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Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV with all appropriate rights reserved.

Original characters and plot/dialogue are mine :)

Chapter 5 – Mall Rat Blues

"Good grief," stated Jane as she closed the front door of her house behind her. "I'm not the biggest fan of air-headed perky model types but that was pretty bad, even for an air headed perky model type."

"Well, you can be certain that no one will ever mistake Kathy Ireland for an actress again after that one," commented Alex as he handed his sister her green jacket.

"And I thought Brittany was bad," added Daria as she donned her jacket with a smile to her brother. "I don't remember her being quite so... squeaky."

Jane laughed and stated, "Best part was when that Charmin guy actually stopped her in the middle of her desperate plea for help to ask 'Is that really your voice?'"

Alex chuckled and Daria gave a noticeable smile at the scene as they headed down the street. The three continued discussing the merits of the abysmal movie they had just watched as they walked to the Morgendorffer home.

"I wonder what Mom's making for dinner," mused Alex aloud.

"Time to feed the beast it seems," teased Daria. "Maybe, if we're lucky, there will be enough for the rest of the family this time."

"Ha ha," said Alex with a roll of his eyes. "And who ate an entire large carnivore special by herself last night?"

"I left some of the crust on mine, unlike some people," rebutted Daria with a smirk towards her brother before she glanced at Jane. "At least we only ate one each."

"Hey, you two don't have to compete with the mooching machine that is The Spiral on a regular basis," said Jane offhandedly. "It was either eat it all then or chance not having anything to eat later. I went with the sure thing"

Alex and Daria glanced at each other briefly. The three walked in silence that bordered on becoming awkward.

"$10 says its lasagna... again," remarked Daria in answer to her brother's prior musing.

"Even Vegas would frown at the odds on that bet, Dia," replied Alex with a smirk as the three came to a stop before the Morgendorffer home.

"You know you're welcome to stay for dinner Jane," offered Daria as they made their way up the front walkway.

"We've got enough frozen lasagna stockpiled to last the winter," added Alex as he unlocked and opened the front door. "I'm sure the folks wouldn't mind."

"A hundred miles... To go to a mall?! Dammit! There's a mall five minutes away!" came Jake's exasperated voice from within the house.

The twins glanced at each other and said in unison, "Quinn."

"Even if we can't promise you dinner, looks like you might get a show," deadpanned Daria.

"I'll take a rain check amigos," declined Jane with a smile as she headed away from the house and towards her own. "One bad drama for the night is my limit."

The twins shrugged at each other, entered the house and made their way into the kitchen.

" It's too far away, Quinn," came Helen's voice as the twins entered the kitchen and made their way to their usual seats at the table.

"Hi kids," greeted Helen before she returned her attention to her youngest child. "Besides, you've done more than enough shopping for this quarter."

"Muh-om," whined Quinn. "As vice president of the Fashion Club, I need to know what's out there!"

"Vice president," asked Jake as his expression perked up. "Did you know she was vice president, Helen?"

"Yes, Jake," responded Helen.

"Of the Fashion Club!" he continued proudly.

"Yes, Jake," confirmed Helen tiredly. "Vice president of the Fashion Club."

"Do you think this tie works?" Jake asked worriedly as he held his red necktie out for his youngest daughter's inspection.

"Hmmm," vocalized Quinn as she held and examined the tie.

Jake tried with much effort not to fidget as he waited for Quinn's response.

"It's nice, Daddy," the red-head answered after a few seconds of deliberation. "But I think a mandarin collar would really set off your strong jaw line."

"Really," asked Jake as with a smile before his brow furrowed and he looked at his wife. "What's a mandarin collar?"

"I'd be happy to show you several styles that would really work for you Daddy," replied Quinn. "Now, if you drive me to the Mall of the Millennium..."

"No more malls until you bring up your grade point average," interjected Helen.

"Exactly!" exclaimed Jake towards Quinn before he turned again to Helen. "What's wrong with her grade point average?"

"I'm not exactly thrilled with her mid-term report card," she answered before rising and moving to the oven. "A few too many C's for my liking."

"But Muh-oom," whined Quinn. "Sandi and the other girls are going. How will I hold my head up in the Fashion Club if I can't go?"

"You could try a neck brace," quipped Alex.

"Or a traction pulley," added Daria.

"Yeah but the ropes would clash with her winter wardrobe," commented Alex.

"And we just can't have that now can we," said Daria.

"Just because you two aren't interested in what's new and attractive and popular..." began Quinn in a haughty tone.

"Oh, we're interested," replied Daria. "But why go a mere 100 miles away?"

"I hear that new Mega Mall in California is amazing," added Alex.

"California?" inquired Jake nervously.

"And there are some fascinating malls in Southeast Asia," commented Daria.

"Southeast Asia? To go to a mall? Dammit!" exclaimed Jake angrily.

"Sit down, dear. It was a joke," soothed Helen with a glare at her oldest children as she donned a pair of oven mitts and opened the oven.

"Ohhhhh," said Jake as he visibly calmed. "Good one kids."

Helen returned from the oven and shook her head at her husband.

"I don't care what the other girls are doing, young lady. But you are not doing any more shopping until we see some improvement in your grades," she stated with finality.

With that statement, Helen set the large rectangular metal dish of now hot lasagna in the center of the table and took her seat beside Jake.

Quinn crossed her arms and fumed silently. She knew better than to argue with her mother this time.

Daria looked at the lasagna, then shot her Mona Lisa smile to her brother.

"Worse odds than Vegas," commented the boy quietly.

"What was that dear," asked Helen as she began to cut and plate square chunks of steaming lasagna.

"Nothing Mom," answered Alex as he returned his sister's small smile and reached for a plate.

"So my mom was, like, 'No more shopping until you bring your grades up young lady'," complained Quinn as she and the other Fashion Club members strolled down the halls of Lawndale High.

"That's... sooooo unfair," drawled Tiffany.

"I know," Quinn agreed. "It's like she expects me to be a brain like Daria and Lex."

"My Mom totally went through the roof after our last shopping trip," added Stacy. "She told me I can't buy any more clothes until the weather changes."

"Bummer," stated Tiffany sadly.

"Well, I am just glad that my mother is not as fashion challenged," interjected Sandi as the group came to a halt outside of their shared class. "I was just about to motion for an official Fashion Club outing to review the shopping potential of the new mall. However, it looks like we will have to postpone that until such time as some of our less fortunate members..."

"MISS GRIFFIN!" came a loud voice from the open classroom doorway which cut off the remainder of Sandi's statement.

The four girls turned their attention to the voice's owner, one Anthony DeMartino, with sheepish expressions.

Mr. DeMartino stood in the doorway of his classroom and glared unevenly (mostly due to what appeared to be an uncontrollable twitching of his enlarged right eye) at the girls before he loudly ranted, "I feel I must APOLOGIZE for interrupting whatever FASCINATING shade of LIP gloss or flower BARETTES you were discussing with you COHORTS with such a trivial thing like your SCHEDULED history lesson but unlike you, I would like to make the ATTEMPT at a moderately productive class today."

With that statement he turned and reentered his classroom.

"Maybe we should wait until lunch to talk about this," suggested Quinn which elicited nods from Stacy and Tiffany.

"Agreed," said Sandi. "Discussion tabled until a more convenient time."

"To-DAY ladies," barked DeMartino from his place at his desk.

The majority of students in Mrs. Bennett's classroom scratched their heads in confusion as the teacher scrawled even more incomprehensible markings into the patterns on the chalkboard.

"In economics, we call this flow," stated the middle-aged female teacher as she pointed to seemingly random circles and squiggles in her chart. "We have a scenario of supply and demand, where a new demand is created by a previous supply."

Alex blinked repeatedly as he attempted to make sense of the diagram the teacher had worked out on the chalkboard.

"Is it just me or do you need a degree in non-Euclidean geometry to even begin understanding her diagrams," asked Daria quietly.

"I don't think even that would help," he responded

The boy turned to make a joke to Jane when he noticed her scribbling furiously in her notebook.

"Wait... are you actually taking notes?" he asked incredulously.

"Huh... notes? What are you smoking?" asked Jane before she realized why Alex had asked the question. "Oooooh... I wanted to try and copy that pattern."

She held up her notebook to him, which showed a more esthetically pleasing version of the complex collection of squares, circles and lines covering the front chalkboard.

"I'm almost sure I can reproduce it in 3-dimentional sculpture... though I might have to stretch that 3rd dimension a little bit."

"Does everyone follow?" asked Mrs. Bennet as she turned to face the class. Her slightly pudgy face bore an excited but restrained smile.

"Can anyone give me a concrete representation of this abstract theory?" She continued with expectant glances around the room.

After a long, silent pause in which no one volunteered an answer, the woman gave a small sigh then turned to the front middle seats of her classroom.

"Alexander? Daria?" she prompted hopefully.

"Well, Mrs Bennett," Daria began. "If we're talking concrete... I'd have to go with that ever so popular repository of human greed and debasement more commonly known as 'the mall'."

"Very good," the teacher responded. "The mall is a very beautiful illustration of all these economic principles. In fact, it would make for an excellent field trip."

"All right! Field trip!" shouted Kevin as he pumped his fist in the air several times.

He settled down and a brief look of confusion crossed his face. He then leaned forward and tapped Alex on the shoulder to get his attention.

"Hey, where are we going, man?" the quarterback asked.

"Let's see... we're talking about supply and demand... then Ms Bennett said that the mall is a perfect example... where do you think we're going?" responded Alex.

"uh..." mused Kevin, clueless as usual.

"It's a field trip Kevin," interjected Daria. "We're going to the field."

"Oh," stated Kevin acceptingly before his goofy grin returned. "Cool."

Alex simply shook his head and glanced toward Jane. Jane chuckled lightly and returned her attention to her notepad.

"In fact," continued Mrs. Bennett. "The brand new Mall of the Millennium gives us an excellent example. It's a perfect emblem of a modern day economic structure."

While the majority of the class perked up at the mention of the new mall, Daria gave an almost imperceptible frown.

"Um, Mrs. Bennett," Daria called.

"Yes dear. What is it?" the teacher responded.

"I think that's a really bad idea," said Daria with a sigh.

"Don't be silly, Daria," responded Mrs. Bennett. "It's your idea and it's perfect."

"We'll take a vote," the woman offered. "All in favor of a class trip to the mall next Friday instead of our usual surprise quiz?"

Not surprisingly, almost every hand in the classroom went up, accompanied by a few cheers from Kevin and several of the other football players. Daria glanced around and her eyebrow rose when she noticed that in addition to Jane, her brother had also raised his hand.

"All opposed?" asked the teacher after everyone in favor of the trip had lowered their hands.

Daria immediately raised her hand. She looked around and realized hers was the only hand up.

With a sigh she lowered her hand and stated, "Objection withdrawn."

Alex, Daria and Jane walked to an empty table in the far corner of the lunch room and set their trays down.

"So we're going to learn how to make pasta in Home Ec today," stated Jane as she took a spot beside Alex and across from Daria.

"Hopefully the same person who made today's Spaghetti Surprise isn't teaching the class," remarked Alex as he poked hesitantly at the blob of overcooked, and clumpy noodles underneath a pathetically thin red sauce which rested in the middle of his tray.

"Well if the food doesn't suit your tastes I'll be happy to take it off your hands," remarked Jane as she hooked a finger on the corner of his plate and began to slowly slide it towards her own tray.

The tray stopped moving as Alex set a hand on the opposite side of his tray and waved his fork at Jane in a faux threat.

The two continued to talk briefly about pasta and the poor quality of the lunchroom food, between bites of said food before Alex focused his attention on his sister.

Daria was weakly poking at the food on her plate with her typical neutral expression. The casual observer wouldn't have thought anything of it. Alex however could tell something was bothering the girl.

"You OK Dia," he asked.

"Yeah, you've barely touched your Spaghetti Surprise," observed Jane. "Not that I can blame you. It's only moderately edible today."

"Why do they call it Spaghetti Surprise?" asked Alex.

"Because it would be a surprise if there were anything resembling actual spaghetti in it," deadpanned Daria.

"Come on Dia, what's bugging you," prompted Alex. "... aside from the food of course."

Daria pushed her tray away from her and gave a sigh.

"It's bad enough that Mom keeps dragging me out on shopping trips," she began. "But now I have to get dragged to the Über-Mall by the school."

"Yeah Mom's little bonding trips are pretty mind numbing," agreed Alex. "And that's on a good day."

"So why'd you vote for the trip?" Daria asked.

"Because it beats sitting around Mrs. Bennett's classroom getting eyestrain and a migraine trying to decipher another one of her charts," replied Alex.

"What about you," ask Daria with a glance in Jane's direction.

"An opportunity to skip a pop quiz, wander aimlessly in the mall... and not only get class credit for it but avoid a bunch of classes for the day," stated Jane after swallowing her mouthful of food. "Now that's a school activity I can support."

"Fair enough," returned Daria after a moment of thought. "Still... I am not looking forward to being stuck in the mall with our illustrious peers for the whole day."

"It can't be any worse than being stuck in the mall with Mom and Quinn all day," offered Alex. "At least I won't have to carry purses and shopping bags this time around."

"Darn, I was looking forward to having my own pack mule for the trip," teased Jane.

"If Quinn were coming with us, I'd say borrow one of hers," joked Alex.

"If Quinn were coming with us, she'd probably need more than the three she has," quipped Daria before she pulled her tray back towards herself and took a bite of Spaghetti Surprise.

The bulk of the sophomore class stood in the parking lot of Lawndale High. The lot was filled with sounds of the mass of gathered teens chit-chatting and generally milling about. Jane, Daria and Alex stood near the front of the crowd and carried on a casual conversation with Jodie and Mack.

Mrs. Bennett stepped casually through the throng of students and stood near the doors of the bus.

"Alright everyone when I call your name..." the teacher began before realizing that the majority of the gathered teens weren't paying attention to her.

She tried to gain their attention several more times with no success.

"I got this," stated Jane as she reached into her jacket pocket and fished out a metal whistle.

"Mack if you would be so kind," she requested as she brought the whistle to her lips.

The football captain shook his head and placed a firm grip on his quarterback's padded shoulder.

"What the..." started Daria before Jane took a deep breath and blew forcefully into the whistle.

Mack dug his feet in as he held Kevin, who had almost bolted towards the field mid sentence due to what could only be an autonomic response to the sound of the whistle.

The shrill sound had a more normal affect on the rest of the crowd. All conversation stopped and everyone faced forward

Mrs. Bennett beamed a smile at Jane as she began to call off the student's names and herd them into the busses.

The buses pulled away from LHS and made their way to the freeway. The student's settled into their seats and resumed their conversations while Mrs. Bennett stood at the front near the driver. The teacher gave a brief lecture about the fundamentals of the retail consumer market while the chatting teens largely ignored her.

"So Mr. Ruttheimer," prompted Alex to his freckled friend seated beside him. "What's the plan?"

"Well Mr. Morgendorffer, I plan to explore the advantages of a gold card," Charles replied as, with brief demonstration of sleight of hand, he produced a glittery gold credit card.

He then turned around on his knees to the seat behind them and addressed Daria and Jane.

"Of course I may require some assistance with this endeavor. Dad wants me to pick up some bikinis for his secretary," he stated to the girls with a brief chuckle.

"But I need a couple of models," he continued as he expertly flipped the card back and forth between his fingers. "The two of you are about her size. What do you say, gals?"

"Upchuck, are you aware that many therapists now accept credit cards?" deadpanned Jane.

"Fiesty," the boy purred which prompted an eye roll and slight head shake from Alex.

"If he keeps this up, he's going to find that most hospitals also accept gold cards," remarked Daria with a frown.

"You OK Dia?" asked Alex as he glanced back and noticed a slightly pained expression on his sister's face

"Daria?" asked a concerned Jane

"I feel sick," the bespectacled girl stated.

"Looks like the old Ruttheimer charm is working as expected eh Upchuck?" quipped Jane.

"No, I really do feel sick," stated Daria with a pained expression. "Can someone open a window?"

Jane turned in her spot next to the window and attempted to open it with little success.

"I think it's jammed," she stated as she pushed against the uncooperative pane of glass.

"Allow me, fair maiden," offered Upchuck as he stood from his own seat and slid past Daria and Jane and began to work on the window.

"I didn't know you got car sick," stated Jane as she ripped a sheet from her sketch pad and used it to fan her green around the gills friend.

"She usually doesn't," responded Alex. "Unless she's foolish enough to try to read on a bumpy road."

"I think it's the fumes," Daria stated. "It smells like... it smells like..."

"Teen spirit?" asked Jane jokingly

"Cheap cologne or perfume," answered Daria.

Both girls turned towards Charles as he continued to struggle with the window.

"I'll... have you ladies know..." replied Upchuck between grunts of exertion as he fought against the uncooperative window. "I only wear... fragrances of the... highest quality."

'Largest quantity is more like it,' thought Daria as she removed her glasses and covered her eyes.

"Smells a little too flowery for cologne," observed Alex as he slid open the window on his seat.

"You're right," agreed Jane after sniffing the air a few times.

"Brittany must be working up a sweat," she stated with a smirk as she glanced around and noticed she didn't see the bubbly cheerleader's face.

"What could she be..." began Alex before he the realization came to him. "On the bus?"

"As a wise woman once said, 'Never underestimate the ability of Kevin and Brittany to not care where they make out'," advised Jane.

"Was that wise woman or wiseass?" asked Daria as she remembered her friend's words from Quinn's disastrous 'accidental' party the month before.

She then slid past Jane and took Upchuck's now vacant window seat beside her brother. She handed her glasses to the boy, closed her eyes and leaned her head against the cool glass of the window. Alex pocketed his sister's glasses and began gently rubbing her back with a concerned expression.

Upchuck ceased his efforts against the securely jammed window and sidled up to Jane.

"So Ms. Lane... about that modeling opportunity," cheesed the redhead with a waggling of eyebrows as he draped his arm over the back of the seat.

"Only in your wildest dreams and my worst nightmares, Upchuck," responded Jane coldly as she stood up and moved into the seat in front of them next to Alex.

"Grrrrrrr, Fiesty!" purred Upchuck.

The parking lot tram, made up of a string of connected 4-seat golfcart like vehicles, slowly ferried the students and other visitors from the expansive parking lot towards the Mall itself

"Welcome to the Mall of the Millennium, the world's second or third largest mall," announced the recorded voice from speakers mounted in each tram cart. The announcement continued to provide trivial PR about the mall and it's amenities that were ignored by almost every passenger of the tram. Only Mrs. Bennett paid any attention to it.

"Feeling any better," asked Jane as the tram slowly moved along.

"A little bit," answered Daria as she recovered her gasses from Alex.

"You'll be fine once we get away from all of the gas fumes and into the happy recycled and conditioned air in the Mall," joked Alex.

Jane was prepared to add a comment but it was cut off as the tram bounced over a few small potholes and caused her and other students to grab their seats reflexively.

"I'd be happy to be off vehicles and on my own two feet for a while," remarked Daria, punctuated with a small burp.

"Oh, that was oh so ladylike," teased Jane.

Further barbs were interrupted by the sound of a loud slap, which was then followed by an all too familiar "Fiesty!"

Alex glanced back towards the tram car holding Kevin, Brittany and Charles. Brittany appeared to be quite angry about something. It didn't take an honor student to identify the source of her anger when he noticed that Charles was holding the side of his face and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

Alex shook his head at his friend and thought, 'I swear that boy is never going to learn.'

The tram circled slowly up to the front doors of the Mall and trundled over several sets of small speed bumps.

"I think I'm going to be sick," Daria announced as she held her hands over her stomach.

The tram screeched to an abrupt stop, jostling all of its passengers quite thoroughly in the process. The bulk of the students exited their tram cars and stood staring in awe at the impressive façade of the mall's primary entrance.

"Any chance you can hold it till we get to a bathroom?" asked Jane as she exited their car and watched Alex help his sister from their car.

Daria immediately doubled over and began to vomit on the tiled walkway. Alex quickly moved his sister's hair away from her face and rubbed her back as she emptied her stomach onto the pavement.

'I'll take that as a No,' came Jane's internal response.

"Looks like the car sickness finally caught up with her," said Charles as he carefully approached his friend and the girls.

"Well if anyone would know about making girls sick..." quipped Jane.

"What's going on?" asked Mrs. Bennett as she pushed through the gathering of disgusted students (standing well away from Daria) who watched the spectacle.

The teacher approached the trio as Daria slowly returned to a fully upright position.

"Oh dear... are you alright Daria?" the concerned teacher asked.

"She got a bit motion sick from the bus ride," answered Alex.

"I'm sure the tram ride didn't do anything to help either," observed Mrs. Bennett placed a reassuring hand on Daria's shoulder.

"I tried to warn you," reminded Daria as she subtly moved away from the teacher.

"I've been on boat rides during a storm that were smoother than that tram ride," commented Jane.

"Are you sure you're going to be alright dear," the teacher asked again.

"I feel a lot better now," confirmed Daria. "I just need to get somewhere solid that doesn't smell like diesel, sweat and cheap perfume for a little while."

"Maybe we can find somewhere like that after we're done at the Mall," joked Jane, which drew a chuckle from Mrs. Bennett and more than a few of the gathered students.

"Alright students, let's go experience some applied consumer economics," Mrs. Bennett announced as she began to herd the students towards the entrance of the mall.

As the student's entered the building through its expansive glass doors, Jane noticed two workers in beige jumpers with mops and buckets exit the building. As she held the door open for the Alex and Daria, she glanced back and watched the pair begin to clean up the tiled walkway.

"Welcome to the Mall of the Millennium," she stated before she entered the building end joined her classmates.

Mrs. Bennett stood before a back-lit square post that held the map of the mall. She scratched her head a few times as she attempted to decipher their current location in relation to where they wanted to go. Students milled about while the teacher struggled with the map.
Daria took the opportunity to sit on a nearby bench overlooking the lower levels. Alex Jane, Jodie and Mack stood nearby. The sounds of children screaming in excitement drew the attention of the group.

"Can you believe they actually have a working roller coaster inside the mall?" asked Jodie as she watched the coaster car on its high speed path.

"You know we're going to see it on the news one day. 'Coaster disaster at the Mall of the Millenium'," stated Mack as he leaned against the rail and joined the others in watching the ride.

"Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll have live footage of the ensuing carnage," added Jane.

"How can you even think that Jane?" asked a shocked Jodie.

"It's the underlying sense of morbid fascination inherent in all people," responded Daria as she stood and joined the others at the rail.

"The same principle that causes people to slow down on the freeway when we see a wreck," added Alex.

"Or watch horror movies," added Jane.

"Or Nascar and rodeos," stated Daria with a smirk at her brother.

"I distinctly remember a certain someone who would sit right beside me watching those," he remarked with his own smirk.

"Hey now. Quinn doesn't judge you. It would be bad form to judge her," deadpanned Daria.

"I also remember it being your idea to have her make the snacks while we watched Nascar so that you wouldn't miss any of the race," he rebutted.

"See one car blow up in the pits and you're hooked for life," complained Daria as Jane and the others laughed.

"Though in all fairness, there wasn't much in the form of intelligent programming on the local channels in Highland," observed Alex.

"Not a lot of diversity in your entertainment choices eh?" reasoned Mack.

"We didn't have cable so we were relegated to whatever we could find on the local channels," answered Daria

"Least you got that though," commented Alex. "Nothing but CNN, The History Channel and the Military channel at Buxton got tiresome after the 1st 6 months."

"But one can take only so many hours of Sesame Street and hunting shows in a day," remarked Daria.

'And Dad wondered why I would hang around with the Dim-witted Duo,' she thought with her usual subdued smile. 'Well, aside from their general gullibility and high entertainment value.'

"Alright class," came Mrs. Bennett's voice. "Ms. Li has managed to schedule a meeting with Chad Maximillian, Chief Financial Administrator for the Mall of the Millennium. They've graciously set aside some time to discus mall operations with us. We'll get an inside perspective on applied economics at the retail level. Won't that be wonderful?"

Her cheerful gaze drifted across the gathered faces and took in the impassive reactions of her students.

"And since she has allowed us the day for this trip, though I doubt we'll need that much time, once we're done you'll be able to start your weekend a little early," she added.

As she expected, the children began to cheer earnestly.

"I figured that would get your attention," she said with a knowing smile.

"We'll walk down R Moss, and turn right at Q Canary," the teacher announced as she pointed out their path on the large display screen.

"Wow," said Brittany in awe as she looked intently at the map. "Who would ever guess there'd be so many colors? The person who thought them all up must be a genius."

"Yeah, and we haven't even gotten to puke green yet," commented Jane.

She then glanced at Daria who returned an icy and still slightly queasy glare. "Oh, yeah, we passed that one first."

The class began walking at a casual pace with Mrs. Bennett in the lead. The teacher examined a paper copy of the mall map as she attempted to navigate through the building.

"OK, so it's right at T Periwinkle, then a left at N Cranberry. Wait, is that cranberry or magenta?" the woman asked as she scrutinized the map.

After a moment of confusion she looked up from her map and spotted Jane.

"Jane, dear, you're an artist," she said as she handed the map to the girl. "Is this cranberry or magenta?"

Jane examined the map for a moment as Alex, Charles and Daria looked over her shoulder, then replied "I think it's cranapple,"

"Mrs. B," prompted Upchuck. "Can we please stop for a minute at Bikini Island? I'd like to buy a few trifles for the ladies, and perhaps you'd care to pick out something for yourself?"

"Not now, 'll be late for our meeting with the mall executives. I had to work very hard to arrange this. These are very important, very busy..." Mrs. Bennett responded with a sigh before her eyes grew wide and she began bouncing excitedly in place. "oh, oh, oooooh!"

"What is it, Mrs. B?" asked Upchuck as he and the rest of the students were caught off guard by their teacher's sudden exuberant behavior.

She then moved hurriedly towards a nearby storefront and peered through the large glass picture window at the displays.

"The Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit Shop!" the woman exclaimed excitedly. "Herbert and I collect Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee Bits!"

She leaned forward with her hands and face pressed to the glass.

"Aren't they adorable? Look, a Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee Bits cactus! And look at that little bunny rabbit with its own Fuzzy Wuzzy carrot!" Mrs. Bennett said laughingly.

"I think I'm going to be sick again," commented Daria.

Jane glanced at her friend with concern before she noticed the smirk on the bespectacled girls face.

"Yeah, this much cute should be illegal," added Alex as he and the rest moved towards the store. "Or at least come with a medical warning of some kind for diabetics."

"I don't know," commented Jane as she leaned forward to get a look into the front display. "Some of these do have a certain appeal."

The twins were about to inquire into their friend's mental stability when they noticed a small sign labeled "Limited Editions on Sale!"

"Fair enough," said Daria as she followed her friend's gaze and thought about where in her room she could best display the miniature plush Alien face hugger.

The students sat around a large oval table in one of the mall's large conference rooms. The room was brightly lit and while there were no windows in the room, as it was located in an inner section of the building, one wall was taken up from waist height to ceiling by a large mirror.

"And of course, when you go to the mall, you look for what?" asked a man dressed in a nice dark blue suit and tie.

"Bikinis," stated Upchuck which drew a raised eyebrow from the other two mall execs.

"Make that lovely, luscious, ladies in bikinis!" he quickly added.

"Yeah!" agreed Kevin which rewarded him with a punch in the arm from Brittany.

" Ow!" he exclaimed. "But babe... you look hot in a bikini."

"Feisty!" growled Upchuck with a leer and a wink towards Brittany who stood and stomped over towards the mirrored wall.

"Children please," chided Mrs. Bennett. "I'm sorry Mr. Maximillian."

"Call me Chad. It's OK." he dismissed. "I remember what it was like to be a kid."

"Anyone else?" he prompted as he looked to the other students around the room.

"I always look for security guards leading away someone in handcuffs," remarked Jane which drew another set of raised eyebrows from the two executives who had accompanied Mr. Maximillian. "Shoplifters are the best judges of merchandise."

"I meant more along the line of the qualities you look for?" Chad clarified. "The stores? What should they be like?"

"Perky... a little bouncy... not too bouncy..." mused Brittany aloud as she posed in front of the mirror and examined her reflection.

"What?!" asked Chad with a confused expression as he turned his attention to the cheerleader.

"What?" returned Brittany, oblivious to the actual topic of discussion.

"I have a question," interjected Jodie with a raised hand.

After a nod from the man she continued, "Do you think our demographic can really be addressed by middle-aged middle managers telling us what's fun to buy?"

"Umm... well..." stumbled the administrator, clearly thrown off by such a pointed question. His gaze moved quickly across the other students before it settled on Daria.

"How about you? How many times a year do you go to the mall?" he asked hopefully.

"Don't people usually get paid for participating in this kind of market research?" Daria stated flatly.

"Research?" asked Mr. Maximillian in a nervous voice.

"Now, children," chided Mrs. Bennett. "These busy gentlemen have been nice enough to give their time to help educate us on mall economics. Tell us about flow, would you?"

"Of course" stated the man with a relieved exhale.

Alex leaned towards Jane and nodded towards Brittany, still posing before the mirrored wall.

"I bet those guys are enjoying the show," he whispered as the Chad gave a brief explanation of the mall's profit flow.

"What show?" asked a confused Jane. "What guys?"

"That's most likely a two-way mirror," informed Daria.

Jane looked at the mirror for a moment then asked, "You mean, like the ones in movies where if you turn out the lights you can see through it?"

"That's typically how it's done," answered Daria in whisper. "There are probably a couple of analysts on the other side..."

"Watching us and writing down our responses for future marketing ideas," finished her brother.

"Didn't you say people normally get paid for participating in these kinds of things?" Jane asked.

"Yep," answered Alex.

"The standard rate is about 10 to 15 an hour for the average Joe," Daria stated.

"I'm more interested in how much they'll pay the slightly above average Jane," the raven haired girl commented quietly.

Jane glanced behind her and noticed she was sitting within arm's reach of the light control panel. With a loud fake yawn, she leaned back in her chair and stretched in a slow exaggerated manner and flipped the two main switches off, which instantly darkened the interior of the conference room. Without the interior light of the conference room, everyone's attention was drawn to the mirrored wall, which now looked more like a windowed wall. It was impossible to ignore the three observers sitting on the other side of the glass with surprised expressions on their faces.

Brittany jumped back from the mirror and issued a startled "Eep!"

One of the executives rushed to the light switch panel and turned the lights back on and settled a disapproving scowl at Jane.

"Whoops, clumsy me," the girl remarked with a grin.

The mirrored wall was once again a reflective surface, but the damage had already been done. The disapproving murmur of the students did not sit too well with the executives.

'Well that explains how Angela was able to arrange this meeting so easily,' thought Mrs. Bennett with a sigh.

"The focus group is, um, a very important tool in mall management," Chad explained with a nervous laugh. "We thought that with this live demonstration..."

"I feel used. I feel abused," interrupted Jodie angrily. "I feel that this is not a fun mall after all and the media should be made aware of it."

"I bet that wouldn't be too good for your flow would it Chad," teased Jane with a smirk.

"All right, little lady," Mr. Maximillian responded as he reached inside his jacket and pulled a colored coupon from his vest pocket. "Here's a coupon for a free frozen yogurt."

"Don't insult me," scoffed Jodie as she crossed her arms and scowled at the man.

"Make it a ten dollar merchandise coupon," he stated as he pulled another coupon book from his opposing vest pocket.

"You're still insulting her," commented Jane.

Chad sighed and pulled the remaining coupons from his pocket with a sigh and announced, "Okay, a twenty dollar merchandise coupon for everyone in the class."

"You don't get it," stated Daria. "There's a principle involved."

"Actually Daria... No, there isn't," commented Jodie as she stood and accepted a coupon from the man.

The other students followed Jodie's lead and formed a line to receive coupons of their own from Mr. Maximillian.

"So much for idealistic youth," Daria stated as she noted Jane had stood and was moving to join the other students. "Where's your sense of ethical outrage?"

"Hey! That's twenty bucks!" answered the artist as she walked over to claim her own merchandise coupon. "More than the average Joe for an hour, right?"

"She makes an effective argument," stated Alex as he rose from his own seat and walked after Jane.

"Et Tu, Lex," stated Daria as she also stood and joined her brother.

"Look at it this way. They didn't get any usable info from their little scam but we still get paid," he replied as they reached the end of the line.

"True... but it's still pretty crappy if you ask me," she remarked.

"Just think of it as a practical lesson in business economics," came Mrs. Bennett's voice.

The twins turned to see the teacher standing in line in front of them. She winked at them and stepped to Mr. Maximillian

They glanced at each other, shrugged and stepped up to receive coupons of their own from the none too pleased Financial Administrator.

Mrs. Bennet and her students stood near the 2nd floor elevators near another of the mall's map displays. Most of the students examined the $20 slips they received and complained.

Charles walked away from Kevin and Brittany to rejoin Alex and the girls with a toothy grin.

"I'm almost afraid to know what he's so happy about," commented Daria.

"Mission accomplished," the freckled boy announced.

"You seem to still have a full set of teeth, so I doubt Brittany agreed to model bikinis for you," commented Alex.

"Maybe Kevin agreed to model for him," quipped Jane which caused Charles' grin to become a frown.

"There's a mental picture I could have done without," chimed Alex with a disgusted expression.

"Did anyone get a coupon for Brain Bleach by any chance?" asked Daria.

"If you must know, I was able to broker an exchange with our star quarterback and his luscious companion that was mutually beneficial for all involved," interjected Charles.

"Vioala!" he exclaimed as he held up two of the merchandise coupons and handed one to Alex. "I Overheard Kevin and Brittany voicing similar dismay to ours over the stores their coupons were for and arranged an exchange."

"'Books By the Ton - The country's biggest bookstore'," read Alex "Nice."

"I'd be happy to make my bartering skills available to you two lovely ladies," offered Upchuck with a waggle of his eye brows.

Jane and Daria glanced at each other and examined their own coupons.

"'Scissor Wizard'. Groovy, I can actually use a new pair of scissors," stated Jane as she looked at Daria. "What'd you get?"

Daria glanced at her own coupon and slid it into her pocket.

"Not what I'd have originally gone with but I think I can make use of it," she advised. "So thanks, but no thanks."

"Gather round children," stated Mrs. Bennett. "I have some assignments for you."

The students began groaning as they formed a semicircle around the teacher.

"I know you'd rather just mill about aimlessly, but remember this little trip has a purpose," the teacher chided. "Alexander and Charles, you'll observe traffic patterns at the food concessions. Daria and Jane, I'd like the two of you to talk to several store managers on the 1st floor and find out their best selling merchandise. Jodie and Mack will do the same for the 2nd floor. Andrea and Lance will do the same for the 3rd."

The teacher continued to assign varying sections and associated tasks to the remainder of the students, handing out notepads and pens as she did.

"What do you want us to do Mrs. Bennett?" asked Brittany as she idly twirled her finger in the end of her hair.

"Kevin and Brittany, you will study and report back on shrinkage," the teacher stated as she handed note pads to them.

"Shrinkage?" asked Kevin. "They've got a swimming pool in the mall? Cool!"

Jane put her hand in her mouth in an attempt to stifle the raucous laughter that threatened to escape. Daria, Jodie and Mack smirked similarly at Kevin's line of thought and Alex gave a cough to vainly hide his own amusement. Most of the other students didn't bother with decorum and laugh openly at the quarterback's comment.

Mrs. Bennett sighed and explained, "Shrinkage is the retailing term for shoplifting. I'd like you to analyze its economic impact."

"Does everyone else understand their assignments?" she asked to the remaining students and received murmurs and nods. "Now, we'll meet back here at a quarter to three. Remember, area F, section Moss, level three. Got it? F Moss Three."

"Got it," confirmed Kevin. "But I have a question."

"Yes Kevin," the teacher prompted.

"Was I supposed to bring my swimming trunks or will they have some I can borrow at the pool?" he asked.

Mrs. Bennett's only reply was to close her eyes and lowered her head with a loud sigh.

"So which store should we check out first?" asked Mack as he and Jodie strolled casually down the walkways of the Mall's 2nd floor.

"I was thinking we should choose several different types of stores to get a broader sample group," Jodie answered.

"Makes sense to me," remarked Mack as he glanced at a few of the storefronts on either side of the isle and noted no discernable pattern to the layout. "Shouldn't be too difficult."

"We should also stop by Cashman's," suggested Jodie thoughtfully.

"Looking to pick up another outfit for school? Sure you don't want to join the Fashion Club after all?" teased Mack.

"Actually, I was thinking we could submit an addendum to our assignment once we get back next week for some extra credit," replied the girl. "Comparing the one here with the local branch in Lawndale."

'We finally get a touch of us time and all she can think about is extra credit when we get back,' thought Mack with a sigh as he reached into his pocket and felt the crumple of paper.

He glanced at his coupon and an idea formed immediately.

"I've got a better idea. How about we hit the first 5 or so stores we see..." he offered as he slipped his coupon into her hand. "Then head over to Floral Explosion and see how many daffodils we can get with this?"

Jodie looked at the florally decorated slip of paper then smiled up at her boyfriend.

'How does he always managers to remember the little things like my favorite flower' Jodie wondered.

"I think the first 3 would probably be enough," she stated as she looped her arm around Mack's waist.

"Think we've got enough info?" asked Jane as she and Daria exited a candle and incense themed store and began walk towards the elevators and escalators.

"I hope so," replied Daria as she flipped her notepad closed and pocketed her pen.. "Because I think I've exhausted my interest in 'flow' for the year."

"You over your motion sickness?" prompted Jane.

"No need to worry. Your boots are safe from further attempts at regurgitative assault," deadpanned Daria.

"Good. Because I'm starving," answered Jane. "How about we go meet up with Alex and find out how his assignment is coming along."

"Always thinking with your stomach," quipped Daria as she stopped and faced her friend with her subdued smile. "Well, it is your most well developed muscle group so better that than what's allegedly between your ears."

"I would reply but my thinking muscle needs more power to come up with a sufficiently scathing and witty rebuttal," replied Jane with a smile of her own.

"Hey, look," the raven haired girl stated as she noticed they had stopped in front of Scissor Wizard. "I can use my coupon."

Once they entered the store, they discovered immediately that it was a hair salon as opposed to a scissor specialty shop as they initially thought.

"You got here just in time," came a voice from their right.

The girls turned to see a twentyish man in a tight short sleeved shirt approach them. He reached out and cupped the bottom edges of Jane's hair and examined her face intently.

"Um,... I've got this coupon," Jane began.

The hairdresser nodded, took her by the hand and lead her to a styling chair.

"The style suits your face. Not a bad job..." commented the stylist aloud as he also took note of the split ends and slight unevenness of her bangs. "But not a great job either. Who normally cuts your hair honey?"

"Actually I usually cut it myself," Jane responded confused.

"Decent work for an amateur but you really should let us professionals do it next time," the man stated as he continued manipulating Jane's dark tresses and slowly turning the chair he had her sitting in.

"I'll keep that in mind, but I just wanted a pair of scissors," she responded.

"We don't sell scissors, we cut hair," the man fired back. "Which show?"

"What?" asked Jane even more confused than before.

The hairdresser let out a frustrated sigh before responding, "Which TV show do you want your style from? Most of our clients go for a sitcom or something from one of those tween dramas."

He turned Jane around to face him and he leaned in close to the girls face.

"Although, you strike me as more the "movie of the week" type," he stated. "Love the eyes by the way. How much were they?"

"Huh," asked Daria and Jane in unison.

"The contacts honey, how much did they cost you," he prompted as he turned her around again and began to run a fine toothed comb through Jane's hair.

"Oh! Wow, been a while since any one asked that," said Jane with a chuckle. "Hate to disappoint, but they're not contacts. These baby blues are 100% mine."

"I know girls that would kill for your look," he stated laughingly

"You know we only came here because we thought you sold scissors," stated Daria.

"Yeah, I doubt I've got the time or money for the kind of treatment you guys normally give," stated Jane as she looked at her coupon again.

"Let me see," said the man as he glanced over Jane's shoulder and noted the amount of the coupon. "$20 bucks eh? That would get you a basic rinse and a trim, which is about all you need anyway hon."

"I don't know..." stated Jane hesitantly.

"I can have you all set and out of here in 20 minutes... just about when my next appointment should show up," the stylist offered as he grasped Jane's hand and helped her up from the chair.

"You think it's a good idea? This guy seems a bit odd," whispered Daria. "A little too anxious to get you in the chair if you catch my drift."

"Unless I spontaneously switch from Jane to John, I don't think I've got much to worry," joked Jane in whispered response.

Daria took a second look at the stylist and smirked at her oversight.

"If I'm not back in 20 minutes..." stated Jane at a normal volume as the stylist lead her back towards the row of sinks on the far end of the salon.

"I'll send the search party," finished Daria as she smirked at her friend being dragged to have her hair washed.

"Oh look, '50 Ways to Get Your Man to Ask You to the Prom'," stated Daria with mock enthusiasm as she picked up one of the magazines set beside the waiting area, settled into one of the plush seats and began to read.

20 minutes later, Daria scrutinized her friend's hair. The stylist hadn't really done much to it other than a conditioning rinse and cleaned up an almost unnoticeable unevenness to the cut of the girl's dark hair. Paying close attention, Daria noticed the subtle differences. Jane's hair had been brushed and styled so that instead of simply hanging straight down as it usually did, the ends curled slightly upwards towards her neck. And while her hair was shiny by nature, it now held a touch more volume than it usually did.

"I'll have to find that conditioner back in Lawndale," commented Jane. "I can actually feel my scalp tingling."

"That's just the ebola doing seeping in," joked Daria. "You ready it hit the food court?"

"Nothing like stuffing your face to really set off a nice free pampering," commented Jane.

As she and Jane exited the salon Daria slammed into another person walking into the store and both landed unceremoniously on their posteriors.

"Ugh, like watch where you're... Daria?" said a familiar voice.

"Quinn?" asked Daria confused.

As Jane helped her up, Daria arranged her glasses to a normal position on her face and saw Stacy helping her sister up from the floor. The other members of the Fashion Club were also present

"Well, well, what an unexpected opportunity for sibling bonding," commented Daria snidely.

"Ugh, I'm going to be sick," commented said Quinn.

"Quinn... ewwwww," responded Tiffany slowly.

"Is that, like, a family thing?" quipped Jane, which drew a glare from Daria.

"What are you two doing at a salon?" asked Quinn.

"What are you doing in this part of the state?" Daria inquired as she refocused on Quinn. "You're not in Mrs. Bennett's Economics class."

"Mrs. Bennett is here?!" Quinn asked with wide eyes.

"Yep and the rest of our class," confirmed Jane.

"I'll bet she'd be thrilled to see you four here. Just as pleased as Mom and Dad will be to hear I ran into you here... at the mall... on this lovely school day," remarked Daria with a subtle smirk.

Quinn's glanced at her three friends who all had similar expressions of worry.

"Kuh-Whinn, it would be most unfortunate if the Fashion Club were to get in trouble because of your geeky sister," stated Sandi.

"Oh god, they're gonna find out we skipped," said Stacy frantically. "We're going to get suspended... or expelled... or excommunicated..."

"Stacy! Breathe," commanded Quinn which seemed to settle the other girl. "Just give us a minute guys."

She beckoned Daria and walked away from the other Fashion Club members.

"Okay, state your terms," the younger Morgendorffer prompted as her sister and Jane approached.

"You know...It's strange. I can't think of anything I'd want..." Daria commented whistfully. "At least not anything from you."

"How about a free makeover?" Quinn offered half-heartedly.

"No matter how many times you make it, that offer will be declined as usual," replied Daria. "However, it would be nice to take it easy around the house for a little while. Maybe a month."

"A month?! "No way!"Quinn exclaimed. "You're like loosing it if you think I'm gonna put up with doing your chores for a month."

"It's that, or you can just never set foot inside a mall for the rest of your sorry adolescent life," stated Daria.

Quinn fumed and realized she had little to no bargaining leverage in the current situation.

"Speaking of setting foot in the mall," continued Daria. "How did you guys get here?"

"We got one of the junior varsity to drive us in his dad's SUV," informed Quinn.

Daria smiled subtly as an idea formed.

"OK, since I'm really not in the mood to take the bus back, here's the deal," stated Daria. "Two weeks and a ride home from your little friend and Mom and Dad need never know of this."

"But we still have shopping to do. How are we going to fit the two of you and our stuff?" whined Quinn.

"Three... you're forgetting Lex," reminded Daria. "And I would highly recommend cutting your shopping trip short before you run into any of the other students."

"Or Mrs. B," added Jane.

"Ugh! Fine! We've still got to check out one or two things before we leave so this trip won't be like a complete waste," agreed Quinn vehemently as she checked her designer watch and stalked back towards Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany. "Meet us in an hour on level five, area D, section Lavender."

"You got that?" asked Daria with a glance in Jane's direction and received a nod.

"Pleasure doing business with you," commented Daria with a smirk as she and Jane walked past Quinn and the Fashion Club.

"And that's 30," stated Alex with a glance at his watch. "Looks like the Taco Shack has more traffic per hour than the Chinese place."

"And I was sure Chinese would have the bigger appeal," replied a disappointed Charles.

"I told you fast and cheap beats out exotic and plentiful in most situations," Alex remarked. "You come to the mall for shopping, not dinner. Just be glad you had the good sense to decline my bet about the nacho and pretzel stand or you'd be down more than just footing the lunch bill four our group."

"While I'm sure that Mrs. Bennett will be thrilled with the added detail we've been able to get over the past half hour ...weren't the luscious Miss Lane and your lovely sister supposed to meet us quite some time ago?" the freckled boy observed.

"They probably got stuck with a talkative store manager," Alex ventured before he spotted Jane headed in their general direction.

"Speak of the devil," he commented as the girls stopped beside him.

"What's the devil doing here?" quipped Jane.

"Probably buying a snow cone," deadpanned Daria.

"What took you so long?" asked Alex before he raised a curious eyebrow at Jane and asked, "Did you get a new earring or something?"

"No, seven is my limit," she replied with a grin. "Why?"

"Something's different and I can't figure out what," he responded with a tilt of his head.

"She looks her usual radiant and ravishing self," added Upchuck.

"Other than having my ears evened up I can't think of anything," Jane commented.

"That's what it is," Alex confirmed. "You got your hair styled."

'It's subtle but I guess if you're looking for it you can see the difference,' thought Daria with a shrug.

"But to answer your original question we kind of ran into someone unexpected," Jane answered.

"Who," Alex asked with a raised eyebrow.

"You'll find out in a bit," replied Daria. "But for now I'm famished so let's eat."

"I'll second that motion," agreed Jane.

"Motion seconded... motion carries," said Alex as the four began moving casually towards the various restaurants.

"You know if you girls hadn't been so rapt with your primping and preening we would have more time to eat and still get in our quota of aimless loitering," teased Alex. "At this rate we'll only have half an hour before we have to be back on the bus."

"I'm torn between thanking you for noticing and being upset at you for accusing me of not only primping, but preening," responded Jane with exaggerated false outrage. "I'll just have to let you make it up to me by buying me lunch."

Alex and Charles chuckled while Daria merely smiled subtly at Jane's comments.

"Feeding yourself and Jane?" asked Daria. "Hope you managed to get an advance on your allowance before we came."

"Fortunately for my wallet, I won't need to, as a certain someone lost a wager involving my food bill for this outing," stated Alex as he cast a grin to Charles.

"So lunch is on Upchuck," stated Daria.

"It would be my honor, nay privilege to share lunch with such lovely company. The least I can do is fund the bounteous meal," stated Upchuck dramatically with a toothy grin.

"Guess he's useful for something once in a while," quipped Jane.

"His dad's gold card is anyway," commented Daria.

"Shall we?" Jane prompted haughtily as she extended an arm to Alex.

"To our repast," responded Alex in similar style as he hooked his arm with Jane's and the two made their way to the rows of eateries in the food court.

"Allow me to escort you my enticing erudite enchantress," offered Upchuck with an extended arm to Daria.

"I would love to Upchuck. But puking once a day is my limit," stated Daria flatly as she walked away from the freckled boy to join her brother and friend.

"So where are we going again?" asked Alex as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his camouflage jacket.

"It's a surprise," replied Daria as she waited for Jane to enter the elevator before she tapped the button for the 5th floor.

The three were quickly lifted to the 5th floor's Lavender section. When the doors open they stepped out and were greeted by the sight of the Fashion Club waiting for them

"Hey Pip. Ladies" greeted Alex in surprise. "I didn't know you were taking economics. Was there another bus besides ours?"

Stacy waved enthusiastically and smiled brightly. Tiffany's attention never left the mirror bedecked stand of sunglasses near the booth they stood next too. Quinn smiled gave a nervous laugh while Sandi mere scowled at the approaching trio with her arms crossed in front of her.

"Oh they're not taking economics," remarked Daria with a smirk. "They don't offer it to Freshmen."

"Then what are they...Quinn" stated Alex with an unpleased expression.

Stacy's smile vanished quickly at the unpleased tone in Alex's voice and she lowered her head to gaze attentively at her designer shoes. Quinn did similarly and clasped her hands behind her and fidgeted where she stood. Tiffany continued to examine her reflection completely obliviously.

"Whatever," stated Sandi with disdain as she turned away from Alex, Daria and Jane.

"Oh you guys wouldn't understand the responsibilities of the popular," Quinn answered dramatically.

"I swear you just want to get grounded for life. Mom is gonna have kittens when she finds out you ditched school to come here," Alex observed.

"Are we ready to leave," asked Sandi impatiently.

"Just about," answered Daria. "We need to let Mrs Bennett know that we've got our own ride back to Lawndale."

"Um.. you're not going to tell her about us being here are you?" asked Stacy worriedly.

"Don't worry your empty little head," replied Daria condescendingly. "We've got a cover story that should ensure no one finds out about your little unapproved outing."

"Yeah, we'll just tell her that my brother had a gig in the area and is giving us a ride back with the band," informed Jane.

"Fine," stated Sandi. "Grant is parked on the Chartreuse section of the parking deck on this level."

"We'll be there," acknowledged Daria as she and Jane turned to head back to the elevators.

"Let's go Pip," announced Alex which drew another worried expression from his youngest sister.

"No argument," he stated with authority. "You're gonna be in enough trouble without making sure you get back home."

"Plus that makes sure you three don't just ditch us," reasoned Daria.

The two groups parted ways with a fuming Sandi casting a scathing glare behind her at Jane and the Morgendorffer siblings.

After again reaching the ground floor, the Alex and Jane met up with the larger portion of their class and teacher. They quickly informed Mrs. Bennett about making arrangements for their own ride back to Lawndale. Alex also gave Charles a brief run down of the goings on and made plans to hang out depending on whether Daria and Jane still planned on having their usual bad movie viewing the next night, since it was a Saturday.

"Everything's kosher," stated Jane as she and Alex rejoined Daria and Quinn near the escalators furthest away from the meeting place Mrs. Bennett had set for the students to gather for their departure.

"Can we go now?" asked Quinn angrily.

"Almost," answered Daria as she began to walk away from the escalators. "There's one more stop we need to make."

A loud splash drew everyone's attention as Alex, Daria Jane and Quinn moved through the central section of the mall. They stopped and turned towards the large fountain in the center of the mall to see Kevin climb to his feet, while still in the fountain, and stare out pleadingly at an irate Brittany.

"Why is he wearing swim trunks?" asked Quinn as she noted that in place of his usual uniform pants, the drenched quarterback wore a pair of yellow and blue shorts with no pockets.

"But Babe, It was shrinkage!" he pleaded.

"Ooooo!" huffed Brittany angrily as she turned and stormed away from her waterlogged boyfriend.

"Just keep walking," advised Daria as she began walking casually away from the disturbance.

"Avoid eye contact kid," stated Jane as she and Alex followed Daria. "They're dead to us now."

The four walked past the spectacle and Daria stopped in front of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit Shop. The other member of the group stopped and glanced at each other for a moment.

"What are we doing here?" asked Alex with a raised eyebrow.

"Trying to induce a cuteness based sickness so you can make the trip back without worrying?" teased Jane.

"Actually," began Daria with a brief glare at her friend. "I wanted to use this before we left."

The auburn haired girl pulled her coupon out of her coat pocket and displayed the $20 slip for the Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit Shop.

"It should just about cover an on sale limited edition collectable," she remarked as she glanced through the glass store front at the sign near the collection of plush oddities which displayed $18.50.

Daria walked casually into the shop. Jane and Alex shrugged at each other and followed her into the store trailed by Quinn.

As soon as Quinn entered the store, a loud siren went off and bright lights began to flash. All four teens began to look around in shock and tried to figure out what was going on.

"What the hell?" asked Jane as she looked around worriedly.

"I guess with all of the sickeningly cute things already here Quinn was too much for the place and they've gone to Cutecon 1," remarked Daria.

As if in response, several people wearing shirts embroidered with the Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit logo rushed up to Quinn and shoved the strings of a massive bundle of balloons into one of her hands and began to enthusiastically shake the other.

"What are you doing to my sister," Alex asked with a confused expression.

A similarly dressed middle aged man with a pin labeled "Manager" approached and deposited an armload of miniature plush merchandise into Quinn's free arm.

"Congratulations little lady! You're our lucky ten-thousandth customer," he announced in a cheery voice. "You've won the entire new line of Noah's Arc and our original Fantasy Critters line of Wee-Bits for free!"

"The what?!" asked Quinn as she blinked in shock.

"Don't you get it?" asked the store manager. "You're our winner!"

"Winner?" asked Quinn disbelievingly.

"You know, it means the opposite of loser," quipped Jane.

"We're out of stock on the Fantasy line," informed the manager as he extended a form towards the stunned red head. "But just give us your info and we'll have it shipped to you address from the main distributor."

"Um..." expressed Quinn as she glanced at the sheet of paper and then at her occupied hands.

"You said you're her brother right?" the man asked, his attention on Alex.

The boy gave a nod and the man instructed, "You fill this out while we get a picture of our winner here."

"Um, OK," the boy replied still not recovered from the surprise of the situation.

'I can't wait to find out how she's going to explain this to Mom and Dad when that stuff arrives,' thought Daria as she wandered further into the store in search of an available member of the store's staff.

"Everyone say 'Wee-Bit'," the man said as he stood next to Quinn with a brightly decorated sign that read '10,000th Customer' while another staff member with a camera snapped a photograph.

Jake lounged on the living room couch with a martini in one hand and his other arm around Helen's shoulder as they watched a movie.

'I'm so glad we managed to wrap up the Heckland case early,' thought Helen as she shifted her legs to a more comfortable position under her on the couch. 'Means I can spend a relaxing weekend at the house for a change.'

"I haven't watched this movie in years," stated Helen as she set the remote down by the Movie Shack case. "It's one of my favorites."

"I know honey," affirmed Jake as he sipped his drink. "I figured it'd be a great way to help you relax since you don't have to work this weekend."

'What the hell does that mean?!' Helen almost vocalized before she realized that her husband had said it without malice and was still completely relaxed and smiling, with his eyes on the television. It had simply been an observation, not an accusation.

'One of these days I'm going to figure out what I did to deserve this man,' she thought as she snuggled closer to Jake and kissed his cheek.

"You know Jake," Helen said to catch his full attention. "Quinn's got her Fashion Club meeting tonight. Daria and Alex are going to Jane's for their Bad Movie Night..."

"Bad Movie Night? Aren't they too young to be watching those kinds of movies?!" " he asked with shock in his voice.

"Not those kinds of bad movies Jake," Helen clarified. "The kind that aren't very good. Like Xanadu and those old Ed Wood films..."

"Xanadu?! Ewwwww," expressed Jake with a disgusted expression.

"Anyway," continued Helen in attempt to get things back on topic. "Alex and Daria will be out with Jane, and Quinn is going to Stacy's for a Fashion Club meeting..."

"Oh yeah!" said Jake, having obviously forgotten.

"And I'm off this weekend so it's just going to be the two of us tonight..." Helen continued breathily. "Alone."

"Oh yeah," the man rumbled quietly as he set his drink down and looked into his wife's face with a lecherous grin.

At that moment, the couple's attention was drawn by the ring of the doorbell.

"Dammit!" swore Jake at the interruption.

"I'll get it Jake," Helen stated with a sigh as she thumbed the pause button on the VCR's remote, stood and walked to the door.

She opened it to see Jane's smiling face standing on the porch.

"Oh hello Jane," the woman said with a genuine smile of her own. "What brings you over?"

"Hey Jane-O!" greeted Jake enthusiastically from the couch as he recovered his glass and refilled it from the pitcher resting on the coffee table.

"Hey Mr. and Mrs. M," replied Jane. "Just here to pick up the kids."

The sounds of heavy footfalls came from the steps. Helen turned to see her eldest children coming down the steps.

"Hola amigos," greeted Jane. "We ready to go?"

"Ready..." stated Daria.

"...and raring," finished Alex.

"You kids have fun," announced Jake as he picked up the remote and turned his attention back to the television.

"That's the general idea," remarked Alex as the three walked out of the door.

As they headed towards the side walk the noticed a young man in a brown short sleeved shirt and shorts uniform heading towards the house with two large boxes on a wheeled cart. The three stepped aside and nodded to the man as he wheeled his delivery past them.

"I hope Dad didn't order any more of those 'exotic spices' online again," commented Daria.

"Seriously," agreed Alex as the three began their walk toward Howard Drive. "It took two days to air out the kitchen the last time he tried to cook with them."

Helen watched her children and their friend continue on their way and waited for the delivery man to finish his own trip down their walkway.

"Golt a delivery for 111 Glenn Avenue. Mogen..Morgan..." stated the young man as he struggled with the name.

"Morgendorffer," replied Helen with a sigh as Jake joined her at the door. "What is this?"

"Don't ask me lady. I just deliver it," he answered as he held out a clipboard with a chain attached pen. "Sign here."

Helen quickly put her name to the delivery sheet as the delivery passed the two boxes off to Jake, who set them inside beside the door. He then handed a large envelope to Helen and headed back to his truck after a tip of his brown cap to the couple.

"Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit Shop," said Jake as he read the large print on the envelop over his wife's shoulder. "What the hell is a Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee Bit?"

"No clue," replied Helen as she opened the envelope and withdrew a letter and a large 8x10 photograph.

She read a small portion of the letter then looked at the picture with a distinctly displeased expression.

"Quinn Anne Morgedorffer, get down here this moment!" shouted Helen.

A worried Quinn exited her room with without a glance toward the open door of Daria's own padded room. If she had, or even bothered to care about the contents of her sister's room, she might have noticed the plush Alien face-hugger draped menacingly over the top edge of Daria's computer monitor.


Some dialog and basic story concept from: Malled by Neena Beber

Original Episode transcripts available at Outpost Daria

For those curious, the movie the trio was watching for Bad Movie Night was Alien from L.A.

A big thanks to all of the fellow inmates at PPMB for serving as my unwitting beta readers :)