©2004 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: Why was Daria out after curfew in “The Big House”? One possible (if far-fetched) explanation is given here, in this prequel to that episode.
Author's Notes: In January 2004, Beth Ann posted a Daria Iron Chef on the subject of “sneaking out.” In the first-season episode, “The Big House,” it is never explained why Daria was out after curfew or who she was with just before the opening scene. The challenge was to say who was Daria with and why. This story was the result. The part about mad psychic albino dwarves living in caves under our cities, plotting to enslave all the surface races—those were the deros of the Shaver Mysteries, from Amazing Stories, 1945-7. No kidding. 8)
Acknowledgements: Beth Ann rules for a great contest idea!
“I need a conspiracy,” said the short brunette in the green jacket, black skirt, and black boots.
Her companion—a taller girl with black bangs, a red jacket, dark clothes, and ash-gray boots—raised an eyebrow as they walked home from school on a cool autumn afternoon. “Do you want to join a conspiracy, or are you starting your own?”
“Starting my own, in a manner of speaking.”
“In a manner of speaking, can I join too and be in charge of the nuclear stuff?”
“Sure. I need the conspiracy for that short story Mr. O’Neill wants by Monday,” said the brunette. She put her thumbs under the straps of her heavy gray backpack to relieve some of the load on her shoulders as she walked. “I thought I’d write another Melody Powers tale, but I can’t think of a plot for it.”
“Do what you did in your last story: Have her shoot a lot of people, throw in some explosions, and you’re home free. You caused a riot when you read it aloud at that café. Why mess with success?”
“Yeah. That’s all well and good, but I want something . . .”
“Sicker? Funnier? Less realistic?”
“Something creepy. Really creepy. Creepy enough to make a grown man hide in bed for days with the sheets pulled over his head.”
The taller girl with the black bangs tried to hide her smile. “A little cheesed off about a certain English teacher’s critique of our homework paper, are we?”
“What makes you say that?” said the brunette.
“You’re shouting,” said the taller girl.
“It was not derivative!” The brunette said in a lower but still loud voice. She glared fiercely at the sidewalk ahead through her owl-eye glasses. “I did not copy my review of Stephen King’s works from someone else’s term paper! I did not find it online, I made it up completely by myself based on my own reading, and how he can imply in front of the whole class that I copied—”
“And he still can’t get my name right! He called me Daisy! Daisy, damn it!”
“Tell you what. Let’s go to Pizza King, have some brain food, and ponder these weighty matters. With our sick, creative talents, we should come up with a conspiracy that will have Oliver Stone on our doorsteps with a movie contract in no time.”
Eyes narrowed and teeth gritted together, the brunette grumbled a reply.
The taller girl leaned closer to her friend. “I didn’t catch that. Where’d you say O’Neill could stick his unabridged copy of The Stand?”
Thirty minutes later, things were no better, except that Jane remembered to cover her mouth two times out of three when she burped. “H’okay,” she said, sitting back in her booth seat at Pizza King. “You don’t want to revisit the JFK thing, you don’t want to clone Hitler, UFOs are passé, the Bermuda Triangle is too far off, sasquatches aren’t nearly as frightening as Lawndale High’s football team, no one believes in the Loch Ness monster anymore, the Illuminati are all-powerful but boring, and anything having to do with Elvis was milked to death by the tabloids long ago.”
“He’s writing for ‘Sick, Sad World,’ anyway.”
“Probably did the theme music, too. Kinda catchy.”
Daria sipped her Ultra-Cola in thought. “How about mad psychic albino dwarves living in caves under our cities, plotting to enslave all the surface races?” she said—then frowned and shook her head.
“Same problem as with the sasquatches, eh?” said Jane.
“Yeah, and it’s been done before, too.” Daria picked up a slice of pizza and studied it glumly. “All the old conspiracies are just too old.”
“So, invent a new one.” Jane burped again. “’Cuse me. Make up something. How about computers?”
“What about them?”
“You ever watch that movie about that big computer taking over the world?”
“Um . . . Colossus: The Forbin Project. No, but I know what it was about.”
“So, maybe computers really are trying to take over the world. O’Neill has a home computer. A story like that might scare him.”
“Hmmm.” Daria bit into her pizza.
“Maybe there’s a big government computer somewhere that’s about to take over the world,” said Jane. “Or maybe it already has.”
“Too hard to do,” said Daria after she swallowed. “The key to taking over things is in the programming, not the computer itself. One big computer’s still too vulnerable to breakdowns or getting bombed.”
“So, who writes the programs? Government people?”
“No. Companies that make computer operating systems,” said Daria. She paused in her chewing. “Huh. That’s funny.”
“Well—” she swallowed “—suppose that there was a computer operating system—we’ll call it Apertures—was really a program that would let you take over the world. What if Apertures was designed to join all personal computers in the world together into one single thinking machine that could control any computer in its group mind.”
Jane tilted her head. “Go on.”
“Okay, so whoever designed Apertures—we’ll call him Mister Bee Gee—he’s actually in charge of all computers using Apertures, because Apertures has secret coding that allows each computer to link up through the phone line to create one gigantic computer mind under Bee Gee’s command. Each computer is like a neuron cell, linked too all others through the phone lines and Internet. The big brain might even be self-aware, it’s so big and complicated. Anything that Bee Gee wants to discover, he can tell his super-computer to figure it out or find it out.”
“But all the little home computers, don’t they break down?”
“Not all of them at once. That’s the beauty of it. No matter how many computers break down, you can’t crash all of them, and more of them come online with Apertures every year. So, this super-brain gets smarter all the time, and it knows everything that’s in every computer with Apertures, and maybe everything in every other computer, too. It’s better than Colossus because it’s totally decentralized. It has no vulnerable physical core, and its mind is improved with every upgrade a computer-owner downloads.”
Jane raised an index finger. “What about viruses?”
“Those could be tests of the system’s defenses,” said Daria. “People try all the time to bring the super computer down, but they’re employed by Bee Gee. What they really want to do is find the vulnerable spots in the Apertures super-brain so they can be patched. The computer mind gets stronger all the time, sort of like it’s inoculating itself against later attacks if it’s discovered.”
“Or,” said Jane, “viruses could be part of some secret cybernetic war between the super computer, which creates viruses to attack enemy programs or operating systems, and human freedom fighters who are trying to bring down the super brain before it controls all human civilization.”
“Yeah, that could work.” Daria rested her chin on her hand. “Eventually, so much comes to depend on Apertures systems, we’re hostage to them. Modern civilization would collapse without computers. Nuclear missile forces, every form of personal communications but talking, weather prediction, everything depends on them. Whoever runs the super computer controls the Earth.”
Jane nodded. “That’s good, but wouldn’t someone eventually figure it out?”
“Who would believe it?” Daria poked at the remains of the pizza and picked up a pepperoni.
“Well, still, if there was a system such as you describe,” said Jane, “and it was as smart as you suggest, it would probably be very paranoid.”
“It doesn’t want to die,” said Jane. “It wouldn’t want to be found out. Think of the chaos that would occur if news of this computer super-brain got out in the public. People would stop at nothing to destroy it. We’ve been programming ourselves for years to battle enemy aliens or rogue computers, thanks to Hollywood movies and science-fiction stories. The computer would know what it was up against.”
“So, it would stop at nothing to find and destroy anyone who even guessed that it might exist.”
“Yeah. Lots of people think computers are intelligent, and most people don’t trust computers, too. The super-brain might go after those who figured out not only that it existed, but how it existed, if you get my drift. Mister Bee Gee himself might be upset about it. You never know.”
Daria rested her head on the palm of one hand, elbow on the table. “So, how could the computer destroy its enemies?”
“It has human helpers.”
Daria nodded. “Of course—its programmers and maintenance people. Maybe they could hire assassins, mercenaries, or whatever other helpers they need for their jobs.”
“Some of the loony ones might worship it as a god,” said Jane. She burped again. “You want the last breadstick?”
“Nah.” Daria looked around. No one in the restaurant paid the slightest attention to them, as usual. Her gaze drifted to the wall against their booth. “What’s that?” she said, pointing.
Finishing up the breadstick, Jane looked at the small mesh-covered speaker on the wall beside them. “Oh, Pizza King used to have an intercom system that let you order pizza from your table. They turned it off because the sound quality was so bad, it was worse than ordering at a drive-through.”
Daria continued to study the speaker mount. “But they left the speakers and microphones in the wall.”
“Yeah.” Jane turned to look at the speaker, too. Both girls stared at it in silence.
“I’m sure it’s turned off,” said Jane. “It’s been off for two years.”
“So,” said Daria, “no one could listen in on us, right?”
“They couldn’t. It wasn’t a regular speaker system, anyway. Each Pizza King restaurant in Lawndale was plugged into a central ordering system in Oakwood, if you can believe that.”
“Really? By phone?”
“Yeah, but though the Interne—” Jane’s voice faded out as her eyes grew larger. “Internet,” she finished with a whisper, staring anew at the speaker plate.
A nervous silence drew out.
“You’re sure it’s off?” said Daria.
“Positive,” said Jane, who did not sound as though she believed it.
More nervous silence.
“Okay,” Daria whispered, “I am seriously freaked out now.”
“How funny,” said Jane. She didn’t laugh. “Time to go home and hide under the blankets.”
“Too late,” said a voice beside them.
Daria and Jane looked up. A tall, scrawny, twenty-something with a weak chin and freckles looked down at them over the pizza he was carrying. He wore a Pizza King waiter’s outfit. The nametag on his uniform said his name was Artie.
“Hey,” said Jane, “we didn’t order a pizza.”
“That’s right,” said Artie. He held it out to them. Without warning, an aerosol spray fired from the bottom of each side of the pizza pan into the faces of the two girls. Both inhaled, too startled to do anything else. And both slumped back in their seats, appearing stunned but not unconscious.
Artie put down the pizza pan and signaled to another waiter, who walked over and helped him get Daria and Jane on their feet. “Too much bourbon in their Ultra-Colas,” Artie told bystanders, who looked at the two high-school girls and shook their heads in disgust. Maneuvering Jane and Daria into a back room, Artie and his compatriot settled them into chairs before Artie pulled a cell phone from his uniform pocket and punched in a short number. He raised the phone to his mouth.
“We have two packages,” he said. “Please send a mail truck.” Snapping off the phone, he looked at the zombie-like girls with disgust. “Unbelievers,” he said. “You’re lucky we don’t kill heretics. Yet.”
Hours later, long after dark, a yellow car swung by the Morgendorffers’ residence. Daria, her recent memories “corrected” so that she had the idea she and Jane had fallen asleep in the public library after school, got out of the car and whispered, “Thanks!” to the driver, a gray-haired old lady who was the local head librarian. Daria walked away to her house, hoping to get in without her parents knowing how late she was out, while Jane was driven on to her house one block away. Once the girls were out of her car, the old lady pulled out her own cell phone and punched in a short number.
“Packages delivered,” she said. “Praise God.”
“Thank you,” said an electronic voice from the phone. “You will be rewarded.”
The old lady smiled as she shut off the phone. It was so nice to have a god you could actually talk to, one that lived inside of your own computer and all others as well. She drove home and slept in peace, knowing the world was in good hands.
Original: 02/01/04, modified 11/21/04