It occurred to Daria after her first cup of coffee that she really ought to take a shower. She still smelled like a well used trench, and although Jane and Trent didn’t seem to notice, that was probably because there were things in the house that had worse odors and they were used to unusual smells. Her family, on the other hand, might not be so benign. Daria could picture Quinn scrunching her nose and screaming “EEEEWWWWW!” before she even saw who was producing the stench. She also realized that her uniform was also probably in need of a good washing. She’d have to commandeer some clothes for the interim. She was about to go rouse Jane to ask her to borrow some clothes when Jane saved her a trip by stumbling into the kitchen, one eye closed and the other half-open.
“Morning. Uh, Jane? Could I borrow some clothes? I need to take a shower and wash these…”
“Oh. Here.” Daria poured Jane a mug and handed it to her.
“Right, so I’ll just go take those clothes…”
Daria took that answer as an affirmative and made her way upstairs. Jane’s room was even more of a mess than Daria remembered. There were paint tubes, brushes, palates, and various other art supplies lying on the floor, mixed in with food wrappers and lots of black clothing. The bed was unmade, and the walls were lined with dried and drying canvasses. The artwork, at a casual glanced, looked somewhat tortured. Some of the canvasses were ripped, and most made heavy use of dark colors and reds. She picked her way across the room to the closet. There were a number of identical outfits inside, and the vast majority of them were black.
Huh. I remember Jane always wearing red and grey. Did she throw out all her old clothes?
Daria rifled through the draws in the closet, searching for something appropriate. The best she could come up with was an oversized T-shirt and a pair of running shorts, so she changed into that, half padded-half clanked barefoot back to Penny’s room, gathered her uniform, moved her knife to her left forearm, and walked down to the basement, to find the washing machine gathering dust. Idly wondering what setting to set the machine on- automated servitors had always washed her uniform for her, first in the Schola Progenium, and later shipboard between deployments- she put her clothes inside and added some “color safe” detergent.
I wonder if this stuff gets out blood stains or powder burns?
She turned the machine to a mildly warm setting and started it, figuring that if it could handle repelling “Da Green Kroosade,” as the orks called it, it could take some warm water and soap for fifteen minutes. She went back upstairs.
Daria had always found the shower a good place for thinking. The rhythmic feeling of the warm water on her back helped her to sort through her thoughts, put words to nagging feelings, and get a sense of perspective on things. She thought about her family.
Emperor’s Throne, what did they think happened? I remember storming out, ignoring them- I’d had enough. Enough of their “Quinn is better” BS, enough of their preaching over the merits of dressing right and being social, just- enough. They probably hate me. I would, were it me. Well…I don’t know. What would I do if Jane had done that to me? God, what must she have had gone through? Me, just gone, completely? S***. That would explain all the black. Mourning colors. And she says two years. Smooth, Morgendorffer. Be happy she doesn’t hate you, too.
Daria played idly with her dog tags, and leaned up against the wall of the shower stall.
Well, what can I do now? I’m 22 by my time-my body’s time. I can’t go back to school, really. I already know more than I’ll ever need to pass that and get a G.E.D. But all I really know is fighting and strategy. Maybe some battlefield mechanics and medicine. Jobs in that arena are a little hard to come by around here. I’d join the army, but how the hell would I ever explain this leg? Or these knobs in my head? I guess I could write about it, pass myself off as a sci-fi writer. Could work. I’ll have to figure out some way to interface my dataslate with a computer around here. And here I thought that before I didn’t know anyone. Hah. I know some Inquisitors better than I know people here, and they usually try to shoot you if you talk too much. Thank the Emperor for Jane.
Daria felt the water start getting cold, and reckoned that enough was enough. She got out, toweled off and put her borrowed clothes back on, and put her knife back on her forearm. She found a comb and a rubber band in one of the drawers under the sink, straightened her hair, and tied it back in a ponytail. She usually kept her hair like that or in a French braid. It kept it out of her face in combat and helped it fit under her cap. She was about to open the door to leave someone banged on it hard. Daria jumped back and in a flash had her knife unsheathed and in her right hand.
“Hey! You okay in there? Did you fall in?” Jane yelled, apparently having consumed enough caffeine to be functional once more. Daria breathed a sigh of relief and put the knife back in its holder, and opened the door.
“Actually, yes. I went down into the sewers and had a radical time with Splinter, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. Then I came up and had just enough time to shower before you got here.” Daria’s old sarcasm was re-asserting itself. She hadn’t had much chance to use it in the past six years, because mouthing off to superiors carried a rather painful penalty, and it was bad for morale to let the troops know what you really thought of your orders. Also, the 39,000 year gap between the culture of her upbringing and theirs had rendered many of her comments useless to begin with.
That had made things interesting. When she had first… appeared? Landed? Arrived, say- she had found herself in the lower part of a hive world. An entire planet covered by urban sprawl, layered and honeycombed with buildings, streets, alleys, roads, and people. There were at least thirteen different languages spoken down there, not including High Gothic, the imperial standard. Some of them were English based; others on other languages- High Gothic itself seemed to be an unusual mix of English and Latin. She learned it quick enough, but those first few days were a race to stay alive and figure out what the hell was going on. She found a relatively quiet alley next to a thoroughfare and observed, grabbing food when she could. She’d noted the different gang colors, knew what time the police- the Adeptus Arbites- would sweep the streets looking for lawbreakers, what days the Guard and Navy “recruitment squads”- press gangs- would come looking for trouble, which religious orders were benign and which were belligerent, which techpriests one could barter with for ammo and which would rather shoot you themselves, and learned the local pecking order.
She was quickly schooled in the art of fighting- It wasn’t very long before some young ganger decided he or she didn’t like Daria’s looks, or sometimes, liked them all too well. She’d won her first fight by sheer luck- he tripped and dropped his knife, and Daria kicked him in the head while he was down until he was unconscious, then robbed him blind and ran. She didn’t feel remorseful until later that “night”- the lights in the cavernous city were dimmed for half of the day to simulate the day/night cycle one might have observed outside- but at the time it was simply surviving.
Many more fights came and went. When she finally decided that she wanted to get out of that hellhole and walked into the recruiting office for the local Schola Progenium, the Imperial officer’s academy, she was more than a match for any of her fellow students, even the ones who’d had influential parents and formal training. She graduated into the Commissar Corps about a year and a half later, by her own count, and never returned to that planet ever again. She’d been to others like it, but always in uniform and fully armed. No one who wasn’t already in open rebellion ever messed with her again. Commissars were feared for a reason.
Daria snapped out of her reverie. Only a few seconds must have passed, since Jane seemed not to have noticed.
“Touché, salesman. So- what’s the plan for today? Cruisin’ round town? Comeback tour? Painting the town red? Standing up straight and proclaiming, ‘I am’?”
“Well…” Daria hesitated. How much does she know about my family? How have they treated her? “…I was thinking of going over to my old house to see my family. I know I used to hate them, but I need to know what’s happened. I mean, I did storm out on them...”
“Wouldn’t know. They pretty much declared me persona non grata when I kept bugging them to keep looking for you when they though that you were really gone and wanted nothing to do with me. I think it was my breaking in and searching your room for evidence that put them over the edge.” Jane scowled. Not knowing what to say, Daria was mute. There was an awkward silence.
“Speaking of which, Daria, why did you storm off? And how’d you travel through time to begin with?”
Daria paused and looked at the ground. “I…”
Jane was growing impatient. “Well?”
“…was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that. I guess… well, look. There were a number of reasons. That had been a really bad week to start. Our museum trip was canceled, Dad lost another client, Quinn just maxed out Mom’s credit card on shoes for the third time, and half my Kafka collection was coated in Dad’s coffee when he came in to wake me up that morning. Then…”
“That’s it? You ran away because of some wet books! What the-”
Daria held up her hand and cut Jane off. “Wait! I’m not done. They… they’d spent my college fund. I found out when I came home early that Friday, you know, when Barch let the class out early? They’d left their bank statements lying on the kitchen table. I wouldn’t have normally cared but I saw my name on the paper and took a look. Y’know all those retreat they went on and all that “intimacy counseling” they used to go to? Came right out of my fund. They’d just closed it out. I know it sounds like nothing really serious, as if they weren’t able to make the money back again, but I’d just… I’d just had enough. I threw all my clothes and a bunch of books in a bag, with my notebooks and a floppy of my journal, and left. I threw the bank statement in their faces when they tried to stop me. They just- stood there.”
“I don’t know where I would have gone. Well, your house, yeah, but… I don’t know. I guess I figured I’d come back after a few days, make them feel bad for it, but… well, that never happened.” Daria paused, to let this sink in a bit. Then, trying to feign indifference, she changed the subject.
“As for the actual transport- I’m not sure. I was on my way to your house. I heard chanting voices, a loud roaring, then blueness. Then there was a flood of images- faces, sounds, smells- and then I woke in a deserted alley on an imperial hive-city world. From what I learned in the Schola Progenium- that’s the academy for officers- It was probably a Warp rift. The Warp is another dimension, kind of, that exists alongside of our own. We use it for transportation, like hyperspace, from Star Wars, but it’s unstable, and rifts happen every so often. It’s also really dangerous. I’m lucky to have survived a trip through one. Starships sometimes don’t even make it that far. Come to think of it, that’s probably why I experienced six years while you only two. There’s no time there- at least, not in the sense that we’re used to. Ships have been known to go into the Warp and come out years later, crews having aged only days, or return before they left, with the crew dead of old age. Not a fun place, but useful.”
Silence. Daria tried to break the tension.
“Jane, your eyes. They’re scaring me.”
“Well, I guess if you don’t want to come…”
Jane cut her off. She’d thought it over, and decided that even if Daria really was to blame, she could forgive her. It was just so great to have her back. “Please, Daria, you know I’m behind you. Besides, it’s my chance to rub it in their faces. I’m right, and they’re wrong.”
“Well, you know what they say about payback.” Daria was a little uncomfortable with this, but thought that if her parents had really forced Jane to go that far, maybe they deserved a little payback.
It was at this point that Daria realized how hungry she was. She looked at Jane and realized that they were both thinking almost the same thing. Jane spoke first.
“So, up for a little Burger Lord breakfast? I’d say Pizza King, but they aren’t open this early.”
“Sounds like a plan. Lemme just go get my clothes out of the wash and change. I think people might not appreciate my leg’s elegant utility, or the certain ascetic qualities a weapon or four bestow on an outfit.”
20 minutes later, they walked out of the Burger Lord, egg and cheese sandwiches in hand. It was still pretty early, and the rising sun glinted off the buttons on Daria’s coat. Despite her toning down of her clothing, her coat and her scar still drew stares from those few people who were actually awake at in the morning on a Sunday. In an attempt to be at least somewhat less conspicuous, Daria had sheathed her sword and wrapped it in a spare sheet they had found in one of Jane’s closets. She still wore her trench coat, because it made good concealment for the weapons she had insisted on carrying, but her grenades, extra ammo, canteen, officer’s cap, gloves, and dataslate were in a duffel bag that Jane had supplied. Her armor was concealed beneath her vest, her prosthetic foot safely hidden inside her boot along with her extra combat knife, and her medallion hung around her neck under the trench coat. This medal was in reality a small force-field generator, called a rosarius. It could stop bullets, energy weapons, and sometimes even physical blows. It wasn’t 100% reliable, but it had saved her life before, and she only ever took it off for showers and sleep. It had been a gift from an Imperial priest- she had saved him and his parish in a battle against a traitor guard regiment on Bellis Coronae after her own regimental commander was killed by an errant artillery shell. He gave her his rosarius as thanks.
As they walked, Jane filled her in on the happenings lately
“…Anyway, Ms. Li has gotten even worse, if that’s possible. There’s a mandatory self defense course and an under-eighteen youth curfew now, in response to the disappearances. Barch teaches the course. Good for the girls, very, very bad for the guys. Hey- they should hire you! I think you could teach the ol’ battleaxe a thing or two.” Daria looked at her for a second before responding.
“Not sure that’s such a good idea. My particular style of martial arts is somewhat… lethal. I might hurt someone.”
“Still, wouldn’t it be great to just storm in and kick some ass? Barch has had it coming for years.”
“True as that may be, I still don’t think it would be particularly wise to just waltz in and break her neck in front of half the school. That, and I don’t plan on ever returning to that building, anyway. It ranks about a two on my top ten worst experiences list- right below fighting tyranids in close combat and right above being the victim of an artillery barrage. At least with the artillery, there’s a chance that you might be put out of your misery.” Daria smirked. Her sarcasm was coming back.
Their conversation carried them along down the roads of
Daria steeled herself, and sighed. “Ready as I’ll ever be. Come on. Waiting is the hardest part.”
Daria and Jane approached the front door and rang the bell. There was silence, and then they heard a strained voice shout “Coming!” followed by the sound of heavy footsteps. A frazzled Helen, still in her nightclothes, opened the door, and saw Jane first.
“Jane, what the hell are you doing here? It’s eight o’ clock in the morning on a Sunday, for Pete’s sake-”
“I spend all day every weekday at the office, even Saturday, and you come on my one day of
“Mrs. Morgendorffer, I-”
Helen turned to look at Daria, and the way she was dressed. “And you bring your weirdo friends with you! I swear, girl, the very next chance I get, I’m going to-”
Daria spoke up. “Mom?”
Helen was taken aback. Until now, her attention had been drawn to the “weirdo friend’s” unusual clothing and massive scar. But now she focused on the face, and the color of the tied back hair, and the eyes… those intelligent, familiar eyes…
“Oh my God… Daria…”
Helen practically fell forward and embraced Daria, who reacted quickly, dropped her bag, and kept them both from falling. Helen wept bitterly and wrapped her arms tightly around Daria’s back, her head on her daughter’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”
All Daria could do was put her arms around Helen and let her cry into her shoulder.