Iíd like to thank Renfield, Robert Nowall, and NomadX for beta reading this, and for their many valuable and helpful suggestions, some of which I actually used.

This fic takes place shortly after Episode #104, Cafe Disaffecto. Call it Episode #104 Ĺ.

This fic contains partial nudity and lots and lots of bloody violence. Well, actually, not this fic, itís the other fic within this fic. The one Daria wrote. Not my fault.

 

BLOOD OATH OF PATRIOTS

By Galen Hardesty

 

 

Scene 1 Ext. Cafe Lawndale, afternoon. Timothy OíNeill walks up to the front door, takes keys from pocket, unlocks door, goes inside.

 

Scene 2 Ext. Cafe Lawndale, early evening. The front door opens, OíNeill leans out, looks up and down the street, sighs sadly, goes back in, closes the door.

 

Scene 3 Ext. Lawndale High, cut to: Int. Mr. OíNeillís English class. The students are writing. Mr. OíNeill stares at his hands on the desk, which seem to be wrestling each other. His face bespeaks some inner dilemma. After a while, he looks up at Daria, who is writing like the other students. He looks back down, then back up at Daria, his inner conflict seeming to grow stronger. Daria, sensing she is being watched, looks up. Mr. OíNeill instantly looks back down at his hands. Daria, puzzled, looks around briefly, back at Mr.OíNeill for a second, then returns to her writing. Jane looks up at Daria for a second, then returns to her writing. Two minutes pass, then Mr. OíNeill steals a quick glance at Daria. Another minute passes. OíNeill glances at Daria again. Daria and Jane both look up and stare back at OíNeill, who just as quickly looks away. Andrea, Jodie, and Brittany look up at Daria and Jane. Daria and Jane look at each other, shrug, resume writing. Andrea, Jodie, and Brittany exchange glances, resume writing. Several minutes pass. OíNeill looks back over at Daria. Daria, Jane, Jodie, Brittany and Andrea all stare back at him.

OíNeill: Eep! (runs out of the room)

 

Scene 4 Lawndale High hallway, between classes. Daria and Jane walk together.

Jane: Whatís with you and OíNeill playing eyeball hockey?

Daria: You got me. Somethingís gnawing at him. If I can find out what, maybe I can make it gnaw harder.

Jodie: (catches up with Daria and Jane) Hi, guys. Are you gonna help out with Cafe Lawndale again? We could use you.

Daria: I canít believe OíNeill is still trying to reopen that thing. It was a bad idea the first time and itĎs a bad idea now. There isnít enough free local talent to support it, and people would rather get together and talk at Pizza King or the mall. How close is the grand reopening?

Jodie: It opened last Monday, but hardly anyone has come. Mr. OíNeill is really bummed out. Itís the biggest thing heís ever been in charge of, and itís going down in flames.

Jane: No. That would draw a crowd. And we could roast marshmallows.

Daria: Well, that explains whatís eating him. Hmmm. It also explains the guilty looks. He thinks maybe I can help pull his chestnuts out of the fire, but he remembers the way he treated me last time I read at the coffeehouse. At least he has the grace to feel bad about it.

 Jodie: You mean what he said to that Sun-Herald reporter? Yeah, that was kind of thoughtless, not to mention silly. So, I guess if he asked for your help, youíd feel kind of conflicted, huh? On the one hand, you want to help, but on the other, you feel he owes you an apology.

Daria: Itís more like, on the one hand, the rhythmic swing and splat of the cat-oí-nine-tails is so soul-satisfying, but on the other, a straight razor in the hands of an expert could take him to heights of agony few men have ever reached.

Jodie: Daria, not meaning to be critical, but when you talk like that, itís hard for some people to tell that youíre joking.

Daria and Jane: Joking?

Jodie: Oh, come on.

Daria: Jodie, Mr. OíNeill is one of those people who "follows his heart." They use that as an excuse for all manner of gross stupidity, thoughtless, inconsiderate behavior, and sometimes worse things. And theyíre usually not even aware theyíre doing it. To people like us who live by reason, people like him are loose cannons. He and I need to come to an understanding, establish a working relationship, before he runs me over again.

Jodie: Working relationship?

Jane: Can you say "dominatrix"? (Daria shoots Jane a dirty look.) What?

 

 

Scene 5 Ext. Morgendorffer house, late afternoon, dark clouds. Cut to: Int. Dariaís room. Daria is seated at her computer, typing. She pauses, refers to a Lawndale Sun-Herald beside the keyboard, types some more. Reading what she has written, her frown deepens slightly. We hear loud clacking as she attacks the keyboard again.

 

 

Scene 6 Ext. Lawndale High. Cut to: Int. Mr. OíNeillís class. Bell rings. Students begin to leave. Daria doesnít move.

 

OíNeill: Donít forget to read Act One of Romeo and Juliet for tomorrow. Uh, Daria, could I see you for a minute, please? (Daria neither moves nor speaks. The other students file out, Jane and Jodie giving Daria worried looks, until only the two are left.) Daria, Iíd like to, uh, I want to, uhh... "

Daria: Apologize for what you said to that reporter, and then ask me to read something at the coffeehouse? Something other than a Melody Powers story?

OíNeill: (brightens considerably) Why, yes, Daria, thatís it exactly!

Daria: (still deadpan) And what did you think my answer to that would be?

OíNeill: (unbrightens considerably) Uh, well, Iíd hoped...

Daria: (rising) But you didnít think. Well, let me help you. My answer to that would be something like "You spineless sanctimonious hypocrite!" (advances on OíNeill, he backs toward his desk) "You insult me to the whole town, then you want to apologize in private? That wonít cut it. (maneuvers right, cuts OíNeill off from his desk, backs him against the chalkboard) "You libeled me in print, youíll retract in print. And apologize in print." (her voice reverts to her normal mild semi-monotone) So, to avoid a possible unfavorable reaction such as that, you might want to change your approach slightly. (pulls a folder labeled "Justice" from her backpack, extracts two sheets of paper from it). This is a suggested text for an apology to be printed in the school paper. And these are the points youíll want to be sure are covered in the retraction in the Sun-Herald.

OíNeill: (looks from the papers in his shaking hand to the file folder Daria is replacing in her backpack) Justice? Are you sure you donít mean revenge?

Daria: Oh, Iím sure. (pulls another folder labeled "REVENGE" in slashing blood-red letters partway out of backpack, slides it back in) And Iím also sure we can resolve our differences without resorting to such unpleasantness. (faux cheery) Goodness, look at the time! Gotta go. See you later. (shoulders backpack, walks out the door. OíNeill steps away from the chalkboard and watches her go. We see that the back of his shirt is splotched with chalk, there are sweat stains down his spine and spreading from his armpits, and a heavy yellow line bisects his butt horizontally at the height of the chalk tray.)

 

 

Scene 7 Hallway outside OíNeillís classroom. Daria emerges to find Jane and Jodie holding back several students in OíNeillís next class. All but Jane recoil slightly at Dariaís feral smirk. Jane and Jodie follow Daria as the other students back toward the door, watching them go.

 

Jane: Jeez, Daria, wipe the blood off your mouth. Youíre scaring the children. (Dariaís smirk widens to a grin.)

Jodie: Daria! Now youíre scaring me! Donít you think you were a teeny bit rough on him?

Daria: You donít think Iím turning into my mother, do you? But Iím not going to let him get away with using me for a scapegoat just because heís a pathetic, hapless loser. Now he knows how I see what he did to me. Iíll let him think about it for awhile, and then maybe we can progress from there.

 

 

Scene 8 Ext. Cafe Lawndale, afternoon. Daria walks up to the door, hesitates a second, pushes it open, enters. Cut to: Int. Cafe Lawndale. Mr. OíNeill is sweeping behind the counter. No one else is present. Daria walks up to the counter, sits on a stool.

OíNeill: Oh, hello, Daria. What would you like?

Daria: Nothing, thanks. Just to talk.

OíNeill: (pouty) Come to berate me in greater detail?

Daria: That was a hypothetical answer to what I guessed you were going to say. A nonexistent exchange.

OíNeill: Funny, it seemed pretty real to me.

Daria: Prove it. Thereís no written record, no witnesses. In stark contrast to the several thousand printed copies of what you said about me. (places backpack on counter, extracts a sheet of paper, reads) "School officials decided to close Lawndaleís new young adult coffeehouse after its opening night somehow turned into an anti-communist rally. "Some unscheduled propagandizing went on, and the students reacted a little too favorably.", explained coffeehouse director Timothy OíNeill, a teacher at Lawndale High. Following a reading of some right-wing literature, several members of the football team marched down North Avenue, intending to stone the Russian Embassy. Of course, there are no embassies in Lawndale. "Teens are impressionable," OíNeill said, "and the last thing we want is to provide a base of operations for political extremists.""

OíNeill: Is that so bad?

Daria: Isnít it? A few stupid football players act like stupid football players, march down the street yelling, and you close down the coffeehouse and blame it on me. Iím a right-wing propagandist. Iím a political extremist.

OíNeill: I never mentioned your name.

Daria: Thatís a cop-out. Everyone in school knows you meant me. Why did you close this place? Nobody got hurt. Nothing was damaged. Thereís a far worse ruckus after every Lawndale football game. And this was your baby. Your idea, although you tried to hang it on me. Whyíd you turn your back on it so fast, as if, as if... Iíd ruined it somehow... defiled it... with my right wing propagandizing... oh. Oh. (smacks her forehead, swivels around on the stool, gazes out the window.) Anti-communist. Right wing. Thatís it. (swivels back around, skewers OíNeill with her eyes.) Youíre a communist.

OíNeill: (terrified expression, raises hands as if to ward off a blow, backs away) No! No! (an expression of despair replaces the terror) Yes.

Daria: Donít tell me, let me guess. Not a Marxist ĖLeninist, not a Trotskyite, certainly not a Stalinist or a Maoist. A pure Marxist. And this was to be your base of operations.

OíNeill: You got me. Go ahead and expose me to the school board. (sniff) I hope your next literature teacher is better than I was.

Daria: Huh? Why would I do that? This is a free country, or so I was taught in school. You know, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."? Freedom of Association? Freedom of Speech? Or donít you Marxists believe that?

OíNeill: We American Marxists do.

Daria: Hmmm.

OíNeill: Daria, Iím sorry for what I said to the reporter, but that piece you read seemed to be aimed right at me. Like you already knew, and were tormenting me.

Daria: My Melody Powers stories arenít political. Theyíre spoofs of the superspy genre of adventure fiction. I wrote that story for you, not at you. I tailored it to the audience, to help get this place off to a good start. (half turns away, looks down at floor.)

OíNeill: And then I... I... (bursts into tears) Aaaaah-haaah! No wonder you hate me!

Daria: I donít hate you. Iíve had my feelings hurt worse. Lots worse. (sighs) Lots of times.

OíNeill: Then youíll accept my apology?

Daria: Probably. When do I get to read it?

OíNeill: (surprised, stares at Daria for a moment) Oh. So weíre back to this. (reaches down, brings up the 2 sheets of paper Daria gave him, lays them on the bar.) Under threat of whatís in your Revenge folder.

Daria: (pulls folder labeled REVENGE out of her backpack, lays it on counter facing OíNeill, opens it. It is empty.) Who was it, who said "He who seeks revenge should start by digging two graves, his enemyís, and his own."? In my experience, revenge is pretty much a lose-lose proposition. The loser loses more than the winner, but neither really gains anything.

OíNeill: I... donít know what to say. It seems I donít know you at all.

Daria: (sighs) Why should you be any different? Look. (takes one of the two sheets of paper in front of Mr. OíNeill, crumples it up) Forget about the retraction. And this- (indicates apology text) like I said, itís just a suggestion. (puts REVENGE folder in backpack) Do what you think is right. (shoulders backpack and leaves)

 

 

Scene 9 Ext. Lane house. Cut to: Int. Janeís bedroom. Jane paints at her easel. Daria lies on Janeís bed, her head hanging off the foot end, her auburn hair cascading to the floor. Her arms lie straight out from her shoulders along the foot of the mattress. Her feet point toward the two upper corners of the bed.

 

Jane: So, you tracked him to his lair and cornered him. Did you torture him?

Daria: Yeah.

Jane: Did he confess?

Daria: Yeah.

Jane: What?

Daria: This is top secret.

Jane: You mean he actually confessed something? Okay, I swear. What?

Daria: Heís a commie. A Marxist.

Jane: (long pause) Melody? Can I speak to Daria, please?

Daria: No. ....Jane, help me! ....Shut up. ....Let me go! ....Not till I kill the commie.

Jane: (top of her voice) TRENT!!!

Daria: You blinked. (sits up)

Jane: No, you did. What did he say, really?

Daria: No, you. Heís a Marxist, really. Thatís why he freaked and closed the coffeehouse when I read the Melody Powers story.

Jane: You. So, where does that leave you?

Daria: I donít care if heís a Marxist. My dad was a Marxist in college. From what I hear, most colleges are full of Marxist professors, so I guess we should have at least one in high school to build up our resistance. Who better than Timothy?

Jane: I mean the retraction/apology/coffeehouse thing.

Daria: I dropped the demand for a retraction. It was just a bargaining chip anyway. No way the Sun-Herald would have done it. I guess heíll put something resembling an apology in the school paper and Iíll write something to read at the coffeehouse. Something thatíll draw a crowd.

Jane: Melody Powers?

Daria: (shrugs) I canít think of anything else I could write that would pack the house, but I guess Iíll leave it up to him, and see if he can deal with reality. Oh, that reminds me. (grabs her backpack from floor, rummages inside) Gotta get all my Revenge stuff back out of my Justice file. Hope it didnít get all jumbled together.

 

 

Scene 10 Ext. Lawndale High, morning. We see students approaching, talking in groups, entering the building. Cut to: Int. Lawndale High, hallway. Daria is at her locker, loading books into her backpack. Mr. OíNeill approaches.

OíNeill: Daria, would you read this, please? If you approve, Iíll have it printed in todayís paper.

Daria: (reads) This is nice, Mr. OíNeill. Yes, I accept. (hands paper back)

OíNeill: Uh, thereís an ad in the paper for Cafe Lawndale. Iíd like to insert a note that youíll be reading something there tonight. Something upbeat? Perhaps a poem?

Daria: You know I donít do greeting cards. But I did recently finish a poem about growing up and going out into the world. Itís about ten verses long, and takes five or six minutes to read.

OíNeill: That sounds perfect! Thank you, Daria, Iím sure it will be a big hit! (hurries off)

Daria: Marxist Optimist. (closes her locker door, revealing Jane standing there with a sardonic smirk on her face. Daria replies with a tiny smile and a shrug. They walk off down the hall together.

 

 

Scene 11 Ext. Cafe Lawndale, twilight. Through the window we see that a little over half the chairs are filled, and that Daria is reading. Cut to: Int. Cafe Lawndale, head-and-shoulders shot of Daria as she reads the last verse.

 

 

Daria: Warmed no more by flame of youth,

In embers dim I read the truth.

Dying but not yet dead.

Brief childhood gone without a trace,

I turn my back on home and face

The bleakness that lies ahead.

 

Daria lowers the papers she holds, looks out at the audience. She is rewarded by polite applause from some, somewhat more enthusiastic from Andrea, loud clapping accompanied by copious tears from Mr. OíNeill. Daria sighs and walks offstage.

 

 

Scene 12 Ext. Lawndale High. Cut to: Int. Mr. OíNeillís class.

 

Kevin: You mean, it wasnít an assignment, and she wrote it anyway? And nobodyís gonna buy it for, like, money? Then why?

OíNeill: Daria was inspired, Kevin. An idea came to her for a poem, and she worked, and wrote, and shaped it until her inspiration became a reality.

Kevin: But what does she get?

OíNeill: She gets the poem, Kevin, and the satisfaction of having created something beautiful for herself and others to enjoy.

Kevin: Uhhh... but it was like, all bummed out and stuff. Why write that?

OíNeill lowers his face into his hands, shaking his head weakly.

Daria: Inspiration is a funny thing, Kevin. Itís like having a squirrel in your pants. Youíve just got to let it out.

Kevin: o-o-o-O-O-O-o-o-oh! (bell rings)

OíNeill: Daria, could I see you for a moment? (Daria sighs and slumps down in her chair) I want to thank you again for reading "The Bleakness That Lies Ahead" last night. It really was beautiful, in a, uhh, bleak way.

Daria: But not the big hit you were hoping for. I think they were expecting something more like "Where The Future Takes Us".

OíNeill: (winces) Well, uh, perhaps if you tried a different type of piece. Do you have any love stories? (Daria looks surprised) You do! Would you read one of them?

Daria: Thereís only one, and I donít...

OíNeill: Love is the universal language, Daria. Iím sure theyíll like it. Uh, it is a real love story, isnít it?

Daria: (trapped look in her eyes) Yes, but I really donít...

OíNeill: Please, Daria.

Daria: (resigned) All right.

 

 

Scene 13 Ext. Cafe Lawndale. Through the window we see that there are seven patrons. Daria is reading. Cut to: Int. Cafe Lawndale

 

"Oh, it was just a teenage crush. I got over it long ago. Itís pretty clear that we just werenít meant to be. Think nothing of it. Your new life is waiting."

"I guess youíre right, Marie.", he said.  "You were always so perceptive about those things. Well, weíll always be friends, even if we donít see each other. Iíll write to you. Be happy. Have a good life."

"Yeah, you too. Iíll write back." Then, under her breath, "But without you, I have no life." As she watched Trevor walk away, Marie was also watching all the colors drain out of her world. She turned and started down the hill into the gathering darkness. "No life. No hope. No future."

Without looking up, Daria turns and disappears backstage. A smattering of applause follows her.

 

 

Scene 14 Backstage at Cafe Lawndale. Daria sits on a plastic bucket facing a blank brick wall, the sheaf of papers still in her hand. Her eyes are red. Mr. OíNeill enters.

 

OíNeill: Daria! Youíre still here? Everyoneís gone. (Daria slowly stands, but does not turn) That really was a beautiful story. Itís a shame there were so few to hear it.

Daria: Thank God there werenít any more. I canít believe I let you talk me into reading this! (walks out across stage, hops down onto floor.)

OíNeill: (following) Oh, my! Iím sorry if I pressured you, Daria. Let me buy you an espresso, and we can talk a little.

Daria: (stops, turns) Maybe a latteí.

OíNeill: (a few minutes later, at a table.) I just know if I can stimulate their intellectual curiosity, spark their creativity, Cafe Lawndale will take off and become a positive influence in the community. I just need to strike that spark!

Daria: Donít look at me that way.

OíNeill: What?

Daria: Never mind. You think the coffeehouse will work because you see people as more intellectual and more creative than they really are. Just like you believe communism will work because you think people are basically good at heart. Youíre wrong on both counts, and everything you do based on those wrong assumptions is doomed to failure.

OíNeill: Oh, my. No wonder all your work is so sad and depressing. You need to throw off that gloomy outlook and see all the joy and beauty in the world.

Daria: I can see it. But I can see all the other stuff too, the stuff you block out. You didnít do well in history, did you?

OíNeill: How did you know that?

Daria: Because if history teaches us anything, itís that man is not basically good at heart. (looks at watch) Itís late. I should go.

OíNeill: I hate to ask, but...

Daria: Nothing else I have ready to go will be any better received than the last two pieces I read.

OíNeill: It truly pains me to think that all your writing is so dark and despairing. It pains me even more to think you really see life that way.

Daria: I donít. Itís- (glares at OíNeill) Hey! If youíre thinking of referring me to Ms. Manson, forget it! Iíll put you and her both in the loony bin! And I can do it!

OíNeill: (recoiling) Eep!

Daria: (easing off) My writing is a way to deal with unpleasant realities and offload bad feelings. Thatís why itís so dark. But I see a bright future ahead of me, starting as soon as I get out of this intellectual wasteland and into a good college.

OíNeill: But donít you ever write anything for pleasure? For fun? (a faraway look comes to Dariaís eyes and she smiles a small sweet smile.) Yes! What are you thinking of right now?

Daria: (still smiling) Melody.

OíNeill (lowers face into hands) Oh, Karl!

 

 

Scene 15 Ext. Lane house. Cut to: Int. Janeís bedroom. Jane is painting at her easel, and Daria lies on Janeís bed, her head hanging off the foot end, her auburn hair cascading to the floor. Her arms lie straight out from her shoulders along the foot of the mattress. Her feet point toward the upper corners of the bed. We now see that Jane is painting Daria.

 

Daria: Explain to me again why Iím obligated to do this?

Jane: Because you gratuitously adopted such an irresistible pose last time, and now I have to finish the painting you compelled me to start. So OíNeill actually asked you to write another Melody Powers story?

Daria: Yeah. I guess he does have some grasp of reality after all. Can I at least put my legs together?

Jane: Want to go more for the crucified look, eh? Next time. So, are you on it?

Daria: Mnrrrh! I told him I canít force Melody. I said if the inspiration came, Iíd write one. You know, I donít really feel as despondent today as last time. Maybe we should wait till my next fit to finish this.

Jane: Not a problem. We artists can add in all the dark, twisted emotions later.

Daria: How do you do that?

Jane: Itís top secret.

Daria: What? All right, I swear. How?

Jane: Brushstrokes of orange, purple, and green in inappropriate places, especially on and around the face and head. Your hair is perfect for it in that pose.

Daria: Thatís easy. How is that top secret?

Jane: Itís the easy stuff thatís most important to keep secret. There are too damn many artists already. Thatís why weíre starving.

Daria: Oh. That actually makes sense. I gotta take a break before my neck does.

Jane: Gimme twenty seconds. It does? Iíll try to be more whimsical. I think Iíll title this "Descent into Madness".

Daria: Or "Reclining Right-Wing Radical".

Jane: (looks at painting, at Daria, back at painting.) Damn! "Descent into Madness" is such a cool title, I gotta find something to use it on!

Daria: (sitting up) Shouldnít be a problem. You descend into madness at least once or twice a month. Take a sketchbook next trip.

Jane: I suppose. Hey, was that a PMS joke?

Daria: Of course not. How could you even think such a thing?

Jane: Um.

 

 

 

Scene 16 Ext. Pizza King. Jane and Daria are entering. Cut to: Int. Pizza King. Jane and Daria head for a booth carrying a slice and a coke each. Kevin walks by, telling Jeffy something about Ratboy. Gesturing energetically, his hand grazes Dariaís cup, splashing about a third of the drink in her face.

 

Kevin: Gee, Daria, you should be more careful! (walks away, still talking about Ratboy. Daria stands there, wide-eyed, open mouthed, too stunned to speak, cola dripping off her face onto her jacket.

Jane: (puts her drink and pizza on the table, reaches back, takes Dariaís, puts them down, hands Daria some napkins.) Címon, Daria, sit down and wipe that off. Iíll kill Kevin and be right back.

Daria: (grabs Janeís arm) We both sit down. Iím perfectly capable of killing Kevin all by myself. All I have to do is explain to him in one-syllable words why he isn't alive anymore.

Jane: (swiping beaded droplets of cola off Dariaís jacket) You sprayed this with that spill repellent, didn't you? That moron!

Daria: (catching a few drops trying to run down her collar) I find it hard to believe even Kevin could be that oblivious!

Jane: (blotting Dariaís hair) It wasnít entirely his fault. Ratboy distracted him. Say, have you been struck by inspiration for the Melody Powers story yet?

Daria: (stops wiping her cheek. Her eyes widen slightly.) Whack. Ouch. (A tiny cherubic smile forms on her sensuous lips, transmogrifying into an evil grin)

Jane: Oh, no, itís The Look! Daria, you shouldnít really kill Kevin. Heís the QB. People will get mad at you if we lose the big game.

Daria: Oh, Iím not going to kill Kevin. Heís not getting off that easily. Iím going to kill... Ratboy! (Sits down in the booth, whips out her notebook, and begins writing furiously.)

Jane: (puzzled look) Um, Daria, Ratboy is a fictional character.

Daria: Exactly. And so is Melody Powers. Can you say crossover fic?

Jane: O-o-o-O-O-oh! Itís times like this I just love hanging around you, feeling my mind warp and crackle under the lethal radiation of your evil genius!

Daria: (still writing furiously) Aw, shucks.

 

 

Scene 19 Ext. Cafe Lawndale, evening. Through the front window we see that all the chairs and stools are filled, and several people are standing or leaning against the walls. Daria begins to read. Cut to: Int. Cafe Lawndale, medium shot of Daria over heads of crowd.

 

As she pretended to peruse the menu while surreptitiously scanning for anything out of the ordinary, Melody powers reflected that her growing reputation had its downside. Following the demise of Hunsacker last month, scuttlebutt had it she was tied with Dannekill and Virosa for the unofficial title of Deadliest Special Op. It was an honor few Ops actually sought, given that the life expectancy of its holder was a little less than six months at last calculation. Hunsacker had raised the average considerably by lasting almost a year. Melody would miss Hunsacker, and she suspected she would also envy him his manner of death. Blown to a pink mist as he brought his trashcan off the street, heíd never felt a thing, and had probably not had a clue it was coming. Few Special Ops went that quickly or painlessly. The more-or-less innocent bystanders within a half block radius of Hunsackerís trashcan that morning hadnít gone that quickly either.

The Jade Dragon was one of the finest Chinese restaurants on the West Coast, and one of the main hubs of PRC espionage as well. Melody had dined here three times before, and the food had been excellent. Her enjoyment had been heightened by the palpable increase in tension her presence had induced in the waiters. This time she planned to order a Manchurian dish of beef, loquats, and lychees, but if she were actually allowed to eat it, her mission would be a failure.

Missions like this were one of the main reasons there was such a high turnover in the Deadliest Special Op category. Agency slang referred to these missions as "Shake the Tree", but "Walk into the Jaws of Death" would more accurately describe the assignment Melody had drawn tonight. Unconfirmed reports had been received that Chinese nuclear devices were being smuggled into the U.S. Other Agents in the area were even now acting in such a way as to give vague indications of an imminent major assault on the Jade Dragon and its subsidiary assets. If Loong Wang, the Chicom Head of Operations at the Jade Dragon, decided to use deadly force, that would tell the Agency that he was protecting an operation of immense importance. As the only Agency Special Op actually inside the Jade Dragon, Melody would be the first to know, and probably the first to die.

Melody watched the friendly looking young waiters, waitresses, and busboys going efficiently about their business. There were a lot of them tonight. Several waited in the vestibule area, apparently to escort patrons to their tables. Three stood by the door leading to the restrooms. None of them were looking at her. Wait. One was. Dressed exactly like all the others in black slacks, white short sleeved shirt and black bow tie, he was slightly older, more muscular, and had three scars on his face. As he approached her table, Melody noted that the menu he carried was thicker than normal. He attempted a courteous smile and failed miserably. Melody knew. Her thumbnail pushed the hidden button on her large engagement ring. The tiny radio transmitter burned itself out as it produced one amazingly powerful signal burst. Now the Agency knew. Melody winced and stuck her ring finger in her ice water, but just then her exquisitely sensitive hearing picked up a sound that chilled her blood much more effectively. It was the click of the safety of some firearm larger than a pistol, and it came from just above the ceiling directly over her head.

Melody leaped from her chair just as a shotgun blast from the ceiling blew the seat out of it. Two other blasts in quick succession blew holes in the floor on either side of her. The holes formed three corners of a square, as did the three small neat holes in the ceiling directly above them, from which curled wisps of blue smoke. A picture formed in Melodyís mind of shotgun barrels mounted to fire vertically downward, controlled remotely or by sensors, aimed where seated customers would be and at the aisles between tables. In her mind picture, no shotguns were aimed at the tables themselves. Melody sprang to the next table, then headed for the kitchen, leaping from tabletop to tabletop. Shotguns blazed away from the ceiling around her, taking out some diners whose mind pictures werenít as good as hers. Melody was actually glad, because it kept the waiters at bay, especially scarface. Then she realized they were keeping a greater distance than necessary, and that there were no Chinese at all between her and the kitchen door. They were herding her.

A quick analysis produced no options. Melody leaped to the last table, then to and through the kitchen door. The kitchen personnel she could see were all holding cleavers and other cutlery, but they were cowering in corners and behind anything that offered shelter. Wishing theyíd left a few knives for her, she ran through the kitchen and out into the alley. Knowing the alley dead ended to the left, she turned right and sprinted for the street. Too late. Fifty feet short, she saw the alley mouth fill up with waiters and waitresses. The men stepped out in front, taking up kung fu stances. Seeing no better option, Melody charged ahead. There was a small chance she could break through and continue to evade until Agency forces arrived. Then, in response to a shouted order, the waitresses reached beneath their skirts and drew small automatic pistols. They stepped between the waiters and took aim at Melody.

Melody skidded to a halt, glanced quickly behind her. The alley was depressingly clean and bare, the walls on either side windowless and doorless, and it was a dead end. She really hated that term. And no one had followed her out the kitchen door, although she could see them just inside. That meant they definitely intended to gun her down. Working at lightning speed, Melodyís mind yielded: (A) Re-enter kitchen- impossible and useless. (B) A broken-field run down the alley- delay the inevitable for five to fifteen seconds. (C) Charge the guns. No chance of survival, but a chance to take a few more commies down with her. (D) surrender- yeah, right. (C) it is, she decided, resuming her final sprint. The first volley whistled past her, all misses. Her black outfit made her small slim form a tough target in this dim alley. She pulled her comb from her back pocket, pulled off the handle to reveal the black polycarbonate blade it concealed. It was the best weapon she could get past the excellent detectors at the restaurant entrance. Better than nothing, but not nearly good enough. All her colleagues who had her name in the office pool would be buying the drinks tonight.

Melody faked left, jinked right as the second, more ragged volley of shots rang out. A bullet tore at her hair, another at the midriff of her blouse. She felt a sting on her right forearm. Hunsacker, you lucky stiff, she thought, see you in a bit. Pouring on every ounce of speed she could muster, she charged straight at the weakest looking waitress. The bullets whizzed by in a steady fusillade now, and one caught her in the left upper arm. "Thatíll leave a scar", she thought, then, "Oh, guess not." More bullets tore at her hair and clothing, and a couple clanged off the manhole cover that had just opened directly in front of her. Manhole cover? No-brainer. Without thinking, Melody leapt feet first into the circle of pitch blackness.

As she fell into the unknown dark, Melody put out her hands and feet before her. Her hands hit rough vertical concrete, her shins collided painfully with a horizontal bar, her soles landed on another horizontal bar below it. Her face impacted something firm, but not nearly as hard as concrete or steel. It felt like... a butt.

Melodyís hands scrabbled, grasped the vertical bars of the ladder. She descended until the sound of trickling water told her how far down the floor was, then dropped. A loud clank from above told her that the person with firm buns had closed the manhole cover. Good. Further metallic sounds made her think said person was attempting to latch it. Lockable manhole covers were rare, but this would be an excellent time and place for one. Melody groped beneath the ladder, found the plastic handle of her comb. Not the piece she was hoping for. She heard firm buns descending the ladder. She quickly groped to the right and forward, where she remembered hearing the other piece of her comb hit. Soggy scrap of cloth, piece of wood, gob of something, dead rat, ahh! There it was. Comb dagger in hand, she stood, turned to face the sounds of firm buns.

"We should go. They probably have a key somewhere. Give me your hand."

"Who are you and why should I hold hands with you in a sewer?"

"A friend. Because you canít see in the dark."

"I have no friends. Friends die on you. You canít see either."

"I donít need to. Hey, that was a lot of shooting up there. Are you hurt?"

"A scratch. And I donít need to either. Look, thanks for opening the manhole cover, but Iím kind of busy." Melody tapped the two pieces of her comb dagger together a few times, listened carefully to the echoes. Firm buns was seven feet away, larger than average, maybe six feet. The sewer was about eight feet in diameter, but not completely round. It had walkways on either side of a central channel. A common feature in the Paris sewers, but it was very unusual here. It took a zigzag at this point for no apparent reason, which caused it to run under the Jade Dragon. Might be of interest, for later. Now she needed to report in and get some first aid. Her left arm was throbbing. It was still useable, so it was probably just a graze, but she didnít know how badly it was bleeding, and she didnít want to touch it with the hand that had just groped a dead rat and who knew what else. She tapped a few more times, then once, loudly. The sewer continued straight west for over half a block, probably for several blocks. If she went two blocks west, then surfaced and headed north, she should hit an agency command post within a block, if they hadnít redeployed. She started walking.

"Donít go that way. They can get you. From the Dragon. Right up here a little ways is a place where I can make a light and check your scratch."

Melody considered. He didnít seem hostile. And she would be dead now if he hadnít opened the manhole. And he was only one man. And she was Melody Powers. "Okay. Letís go."

A faint whoosh but no footsteps told Melody her erstwhile friend had moved an arm. She tapped twice. She couldn't be sure, but he was probably holding out a hand toward her. "I donít need to be led by the hand. Do you?"

"Hey, you are good. I never met a girl who could do that before. Ick, ick, ick. Ick, ick. Eek, eek, ick, ick." He turned and began walking east along the right side of the sewer.

Momentarily surprised, Melody realized this was the noise this strange young man used for echolocation. As she listened to the echoes, it seemed to work as well as the comb tapping sheíd been using. But he sounded like a rat. "Whatís that up ahead on the left?"

"Dead Chinese guy. He jumped me."

So heíd taken out one of the Chinese security ops. Or said he had. Melodyís respect for firm buns went up a notch, provisionally. "Hang out here much?"

"Just recently. Last week or so."

"See anything unusual?"

"Well, yesterday the restaurant got in eleven identical ice makers. Looked to me like the compressors were so big there was no room for ice to go. But the really strange thing was that even when they were just sitting on the back dock, not plugged in, all the lights and numbers on those compressors were blinking away like crazy. Here we are. Right, then right again.

A cold knot formed in Melodyís stomach as she realized what those ice makers probably were, but she said nothing. She followed firm buns into a side passage that opened into a small room. The scratch of a lighter was followed by what seemed a bright light to her dark-adapted eyes. The flame was applied to a twist of paper napkin hanging over the edge of a tuna can filled with brown oil. Melodyís attention quickly passed over the fingerless-gloved hand, up the muscular arm, past the padded or armored shoulder, to... "Whatís that on your head?" Whatever it was was made of chintzy looking brown fake fur.

"My mask. Gotta protect my secret identity." The mask had a couple of furry disks stuck on top, and a long fake nose with whiskers, beaverish teeth, and a black smooth tip.

Wuh-oh. "And... whatís your non-secret identity?"

"Ratboy at your service, Maíam!"

 

Kevin: All RI-IGHT!! (stands up, pumps fist in air. Daria glances briefly at Kevin, smiles a tiny smile, resumes reading.)

 

"Nameís Melody. Call me Maíam again and.. never mind." She moved her upper left arm closer to the lamp, which smelled of stale peanut oil and spring rolls. The oil had obviously come from the Jade Dragonís deep fat fryers. She pulled the sleeve back, peeked through the bullet hole. Ratboy, seeing the problem, tore the hole wider. A graze, as sheíd thought. The bullet had carried away some skin and subcutaneous fat, but left the muscles almost untouched. But it was bleeding, more than sheíd guessed. A light-headed feeling told her she was about a quart low. She needed to stop it before she got any weaker. "Got a bandage?"

"Yes, Ma- sure. Right here in my Ratbag." He rummaged in a bag that hung on his right hip by a strap over his left shoulder, handed her two packaged moist napkins, bearing the logo of a chain of chicken restaurants. Slipping the comb in her back pocket, Melody used the first to clean her hands, especially the fingers of the right. She opened the second napkin. "Wait till I get the bandage open- okay, go ahead."

Melody looked at the three-inch-square flat plastic box he had just opened. Inside was a light gray pad. "Thatís too thin. IĎll bleed right through."

"No. Blood clots on contact with this. Go."

Shrugging mentally, Melody used the second moist napkin to clean the wound and surrounding area. It burned like fire, but she gave no sign of noticing. She turned her arm toward Ratboy, who applied the box with a rolling motion. The pad adhered when the box was removed, conforming to the muscle contours of her arm. A red spot appeared in the center, began to spread, but stopped at less than two inches across. "Pretty neat. What makes it do that?"

"Itís cobwebs, about a hundred layers. Ancient folk medicine. These are spun by a real clean species of spider in a clean, dust free cave. I use them all the time."

Melody repressed her initial reaction. It had stopped the bleeding. If necessary, the Agency had plenty of antibiotics. "Thanks. Now I need to report in to the Agency. What you told me about those ice makers is very important." She headed back toward the main sewer. "And I need to stop my colleagues before they divvy up all my stuff."

Ratboy picked up the napkins and wrappers. "No reason to tell the commies you got first aid. Nearest probably-safe phone is three blocks away, but thereís a donut shop half that distance that usually has a cop car out front." He pinched out the lamp wick, leaving them in total darkness once more. "Ick ick ick. Eek eek."

"Letís go for the cop car. Time is lives."

At the junction, they stopped to listen. From the way they had come they heard the faint sound of a power saw. "Guess they didnít have a key after all", chuckled Ratboy. "Follow me."

"All clear. Cops are there." It was a few minutes later as Melody followed Ratboy out another manhole and onto a street. The bright interior lights of a fast donut shop drew her eyes to the police cruiser silhouetted in front of its window. Melody walked quickly to the driverís side. "I need to use your radio." she said.

The cop turned to look at her, saw the blood soaked left sleeve. "Iíll call an ambulance. Youíd better sit down, Miss. Rick, first aid kit."

Melody said, "Nine brown eggs" slowly and distinctly. Both mensí eyes widened. "At your service.", the driver replied. Melody said, "Code red. Shotgun. Chinese waiters." Both policemen exited the vehicle, Rick with the riot shotgun, the driver drawing his service pistol, and began scanning their surroundings.

Melody slid into the driverís seat, punched a frequency into the radio. She rattled off a short string of letters and numerals, waited. A similar string answered her. She spoke a long string of letters and numerals. A slightly longer wait ensued, then the answer came. Melody acknowledged, restored the police frequency, got out, looked around. Ratboy was gone. "Take me to Palo Verde at 47th."

 

A few minutes later, Melody waved to the cops as the cruiser pulled away, then climbed into the back of the black Agency SUV. After reporting the eleven "ice makers", she slumped back into the seat, her exertions and blood loss catching up with her. The eager young Agent who shared the seat with her looked like he wanted to cut her blouse off and perform emergency field surgery. Melody held up a restraining hand. "Got anything to drink?" she asked. Offered a cooler full of cans and bottles, she selected a vegetable juice blend, twisted off the cap, drank deeply. "Howíd you ever get out of there alive?" asked the young Agent as he began cutting away her left sleeve. Melody allowed it. The blouse was shot, literally, and the bloodsoaked sleeve would mess up the upholstery.

"Leave that bandage. I ran the gauntlet of hidden ceiling shotguns, evaded the waiters, ran through the kitchen into the alley, where they trapped me. I was just getting killed when a nice boy opened a manhole for me, and we took a walk through the sewer."

"You pick up guys in strange places, Powers. Listen to this." The Agent in the front passenger seat flipped a switch on the communications console. Over the speakers came shouts and cheers of celebration. A shout of "We love you, Melody!" came through over the din.

"Hey, Hotchkiss! Put my coffee mug back!" Melody shouted. A round of hoots and laughter told Melody sheíd guessed right. "And tell Needles to warm up a pint of my usual." All Special Operatives were required to maintain eight pints of fresh blood in the blood banks. Melody tried to keep twice that much, but lately sheíd been using it as fast as she could replace it.

As she took another pull at her bottle of juice, the sharp-eyed young Agent noticed something. "Hey, youíre hit in the right arm, too! Why didnít you say anything?"

"Slipped my mind." Melody looked at her right forearm. There was a long rip in the sleeve and a little blood. "Itís trivial. Iím surprised it bled at all."

"Come on, let me take care of it." Melody didnít want to, but there were regulations. She sure as hell didnít want to void her medical insurance. The only way he could conveniently get to her right forearm from the left side of the seat was... She sighed, put her drink in a cup holder, and lay down on the seat with her head in his lap. She laid her right arm across her chest, hand on her left shoulder. He got busy with the scissors.

"You take those scissors on dates, donít you?" she teased. He grinned and blushed but said nothing. The driver chuckled. Melody drifted off to sleep with the young Agent swabbing the nick on her forearm.

(Daria pauses, takes a drink from a glass of ice water sitting on a nearby stool. She takes a deep breath, another sip of water, then returns to the microphone.)

 

Melody parked her black Viper near one of the large warehouseís many doors and got out. She stretched in the morning sun, excusing her left arm from the exercise. She wore a charcoal gray watered silk blouse with semi-ballooned sleeves, jeans-cut black stretch pants, and black boots that resembled both hiking boots and running shoes, but were nevertheless oddly elegant. Except for the boots, and two pistols and phone at her belt, her outfit was nearly identical to the one sheíd worn last night.

This was the second warehouse on her list. Ordinarily even a minor bullet wound would earn her a couple of days off, but the Agency was tasking all its resources to locate those eleven "ice makers" before they were split up, carried off, hidden individually, and armed.

She slid around the edge of the doorframe and into a patch of shadow inside, where she stood and listened and waited for her eyes to adapt to the lower light. She heard a shout from the far side of the warehouse, then other shouts. As her hearing adapted to the warehouseís acoustics, she realized the shouts were in Chinese.

Melody pulled her Agency phone, keyed a speed-dial number. When it was answered, she said, "Powers two. Chinese activity." Leaving the connection open, she clipped the phone to her collar and moved in. Coming to the edge of a mostly empty central area, she saw about thirty Chinese on the far side. Some, holding submachine guns, were acting as guards. Others were completing the loading of a truck. A group of about ten came into view, half-fighting, half-driving... Ratboy. Another Chinese joined this group from the main group, waited until Ratboyís back was turned to him, then felled him with a spinning back kick to the head. The dirty... a closer look revealed this unsportsmanlike Chinese to be Melodyís scarfaced waiter from the Jade Dragon last night. The truck pulled away from the loading dock.

Melody spoke into her phone. "Powers two. Truck just pulling out onto Fourteenth Street, contents unknown, cannot intercept. Thirty Chinese remain, some with smgís. Ratboy down. He may have information. Request backup. Am engaging."

Taking cover behind the nearest I-beam roof pillar, Melody drew her pistol, held it in a two-handed grip, and opened fire, starting with the guards equipped with submachine guns. They immediately returned her fire, as did the others, drawing small pistols. One by one the guards went down, fountains of blood gushing from their foreheads. Next it was scarfaceís turn. Right between the eyes. The I-beam rang like a bell in a hailstorm, but it was more than thick enough to stop small arms fire. Melody wished it were a couple of inches wider.

In response to some command she did not hear, the remaining Chinese now began running directly toward her position. Working methodically but not slowly, Melody aimed, fired, aimed, fired. Bullets howled past her ear. Ten, then fifteen bodies hit the warehouse floor, and still they charged on. "Itís different when I have a gun too!" she shouted, still firing. Twenty, and still they came. "Just like I did last night." she thought. The clanging I-beam reminded her of the difference. Twenty-one, twenty-two... The remaining nine Chinese halted and began to drop their pistols. Melody couldnít stop her squeeze in time, and number twenty-three fell, a brain shot like all the others.

"CEASE FIRE!" Kruppís voice. Backup had arrived. "Leave a few for the interrogators!" Melody pointed her muzzle at the roof, took the opportunity to insert a fresh magazine. "Hellís bells, Powers, are you still shooting .22 rimfire?" Krupp said as he came up from behind. Other Agents moved past them to secure the prisoners and the area.

"Got my 9mm right here, Chief." Melody drew another pistol, quite small for its caliber, showed it to Krupp. "But look there. 23 enemy dead. And look here. 23 empty shells. I couldnít have done that with any other pistol. And I still have two rounds left in my first mag. With this other thing, Iíd have had to reload three times; four, counting misses. Theyíd have overrun me. Iíd be... dead. She gave Krupp her saddest puppydog eyes

Krupp grinned. "Youíre wasting it on me, Melody. Iím not one to argue with success. Itís just that Iíve been tasked to bitch about non-standard sidearms every so often."

Just then Ratboy came by on a stretcher. Melody raised a hand to stop the two Agents. "Ratboy, can you hear me?" He tried to nod, winced in pain. Melody started to bend over him, winced herself, stopped. "How many trucks did the ice makers leave in?" Ratboy held up one finger, then pointed to his left forearm, on which a series of numerals and letters was written in ballpoint pen. "The truckís license number?" He tried to nod again, winced again. "Thanks, Ratboy, you did really good! Go with these men, theyíll get you fixed up." Melody turned to Krupp, who was already writing in his notebook. He showed the number to her, and she nodded confirmation.

 "Great! Theyíre still all together. Come with me to the comm car. Iíll get the search refocussed, and Custer can get you fixed up."

"Like how?"

"Come now, Melody, donít tell me youíve been shot so many times you no longer notice?"

Melody looked blank for a second, then reached around, found her butt with only one hand, winced again. She brought the hand up, saw the small smear of blood. "Damn skinny roof pillars. I guess I was a bit preoccupied fighting off that human wave attack." They started walking toward the command car, parked just inside one of the warehouseís entrances. It was a black SUV, like the one that had picked her up last night. "I donít think Iíve met Custer. Is he or she new?"

A young blond male head appeared over the SUVís roofline. "Agent Powers. A pleasure to see you again. Hope you havenít been shot lately." It was scissors boy.

"Custer, is it? Just once so far today, thanks. Do you have a black Band-Aid?"

"Well, Iíll leave you two kids alone.", chuckled Krupp as he got into the front seat and reached for the comm console.

"Oh, Iím so sorry.", Custer said happily, "But Iím sure we can get you patched up. Where were you hit? Do you want to get in the car?

What Melody wanted were a female medic, a little privacy, a change of pants and panties, and a week of sick leave to heal. But there were eleven Chinese nukes in town, still in Chinese hands. She considered her unpleasant options. "Iíd better stand for this, Custer. Left glute. Cool it with the scissors." Melody turned to face the side of the SUV, unloaded her belt. The two pistols and the phone were laid on the SUVís roof. Some unbuckling and unfastening, then she exposed the wound and as little else as she could manage.

"Wow, is that the legendary Powers Special? Custer knelt, began swabbing the graze on Melodyís firm, shapely buttock with something that didnít sting much.

"What?! Oh, the pistol? Yeah. Itís just a .22 Ruger with six-inch barrel and custom small grip modified to take a double column magazine. Oh, and selective fire, though I seldom use it."

Custer swabbed again, presumably with something else. "Iíve heard so much about that pistol and what youíve done with it that it seems almost magical, like Excalibur or something. Whatís really special about it?" He began applying the bandage with gentle fingers.

"It fits my hand, it points naturally for me, it has a long sight radius, it groups well, and it takes 25-round magazines. Thatís about all you can ask from a pistol. After that, it depends on practice. You done?"

"Move the leg some and see if Iíve left enough slack."

Melody pulled her pants back up, moved her leg. "Feels okay. Thanks, Custer." She refastened the pants with her shirttail out, began replacing her guns and phone.

"My pleasure. I mean... "

Melody smirked. "I know what you mean, you lecher. Taking advantage of a poor injured girl that way."

Custer blushed furiously. Before Melody could think of a follow-up, Krupp opened the front door, turned to talk to them. "The truck has been spotted headed for the stadium. Itíll probably get there before we can intercept."

"Thatís still good, right? Now that we know where it is, we send in all our forces, swarm them from all sides."

"Stadium management says the stadium is booked today by some Chinese group. They said they were practicing for some festival."

"Not so good. How many?" asked Melody.

"Stadium management doesnít know. Iím waiting for a report from... " At a burst of static, Krupp turned back to the radios. "Go ahead. How many? Damn! All right, maintain surveillance." Turning back to Melody and Custer, he said, "That was Air one, over the stadium. He sees at least two thousand. Weíve only got a couple hundred Agents in the area. Get me some phone books while I report to HQ."

Melody said, "Iíll go for the phone books. I have to get my extra ammo out of my car. You take care of the next thing he needs." As she trudged off, she muttered, "This is gonna be a very long day."

 

 

 

 Same scene, 15 minutes later. Daria finishes her orange juice, returns to stage, steps to microphone.

 

Daria: This concludes our brief intermission. Thank you for your patience. The management wishes me to request that, at the conclusion of this reading, you please refrain from any noisy rallies, demonstrations, or other disturbances, and to remind you that there are no Chinese Embassies, Consulates, Trade or Cultural Missions in Lawndale, and that none of the Chinese restaurants in Lawndale are fronts for PRC espionage or sabotage. And now, back to "Blood Oath of Patriots."

 

Melody heard the roar of the .44 magnum, followed instantly by the smack of the hollowpoint striking flesh. But it wasnít her flesh. She opened her eyes just as the head and shoulders of Ratboy slumped into her lap. Somehow, the Righteous Rodent had risen one last time. She saw the gaping hole in the center of Ratboyís chest, and the deep crimson fluid that gushed from it. "Ratboy, you stopped a bullet for me!", she said softly. "I mean, another bullet." Ratboy smiled weakly.

How noble.", sneered Loong Wang, as he pulled back the hammer of the massive revolver. "But I aflaid you must stop next one youself, Melody!" He pulled the trigger. A loud click marked the hammerís fall onto a spent primer.

"Here, let me help you with that.", cooed Melody as she struggled to rise. But the heavy body of Ratboy pinned her good leg. A stab of pain from her other leg told her it contained too much lead to do the job alone. "Ratboy, can you... " Just then Ratboy shuddered and his head rolled limply to the left, the rat nose of his mask gently caressing the spot where Melodyís navel had been until a year ago. "Oh, Ratboy, not now.", she sighed, as she began pushing his dead weight off her legs.

(A collective gasp goes up from the audience, notably from Kevin, fingers in his open mouth and eyes wide with shock.)

Realizing that Melody would soon regain her feet, and that she had only two more wounds than he did, Loong Wang began heading downstream, toward the distant glow of sunlight. "Wish could stay and kill you in single combat, Melody, but must catch plane.", he shouted over his shoulder. His fleeing feet splashed the blood high up the sides of the six-foot diameter storm sewer.

"Iíll find you, Loong Wang!" shouted Melody. "Thereís no hideout secret enough, no fortress strong enough to save you from Melody Powers! I swear it by the blood of these thousand patriots, by my own blood, and by the blood of Ratboy!"

Kevin: Awww-w-w-w, ha ha haaaah! Ohhhh, NO-O-O-ooo-ohh!! (runs out of the coffeehouse into the night, crying inconsolably)

Brittany: Kevvie, wait! Itís just a story! (runs out of the coffeehouse after Kevin)

Melody looked around her at the storm sewer junction room and the bodies of the Chinese commandos and Navy SEALs it now contained, as she freed her good leg from beneath Ratboyís body. Twelve steel ladder rungs set in the concrete wall led up to an open manhole, through which came sunlight and a trickle of blood. Above was the playing field of the stadium, piled with the bodies of 217 Agency men and women, 122 Agency academy students, now never to throw their hats in the air, 163 Rangers, and 498 members of the 101st Airborne, amidst the bodies of at least three times that number of Red Chinaís finest, and the eleven nuclear devices that were to have been hidden somewhere in the western United states. She could attempt to climb the ladder and pick her way through or over the four thousand corpses, or she could hobble or crawl about two blocks down the river of blood, the way Loong Wang had gone. Melody Powers winced as she stood up and limped to the ladder. Maybe there were some survivors up above.

 

Daria: To be continued. (lowers the sheaf of papers to her side and looks out at the audience. There is dead silence for not quite two seconds, followed by wild applause as the coffeehouseís patrons surge to their feet. The Mona Lisa smile appears on Dariaís lips. She slowly bows from the waist.)

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Well, this concludes my third Daria fanfic. If you made it this far, please take a few minutes to drop me an email and tell me what you think, or at least that you read it. Thatís all the pay we poor fanfic authors get, you know. Do you want to read the sequel? Want to find out if Ratboy is really dead, and why Melody let Loong Wang get away? Is Daria finished with Kevin? And what about the big game against the Oakwood Taproots? And is there, or was there, a real Melody Powers? The plot really gets kinky, or might, if I get sufficient encouragement to write it, in BLOOD OATH OF PATRIOTS EPISODE II, which might possibly be titled THE CITADEL OF LOU MANCHU.

 

notes

Mr. OíNeill a communist? I was halfway through typing that paragraph before I realized where Daria was going. But when you think about it, it seems obvious, even without having seen The Lawndale File.

Cobwebs to stop bleeding: This is legit folk medicine and it does work. Iíve used it, but not on a bullet wound yet.

 

 

 

Disclaimer

 "Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu; he does, however, claim copyright to all those parts of this work of fiction which are original to him and not to MTV or to other fanfic authors. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided its contents remain unchanged, provided the author's name and email address are included, and provided that the distributor does not use it for monetary profit. (as if.)

  Galen Hardesty [gehardesty@yahoo.com]