond hair, he styled himself as "Eddie," an Iron Maiden logo or mascot or whatever. His last name was Edwards, too, which must have helped.

At least he wasn't such a metal head anymore, but he still liked the music. Right now, Forgive Me by Godsmack was on. If the FBI ever wanted information on heavy metal bands, past and present, she could at least fill out pages and pages on THAT from the trivia and songs she absorbed while working this case. She wondered how long this discordant music would haunt her. It was often in her dreams now.

She slowed a bit more as she rounded the final bend, with the stink of tobacco and gun oil filling the van, and Godsmack blaring:

There's nothing to me now. An empty shell unfolded.
How, when we learn to pray inside our demons are laughing
How long will this go on? Are we a bit much stronger?
Do you think you can save me from living this way?

I don't know how to love. I just know how to live.
All I feel is hate. Will you forgive me?

For all those things I've done, they keep on creeping by me.
And though we've changed our ways,
still all our demons are laughing.
How long will this go on? Aren't we a bit much stronger?
I'd like to think you've came into my life to stay.

As she pulled up to Eddie's digs, she frowned in concern as she saw a strange station wagon parked on their street. It appeared empty, but no one should be parked there. She was as paranoid as Evil Eddie now, she realized.

"Call those guys again," she said.

Evil Eddie laughed a bit, but it was a bit forced. "You really DO care for me, babe."

Stopping the van by their driveway, she yelled, "Call them, goddamnit!"

"Okay, okay," he said, "but pull in the garage."

"I'd rather you call them first," said Agent Chin.

"I will, but I want my boys behind me with their hardware, so pull into the goddamn garage!"

Pursing her lips, she turned back to face the street and hit the button that would open the gate and then the garage door. She drove through warily and parked in the garage. The gate and garage door closed behind them. Agent Chin opened her door and quickly got out, standing at ready, listening for anything unusual. Everything seemed okay, except that Eddie slammed the phone down.

"Damn," he said in a low, intense voice, "if nothing's wrong, I'm gonna kick the shit out of them." Then cocking his head back, he yelled out, "There may be trouble. I want you ready." A few clicks of guns being made ready answered him. Someone lit another cigarette.

Agent Chin took a deep breath to steady herself and pulled her own gun, a Glock 20. Evil Eddie had already pulled a .44 Magnum that he claimed his dad had given to him before he got killed in a drug raid. It was his "lucky" gun, and the biggest mistake his dad had made was give away his lucky gun, for he died almost right after. He found the gun reassuring whenever he had it on him or needed a gun in hand.

They were all out now, and coming quickly around. Evil Eddie took the keys from Agent Chin and tossed them to a guy with long, brown hair and a lit cigarette in his mouth. He motioned for him to open the door. Then he grabbed Agent Chin's wrist and pulled her behind them, towards the back of the van.

Even expecting trouble, Agent Chin was unprepared for the deafening blast as the door opened. The guy who'd opened it flew back against the van, blood pouring out of him, and she screamed. He was dead before he hit the ground.

"SHIT!" yelled Evil Eddie, "CONTACT!" Seeing Agent Chin staring in stunned horror at the corpse, he grabbed her just under the shoulder and pulled her behind the van. Then he got on the ground and crawled underneath the van.

Agent Chin's professional training finally kicked in and she took up a position, plotting her moves and her escape. She had no idea how many there'd be inside, but she was sure there would be more than one.

To her amazement, the other guys ran up to the door, shooting in. The one with the AR-15 finally rolled on the ground, pointing the rifle in and let out a burst. When no gunfire answered back right away, the others ran in, guns blazing.

IDIOTS! she thought, Aim, goddamnit! You're just wasting ammo!

She had hardly finished the thought when she heard different guns. A LOT of guns. Her gut clenched in terror, and then she aimed her Glock down as she felt a hand pull at the bottom of her jeans. Evil Eddie had gotten the keys apparently and handed them to her. "Get the van started!" he yelled.

She quickly jumped over to the button by the garage door and pressed it, causing the door to begin opening. As it opened, she ran to the other side of the van and opened the door. But as she was about to get in on the shotgun side, she saw at least three people with long firearms running towards the door leading into the garage and she jumped back out of the van, accidentally dropping the keys to the floor, yelling, "Incoming!"

Evil Eddie, still under the van, opened fired. It seemed to stop them, but return fire did rip into the van. No way! No fucking way! thought Agent Chin, Patterson can go fuck himself! Patterson was her dick of a boss.

She fled out the opened door, her Glock held out in front of her as she scanned for enemies. She saw none, and heard Evil Eddie continuing to fire. She ducked behind a tree and scanned the grounds for any threat. No one, but that only made her more nervous. She had a hard time believing these were amateurs.

And then several seconds of silence. They seemed to her as loud as the gun shots in the closed garage had. She ran, tears falling. She knew Evil Eddie was out of ammo. She was surprised and angry to find she really did care about him.

As much as she hated doing it, she put her Glock away for she would need both hands for what she was about to do. Breaking into a mad run she made it to the fence in mere moments and climbed over it, bruising herself only a little as she pulled herself over and quickly dropped down. Then she pulled her Glock again and looked all about her. No one in immediate sight.

She trotted down the street a little and pulled her cell phone out. She stopped long enough to dial a number that she didn't dare keep on autodial. She silently cursed as she heard the answering machine click on with its ordinary sounding request for a message. Why does he have to be in the bathroom NOW? she wailed to herself.

While the machine droned on, she heard gunshots in the garage and knew Evil Eddie was no more. The nearest house was a quarter of a mile away and wouldn't be friendly to her. She heard a car starting from somewhere not far behind her and she ran off the road, but found it difficult to crawl through the barbed wire to get into the woods. She was still trying when the car pulled up beside her and a man jumped out.

She instantly straightened and spun with her Glock pointed at the man but held her fire. The man was pointing his own gun at her, but she vaguely recognized the man and hoped for salvation. She dropped her Glock and her cell phone and got to her knees with her hands up. "I surrender!" she shouted. "Where are the other cops?"

He held a gun at her but didn't say anything. He squeezed the trigger and Agent Chin felt shock, but surprisingly little pain, as her right arm fell. Getting shot in the chest right by your shoulder will do that she thought calmly, before she let herself drop to the ground. Maybe being down will calm the crazy-ass motherfucker! she thought. She'd gotten used to the style of talk Evil Eddy used. She vaguely wondered if Evil Eddie's ghost was at hand watching this, and if he now knew she was FBI. If so, did he hate her?

She lay there motionless but terrified as the cop came up to her. She heard the FBI answering machine hang up on her cell phone and knew for the moment, she was truly alone. The cop grabbed her now useless arm and pulled her over, stepping back and letting go. "I'm..." Before she could finish telling him she was FBI, two quick gunshots silenced her forever.

The cop who killed Agent Chin made his call then to the police station. He knew that anyone still in the home was dead or gone. The assassins had strict orders to kill anyone of their own party who couldn't be dragged away, and he didn't doubt that they would do it.

They bothered even him. The Ice Cold truly made cold motherfuckers who didn't fear anybody. He understood. He would himself kill a friend if necessary. If Wild Card had given him orders to kill a fellow cop, he'd have done it. But seeing the similarity between the Ice Cold killers and himself disturbed him. They were killer animals, he was professional.

The Lawndale PD showed up in force not long after. With all signs of regret he told them he'd had to shoot a female of Oriental descent after she pulled a gun on him. Her gun lay beside her, where he left her for homicide and internal affairs to look into. He was damn sorry that the others got away.

They told him he was lucky. Those people were crazed and had A LOT of serious guns. The house was a mess. One of the new guys had thrown up. It was his first time to see a dead person. He agreed that this had been a bloody carnage, tough for a rookie.

Just as he was leaving, he saw Agent Fleming of the BATF arrive. He hated that prick. It bothered him that he was as interested in Daria Morgendorffer as Wild Card and Dara were. Strangely, both Fleming and Wild Card had told him to leave the Morgendorffers alone, for the time being. Particularly Daria.

Was Fleming working for Wild Card, too?

And Dara, who'd shot the cops outside the Morgendorffer home, had also told him to back off. He owed that crazy bitch. He hated the way she'd looked at him. And she'd dared to shoot his cops. They had broken orders, but that was no excuse for the bitch to shoot them. That was pure malice. All she'd had to do was get arrested and let him get her out.

As it was, she'd neutralized or alienated the few cops he had managed to corrupt for Wild Card. The ones left weren't about to expose themselves, but they were almost hostile to him now. All he had left to work with were the idiots he manipulated.

But that was okay, in the end. It was exciting to plan how he would kill Dara and cover up his involvement in it, or at least justify himself to Wild Card and/or the "proper" authorities. An attitude like hers needed to be killed.

Lost in thought, about to drive away, he suddenly realized Agent Fleming was staring at him coldly. He shook his head in disgust. He knew with someone as high up as Fleming getting involved, their plans for two Morgendorffer girls, Scott Rhodes, not to mention Jane Lane and that freakish band, were going to have to be speeded up.

Heading back to the station, he sighed as he remembered speaking to Jane Lane and the two Morgendorffer sisters at one time or another since this unfortunate incident accidentally got started. He chuckled. Started, and then someone decided to exploit it. Not the news crews, activists and aspiring politicians, but the people that mattered.

He'd regret watching Quinn die. She was cute. He vaguely wondered if he could spare her and how grateful she would be if he did. Naaa, too much a liability, he casually decided, sealing her fate. And Jane... there was something about that girl that he kind of liked. She reminded him of his own teen years, before everything went bad. But he was already in too deep to get out now. The fact was, they all were going to have to be killed soon, possibly by the same rabid dogs that just took out Evil Eddie.

He hoped that they would all see his face and know him for the vile bastard he was, just before they died. He looked forward to "sorrowfully" reporting their deaths to their respective parents. He got a thrill out of affecting them so deeply and they'd never know that he had killed their kids.

The real thrill, though, was from the "got'cha" moment. Like the gook bitch he'd just murdered, when she realized in the last moment of her life that a cop was killing her and he'd get away with it. That made up for the aggravation, like Fleming.

He loved the "got'cha" moments. The innocent had the best expressions, not that anyone was truly innocent. He suspected Jane and especially Quinn would make an expression that would amuse him for years. He frowned as he thought about Daria. She would have that same deadpan expression just before her head was blown off. Very little unnerved him, but for some reason, that girl did. I think I'll kill her myself with a shotgun to the back of her head, he thought, just to make sure it's done right.

He'd better check up on Scott Rhodes, too.

At the Morgendorffer residence, Daria and Quinn slept on, unaware that that one of Lawndale's finest was plotting their untimely demise.




04/03/01 TUESDAY 3:00 PM

Quinn stared at the gun shoved in her face and tried not to panic. Everything's cool, calm down!, she told herself, but she only half believed it. She remembered what to do. Moving her head to the left, even as she stepped to the left, she brought her left hand up in the opposite direction and felt a hint of triumph as her hand caught the gun and twisted it to point down. Her right hand lashed out at the gunman face, instead of his neck as she felt like doing.

He tried pulling away, taking his gun with him. No way was Quinn letting him do that. She brought her right hand down and grabbed the top of the back of the gun, and twisted the gun down further and against the wrists with both hands.

She instinctively avoided the ejection port when she did this.

The man had his head down and grabbed at his wrist. She suppressed the urge to kick or knee him at several vulnerable points, and she didn't turn the gun on him because she knew it was just a prop. The acting injured was just a way of saying enough. It was used with newbies like her, as well as to help instill confidence in the practitioner. Quinn sniffed a bit at that. She saw the more advanced students spar, and she didn't see why she and her family couldn't spar like that. It wasn't as if Scott was going go easy on her!

I guess this stuff takes practice, too, thought Quinn, a little dismayed. But she had the power of the angels in her and she was confident she could master this course in record time. But Quinn was a little dismayed at just how easily a gun could be taken away. After all, that meant her gun could be taken away, too. Scott had told her Matthew had thought about becoming a police officer. Just how much more dangerous would he have been with this kind of training? But at least, she reminded herself, now she knew what to do if someone pointed a gun at her again.

Like the Wing Chun class, only a few of the people wore uniforms. Most of the students wore athletic shoes and clothes, with black sweat pants and karate pants being the most common leg wear. A few wore tees for a KML. Nearly everyone wore handwraps tight around their wrists, hands, and thumb, leaving the fingers out. Daria, Quinn, and Helen had all been shown how to put these on, to protect the bones and tendons in their hands.

Daria and Quinn both recognized a few police officers. And at least a couple of them seemed to recognize them, but none made any attempt to talk to them. Mrs. Jespersen, whom Helen had been referred to by Ms. Ribner, was married to a Lawndale deputy.

As they had been told, Krav Maga was a brutal form of self-defense that dealt with how to combat armed assailants, including those with firearms. A lot of the moves looked as though they could work, at least against someone like Scott or Matthew. But Quinn found herself doubting that everything she was witnessing would work, especially against an experienced streetfighter. Krav Maga had some dirty tricks, but she found herself wishing to learn more of them, even though it would take practice to use these few effectively.

Krav Maga was also crueler than what WSD Class had taught. Where Quinn had grabbed a thumb and twisted out of Scott's grip when he grabbed her from behind, the instructors here had brutal tactics of first ramming your fingers in the eyes of the guy behind you. And a lot of aggressive strikes using fists, elbows, and feet. If Scott had tried what he did to her on these people, he'd probably have been killed by their bare hands.

Quinn saw Daria viewing the demonstrations with some concern and wondered why this was bothering her.

Oblivious to Quinn's scrutiny, Daria found her flesh crawling as she not only noticed the inherent cruelty and aggression of Krav Maga, but also recognized the style. It was what that woman had used on Beavis and Butt-head before she shot those two police officers. She found herself scanning the room to see if she could find that blonde, even though she knew that was ridiculous. Blondie has to be several states away, if she's even still in the United States, Daria told herself. But could she learn to defend herself if this is what potential assailants already knew to do?

Daria shook her head. Matthew didn't know this. I'm sure Scott doesn't know this stuff either. So how does Blondie mix in with the likes of Matthew and Scott? Her brows furrowed in thought, her lips pursing in frustration at not being able to see a connection. Somehow, she doubted it was sheer chance. There was a connection, she just didn't know enough to figure out what it was.

After the hour-long session, Daria was exhausted. She noticed that Helen was already sitting down, even sweatier than after the Wing Chun class. Quinn was still eager, even perky. She was sweaty, but she didn't care. That both heartened and disturbed Daria more than a little.

Helen was talking to someone, one of the instructors. Helen beckoned her and Quinn over to them. Helen didn't seem fully recovered from the workout, but she seemed less bothered about the entire thing than she had before. "Come on, girls, Mrs. Jespersen is taking us to the shooting range."

A few minutes later and a few miles away at a nearby shooting range, all three of them were getting introduced to various firearms. Of course, Daria was familiar with this, but she still paid attention. She noticed Mrs. Jespersen had a few different ways of handling weapons than her last teacher. The instructors here also insisted on using eye and ear protection, something her former instructor would've scoffed at. Now she wondered why. Of course, he knew I'd be acting in an emergency situation, without any chance of special gear. She'd have to compare and contrast and see which one was right for her.

Once again Daria found that the first lesson was "getting rid of the flinch." Although she'd worked through it with her first shooting instructor, after all that had happened recently, she was again flinching, just a little. It was something none of them could help, Mrs. Jespersen explained. That kind of power in your hands is scary. But not as scary as this power in the hands of the Matthew Fosters of the world, when I don't have an equalizer, Daria thought. And some guns were just so loud. Even though she thought she was used to guns, firing a shotgun made such a loud noise that she almost cried from it. She couldn't imagine what it was like for Quinn to have heard this noise when it was aimed at her!

But Quinn didn't seem upset. Her little sister was picking this up even faster than she had. She felt a twinge as she realized her original instructor might've been more proud of Quinn, and pushed away the unseemly jealousy. Overall, they were all in trouble, and the better off they all were, the more likely they all would prevail. When vengeful drug dealers, cops possessed of sinister purposes, strange women that came out of nowhere to blow people away, and a friend of the would-be murderer Daria shot turning into an armed desperado angry over the death of his friend, there wasn't room for a weakest link. She didn't know if all this would do any good, but it was better than doing nothing but worry.

But having fired several "empties," and firing other shots with live ammunition, they were getting over it completely. At least for the time, Daria realized. The flinch was likely to come back for her mom and sister if they didn't practice, practice, practice. But right now, Helen was the only one who noticeably flinched at times. Daria and Quinn were both comfortable. It just bothered Daria that her mom would almost certainly not allow them a gun, but would keep one for herself. If she or Quinn ever did need someone with a gun to come help, she hoped the person behind the gun wouldn't flinch.

Daria had told Quinn that there was more to firing a gun than aiming and firing. It was true. Learning to shoot accurately took a lot of practice. This is one reason why many criminals, and even plenty of police officers, failed to hit what they were aiming at--and why accidental shootings could be a problem if one weren't careful.

On top of that, you had to watch for jerking, bucking, and other instinctive responses people had when firing a gun, because that would spoil your aim. There was also finding the best grip and various stances that worked for each of them. Keeping your attention on the front sight and the target, not to mention being mindful what was beyond the target you were shooting at, was also something that took practice. Keeping your finger off the trigger until you were ready to shoot was another, as was not pointing it--even when you believed it empty--at anything you did not wish to destroy. It was an exercise of mental skills as much as hand-eye coordination and inner discipline. And with some of the guns they had test fired today, it was a physical test in other ways, too.

Helen was encouraged by this course that made her familiar with guns, but she was still torn inside about her attitude towards them. But what really surprised her was that there were now pistols designed specifically for women, and she said as much when they were through for the day.

Mrs. Jespersen chuckled. "Oh, there are plenty of 'ladies guns' now, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Shotguns, rifles, pistols, you name it."

Helen shook her head in wonderment. "I used to think I should control other people's guns," said Helen, obviously tired. "But now I'm wondering if I can control my own!"

Mrs. Jespersen casually replied, "You'll do well enough, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Controlling other people's guns is not only a good idea, but part of being a good neighbor."

"But so much hasn't worked out the way it was supposed to. Yet I can't see just throwing up my hands and letting all this violent anarchy take place, either!"

"The way to control other people's guns is by treating them decent. The Ten Commandments can provide a good guideline to helping your neighbors control their guns. But if they shoot anyway, then use what you learn here and be damned glad you have the ability to return fire. That's another way to control your neighbor's gun, too."

"It's just that we have police to handle these things."

"Yes, we do. But they can't be everywhere. And even police at the station feel a need for a gun. Why not a homeowner who isn't surrounded by police? Especially given how many died or were horribly harmed while waiting for the police to show up, if they even had the ability to alert the police in the first place."

"It still seems like violent anarchy," repeated Helen.

Mrs. Jespersen said "Consider two cases in Arizona. First an unarmed woman was raped, shot and left for dead. The police showed up too late to help her. Then the attacker forced his way into another private home. In this one he was promptly shot and killed by a second woman with a handgun. He will not rape again, nor will he murder anyone else. Episodes like this happen around the country, but are totally ignored by the national media. Or think about the Old West. Guns were everywhere. The violent areas were where a bunch of young men, typically without families, got rich quickly at mining or some similar trade and the criminals and vice peddlers came to ruin it for everyone else. It wasn't the guns, it was the testosterone, the vice, and the money. And the most violent towns were those with gun laws."

"Be that as it may," said Helen, "I'm worried that I or someone else may misuse a gun, or it will accidentally go off and hurt someone."

"I've heard of another instructor who said as a child he feared his mom's sewing machine. He was scared it would just suddenly turn on and sew through his hand. Once his mom showed him that the sewing machine was just a tool that only works with human control, he lost his fear. He now tries to help women overcome their fear of guns the same way his mom helped him to overcome his fear of a sewing machine. It's not something to fear, though it's not something you should use without learning how." She shrugged. "But you don't want the wrong hands to get a hold of it, especially small children who find things like guns fascinating. There are things to help with that, but best thing of all is not to show off your guns in a rooster-like display. But most women have more sense than that."

Helen smiled tiredly. "Someone should tell the NRA that. The NRA was a bit... demeaning toward us. Although there was a woman with them, and she sounded like she had some sense."

"I'd say she felt her fellows weren't entirely housebroken," added Daria.

"Yeah, the NRA can be a bit confusing at times. And yes, there are some sexist members in it, though I wouldn't call 'em sexist as a whole. Some are even feminists. And you really should take their courses, Mrs. Morgendorffer. There are a lot of good people and good instructors in the NRA, too. And they can give you a more comprehensive explanation, demonstration, and coaching about the various types of ammo, about getting a license for concealed handgun permit, shooting, cleaning your gun, safely storing it and more than I can show you on this one day. These are things you should know if you're going to have a gun. Most people who accidentally shoot themselves or someone else were the same people who skipped learning about their guns."

"You mean even a woman like me?" asked Helen sardonically.

Mrs. Jespersen shook her head. "They're not all that bad, Mrs. Morgendorffer, and I've been around enough to know. You just got some bad apples and unfortunately, the bad apples love getting attention so they had to make themselves known in this case. And I challenge you to find someone more sexist than someone who says we should not--even cannot--defend ourselves, or our home and family. That we must wait for a man to come save us. That we are so stupid and incompetent that self-defense is something we cannot concern ourselves with because it is something impossible to us. Especially," she added bitterly, "when it sinks to a point that we are advised to beg a rapist to use a condom. Particularly since cases of rape have been thrown out of court as such a request doesn't make it seem like rape."

"Wouldn't it lead to anarchy?"

"To me, anarchy is a society in which criminals act unimpeded, and that kind of negative anarchy shows its face in areas where the law-abiding are disarmed, whether or not the criminals themselves are."

"But how can people having guns stop that? Won't the criminals just pull out an Uzi?"

Mrs. Jespersen shook her head. "Have you heard of Dr. G. Kleck?" When Helen shook her head, she said, "He calls himself a liberal, a member of the ACLU, a member of Amnesty International, and refuses to have anything to do with the NRA. Yet in his respected studies, he found gun control created more violence than it stopped.

"As just one example, he cites how the city of Orlando, Florida, was going into a panic over several rapes, and so the police taught a gun safety course for women. Something like a thousand women showed up, as opposed to the expected 50 or so. Having a gleeful media cover this, which showed women learning to shoot and the police supporting them, the men of the city found a new hobby. The rapes dropped by nearly 90% and stayed down. In contrast, the rest of Florida, which did no such thing, continued to experience high crime and violence. The Orlando PD teaching women to shoot is the only known significant difference."

Helen blinked several times. "How come this isn't reported today?"

Mrs. Jespersen shook her head in disgust. "You can't tell me that most of the people in Handgun Control Inc. and similar groups aren't bad guys. The only reason someone wants to disarm a law abiding citizen is to do something so nasty to them that they fear to do it while said person can shoot back. That goes for politicians as well as rapists."

Helen seriously doubted that assertion was true. But she hated seeing how she was empowering criminals, not to mention turning people who really weren't bad into criminals. Her intention had been to encourage a kinder, gentler nation where guns weren't in easy reach, and therefore people would think of other ways to solve their problems. She wasn't ready to accept that she had been making things more violent, not less. There were enough other factors besides herself at work.

Maybe there really should be some common sense gun control, she mused, but so far we've had the gun control without the common sense. She thought of her experiences of road rage, having been on both ends of it, and suppressed a shiver at the thought of guns entering the equation.

"Speaking of sexist, did you hear what Mayor Codey said over in Middleton recently?" asked Mrs. Jespersen.

"No," said Helen, curious.

"He said only policemen should have the right to decide to use a gun, because we don't have the training. But I've trained for years and have trained others on the legal and practical use of firearms. And like many men, he thinks the only way to prevail is to have a bigger gun than an attacker. He doesn't understand that a .38 works well enough, even if your attacker has an Uzi. Besides, most rapists and stalkers strangle or stab their victims to death, not shoot them."

"He sounds more ignorant than sexist," replied Helen. She couldn't help but contrast Mayor Codey with the cops that helped women to learn to shoot, and the resulting rapes going down.

"But he gets much worse than that. He's the type of bastard that would take the gun away from a woman facing down a rapist and then mock her when she protests. Of course he has the same women he mocks pay for his personal bodyguards, protection, and fine living."

"Yes, many politicians aren't very nice," said Helen, "but is that all there is to his sexism?"

Mrs. Jespersen snorted. "He refers to facing off against rape, sodomy, and murder as a 'dispute.' He bluntly said that women should have the sense to walk in large groups and stay in well lit areas."

"The bastard!" shouted Helen sincerely. "Has he passed a bill advocating we wear burkas and never leave our home without a male chaperone, too?" Just because she might agree with Mayor Codey's stance on gun ownership didn't mean she'd put up with statements like that.

Mrs. Jespersen shook her head. "Nope. And he refused to respond when some of us publicly asked him if he knew that most of us are attacked in either our homes or in populated areas with a lot of people around. Nor did he answer what we should do if we're getting off at work at midnight. He did say he supported more cops on the streets, but he just did the budget where he cut a lot of that."

"But he didn't cut his personal security that the rest of us pay for, did he?"

"You know it," replied Mrs. Jespersen. "In any case, the police have the training to take care of themselves. And I bet you'd get a rude answer if you demanded they do their job for a month without having a firearm in reach. But police aren't superhuman, they're just armed, and trained to take care of themselves. You can have that training and that weaponry, too."

"What do the criminologists say?"

Mrs. Jespersen shrugged. "They're individuals like anyone else, with a variety of interpretations and opinions. But more and more of them are turning away from the antigun position because felons can still get guns, and crime only goes up where gun control measures succeed. It's clearer than ever that in areas with less gun control, guns are used in self defense more than in crime. Often just by brandishing one, or by making would-be assailants unsure of their targets. That is, they're not even fired and they prevent more crime than they inspire. And statistically, something like 200,000 women have used guns to defend themselves from those attempting to sexually abuse them. Given that, who do you think wants to disarm you?"

Helen swallowed self-consciously. "But what about shooting the wrong person? Don't police have special training to keep them from doing that, while the rest of us just muddle along? Sometimes, fatally?"

"Actually," said Mrs. Jespersen, "civilians could get the same training at places like Thunder Ranch. However, since the police are five times more likely to shoot someone in a case of mistaken identity than civilians, maybe we shouldn't. No one I know of has ever shot someone in the back 40 times while he ran away." Her tone was wryly amused.

Helen almost said something about that being caused by police having more access and liberty to use guns but didn't. She couldn't see how that mattered. She wanted to disarm people who would use those guns to hurt others, not people who would use guns to defend themselves. She was more confused than ever on this subject. Guns seemed so violent, and yet it looked as if they prevented violence.

But there were so many other factors to consider as well, such as availability to burglars, criminals that were more inclined to shoot first and ask if their victim was carrying later, and moments of poor impulse control among normally law abiding people. A gun could seem to offer a simple solution in a moment of rage or despair that would pass if a gun wasn't right in reach. And Scott was out there right now with a .38 revolver taken from his grandmother who had lawfully owned it. That legal gun would now be used in crimes, possibly even in the murder of one or both her daughters. This would bear thinking about at a later time.

"Look up Paxton Quigley," added Mrs. Jespersen. "She used to be with Handgun Control Inc. before reality hit her upside the head. Tom Brokaw even called her the self-defense guru of 15 million women, though Sarah Brady calls her a traitor that causes needless death."

"Yes," said Helen, "we met some people from Handgun Control Inc, too. I'm not sure which I found more... trying on my patience."

"In all honesty, Mrs. Morgendorffer, I don't envy you your situation at all. Not only is your family in danger, but the political forces around you are perhaps even more dangerous and volatile than the criminal forces."

By that time, the flinch was gone from Helen. And with it, the fear of guns. She still respected them, and she wasn't sure where she stood on the issue anymore, but one thing she did know: She was getting a gun.

But she still didn't want Jake or her two daughters getting their hands on one. At least until after this legal and media circus is over with, thought Helen to herself. Even so, she couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at having learned to shoot, and seeing Daria and Quinn both shoot so well. They both even out shot her. But she decided that as good as they both were, both were still too young and inexperienced to have a gun themselves.

But she wasn't.

Helen was glad Quinn was chattering away in the ride home, for she thought it was a good sign that Quinn was dealing with the situation at hand far better than she had been when she hid away in her room all the time. "Did you see the bullet jewelry in her Ballistic Fashions catalogue?"

Daria refrained from snorting, but the idea of the Fashion Club wearing bullets was making it difficult. "Careful," she said, "you wouldn't want to give anyone ideas on where a bullet should go."

Quinn laughed at that, surprising Daria. "What I really liked," added Quinn, "were those black leather outfits and holsters put out by Under Cover Comfort. Some of the tattoos that the models wore were nice, too. I didn't know models could HAVE tattoos."

"Quinn," warned Helen, "I MIGHT get you a gun but don't even THINK of getting a tattoo!"

Quinn smiled, suddenly realizing new fodder for leverage in negotiations with her mom. "They have a bunch of accessories anyway," said Quinn. "So you can look good as well as dangerous."

"Quinn," added Helen, "the point of having a gun is not to look dangerous. It's to defend yourself if you ever need to." Helen blinked as she remembered how Quinn got Scott's gun away. "Quinn, what would you have done if you'd had a gun when Scott pulled a gun on you?"

Quinn blinked herself. She hadn't thought about that. "I... I don't know."

"Would you have gone for your own gun?"

"Probably," said Quinn.

"And how do you think that night would have ended if you had?"

Quinn was silent, lost in thought on the rest of the way home.




04/05/01 THURSDAY 4:20 P.M.

Helen was hyped up in her power suit, marching around nervously, giving orders to all. Especially to Jake. "Don't forget the lasagna." Helen regretted that she would miss supper with her family over this. But if it helped Daria and Quinn then it was worth it. "You know where your cell phone is?"

Jake was nodding and agreeing to it all, trying to hide his irritation. He knew this was important. Helen and Ms. Morrison were going in to see Roger Fillman, who had even said there was a possibility of dropping some or all the charges against one or both of his girls.

It was completely unexpected, and it was obvious he wanted something, but Helen couldn't figure out what, and that made her very nervous. But even being in the dark, she couldn't afford to let this opportunity pass. If nothing else, maybe they could find out what made him so eager to make a deal. Nothing his office had sent her had been particularly bad for himself, although based on it, Helen was fairly convinced she could get some charges dismissed. It was, she told herself, possible Fillman realized just how much she and the DA knew and wanted to ensure that some facts never came to light.

Coming into the living room where Daria and Quinn were watching TV, Helen reminded them, "You are not to leave this house. Either one of you!" She was even more tense after hearing of several drug dealers being killed recently. None of the dead including Scott Rhodes. Unfortunately, she thought with bitterness.

"Sure, Mom," replied Quinn a little nervously and a little irritated. This was too much like being grounded, and she wasn't the one who had done anything! Well, not too much anyway, Quinn added silently to herself.

"Oh, my god, I'm going to be late! See you later. Don't call unless it's an emergency! Bye!"

A few short moments later, and Helen was pulling out of the driveway. Daria let out a breath that she had been holding without realizing it.

"Okay," said Daria. "You were saying this show is useful because?"

"Because it helps coordinate your wardrobe. Maybe it's shallow, but many people judge others based on how they dress, and it's dumb to not at least consider it. Especially if those people are going to decide if you go to prison or not."

"Okay," said Daria crossing her arms. "So if I want to be judged a puppet of this show's sponsors, then I demand Mom and Dad buy me whatever it is they say I need?"

Quinn frowned. "It's not completely like that, Daria." Then she smiled thinly. "Though it's mostly like that. But there are some real color patterns that not even Cashman's can manipulate, and you really ought to learn at least that much!"

Daria shook her head, her arms still crossed. "I don't know. This show makes me feel sleepy. Are you sure there aren't some subliminals in this telling me I feel sleepy?"

"As if! You can't look good if you look tired, and they want their audience to look good watching them. Besides, you might fall asleep and miss their promos."

"They'd rather have a look of vapid but genuine excitement?"

"Doh!" said Quinn. "Like why give out freebies at the end of presentations or prizes during a show? To keep you interested and paying attention."

"Good dogs get the Scooby snack."

"Oh, nothing to make you fat, Daria." Quinn seemed to think Daria was being ridiculous.

"How about this," offered Daria. "Turn off the TV and you tell me what the basics are. Then I can see how much value there is in this. Okay?"

Quinn thought about it a moment and nodded. Turning off the TV, she ran a look over Daria that reminded Daria of Jane sizing up a new artistic inspiration. "First," started Quinn, "you should get a different jacket. Green is good for a sallow complexion and hair that is almost reddish, but you need a different design and length." Quinn carelessly ran her own fingers through her own hair as she said the last.

"Sallow?" asked Daria.

"Green compliments your hair and eyes, Daria," said Quinn, "but the shape is all wrong, and the hue could be better. Marcus has an awesome green blouse..."

"Wait a minute," said Daria frowning, "what's wrong with my jacket?"

"Daria," said Quinn exasperated, "your jacket makes you look top-heavy!"

"Top heavy?" asked Daria blinking.

"Your jacket is too long. It makes your legs look short and upper-body look top-heavy."

Daria sighed, but surprised Quinn by asking, "Well, if you were me, what would you wear?"

"Hmm," said Quinn, excited by her sister finally asking HER something in a way that said she was finally respecting her views. "I think if I were you, I'd start off with a jade colored Marcus jacket and skirt with a short sleeved mock turtleneck, maybe a pale gold." Tilting her head lightly, she added, "Replace those Docs with some shoes, or even some Birkenstocks. You could even wear some brightly colored shoes, but if you do, you'll need a scarf or something of the same color to match them, unless the shoes go with the outfit. I think hippie chic is coming back into vogue, and that just might help you with the jurors. And I think maybe some dark peach or russet rouge for your cheeks along with some orange or mocha lipstick..."

"Lipstick comes in those colors?" asked Daria bemused.

"Of course, Daria. Well, it's not pumpkin-orange, if that's what you're worried about. It's more brown or copper-colored depending on the brand. Now don't ruin my concentration. Okay, we'll start with neutral colors at first, to compliment your jade suit. Those are safe. We can add colors later as we see which colors work best for you and what kind of clothes we'll finally settle on getting for you. Your skirt or dress should have another layer of fabric in it to add some body to your flat derriere and, hey where are you going!?"

"To my room!" said Daria marching off, "leave me and my flat derriere alone!"

"Daria," said Quinn following a little way behind her, surprised that her sister wasn't being coldly logical about this and thus seeing the reasonability of her pointers, "I'm only trying to help!" She stopped at the foot of the stairs and waited until she heard Daria's door slam shut.

Quinn sighed, heading back to the couch. She didn't feel like turning the TV on. Why couldn't Daria see that she had only been trying to help? And find out who I am, thought Quinn glumly. Am I Quinn Morgendorffer, Vice President of the Fashion Club, or Quinn Morgendorffer, wannabe Lawndale Virginia Underground Streetfighter Champion? They both have kinda a nice ring to them.

Instead of watching her show, she switched over to MTV instead. There was some retro video just coming on that she decided to watch since this was the first time in months she turned to it and the first thing she saw wasn't a commercial. Besides, it appealed to her in a melancholy way.

The heat of the sun
Was a little too much today
Love on the wing
Flew so high it just melted away

So sweet on the run
So little time to make you see
What can't be undone
Was maybe never meant to be

But sometimes a fool
Gets lucky and wins
Sometimes the innocent pay
For an old man's sin...

She perked up just a bit as the phone rang. "Hello?" she asked. She frowned as a voice asked for a Mr. Morgendorffer. "Daddy!" she yelled. "It's for you!" When she didn't get an answer, she went into the kitchen to find him grumbling over a note that her mom had written. "Dad, you got a phone call," she said.

"Oh, thanks, honey," said Jake smiling. "I'll get it in here." He picked up the kitchen phone and Quinn went back to the living room to catch the name of the video.

But when the tears are dark
And we stand as one
All I wanna feel
And when the amber light
Of daylight's gone
All I wanna hear
Is the beat of a heart
The beat of a heart
You come and take me far away

It was definitely 80s. She saw it was Beat of a Heart by Scandal. She never heard of them before, but it somehow managed to catch her mood at the moment. Yet she couldn't really say what it was about. Maybe it meant something in the 80s, she thought to herself. Shrugging to herself, she got up to get a diet coke.

Upstairs, Daria wondered why she had gotten so mad. She wasn't mad at Quinn, and she should've expected that her sister would advise her on clothes. She had been seriously trying to help, and Daria didn't doubt that Quinn gave herself much the same instructions.

She also wondered what game Fillman was playing now. No way he was having second thoughts. Something was up. Fillman wasn't even doing this out of misguided idiocy, the way most people did. His ill will was born of malice and opportunism. She hated him and knew he could destroy her, and would, if it advanced his own career. It also sounded as if there was an old grudge against her mom there.

She was also having second thoughts about running. Jane hadn't gotten in touch with her yet, but no doubt she was being very careful about contacting her gun dealer. If I run, Daria thought morosely, Mom and Dad lose the bond on me, which probably means they lose the house.

It was a moral dilemma. She didn't want to run, but what choice did she have. I hope Mom can work out a deal with Fillman, but Daria felt that such a deal would never happen.

Sighing, she put on her Judas Priest CD. Well, Trent's CD that he gave her once as a keepsake. She really should slip that back into his collection. But she had it now and she was strangely in the mood to hear Bloodsuckers by JP. She put it on and made a silent wish that this time Beavis and Butt-head didn't burst into her room again in search of it.

Don't speak to me of morality
Justice wrong or right
You dig the dirt ignore the hurt
And spit out all your lies

Conscience free as we bleed
Hypocrisy born from greed
Don't preach to me of integrity
Or your legal highs

The judge's thrilled
He's dressed to kill
On TV every night

Subliminal - so absurd
It's criminal - yet can't be heard

Bloodsuckers - how can they sleep at nights
Bloodsuckers - nothing but parasites

You will be on the stand today
They cannot harm you - it's okay
But they will destroy your family
And drag you through Hell and tragedy

A circus heading into town
Complete with cameras and the clowns
The first amendment shot to bits
The world is watching just for kicks

As the day drew close to hand
For all to view the faceless man
He put out the lights - it's sad
Now who's to blame for that?!

Intimidate, twist what you say
With their fine points of law
They lose the case but proficate
And then appeal some more

Subliminal - it's so absurd
It's criminal - but can't be heard

The music grated on her nerves, but she was living the subject of the song, and she had no choice but to deal with that. This music was a beacon that shared her frustration with the justice system. Especially circus trials like her own. The system sucked. She wished she could believe otherwise, but she had no reason to. And she had seen Fillman. Unless there was blackmail involved, there was no way Fillman was going to let go of her, at least not without putting up a fight. So what was his angle in this deal with her mom?

You will be on the stand today
They cannot harm you - it's okay
They will destroy your family
And drag you through Hell and tragedy

Daria frowned and looked at the door. For some reason, she had a strong sense of deja vu. She could almost feel Jane there, even though she wasn't, and that Beavis and Butt-head were about to barge in again. And then her door opened, and she started as her dad came in. Daria quickly turned the CD off.

"Daria, honey," said Jake, "I'm going to see a Mr. Weisal down at the county recorder's office. He's needing someone to show him the property deeds and I'm the first one who was home! If he's the big shot he claims he is, I could make a fortune off this!"

"If he's a big shot," stated Daria, "wouldn't you already know him?"

"Not necessarily," said Jake, almost sounding sly to Daria. "And even if he's not, he could become one. And he said he would keep the jerks at the county recording office open awhile longer, so he must have SOME clout. I sure couldn't do that!" He smiled a bit apologetically as he added, "And we really need the money you know."

"Yeah," said Daria, "I've noticed you haven't been working much lately."

Jake frowned. "True, everyone seems to think I'm a risk right now, or too distracted. I still have a couple of clients, but I think they're looking for someone to replace me." Jake's voice suddenly sounded angry and bitter. "I'd like to see how they would pay for their family's legal bills when no one will hire them!" He blinked as he saw Daria frown in what looked like genuine regret. "Hey, it's not your fault, kiddo."

Daria swallowed. Yeah, Dad, thanks for making it even harder for me to run. "So, um, this could be a good deal, huh?"

Jake nodded avidly. "Sure could. I can't afford to let this pass. But I got to hurry! The county recording office will close in just a few minutes! You look after Quinn, okay?"

"Um, okay," said Daria. "Don't you think you should call Mom, first?"

"Helen? Why would I do that?" asked Jake, sounding a little defensive. "She said only in an emergency. This isn't an emergency. And I need to leave now, 'cause I'm sure he won't be able to keep them open for much longer. It's almost closing time! You're here, Quinn seems more okay now, and there are two cops right outside. What could go wrong?"

Daria bit her lip, and then told herself to stop being ridiculous. "Okay," she said, "I'll try holding down the fort for you."

"That's my girl!" said Jake proudly. "I should only be gone for a few minutes. Hang in there!"

"Yeah, that's what I'll do," said Daria blithely. "Hang."

Jake frowned a bit, feeling that there was a hidden meaning in her words but he couldn't find it. He put his hand up in a departure gesture and left, leaving her door open.

After hearing her dad leave the house, she got up and closed the door. Quinn can take care of herself, thought Daria, and noted with a little surprise that she believed it.

Downstairs, Quinn had finally turned the TV on, but was going through the channels listlessly now, still in thought. She hoped to find something distracting, but a show on fashion just wasn't going to do that. She frowned a bit as she heard a knock on the door and wondered what her dad forgot. He hadn't even been gone for more than three minutes.

She went up to the door and opened it casually. Her face betrayed doubt as she saw several young men, college-aged, and somewhat scraggly. They must be here for Daria. "Oh," she said in surprise, "are you with that band?"

They surged forward. Too late, Quinn tried to close the door, but they shoved it open and two men grabbed her, one on each side. They pulled her in and the others ran in, one closing the door behind them. There were six of them, Quinn noted. And every single one of them was bigger than her.

"What are you doing!?" shrieked Quinn in surprise. They couldn't be friends of Scott or Matthew, they were dressed too trashy, and were too old for them. But she was still scared and wondered if they got their drugs from Scott. Or were the ones who shot up those meth dealers we heard about on the news.

"Shut up," said one holding her left arm calmly but intensely.

Another one came forward and spoke in a low voice. "Where's Daria?"

Quinn steeled herself and said nothing, glaring defiance. She toppled a bit as his fist suddenly crashed into her jaw. And it hurt! Bastard had even hit her where she still had a bruise and she knew he knew it. She knew she was going to be tasting blood soon. She tried to talk but found she couldn't get her jaw to move right. "Uh, uh, uh..." she gasped out.

"Upstairs?" the man who punched her had asked.

She hadn't meant to say that, but it was logical, and she didn't want to be hit again. Beginning to cry softly, she nodded her head, feeling low. She wanted to cry out to warn Daria, but it wouldn't do any good. And right now she didn't think she could scream anyway.

"We'll be right back," said the man who had punched her to the ones holding Quinn. "Keep her quiet."

"I hear Daria is dangerous," said the one who had told Quinn to shut up. "Careful. She might kick your ass."

"I'm not scared of her." He frowned as he saw blood on Quinn's lip. "Make sure she doesn't bleed on anything," he added before he went to the stairs, three other men behind him.

The man on Quinn's right pulled out a bandanna and put it in her hand. He adjusted his grip to lock her arm loosely above her elbow. "Use that to stop the bleeding," he stated.

"Ewww!" said Quinn forgetting herself. "This is filthy!"

"Put it in your mouth now, bitch, or I will." There was no passion there, other than slight exasperation. Just a man giving her the facts.

Quinn blinked and then realized something. She was getting angry. She was still scared, but her fear was changing inside her, transforming her. She suddenly remembered that she had the power of Buffy within her.

She dropped the bandanna. "Oh, no," she cried in distress, "now it's even more dirty!"

"And it's going in your mouth," the guy said, a bit of anger in his voice. Quinn bit her lip as she heard Daria's voice upstairs talking loudly. Quinn couldn't hear what she was saying. Her fear continued to morph into anger.

Still holding on to her with one hand, the guy bent down to get the bandanna. And then Quinn kneed him in the face, knocking him off balance, as she pulled out of the grip of the other guy who was too surprised by this to hang on. He lost what little grip he had when Quinn drove two fingers into his throat. He threw a punch at her, but Quinn easily dodged it and kicked his knee, followed by an open palm to the face.

She jumped out of the way of the other guy who was now lunging at her, but he still managed to strike her enough to cause her to fall back. She rolled and started to come back up when he kicked at her. She blocked with her two forearms, catching and turning his leg as she had been taught. A split-second later another kick and she blocked the same way. Third move MUST be a strike! said a voice in her head. With a cry, she lashed out, her vertical fist shattering his nose. Amazingly, he did not fall or even fall back. He reeled but glared at her with a sheer rage.

Quinn's momentary discomfort at his refusal to fall quickly fueled her own rage and she struck again, moving forward and then kicking the back of his knee. He wobbled then, nearly falling and she kicked the side of his leg. He fell to his knees, shrieking in rage and pain, and Quinn followed with a kick to his head. After his head bashed off the lamp stand, knocking the lamp onto the floor, Quinn kicked his head again. Again it crashed into the lamp stand and then he was down, barely conscious. If they didn't want to leave any blood in the house, they were now SOL.

Quinn felt some of her air knocked out of her as the other guy crashed into her. She fell rolling and the one who had tackled her was on the ground but not on top of her. He was fast in regaining his feet and lunging at Quinn, but not fast enough. Quinn was already on her feet and centered as his lead hand grasped at her. She grabbed his pinkie, similar to the way she had grabbed Scott's index finger not too long ago, and twisted, moving around him. This time, she knew other dirty tricks to use and she showed him one now: twisting his arm back in her grasp, she screamed her rage as she brought the back of her curved elbow into the back of his elbow. He screamed too, and Quinn knew she had at least fractured his finger, if not his arm.

Unbelievably, he faced the pain and started to twist and turn to get at her. Quinn moved with him and kicked him in the back of the knee while pulling him back, causing him to fall back with his arm twisting at an unnatural angle. Quinn kicked his twisted arm and he let out a huge shriek then as his head pushed backwards exposing his throat. Screaming again, Quinn brought her foot down on his throat. The strength went out of him then as he devoted all his energy to coughing.

Quinn jumped back, knowing he was out of the fight. The guy she had just knocked unconscious was starting to stir, and Quinn kicked him in the jaw before jumping back and facing the other four who were coming down the stairs with Daria. The guy she'd just kicked stopped struggling to come to.

Yes!, Quinn cheered silently as she turned, adrenaline singing through her veins to deal with the others. She was only slightly dismayed as she saw Daria meekly complying but looking at her in shock. Everyone else was blinking at her in stunned disbelief, too.

The man who had punched her earlier pulled a mean-looking pistol out and aimed it at her. Quinn ducked, rolled and considered her options. That gun was a problem, and it changed the equation too much. She was sure she could handle this if she were armed, but unarmed she wasn't at all sure. She could get the gun away from him if she were close, but only if she had surprise. Would anything she did surprise them now?

"NO!" shouted one of the men. "She lives!" He turned to her, his hands held out as if to hold her at bay. "We don't want to hurt you or your sister. Just talk."

"Talk then," commanded Quinn. Silently, she pleaded for Daria to fight, to get the gun. She wasn't really close enough, but she was much closer than Quinn. She was ready to demand their attention so Daria could get the gun easier if only Daria would do something!

"Not here," the man who had punched her growled.

"Here," said Quinn firmly.

His eyes flared in sudden rage. "Bitch," he spat, "I could easily have your leg blown off. Would you like that bitch? But then we'd have to carry you and you'd bleed all over our car. You might not even make it to where we need to go. Now come on, and I'm even willing to overlook your beating the shit out of Thumper and Blade."

His voice showed that even acknowledging she had done this was outside his realm of experience. I guess fashionable middle-class teens are supposed to be weak and helpless, sniffed Quinn silently.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go. Now."

Daria, get the gun! Quinn pleaded silently. Daria had also had the same training, and she kept a cool head. But Daria looked as lost as the night Matthew had shoved his gun in her face at the Zen. Quinn suddenly felt herself losing a bit of her confidence, and she became aware that where she had been hit was starting to hurt. And she still wasn't completely healed up from the last beating she took.

"Where?" Quinn asked, a little of her spirit dampened.

The guy who punched her seemed encourage by the crack in her veneer. "In the car."

When Quinn saw Daria nod, she crossed her arms and said, "Okay. But I walk without being carried. And so does Daria."

The man blinked at that. Finally he glared but nodded. "Okay, as long as you walk and don't try to run. But I've had enough of your bullshit!" He put his gun under his belt as he glared daggers at Quinn, keeping his hand close to his gun. Quinn went to the door as the two men she had beaten had started getting up, cussing, one of them still coughing and choking. The guy who had punched her laughed at that, mocking them all. They released Daria and she was soon by Quinn. And some of the guys were right behind them both. The others were coming closer.

But outside, Daria suddenly stopped. "Quinn, where are the police?"

Quinn stopped herself and looked around. For the first time in several days she didn't see a car there. Ever since the shooting there had been someone there almost 24/7. And the last few days their home had been frequently passed by squad cars, too. But now the street was empty, except for an old Cadillac of some kind. The gray, dismal day of dark clouds kept most people from being outside or even looking out their windows. It was just too depressing.

"No more bullshit," said the guy menacingly behind them.

"Right," said Daria, and grabbed Quinn's arm. "Run, Quinn!"

Neither one of them got more than a step. Daria feared being beaten to a pulp, but if it happened, she hoped someone saw and called the police, or the cops would return. It was almost time for people to start driving by on their way home, too.

But they were both simply dragged to the back of the Cadillac with no sign of help. Three made sure Quinn was off balance the entire time, and an arm around her throat kept her from screaming. One opened the trunk and looked around. "Okay, put them in."

Both were unceremoniously shoved into the trunk and the hatch closed. Both girls kept low to avoid being hit in the head, and then suddenly knew a new kind of fear as they realized they were trapped in tight confines together. Quinn found herself afraid all over again as they both lay gasping and the car started up.

Then they heard another car, and it seemed to pause. "Is that the cops?" asked Quinn.

"I hope so," said Daria. And I hope it's NOT Mom or Dad, she thought to herself. Then there was a pounding on the trunk and muffled curses, and the two girls lay terrified at the rage they sensed above them, wondering if they were about to be shot through the trunk. Then it stopped, they heard the car doors all close and then the car was moving away.

"Daria," asked Quinn, "what are we going to do?"

"Feel around the bottom. I want to get the jack if they have one."

"Good idea!" said Quinn, suddenly hopeful again. "You hit the guy with the gun and then hold the rest off while I get his gun from him!"

"Um, no," said Daria. "But if it comes to that, YOU hit them. You're so much better than I am at that."

Quinn felt some small pleasure at the admission, but the gravity of their situation didn't allow her to enjoy it as much as she might. "Then what?" she asked, as she felt at what could around her. She was confident Daria had a plan.

"Well," Daria began, then stopped and said, "help me! I found it!"

Soon Daria had the jack set up and started working the lever. "You remember Beavis and Butt-head?" asked Daria. Without waiting for a reply, she added, "They told me they did this once and it worked. Time to see if they were right."

The trunk groaned. Both pumped at the lever, and Quinn called forth the strength of Buffy into her limbs, adding all her strength, and then some, to the lever.

There was a creak and then the trunk suddenly popped open. Not much, but it made a loud noise and the car slowed. "Oh, shit!" whispered Daria. "Get ready to run! Scream your fucking head off this time if they catch us, but conserve your breath otherwise!"

The car slowed to a near stop. Daria and Quinn got out together and just as their feet touched the ground, the car took off again. Daria and Quinn grinned at each other. The car had slowed for a stop sign! But they would HAVE to notice the trunk was open, bouncing up and down a few inches at a time, soon. So they took off silently but as quickly as their feet would allow. Both felt an urge to laugh in relief but didn't dare. This wasn't over yet, and might not ever be over.

Their elation rose another level and Quinn smiled in relief as a car stopped, and Detective Cartwright got out.

"Where were you!?" shouted Daria, running up to him. "We were both attacked! Quick, call for backup before they find out we're gone and they come back!"

"They have a gun!" added Quinn just behind Daria, "I saw it!" She wanted to get into the shelter of the car, where she could hide if nothing else.

But as Daria got within reach of Detective Cartwright, the cop lashed out with a downward punch, knocking Daria to the ground. She cried out in shock, pain, and surprise as she landed, and her glasses flew off her face. A kick lashed out and Daria was knocked away with an oof. She lay gasping, momentarily unable to fully comprehend what had just happened.

Quinn suddenly found herself furious. The anger she felt before was a small thing to what she felt now. Without even thinking about it, she jumped at Cartwright and landed a good blow on his jaw with a vertical punch. Unfortunately, the blow just seemed to wake him all the way up. Undaunted, she shrieked as she had been taught and punched again, this time at his midsection, followed by a kick to his knee.

Suddenly, a fist hit her jaw and Quinn knew she had been hit by a pro. His elbow then crashed on her cheek as he pulled his arm back. Then she was slapped roughly twice and a knee went into her gut, knocking the wind out of her. Too late, she realized that this cop had been trained in Krav Maga... and she knew the experienced fighters in this were utterly brutal and coldly efficient.

His gun, thought Quinn in panic as she tried to breathe. She lashed out at his face again to distract him before going for where she thought he kept his sidearm, but the first blow never landed. He caught her arm, deftly twisted her arm around her thrust in a way she knew she wasn't going to twist out of. As she tried hitting him with her other fist, he suddenly twisted his body and arm in a way that caused her head to fall down and hit the hood of his car. Stunned momentarily, she was helpless as his foot kicked the back of her knee and pushed her so that she fell to both knees. Then her arm was twisted again and her head hit the car a second time. Then he let go and kicked her in the back of the head.

Quinn's head hit the car for the third time. She went down and knew no more. Blood flowed from her nose and mouth.

Detective Cartwright lingered looking at her fallen in admiration that she had lasted as long as she had. Years of Krav Maga and street fighting meet a couple of classes for women's self-defense, and the bitch gets her ass kicked thought Detective Cartwright darkly amused. Though he had to admit, the beating she, and maybe Daria, had given their kidnappers was surprising. These were no ordinary middle class princesses. But why should human sacrifices be ordinary?, he thought with grim amusement.

He quickly turned to deal with Daria as he heard her running towards him, but he saw she had her glasses on and was running away. That's right, she's smart, he thought. Still, it was just as futile. He pulled his service pistol and aimed it at her. This would complicate things, but it couldn't be helped. Who would ever think that two sheltered suburban girls could be such trouble?

Just as he was about to squeeze off the round that would finish her, there was a gunshot that was not his own and he felt pain rage through his abdomen. His Zylon body armor stopped whatever bullet it was, but he was still hurt. And his head wasn't covered by any body armor. He saw Daria fall, but doubted she had been hit.

"Shit!" he yelled, in true anger and the beginning of true panic. He ducked, picked up Quinn, and threw her limp body in the front seat of his car. Ducking low, he got in, started the car and tore out of there. No more gunshots followed.

He was two blocks away before he stopped and quickly put Quinn in cuffs, with her hands behind her back. He couldn't risk her firecracker routine while he was driving. She was probably out for awhile, but he now knew better than to underestimate her. He felt genuine respect for her.

And attacked an officer of the law, too, he smiled wistfully, thinking how with some serious training she could be an unusually effective assassin since no one would ever expect violence from her. We could use her! She could be as bad ass and expert as Dara, but under our control! But there was another, more pressing use for her now.

He sped off, Quinn unconscious and cuffed beside him.




04/05/01 THURSDAY 4:45 P.M.

Daria ran.

She recognized immediately that she was not able to fight her way out of this situation and so tried running. She would think her way out instead. But everything kept getting screwed up over and over again.

She heard an awful silence and knew Detective Cartwright wasn't distracted by Quinn anymore. She hated leaving her, but the best thing she could do was use the time Quinn had given her to get help. Real help. Even if she didn't have the slightest idea who to call. Not even her mom could help her with this.

She felt very vulnerable. Being a cop, he had a gun. And he wouldn't be arrested for using it. This was a fact she had to face. He had a Taser, too, but she'd probably run far enough that she didn't have to worry about it now. Even without the Taser, she had the feeling she was just as screwed as if she had been shot outright. This was a section of town with many boarded-up and empty buildings. There was no one around to ask for help. And who would help her - the notorious teen gunslinger - against a cop, anyway?

She didn't know why he'd attacked her and Quinn, but she could tell he had reasons that he'd kept well hidden from the light of day, and most likely was not fulfilling his official duties. But would anyone believe her? Would the police help her or help him? It wasn't pleasant to think about.

Every second, every step, stretched out the silent pause that was already too long. She was wondering why there wasn't a shot when she heard one--and a blast of fire right in front of her. Who the hell is this, Detective Warner!? Daria fell and rolled, knowing true despair. This time there wasn't any way out of this. She couldn't run, fight, or hide. When she rolled, she just lay on the ground, momentarily losing her will to put up anything more than token resistance.

Moments later she heard a car screeching and knew Cartwright was leaving. She turned to look for Quinn and saw she was gone too. She turned toward the rapidly approaching footsteps and tried to get to her feet to run one last time if she must. The man jogging up had short, blond hair and wore a bland, conservative business suit. He was past his youth but younger than her dad and in much better shape. He had a gun in his right hand, finger off the trigger. She took that as a good sign even though she didn't know who he was or why he had shot at Detective Cartwright.

"Come on! On your feet, Daria!" He reached down and pulled her up by her wrist.

Daria got on her feet. "How do you know my name?" She knew that was a dumb question, but she was too rattled to ask why he was helping her.

"Not now," he said. "Follow me, or wait here. Your choice." He turned and ran down the alley he had come from. After a single breath, Daria took off after him. Coming out of the other end of the alley, she saw a nondescript blue car. Both man and car would be unnoticed in most situations. She heard the lock click on the passenger side and she got in, breathing hard. He pulled away quickly, making a U and heading back the way he'd seen Detective Cartwright go.

"That's a detective you shot," said Daria, still breathing hard. She thought he should know.

He laughed. "Yeah. And I may dance with the needle over it, but if you saw his face when I shot him..." He laughed out loud then.

"Who are you?" asked Daria.

"Name's Earl Gentry. I'm a PI working for Mrs. Marguerite Kramer, the DA. I was following Detective Cartwright when I saw him stop suddenly. I pulled around the corner and snuck up just in time to see him bash your sister's head against the car and then pull a gun on you while you were running away. So what's his problem?"

"I don't know!" cried Daria. "None of this makes any sense!" A single sob escaped her. When the man said nothing, she asked, "Can you call my mom? She's supposed to be meeting with Fillman."

"Fillman?" the PI asked. "So your mom is away from home? That's interesting."

"Yeah, the mind boggles," said Daria. "Can you call her?"

He picked up a cell phone and hit a button. "I can do almost as good," he said. After a moment, he said, "Yeah, Earl here. I'm in a dire situation and I could use some serious backup. Detective Cartwright has kidnapped Quinn, I repeat Cartwright has kidnapped, not arrested, Quinn after brutally beating her. He tried to shoot Daria while she was running away. Daria is with me in the car now. She says her mom is meeting with Fillman." After a pause, he added, "Yeah, I was thinking that was interesting too. Just a minute." His voice came sharper and was intended for Daria. "Let me guess. Your dad's not home either is he?"

"No," said Daria. "He had a deal that was too good to pass up. And the cops are gone, too."

"Curiouser and curiouser," said the PI before talking into the phone again. "Mr. Morgendorffer is away on important business too. She says the cops watching the place are gone. Someone really wants these girls, and I doubt it's just Cartwright. I think you should call the police and the FBI." A moment more and he added, "I think he went to his house. That's the right direction. I don't know for what. Okay. How about the Lane residence? Okay, meet me there." Then he hit a button and put the phone down. As Daria stared at him, he said, "Look, uh, can we keep the, um, shooting of Cartwright between me and you? It will probably come out and all, but I don't see a need to volunteer the information."

Daria blinked, her breath almost back to normal. "Sure, fine by me."

"I got something for you, Daria. Given the situation, I think you can appreciate it. I hope I'm not making a mistake doing this."

"What?" asked Daria, suspiciously.

The PI reached into behind him with one hand while still driving. A moment later he handed her a gun. "Recognize it?" he asked.

"This isn't the gun I had," said Daria taking it.

"Nope. Same model, though," he said. "An Autauga Mark II .32 ACP. When Mrs. Kramer first hired me, it was to find out where you got the gun from. That was before we found out all kinds of things that were far more interesting. But I had that to question other people. I know you didn't get it from a gun show out of town, but who cares? You know how to use one of these so do me a favor and guard my back and I'll guard yours."

Daria took the gun and examined it. A .32 Mark II, fully loaded. She looked back at him and asked, "You trust me?"

"Of course I do," he said. "You're at an age that you should be trusted. No prior convictions and this is the first time you're being investigated. I know you learned to use that gun but you were still upset after you used it. Even on the tape I could see that. You're no sociopath, but you do know how to shoot. Yes, I trust you."

Daria nodded. "Yeah, okay," she said. "I take it that if this is found on me, I don't say where I got it?"

"Actually, I'll stick my neck out on this one, Daria. You've been shafted enough as it is. Just use it to save my life if it comes down to it, the way I saved yours. Deal?"

"Deal," said Daria. "But we've got to get Quinn away from Cartwright!"

"It's being taken care of, Daria. But right now we're going to Casa Lane as I believe it's called. People on both sides of the law have been very interested in Mystik Spiral. You wouldn't know why, would you?"

"No," said Daria, though she had an idea extrapolated from what she knew and from what her mom had told her. She got a strong feeling that the PI knew a lot more than he was letting on right now. He was either trying to verify what he thought he knew, testing her honesty, character and involvement, or both.

"We'll get some help there anyway. Your home isn't safe right now. And I have a strong feeling that the Lanes may be having their own problems. Here, call them for me, okay?"

Daria took the cell phone and dialed.

"Yo," answered Jane sounding normal.

"Jane?" asked Daria.

"Daria?" asked Jane concerned, "what's wrong?"

"Everything. Are you okay?"

"We're holding down the fort."


"Me, Mystik Spiral."

"What are they doing?"

"Band practice in the basement. They're supposed to meet a promoter here in just a few minutes and they want to be ready for him. Why?"

"Don't let anyone in, Jane!" cried Daria. "I'll be there in about five minutes and I'll give you a call when we're out in front. Don't let anyone else in, and don't answer the door for anyone until we get there! It's important."

"Okay, amiga," sounding more concerned. "So what happened?"

"Tell you when we get there, you won't believe it," said Daria. "Remember, nobody." Jane didn't say anything and Daria hung up. "Everything is okay, but Mystik Spiral is there, practicing in the basement. Waiting for a promoter to show up."

The PI said nothing, but started driving faster.

04/05/01 THURSDAY 4:50 P.M.

Detective Cartwright realized this was going to be awkward in so many ways. The first being that he now had to go pick up Scott for the next phase, and he and Quinn would then be in the same car together. Scott was wound up, and it was going to be hard to keep him from killing Quinn before all the pieces were set up for it to go down.

Having seen that at least two of the Ice Cold tweakers had had the crap beaten of them, he hoped they hadn't left blood at the Morgendorffer's residence. But seeing the looks of one of them, the one who banged furiously on the trunk with the two girls stashed in it, he was sure they left blood behind. That would complicate matters. He was glad that only one of them, the most level headed, had been allowed to carry a gun in there.

The other tweaker beaten up by the girls had had to be helped out to the car, and he was struggling to breathe. Cartwright had whistled when he'd seen that. These girls were not to be underestimated. Still, as long as he was ready for any of their surprises, they could be dealt with easily enough. They may be extraordinary suburban girls, but they were still suburban girls. He'd just be sure to not underestimate them while not overestimating them, either. I'll be one of the few on this planet that walks that fine line, he chuckled to himself.

He frowned. The blood dripping from Quinn's nose and mouth was now staining the upholstery. Couldn't be helped. He'd have to work on this. Especially with the FBI so interested in him and the body of that gook he'd killed. That the FBI wanted to examine the body with their own forensics team made him very, very nervous. He hoped there would be nothing else they could get that would incriminate him, but it looked as though it was going to happen.

Maybe it was a fed that shot me, he mused. Then he dismissed it. A fed was unlikely to risk his own life to save a teenage girl. Especially one that was being tried for murder. Unless they want her for a witness. Then he remembered that the crazed bitch Dara of a thousand faces had been upset when she'd found out that both girls were to be killed tonight and he knew delicious fear.

No, if she'd shot me, I would be dead, he told himself, and fully believed it. He couldn't see what use she had for him alive, and if they had reason to think he was about to be pinched by the feds, it might mean they would kill him just so he couldn't talk. Maybe he was to die with everyone else. He licked his lips. Time to call in for some help. He made a quick call to Detective Warner, hoping Quinn wouldn't stir next to him. Warner was an idiot, but he didn't feel like testing the theoretical limits of his stupidity today.

He hoped Warner would be dumb enough to try catching Daria herself. Daria would likely fight back and Warner would kill her out of fear. He was such a coward, too. He almost peed his pants when he realized Matthew was shooting up Lawndale High. He'd probably shoot Daria the moment Daria resisted, and after what she'd been through, she likely would.

He himself wasn't scared to die. Actually, he looked forward to it. He had already died, years ago. Now he was just contempt and bitterness kept alive by the Ice Cold and what he called the "got'cha" moments. He absolutely despised Lawndale above all else, but Wild Card had ordered him to come.

Not that he was the type to follow orders. Not anymore. But Wild Card was a true mover and shaker in the world. He had to respect that. And it was temporary, only until the Lawndale PD could be sufficiently corrupted and controlled, and then Wild Card would have him transferred back to DC.

Washington, DC. The city that killed his soul. He had gotten into law enforcement to fight drug dealers. It was how he would make up for the death of his little brother. Damn kid had gotten into his stash and snorted some uncut cocaine. It wasn't a pretty death.

The coke was never traced to him and no one investigated him over it. Except his brother was dead and it was his fault. So he stopped dealing, determined to someday do more to fight the War on Drugs for his brother. If it weren't for Bobby, I might still be like Scott and Matthew.

The following year, he'd joined the US Army and become a MP. He quickly learned that DC was just a playpen compared to the Army. His brother soldiers were undisciplined, constantly fighting, drinking, drugging, raping, beating up on their spouses, and killing (outside their job description). And it wasn't just the grunts. He'd help bust a corporal who'd been exchanging guns for cocaine. The guy got sent to 6 months of NA meetings.

He learned there were more scams than even his twisted imagination had come up with. For example, some sergeants would recommend "good places" to drink, gamble, and whore to the privates under them. The green 19-year-olds would go, be drugged, beaten and robbed. Most were too humiliated to report the assault. The few who did were further humiliated with the officer's "Well, what were you doing in a place like that anyway, private?" And it was all so the sergeant could get a cut of the takings. He learned well as a MP: If you weren't a cop, you were shit.

That lesson was repeated to him when he mustered out and signed up to become a civilian police officer: If you weren't a cop, you were a piece of shit. And now he was fighting the drug dealers in his home city

He'd felt reborn for awhile. He was finally making up for killing his little brother. But he quickly learned of the graft and corruption of the police. It wasn't just the police, either. The mayor got busted for smoking crack. The DEA routinely "lost evidence" that strongly suggested that the runny noses in the office weren't from the common cold. Even President Bill Clinton had "coffee klatches" with known drug lords. Heck, one reason he didn't mind getting into selling cocaine himself as a teen was because Oliver North got away with it. It almost seemed patriotic.

And as for him, he was told to cooperate with informants who were themselves drug dealers. The police scored busts and the informants got rid of their competition at the same time. The dealers even gave gifts to the cops they dealt with, and higher ups too. Some would call that bribery, but he was assured it was just the informer showing appreciation.

And there were so many informants. After all, any informant could be lying, so there had to be others to check with. And after awhile, he found out he wasn't just fighting a war on SOME drugs, but a war only on SOME drug dealers. In short, he was helping to keep drugs flowing smoothly on the streets, not stopping it.

He was a failure. He'd killed his little brother, and now there were many others out there getting killed.

And already depressed, he then had to clean up the body of an underage girl who had ODed. Just another runaway. Pretty little thing, red hair, sort of like Quinn, now that he thought about it. He knew she hadn't done it to herself. Pimps routinely got their whores hooked so they wouldn't try running from the stable. The captain said the girls were no loss, just street trash anyway, but he couldn't help but think of his own sister, and of all those people out there who were losing sisters as well as brothers. Because of him and his job. Just like he'd lost his brother with his former job.

He'd pushed very hard to bust the pimp that had killed the girl. But officially, she had died injecting herself with drugs. Suicide or accidental OD, but not manslaughter. Unofficially, he was told the pimp was owned by one of the well-connected and wealthy lawyers retained by the DEA. He not only got a share of the pimp's profits but he used the pimp's stable for some of his private parties. According to the unofficial report, his guest regularly included high ranking police officers and politicians.

He spent a weekend contemplating ending his own life with his service pistol. But that wasn't right. He should die the way his brother did, the way that underage girl had died, the way so many others were dying thanks to cops like him, everywhere in America.

The following Monday, before he had time to start his self destruction, he was placed on undercover assignments for Vice. He was directed to get Big Tony to trust him. It was understood that this would include taking drugs from him, to "prove" he wasn't an undercover cop. When the matter came to court, he was to deny, deny, deny. No, of course he'd never taken any drugs. The dealer was lying. No jury would take the word of accused dealers over that of a cop.

He learned it was real easy to pass the lie detectors, too, and did so many times. Just psyche yourself out thinking of the hairy situations you had been in and then let yourself calm down (and perhaps disassociate) as you answered the questions. You'd pass with flying colors. There was just no other way to get that deep in otherwise. So even though his superiors knew about it, it was tolerated, and all he had to do was deny, deny, deny any allegations of wrong doing in a court of law.

He suspected he had been put where he could be killed if he made trouble over the dead girl. And if he didn't make trouble, but refused to do the drugs, then he'd be blackballed for failure and be drummed out of the department. If he did the drugs, he'd get so dirty that he'd never be able to turn on other cops without going down himself.

He accepted the assignment. It was the perfect cover to kill himself the way he'd killed Bobby, the way the girl he couldn't get justice for had died. But it was a slow way to die. How he hated everyone, most of all himself. Everything he had tried to fight against he had become, just by doing his job. He had made detective in almost record time, but he was still used in street operations a lot, including undercover work, because he was so good at it.

And then one treacherous cop blew the whistle. The internal affairs and DA investigated... and cleared them all. The whistle blower was fired, ruined, and then chased out of the city.

After that, Cartwright had an epiphany: Being a cop wasn't about upholding the law, but about upholding each other. And their purpose wasn't to keep the streets safe but to preserve the status quo. The fact that the police often worked together with some criminals was overlooked as long as it preserved the status quo. A status quo in which rich lawyers and politicians got huge payoffs from drug dealers that were rich off of prohibition, in which cops were themselves addicts, and in which young girls were broken by pimps and sometimes killed in the process.

And the rest of humanity? Also a piece of shit, or so incredibly stupid that they should be killed so as not to breed. In short: If you're a cop, you're a major piece of shit. If you're not a cop, then you were a stupid piece of shit. All this time he'd been feeling guilty about his brother and the little prostitute and they were just shit too.

So he himself was an addict. An addict with a badge, and an adrenaline junkie to boot. He loved getting away with stuff, and knowing how he would be protected only emboldened him. Then he tried Ice Cold and his "got'cha" moments began. He sometimes shot people for the hell of it. Sometimes he used his own gun, other times he used another gun and claimed to find the victim shot. He made a dozen little mistakes, but he always got away with it. Sometimes he wondered if he WANTED to get caught, given some of the stunts he pulled.

Then he met Wild Card, one of the new players, and Cartwright knew he had met the karma of this great nation. Wild Card was going to be the biggest, baddest "got'cha" that there ever had been. He felt privileged to be in on it. And Wild Card was such a player, he even manipulated Cartwright's bosses. He got Cartwright transferred to Lawndale, under the pretense that he was in danger from being recognized for the many meth busts he had done.

What his superiors didn't know was that Wild Card had given him the information about the dealers, and the orders to go get them, not the police. He had tremendous success. If, inexplicably, the case fell apart and the dealer got only a little jail time, he'd let Wild Card know when the man was getting out. No one lived past their first day back on the streets when Wild Card wanted them dead. Actually, that had been something of a rush. When Wild Card had gotten him transferred to Lawndale, the armpit of America, he'd wondered at first what he'd done wrong. Then the orders came. And Ice Cold came with the orders.

His heart raced in anticipation of doing a line right now as he turned into his driveway. Maybe he would get caught. And maybe that was what he finally wanted. Could he handle getting old and retiring? No fucking way. He'd shoot himself in the head before he gave this up, and he wasn't shooting himself in the head. So maybe he wanted to be caught and killed. But until he was, he was going to continue to work for his real allegiance. Because he loved getting away with it too much to stop.

So far, he reminded himself. He had never been investigated by the FBI before. Not to mention the BATF. That one guy, Agent Fleming, here in town seemed to glare at him suspiciously every time he looked his way. He knew this was bad, though he was by no means defeated. But he would have to be more careful than he had ever been before.

He smiled a bit derisively as he thought of his partner and native Lawndalian, Detective Warner. What an idiot. He really believed the crap he came up with. Even better, he believed just about anything Cartwright came up with, not wanting to look like some sheltered small town dick compared to the man from the big city. But Cartwright was street material, and he had been taught well. Detective Warner was just a clownish small town Keystone Kop.

He had to go in and get Scott. The kid reminded him of himself, when he was a stupid kid, but this had to be done. Had to be done tonight. So be it. Checking Quinn one last time, he sighed and got out, impatient for the next phase to begin. He wondered how long it would take to gather those stupid jerk-offs who probably still didn't realize Daria and Quinn were no longer in the trunk.

As he opened his car door, his radio crackled an APB on Daria and Quinn along with an unknown suspect that was with them, for attempted murder of a police officer. All 3 were to be considered armed and dangerous. Such useful idiots, Cartwright thought derisively.

He looked back at Quinn one last time before he got out. Quinn remained limp, breathing shallowly beside him, a line of blood dripping from her face onto her clothes and the upholstery. You're good kid he silently congratulated. But not as good as me.

He went in to get his line of Ice Cold and then to get Scott from where he was chained to a heavy chest in the garage. He wondered if the boy was stupid enough to think he would live after he was used to kill Quinn. They both had an appointment to die tonight. Maybe Daria would commit suicide in a jail cell, or be killed for resisting arrest. He smiled, feeling excitement as he wondered if he was to die tonight, too.

Quinn came to just in time to see Scott Rhodes coming out of a strange house. She started, and then realized she was cuffed. Cartwright came out and she remembered him beating the crap out of her. She remembered the thugs and being locked in the trunk and everything except where Daria was. "Daria?" asked Quinn, somewhat groggily, "Buffy? Mom? Dad? Anyone?" Her voice was barely intelligible.

Scott caught her gaze and gave her a hate-filled glare that only deepened her panic. Then she saw Cartwright see her awake and he grinned like he had just told the funniest joke. He pointed his index finger at her with his thumb held high, like a little boy gesturing with a pretend gun, and mouthed something that looked like, "got'cha."

This was a dream. A nightmare. It had to be. But the cuffs felt very real, as did the excruciating pain and dizziness radiating through her body. The one small mercy was that she was unconscious again by the time the car doors opened and Cartwright and Scott Rhodes got in.




04/05/01 THURSDAY 5:30 PM

"So there isn't a promoter on the way," said Trent, sounding more discouraged by this than by the fact he might be dead soon.

"It's certainly not very likely," replied Mr. Gentry.

"We don't have anything to do with crystal..." added Trent.

"I know that," said Mr. Gentry cutting him off, "and I think I have enough proof to clear you of any involvement."

"You think?" Trent's left brow rose.

"Juries are fickle," Mr. Gentry shrugged.

"So why did all those people bug us about it?" asked an irritated Max.

"Word somehow got started that you were meth dealers. Apparently you stood up to a gun man, the same one that Daria shot later?" When Trent didn't acknowledge it in any way, he continued, "So some people thought you might be into drugs with Matthew. There are some new players popping up all over the state of Virginia, and now in Florida and surrounding states as well. No one knows who they are. Some thought you might know. Thing is, the police I caught taking pictures of you always seemed to know when you were going to be sharing space with the local dealers. At first I figured they must have someone on the inside giving them leads, probably false ones."

"At first?" asked Trent. "What do you think now?"

"Set up. It came the day after you played McGrundy's. I sat in to watch you just to see if anything interesting would happen. Sure enough, Evil Eddie shows up and stays through a song and someone took photos of them watching you. And then the next day I find out Evil Eddie and his entire entourage have been murdered. One immediate survivor, but she tried shooting a cop and she was killed herself. By Detective Cartwright."

Daria closed her eyes and felt hope leaving her.

"He shot her in self defense. There's enough evidence there that his story makes sense. Some people, obviously jacked up on crystal meth of some kind, tore that place apart. It's not surprising that one, either on meth or in shock or both, tried to shoot Detective Cartwright when he investigated. He was considered lucky not to have been killed himself."

"Bad luck for us," muttered Daria.

"Luckily, you have an alibi for the time of the murders. And you have one for right after because I followed you home after your gig. And then Officer Corelli made a statement yesterday to me that verified you were being set up."

"Corelli?" asked Trent.

"The cop shot outside my home," said Daria casually. "The one that lived."

Why set us up?" asked Trent, sounding more curious than upset.

"I don't know yet. But you're integral to this. So are Daria and Quinn. But I don't know why! Not yet. But the FBI and BATF are both interested in all of you as well. They seem more interested in other things, though, and I'm not sure just how interested they are in all of you specifically." He shrugged. "I was following Cartwright to see who he was going to meet when I ran into him attacking Daria and Quinn." He shook his head. "He appears to want Daria and Quinn alive. For sure, he took Quinn alive, after beating her unconscious. I don't think he wanted to kill Daria, but the situation got out of his control too much to let her get away."

"And maybe my sister dies tonight because he lost control," said Daria. Then, as Mr. Gentry's cell phone rang, she added, "How long are we going to stay here and do nothing?"

Mr. Gentry sighed. "Let me get this, Daria. It might be important."

Daria leaned back, crossed her arms, and muttered, "You sound like my mom."

"Yeah," said Mr. Gentry into his phone, "she's still with me." Then he frowned deeply and turned away, talking in a low voice that was hard to hear.

Jane touched Daria's arm and whispered, "Are you sure you can trust this guy, Daria? Maybe he's setting us all up."

Daria shook her head no.

"How can you trust him?" asked Jane.

"Because he trusted me," Daria replied simply.

Mr. Gentry put his cell phone away. "There's a complication, Daria," he said, going to the window and peeking out before turning around. "The police are looking for you: attempted murder of a police officer. Detective Cartwright claims you, Quinn, and an unknown gunman shot at him and he's requesting assistance in finding all three of you. It's probably only a matter of time before they come here."

"Shit!" said Jane. "Daria, you have to leave!" Jane's eyes filled with tears.

"No good," said Mr. Gentry. "You leave and they'll catch you all the faster. After letting that blonde get away, you can bet they're gonna have a net up in the outer perimeters first and close it in. There's nowhere to go, Daria. Not without a good disguise anyway, and I don't think you're experienced enough for that."

Daria leaned back and sighed. "If I'm taken into custody, I'll tell the truth."

Mr. Gentry chuckled cynically. "The truth? Who cares about the truth? Detective Cartwright has the truth, as far as everybody who counts cares. It's your word against his, and the evidence is on his side."

"Only because he's the one to collect it," said Daria bitterly.

Mr. Gentry shrugged. "True. But Mrs. Kramer said she just had someone drop a file off that is very enlightening, though I don't know what she means by that. Said she didn't think the boy who delivered it was really a delivery boy for UPS like he claimed. It's even claimed that the FBI has just put out an APB for Cartwright for their own reasons. And for what it's worth, I'm willing to get on the stand and say Cartwright is a lying sack of shit. But if you run, it looks bad."

Headlights lit up the window facing the driveway, letting them know that darkness and trouble both arrived. "Is it the police?" asked Jane.

Mr. Gentry looked out and quickly let the curtain drop. "Nope. Your promoter is here, along with Cartwright. Everybody upstairs right now," he said calmly as he pulled a gun. "If you have a gun, then get it. But you don't have much time at all. I said move it."

His voice was calm, but his words got through. Everyone started up the stairs. Daria had her own gun out, swearing she would use it as well as Quinn could fight. When there was a knock at the door, everyone speeded up. Mr. Gentry was in the rear, gun in one hand, cell phone in the other.

They ended up Jane's room and were all working on moving the bed against the door when they heard people coming up the stairs. They had managed to get in without breaking a window.

"Some promoter," said Daria to Trent. Trent just frowned at her.

"Everyone get out of the line of fire," said Mr. Gentry. Seeing that most people were out of immediate harm's way, he began to accept the altered state of consciousness brought on by his adrenaline.

Someone tried their door. There was a yell when the door refused to open. Then a banging.

"Hey, just open up," said Detective Cartwright sounding calm, "I'm here with the police. We just want to talk. There's a reasonable explanation for all of this. But you need to open up." After a moment, the doorknob jiggled a bit.

"Motherfucker," whispered Mr. Gentry. He went near the door, aimed his gun down near the knob and fired 3 shots and then quickly rolled out of the way. "He's trying to jimmy the lock!" he said, just before several gunshots erupted from outside. Several bullets managed to pierce the door fully or in part. It wasn't going to hold.

Someone started kicking at the door then. Mr. Gentry rolled out and fired at the door again. This time, the bullet went through and they heard a man screaming outside. Mr. Gentry rolled again as several more gunshots tore the door into pieces and the glass in a window on the far wall splintered and fell. Daria hoped the home invaders would run out of ammo soon. The door wasn't going to even exist if it took any more damage.

And then they heard Detective Cartwright's voice from down the hall. He laughed. And then there were more gunshots, this time from further away.

"Do we get out?" asked Daria lightly. She asked louder when Mr. Gentry silently asked her to repeat it. Her own ears were ringing and she couldn't tell how loud she was being. "Do we leave?" she said.

He used his cell phone again. "Talk to me, has the cavalry arrived?"

There was a kick at their door. Splinters flew. They heard Detective Cartwright's voice shrieking at them. "Your help is as dead as Quinn! Open the goddamn door!"

Daria crawled in line with the door and fired 3 shots, but all three were stopped by the door. "Rotten luck," she muttered, "with all the holes ..." Then another two shots answered from the other side. She flattened to the floor and the bullets went over her head. Daria raised her head, fired again, and this time her bullet found a weak spot and went into the hall beyond. They heard a hoarse, "Oh shit!" and the thump of a gun on the floor, then the sound of feet running away. Mr. Gentry leaned out and fired, but there was silence on the other side.

"Give me that!" uttered Mr. Gentry in a low, urgent voice. "This is ending, you didn't have a gun, I fired it. Got that?"

"Uh, okay," said Daria. Everyone else, down low and as far to the edge as they could get, nodded.

There were a few more gun shots and then voices downstairs. More lights were showing up outside. Some of them were red and blue, but no one felt comforted. More voices and movement outside. There were a lot of people in Casa Lane now. And a lot of shooting.


04/05/01 THURSDAY 6:00 PM

"Mr. Earl Gentry?" a voice rang just outside their door, off to the side. The shooting seemed to have stopped, but all their ears still rang with it, and their adrenaline pumped furiously.

"Who's asking?" replied Mr. Gentry, with a little more force than was polite.

"Agent Highwater, FBI." The voice was also tense.

Mr. Gentry laughed, almost joyously. "I'm so glad you arrived. Look, I'm the only one armed. No one else has a gun. They're kids that have been through a traumatic experience and aren't likely to respond well to people with guns, even if they have a badge. What say you let me lead them out all friendly like and you treat them like the crime victims they are?"

There was silence for a minute. Then, "Your call, Mr. Gentry. I'll assume you know what you're doing."

Moving the bed, the door swung open without even being opened. Mr. Gentry whistled at that. Then he went out. When no shots were fired, the others went out silently, staring at the several agents staring at them... and at the blood on the walls and carpet. When they were out, a few of the agents went into the room they had been hiding in.

"Hope you didn't have any wacky weed in there," said Mr. Gentry lightly to Jane.

"Nope," said Jane. "None in the house either." Not since the cops have been breathing down our neck about it. She was glad Trent had gotten rid of what little had been in the house just before the first sweep, right after the shooting at Lawndale High, and not ever allowed any in since then. Their parent's bedroom was their parent's concern, but since nothing was found the first time, she doubted there was any there now. She wondered what her mom and dad would do when they got back from their respective locations to find out about this. Then she forgot all about that as she got a clear view of the top of the stairs.

There were some people around a dead body at the top of the stairs. This must be who Mr. Gentry shot, thought Daria. They quickly went down where there were more bodies. One was Scott Rhodes. Messy.

Daria ran outside to get away from the horrible sights and smells. She hoped desperately that she'd find Quinn in better shape. She saw that an ambulance was included among the emergency vehicles and another was just turning in. Then she ran up to one gurney when she saw a familiar crop of red hair.

"Quinn?" asked Daria, guilt festering within her for leaving her.

Quinn opened her eyes. The very movement seemed painful. "Daria," she breathed and tried to smile, not quite making it. "I'm glad you're okay. That guy said you were dead." She took in a gasp of air. "Scott was with him." She blinked, and added sleepily, "How weird is that?"

Daria didn't trust herself to speak.

Quinn added, "Someone got me out of the car and took the cuffs off."

"Okay, that's enough," said an EMT. "We need to get her to the hospital."

Daria got out of the way and Quinn was moved into the ambulance, with an EMT telling Quinn to stay awake. Daria had turned back to the house when she saw another gurney with a man handcuffed to it. She started over to it but was seized by two medical technicians and a man with a federal badge. She struggled against them as she saw it was Cartwright. He was in a lot better shape than Quinn. He smiled warmly at her.

"You bastard!" she roared at him. She struggled even harder when he continued to smile. He seemed to enjoy her condemnation. Another man grabbed at her arms and held her. She was about to break his grip when his voice calmed her.

"That's enough," he said. "Don't get yourself locked up over him. He's in for a rough time and it's only going to get rougher. Why don't you go to the hospital with your sister? Your mother is on her way."

Daria spat at Cartwright and turned away. They let her go. She found Quinn was unconscious and almost went back again to try to hurt Cartwright herself when she saw something that chilled her: BATF agents. She suddenly remembered her time in Mr. Van Driessen's class when they had stormed in. She had seen enough violence for one day.

"There she is!" The outburst startled Daria not only in its intensity but because it was Detective Warner. Daria turned to see him struggling with two BATF agents. "It's her, her and her sister! They tried to kill my partner and you're treating him like the criminal! You're cops, we're not suppose to fight each other!"

"Your partner opened fired on us, laughing like a loon," said an FBI agent.

"It wasn't him, it was the Morgendorffers and the Lanes!" he shouted.

Another man accompanied, by a man and woman just behind him on either side, came up and the older man pushed the FBI agent gently but firmly aside. "I'll take it from here, Agent Clowes."

He was older, but seemed to still be in his prime, if a bit too stiff. He sported short, white hair that was almost a crew cut, square glasses and a suit that screamed government agent. He struck Daria as having a poker face and very dangerous. And she recognized him. This was the man who had interrogated her teacher, Mr. Van Driessen, and even chewed out her principal right in front of her and the entire class shortly before she moved to Lawndale. His face had been cold when one of his agents slammed a gun into Van Driessen's guts, and while the BATF went around destroying anything they could get a hold of, for the sheer love of destruction.

Daria also recognized the man beside him. More rotund and with short, red hair, he was still unmistakably a government agent. But she didn't recognize the sour-faced, robust blonde that stood on his other side.

The older man narrowed his eyes and put his hands on his hips, almost as if he were resting his hands over unseen guns. "Detective Warner, I'm Special Agent Fleming, ATF, here to investigate the treasonous drug ring and death squads that you tried to pin on these innocent kids."

Detective Warner blinked and suddenly looked confused. "Wh-what?"

"Look, Officer Scum," said Agent Fleming in well-controlled anger, "we know all about your dirty ring. Drugs. Bombs. Guns. Ice Cold. The murder of Agent Chin of the FBI when she came close to blowing your whole operation. We know everything. Did you really think you could get away with it by blaming it all on a couple of high school girls that lived in terror of your thugs?"

Detective Warner shook his head as if to clear it. "I don't understand what the hell you're talking about. The Morgendorffers are the ones behind it all! Ask Roger Fillman!"

"Fillman has already been taken into custody," said Agent Fleming, "so rest assured we will be asking him. Right now I'm asking you."

Detective Warner looked to Detective Cartwright who lay on his gurney laughing lightly. "What's he talking about, partner?" he asked, suspicion in his voice.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Detective Cartwright, not sounding sorry at all. "They found out about everything. I'd cover for you, but we're not the type to fall on a grenade for each other. I'd rather get the lighter prison sentence by testifying against you!"

"What!?" shouted Detective Warner, fear and rage building in his voice, "I'll kill you!" He lunged for his former partner but was wrestled down by four BATF agents while Agent Fleming glared at him coldly and the two beside him simply stared.

Detective Cartwright laughed. Not what I had in mind, but I can still say 'gotcha' to someone! he thought. He hated and despised Warner, but he'd been a wonderful dupe and tool. Now he would testify against Warner for a lighter sentence. Not that Warner was involved in this one, he was just a useful idiot. But he'd sent enough other people off to prison for crimes they hadn't committed, and had tried to do so again, so he deserved this.

So had Cartwright, but Cartwright didn't care about that.

"Want to tell me about Dallas Grimes?" asked Agent Fleming.

"Who?" asked Detective Warner, now in cuffs and breathing hard. He blinked when he saw Agent Fleming's tightening face. "Oh, the blonde who, uh, shot the two police officers, Delancey and Corelli..."

"Dallas Grimes is Warner's girlfriend," shouted Detective Cartwright. "If you want to know about that, talk to me." He sounded completely serious, even while he was enjoying the macabre joke. All those years of undercover work continue to pay off.

Agent Fleming turned to Cartwright. "Get him out of here! We'll deal with him later!" Turning back, he pointed at Detective Warner. "As for this treasonous scum that threatened national security, aided and abetted America's enemies, aided and abetted a woman wanted for capital murder of his fellow officers, and attempted to undermine the authority of the United States government while involving innocent teenagers in his sick game..."

The bland agent behind Agent Fleming crossed his arms. Sounding bored, he asked, "Cavity search?"

"Deep and hard," said Agent Fleming.

"Agent Hurley," Bork nodded to her.

"Wait, you can't do this! I have rights!" said Detective Warner desperately. "Cops don't do this to cops!"

"You're not a cop anymore, Officer Scumbag. Take him away!" He watched coldly as Detective Warner was carried, struggling all the way, to a waiting van and Agent Hurley put on a plastic glove.

Agent Bork asked him, "We don't know how many cops have been corrupted, do we?"

"They all know something," said Agent Fleming, crossing his arms. "I want full cavity searches. Everyone! The entire police department. Go deep on them. Especially on these two scumbags."

While the BATF went about their business, none of them noticed that the second reporter to arrive had cut a slit in the back tire of Agent Fleming's car.

Meanwhile, Daria bit her lip as she observed Agent Fleming's mania. The BATF were none too gentle and she decided to get out of sight by ducking into the ambulance and hoped that offered some protection. She breathed a sigh of relief when the ambulance shut its door and both Morgendorffer sisters were driven to the ER. While not hurt anywhere as bad as Quinn, Daria knew she could use medical attention, too.

About that time, the press arrived in force and a light rain started. Agent Fleming hated the media and he frowned at the rain, wondering briefly if spiritual forces were trying to ruin his investigation or if maybe God Himself was crying over America's corruption unearthed this day.

He briefly considered having the reporters all endure a cavity search, too. It would probably be just in its own way, but the BATF couldn't afford to alienate the press too much. Seething, he decided to leave. "Let's go, Bork!"

Leaving instructions to trusted agents, Agents Fleming and Bork got into their car and left. Traffic was building up as more cars approached. Agent Fleming hoped the FBI didn't mess up too much evidence. One of the few things the BATF and FBI agreed upon was that the local police would be barred from the scene. That would no doubt create some problems. On the other hand, Agent Burley was there for them, too, and they'd get their cavity search all that much sooner.

Something else was bothering Agent Fleming, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He knew he was frustrated when it came to Dallas Grimes. She still hadn't been returned to justice and was at large out there. While that dossier that was anonymously delivered to them by their informant would be most useful, their anonymous informant had better come up with something on Dallas Grimes soon or they'd focus on finding him.

"Chief," said Agent Bork.

"What is it, Bork?"

"I think we may have a flat tire."

Agent Fleming frowned. The Lawndale PD cops were going to pay for his inconveniences tonight. I mean for the crimes they partook in, he corrected himself. "Okay, Bork, let's get this tire changed before the rain picks up."

They were in a business district, with all the shops closed for the day, but Agent Fleming determined they were safe enough. As long as no police officers arrive, he reminded himself.

He supervised as Agent Bork expertly got the tire and jack out and began to change the tire in admirable time. But he frowned and squinted his eyes as a car pulled over behind them, its lights still on bright. Then a door opened a skinny guy in some kind of work uniform stepped out and asked, "Hey, you guys need any help?" He looked back in and answered the unseen passenger, "No, it will only take a minute. Come on if you're bored and bring the cell phone. We may need to use it though." An unhappy feminine voice came from the shotgun side.

Agent Fleming relaxed. Two college kids from Middleton, no doubt. As his girlfriend got out, wearing a hooded parka despite the rain being very light, he told them, "It's no problem, but I thank you for stopping to offer aid. It's a rare American these days who remember we are all fellow countrymen."

"Um, chief," said Agent Bork, still kneeling on the ground, examining the tire he had just taken off.

"What is it, Bork?"

"I'm not sure," he said, "but I think this tire was slashed."

Agent Fleming's head whipped back up, his eyes instinctively going open and getting even more blinded by the bright headlights. He instinctively reached for his sidearm when the woman closed the distance all too fast and two shots rang out. He heard nothing more.

Agent Bork was faster, although the situation had not yet registered to his conscious mind. He stood, drew his gun, aimed at the woman and fired just as Agent Fleming fell. But the woman was faster still. She dropped to one knee just before Agent Bork fired. The young man behind the woman dropped too, but Bork realized he hadn't been shot. He readjusted his aim on the woman whom he instinctively knew to be more dangerous--this had to be Dallas Grimes! He was sure of it intuitively--but before he could squeeze off another round, a single shot created a blast of fire that turned into a long, glowing tunnel that led him into eternity.

The woman screamed in excited victory and trotted over, gun ready, to examine them. They both were very dead, and Dara, also known as Dallas Grimes, decided not to waste another bullet on either of them.

She trotted back to the car to see UpSing riding shotgun. Smart boy. She liked how he didn't seem overburdened by a male ego that demanded to drive when she was the better driver. She got in and they were quickly away. The police should be busy with other matters and it would probably be several minutes before they realized two more federal agents had been killed.

Wild Card wanted me to expunge Cartwright since he was about to be pinched by the feds, but I got who really mattered. Personally, I hope Cartwright surviving in custody causes many people to sweat, though someone else will probably off him. I only wish Wild Card could enjoy the sweat, too. Okay, not really.

She smiled, thinking about how she had also killed Wild Card with a CO2 bomb hooked to his fuel tank, spiked with RDX. The beauty of it was he had had these same materials in his car for personal transport, too. He had died moments after he started his car. Ironically, the Newport police and federal agents would be looking into the same criminal empire that she and Wild Card had been running.

And they might find what they were looking for, too, for she had killed several makers of Ice Cold and firebombed their meth labs. (Which was all too easy to do; she had to love the accelerants used to make the stuff.) Several new labs would be uncovered this way. And they would find the materials Wild Card both imported and exported and assume it was an accident or it was one of his underlings seeking to move up in the world. Whichever alpha tried to fill the sudden void in the leadership would no doubt be the one to go down for what Dara herself had done.

UpSing stared. He'd known the plan, but it hadn't been REAL to him until he watched it happen. And now Dara was smirking gleefully. "Why?" he asked. He was a great hacker, but this blood in the street was new to him.

"Babe, they needed to be killed." Her voice was steely yet seductive, and it sent a pleasant thrill through UpSing. "I'm sorry to have involved you in this part of the job, but with Wild Card dead, I had to get you out of Newport."

He'd known that Wild Card was dead, but suddenly he had to know. "You killed him, didn't you?" He found he didn't care as much even if it were true as he did that Dara cared enough to take him out of Newport with her.

"You remember that file you downloaded on him. It proved he was still working for the CIA, the dickhead. He told me we were working to overthrow The Man, make the country safe for regular people, and get rich doing it." This wasn't my primary motivation, babe, but it should make you feel better. "But all the time he was working for the CIA and even trying to help Bush become better accepted by the public. Our entire operation was a CIA program called Operation Hobgoblin."

"Operation Hobgoblin?" asked UpSing.

"Yeah," she said bitterly. "Can you believe, they have this program to create greater social instability in order to make the American people approve a police state and the suspension of the Constitution."

"I thought that's what we have now," UpSing replied.

Dara snorted. "Too damn right." She was glad UpSing was taking this well. "But the CIA wanted more. According to one report, government acceptance and control have been slipping in many ways since the 60s. Too many people demanding their constitutional rights. Fearing anarchy--that is, someone besides them in control-- they instituted Hobgoblin, managed in the field by our beloved Wild Card. The plan was to assassinate certain politicians who resist unconstitutional legislation, not that there are that many of them, and get a few others in position to be blackmailed and controlled directly by the CIA. On the street level, they were supplying drugs and weapons to increase gang violence and general terrorism. This operation here in Lawndale was a tiny breeze before the hurricane, the tip of the iceberg so to speak."

She right after meeting him (which was right after she planted the bomb in his car), she confronted him about his continued involvement with the CIA. He said he still intended to destroy the federal government, including the CIA, and take over. Dara would have a place at his side. In other words, I'd be a prisoner of the government again, and Wild Card is a lot smarter and more focused on me than the current batch of idiots. She hated doing it, but she did the federal government a favor by killing Wild Card, as he was even worse. And he might've been lying anyway, she added to herself. He frequently did tell other people exactly what they wanted to hear. Why not string me along, too?

"And when the American public is living in terror of the hobgoblins, they'll allow, no, demand, the government take care of them." UpSing shook his head bemused.

"Yup," she replied, shaking off the memory of her last meeting with Wild Card. "Office of Homeland Security steps in and restores order. The plans for such a super agency are already drawn up."

"Mencken was right," said UpSing. "The practical aim of politics is to menace people with imaginary hobgoblins to keep them clamoring for the government to protect them..."

"...As he was about the art and science of democracy being the directing of the circus from the monkey cage," added Dara.

Locally, the CIA had planned to make Roger Fillman mayor and then move him up in the world if he proved effective. Like with herself, the CIA had caught Fillman engaged in illicit activities. In his case, it was tax evasion, fraud, cooking books, and even vile perversions he shared with both the previous and current mayor of Lawndale. With their dossier on him, he would make an excellent puppet.

No chance of that now, Dara gloated. She had gotten a copy after breaking into one of Wild Card's personal safehouses and stealing it and a few other items of interest, right after he blew himself up. She'd sent copies of all the information and evidence gathered on Roger Fillman to the FBI, BATF, and even to the local DA who was investigating the police for some reason. If that didn't do anything, she would have UpSing send it to several key reporters and see if the media would hang him.

The CIA should have known better than to dare use her as a puppet. This time, she not only cut her strings, but used those strings to leave bruises on the puppet master's throat. She smiled again. The CIA would have to find another way to scare the American people into supporting the idiot son of the former head of the CIA. Now there was the perfect puppet for them, she thought contemptuously.

"So where are we going now?" UpSing asked.

She'd picked him up before she left Newport. She'd known she'd have to relocate him, and his most important toys were packed securely in the trunk. She refused to acknowledge to herself that she was sweet on him, just as he seemed to be not thinking about how he was getting used to the violent ways in which she operated. "After a quick detour to Florida, we're taking a vacation in my home state, Texas."

UpSing made a face. "Not Texas," he grumbled, "can't we go to California? Please?"

She laughed. "But you'll like Texas computers. They have the unfriendliest computers in the world. You can hide so much more in them. At least try. If it doesn't work, California is always there."

"Awl right, honey chil'.
Ah'll give 'er a try."

Dara thought his attempted accent was atrocious but she liked how cool and collected he had been and was beginning to dare to hope that just maybe something permanent could form between them. She'd have to watch him to make sure his conscience wouldn't betray them, but if it didn't... well, she wouldn't ever get married again, but she would grow fond of having him around.

And as they drove to an unknown future, Queensryche filled the car.

No time to rest yet
We've got to stop his game
Before madness has the final laugh
Too much bloodshed
We're being used and fed
Like rats in experiments
No final outcome here
Only pain and fear
It's followed us both all our lives
There's one thing left to see
Will it be him or me?
There's one more candle left to light

-[ Mary ]-
Don't turn your back on my disgrace
The blood of Christ can't heal my deep
The sins of man are all I taste
Can't spit the memory from my mind
I can't cry anymore

Mary, my lady of pain, always alone
Blind you search for the truth
I see myself in you, parallel lives
Winding at light-speed through time, you're mine




04/19/01 THURSDAY 10:00 A.M.

The courtroom was packed. Quinn was sitting between Daria and Helen. She shouldn't be out, but Helen wanted the judge, reporters, and public to see her battered face. Though she did require stitches in her lip, the ER staff had been amazed her jaw hadn't broken and that she did not have a concussion; her mother was surprised how quickly her cuts were healing. She couldn't help but wonder if Quinn had a guardian angel looking out for her. But she dismissed that as nonsense.

Daria herself sported an obvious "shiner" on her face that was painful to look at. Daria claimed to have rolled with the punch so that it wasn't as bad as it could've been. But it was easy to miss when compared to Quinn's injuries.

Whatever the case, she had sent pictures of Quinn and Daria before the recent beatings to the media in hopes they would print pics of before and after.

The courtroom was packed with local, national, and even international reporters. Helen couldn't help but flinch and feel enraged every time she looked to her youngest daughter's face, but she knew that every picture taken of Quinn was helping and that she must keep her temper. She felt both a sense of relief and pride to see Quinn bearing up so well despite her vanity.

On her other side was Ms. Morrison and Mrs. Kramer. Beyond Mrs. Kramer was the private investigator named Earl Gentry. Helen felt a tremendous debt of tearful gratitude to him; he had saved both her daughters' lives and exposed a plot so twisted that even she hadn't suspected it.

Ms. Morrison was on her feet, addressing the judge with the reporters in mind. "In conclusion, Your Honor, as the former city attorney and his colleagues, now arrested by federal authorities, fabricated all charges but one against Daria Morgendorffer, and as she will soon be charged with that one crime under federal statutes, I move that we dismiss all charges against Daria Morgendorffer. By her actions, a school massacre was prevented. She has done all of Lawndale a favor for which we can never repay her, and she may very well still face years in a federal penitentiary for violation of the Gun Free Zones Act and the Project Safe Neighborhoods, two violations that describe the same act of bringing a gun onto school grounds, even under extenuating circumstances. Likewise, as new evidence shows, Quinn Morgendorffer was the target of a conspiracy that included the officer that charged her. I therefore move that all charges against Quinn Morgendorffer also be dropped."

Judge Oliver cleared his throat and drank from a glass of water as he surveyed his packed courtroom. He wondered if his hair was still slicked down and tried to figure what response would get him the most positive press. Maybe he should show clemency, pretty young girls, saving lives, and all that. But then that could be seen as being soft, something no judge wanted a reputation for. Besides, harsh convictions gained more press time for him. "Be that as it may," he finally said, "but Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer have both been accused of breaking local laws, too. I can't just throw that out of court, even if I wanted to."

Ms. Morrison took a breath and continued. "Your Honor, the federal government may have declared that trying defendants at the local level and then subsequently at the federal level for the same crime is not double jeopardy, but let us not fool ourselves. That is plainly false. Let Daria Morgendorffer be prosecuted, only once, if twice over, by the Federal Government for the one and only crime she may have committed." When Judge Oliver looked as if he were about to turn her down one final time, she added, "Mrs. Kramer assures me that there will be plenty of cases for this court to address soon enough, and that this court will have all the publicity it could desire without burdening the court further with Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer."

Judge Oliver frowned at that and looked to Mrs. Kramer. His eyes opened a bit as he saw the file marked with a large X that Mrs. Kramer had shown him earlier, implicating him, if only peripherally, with Roger Fillman's crimes. The PI beside her made a motion like taking a picture of him. Anger went through him, but so did fear. He would get the DA back for this, but this was not the time, he concluded. "Well, this is not standard protocol, Ms. Morrison, but this is not a standard situation. Very well, since only one crime seems still to have been committed, by a one Daria Morgendorffer, let the United States Government handle it at their level. Case dismissed. I call recess for the next 10 minutes." He got up and stomped out of there as gracefully as he could.

Helen was exuberant. She hugged Ms. Morrison in overpowering gratitude and reached over and clasped her dear friend's hand before turning around and hugging both of her daughters. Carefully, in mind of Quinn's injuries, and distantly for Daria who sat on the other side of Quinn. Getting both cases dismissed at once was more than she had dared to hope for.

Of course, there were other factors involved. Sergeant Lanny in particular had turned in several documents and aided Mrs. Kramer, Earl Gentry, and later the FBI, in investigating the Lawndale PD. She was disgusted with her department, especially Warner. She had to sue just to make sergeant and it was obvious she still had no respect, being ordered about like a rookie by anyone with rank. She also knew Cartwright and Corelli were bad news, and even aided in tapping their personal phone and computer. She didn't care if this ruined her career. As far as she was concerned, she had no career to begin with. It was said she was considering the FBI as a future employer.

The two cops who had been on duty watching the Morgendorffer house claimed they had a tip that Mr. Morgendorffer was to meet with a criminal on behalf of his daughters. Jake never met anyone, though. He had waited and waited outside the County Recording Office getting more and more nervous and finally angry. He had returned home to find the living room trashed, blood on the carpet, and both girls missing. Then Helen and Ms. Morrison showed up, already foul tempered at the head games Fillman had played with them. Jake had not had a good night that night, but now the two cops were being investigated by the FBI. At best, they were going to look incompetent. They had already tendered their resignations, given the aloof disdain and outright suspicion they both received from the rest of the department.

Besides, there was the evidence gathered by Earl Gentry that not only cleared the Morgendorffers and the Lanes, not to mention Mystik Spiral, but also implicated many of the investigators and prosecutors of the case. Lawndale PD won't be the first police department to get a major cleaning Helen reminded herself, and the cleaning won't stop me from suing them. The testimony of former officer Corelli, now under FBI protection, would be particularly damning.

On top of that were some files delivered to Mrs. Kramer by courier that contained photos, documents, and video and audio footage of Detective Cartwright, other officers, and Roger Fillman. The FBI and BATF were both just as interested in who sent these documents as they were in what the documents contained. There were even rumors that the CIA was investigating the documents, but if they were, they were disguised as another agency.

It was too soon to see what the aftereffects of this would be, but at least Daria and Quinn were effectively cleared of all local charges. But as ecstatic as Helen was, her enthusiasm was dampened by the knowledge that the federal trial still loomed over her elder daughter, and the local case was going to be a cake walk in comparison to that.

"Marguerite," said Helen, her spirits still high despite the looming federal trial, "do you want to celebrate with me and my daughters?"

Mrs. Kramer smiled wistfully. "Not right now. I have something that really needs doing."

"Can't it wait?" asked Helen.

Mrs. Kramer shook her head. "I need to interview Officer Corelli one more time before he's whisked off for protective custody by the FBI. I don't think I'll be DA much longer, even if I decide to run again. I want to get as much of this into public record as I can before it's buried by the powers that be. At the very least, I want to see if I can remove the local rule against hiring cops with above average intelligence."

"Later, then," said Helen with a sad but grateful smile on her face.

"Yes, Helen, later," replied Mrs. Kramer.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Kramer entered the secured room that Officer Corelli was being held in. He smiled up at her ruefully when she entered, with his bed arranged so that he was sitting up. He put down the paper he was reading and asked her, "So how'd it go?"

Mrs. Kramer calmly replied, "It went better than we dared to hope. Daria still has to face charges of violating two federal statutes, but all local charges have been dismissed against Daria and Quinn both. The Lanes, as well as that band everyone was buzzing about, are also in the clear."

"So Mrs. Morgendorffer's going to sue the department?"

"The department and several news agencies," replied Mrs. Kramer neutrally. She cleared her throat. "Officer--"

"It's Mister Corelli now," interrupted Correlli. "I'm not a cop anymore. Even if I could still be one I would resign." He shook his head. "And any cop would spit in my face anyway."

Mrs. Kramer nodded. Corelli was partially blamed for his partner's death, even if he wasn't being charged in it, and he confessed to working with Cartwright, perhaps the most hated cop in the country, and certainly the most reviled by the Lawndale PD for the shame he stained them with. She cleared her throat. "Mr. Corelli, do I have your permission to record this interview?"

He nodded, "Yes, I understand the need."

"Thank you. Then let's begin. Do you have any idea who the woman was that shot your partner?"

He shook his head. "All I know is that she's called Dara--or Dallas Grimes sometimes--and she worked for a man claiming to be named Frank Lorenzo but commonly known as Wild Card. Him I do know something about. He held a lot of influence with police and political figures in Newport. Even in Washington DC, too. And he had enough influence to sniff out undercover. He found me while I was working undercover for the Newport PD, investigating a rash of homicides and rumors of a new form of methamphetamines called Ice Cold on the street."

"And you don't know how he found out who you were?"

"No," said Corelli, "but I suspect it was my fingerprints. He wore gloves all the time, which I thought was an effete habit myself, fearful of germs. But just before he found out who I was, he handed me a beer from a fridge. The next day he knew who I was. I surmised that he wore the gloves to keep his own prints off the bottle he handed me and he took it to be examined for prints. As an officer of the law, my prints are in a d-base that certain individuals have access to. Rumor has it that he had contacts within the FBI that ran background checks on people for him, but I don't know if this is true or not. Rumor also had it that he personally killed at least one FBI agent, too."

"I'm not interested in rumors in Newport and DC," replied Mrs. Kramer. "I'll leave that to the FBI to investigate. What I want from you is how you became involved in this, why you were in Lawndale, who that woman was, and why innocent kids..."

"There's no such thing as innocence," interrupted Corelli. Then he looked apologetic. "Sorry. That was the old me talking." When Mrs. Kramer didn't say anything else, he went on. "As I said, I was working undercover in Newport when Wild Card approached me all by himself and told me who I was, even my badge number. I played it cool, which was a good thing, because although I didn't know it at the time, Dara--that's the woman the ATF calls Dallas Grimes--had me in her cross hairs. All it would've taken to kill me was a signal from Wild Card. I guess in that regard I'm glad I listened and agreed, because I wasn't ready to die yet."

Mrs. Kramer nodded. "So what did he want you to do?"

"Mostly the same thing I was doing for the police department, but to report to him as well. He had me falsify some reports to my department. He also had me to cause the arrest of certain dealers and even one man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. Then I called him to tell him when they were being released. All of them were shot within a day of being released from custody. I can only assume that Dara, or Dallas, was involved in this."

"I'm not interested in assumptions in Newport," said Mrs. Kramer. "Please tell me how you came to Lawndale."

Corelli looked a little sheepish. "Wild Card somehow managed to have me transferred. He told me he had arranged it the day before I was officially told. The plan was to create a few safehouses in unassuming locales in preparation for a wave of violence that would soon overtake the urban areas. From these new bases of operations, Wild Card would direct his empire."

"And you didn't have a problem with aiding in this?" asked Mrs. Kramer.

"Of course I did!" protested Corelli. "But he told me that as a result there would be new police powers granted soon. This country needs that, Mrs. Kramer. I'm sure you don't think much of me, but understand that some of us think America needs a return to law and order! Civilians aren't likely to understand what we see and what we put up with, but it's a needed thing."

"The end justifies the means," said Mrs. Kramer.

His face reddened. "If the end is more law and order and less violence and drugs overall, then it's worth taking a step backwards in order to take a leap forward. And besides, this country had just gotten rid of that immoral adulterer Clinton, and we had a MORAL president in. Yet this country doesn't respect him! They say he stole the election! How can this country have any law, order, and decency if even the President of the United States isn't respected? I know Bush isn't perfect, but he's a lot more moral than Clinton or Gore, he's harsh on criminals and defends the unborn! America NEEDS Bush and it NEEDS law and order." He bit his lip then. "I admit I made a mistake by throwing in with Wild Card--I didn't even know how much was truth and how much was bullshit from him--but I had good intentions. Please believe that."

Mrs. Kramer said nothing for a moment, and then nodded. "So you thought it was mostly criminals that would be hurt in this operation, and as a result of the backlash, America would become more moral and law abiding?" When he nodded weakly, she added, "Please state your answer."

"Yes," said Corelli.

"Okay, so you came to Lawndale..."

"It took awhile all the same, but I came to Lawndale about the same time as Cartwright from D.C. That was when the department got the new funding and hired a dozen new officers to combat the rising crime rate, particularly the crash and dash robberies."

Mrs. Kramer nodded. It was odd that those robberies stopped the moment the new police arrived. She'd thought it was unlikely that a dozen new cops had stopped it. And some of the places hit, like the coffee house for the students at Lawndale High, didn't make any sense. "Do you think those robberies were staged here as an excuse to bring you?"

Corelli shrugged. "If you're interested in my assumptions then I'd say yes. But I don't really know."

"Tell me about the Morgendorffers, the Lanes, Matthew Foster and Scott Rhodes, and the band Mystik Spiral."

Mr. Corelli grimaced. "We were trying to find a way to take out the local meth dealers. Both as Lawndale PD and as per instructions of Wild Card. The method wasn't important, only that it happened. But Wild Card also wanted a smoke screen to allow new dealers to come in. I didn't like that, but he insisted he had good reasons that he couldn't tell me yet. And Wild Card apparently has a little influence with Mayor Grant, but not as much as he has with Fillman. He wanted Roger Fillman to be mayor, but until then some discretion had to be observed."

"Go on," said Mrs. Kramer, when he paused in his telling. "How did the kids fit into this?"

He shook his head a little. "Matthew Foster wasn't important enough to anyone. He was a small fish. He frustrated Detective Warner because he couldn't be caught and made him, and the department, look like fools. Warner does NOT like looking like a fool. When Daria Morgendorffer called 911 to report him, it was a godsend."

"But why entrap Daria?"

"That came later. After the interrogation and the reports that I assume you've seen, it looked to Detective Warner like the Morgendorffer girls were involved. It also looked like the Sloanes were involved, and the prospect of busting them was too glorious a target for him to turn down. It would not only mean a huge windfall for the department as we confiscated the Sloane estates and more funding from the government, but he would make a name for himself. He has a massive inferiority complex. And Roger Fillman approved of his obsession and told us to string him along in the direction he was already heading."


"Because the people involved--Daria, Jane, Quinn, Mystik Spiral--would take the fall for the coming surgical strike that would take out Evil Eddie. Fillman was to lure Mrs. Morgendorffer out, then the father would be lured out on some context. The police assigned to the house would follow him and call in a replacement. The one nearest would be Cartwright, who would oversee the extraction of the girls. Later he was to act surprised that they weren't home. It was to appear that the girls had arranged for their father to leave and snuck out the moment he, and the police, were gone. But there was nothing in the plan about putting out APBs on anyone. I don't know what went wrong."

"And what was this suppose to accomplish?"

"Their remaining associates, some being at least somewhat shady, would take the rest of the fall. The police would also focus on the Sloanes, but they didn't dare make a move without definitive proof. The Sloanes are so well protected with lawyers and even representatives that it would become a stalemate. And everyone would be so busy facing each other down that they wouldn't see the new players until Roger Fillman was mayor. Once Fillman hired and fired the police, there was going to be a lot more of Wild Card's crew coming in to 'combat the rising drug violence' and other officers going out for incompetence. Then the matter would be settled quietly."

Mrs. Kramer blinked at that. She had suspected a lot of this from the beginning, but she had failed to guess what kind of worm Roger Fillman was!

"So you knew," said Mrs. Kramer, trying to keep the anger from her voice, "that innocent kids were going to be killed or sent to prison, and innocent names would be smeared in this operation for the benefit of Fillman and Wild Card, whom you think are more moral than the rest of America?"

Corelli's face reddened again and his voice dropped. "I'm sorry. I know how bad it must look from your point of view. And I'm ashamed of the things I did, okay? But by this time, I was too deeply involved..."

"And a user of Ice Cold, weren't you?" asked Mrs. Kramer rhetorically and a little accusingly.

He nodded. "The stress..."

"Look, I'm sorry for my anger. The Morgendorffers in particular are close friends of mine. It's not my place to judge you, only to get the facts. And," she added pointedly, "to bring the guilty to justice. I'm sure you can appreciate that."

He nodded. "I don't want any plea bargains. I've made my peace with God and I throw myself on the mercy of any court. I know I messed up and I'm willing to pay for my crimes. In fact, I insist upon it."

"Why did this Dara, or Dallas Grimes, shoot your partner?"

Corelli shook his head. "Officer Delancey was a local, but one who had some unfortunate vices. I helped entrap him for Wild Card. In order for us to have mutual silence, he did Ice Cold with me and came to love it almost as much as I did. He was a good cop, though, just weak. And I threatened to ruin his career and his family if he didn't do the Ice Cold and help me, and by extension, Wild Card and Fillman."

"And this is why he was murdered?"

"No, no," said Corelli. "He was murdered because he was a good cop. He knew he was supposed to ignore Dara. Not that he knew anything about her. I simply gave him his orders and he was supposed to obey because I could destroy his life if he didn't. We were going to say that we didn't see anything significant. We just wanted to see what they would do for later and then we would follow her. That was the plan." He stopped, his voice wavering.

After a minute, Mrs. Kramer added, "But something went wrong."

Corelli nodded very sadly. "Dara attacked two boys without provocation. He insisted we get involved, but I stopped him with threats and even restraint. I had him, but then Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane ran outside and Dara pulled a gun on them."

"And your partner did the chivalrous thing and tried to help?"

"I couldn't stop him," he said sadly. "I got out and tried to chase him down, but Dara... she just turned and shot him. The bitch shot him. And then she shot me." When silence followed, he added, "and then Daria, whom we were setting up, came and helped me. Dara shot me and killed my partner and Daria saved my life. That's when... I had a change of heart."

After an uncomfortable silence, Mrs. Kramer said, "Do you know why this woman shot and killed Agents Fleming and Bork?"

"You know it was her?" asked Corelli.

"Ballistics are the same as for Delancey," said Mrs. Kramer. "But some believe that she WANTS us to know it was she who killed them. According to the reports I've read, she's a sociopath with a hatred for authority. I understand some of her crimes are so serious that people like you and me aren't even allowed to know about them."

"Huh," he said. "Someone said she worked for Evergreen Air for awhile."

Mrs. Kramer's eyes widened. "That thinly-covered CIA front? Even I can't believe she was ever CIA." She shook her head.

"Me neither," replied Corelli, "it's just a rumor." He shook his head and continued, "I don't know why she shot them."

"Some say she shot them out of revenge. Apparently, Agents Fleming and Bork were responsible for her arrest before she managed to get out of prison. The details of that are still unclear." When he stared at her, she added, "But others think it was because he had just arrested Cartwright and Warner."

Corelli shook his head. "Cartwright was with us, but not Warner. Warner was just a local idiot who had dreams of doing something to impress us and the world. I'm not saying he's all innocence and light, but he thought he was fighting the good fight against the forces of evil anarchy."

"So did you," added Mrs. Kramer sardonically.

"There is that," he replied regretfully.

"Do you remember the woman Detective Cartwright shot on the night of the massacre of Evil Eddie's men?" When Corelli nodded, she went on, "She was undercover for the FBI. They have audio footage of her trying to surrender peaceably when Detective Cartwright shot her the first time. The footage cuts off before the final shot that ended her life. But this is how Cartwright was fighting evil anarchy. By dispatching federal agents that got in his way." It's unlikely he knew that, she thought silently, but her life was no more valuable as a FBI agent than as a civilian. At least this let's him see the kind of people he was mixed up with.

"God," he croaked, "forgive me."

"Do you have any idea why Mrs. Brand of Handgun Control Inc. was murdered?"

Corelli nodded. "I have a good idea. She had announced she was running for mayor of Lawndale. While she wasn't a perfect human being, she was not possessed of the same vices as Fillman and the other candidates. She stood a good chance at winning the respect of Lawndale and the voters, despite her ardent focus on gun control. She even promised to support our department..." After a moment, he added, "Cartwright said Mrs. Brand bit off more than she could chew by challenging Fillman that way. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Mrs. Brand was murdered because she was a real threat to Fillman making mayor of Lawndale."

Mrs. Kramer blinked at how casually he said all this. Finally, she said, "I want to thank you for being candid with me, Mr. Corelli. But you need your rest and I need to run what you've said through the gears of the system. I'm sure we'll be talking again, soon."

"I'm not so sure," he replied. "I'm being shipped to Washington DC under protective custody tonight."

Mrs. Kramer sighed. "I'll come back myself in a few hours then or send Mr. Earl Gentry to get final comments. After that, I may just depend on your confessions to the FBI. But understand that I will likely press charges against you, if for no other reason to get your testimony in court."

"I understand, Mrs. Kramer. And I'm sorry."

Mrs. Kramer shook her head. In truth, she would likely be blackballed out of office by 2002, and she didn't know if she had the will to fight it any more.

The system made her feel dirty. Already, several agencies were doing damage control in order to squash the reports. Within a few months, the events in Lawndale would be just another footnote which only a few people remembered. In a few years, almost everyone who wasn't involved would have forgotten about it. To do anything less would be to turn scrutiny on everyone else, and the first rule in government was cover your own ass. Mrs. Kramer was going to blow the whistle, and whistle blowers just didn't last. But she would do what she could before she was out of a job.

"I'm sorry, too," she said in a cool tone that caused Corelli to blink. She left then and wondered if Helen would be interested in opening a private law office with her in a couple of years.




02/05/02 TUESDAY 2:30 P.M.

The federal trial was finally down to closing statements. Daria's insides clenched as she listened to the prosecutor's deep voice, ringing with authority.

"You have heard the feminist case that to let Daria Morgendorffer off is a strike against stalkers and male violence. Do not be deceived. What you have heard is the wild-west-vigilante shoot-em-ups come to her defense. Even the NRA has pulled back from backing Daria Morgendorffer.

"Consider that even here, in federal court, Daria Morgendorffer has refused to reveal where she got her gun--unless you want to believe the unlikely story that she got it from a gun show. It is obvious that Daria Morgendorffer is involved with some shady characters, one of whom supplied her with a gun for the express purpose of taking human life. Perhaps Daria Morgendorffer acted as a vigilante, honestly trying to aid her sister. Perhaps, as may seem more probable, she saw Matthew Foster as competition in an illegal but highly lucrative field. In either case, whatever her motivation, it is undeniable that Daria Morgendorffer knowingly and willfully broke the law.

"The defense would have you believe that there were extenuating circumstances. They play to your sympathy in a bid for leniency. But I submit to you that to grant leniency in such a case is to encourage lawlessness and anarchy. This is exactly what we are here to prevent. People MUST respect the law or there is no safety or security for anyone.

"The evidence is clear: the defendant broke the law. It is immaterial if she had extenuating circumstances. The law in this case does not allow for circumstances. As jurors, you must judge according to the facts of the case, and that fact is, Miss Morgendorffer broke the law.

"You have seen the video. You have heard the defendant's own testimony. The judge has informed you that you may only judge the facts of the case and not the law itself. This case is self-evident and this trial is a waste of the taxpayers' money.

"It is your duty, as jurors, to decide if the law was broken. If it was, and the defendant herself says it was, then you MUST convict. This is your duty and your responsibility before God and man."

Daria's stomach twisted in fear. She knew the prosecutor was right: she had broken the law. She hoped that the wild gambit she and her defense team had come up with would work. Otherwise, she was going to prison for a long, long time. Unfortunately, she wasn't a big believer in either the benevolence or the intelligence of her fellow human beings. The prosecution, with the aid of the BATF, had also shown holes in Daria's story of buying the gun at a gun show and Daria wasn't surprised: It was a lie.

The lawyer for the defense stepped forward. She met the eyes of each of the jurors; they looked back soberly. She seemed so calm and self-assured, Daria's stomach quieted a little. Maybe, maybe there was hope. Daria was hoping so hard that she missed the opening words of Ms. Morrison's final summary. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to listen.

"... The jury, not the judge, is the final arbiter of both the facts and the law. That means you, the jury, have the right and the duty to judge the law as well as the facts. If you are on a jury, and if you think the law is stupid, unfair, unjust, or misapplied, it is your right and your duty to acquit. It's an ancient right, older than America. It was included in our form of government because United States law was never meant to be imposed on us, its citizens, against our will.

"That is why the jury system is essential. It ensures that we live in a free country rather than a dictatorship. It is this system that demands that the law respect the people or the law forfeits its right to exist. This is what protects our liberties as surely as any soldier. This guarantees us that we live in a free country rather than a tyrannical police state.

"The opponents of jury nullification would have you believe that free juries will lead to anarchy. However, jury nullification has been around a thousand years and hasn't created anarchy yet. It has, in fact, led instead to the freedom of religion and to the end of Prohibition. Jack Kevorkian has been exonerated three times due to jury nullification.

"Some judges and lawyers cite Marbury v. Madison, a 19th century case in which the Supreme Court finally gave itself the authority to override the People. However, this ruling was overruled in 1920, Homing v. District of Columbia, 138, when Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. presided.

"Lord Denham stated, in O'Connell v Rex, that 'every jury in the land is tampered with and falsely instructed by the judge when it is told that it must accept as the law that which has been given to them, or that they can decide only the facts of the case.' In the U.S. v Moylan, 1969, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also concluded that 'if the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by the judge, and contrary to the evidence.'

"John Adams stated just as bluntly that it was 'not only a juror's right, but his duty, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.' H.H. Bancroft in History of the Constitution eloquently states: 'If the juror accepts as the law that which the judge states, then that juror has accepted the exercise of absolute authority of a government employee and has surrendered a power and a right that once was a citizen's safeguard of liberty.'

"I ask you to remember this, your sacred duty, when judging this case. The law would condemn Daria Morgendorffer to years in prison and to a record that will haunt her for the rest of her life, because of the method she used to save the life of several school children. Ask yourselves and your conscience: In this case are law and justice one and the same? And if you believe they are not, then you have to ask, which is more important?

"This is how you're free, this is how you tell your government when it's wrong. Because of high acquittal rate in prohibition cases in the 1920s and early 1930s, the prohibition laws could not be enforced. Because they could not be enforced, they were repealed. Because prohibition was ended, the gangs and street warfare caused by prohibition were effectively ended until the new war on drugs rose up. Jury nullification is, in effect, what keeps anarchy in check and the people free from the demands of the strong.

"The Project Safe Neighborhoods and Gun Free Zones Act were intended to stop the Matthew Fosters of society. They failed. Should these laws now punish Daria Morgendorffer?

"She was enduring horrifying, life-threatening circumstances. By breaking the law she saved an unknown number of classmates and teachers from the gun of a crazed killer. She had called 911 previously, the first time Matthew Foster threatened her and her sister--and the police had released him. Should she have called 911 again at Lawndale High on the morning of the shooting?

"Ask yourself, was this law intended to convict a terrified young woman protecting her younger sister? Or was it intended to protect her from homicidal stalkers? Will convicting Daria under this law make our neighborhoods safer for us, or safer for the Matthew Fosters among us?

"Daria Morgendorffer is essentially throwing herself on the mercy of this jury, asking only that you answer these questions for yourself: Do you see a difference between Daria Morgendorffer's use of a gun and Matthew Foster's? Do you believe her act was done with the same evil, antisocial intent as his? Do you believe she should go to prison for saving the lives he would have destroyed?

"Finally, she asks that you ask yourself one question--which is more important: Justice, or the Law?

"The prosecution would have you believe you are not competent to decide these questions. The Constitution of the United States says that you are and demands that you do."

Daria closed her eyes. Ms. Morrison presented well, but this strategy was a wild gamble. Technically, Daria had broken the law and there was no way around that, except to remind jurors that they could judge the law as well as the defendant.

One fear is that most jurors had been educated in a public school, and this rendered them particularly prone to "argument by authority," making this gambit a risky move. But reminding the jurors that past authorities, and many modern ones, backed their right to think for themselves might unexpectedly turn this in their favor. Truthfully, it was Daria's only hope of avoiding prison, given that she had undeniably violated federal law.

The prosecution, nervous at this gambit, had pulled in many self-proclaimed experts from anti-gun groups. The NRA had provided a witness to the defense to rebut the prosecution's "expert testimony"--they couldn't let a case this big go down without getting some media exposure from it--but that was all. Other than that, Daria had had only character witnesses included Mr. DeMartino, Ms. Barch, Michael Jordan MacKenzie, the Landons, and (Daria sighed) Kevin Thompson. "Can't beat the QB for a character reference," she'd muttered under her breath.

It had been a wild gamble, and whether it succeeded or not would depend on what kind of people were on the jury more than it had on the lawyers and experts and character witnesses. Daria caught herself biting her lip and stopped. Now came the worse part: The waiting as the jury deliberated.




04/19/02 FRIDAY 5:00 P.M.

Daria knew she had to do it. She knocked on the door of the man who had sold her the gun, the pouch and belt she carried it in, the JHP ammunition, and everything she needed to clean and care for her gun. He had also taught her to how to shoot.

The gun dealer opened the door and his eyes widened, and then he quickly looked around. Before Daria could say anything, he opened the door wider and motioned her in. He closed the door behind him, facing Daria.

"Here," said Daria, handing him five $20s. "I haven't forgotten that I owe you. With the legal fees and all, our finances have been strained, and I didn't dare bring over even what I had while I was being watched."

"Put your money away, Daria, you've already paid me back many times over with your actions."


"The lives you saved, Daria. You may have even saved my own when it comes down to it."

Daria blushed and put the money back in her jacket pocket. "I wanted to thank you again..."

"Don't mention it, Daria. PLEASE don't mention it, EVER."

They shared a companionable laugh and went into the kitchen where the man was fixing a meal that smelled like chicken. A very Cajun sauce simmered on the stove.

"Have a soda, Daria," he invited. She accepted his offer and grabbed an Ultra Cola from his fridge. Then, from force of habit, she crossed to the window and checked the street. Her shoulders were tense and her hand clenched her Ultra. She relaxed herself with an act of will as she took a sip.

"I heard the good news," the man rumbled, as he began to stir something in a pan on the stove.

"Yeah," said Daria. "It was rough, but I guess you knew that." She crossed her arms without putting her Ultra down. "The prosecution managed to keep anyone who had kids going to Lawndale High off the jury since they might be too sympathetic to me. They also attempted to keep out the part where I had called the police before and that the police had released Matthew in an attempt to entrap me, but that failed. Seems evidence of that got out to the reporters somehow."

The man shook his head, grumbling slightly. In truth, Marguerite Kramer had released the facts and the evidence to back it once she learned what the feds were trying to do and before the jury selection had been completed. Since she was prosecuting Roger Fillman herself, it wasn't something she could be arrested for. But all the same, her days as a prosecutor were limited. Whistle blowers did not last and Marguerite was no longer seen as a "team player." She couldn't be trusted not to turn on other political figures. She helped Daria more than Daria liked to think about and she was indebted to her.

"In the end," said Daria after a pause, "the jury didn't care about Handgun Control Inc.--that is, the Brady Campaign, as they call themselves now--or the NRA. They looked at how the law affected them personally and decided on that rather than how it affected some special interest group."

"You were almost convicted anyway," the man reminded her softly.

"True," replied Daria. "Only four voted to acquit, and they were actually jailed for it." The man knew that of course. "One gave in, but the other three stood firm. When the media started getting more interested again as they languished in a cell, I was acquitted."

"HA! The government was scared of jury nullification becoming common knowledge and wanted the trial brought to a close, even if it meant cutting you loose."

"That," replied Daria, "and that this case reveals just how corruptible the honorable politicians and police officers are." She shook her head a bit as she added, "Everyone seems more worried about foreigners right now anyway."

The man turned to her and smiled in a way that was both friendly and yet cynical. "So history repeats itself. At least this time the good guys won."

Daria blinked. "Are you sure of that?"

"Would you rather that all the special interest groups and their pocket politicians push for more victim disarmament and make even more of the STUPID laws that leave victims defenseless for the next would-be mass murderer, Daria?"

Daria snorted. "Irony can be ugly sometimes," she conceded, especially as she didn't want to alienate him after he had risked so much to help her. But she wondered about the blind spots in his reality tunnel. She decided to ask, "But don't you ever wonder if one of the guns you ever sold was used by someone like Matthew?"

He sighed. "Yes, SOMETIMES," he admitted grudgingly. "But I am careful, and try to show a LITTLE sense. If you want to see real crime and anarchy, wait until the bozos in power send out their storm troopers to collect all the registered weapons. Those I sell to, which include older ladies and gents unlikely to harm anyone in anything but life threatening circumstances, don't want their guns known or recorded to be taken away by people who command the most guns. You know how criminals become bolder and how the government, in cracking down on crime, ends up becoming a bigger threat than the criminals, if it wasn't already. You know the history about THAT, don't you, Daria?"

"I do," Daria admitted, "and I see your point. But I can't help but think the gun culture is crazy, too."

The man shook his head. "The NRA representatives that took advantage of this situation for their own political agendas are crazy, Daria. They often support the measures they claim to oppose just so they have an emergency to fight. Did you know that the NRA basically accepted the Gun Free Zones Act and Project Safe Neighborhoods that they were fighting THIS time?"

"No," said Daria.

"They were, Daria." The man scowled as he continued. "As long as they have something to fight, then people will give their support and their money. I'm about to give up on them completely. They give in time and time again and yet try to scare me every month with demands that I send them more money. The organization prospers and is valuable to politicians as a result of all that money and support. I still support the Virginia Citizens Defense League, but I just don't feel confident in the NRA anymore."

Daria blinked at that. She recalled that the NRA and HCI worked together on something in Colorado just recently. Wayne La Pierre, a major figure, even shook hands with a HCI rep on the NRA site and proudly proclaimed that if you touch certain guns you would go to prison. In some states, gun owners with no criminal record have to be registered for life, while even a convicted murderer, once he's served his time and is off parole, doesn't have to register with the system.

"You're saying," said Daria slowly, "that they helped to create the very problems that they fight because it's their meal ticket?"

The man made an impressed sound. "VERY good, Daria. The gun grabbers are made up of the same types of folk, at the top levels of management, and they work with their opposite numbers more often than the followers of either side really know."

Daria nodded. "I can see that. I noticed how both Mrs. Brand of HCI and Mr. Alexander of the NRA were using the tragedies for their own political ends. They didn't care about what they were fighting for at all, just in scaring the voters to vote for them and the candidates that they favored."

"There's a lot of deal making between organization leaders and politicians, too, Daria," the man continued. "But go to a target range, go to some gun shows, and you'll find many sensible people that you would never guess were gun owners if you ever met them anywhere else. THAT'S the gun culture. Many are sensible women like yourself, so mind your manners." He smiled that friendly yet harsh smile at her again. "Though if the idiots DO manage to outlaw guns, they'll make me filthy rich, so maybe I should hope they do it."

Daria blinked and smiled momentarily over that, though the smile didn't touch her eyes. "Mencken described that situation in his essay, The Uplifters Try It Again. I never understood why people think gun control is going to work when vehement drug control has completely failed in prohibiting drugs. Even convicts in maximum security prisons sometimes got a hold of cocaine and meth. If anything, laws have made drugs more popular, more harmful, and more profitable for criminals."

"People just aren't smart, Daria, and they don't learn from history. The world is full of idiots ruled by idiots who work hard to please idiots and think they're making the world better instead of worse."

"I'm just hoping we're not another breed of idiots." They were quiet for a moment, and then Daria took another drink and added, "Lawndale is getting rid of the 'average intelligence' requirement for its police officers," she said. "So at least maybe the new cops will be brighter."

"Ever the optimist," the man replied, grinning broadly, which caused Daria to grin back just a little. Then he frowned. "They'll have to hire outside of Lawndale then. Unless YOU want to become a cop, Daria."

Daria actually laughed briefly. "No, I don't think so." She frowned. "Maybe I did the right thing, but..." Daria trailed off, not knowing how to share the insecurity she felt, or how she wondered what kind of person she was to be able to take a life like that. Sure she cried and pulled her own hair AFTER the fact, but she had felt nothing when she had gotten the gun, learned to use it, and then used it to kill Matthew.

"Daria," the man interrupted, "I want to thank you, for restoring the glimmer of hope I have in humanity. You asked intelligent questions, you had the sense to bring gloves for everyone and to use Teflon, and as I expected, you were an excellent student!"


"No thanks required, Daria, for something you earned.

"Most of all, you showed courage, ethics, and resilience when you saved your sister's life, and who knows how many other lives. I expected you to break or be tricked into revealing who I was. I kept expecting an 'official visit' from our government, but the ski-masked Gestapo we have running amok in this country never did break down my door at 4 am to shoot me in my bed. You are all too rare, Daria, in intelligence and integrity both."

Daria blushed at this. "I'm not sure if I deserve thanks. I solved my problem with a gun in the end. Maybe my intentions were better, but I still sank to his level."

Mr. DeMartino saw that Daria was still wracked with guilt and self-doubt, and moved to put an end to that demon. "No, Daria, you did NOT. Your heart is filled with compassion for the people around you. Matthew Foster's heart was filled with hatred for those around him. He went to Lawndale High to kill, you went there to save. Matthew's intent was to take lives. Yours was to save lives."

"I don't..."

"Don't interrupt me! As I was saying, there is your difference right there. You did not sink to his level, and I don't think you are capable of doing such! The difference between you and Matthew is the love, honor, and integrity in your heart. Likewise, Matthew didn't face the guilt and soul searching that you faced. You were a defender who saved lives while he was simply a crazed killer who wanted to destroy lives. That's where you're different. Guns are nothing more than tools used by people with the will either to help or to harm. The intentions are in the user, not the gun itself. To compare yourself to Matthew is like comparing the noble knight and rescuer to the robber who murders the drunk for his petty change."

"Hmph. I don't know if I'm really noble..."

"But I do, Daria. And I long suspected it, which is why I gave you and your friends a good deal, and spent time each day taking you out to my place in the woods to teach you how to shoot. You are a good person, Daria, and I saw arming you as a good thing to do."


"You have to ask why? Well, let ME ask YOU a couple of questions, Daria."

"Um, okay," said Daria, curious.

"Who was it that said, 'Where the choice is between only violence and cowardice, I would advise violence'?"

"That would be Mahatma Gandhi." She smiled a bit, remembering how a certain teacher had once said her knowledge of history was suspicious. "In Gandhi, An Autobiography, he also stated that, 'Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.' That's on page 446. I photocopied it. I'll do another copy for you if you want."

The man chuckled. "Very good, Daria, I'm impressed! But I don't need a copy, thank you very much. I have the entire book myself. Now, tell me who said, 'Though defensive violence will always be a sad necessity in the eyes of men of principle, it would be still more unfortunate if wrongdoers should dominate just men.'?"

"I'm not sure on that one. Like the saying, though."

"YOU, Daria, don't KNOW something?"

"Hey," said Daria, stung, "don't rub it in."

He chuckled. "It was St. Augustine, and while the man may have had a few problems, I want you to burn those words of his I just quoted into your heart."

Daria looked up at him. "Who was it said, 'A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity'?"

"Oh, PLEASE," said the man. "I never heard that before, but that is OBVIOUSLY Sigmund Freud."

"Ah," said Daria, "But where did he say it?"

"What? Oh, damn... I... don't... know... happy?"


"So where did he say it?"

Daria smirked, "General Introduction to Psychoanalysis."

"Well, Daria," said the man while grumbling a little bit, "can you see that these sayings might hold a gem of real truth?"

"Hmph," said Daria, "you're saying that it is an unfortunate world when people like Matthew can have access to guns, but the world will be that much worse when people like me don't have the same access?" When he continued to stare at her, she continued with, "Because in a world where only the Matthews are armed with guns and the rest of us eschew them, then we live in a world where the Matthews are the ones empowered, and everyone else is just a victim waiting to happen."

"Very good, Daria! Do you understand now why I agreed to arm you, and why I don't regret it?"

Daria thought a minute. "Yes, I guess I do. Um, thanks. But I know you have bills to pay and..."

"Daria, don't worry about it! I admit my day job doesn't pay much BEYOND frustration, but my selling guns at gun shows and giving private lessons more than makes up for it! So you run along and know that I didn't give you anything, for you paid me back many times over. It is I who thank you, Daria."

"Okay, then," said Daria truly touched. "Maybe when things cool down a bit, I'll be back for another gun, and some more lessons."

"I look forward to it, Daria."

"Well, I need to meet Jane so we can go to Pizza King in just a few minutes, so I better go."

He smiled at her as he opened the door. "Good BYE, then, Daria."

"Good-bye, Mr. DeMartino." Daria took off, walking briskly.

"You go, girlfriend!" he said, and shut the door after Daria raised her hand in one last farewell and kept walking to meet Jane at Casa Lane.




04/19/02 FRIDAY 6:00 P.M.

The Sick, Sad World logo was replaced by two 10-year old girls looking a lot like a younger Daria and Jane playing hopscotch. A fatter version of Detective Warner suddenly leaped out with a snarl and picked up both girls, one in each hand. Terrified mothers in the background grabbed their own kids and screamed while Detective Warner ran off with a bawling Jane and Daria in each hand.

A woman in a power suit, obviously supposed to be a thin Helen Morgendorffer, screamed after him, "STOP! Bring back my baby!"

The scene changed to an interrogation room where little Daria and Jane are back to back in two chairs, tied up together with rope. A few red balloons float over their heads. Warner is smoking a cigar while the children cry softly. "All right, you punks, where's the stash!"

"I don't know!" shouts little Jane.

"That's it!" Warner sticks cigar to a balloon, causing it to pop.

"Waaaaah!" screams little Jane

"I want my mom!" screams little Daria

"If you ever wanna see your mom again," shouts Detective Warner, "you'll tell me where the cocaine is!"

Now little Daria and Jane are both crying up a storm. A door opened to let a shaking, nervous Cartwright come in with a red nose and sniffling.

"You!" shouts Warner, "help me with the drug kingpins!"

The Sick, Sad World logo comes back. "Defectives Warner and Cartwright, Lawndale PD, next on Sick, Sad World!"

Daria and Jane looked at the show wide-eyed in Jane's room. Finally, Jane picked up the remote. "Want me to turn it off, amiga?"

"No," said Daria, "at least it's not me they're talking about anymore. I just wish I hadn't found myself caught in Sick, Sad World three times before I got past my teen years."

"Three?" asked Jane, "I thought that School on the Firing Range was the first time which would make this the second. Or are you counting the one where Artie claimed we sexually molested him in our flying saucer?"

"No, I'm not counting Artie," said Daria, "since we were more like the inspiration for his fantasies. The first time was Highland, when the BATF invaded my school. Those two boys you met were made honorary members of the BATF or so they said, along with Sick, Sad World. An episode called "Hunting Lesbian Seagull."

"Oh, yeah." Jane shook her head remembering those two and contemplating them as BATF. It really was a sick, sad world. "By the way, whatever happened to them?"

Daria shrugged. "I'm not sure. I heard they healed up. They were hurt, but that blonde that shot those cops right in front of us had avoided any vital hits on Beavis and Butt-head. Apparently she wanted to beat the crap out of them without causing them any permanent injuries. No one knows why. Least of all me. Then they said something to Andrea on their way out of the hospital and she beat them up again."

"Wow, they really have bad luck with women. Maybe we should take pity on them and double date them."

Daria started, and then narrowed her eyes. "Jane Lane, some things are just not to be joked about. Besides, they've already gone back to Highland." She shook her head. "I don't think I'd be brave enough to date them. And I wouldn't ask you to sacrifice your dignity and your sanity by dating either one with me anyway." Then she took a closer look at her friend when she saw Jane lower her eyes and look haunted. "What? Don't tell me you already went on a date with one of them."

Jane shook her head, ashamed. "Daria, I..."

Daria turned to her. "What? Kissed my boyfriend?"

Jane snorted. Then she shook her head. "I'm sorry I didn't stand behind you when you shot Matthew."

Daria blinked. "What? I thought you did?"

Jane shook her head, her face red. "No. I ran. I got scared and I ran. DeMartino grabbed me, but I let him drag me away."

"That you didn't join me against an armed psycho when you were without a weapon yourself and couldn't offer anything but distraction is something that bothers you?"

Jane blinked. "Yeah, I guess I am being stupid about it."

"I know what you mean, though," said Daria. "When Cartwright was too much, I ran, leaving Quinn to him. There was just nothing else I could do. Just run or go down with her."

"If you'd stayed, we wouldn't have been warned. We'd all be dead. Maybe Cartwright and all the others wouldn't have gotten away with it, but we'd still be dead. I'm glad you ran."

"I still feel terrible about it. Quinn stood up for me and I left her."

Jane shook her head. "When Quinn snubbed you, even denying she was your sister, you helped her. When she was being shot at, you put your own life on the line to save her. You were able to do something and you did. So you WERE there for her. When you ran the second time, there was nothing you could do but run. And because you ran, she's alive. So am I."

Daria was silent for a minute. Then, "Not to change the subject, but I'm getting hungry."

Jane smiled. "Me, too."

Daria shrugged. "Okay, Pizza King, here we come."

"So's youse best have our pizza ready, or I'll introduce you to a very special friend," said Jane, doing a poor imitation of Scarface.

Fortunately for Pizza King, their staff was prompt with the ordered pizza, so the Daria and Jane simply paid for it with cash and the staff didn't pay with blood. The dangerous duo sat down to eat and talk about their future.

"Think any of the better colleges have martial arts or shooting scholarships?" asked Jane.

Daria shrugged, smiling slightly. "Well Elye Alexander, an unschooler, was a state medalist in Tae Kwon Do and was accepted at Bromwell in 1990..."

"Ugh," interrupted Jane, "who would want to go to Bromwell?"

Daria blushed slightly, and Jane barely noticed it. "I thought about it," said Daria, "since Tom was going. But Tom and I have kind of drifted apart, and I'm not sure I'm up to hanging with a bunch of people with their noses stuck in the air. I've had my fill of that for a long, long time. They're not even funny anymore, just exasperating."

Jane considered whether or not to say anything about Tom but decided against it. She smiled and briefly touched Daria's wrist as she said, "Well, Tom may be out of the picture, but we've only gotten closer."

Daria smiled back at her best friend, and decided to leave out how she and Tom promised to keep in touch.

"I don't know, amiga," Jane continued. "I don't care, but a lot of people really care about that piece of paper."

"Yeah," said Daria, "but the more of us who refuse to play the game, the faster those rules will change. Besides," she added, "what a lot don't tell you is that you can easily become overqualified if you get too many degrees. Even a high school dropout can sometimes have better job opportunities, if only because McDonald's will hire the dropout before someone they consider overqualified."

"So why go?"

"Why not?" asked Daria. "I sure don't plan to hang around Lawndale."

"Can't wait to get back to Highland, can you?" asked Jane.

"That's it," said Daria, "draw." While Jane blinked, she took a sip of soda in her straw, pulled the straw out and blew it at her. Naturally, Jane had to return the favor.

"Hey!" shouted an older guy behind the counter, "Cut it out or I send you home!"

Daria turned to Jane. "But they let Kevin Thompson do things a lot worse than that."

Jane shrugged. "Lawndale Lions. They can do anything."

"Except read," replied Daria. "Next time, we'll bring guns and settle our disputes with a duel of honor."

"Are we really mature enough for college?" asked Jane laughing.

"Is anyone?" asked Daria. "Look, it's just something we should think about."

Jane tsked and shook her head. "Thinking of the future, personal responsibility, worried about fitting in with the Man and the same system that nearly chewed you up. What a sellout."

"Hey," said Daria, "there's honor in being a mole to root your way into power and destroy it from within."

"I don't know," said Jane suspiciously. "And you just spit soda at me instead of shooting me. You're getting soft around the edges, Morgendorffer."

"Maybe," replied Daria, "or maybe you got glaucoma."

"So, companera Morgendorffer," replied Jane, "how do we infiltrate the system?"

"We could find an internship or apprenticeship through INTERIM. They've had some amazing successes at connecting people like us to mentors who can appreciate us for our talents and abilities rather than the piece of paper in our hand. In turn, we'd gain more experience to impress anyone looking at our transcripts or resume. They can help me with achieving higher academics and you with the arts, while doing something with our lives at the same time."

"I never heard of that," said Jane.

"They're online," said Daria, "look them up. Anyway, there are also correspondence courses, colleges that give credit for life experiences, and other alternatives. Emil Berendt got a B.S. that way by the time he was 16, and before he even graduated from high school. All we need is a good GED, good scores on AP and achievement tests, and maybe a good interview and application essay. Kids who got an education without school have been getting into colleges for decades, even Bromwell, and universities are more and more prepared today to deal with nonstandard applications than they were before."

"Maybe," said Jane, "but I don't know. I mean I like the entire maverick routine, it's just not something I put a lot of thought into before."

"Well, the library has the latest edition of Bear's Guide to Non-Traditional College Degrees in the reference section. We can find all kinds of options there. Or we could do something unexpected but still traditional."

"Like what?" asked Jane.

"Well," said Daria thinking, "you could go to the San Francisco Art Institute and there are plenty of schools around there I could go to. Some geared to helping writers while helping with other degrees at the same time."

Jane shook her head as she replied, "Mom says that most colleges out there are Jesuit. No way will they take in people like us."

"Don't Jesuits out there let people like Starhawk lecture at their universities, as well as invite libertarians and other odd folks to enroll?"

"Oh, yeah," said Jane smiling, "I forgot, Californians are crazy." Then she frowned. "But some Californians admit they're crazy, so in theory they can't be."

"At least it's a change of scenery," admitted Daria, shrugging off Jane's logic.

"And a long way from Lawndale, or even Highland."

Daria looked at her amiga with a look that said she understood her evil plan. Then she added, "Look, we can go to Middleton for a couple of years and warn everyone about Quinn coming. That place is cheap enough that we can afford that..."

"Speak for yourself," interrupted Jane.

"You can, too," said Daria, "Mom has already prepared the paper work for a grant, and even if it doesn't come through, she'll cover you. Middleton is pretty cheap compared to most places."

"You know what they say about getting what you pay for," replied Jane.

"In this case, it will prove that we can handle college life," explained Daria, "while Mom gets the money from the lawsuits against the police and several media outlets. She expects most to settle out of court by then anyway, and it should be more than enough to send us anywhere we want to go, even Bromwell."

"Not going to Bromwell," said Jane firmly. "But I don't mind taking a couple of years to put together a killer art portfolio and you prove you can handle the rigors of academia with your usual stellar academic performance. Then, if we want, we could go somewhere higher. Like, have you thought of going to Raft while I went to BFAC? They're in the same town. We could get together on the weekend, eat pizza, and complain."

Daria smiled a bit. "Maybe," she said. "There's time enough to decide on that still. Let's think about it and see just how much settlement money comes in by then."

Jane shrugged. "So how is your family doing? Better than mine, I hope."

"There have been setbacks, but Quinn's job helped a little. Mom and Marguerite are talking about starting their own law firm together, too. They both know a lot of people and it looks real hopeful. Dad just got a consulting job but even he might wind up working for Mom."

"Joy," said Jane neutrally. "So Quinn still has her job?"

Daria shook her head. "No, now that the trial is over she pretty much quit and used some of money that she made for taking more krav maga classes."

"I'm surprised Chez Pierre hired her in the first place," said Jane. "You'd think they'd be scared she'd shoot the place up, given what was said about you two."

"Maybe they wanted free publicity," shrugged Daria. "It seemed more people came, just to size up Quinn if nothing else." Daria left out that Quinn had been making a lot of friends among local college students.

"So how she and the Fashion Drones get along?" asked Jane, taking a sip of soda.

Daria shrugged again. "They disbanded, but I hear they still hang out. Sandi even started taking martial arts, too, though she's taking a tae kwon do class."

Jane frowned. "Hmph. Maybe WE better take some martial arts classes, too."

Daria replied noncommittally, "Why not just get a gun?"

Jane laughed and picked up her soda. "To college. I can't wait. What do you think we'll find when we get there?"

"Hmm," replied Daria, "that the students are shockingly ignorant, the professors' self-centered and corrupt, and the entire system geared solely to the pursuit of funding."

Jane blinked at that. It looked like this ordeal had left its mark on her amiga. "Hmm, yes. You know what I said about you getting soft?"


"I take it back."

They toasted each other.












"Even in the best and most peacefully civilized countries many occasions arise when a woman versed in the knowledge and use of firearms may find that information and skill of great importance."
--Annie Oakley, Oct. 1919


Given the many questions and comments I got from beta readers and others who saw an earlier version of this fic, I thought I should share some notes regarding it. I'd remind you that this story wasn't about convincing you, gentle reader, of anything. It was just a story and the Great American Gun Debate was part of what would likely happen if a story like this actually occurred. This story is about a political and media circus that attacks everyone. Each character's own thoughts and words are used to show character development and growth. And as Daria realized as she spoke with Ms. Ribner, she was herself struggling with the ambiguities of guilt, anger, and self-hatred. In that very human, but very uncomfortable, position, it was difficult not to alienate her would-be allies.


In a way, what I have Daria do, isn't all that different from when Daria countered that modeling agency with Brutal Mercenary magazine in an earlier episode of the series. She had no interest in joining them--she tore up the pamphlets when she got home. She was just countering Ms. Li's opportunism, exposing her hypocrisy, and making a point. That's what I have Daria doing in my fic here where she makes the points she does against HCI and the NRA.


I personally respect guns, the way I respect pools, trampolines, cars, gasoline, and cleansing chemicals kept under the kitchen sink (all of these are also dangerous, btw). I don't assume those with guns are violent criminals anymore than I assume those with cars take part in drive-by shootings. I also have a lot of respect and admiration for pacifists, as long as they aren't fatalists. Such people include the Amish, and the Christian Anarchist Leo Tolstoy (the one who inspired Mahatma Gandhi). I like the excerpt by Robert Anton Wilson called, "A Lesson in Karma" (you can find that on the net), too.


For those who don't know, Daria is a spin-off from Beavis and Butt-head (as incredibly unlikely as that seems). While I don't care much for B&B myself, I did like Beavis and Butt-head Do America. Given that the ATF would get involved in Daria's case in my fic, I thought it was worth watching again, and I was inspired to bring some of its characters into my fic.


Mayor Codey of Middleton (mentioned in Chapter 8 of Part III) is, unfortunately, based on a real person: Senate President Codey of New Jersey. I would hope even those who support his gun control policies would at least blast him for his sexist statements, or perhaps publicly disavow him.


The Reid technique that Detectives Cartwright and Warner used on Daria and Jane is, unfortunately, also real and legal. And, yeah, all those pro-gun groups I listed really do exist, as well as some I didn't mention (Geeks With Guns, for example). And I did a lot of research before casting Dallas Grimes from Beavis & Butt-head Do America as an ex-CIA agent. While I did use some artistic license, I think the CIA is actually worse in both efficiency and amorality than I portrayed it. However, Operation Hobgoblin is pure speculation and simply intended as a plot device.


One asked me why I had people call Daria a vigilante. I will give a much shorter version of what I told him, in case anyone else is wondering. Essentially, the media loves to trash people, scare them (yes, I know Moore visits this theme, too), and politicians and prosecutors trying to further their own careers and agendas will do better if they paint their chosen sacrificial goat as something scary (and a vigilante is scarier than a woman who saved her younger sister from a stalker). There is also the sad case of Linda Hamilton, who didn't even use a gun (see, who was painted pretty much that way by a judge, and she didn't even fire it. As already mentioned, Sen. Codey refers to the attempt to rape, sodomize, and kill women as a "dispute" in which "guns do not belong." It seems obvious that they'd paint Daria as a vigilante.


Someone I once talked with said that she was against guns was because "the only purpose of a gun is to kill." So I shared about a guy I knew who was carrying meds to his Aunt just out of the hospital after some surgery. He did not have a car, but he had a gun. While walking home, several "young men" (he's in his 30s, so who knows what counts as young to him) charged him. He pulled his gun and the men fled. He was not injured or robbed (that is, violence was averted), and his Aunt got her meds. Which is to say, the purpose of a gun can also be to protect and save.


She told me it was "sad" that he would "solve his problems with a gun." Gobsmacked by that response, I asked her what she would've done in his place. She said, "I'd have called the cops. I carry a cell phone." (She said that with such a smug sense of righteousness, too.) When I asked her how likely it was the attackers would let her use it, what if she was in a dead zone so that her phone didn't work, or if the cops could get there in time before they dragged her off or whatever, she refused to answer "trick questions." (Of course this meant I couldn't share about other experiences I knew about, or about the police using guns.) All in all, I'd say she'd describe Daria in this fic as a vigilante. That's how she saw that guy who used a gun to stop violence without even shooting anyone, so what else could Daria be but a murderous vigilante?


As for the chapter on Michael Moore, it is my view that I exaggerated his bad points for the sake of parody (similar to the style of MAD magazine), though I do think he's dishonest. (But Bowling for Columbine is well-done, IMO, and I LOVED what Marilyn Manson had to say on it.) The way I envisioned this fic, Moore was getting started on what would become BFC. But after the Lawndale disaster, he took a slightly different and toned-down approach. While many beta readers enjoyed this chapter, a few have said I got him exactly right while others said I'm too harsh on him. If you're wondering yourself why anyone would like or dislike him, I'd suggest looking him and his works (especially Bowling for Columbine) up on Wikipedia, perhaps one of the only neutral sources about him out there.


He was not the only media source or figure I parodied or portrayed in a negative light. As I said at the very beginning, this is a story in the Daria-verse in which Daria runs into the idiots and jerks more than anyone else, and I intended to show that aspect. But many of the barely coherent statements made by President Bush are based on statements attributed to him in real life. Some are verified, direct quotes.


I admit that I hold a fairly negative view of both supposed liberal and conservative media sources, though there are redeeming aspects to each. And although I genuinely hold the SPLC in low regard, I do like their Teaching Tolerance periodical. While haunting the radio for liberal and conservative spokesentities to mock, I came across a pleasant hour of Thom Hartmann. (I still hope for liberals to return to the true type, as explained in The Case for Modern Man by Charles Frankel.) Having only heard him once, I can't really endorse him (I'd have to tune in several more times first, which I haven't done), but the one show I did listen to gave me hope for the future of political discourse. I also found the Grand'pa Jack booklets well-done and helpful to my fic, and I got permission from Michael Z. Williamson to use some of his parodying of gun control groups in my fic, too.


Unfortunately, too many liberals and conservatives like to talk about liberty and justice but practice (or at least advocate others practice) the opposite. Perhaps the most lucid explanation of that (and one that destroys the lies of both sides) is found in The Policeman Is Your Friend and Other Lies, by Ned Beaumont. Another book would be The New Doublespeak, by William Lutz. Attention Deficit Democracy, by James Bovard, is yet another that trashes the hypocrisy of both sides that is rubbed in our faces more than most of us care for (and encourages otherwise good people to partake of their bad example).


And if you found the idea I promote of the NRA and gun control groups working together odd, then Google "Another NRA Betrayal" by Nick Fellenzer on the net. That's just one example, and one I would think would concern "both" sides of the issue, even if NF is passionately pro-gun ownership. There's a much more detailed explanation on the NRAWOL site (


The bad examples from both sides of the debate in my fic exist. I got a lot of it from real life experience. I took some things from a public radio show trying to ban guns. It was worse than the antigun folks in my fic because the group on the show included an old woman. Every time a caller pointed out the holes in the antigun logic (and some of these were big enough to fly a jet through), the old woman would pretend to break down in tears. Then the others there would berate the caller as cruel. As for the "other side," some of the wild tangents I had the irritating NRA folk express were taken, in some cases, almost verbatim from pro-gun boards.


I've met a few gun owners who were jerks and bullies. And I just don't get the idea that teaching gun safety in school is a Good Thing but that teaching safe sex (anything other than abstinence-only) is going to turn those same kids into rapists and perverts. Or the even more common one of warning us not to get hysterical over the danger of guns to children while then turning around and advising hysteria over gays getting married and being around children. And perhaps I should give thanks to the NRA jerk that gave me a hard time over doing this fic, and for stealing many of my gun magazines after he pressured me into making him lunch. Because of him, I was able to really paint the NRA jerks in a bad light, which I had a hard time doing because I know plenty who aren't jerks (and they get scapegoated enough as it is).


I've also met jerks and bullies who opposed guns--not because guns are bad, but because they are bad people and they didn't want to be afraid as they yelled at old women and pushed little people around (or worse). I know the rude businessman in San Francisco that slammed his fist down on the hood of my car likely would've soiled himself if he knew I had a gun when he did it. (Though the temptation I had was to run him over, not shoot him. Although he was the only one to actually hit my car - no, I don't know why, I hadn't hit him or even honked at him, and I was correctly stopped - rude seemed to be the standard style of that city.) Another guy pretended to have hippie values but was a total bully to me and other people. I thought he was going to attack me once, when he was blatantly intimidating me. Being at least a foot taller than me and probably twice my weight, he did not fear me (I'll add that I never saw him do this to guys his own size). But he did fear someone like me with a gun.


So these bad examples do exist, though I like to think they're the minority. But these bad examples tend to stick in our memory and awareness, especially if we don't normally see the better behaved examples. (Many people are often surprised by who owns--or carries--a gun). Calling each other evil and stupid and ranting up a storm doesn't work for anyone, at least not anyone decent who is hoping for a better world. It works great to create a polarized community, open to financial and political exploitation.

Anyway, for a summary of the arguments for and against gun control (or, if you prefer, victim disarmament) and the 2nd Amendment, check Wikipedia:


Another thing I was hoping to share is that there is also more than one side. Some promote--or oppose--guns as a feminist or gay issue. Others are big believers in registries and laws while supporting Carry Conceal Weapon permits. Still others think it's imperative that guns are an issue of liberty rather than law and it's morally wrong for the government to require permits for the same reason it's morally wrong to require permits to speak your mind or express your opinion on the internet. Some support their right to hunting rifles and sneer at handgun owners, while others are against hunting and long guns, but believe it's important for more to carry handguns in order to cow the criminals that prey on ordinary folk. Some gun owners hate the NRA. Cindy Hill is a vegetarian liberal that considers the right to bear arms to be as important as protecting the environment and protecting the civil rights of anyone and everyone.


One thing I think many people on the pro-gun and anti-gun sides have in common is a desire for less violence. I would like to see such people reach out and find ways to work together on this problem in ways they CAN agree on. Fighting violence rather than fighting guns seems more practical anyway, because if you can't trust a person with a gun, how can you trust them with a car, cleansers, a knife, hot grease, or the preparation of your food? (Btw, cleansers, trampolines, pools, and such cause a lot more injuries and deaths, including among children.) And if violence went down, fewer people would care about getting a gun anyway.


Instead on endlessly arguing (often more like 10-year-olds than as rational adults), they could work together to form crime watch groups in bad areas, fighting the racism and sexism often inherent in the application of gun control (and other) laws, helping those with restraining orders when a harassing or threatening ex shows up (since so many cops don't give a damn about enforcing these), making sure those rape kits that so many cops and prosecutors let collect dust unused actually get used, building teen centers that can help young people bond with other people, rather than with TV and video games, working to eradicate bullying in schools (and other places), and guarding against abuse or misuse of psychiatric meds (including in watching for side effects). Any or all of the above would probably do a lot to solve violence in schools and workplaces.


Though I will add DARE is, at best, a joke. So is Partnership for a Drug Free America. Among many other things I could say about them (a few I have Daria say in the fic), many kids (and I was one of them) were able to discover much of what they say is false and so discounted the true dangers of drugs along with the false dangers. If you want to discourage experimentation, then at least go with a REPUTABLE group like CSDP ( While you're at it, take some time to listen to the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and Educators for Sensible Drug Policy, too. Likewise, fighting against forfeiture (see FEAR at is also important. Those cases of cops I mentioned in Part I of my fic, who kill so they can confiscate the victim's property, are real, as are many other evils that I have not listed. Our Constitution forbids this because of what was going on in Europe at the time it was written, which is now going on again in America now that the practice has been revived and legitimized.


And PLEASE don't target scapegoats (like goths) for persecution. Should you insist on scapegoating some group, then target jocks and cheerleaders. My experience says these folk are more violent and often are given a free pass to bully. (NO, I'm NOT saying to scapegoat jocks. But if you absolutely cannot survive without a scapegoat, then jocks are more appropriate than goths or whatever group you care to think of. But remember that even though they're seen as successes and full of self esteem, they're under major pressure to stay on their pedestal and are at least as prone to suicide as lonely goths.)


Doing so, I hope, would not only combat violence more effectively than trying to ban guns or spread them everywhere, but would get people to connect to one another. I'd love it if the partisan Jerry Springer crap and bumper sticker sloganeering became shameful to most people rather than the way we "debate" politics with each other. Furthermore, it could lead to a greater solidarity when fighting abuses of power. Aaron Zelman is a conservative who has promoted such "reaching out" and helping others in exchange for support. So has liberal Cindy Hill. So have others not so easily defined by the partisan divide. I wish these people would become the norm instead of the exception.


Personally, I think the right of jury nullification is perhaps one of the most important aspects our country needs to keep. This, more than guns or free press or voting, is essential to our liberty. However, it is coming under increasing attack as America continues to plunge into a nightmare for those who care about individual liberty and civil rights. In talking with an active participant of FIJA ( about this fic, I was told the method used to help Daria in the federal trial likely would not have been allowed. Oh, what the defense says is true enough, but many of those in power fear jury nullification far more than they fear an armed citizenry willing to vote and write angry letters to the editor.


Finally, I do have an idea for a sequel that I may do one day. It takes place a couple of years later with Daria, Jane, and Quinn as Middleton students. Quinn has just been cast in the part of Kim Possible in a movie (yes, I have an explanation for how she got the part over some of the bigger names and better connected out there). Dara, a.k.a. Dallas Grimes, is also on scene, and she has plans for OH. If I do it, I plan to make Mr. DeMartino a main character, exploring his personal past and what makes him tick. But I don't know if or when I'll do such a fic.


Finally, THANK YOU to all my beta readers, and those who saw an earlier version of this and/or got a sneak preview that also sent in your comments and encouragement. You've all helped this story become better than what it would've been without your input. And a special Thank You to The Angst Guy, as without his help and encouragement, you would not have even been able to read this on this site at all.