Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Three

Content note: Reminiscences of depression and family strife. For the previous chapters, see here and here.

CHAPTER THREE

Daria’s Journal, Inaugurating a Brand New, Posh Hardback Notebook. Tuesday, 15 January 2013.

I braved the slush yesterday and made my way to a stationery store up near Raft. Treated myself to a fistful of disposable fountain pens. I hadn’t known that such things were a thing. Between these, my history of failed relationships and my coffee intake, I must be a Real Writer.

The convention—that is, the fifteenth annual Aletheia—is to kick off this Friday. Jane has Plans for my attendance. I refuse to let this frighten me.

Tom explained the logistics to me. “I never really learned how to spend money for fun,” he admitted. “So, I set aside all that I didn’t spend on indulging myself last year, and now we’re having a party. More specifically, three parties: Friday night is the chill session with movies and board games and a little karaoke for close-ish friends. Saturday night is the big bash for everybody and their plus-ones and plus-twos and the new folks that the plus-twos met at the convention.”

“Sounds jolly,” said this reporter.

“No obligation,” Tom said. “And we recover the next night with the most laid-back event of them all. We four have the run of the place. No pressures, nothing to do but kick back and let someone else do the cooking.”

Saavik was slurping the filling out of a cupcake. At this, she paused. “Dude, that has a downside.”

Weird stuff to think about, after all these years. The Sloanes were old money—Colonial New England, in fact, so their money was about as old as money could get in Anglophone America. That caused plenty of friction when Tom and I were an item. But it wasn’t until much later that I realized it had an upside, too. College brought the opportunity to mix with the nouveau riche, and that provided a—what’s the polite phrase?—”study in contrasts.” The Sloanes had a gobsmacking amount of liquid assets to spend, but their choices of what to spend it on were not wholly determined by the price tags of the purchaseable items. They were stuffy and irritatingly hidebound by traditions, but those traditions did at least include getting a first-class education and even something of a commitment to public service. While their philanthropic efforts did skew towards museums and symphonies—generally, to causes that meant opportunities to be seen in black tie—they did at least make the goddamn effort. And, after meeting the sort of teenagers who would these days be the Rich Kids of Instagram, well, I have to admit, Tom’s upbringing wasn’t all bad.

Grace, Sloane and Page had been one of the most staid financial firms on the East Coast. The culture at the top was too fundamentally stodgy to be interested in radical new ways of slicing, dicing and repackaging debt. Deregulation left them almost unmoved. So, when the crash came, as Tom remarked, they were too dull to fail.

That, at least, was the story generally shared. Embarking on my PhD studies at Bromwell, Little Daria heard much more. Tom’s father Angier had wanted to modernize, to move into the new territories opened up when regulations were stripped away. Tom opposed the idea. What started as a statistics question, a technical critique of the SEC’s conclusion that repealing the uptick rule was a fine and safe move, became a family quarrel when Tom took his concerns to Messers Grace and Page. Angier Sloane felt that his son was slinking behind his back. Tom acccused his father of betraying the ideals he had espoused, in the name of short-term profit.

The bad blood was still unresolved when the doctors found the cancer in Angier’s thymus.

Damn, fountain pens are good for this sort of thing.

I suppose I ought to make a habit of recording the memories when they bubble up on me—to get them out of my head, to take away a little of their power over me, etc. Sometimes they have the odd texture of disuse. Disconnected fragments, separated out by virtue of having occurred in a place that I never revisited.

Jane, back in Lawndale after her first semester at BFAC. Living at her family home again. Working for someone whose daughter had told him about the Jackson Pollock murals that Jane had done across the gymnasium walls for a Lawndale High dance. A defunct appliance store in a strip mall, converted to an indoor playground.

Little Daria, having such a mature soul for her years, had found a job in Cambridge and so spent only a little time in Lawndale that summer. Trent told me that Jane was decorating the back rooms of the playground place, the rooms intended to be rented for birthday parties. They were unfriendly, windowless chambers, unsuited for the purpose. I brought Jane a family-sized box of chicken tenders and cheese fries. Jane wolfed into them, getting barbecue and honey-mustard sauces all over her fingers.

The mural was replete with rocketships and dragons and princesses packing laser guns.

I gave Jane a lift home. We talked of nothing in particular. Then, without warning, at the front door of Casa Lane, she pulled Little Daria close and wrapped me up in a hug that had more than a little desperation about it.

“Back rooms without windows,” Jane said. “A box for screaming children of indifferent parents on a run-down street in a dead town. Tell me that’s not it. Tell me that’s not where we end up.”

In our years together, Jane had been at times angry and resentful and confused, but this was a sinister emotion, a sadness that infected what it touched and made the expressive, passionate Jane Lane into a blank shadow. It would pass that night, and it would return later.

But, eventually, she won. She fought it every day for months, and now, the dark interval that seemed to last forever is itself years in the past, and she’s running a goddamn company.

Tom won out, too. He’s even in love.

And Little Daria? Whatever happened to her?

Hey, fuck you. I’ve got fountain pens.

* * *

“This arrived for you,” Jane told her, carrying a cardboard box. “And not a day too soon!”

“I don’t think I ordered that much Thai green curry.”

Jane deposited the box on the kitchen counter, unfolded a wicked-looking multitool and began to attack the packaging. As the tape came undone, Daria read the address label. “From Aunt Amy?”

“I’ll admit, she consulted me on this, so we get to share in the glory.”

“Or the blame.”

Jane reached into the box and extracted an envelope, which she handed to Daria.

“To my favorite niece,'” she read aloud. “I remembered you got a lot of mileage out of the pair you inherited from me, and that they gave their lives in the line of duty at that Longfellow Tech incident. Wouldn’t you know, the shop where I bought them is still open?'”

Jane held aloft a black boot in each hand.

“`If you don’t go off and join an all-girl punk band like I did, I hope you’ll still find a use for footwear made for stompin’. Love, Aunt Amy. PS: Now that you have a Bromwell diploma, are these Post-Docs?'”

“I feel like I’m in the presence of history here,” Jane said. “And hey, you never told me that your trademark boots had been your aunt’s!”

“I am a woman of many secrets, Fraulein Lane.”

“Me too,” replied Jane. “Bravo Romeo Bravo.” Raising an index finger in a just-a-moment gesture, she left the kitchen and headed for the bedrooms.

She returned with a stack of folded clothes. “Phase one,” she instructed Daria, “get changed. Boots too. I suggest putting them on after the pants.”

“Again with the matching,” Daria monotoned.

In her bedroom, she commenced changing into the new clothes. The black jeans were crisp and sturdy. They fit her waist and had the right length, but were a little tight on her thighs. A broad belt of brown leather fell out of the charcoal-gray sweater when she unfolded it. The right sleeve had been cut and hemmed, so that it came just over her elbow. With the belt and sweater in place, she examined the jacket. “Black, with white trim? Is she trying to make me into Number Six?” There was a steel clasp on the high collar. “No, not quite.”

A knock on the door. “You decent?”

“Come in.” Daria sat in her chair and began to pull on her glossy fresh Docs.

“Phase one is a success,” Jane declared. She was carrying another box. “Now, stand up, and hold your right arm out.”

“Umm…”

“I know, usually women have to buy me dinner before I say that. Chop chop.”

“Implications of amputation do not generally inspire confi…dence?”

A glove? No, a gauntlet? The shell of a replacement forearm? It looked to be made of metal, but the way Jane carried it made it seem too light for that.

“This was going to be my Aletheia costume,” Jane told her, “but I think it’ll work even better on you. Oh, better lace those Martens first.”

Daria complied. “People will talk. They’ll think I’m actually getting into the spirit of this thing.”

“Just hang with us. We’ll have spirit to spare.”

“Does that mean you’ll be going as a bartender or a Ghostbuster?”

A minute later, her boots were laced, and she stood. Jane came to her right side and slid the prosthetic over her arm. It came up to her elbow, and Jane adjusted the sleeve to conceal the skin left uncovered.

“Good fit?” Jane inquired.

“Uh, yeah. It’s… light.” Daria flexed her fingers. The loss of dexterity was no worse than with a regular winter glove, she figured. Perhaps actually better.

Jane watched critically. She inserted a screwdriver into the wrist portion. “Let’s try tightening it here, just a bit. OK?” Daria nodded, and Jane applied a couple turns to each of two small screws. “How’s that?”

Daria moved her appendage about. “Nice. Actually.”

“Good. Next, pocketwatch.” From her box of goodies, she withdrew a large silver timepiece on a steel chain. The watch cover was imprinted with an insignia, a heraldic emblem—a rampant manticore. Jane clipped the loose end of the chain to a belt loop at Daria’s right hip.

Daria flipped open the watch. The works inside were real, and ticking. On the inner surface of the cover was incised, in rough letters, 18 Nov 01, and on a line below that, Never Forget.

—The wind down Huntington is cold, too cold for the thin fabric on my legs, and Jane is flipping a bus schedule over in her hands—

“Beautiful,” Jane proclaimed, a satisfied smile warming her angular features. Daria was trying to think of something to say when her friend continued, “Now, your coat!”

It had been the long red overcoat which Saavik had donated to the cause. The back surface now bore a serifed cross along the vertebral line, with a snake looping about its arms.

Jane helped Daria into the black jacket. Daria fastened the clasp at her neck—it was easy enough to work even with her new arm. She took the red overcoat from Jane and pulled it on. Then she spun on her boot-heel. It seemed the right thing to do. Her coattails turned after her.

Jane bubbled with delight. “Oh, God, this will be just too perfect. Too!” Gently, she took Daria’s bare hand and slipped a white glove over it.

Daria stepped back and clapped her hands together, forcefully, in an insolent subversion of a prayer. Then a Mona Lisa expression stole over her face. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

She followed Jane out of the bedroom.

A medly of beeps and whoops came from the pinball machine in the lounge. Tom and Saavik were trying to play it in tandem, one flipper-control each. They looked over as Daria strode up, and the ball rattled, unseen, off the board.

“It works,” Tom said. “It certainly does.”

Saavik just goggled.

* * *

Daria tossed her tablet aside with a sigh. The device landed on the sofa cushion. Its screen dimmed and then, untroubled by a user’s touch, went dark. She walked from the lounge to the kitchen and decided to stare at the beverage equipment counter for a while.

Several hours before, she had tapped into a lode of fanfiction, an obscure collection only available through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Most of it was zine material written during the first couple seasons of Star Trek TNG, circulating on Usenet and BBSes for a while, eventually being cached on a GIF-happy website in the mid-Nineties. In a lot of it, Tasha Yar was alive. There was a high density of Dirty Pair and Space Battleship Yamato references, which at first she put down to the enthusiasm of the fanfic writers, but which turned out to derive from in-jokes apparently buried in TNG itself. Wesley Crusher was variously scarred by delta rays, glorped by brain slugs and revealed as Captain Picard’s son. Perhaps because the fans had only bothered to save the fraction of the stories that they had cared about, the average quality level was surprisingly high. Daria had looked up at the conclusion of a novella in which Wesley turned out not to be Picard’s son after all—subverting a genre convention she had no inkling about until that night—and discovered that the time now verged upon five in the morning.

“Onward to the saga where the Iconian gateways change everything,” Daria asked herself, “or take drugs so I can sleep?”

Alethia was to start that afternoon. She had her costume now—Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist—and with it, the concomitant sense of obligation. Backing out, after Jane had gone to all this trouble? Unthinkable, dammit.

She splashed milk into a glass and returned to the lounge. As she sat down again, she jostled the computer’s wireless mouse, which had somehow migrated into the couch cushions, and the projector glowed into activity. She moved to shut it off again—this was not the hour to watch TV and start a racket—and saw that, on account of their having watched an English technology documentary, the computer was now suggesting that she view James Burke’s Connections.

The layers of memory unspooled quickly. In one, she was ten, and her mother was away somewhere on business, and she was stumbling sleepless out of bed around midnight to find her father up and the TV on. “Oh, hi kiddo. This used to come on back when your Mom and I had that apartment before you were born!”

In another layer, Daria was seventeen, remembering that night as she and Jane walked out of Anthony DeMartino’s history class. Only it wasn’t Mr. DeMartino’s that day or for a while after, because Mr. DeMartino was enjoying a soft room and free toast at a secluded retreat far from Lawndale High’s star QB, Kevin Thompson. The substitute had plugged a tape in the VCR and gone to take a nap. “And I stay awake,” Jane complained. “It’s against the natural order, I tell you.”

“Short visits to one topic after another,” Daria mused, “interspersed with dad jokes. I wonder why that seems so familiar.”

Later that day, Quinn and the Fashion Club had passed them in the hall.

“And that suit! I just can’t get over it!”

“Just when we thought brains couldn’t commit any worse crimes against fashion.”

“It, like, offends our refined sensibilities or what-ever.”

“Maaaybe Quinn’s cousin has a suit like thaaaat…”