Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four and associated characters are owned by Marvel Comics. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Written for Prince Charon's "Daria Von Doom" Iron Chef Challenge.
Is It Doom Yet?
Seventeen-year old Daria Morgendorffer hesitated at the top of the stairs, thinking. Maybe I can talk my way past and get to Pizza Prince unhindered. She quickly walked downstairs and said, "Can't talk...top secret mission."
Sitting on a sofa, her mother Helen said, "Well, complete your mission soon because I'm sending you on another one. Mr. O'Neill called looking for day camp volunteers and I signed you up."
Feeling a chill crawl up her spine, Daria stopped dead in her tracks. "You didn't."
"You start Monday. I'm sorry, but you're not staying locked up in your room all summer."
Disgusted, Daria said, "So instead, you're going to lock me up with a busload of whiny kids and the poor man's Kathy Lee Gifford."
Helen scolded, "Daria, you need to be more tolerant. You know what they say. 'Judge and be judged.'"
"And I judge myself unfit for human contact."
"That's exactly what you will be if you don't start engaging with the rest of us." Helen stood and faced down her daughter. "You keep hiding your real face behind that antisocial mask and one day the mask will be your face. I'm not letting that happen. You're working at that camp."
Helen glowered and walked to the door.
"What about my feelings? What about my rights?" After the door closed, Daria said, "What about my bribe?"
The next morning, Daria grumpily called from her bed. "Nobody's home."
Outside the door, Daria's sister Quinn knocked again. "Some fancy package was delivered by a guy in a funny uniform." She read the return address. "What in the world did you order from Latveria?"
Daria groaned. "I'm dreaming."
"Daria, the Fashion Club is coming over and I don't want this sitting around."
After tossing the sheet aside, Daria rolled out of bed and fumbled to put her glasses on. "Ugh." She went to the door and opened it. "This better be good."
Quinn handed her a large envelope with an ornate script. "You ordered it. Gotta go." Quinn spun and disappeared down the hallway.
"I didn't order anything from the Royal Latverian Ministry of Education." Daria felt the envelope while walking to the chair. "Feels kind of funny, almost like real parchment."
Turning the envelope over, she noticed it was sealed with red wax embossed with the royal seal. "The delivery company must've loved having to hand-sort that." Daria opened it and removed the cover letter that looked to be done in hand-written calligraphy.
Miss Daria Victoria Morgendorffer
It is my great privilege to invite you to the Royal Latverian Academy for a special summer session. His Royal Majesty has directed us to invite some of the leading young thinkers of the world for two months of intense study.
This invitation includes first-class air transportation on Latstanza Airlines, private room, all meals and a stipend of 200 Latverian francs, or 100 United States dollars per week.
Enclosed is your royal invitation to enter Latveria, visa, and prepaid expedited passport application if you do not have a passport. Your airline tickets can be obtained by contacting any Latstanza office.
We eagerly await your acceptance and arrival.
Minister of Education
Daria looked up. "Jane's already gone for two months and Tom will be gone for a month. I can spend the summer working at Mr. O'Neill's kiddy gulag or I can have a summer of world-class education in Europe."
"Two months at a college in Europe? Oh, Sweetie, of course you can go." Helen glowed with pride. "I'll just have to call Mr. O'Neill and tell him you got a better offer."
Inwardly, Daria felt a massive wave of relief. "Thanks, Mom."
"All expenses paid?" Daria's father grinned with pleasure. "Way to go, Kiddo!"
Daria shuffled through papers and found the passport application. "I'll need an official copy of my birth certificate for the passport. I've already had the photos taken, so everything else is ready to go."
Helen's face fell and Jake looked away.
Daria worriedly looked at them. "Mom? Dad? Are you okay?"
Helen gently held Daria's shoulders and sat her in a chair.
Daria watched her parents sit. "You're starting to worry me."
Helen took the papers away from Daria and held her hands. "Sweetie, you need to know something before you see your birth certificate."
Silent, Daria watched her father's increasing agitation.
"Your…um, well…Jake and I tried for several years to have a child before you were born. Finally, we saw a specialist. Jake…"
Jake gulped and blurted out, "I'm sterile, okay! It's all my fault! Can't even…"
"Jake!" Helen darted a hand over and held his. "It wasn't your fault. It was probably your father's exposure to radiation during those nuclear tests."
Helen squeezed Daria's hand. "We went to one of the genius sperm banks. One of my eggs underwent in vitro fertilization and was implanted. The donor left an anonymous request that a boy's name include Darius and a girl's Victoria. We liked them and chose to, in a way, honor both requests."
Disturbed by the news, Daria nodded and tried to make light of the situation. "So that's how I got a name that translates as 'Queen Victoria.'"
Helen briefly laughed.
Jake glumly looked at the table. Daria reached over to take his hand, quietly saying "You'll always be my Dad."
Jake sniffed. "Thanks, Kiddo."
Daria asked Helen, "The same with Quinn?"
She nodded. "Though her donor left no special requests."
"So she's still my half-sister."
"Yes, she is."
"Have you told her?"
Helen sighed. "We planned on waiting until each of you was eighteen. So you could have a normal childhood, but would know the truth as adults."
"She's not taking any calls," a distant girl's voice said over the telephone.
Daria sighed. "Thanks. I'll…try back some other time. Bye."
Daria sighed and cut the connection. Jane, I hope you're accepting letters.
She dialed again and waited for an answer.
Tom Sloane picked up. "Hello."
"Uh…can I come over? I really need to talk to you about something."
"Sure Daria. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, but I need to talk to you."
The television announcer said, "Robotic Roaches of Ragnarok! Next, on Sick, Sad World.
Seated on the couch at Tom's house, Daria turned off the TV with a remote. "Tom, I know this is kind of short notice, but I accepted a summer advance placement at a university."
Tom smiled. "Congratulations, Daria."
"Tom…I'll be gone for two months."
"Uh…I take it you don't mean Lawndale or Lawndale State University."
Daria shook her head. "Look, you'll be gone to the cove with your family for one of those months."
"I was hoping to spend time with you before leaving."
"Tom, this is a big opportunity. And two months isn't that long."
Tom's mother Kay and sister Elsie walked into the room. Elsie laid a garment bag down and slouched into a chair.
Kay said, "Hello, Daria. It's nice to see you again."
Uncomfortable, Daria said, "Um, you, too, Mrs. Sloane. Hi, Elsie."
Kay said to her daughter, "Elsie, why don't you show Tom and Daria the dress Richard made you for the Starry Night Ball?"
Bored, Elsie said, "Oh, I couldn't ruin the surprise."
"Daria, is there any way I can change your mind about going?" Kay said, "Then you and I could gang up and convince Tom."
Tom interrupted. "Sorry, I forgot to tell you. Mom's on the board of the Lawndale Art Museum. They're holding a benefit to raise money for a new wet bar."
Kay corrected him. "A new gallery. It should be a lot of fun."
Daria cautiously said, "Um, sounds like it."
Elsie smirked. "If you like watching ice sculptures melt."
"Actually, these things are excruciatingly dull and stuffy, and I told her there's no way we're going," Tom said more to Daria than to his mother.
Daria said, "Well, um, I guess that's right."
Elsie ribbed her brother. "You wouldn't want to compromise your quasi-rebelliousness."
He replied, "I hope Richard left enough room in that dress for your faux jadedness."
Kay firmly said, "Children!" In a pleasant voice, said, "You know, Daria, this event is not members-only. I'd love to send your parents an invitation if you think they'd be interested."
"Um... thanks," Daria weakly replied.
Elsie added. "Are you going to blow off fireworks at the club, too?"
Embarrassed, Tom said, "Sorry. I forgot. We can't. I already told...promised Daria I'd go with her to her friend's Fourth of July party."
"Daria," Kay said. "What can we do to get into your good graces?"
Daria looked from Tom to Kay. "Um…actually, I'm not going to be able to make the Fourth of July party. I have an offer to spend two months studying in Europe. I came over today to tell Tom."
"Daria, that's very impressive. Don't worry about the fireworks then. Come, Elsie. We need to get that gown hung up."
Elsie yawned and stood, picking up the garment bag. She muttered, "Boy is he in trouble."
Once they were out of sight, Daria stood. "You didn't want me to meet your parents and you don't want me to be seen with or associating with them."
"Daria, it's not like that. I sure as hell don't want to go and I assume you're not interested."
"Did it occur to you to ask?"
"And you lied to your mother that I didn't want to go."
"It won't happen again."
Daria started walking to the door. "That's right."
"I've lived with not being attractive all my life, but I'm not going to put up with someone who's embarrassed to be seen with me."
"How else do you account for trying to hide me from your family? Hell, you even took Jane out to see your friends; I haven't met one of them."
"I think we jumped into this whole dating thing too fast."
"Are you breaking up with me?"
Daria thought for a moment. "Um…Yeah. Breaking up."
"Just like that?"
Daria opened the door. "I'm sorry."
"Great. Have a wonderful life."
Tom closed the door behind her. She studied the pavement as she walked away. "Yeah. A wonderful life."
"It's not fair!" Quinn whined from the hallway. "Daria gets to go to Europe for two months and I'm stuck in Lawndale with a tutor!"
"It's a special opportunity for her, you should be proud." Helen admonished, "Let this be a lesson, she's going to Europe because of her academic achievements."
Daria adjusted the straps on her backpack and picked up her suitcases.
When Quinn saw Daria, she said, "Can you please pick up some designer clothes for me while you're over there?"
Daria rolled her eyes. "Quinn, Latveria isn't exactly the center of haute couture. I picked up some longer skirts because my usual ones would be considered too risqué."
"Gawd, Daria. Leave it to you to pick a geeky part of Europe to go to."
Helen turned her attention to Daria. "And remember to behave yourself. Latveria has a reputation for being very strict. Your smart remarks will not be taken well."
"Trust me, Mom. I'll behave. I think the fact that I bought new clothes to avoid trouble shows that."
"Oh, yes. I suppose it does."
"And I'll be there to learn. The resources available at the Royal Academy are among the best in the world. How much trouble do I cause when my nose is buried in a book?"
Helen smiled. "Not much."
"And there are a lot of books there that I haven't been able to read before."
Quinn put her hands on her hips. "You're going to Europe to spend time in a library?"
"I'll do some sightseeing, but the idea is to be there to learn."
"And I suppose finding a cute boy is out of the question? Now that you've ditched Tom, you're available again."
Helen looked at Daria. "You broke up with Tom?"
She sighed. "It wasn't working, Mom. Quinn, no, I'm not going there looking for a cute boy I'll only know for a couple months."
"You're hopeless." Quinn turned and went back into her room.
Jake carried Daria's luggage and followed her and Helen to the check-in at Dulles International Airport. "Are you sure you have enough, Kiddo? You'll be gone for two months."
"Dad, I'm assuming that they have laundry facilities. I'll be fine."
She stopped at the ticket counter and presented her passport as ID and the letter of invitation. "I'm supposed to pick up my ticket for the ten-thirty direct flight to Doomstadt. Daria Morgendorffer."
The ticket agent immediately hit a button on his register computer and a boarding pass printed. With an eastern European accent, he said, "Good morning, Miss Morgendorffer. Welcome to Latstanza Airlines. You will be boarding at Gate B-22."
Daria accepted the boarding pass. "Thanks." She looked around, noticing that they were the only people at the Latstanza check-in. "Looks like a slow day."
The agent smiled. "Perhaps it will become busier."
The agent accepted, weighed and tagged the luggage. "Boarding will be in one hour." He placed the bags on a conveyer and they were carried behind a wall.
"Please be aware that your checked baggage will be searched before loading. You must also pass through our additional security at the gate. Your guests will not be permitted beyond gate security."
Daria nervously looked at her parents. Do I know what I'm getting into?
Daria accepted hugs from Jake and Helen. "I'll see you in two months and I promise to behave."
Helen used a tissue to clear her eyes. "We'll miss you, Sweetie."
"I'll save the paper for you, Kiddo." Jake said.
"Thanks. I promise to call when I get there."
"Thanks," Helen said.
Jake said, "Looks like everyone else is already on board."
Daria smiled. "Latveria isn't exactly a tourist hotspot. Maybe some of the other students will be on the flight."
"Have a safe trip and remember to hold your tongue."
"I will, Mom."
"Mom, Dad, good-bye."
Daria exchanged waves with them before approaching the boarding area. She handed the agent her pass. He scanned it and pointed her to a small room.
Nervous, she stepped inside. The burly guard inside had her stand behind a seven foot tall screen. After a couple seconds, he said. "You may board now."
Jeez, how much radiation did I just suck up from that X-ray machine? Daria thought.
She left the room through a second door and traveled down the covered walkway to the plane. There, a stewardess courteously bowed and said, "Welcome aboard. Please make yourself comfortable and let me know if you would like any refreshments before departure."
Daria smiled, "I'm fine."
When she entered the first class cabin, it was empty. From what she could see, coach class was also empty. She said, "Not real crowded today."
"No, it is not."
When Daria removed her backpack, the stewardess said, "Allow me. Overhead or seat?"
She let her take it. "Um, seat, I guess."
The stewardess threaded the seat belt through the straps and secured it to the seat. "Make yourself comfortable and let me know if you need anything."
Daria looked back toward the coach section again. Am I the only one on board?
Unsettled some by being the only first class passenger, she opened her backpack, fetched a book from within, and settled down to read.
The flight was smooth and comfortable. After a couple hours, Daria stretched and looked out of the window. To her surprise, a jet fighter in Latverian markings was flying parallel to the airliner. Curious, she walked across the cabin and looked out of a window on the other side. Another fighter was flying on that side.
Daria signaled the stewardess and asked when she arrived, "Are those aircraft out there escorts?"
"Yes, they are."
Concerned, Daria asked, "Do you normally have a fighter escort?"
"No. But there must be a good reason for it."
Daria felt her stomach tighten and she grasped the arms of her seat. "Uh-huh."
Much to her relief, the flight continued without incident. The in-flight meal was excellent and she had her choice of movies…all currently in theatrical first run. Finally, the plane landed at Latveria's only airport, Doomsport. Daria's curiosity rose again when the aircraft taxied to a remote part of the airport and stopped. A rolling ramp was brought over and she saw a gleaming black limousine park at the foot of the ramp. She watched as her luggage was transferred to the car trunk.
The stewardess unbuckled the backpack from the seat. "They are ready for you now. I hope you enjoyed your flight."
Daria said, "It was…good. You really took care of everything for me."
The stewardess smiled in what looked like relief. "Thank you."
Daria picked up her backpack and said, "You're welcome." She went to the top of the ramp and looked down. To her surprise, there was a red carpet between the ramp and the limousine door held open by the chauffeur. This is getting creepy. I can't believe they're treating every student like this.
She cautiously stepped down the ramp an entered the spacious back of the car. When the driver closed the door, it produced a deep, heavy thud. Daria looked closely at the window as the driver jogged around the car. Armored glass?
The car started and drove away at a high speed. At the edge of the airport, police cars pulled in front and behind the limousine. The convoy moved at high speed through the surprisingly quaint town, with every intersection cordoned off by police to stop cross traffic. Recognizing them from the information brochures, Daria began to worry when they drove past the University of Latveria and the Royal Academy without slowing. They crossed a bridge and began a climb up a hill toward a castle.
Daria quickly pulled the information brochure from her backpack and checked. "Castle Doom." Recalling the stories about King Victor Von Doom, she gulped. Mostly, he was known as a stern ruler who'd brought an unprecedented level of prosperity to his country. Other, rather sketchy, stories hinted a frightening sinister side. Okay, Morgendorffer. If you're going to meet this guy, it's not a time to be sarcastic.
The limousine drove over the armored drawbridge of the castle and it was raised behind them. The car rolled to a stop and the chauffeur jogged around to open the door. "Please follow the red carpet."
When Daria stepped out, the chauffeur touched her backpack. "Everything will be taken care of for you."
"Uh…okay. Where am I going?"
"I have not been instructed. Please follow the red carpet."
She nodded. "Red carpet. Got it."
The carpet led her to a formal dining room with a massive table. A butler bowed deeply and directed her to a chair. "The master will be here shortly."
The butler retreated when Daria sat down. Only moments later, a door at the opposite end of the room opened and a tall, armored figure dressed in green and black strode into the room. Daria stood and anxiously waited. I hope I remember the protocol from that guidebook right. When he neared, she tipped her head and said, "Hello, your Majesty."
The deep voice behind the mask said, "Daria Victoria. I am very pleased my wishes in naming you were carried out further than I had anticipated. Welcome to your new home, Princess."
Daria blinked. "Princess?"
Dr. Doom gave a miniscule nod. "That is the appropriate title for my daughter and heiress to the throne."
Daria wobbled and grabbed the back of the chair. "You're…the donor?"
"Correct, I am your genetic father. A prudent ruler must plan for all contingencies, including clear succession. In the unlikely event of my demise, a power struggle within Latveria would be highly undesirable. Therefore, I came to an agreement with a fertility clinic to produce an heir."
She slowly nodded. "Okay. If you don't mind; why was I kept a secret?"
"I have enemies. Thus far in your life, anonymity helped to protect you from harm, but it would've been unwise to rely solely on it. You and your family have been guarded from the time of your conception. But now, you are approaching adulthood and it is time to prepare you for your destiny."
Daria started shaking. "Enemies? As in the kind that would kill?"
"Or worse. The most dangerous enemies are those that do not kill you."
Daria bit her lip, not knowing what to say.
Doom changed the subject. "I have followed your progress with great interest. Your days in Highland toughened you and taught you not to tolerate fools. You have shown ingenuity in dealing with the corruption in Lawndale High School. You have made some errors in judgment, but they can be used as learning experiences."
"You've been spying on me?"
"It was in my self-interest to know about you."
Daria thought back to one of the first things he had said. "My new home? Do you intend to keep me here?"
"You are free to move around the country within safety restrictions. After you have been prepared for your proper role as Princess, you may travel and reside where you choose. However, when the time comes, you must return. You may even decline to be recognized as my heiress. But I will no longer protect you after that."
Daria allowed that information to settle. "Then, the offer from the Royal Academy was only a ruse to lure me here?"
"No. The Royal Academy's true goal is to educate you. It will be at your disposal to teach any area of knowledge you may have an interest in. If you choose to decline to be my heiress, you will still be permitted to study there for two months."
An academy dedicated to my personal education. Now I understand true temptation.
Doom continued, "You have had a long flight and have much to consider. The butler will show you to your residence. Judging from her psychological profile, your mother will want to know that you have arrived safely. Contact her that you have, but do not inform her yet of your true status." Dr. Doom reached out and tugged on the shoulder of Daria's jacket. "I see you already wear the national colors. Proper attire will be ready for you tomorrow morning. You will give me your decision at noon. If you accept, your ascension will proceed immediately after."
He sharply turned and walked back out the door he'd entered.
The butler reappeared moments later. "This way please, your Highness."
Daria followed the butler down long corridors with heavily armed robotic servo-guards stationed at regular intervals. They left the central keep and walked along the inner battlements to a tower. The butler stopped at the door and bowed. "Highness, your residence."
The butler opened the heavy door and Daria walked inside. The sitting room took up the entire floor of the tower, covering an area much larger than her home in Lawndale. The stone walls and floors looked medieval and the appointments Victorian. Numerous comfortable chairs and tables dotted the room; a large screen television was placed against the outer wall, a bank of shelves curved along the opposite section of wall. She examined the shelves and found copies of her favorite books.
His spies have been in my room at home. She gazed around more. I wonder what kind of surveillance he has in here?
An unfamiliar computer occupied another section of outer wall. The shelf of reference books indicated that a large number of programs were loaded on it.
A broad spiral staircase filled the center of the tower. A candlestick-style telephone sat on a small table next to a chair near the staircase. "How quaint." Daria placed the speaker to her ear and reached to the dial. When her finger neared the first digit, the number glowed and she heard the tone in the speaker. She completed dialing the number. Okay, modern functionality with antique style.
It took a few moments to make the international connection. Eventually, Jake answered, "Hello?"
"Kiddo! How was the flight?"
"I hope the food wasn't too bad."
"Actually, it was pretty good. I was surprised."
In the background, Daria could hear her mother say, "Is that Daria?"
Jake said, "It's good to hear from you. Your mother wants to talk to you."
A moment later, Helen said, "Daria. How are you?"
"Um, good. I'm in my…room. It's late at night here, so I'm going to bed soon, but I promised to call."
"We appreciate it. What's your address?"
"Um…with so much going on, I forgot to get it. Can you wait until tomorrow?"
Daria sat on the chair and curled her legs under, suddenly feeling like a small child. "Mom…I love you."
"Oh, I love you too!"
"Please tell Dad that I love him."
"I will." After a pause, Helen asked with concern, "Are you really okay?"
"I'm fine. I guess…the distance got to me more than I expected. I promise, no more uncharacteristic emotional outbursts."
"Don't worry, I felt a little homesick when I first went away to college."
"Thanks. I didn't expect it."
"We never do."
"I'll talk to you tomorrow. Good night."
Daria hung up the phone. "Now, I just lied to my mother."
She went up the stairs to find the next floor was her bed chamber. A king-sized canopy bed dominated one corner of the room. Her clothes had been pressed and hung in the large closet or folded and put into an ornate dresser. The suitcases had been put away. A large makeup table and mirror was next to the closet. I guess he doesn't understand everything about me, though Quinn would kill for one that big.
The bathroom contained a large circular bath of black marble. Large towels hung on racks and soft, green bath robes were folded on adjacent shelves. Daria's personal care items were neatly lined up on the counter next to the sink. Now that's just creepy. They could've left everything in the travel case.
Curious, she climbed the stairs further. At the top, a door opened onto the tower's battlements. To one side, a sturdy metal dome housed a large telescope. After looking up at the clear sky, Daria walked to the crenellations and looked out over the town of Doomstadt.
"I came here for a summer of studying and to escape the mess I made in Lawndale. Instead, I've found that the Misery Chick is the heiress to Castle Doom."
A waxing moon lit the picturesque town. Daria folded her arms on the wall and rested her chin on them. I wonder what you're doing, Jane? You could find so much here to draw and paint. And I'm sure you would already be giving me grief about being a princess. I miss you.
Tom would appreciate the irony of me being made a princess and what I said about his elite world.
She remembered the feel of kissing him and the touch of her hand clasping his. Following that, she saw the shock and hurt in Jane's eyes when she told her of what had happened. Finally, she felt her stomach sink thinking about how Tom had made decisions for her and lied to his mother.
I'm sorry Jane. That kiss wasn't worth losing you.
Daria walked around the perimeter of the battlements to look out on the countryside around the castle.
A princess. Heiress to an absolute monarch. One that seems to have a side I don't know if I want to see. How can I agree?
She leaned against the wall and watched a bird of prey hunting over the nearby forest.
By all accounts, he's been a boon for Latveria. But at what cost? He talked of enemies. How many has he made of Latveria? How many will become my enemies?
The bird dove out of sight into the dense foliage.
I could walk away from it all. But I will still be his daughter and a target. So will Mom, Dad and Quinn. We've been guarded, but that won't continue if I turn him down. Can I put everyone at risk?
Grasping prey in its claws, the bird rose above the trees.
Or can I risk temptation and remain the heiress? In the hope that I can make a difference in the future?
A chime woke Daria from her uneasy sleep. "Nngh. Damn six hour time difference."
She reached over for her glasses and was startled when her hand fell on an unused pillow. Daria squinted and saw that the nightstand was still a foot away from her outstretched hand. After crawling over and putting her glasses on, she noticed a small light flashing on a panel next to the bed. Daria pressed the button next to it.
The butler's voice came across the speaker. "Good morning, your Highness. I bring your breakfast and attire for this morning."
"Um, give me a couple minutes."
Daria went to the bathroom and emerged wearing one of the bathrobes over the t-shirt and shorts she'd slept in. She walked down the stairs and opened the residence door.
Behind the butler, one robot carried a covered platter and a second a garment bag. The butler led the first robot to one of the tables and it placed the platter down. The butler removed the cover to reveal a small buffet. He efficiently set out a plate, bowl and utensils, plus a cup and a small glass. He said, "We were unsure of your breakfast preference, so we brought you a variety to choose from."
Daria looked at the numerous breads, fruits, cheeses, and sliced meats. There were two small insulated pots, one neatly marked "coffee" and the second "hot water". There was a pitcher of ice water and one of orange juice.
She said, "Thank you. I'll help myself when I'm ready. It usually takes a little while for me to have an appetite in the morning."
"As you wish." The butler pointed to the second robot. "Your apparel is ready. The Master desires your presence in the audience chamber in two hours. This unit will provide any assistance you may require in preparations."
"I'll change after breakfast. I'm going upstairs to finish waking up and to finish taking care of things. Uh…make yourselves comfortable."
"We are always comfortable in the Master's service."
"You may go now," Daria told the robot after it had carefully set out her new garments on the bed.
It said, "Doom instructed me to assist you."
"I can dress…I will call you if I require any help. Wait outside the door." I don't care if it's a machine, I don't want it to watch me getting dressed.
After the robot exited her bedroom, Daria looked at the gown. It was green with a fine black trim, floor length, with long, fitted sleeves and a high collar. The fabric felt like silk in her hands, but seemed a little heavier.
"I suppose this would call for formal wear."
She picked up the polished black, stylish shoes and silk-like stockings. "At least these don't have high heels."
"Guess I'll catch the end of the noon news before the game starts," Jake said as he turned on the television.
"Hmm?" Helen didn't look up from the briefs she was reading.
From the TV, an announcer said, "We have breaking news from Doomstadt, the capital of Latveria."
Helen's head jerked up. "Jake, don't touch that."
The announcer said, "Normally reclusive King Victor Von Doom, more commonly known as Dr. Doom, has announced the existence of a seventeen-year old daughter conceived by in vitro fertilization. The Latverian Information Ministry says that the young woman was raised in seclusion by a family in the United States and recently arrived in Doomstadt for her formal ascension as the King's heiress. No other details have been released." The announcer paused, listening to something. "One moment…We're going to the live feed from Doomstadt."
The scene cut to the throne room of Castle Doom. A long shot focused on Dr. Doom standing in front of his throne. To his right, a similar, smaller throne was placed. The camera panned to show a woman dressed in a regal, green gown walk down the center aisle of the room. As she passed, all bowed in reverence to her. One careful step at a time, she climbed the steps of the dais.
Quinn walked in. "What's going on?"
Her face pale, Helen said, "Shh."
On the television, the young woman stopped before Dr. Doom.
He held a coronet of gold and platinum above her head. "People of Latveria. The time has come to look to the future and recognize the one who will continue my leadership of this nation."
He slowly lowered the coronet onto her head.
"You will accord her all respect and reverence you accord me. She will give you the honor and leadership you deserve."
He released the coronet and raised his hands high overhead as the woman slowly turned around.
His voice boomed. "Princess Daria Victoria!
Jake dropped his drink and stared at the television in shock. Helen's face lost all color and she set her pen down. "Oh, God."
Quinn looked closely at the screen. "Daria? A princess?" A huge smile spread across Quinn's face. "Then that means…"
"No, Quinn." Helen turned to her youngest daughter. Concerned and saddened, she said, "It means that there are some things you need to learn about your sister and yourself."
Quinn grinned as an idea came to her. "She's gonna need a fashion consultant. As a princess, she simply cannot go around in those…things…she used to wear. Who's a better choice than her sister? Um, half-sister."
Helen said, "Quinn, I'm sure she's going to have a lot more on her mind than that, although what that could be is beyond me."
"All the more reason she needs one! So she doesn't have to worry about it while thinking about all those other things."
When the doorbell rang, Jake drained his martini and mumbled. "I'll get it."
He opened the door and two men in black suits were standing outside. The first said. "Mr. Jacob Morgendorffer?"
"Yeah, that's me."
"I'm Agent London and this is Agent Shepherd. We're with the Secret Service."
"I swear, I thought those were legal deductions!"
"Secret Service, not Internal Revenue Service. Are you aware of events concerning your daughter in Latveria?"
"Sure, just blab to the whole world I'm not her father! I'm not good…"
Helen rushed up and pulled Jake aside. "Jake! Not now." She pushed him behind and smiled to the agents. "I'm Helen Morgendorffer. How can I help you?"
"Are you aware of the situation in Latveria?"
Helen nodded. "Yes, we saw the news."
"We are here to establish security for the entire family."
"Do you really feel it's needed?"
"The Latverian embassy has formally requested security until such time as they can make their own arrangements."
"Oh, I see."
"And there will be some representatives from the State Department here to discuss how this situation came to be."
Elsie squirmed in her chair out of boredom. "Tom, the movie sucks."
Her brother lounged on the sofa. He raised the remote and aimed at the television. "Have to agree with you, there. This is duller than filing earnings reports for Dad."
"I bet the news is more interesting."
Tom smirked. "You're on."
Under the Cable News Channel logo, the view showed Daria seated on her throne alongside Dr. Doom while government officials paid their respects.
The announcer said, "Outside of the limited information the Latverian government has released, not much is known about this mysterious young lady."
"Wow, that could almost be Daria's twin."
Tom leaned forward to watch. "No."
"Undisclosed sources report that Princess Daria arrived in Latveria only yesterday. Possibly on a direct flight from Dulles International Airport."
With a low voice, Tom said, "She's not a twin."
Elsie laughed. "What do you…wait, didn't Daria go somewhere in Europe?"
"Latveria. That's the Daria Morgendorffer we know."
"And you blew it with her?"
Tom warned, "Elsie…"
"See, that's what you get for lying."
Bitterly, he said, "Shut up."
In the television room of the Ashfield Community for the Arts, Jane Lane sketched the form of her new friend, Alison, reclining on an easy chair and channel surfing.
She stopped at the Cable News Channel. "Hey Jane. Wouldn't that be just too cool?"
"What would be cool?"
"On the TV. Finding out you're a princess."
Jane looked over as Dr. Doom said, "Princess Daria Victoria!"
She sprinted over and closely examined the screen. Recognizing Daria's face, Jane stumbled backward and sat down hard. She said to the television, "Yeah, life's been so damn rough for you. Well, I hope Tom enjoys being a prince. He already has the attitude for it. But then, so do you."
Alison squatted beside Jane and pulled her close. "You know her?"
"I thought I knew her. I guess kissing my boyfriend behind my back should've been a clue I didn't."
Jane nodded as a thin tear fell down her cheek.
Alison reached over and switched off the television. She pulled Jane back to her and rested the younger woman's head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do…"
Jane sniffed and felt comforted by the embrace. "This is nice."
"Aahhh," Daria sighed with relief as she removed her shoes. "I'm glad to get those off. Eleven hours in them was murder."
Seated on her bed, she thought about the long meeting with her father. What have I gotten myself into? King Victor's incredibly committed to his people and his sense of honor. But, he's also brutally ruthless in a way few can imagine. I hope I can hold on long enough to make a difference.
Let's try to think of something else. Daria sighed, stood and reached around her neck to start undoing the closures on the gown. While doing that, she crossed over to the closet and opened the door. "Father wasn't pleased with my old clothes and I wasn't happy with wearing formalwear all the time. I wonder what I ended up with?"
Inside was what looked like business versions of her regular clothes. Calf-length black skirts, golden tan dress shirts, and green suit coats. All made from the same silk-like fabric as the gown. Gold cuff links with the royal arms were provided for the coats. Several sets of business-appropriate flat heel shoes were included.
"Looks like I can live with these."
She checked around, the clothes she brought with were folded in her suitcases, including her sleepwear. Her boots, polished to a high sheen, were next to the suitcases. She moved to the dresser, inside, she found several attractive, but not revealing, night gowns. "Okay, I get the hint. I have to keep up appearances at all times."
Opening another drawer, she said, "At least these didn't get replaced." She held up a brassiere suitable for use under formal gowns. "Though some things have been added."
After changing to wear one of the night gowns and some slippers, Daria took a seat next to the telephone. "I promised to call her back." Daria sighed and started dialing.
Hearing the phone, Helen stood and told the State Department officials, "Excuse me." She went to the kitchen and picked it up. "Hello."
Daria inhaled. "Hi, Mom."
"Daria! What in the hell is going on?!"
"I, um, discovered who my genetic father is."
Helen quickly sat down on a dining chair. "I was afraid you were going to say that."
"Mom, about yesterday. I'd promised…um, my father…not to mention anything.
"But your father is right…oh." Deeper realization settled into Helen's voice.
"At the time, I still hadn't decided if I would accept the position or not."
Helen said, "Oh, Sweetie. That's such a big decision."
"Mom…I…I chose what I thought was the best option." I wish I could explain better, but I don't know how many people are listening in on this. I don't even want to make oblique remarks.
Helen solemnly nodded to herself. "Will you be able to come home?"
"Yes. You'll see me again in two months."
"Yes, Mom. I promise. You're still my parents. That hasn't changed."
Feeling slightly relieved, Helen said, "We'll be here."
"How's everyone else doing?"
"Well, we're still unsettled by the Secret Service agents setting up security around the house. Do you know when your…government will send someone?"
It would be a political faux pas to admit that servo-guards have been on US soil the last eighteen years. "I don't know when security people will be sent, but I can check."
"Quinn…we had to tell her about how both of you were conceived."
"Let me guess, she thought she was a princess, too?"
"You know her. Now she wants to be your fashion consultant."
Daria looked back at the closet. "As much as I hate to admit this, I may need her. Maybe I can make her a baroness."
A light laugh broke through Helen's worry. "I think she'd like that."
"What about Dad?"
"It's been hard on him. With everyone knowing that he's not…"
"He's my Dad and always will be."
"Thanks, Sweetie. I'll tell him."
"Mom, you know that somebody will eventually sell to a news crew who I am and where you live. Once they do, you're going to be swarmed by reporters."
"I know, and I'm dreading that. Your father…dad is already on edge, and who knows what might come out of Quinn."
"I wish I could help you with that. I also wonder what's going to come out of people I know at school."
"We both have something to worry about."
"So we do."
"This must be a lot for you to deal with. How are you holding up?"
"I don't think I'm fully past the initial shock yet. Speaking of which, I want to call Jane. I'll talk to you later."
"I understand. Take care, Sweetie."
"I will. Bye, Mom."
Daria held the cradle down and checked the phone number for Jane.
After several rings, a girl's voice answered, "Hey."
"Um, hi. Can I speak with Jane Lane, please?
"I'm sorry. I think she and Alison headed out for dinner or something. Want her to call you back?"
"Are you allowed to make international calls?"
"Nah, local calls only."
"I'll have to try later. But please tell her Daria called and that I…I miss her."
"Yeah, got it."
"Later." The girl hung up before Daria could reply.
She replaced the earpiece and sagged back into the chair. "Dammit."
"Cute girl, I wonder who she is," a deep voice rumbled from a living embodiment of stone. "Must take after her mother, because I can't think of anything cute about old Doc Doom."
"I'm working on that, Ben." A tall, lean man with brown hair graying at the temples pointed to a computer monitor.
On one side was an image of the new princess from the news broadcast. On the other, numerous publicly available images from different media sources flashed by as the Baxter Building's mainframe attempted to find a match.
Ben Grimm said, "Reed, you know he's up to something and that never goes good for anyone he names as successor."
The flashing images stopped on one of a young teen in glasses talking to the President of the United States.
Reed Richards studied the associated data. "That looks like her. From a presidential photo-op in a place called Highland, Texas. She's identified as fifteen-year old Daria Morgendorffer, a freshman at Highland High School. That's an age match and Daria is an unusual name. That must be her. Let's see what other information is available."
Ben scratched his chin. "Morgendorffer. I wonder if there's any relation to Mad Dog?"
Reed turned to his friend. "Who?"
"Capt. Maxwell Dean Morgendorffer. Met him once when I was a new pilot and heard a lot of stories. Flew a B-25 gunship conversion in the Pacific during World War Two. They said he was 'mad dog stubborn' about hitting a target. Clipped the mast of a Japanese destroyer and had to ditch. Lost an eye and flight status. Heard he was mustered out after a high dose of radiation during the Bikini Atoll tests."
Reed tapped the computer screen. "Here we are. Daria Victoria Morgendorffer. Okay, that matches. Hmm, age is right. Birth records list mother as Helen Morgendorffer and father as anonymous donor. Adopted by Helen's husband, Jacob. Daria was first issued a learner's driver's license in Highland, Texas, later issued a standard license in Lawndale, Maryland. Issued a U. S. passport last week. I think we found her."
Ben looked to another monitor set to a news channel. "Reed…I think we've been scooped."
On the screen was Daria's junior yearbook photo. The announcer said, "…raised as Daria Morgendorffer, most recently of Lawndale, Maryland. She is an honor roll student at Lawndale High School."
The view changed to photos of Jake, Helen and Quinn. "She was raised with her mother, Helen, adoptive father, Jacob, and half-sister, Quinn. Jacob is a self-employed business and marketing consultant. Helen is a senior associate at a law firm and Quinn will be a junior at Lawndale High."
Next, an Asian woman with glasses appeared, the text bar underneath her image said, "Lawndale High School Principal Angela Li."
Ms. Li said, "Ms…Princess Daria has been a shining example of honor and glory at Lawndale High." The name Lawndale was drawn out as she said it. "We are proud of her and all she has done for this school."
Sitting on a sofa in her family's living room, Jodie Landon grimaced at the image of Ms. Li and muttered, "I wonder how much she sold that information for."
Her mother, Michelle, asked, "Didn't you invite her to the Fourth of July party?"
"Yeah. Now we know why she declined."
"Jodie - knowing other women in power positions can really help your career."
Andrew Landon leaned forward. "Latveria could be the gateway to selling the folding coffee cup in Eastern Europe. Screw Winged Tree Country Club." He pointed to the screen, showing Dr. Doom and Daria consulting with officials during the ceremony. "Now that's real power."
Seated on a cabin floor, Jane finished a glass of wine and turned the page of a sketchbook. "These pastels are great."
Seated on the floor next to her, Alison said, "Thanks. I wish the galleries felt the same way."
"I knew you'd get what I'm trying to do." Alison picked up the almost empty wine bottle. "Top that off?"
"No, I'd better call it a night. I get cranky if I don't get my usual twelve hours." Unsteady, Jane stood and braced an arm against the wall.
Alison stood also. "Come on, it's still early. I'm sure we can find something to do to amuse ourselves."
"Well, that's where the whole sleeping thing factors in." After a yawn, said, "I'll see you tomorrow. I'm wiped."
When Jane stumbled, Alison grabbed her arm. "I can't let you walk home in your condition. I'm going to have to insist that you lie down."
Feeling her head spin, Jane looked at Alison. "You know, that might be a good idea."
"I can't believe they've printed this trash!" Helen screamed as she threw a wadded newspaper at the door of her office.
Eric Schrecter, her boss, stepped aside as it flew past. "Helen. I realize things have been difficult for you the last couple weeks."
"Eric, that's an understatement."
"It s beginning to show in your work."
Helen grabbed another tabloid. "Have you seen what they've written about her? I'm going to nail their asses to the wall!"
Eric snapped. "Do it in your spare time. You have clients here paying for your full attention and I expect them to get it. Do I make myself clear?"
Fuming, Helen said, "Yes, Eric. Perfectly clear."
"Good." He turned and walked away.
Helen glared at the empty doorway. "Bastard."
"No, I cannot give you the inside dope on Latervian government contracts!" Jake yelled into the telephone. After listening a second, said, "Gah, Dammit! Same to you, buddy!"
He slammed the handset down on the base unit. Seconds later, it rang again. He grabbed the entire unit and jerked it way from the wall, hurling it across the room.
Quinn hurled a glass of soda into her date's face. "No, I won't ask. You're too stupid to go out with her!"
He shrugged in feigned innocence. "Can't blame a guy for trying."
"Yes, I can."
She knocked her chair over getting up and left it where it fell. She ignored the stares as she stormed out of Chez Pierre.
"I'd like to do this assignment again." Daria told the gray-haired professor. She was seated in a small classroom at the Royal Academy and he stood at a chalkboard nearby.
He mulled over the question before saying, "Are you a glutton for punishment?"
She held up a graded paper. "I didn't get it right and I want to."
"Are you sure you're not just frustrated over getting a C?"
"Of course I am. It means I didn't understand it well enough." Daria set her jaw. "But I will."
He very slowly nodded. "You may. But you are still expected to complete your other assignments within the time allotted."
The same chauffeur as before appeared at the door. "Pardon. The Master desires her Highness's presence at the castle."
"Attend to your father's call." The professor said. "We will convene again tomorrow."
Daria collected her books. The chauffeur instinctively moved to pick them up and stopped. Daria gave him a brief smile. "Thank you. I don't want to become dependent."
"Yes, your Highness."
"But considering my driving skills, it's safer for all concerned if you drive."
"Yes, your Highness."
Daria laughed at the email Jodie had sent to her old Lawndale address. "I guess now I do lead a more stressful life than you do. Glad to be of service."
She typed a response and hit the send command. "There you go. Leave it to your parents to come up with that. Don't worry, Landon. Cronyism isn't tolerated around here. Their requests won't go anywhere."
"They stain your honor and mine. For that, they must pay," Dr. Doom said as he strode with Daria down a corridor.
Feeling dwarfed next to a man almost a foot and a half taller than her, Daria said, "Those two boys have no credibility. I'm surprised even the World Weekly Tattler was able to get a coherent statement out of them. They're not worth the effort."
"Very well. However, this Ruttheimer boy's claims are more insulting."
"Once he makes a pass at the first female reporter to interview him, she'll tear him into shreds. After he's shown to be an oversexed pretender, he's toast. Not to mention what will happen after my mother's slander suit hits him in the face."
"I will make certain that interview happens quickly."
Through the media outlets you control.
Doom said, "Now this Thomas Sloane's statements…"
Daria closed her eyes and bit her lip. "…Are true."
Doom stopped. "I see. But you are no longer involved with this young man."
"No. He…lied to his mother about me."
"Then you have learned a valuable lesson about dishonor. Never forget it." He started walking again.
Daria followed. "I don't think I will."
When they reached an armored door, he said, "While your wit and intellect can be formidable defenses, there are times when much cruder methods are required."
"I've learned some basic self-defense moves from one of my teachers."
"Inadequate." The door opened and they stepped into an underground weapons range. Doom turned to the side, took a set of ear protectors from a shelf, and handed them to Daria. "White noise compensation with radio receiver to protect your hearing without diminishing your ability to hear me."
She nodded and put them on.
He picked up a pair of glasses with large, round frames made from a dark metal. "Data link to any nearby servo-guard unit. Thought activated and will display information on the lenses as a heads up display."
She put her folded glasses in a coat pocket and accepted the new ones. They felt comfortably like her old ones, but lighter.
Doom picked up a small holstered pistol, guided Daria to a firing stand and placed the pistol on the ledge in front. "Lightweight carbon fiber construction with no metallic parts. Genetically keyed to you. Integral targeting computer accurate to two hundred meters. Five point five-six millimeter recoilless concussive energy blast. Comparative stopping power of a twelve point seven millimeter round. Micro-fusion power cell capable of one hundred force bolts."
Daria placed her hand on the pistol. Okay, I've never fired a real gun before. This is going to be embarrassing.
Doom stood behind her. "Unholster the weapon and take aim."
Free of the holster, it looked like a small automatic that fit her hand like it was custom made. Plus, a targeting reticule appeared on her right glasses lens.
"Place the reticule on the target and smoothly pull the trigger. Fire five times."
She took a couple seconds to get the reticule on target and pull the trigger. Daria heard something like a distant thud through the ear covers and the target twenty yards away jumped. Feeling more confident, she fired the remaining times.
Doom pressed a button and the target was brought to her on a pulley system. Four large holes were scattered around the target torso and one had hit the side of the blank outside the target area.
"You will practice until you are proficient. Like your Melody Powers."
God, if he's actually read those stories…I wonder if he's read my diary.
He pulled a broom-handled Mauser from its holster and fired ten rounds. When the target was brought forward, all were clustered within a small circle.
"Daughter, learn to use it with precision and keep it with you at all times."
Daria grimly nodded. "I understand. However, if you're worried about my safety, do you have any body armor or something available?"
"All of the clothes provided you are made from unstable molecules that provide superior ballistic and energy protection."
Daria looked down at her clothes. "Oh."
Doom stepped close to her. "Your well-being is important to me." He pointed to the target range. "I can do much, but in the end, your safety will depend on you."
"In that case, it might be a good idea to have something a little more practical than a skirt…"
"Are you like, an old girlfriend of hers or something?" Jane's roommate, Paris, asked Daria over the phone.
Daria asked, "A what?"
"You've been calling her every day for the last couple weeks. Did she break up with you or something?"
"We had a…whoa, wait. We didn't do anything like that."
"Sorry. With the way she's been hanging out with Alison, I thought…"
"Hanging out…what way?"
"Staying over…going out to dinner…sitting real close."
"Look, I'm talking about Jane Lane. Black hair, blue eyes, can't resist undressing a cute boy with her eyes."
"That's her. I figured she goes both ways."
Daria sighed. "Please, ask her to call me collect."
After Daria gave her the number, Paris said, "Must be weird having the same name as that princess chick that's been on the news lately."
Daria looked around the room. "I get reminded of it every day."
"Bummer. Well, I'll tell her if she comes in."
Daria hung up the earpiece. "Jane, a…nah. But, she clearly found another close friend." She went to one of the narrow windows and looked out over the forest. "Jane, at least you're not as lonely as I am."
"Dr. Doom has been using various agents to purchase highly unusual items with mystic properties," Reed Richards told his wife, Sue.
"Any idea of what he may be planning?"
"I'm not certain yet. However, one is the Anatolian Key, so he may be attempting some kind of portal."
Sue frowned. "So he's trying to bring in some supernatural power to assist him again?"
"That would be my first hypothesis, but something about this…"
"Whatever Doom's up to, people whose misfortune it is to be close to him pay the price. I'm worried about this poor girl."
Daria sighed and talked into the telephone. "Mom, think of it as payback for the crap all of you have gone through because of me."
Helen said, "It doesn't feel right, working for you."
"You won't. All I want to do is set you up in your own practice. You can sidestep all of those jerks at the law firm."
"I still don't know."
"Then think of it as…my father paying some back child support."
"Mom, it can put the glass ceiling far below you."
"When you put it that way…"
"Good. Just do me a favor."
"What's that, Sweetie?"
"Get a photo of Eric's face when you tell him."
Helen laughed. "I can do that."
"And promise me you won't kill Dad as your business manager."
"Thanks. How's Quinn doing with her tutor?"
"She's really getting into studying."
"Yes, she is. How's your studying going?"
"I'm working my ass off."
"I love it. I've learned more in the last month than I did in a year at Lawndale."
"Um, Mom. Has Jane tried to call?"
"Oh, no. She hasn't. Haven't you talked to her?"
"Every time I call, she's not available. She must really hate me."
Returning from the Academy, Daria told the chauffeur, "Stop here, please." Out of quickly learned habit, she checked the pistol in its shoulder holster.
"All I've seen since I got here is the castle and the university. I want to look around some and I'll need you to translate. I've only picked up a little Latverian so far."
"Yes, your Highness."
The driver stopped the limousine near a market square. All activity ceased as everyone looked over. Conscious of the attention, Daria stepped out of the car and approached one of the stalls.
The proprietor bowed. Daria remembered to acknowledge with a polite nod. This bowing still takes some getting used to. She said in accented Latverian, "Good afternoon."
When the man spoke, the chauffeur translated, "He is very honored by your interest."
Daria examined the hand-formed glass bead necklaces he had for sale. She picked up one with clear beads interlaced with fine amber strands. "I think my mother would like this. How much?"
The translation was, "Please, it is yours."
She held the necklace and thought carefully for a moment. She smiled at the glassmaker and said, "Your honest generosity is touching and I won't forget it. I'll make sure my mother knows of your gift. But please, allow me the honor of purchasing another for myself."
When the man graciously agreed, Daria looked more and found an ornate necklace of polychrome beads. The glassmaker could hardly contain his joy at selling one of his most expensive works.
She continued through the marketplace, finding presents for Quinn, Jake, her aunts Amy and Rita and both her grandparents. Each, she accepted as a gift. But like at the first crafter, she made sure she purchased something else.
The artist brushes were made from hand-cut and sorted hair mounted on hardwood handles. Unnoticed by her, a tear rolled down Daria's face as she looked at them.
"Does the work displease you, Highness?" The chauffeur translated.
Daria looked up and saw concern in the artisan's face. She felt the dampness on her face and wiped it away. "They're very pleasing. They…remind me of someone I miss." She grasped the brushes to her chest. "I'd like them, please."
The artisan reached her hand out and touched Daria's. She said in broken English, "Show me…picture…someone makes with."
"I will. Somehow, I will."
Jane smirked and pointed with her head at the art colony's guest artist and womanizer, Daniel Dodson. She said, "Uh-oh. Don't look now, but it's Toulouse le Dreck."
He walked behind Alison and pinched her on the butt. "I'll wait for you in the car."
Jane's eyes bulged. "W…what's that all about?"
Alison gave Daniel a lecherous look. "He's not so bad once you get to know him, and he's a lot of fun in the sack."
"What did you say!?" Jane screamed.
"Come on, you're not getting all upset on me, are you?"
"Yes, I am! Dammit!"
"Jane, we were just having a little fun, right?"
Jane gulped. "I…I thought. Damn. Nobody does."
Jane slapped Alison's hand away. "Don't touch me you bitch! God, Daria might've kissed Tom, but she had the courage to tell me and to be honestly sorry. You just don't give a damn at all, do you?"
"Jane, you needed a little comfort and we had some fun at the same time."
"You took advantage of me! I was hurt and alone and you…just screw you! Go have your good time with Daniel!"
"Fine, I will. I thought we had a fun thing going." Alison turned and jogged over to Daniel's car. "Let's go."
"Thanks, I appreciate it." Reed Richards set down the telephone and leaned back deep in thought.
"Yo, Reed, what's buggin' you?" His brother-in-law, Johnny Storm said, walking into the workroom.
"That was Stephen. I'm getting a good idea of what kind of portal Dr. Doom is working on."
"So, does Dr. Strange think he trying to bring up some kind of demon dude to be his fetch-boy again?"
"No, that's what has me worried. With the Anatolian Key, he can make a one-way portal from the Earth to another plane. A portal that is undetectable by most mystical means."
"Hey, maybe he wants to unload his trash without anyone noticing."
"The Key has only been used to send the soul and body of sacrificial victims to another plane. None have ever been recovered."
"That new kid on the scene?"
"Either that, or he's sacrificing someone else to gain power for her."
Cried out, Jane stared up at the ceiling from her bed. "Lover and best friend all rolled into one." She bitterly laughed. "No chance of a triangle." She laughed again. "Someone I could trust."
She rolled over and looked at her desk. A pile of handwritten notes had accumulated in one corner. Jane went over and sat down, sorting through them. "Daria knew she'd done something wrong. She never tried to hide it and she…she's tried to make up for it so many times." Jane stopped at one note. "Even from her castle, she's tried to call me. Paris said she sounded hurt that I was out with that…" Jane growled the next, "bitch!"
Walking in the darkened cabin, Jane went to the phone and followed the directions on the note.
After setting her textbook down and rubbing her eyes, Daria pressed the button on the intercom. "Hello."
The butler said, "Highness, apologies for disturbing your breakfast. You said you wished to be informed if a Miss Jane Lane telephoned. Do you wish to speak with her?"
"Yes!" Daria shouted. "Do it now!"
The candlestick phone didn't finish the first ring before Daria grabbed it. "Jane!"
"Hey Daria. Thought you might like to hear a familiar voice."
Daria sat down in relief. "It's so good to hear from you."
Jane sifted the notes and said, "I get the impression you've been trying to talk to me."
"Jane…I can't tell you how sorry I am for what happened. Especially since I broke up with Tom before coming over here."
"You broke up with him?"
"Almost everything about me, true or false, has been splashed over the tabloids. I'm surprised you didn't know."
"I haven't been reading the papers."
"Oh. And you also seem to be the only person to avoid being interviewed. How'd you pull that off?"
"Outside of you, only Mom and Trent know where I'm at. Good luck tracking down Mom or catching Trent awake."
"What about the people at the art colony?"
"Nobody here knows I'm your friend except…oh crap."
"Oh crap, what?"
"Long story, but I bet that information's about to get out. Dammit. I wish I could leave here. I miss you, amiga."
Daria didn't hesitate. "I can be there in nine or ten hours."
"What? How can…oh, yeah, you're a princess."
"And you can fly back with me. We can deal with the fallout of you not having a passport later."
"Father, I betrayed Jane and must go to restore my honor." Daria explained, hopefully couching the request in a way he would accept. "I hope you understand."
Doom was silent for a second before he gave a single nod. "A suitable plane, servo-guards and fighter escort will be waiting for you at Doomsport."
"Father, thank you."
"Proceed and return as quickly as possible. You are expected to maintain your studies."
"I'll have plenty of time on the flight over. We should be back within twenty-four hours." Daria quickly turned and rushed away.
Doom watched her leave. "I understand," he said after she was gone.
Daria looked out of the aircraft window at four television news vans and several cars parked on the other side of the taxiway safety line. She said, "At least there's only a few of them."
The butler said, "The American press is very persistent."
"Janos, they are. When they bring the ramp over, please go tell them I'll answer a couple questions."
"Yes, your highness."
"Hopefully it'll satisfy some of them into not following right away."
While waiting, Daria used the onboard telephone. "Jane?"
"Hey Daria. It's me."
"I just landed. Be there in less than an hour."
"You're kidding! An hour?"
"Once I run a gauntlet of reporters."
"I'll get my stuff packed."
"See you then. I better call Mom and let her know."
"Yeah, that would be a good idea. Later."
After Jane hung up, Daria dialed home.
Quinn answered, "Hello?"
"Hey Quinn, it's me."
"I just flew over and I'm going to stop by in a couple hours to visit."
"I can't stay long, but, I've missed everyone…even you."
"Things haven't been the same…"
In the background, Helen said, "Is that Daria?"
Quinn said, "Yes, Mom. She decided to drop in for a visit."
"Quinn, give me the phone, please."
"Okay, here," Quinn said.
"Sweetie," Helen said. "You'll be here?"
"Yes, Mom. About three hours, depending on traffic and reporters."
"This is awful sudden."
Daria let down her guard a little. "I finally heard from Jane."
Helen smiled at the phone. "That's wonderful, dear. Is she okay?"
"Um…something happened, but I don't know what."
"Oh, my. Take care of her, we'll be waiting."
"Okay, Mom. Bye."
With the phone returned to its mount, she looked out to see the cluster of reporters on the other side of a waiting group of cars. A driver had just finished placing her travel case in the trunk of the middle car. Daria steadied her nerves and walked down the ramp and out to the reporters.
"Good morning everyone. Please, one at a time. I'll start with the woman at my far left and take one question from each of you going down the line."
The woman asked, "Are you really the daughter of Victor Von Doom?"
"Genetically, yes. I am the daughter of King Victor. And, I'm the daughter of Jake Morgendorffer, the man who raised me."
The next reporter said, "This is the first time you've left Latveria or been available to the media since the announcement. Have you been a prisoner?"
"No. I've been very busy studying at the Royal Academy and learning about the Latverian government and people."
"Are you really the heiress?"
Daria glared at the man down the line. "Please wait your turn."
He repeated, "Are you really the heiress?"
"I grew up in American schools. I know you should've learned to wait your turn in second grade."
The gathered reporters chuckled.
A black woman asked, "Why the sudden trip to America?"
"Visiting. I'll admit it was a spur of the moment choice."
A balding man said, "Dr. Doom is suspected of having a checkered past. Do you feel safe?"
"I have some of the best security available."
A younger man asked "How does it feel to be a princess?"
"I'm still me…but a lot has changed in my life because of it."
The chastised reporter repeated his question, "Are you really the heiress?"
"Yes. That's part of why I've been so busy. I have a lot to learn."
"How long have you known about your parentage."
Daria glowered at him. "One question, please. Next."
He shouted, "How long have you known?!"
She scanned across the reporters. "Maybe I've been spoiled by living among polite people. If his rude comments continue, I'll end the interview."
The reporters on each side grabbed his arms and pushed him behind the line. One turned and said something to him in a harsh whisper. He gritted his teeth and stomped back toward his car.
Daria slightly smiled. "Next, please."
An oriental man said, "That was similar to my question. When did you learn about Doom being your father?"
"This summer. More details I consider too personal to answer."
Several more questions were asked and answered before the final reporter said, "How do you feel about some of the very questionable acts and aggressive polices of Dr. Doom?"
"How do you feel about the questionable acts and aggressive polices of any government? No government is without sin. Some day, the responsibility will be mine. Please come back and ask me then. Thank you for your time everyone." Daria walked to the waiting car and got inside.
The final reporter nudged his photographer, "Peter, did you get a good shot?"
Reed Richards studied the sensor display. "We have a clear signal. When she reaches a destination, we'll set down and talk to her."
All of the Fantastic Four rode in a flying vehicle called the Fantasti-Car. Seated at the specially sized driver's station was Ben and Reed sat next to him. Behind them were Sue and Johnny.
Johnny watched the end of the interview on a small television visible in the back seat. "Damn, she really burned that one reporter."
Sue said, "She handled all of them exceptionally well and handily side-stepped several questions."
"Reed, just keep an eye on those sensors. I can't help but feelin' that she's out here as bait."
From his place in the front passenger seat, Janos said, "Our embassy contacted this Ashfield Community's proprietor. She informed it that the students will be in classrooms when we arrive. We can go directly to Miss Lane's residence, cabin three."
"Good. I'd like to get in and out as fast as possible."
The three car convoy entered the art retreat's compound and stopped in front of cabin three. Robot servo-guards stepped out of the lead and trailing cars and stood watch.
Daria had barely opened the limousine door when Jane burst out of the cabin with a round, black suitcase in her hand. The black-haired girl grabbed Daria into a strong hug as soon as she stood.
Jane choked out, "Thanks."
Concerned about her friend's emotional state, Daria was speechless.
"Hey! Let go of me you goon!" Alison yelled as a servo-guard grabbed her.
The servo-guard's data link displayed on Daria's glasses reported that Alison was an unarmed intruder.
Jane yelled over, 'Get out of here! You've done enough to me."
Alison yelled back, "You can't leave yet! I promised those reporters you'd be here for them to interview you!"
Daria slowly walked to Alison. "It's probably a good thing I don't know yet what you did to Jane."
"You mean like kissing her boyfriend behind her back?"
"I regretted my actions, you obviously don't."
The abrupt change of the servo-guards to maximum alert on the display startled Daria. She told the guard, "Temporarily restrain her and let's go, now."
Daria ran back to the limo while the servo-guard bound Alison's wrists with a plastic handcuff. It placed her on the ground and moved toward the lead car.
Alison looked at the cuff, smirked and called to Daria. "Kinky. You're kinda cute; you don't have to run off so fast!"
A short distance past the gate, a blue flying car had parked near the side of the road. In uniform, the Fantastic Four waited beside it.
Daria hoped the thought controls from the glasses to the servo-guards worked properly. Reduce alert one level. The status display on each changed to "high alert."
Daria said, "Stop. I think they want to talk." She faced Jane, who was staring wide-eyed at the famous heroes.
"Jane, I'm sorry to dump you into weirdness right off the bat."
Jane weakly nodded. "Okay…but you've really got to fill me in when this is over."
"I'll have plenty of time on our way to Lawndale."
Daria carefully calmed herself and got out, walking toward the four. "Can I help you?"
Reed stepped forward and smiled. "Ms. Morgendorffer. May we speak with you?"
"That's why I stopped," Daria said in answer to Reed's question. "Based on your past encounters with my father, you either want to know why I accepted, want to talk me into leaving, or both."
"Very astute, Ms. Morgendorffer."
"To answer your first question, opportunity. Concerning the second reason, I've made my choice and I'm committed to it. You must believe I'm in serious danger to come out to meet me like this."
"We're very concerned. Those that become close to Dr. Doom come to regret it. He also uses any means he can to coerce others into helping him. Now is your chance to get away if he has."
"I'm not interested in getting away."
"You should. Ask him what happened to his mother or those he previously named as heirs. Doom has given each up in horrible ways."
Then you should know that what you're asking puts me at greater risk. "I'm being prepared to rule, not fattened for slaughter. But, thank you for your concern, Mr. Richards."
Susan Richards said, "Young lady, please. You don't seem to understand the risk you're taking. Think of your family and how much they will miss you if anything happens."
I am thinking of them. I'm the only real protection they have. "Mrs. Richards, I think about them as much as you think about your children." Daria gestured toward the limousine. "I have a close friend waiting for me in the car and I wish to visit my family before I return to Latveria. So, I'm a little pressed for time. If you have nothing else to add."
Benjamin J. Grimm grumbled. "Your adoptive grandfather would've been very disappointed in you. I can't believe that somebody raised by Mad Dog's son would have your attitude."
He was surprised at the sharpness of Daria's glance when she said, "That man was a psychopath who didn't even have the courage to raise his own son. Instead, he shipped my father off to a military school to, quote, 'make a man of him.' Years later, he didn't even have the guts to show up to my parents' wedding. I'm disappointed someone like you has any respect for him."
Not giving them a chance to respond, Daria stepped back to the limousine. "If you're not going to physically restrain me, I'm leaving." She closed the door and told the chauffeur, "Please continue to Ms. Lane's home."
That was close. I know father has been monitoring this entire trip and recorded that conversation. They must really believe he's got something planned that involves me and they may be right. But still, I get the feeling…
"Daria," Jane said with concern. "You look a little shaken."
"I just had to stand off against a group of superheroes who could've kicked my ass without any effort. I'm a lot shaken."
"It's…a good thing I didn't know that before. I would've been tempted." Daria sighed and said, "Very tempted."
"Alison wasn't worth it."
"Still, she…I'm sorry, Jane. If I hadn't kissed Tom…."
Jane shook her head. "Looking at it now, that doesn't seem so bad. You kissed him and ran away. And then, you were so guilty, you confessed the next morning." Jane fought back tears. "Alison and I were lovers…and she was also in bed with somebody else. When I found out, she didn't regret it at all. But you kept trying…and came out to get me. We're even."
Daria reached into a small bag and removed a wrapped gift. "Even."
"I picked up a few things for people. Come on, now you can say, 'Somebody went to Latveria and all I got was this lousy gift.'"
Jane examined the crisp, clean folds of the package and smiled, "You didn't wrap this, did you?"
"Okay, there are some advantages to having a butler."
Jane was overjoyed as she examined the brushes and felt the bristles. "These are great. I mean real professional quality, not like the stuff I've been getting at Lawndale Art Supply. Where did you find them?"
"I'll introduce you to the woman that makes them. But remember, there's a price to be paid. She wants to see something you paint with them."
"Deal. Now, tell me what you've been up to, Princess."
Jane was worried by the look in Daria's eye that said, "Okay, but I can't tell you everything."
"That little girl's got a chip on her shoulder the size of my head," Ben said as he piloted the car to the Baxter Building.
Johnny said, "She sure didn't seem impressed by your hero, Ben."
"Hush, you two. Not all war heroes adapt well to civilian life," Sue said. "And she's no typical seventeen-year old."
"No, she's not," Reed added. "I think she really could be Doom's daughter and that she knowingly chose to be his successor."
Sue observed, "But she's hiding something. She didn't tell us the whole truth."
"She's playing a very dangerous hand. I just wish I knew exactly what it was. Is she naively hoping to change him, or is she his apprentice?" Reed said, and went back to studying more information on Dr. Doom's recent acquisitions. "I'm also concerned about the introduction of this friend."
"Janey? Whoa, is it that late already?" Trent Lane sleepily said from the couch of Jane's home.
Jane said, "Change of plans. I'll be spending the rest of the summer with Daria."
"Oh, hey Daria. Been a while. That's cool, Janey."
Daria said, 'Hi, Trent. How's the band?"
"Good. Gonna try out a new song this weekend. You two should hear it."
"Sorry, already have plans."
"I'm gonna grab a few extra things from upstairs," Jane said as she started up them.
Daria asked Trent, "Seen the news lately?"
He laughed. "Why would I do that?"
"Just making sure things are right with the world."
"Yeah. Me watchin' the news would mean something's wrong."
"And it would take your eyes off the prize."
"That's right, you still get it."
"New song, huh?"
"Kinda based on you and Janey. Glad to see you two getting along again."
"Just took a few gut-wrenching revelations and a trip halfway around the world to get things straight."
"You're funny, Daria."
"Okay, let's roll." Carrying her folded easel and a box of art supplies, Jane came back down. "Trent, see you in a few weeks or so."
"I should be awake by then." He winked at Janey. "Have fun."
Back in the limousine, Daria said, "Jane, I decided I need to make another stop before home. I'd like to talk with Tom."
"Oh, boy. If you don't mind, I'll stay in the car."
"I don't blame you."
"You sure you're up to it?"
"No. But, there are a few things I'd like to say to him, now that I'm calmer."
Tom opened the door and was surprised. "Daria?"
"The news said you were in the US, but didn't mention that you were coming to Lawndale."
"I didn't exactly give them an itinerary. But you can bet I'm being watched and reporters will be here thirty seconds after I leave."
"I see you haven't been changed that much, though I do like the new look."
Daria momentarily looked at the ground. "I've changed in a number of ways, and not just the clothes."
"So…what brings you here today?"
"Tom, I wanted to tell you something. Some things have forever changed for me."
"I know we didn't date for very long, but there is one thing about you that will stay special for me."
"You're the one guy I can be certain was interested in me for who I am, not what I am or what they can get out of me. I'm afraid that doubt will be in my mind from now on."
"Daria…I'm sorry. I know why I liked you. Anyone who can't see that…it's their loss."
Daria carefully kissed his cheek. "I'm going to remember that and not how things ended. Tom, I do hope the best for you."
Tom shuffled his feet. "Daria…I hope the best for you."
The street on both sides of the Morgendorffer house was cluttered with broadcast vans, cars and all sorts of media people. Daria watched through the car window. "I guess this part of the trip wasn't hard for them to figure out."
Jane looked around in wonder. "So this is what a media circus looks like from the inside."
"Yeah, this is a lot bigger than the one that met me at the airport." She studied the thick crowd gathering. "Jane, this is going to be tricky. I'll throw them a few bones. You can go straight in if you want."
"Mind if I watch? I just had a great visual of watching a school of hungry piranhas coming at the viewer."
"Be very careful of what you say, please."
Daria's tone was clear. Jane said, "I will."
Closer, Daria could see that security guards had secured the perimeter of the property. Thanks, Father.
The servo-guard displays on her glasses showed that they were in communication with the guards.
The limo pulled into the driveway and the escort cars took up blocking positions on either side of the driveway. Daria was a little relieved that the guards stayed inside.
With Janos, Daria and Jane rushed to the door. There, Daria turned to face the reporters. "I'll answer a couple questions, but I really want to see my family."
"Who's that with you?" A reporter called from the crowd.
"My best friend, Jane and my butler, Janos."
"Rumors have started today that you and this Ms. Lane were lovers. Any comment?"
Daria kept a straight face. "No, we're not, nor have we been."
"Is this the Jane mentioned by Thomas Sloane in his Newstime interview?"
Daria nodded. "Yes. Before you ask, events happened as he stated. He took more of the blame than he should. Tom and I share guilt in what happened. If you will excuse us, please."
They went inside while the reporters waited in frustration.
Daria was immediately smothered by her mother, who said, "Welcome home, Sweetie." Abruptly, Helen paled and stepped back, pushing her fingers against Daria's shoulder holster.
Taking Helen's hand, Daria looked down and said, "Yes, it is. I know you don't like them, I'll take it off and not wear it until I leave."
Concerned, Helen said, "Thanks. Are things that bad for you?"
"The potential, yes."
"Gawd, Daria. Where's your tiara?" Quinn said with a teasing grin.
Surprised at being pleased to hear her sister's voice, Daria said, "It's a coronet, and I only wear it on formal occasions."
"I can at least say one thing for that Doom guy." Quinn pulled on Daria's sleeve. "He finally got you wearing something presentable."
"Sometimes, you just have to sell out."
"And that coronation gown. You looked hot in that. Half the guys in Lawndale were drooling over you." Quinn turned her head slightly up and to the side. "Mind you, I would've had all of them."
"Good to see some things haven't changed."
"And a butler." Quinn grinned. "We really could use a cute butler around here."
"Yep, haven't changed a bit."
Daria stepped past them to Jake, who was holding back. Turning slightly so the holster wouldn't press into him, she gave him a hug. "Dad, I've missed you."
Tentative, he hugged her back. "Really?"
"Yes. You'll always be my Dad."
"You're the one who changed my diapers as a baby and put up with me using Shakespearean insults in eighth grade. You are the one who loved me and cared for me. I've always known that."
He hugged her tighter. "Kiddo. You're the best."
"This reminds me," Daria said holding up a slice of pizza. "Janos, somebody in that kitchen has to learn to make pizza."
Jane looked shocked. "Wait. You've gone over a month without pizza? No wonder you were cranky enough to stand down the Fantastic Four."
"Daria!" Helen spouted.
Daria sighed. "They wanted to talk, so we talked."
Helen queried, "About?"
"They had concerns about my father's plans. "
"Concerns? According to some, he has…a reputation."
"Yes, he does. He's ruthless and demanding, but he also cares greatly for his country and his people. He's done things I don't agree with, but so has every other country I can think of." I wish I could tell you everything instead of that line. But almost anything on me could be bugged, and I don't know how much he's bugged this house.
"And that gun…do you have to have it?"
"Along with guards, body armor and security protocols. All part of what's needed to protect a future head of state."
"I still don't like it."
"I wish I didn't have to, either. But it's a reality I've had to accept." Time to change the subject. "At least Artie didn't deliver the pizza."
Jane chuckled. "I can see him on Sick, Sad World, warning us about the Alien Love Princess."
"You know, Daria," Quinn said, "Being a princess will make you a major guy magnet. You can have your choice of really cute boys."
"And if I can toss a few your direction…"
Quinn strangely blushed.
"Hey, don't forget about me!" Jane pushed on Daria's shoulder. "But I'm not greedy, one or two a month will be enough."
Daria made a face at both. "I suppose you two could keep them busy while I study."
Quinn leaned forward. "Daria! The idea is for you to have a little fun."
A faint shadow fell over Daria's mood. "Quinn, I…I'll try to remember that."
"I wish you didn't have to leave so soon," Helen said. "You've only been here a few hours."
Daria accepted the hug from her mother. "I promised I'd be back within twenty-four hours." She stepped back. "I've got a lot of studying to do. I wasn't kidding about how hard I've been working."
"I see." Helen's face dropped as she thought of something. "What are you going to do about school next month?"
"I don't know yet. I can't go back to Lawndale High. All the publicity around me will be a distraction." Daria watched Quinn. "It's probably also going to be a problem for Quinn. We need to consider someplace else, like Fielding Prep."
Jane's shoulders sagged. "Dammit. I hadn't thought of that. What am I going to do at Lawndale by myself?"
"We'll think of something," Daria said.
"Fielding?" Quinn whined. "Where they put all…" She quietly said, "Maybe Dav…" Quinn caught herself and said, "…all those rich boys."
"Yeah, right." Isn't her tutor named David? I wonder…damn. I wish I did have more time.
"You know, Daria. A fashion consultant would really make things easy for you."
"I might consider that…after you graduate."
"With good grades."
Quinn grinned. "You'll see."
Jake grabbed Daria. "Be safe, Kiddo. Come back and see ol' Dad."
Daria openly smiled. "I will."
Helen stepped closer. "And thanks again for the lovely presents. I'll make sure Amy and the rest get theirs."
"Thanks for taking care of it.
"Like I said, I want a picture of Eric's face."
She also hugged Daria, gently crying. "Please be careful. I really do worry about you."
"I worry about you too, Mom. I promise to be careful. Good bye. I'll stop by again as soon as I can."
Jane stretched out on the long couch with her hands behind her head. "It's good to be princess. Jet escort and everything. This is one cool plane."
Daria sat upright. "It's nice. Jane, I was serious what I told you before. When you see any signs that say off-limits or anything like that, believe it. It may not matter that you're my friend."
Jane swung her legs over and sat up. "You're really worried about this."
"I know how you like to flaunt rules. Latveria is a place where you can't do that."
Jane made a good-natured jab. "You mean Ms. Li would be happy there?"
"Ms. Li's so corrupt; they might give her a cell on the third sub-basement of the dungeon. If she behaves."
"That's one plus for the place. But, a dungeon?"
"An underground, high-security prison. Things like corruption and bribery are not tolerated and prosecuted vigorously."
"Okay, I'll behave. You seem to really need a friend."
"You know me very well. Jane, I thought I was mature before. However, I've had to grow up a lot more than I thought possible. I need you."
"Gee, that made my ego feel real good."
"Like it needed any more."
Jane leaned forward. "After Ashfield…yes, it does."
"Fine. By the way, make sure you change before we land. Those shorts are right out for women in Latveria."
"I'm gonna have a hard time running in a skirt."
"I think sweatpants will be fine for that, as long as you stay…discreet."
Jane moved close to Daria and whispered, "You're scared, aren't you?"
Daria nodded. "My father doesn't tolerate failure and he has some nasty enemies." She looked at the floor. Or anything he views as disloyal. "Dammit. I shouldn't have gotten you involved." Daria looked up. "Promise me, if anything, and I mean anything, happens, you'll keep your head down and stay alive."
Okay - one thing - serious thing - that's always bothered me. Daria's gotten pretty comfortable very quickly referring to Doom as 'my father'. Shouldn't she have a bit of hesitation, every now and then?
"Daria, I'll stay with you."
"Please, stay alive. Promise me."
"Okay. Okay, I promise I'll keep low and stay alive."
They sat in silence for a while before Jane said, "So, you're studying. What am I going to do?"
"The Royal Academy has an art faculty. I'm sure you'll have to show your talent to get accepted, but that shouldn't be a problem."
"Certainly a step up from Daniel Dotson."
"From what you've said, an untrained chimp would be a step up from him."
"He's a head of state and can't always drop everything. I'm not surprised he isn't here to greet us." Daria told Jane while they walked along the battlements of Castle Doom.
"I can see that. Got to admit, you have a great view from up here. And damn, your 'personal residence.' Quinn would kill for that much closet space."
"And would probably still run out."
"Oh, I'm sure you don't enjoy that giant bathtub."
"I have to plead guilty to that."
Jane was still laughing when Daria opened the doors to the guest quarters. Jane stopped and stared. "Daria, this place is huge."
"Which means it'll be harder for you to completely cover the floor with dirty laundry."
"Wow. I mean…wow." Jane wandered in. "For just me?"
"Just you." Daria yawned. "Ugh, I'm gonna feel like crap all day. The driver will be ready in an hour or so to take us to the Academy."
"I was hoping to go to bed. Man, this time difference sucks."
In his study, along with Reed and Ben, Stephen Strange re-read a passage in an ancient mystic text and cross-checked with a computer monitor showing a night sky plot. "Eight days. We have eight days until the star and planet alignment Doom needs to open his portal."
Ben said, "Whatever it is, we can't let him do it."
Reed said, "No, we can't. The risk is too great. But stopping Doom means facing him at his castle."
Ben loudly cracked his knuckles. "Hey, I think the place could use a little remodeling."
Jane bit a fingernail as the middle-aged professor carefully studied her painting, a quick abstract of a woman breaking out of a box.
Next, the woman examined Jane's art supply case. She closely looked at the new brushes and set them aside. She picked up the rest and tossed it across the room. She said in a German accent, "Brushes good. Paint garbage. Teach you to work with real paint."
"Have potential. Need much work."
Jane took a break from her dinner and massaged her hand. "They say that making your own gives you a real appreciation of paints and pigments. But by now, I'd have thought they'd come up with something better than a mortar and pestle."
"Hey, I never really thought I'd be in a class that uses The Prince as a textbook." Let alone one that uses it as the "beginners" text. "But it's good to know what people may try to use against me."
"So you're not planning on using it yourself?"
"I hope I don't have to."
Jane ate some more of her meal. "Mmm. I could get used to this." Jane wagged her fork at Daria. "Okay, now that I see what you've been eating instead of pizza, why haven't you put on some weight?"
"Later tonight, you're welcome to join my martial arts training."
"Tonight? Damn girl, you don't have much down time, do you?"
"I've got a lot to learn."
"And it sounds like a short amount of time to do it."
Daria set her fork down. "Maybe. There are times I get the feeling I'll be taking over sooner than later."
"Good evening," Dr. Doom said as he opened the door to Daria's apartment.
Daria rose and whispered to Jane, "Stand up."
Jane followed and waited. Doom stopped across the table from her. "So you are the Jane Lane my daughter has talked about. I take it she has restored honor with you over her prior actions."
"You were accepted into the Academy. I'm impressed. Rest assured that was entirely on your merits."
"It means a lot to hear that."
"However, Miss Lane. Your attire is not appropriate for a royal guest. Suitable clothing will be delivered before you depart for the Academy tomorrow morning."
He turned to Daria. "You accomplished your goal without compromising your studies. I'm pleased."
"And showed loyalty and honor to those important to you. Something you should never forget."
"I hope I've learned my lesson."
"You also handled the encounter with Dr. Richards and his followers with skill. You'll do well when it is time to lead."
"Good evening. I must attend to other matters now."
Seated at the end of a conference table and dressed in a formal gown, Daria told the American representative, "Ambassador Ramos, as you can see, Jane is fine."
Fitted in a red blouse and black skirt, Jane waved and said, "They're feeding me real good. New clothes, too."
He nodded and said, 'How can we be certain that she can leave at any time?"
Daria folded her hands together. "Any delay would be yours. Jane can leave whenever she wishes, but until you provide a passport, she can't return to the U.S."
"She shouldn't have left without one."
"She's my best friend and asked for help. I acted on impulse."
"You took her out of the country without her parents' permission."
"Without permission? Are you certain?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you really certain? Has anyone directly talked to either of her parents?"
"We haven't been able to locate them. Something very suspicious."
Jane said, "Something very like them. Look, when Mom and Dad aren't around, my brother Trent's responsible for me. After I had an accident last summer, we got him a Power of Attorney to sign things for me that require their signature. Did you talk to him?"
Daria remembered the incident. Only way we kept Family Services from hauling you off to a foster home.
Mr. Ramos tapped his pen on the table. "The report says that when somebody was finally able to wake him, he said that you were staying with Ms. Morgen…"
Daria raised her hand.
He continued, "…Princess Daria and that things were, 'cool.'"
Daria nodded. "So the person who formally has guardianship of Jane in her parents absence told you where she was and that it was acceptable. Ambassador Ramos, please process the application for Ms. Lane and deliver her passport here as soon as possible. I took an impetuous step and wish to have things in order as quickly as possible."
"We will expedite the passport, Princess."
"Thank you. By all outside appearances, your concern was warranted and we appreciate that you made the effort to ensure her safety."
The ambassador closed his briefcase. "Thank you for time, Princess. Your patience in this matter is also appreciated.
After he left, Jane said, "Damn. You've gotten good at this."
"I better. Dealing with ambassadors is a basic job skill for what I'm being trained for."
Susan walked away from the Lane house rubbing her temples. "It's scary that some people willingly listen to that music."
Reed said, "He seemed to think that song was a compliment of his sister and the princess's friendship."
"It would be a testament to Princess Daria's friendship if she put up with that singing."
Ben lightly tapped Johnny's shoulder. "Stop hummin' that song. I'm trying to get it out of my head."
"Hey, it has a catchy tune and I like it," Johnny said in reply. "Freakin' Friends. Sounds like the two of us."
"Maybe that I'm freakin' crazy to put up with you."
"She's right over here." Daria pointed as she stepped out of the limousine near the market square.
Jane carried a wrapped painting as she followed, while the driver stayed a short distance behind. She looked around at the different vendors and said, "Penny would love it here…until she opened her mouth."
The brush-maker politely bowed when Daria reached her booth. Daria nodded and said in Latverian, "Good afternoon." She touched Jane's shoulder and said, "My friend."
Jane uncovered the painting, showing a still life of Daria's coronet resting on a stack of two books, with a third open beside them.
The lady looked at it and nodded. "Brushes, good home."
Jane looked at the other booths. "Daria, I just thought of something. I've got about three bucks in American money on me."
"The Academy provides stipends to students. You need to check on how much yours is."
"They pay students to go to school?"
"The University and the Academy are fully government funded. Students don't pay tuition and receive a stipend for living expenses. The idea is for them to spend time studying instead of working a minimum wage job."
"I'll take it."
"Until then, it won't break the bank for me to cover you."
Jane grinned. "Speaking of banks, the old Montana Cabin Fund must be bursting at the seams by now."
Daria stopped and let out a small smile. "I might have to check into some real estate."
"They were about as close as friends can get," Tom told Reed. "I'm glad that they've patched things up."
"Would you say that they are the most important people in each other's lives?" Reed asked.
Sue said, "I hope this isn't too personal. What kind of girl is Daria?"
"Smart, insightful, funny, and holds herself to a high standard."
"But sometimes, she doesn't keep to them." Reed said, "According to your interview."
"I suppose. But really, I put her in the position."
"And she could've backed away from it."
"Thank you, Thomas. Your assistance has been useful. I need to be going."
"Are Daria and Jane in trouble?"
When he didn't get an answer, Tom repeated, "Are they in trouble?"
Reed put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm afraid so. But I promise we'll do everything we can to save them."
Clad in exercise jumpsuits, Daria and Jane relaxed in Daria's quarters. Daria said, "You're picking up the martial arts pretty fast. It took me almost three weeks to get as far as you have in a week."
Jane took a deep drink from a glass. "Probably because I've always been more athletic than you. Only fair, I need to have at least two things I'm better at."
"I've always been a bit clumsy. It really shows with this."
"Yeah, the teacher was looking a little frustrated at you."
Dr. Doom entered and walked directly to them. "Miss Lane, please go to your quarters immediately. I have important matters to discuss with my daughter."
The cutting edge of his voice made Jane jump to her feet. "Don't have to tell me twice." To Daria, she said, "Call me when you're free."
Looking relieved to get out of his presence, Jane quickly left the apartment.
"Follow me," Dr. Doom said. Though tired, Daria hastened after him until they reached a heavily armored and reinforced command center deep within the castle.
After the doors closed, Doom said, "Daughter, much has been expected of you in a brief time. There is a reason."
I don't like the sound of this.
"Years ago, I gave my word to make a safe homeland for the Romany. I've done that, but at a high price. Tomorrow, it will become your duty to continue to keep Latveria safe."
Daria felt her chest tighten and heart beat frantically. "Tomorrow?"
"Yes. An opportunity has arrived to allow me to reclaim my honor and that which I gave up. I think you can understand that. But, to do so, I must allow Latveria to pass into your hands. I have given you command permission for most of Castle Doom's systems. After midnight, you will have command control of all."
When I said sooner, I didn't mean this soon. Daria said, "Where are you going?"
"That…sounds like you literally mean the plane of damnation."
"Correct. When I was a small child, my mother invoked the demon Mephisto in an attempt to free our people from King Vladimir. When she was killed, the demon claimed her soul. Years ago, I freed my mother from Mephisto's torment, but could do nothing about what she had suffered. The time has come that I can repay that torment on Mephisto." Doom clasped his hands behind his back. "More so, because of my bargain with the demon Haazarath, the soul of Valeria, the one who honestly loved me, is now imprisoned there. I will free her."
"How do you plan to do that?
Daria shivered in response to the icy dread in her stomach.
"My spies inform me that Dr. Richards has been following my efforts to obtain what is needed for my plan. You will make sure that the Fantastic Four do not disturb me."
Expertly flying at treetop level, Ben said, "Reed, I hope you're right about Doom being too involved in his ritual to directly control the castle's defenses. This could get real messy."
"The ritual will require his full concentration. During that time, the defenses will be on automatic. It will be much easier to get past them then. We'll cut things close, but it's our best hope to save these girls."
Sue said, "Some of what we heard in Lawndale about the princess worries me. She can be cold and calculating at times. What if she's a willing participant? What if she wants to follow in Doom's footsteps?"
Reed sadly said, "Then that means the Lane girl is the sacrifice because she's emotionally the closest to the princess. We'll need to stop the ritual before Doom or his heiress can gain some unknown power."
Johnny watched the passing scenery. "Why can't Doom ever have simple plots?"
"Damn, Daria. You look terrified," Jane said in surprise when she opened the door.
"I wish I could calm down enough to be terrified. Jane, stay in here. No matter what you hear outside, stay put."
"What's going on?!"
"Some stuff's about to hit the fan. Really bad."
"And you want me to stay here? What about you?"
"In the middle of it."
"Dammit! I'm your friend. I didn't come all this way to hide."
"Jane, I can't take a chance. The servo-guards for your quarters will make sure you stay put. Gently, but they will. After midnight, I'll let you know if it's clear."
"Midnight? What happens then?"
"If I'm still around, my life gets a lot more complicated and I'll need you more than ever."
"That sounds like…"
"If I make it. Keep your head down and I hope to see you in a couple hours."
Deep underneath Castle Doom, Daria uncomfortably sat at chair built for her father's greater size. Doom stood beside, one hand on the chair back. "Organizing a rebellion in Hell will take time, during which I can't be interrupted. The advantage of using the Anatolian Key to open the portal is that, being human, it won't be possible to summon me back to Earth like other beings of the outer realms. The only way would be to send the Key to Hell and reverse the ritual. That is why you must destroy it."
"It is fragile. A strong blow will be sufficient." Doom pointed to an empty sensor display on the console in front of Daria. "They're coming, but are managing to remain concealed. Dr. Richards is a skilled and intelligent tactician. The combined powers and practiced cooperation of his followers have, in the past, made them formidable opponents. I anticipate they will attempt to intervene when I am occupied with the ritual. You are intelligent, but inexperienced. It is unlikely you will stop them. You shall only need to delay."
Daria stared straight ahead, anticipating and dreading the answer to her question, "You're really not expecting to come back?"
His hand moved to lightly rest on her shoulder. "No. That's why I leave my people in your hands. You will lead them to a new era."
He stepped back and started to turn.
Daria asked, "What…if I had refused your offer?"
He finished turning and started to walk to the next room. "I would not have offered if I had believed you would decline."
Daria watched the flashing icon that denoted a low-flying vehicle nearing Castle Doom. He made his decision on whether to serve or rule. I could stop him, but should I? Who knows what harm he could cause ruling Hell? That is, if he succeeds. Letting the Fantastic Four in will stop that…and I don't think they'll kill him. That means Father will eventually be free. Free on Earth. Once again, the choice is clear.
Daria remembered the quick instructions and targeted the flying vehicle with missiles. A second icon appeared and streaked forward, eliminating a missile as it moved close. Within seconds, the volley had been neutralized. Daria noted the flyer's slower speed though.
Jane sat on her bed with arms wrapped around her knees. She jumped at the distant detonation of the missiles. The next minutes passed in complete silence. Silence ended by a loud crash and almost continuous blasts of weapon's fire.
The message from the defense computer system said, "Your orders have left the southwest tower poorly defended. Do you wish to amend orders?"
Daria said, "No. Consolidate to defend the inner core. The outer towers are expendable."
The next message said, "Reminder. Royal guest quarters are in the southwest tower."
Daria decided to take a chance with the computer. "Correct. If we don't defend the tower, it will be safer for the guest. Conceal the remaining servo-guards."
"Confirmed. Only two guest residence servo-guards remain at tower. Auto-camouflage of units engaged."
Jane saw flame flash outside the tower. She rolled off the bed and crawled under it. Moments later, the door slammed open and Ben Grimm filled the door. He yelled over his shoulder, "Looks clear!" He came in further and looked around. "Miss Lane! We're here to get you out! Hello!"
Jane stayed under the bed and hoped they didn't search. Moments later, Reed said, "She must be with the others. We need to get going."
"Right, boss. If Doom hurts either of those girls - it's Clobberin' Time!"
Nervously watching four blue icons move through a schematic of the guest quarters, Daria exhaled in relief when they left without the fifth, red icon. "Well, the camo didn't work, but at least they didn't find her."
After they left, Jane carefully got out and looked through the door. She saw the scorched remains of the servo-guards and said, "Nobody to keep me in now. Sorry Daria, but friends stick together." Keeping low, she followed the Fantastic Four.
"Jane!" Daria shouted at the console as the fifth icon started moving behind the other four. "Dammit! I wanted you to stay put and safe." She scanned through the available servo-guards. None of them can get to her yet. Jane, keep your head down.
Daria kept an eye on the clock and followed the intruders' progress. She quickly learned how movements and behavior identified each symbol, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and Human Torch. They were engaged by a group of eight servo-guards. The icons moved in a blur as they fought. More symbols appeared showing structural damage to the castle. Concerned by how quickly the damage mounted, Daria withdrew the two remaining units deeper into the castle core.
A robotic head gouged a divot in the stone wall above Jane's head as it bounced down the hall. She dove to the floor and crawled to a guard alcove, taking cover inside it. An arm flew and came to rest about ten feet away while Ben shouted down the hall, "Doom-boy's making 'em cheaper nowadays."
"Crap." Pulling her hair back in frustration, Daria watched the flanking unit's icon fade to black. She scanned through the available units again and came up with nothing to move to replace the lost one. "Father wasn't kidding about your tactical skill, Dr. Richards. I can't get a unit around you to get to Jane." Touching Jane's icon with a finger, Daria said, "Keep staying back and please…be careful."
Spreading her attention between Jane, the Fantastic Four and the clock, Daria was pressed hard to keep them busy without seriously damaging the castle. When the clock was approaching midnight, they were nearing the control room and Daria could hear thumps outside. The last of the data links to the servo-guards protecting the control room went down and there was a pall of silence. Daria checked that Jane's icon was still safely back, closed her eyes and stood. With forced evenness, she walked to the door leading to Doom's laboratory and drew her weapon.
Across the control room from her, a short flight of stairs led up to an armored door. It burst inward with a loud crash. Daria unevenly drew in a breath as the Thing lumbered down, followed by the rest of the Fantastic Four.
"Please, stop there," she told them, barely able to keep a tremble out of her voice.
Reed stepped forward. "Princess Daria, please put the weapon down. We don't want to hurt you."
"Trust me," Daria replied, "Getting hurt is not on my list of things to do today."
"We don't have much time. Please put it down."
Daria shook her head. "No. I'm all that's left between you and my father."
Sue stepped forward. "Is he that important to you?"
Daria carefully watched each. "You don't know what's going on."
"Is your friend Jane in there with Doom?"
"Jane's safe. Don't worry about her."
Reed took another step forward. "Think. Is this what you really want to do?"
"If you mean feeling like Marvin standing off against a Frogstar robot? No, not really. But doing what I think will accomplish the most good? Yes."
Johnny Storm tried to use Daria's momentary distraction to fly past her. She quickly shifted and fired. The concussion threw him against a wall.
Sitting on the floor against it, Johnny put a hand to his bruised chest. "Ouch. She packs a big punch."
Reed suddenly stretched up and over Daria. She pivoted and fired, watching the concussion dissipate against an invisible force field projected by Sue. Daria tried to run before Reed finished his stretch, but he grabbed her from behind and held the pistol away from the others. Daria pulled and writhed trying to get free.
Ben took two steps forward and carefully pulled it from Daria's hand. "You won't need that any more, little girl." He tossed the pistol aside.
Daria stopped her struggle. Reed gave Sue a quick nod and stepped back. Sue put up a shield between Daria and the rest of the Fantastic Four.
Daria dropped her head.
Jane reached the corner of the door and stopped. "Oh, crap."
Ben continued to the final door. After three double-fisted blows, it caved in.
Reed and Johnny followed Ben in while Sue kept watch on Daria.
Doom's voice bellowed from within a glowing eldritch circle. "Reed Richards. You have been my most inventive and confounding opponent."
"I'll confound your head!" Ben said back.
"Mr. Grimm. Honorably direct." He looked back to Reed. "You had to go through my daughter to get here. If she is unharmed…my word that you'll not see me again. If you harmed her, it will be the greatest mistake you've ever made."
Doom raised his fists in triumph. "This time, you cannot stop me!" A tower of flame flashed up from the floor, splashed against the roof and as quickly as it formed, dissipated.
Reed, Ben and Johnny rushed forward, only to find the scorched remains of the circle and the mystic paraphernalia around it.
"He's gone." Reed looked around in frustration.
Daria said, "Yes, he is."
Sue allowed the shield to drop. "Please don't do anything rash." However, she kept a careful eye on Daria.
Reed came into the control room carrying a delicate, crystalline scepter, the Anatolian Key. He said, "Where is Dr. Doom?"
Daria said without emotion, "In Hell."
Reed demanded, "Who did he take with him?"
"I'll ask again, where is your friend, Jane?"
"Right here." Jane gulped and stood. "I'm Jane."
Reed stopped, thought for a moment, and then said, "Princess, Miss Lane, stay where you are, please. Everyone else, come here."
Reed stepped away from Daria and Jane while the rest of his team gathered around him.
Daria barely whispered to Jane. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm your friend and I didn't want you to be alone. I didn't want to be alone."
"I didn't want to be alone, either. But, I'm still going to find somebody to kick you in the ass later."
"Hope I can do one last thing."
The Fantastic Four returned. Reed unclipped a small, hand-held scanner from his belt. "I'm very relieved that both of you are safe. However, I must consider the possibility that one of you has been possessed by Doom. He's done that before. Please stand still."
Reed passed the scanner in front of Daria. "You're clear."
He passed it in front of Jane. "You're clear, too."
Daria tightly rolled her hand into a fist. When Reed looked down for a moment to clip the scanner onto his belt, she focused on the Key still in his hand and struck it with a quick, sharp punch like her martial arts instructor had shown. It shattered into hundreds of fragments that fell to the floor with a harp-like sound and Daria said, "With that gone…my father won't be back."
Reed looked at the stained crystal shards and blood dripping from Daria's fist. "You're colder than I thought. Without that, he's trapped in Hell. I'm surprised Victor made such a mistake."
She watched the blood dripping from her hand. Quietly, she answered, "He didn't make a mistake. That's what he wanted. My father's on a quest for something important to him. Before leaving, he charged me to take Latveria into a new era. I intend to."
"Don't toy with us, little girl," Ben growled.
Sternly, she looked up at him. Her former uncertainty had vanished, replaced a certainty of what she must do. "Soon, I will be Queen Daria." She slowly gazed at the other three. "I will not be called, 'little girl.'"
Jane stared. "Daria…your hand."
She tried to wipe the blood from it and flinched at the pain. "I will do what I must to protect that which as been entrusted to me and become the monarch of half a million people. But, I'm not my father. I don't want to rule like him, I don't need enemies and I don't need to continue his battles."
She extended her hand toward Reed. "I'm also a seventeen-year old who wants a new start and hope this is the only blood we spill."
Reed carefully grasped her wounded hand. "A new start."
Janos slowly drew a device along the cuts on Daria's hand. It twitched from the pain as each wound was closed. He said, "You will feel pain for several days."
"Better than dripping blood all over."
"My father left a recording to be broadcast at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. He explains his departure from Latveria and directs that I become Queen."
"The Master will be missed."
"I hope I can care for Latveria as much as he did.
Janos completed his task. "I will leave your highness to rest and I will attend to cleaning up the castle."
"Thank you, Janos."
Jane came over with two glasses of water. "You must be thirsty, I know I am."
"Hadn't even thought of that."
The cool water felt wonderful as it went down. Daria told Jane, "Thanks. I'm glad Dr. Richards was willing to be reasonable about starting over."
"Hey, he even apologized for wrecking the place."
"From his viewpoint and with what was known, he had legitimate concerns."
Jane sat and squirmed around, uncomfortable. "Um…Dr. Richards was kinda right, though. That was cold what you did to your father."
"But it had to be done. In the long run, it doesn't matter much to Earth if he does take over Hell. He will personify evil just as others do now. He will try to influence and manipulate humans. But it will remain their choice to perform evil or not. He has no greater ability to sway others to evil."
"But, you left him there permanently."
"I know. He treated me well and cared for his people. But, I also learned what he has done and was capable of doing. He was evil and that is where he would've end up anyway." Daria looked at her aching hand. "This way…his ability to harm Earth is almost eliminated."
"Daria, there is something else, I can feel it."
"Most important, he went to free an innocent that he put there." Daria reached over and touched Jane's hand. "I can understand that."
I guess you won't be in the running for Prom Queen this year. Daria smiled at rereading that passage Jodie had written in her last email. She neatly folded it and slid it into a concealed pocket of her gown. Her hand was still stiff, but only a couple traces of scars remained. The accelerated healing worked well, but I think it's good that the scars are there to remind me of what happened.
The orchestra started playing and she straightened her back. At a steady pace, she walked down the center of the throne room. The long dress, embroidered with fine silks and set with emeralds, flowed smoothly with her as she walked. With her passage, each bowed.
If I can survive this…it'll be a piece of cake if I ever get married.
At the front of the audience was her family. Helen glowed with pride and happiness. The determination and stubbornness I learned from you will help me a lot in the future. Jake watched her with joy and sadness. I remember that convention trip. You are still a hero to me…and I'll always remember how you conquered one of your fears. Quinn gazed around in wonder. I'm sorry your crush on David went as well as mine on Trent. Please enjoy all the attention that I can't. Aunt Amy gently smirked. The chef was appalled, but there will be cheese fries later. Finishing out the family was her Aunt Rita and both grandmothers. Thank you, everyone, for setting aside your differences for one day.
Upon the dais, the Prime Minister stood to the left of the throne. To the right of it was Jane in a black gown accented with rubies. Just behind her stood Janos, holding a pillow with a crown resting on it.
Daria reached the throne and turned, kneeling on a cushion.
Speaking in elegant, precise Latverian, the Prime Minister stood before Daria as he read from an equally elegant book. "Are you the rightful heiress to the throne of Latveria?"
Working heavily from memorization, Daria answered in kind, "I am."
"Do you accept the responsibilities and duties of Queen?"
"I accept. I pledge to protect and to honor the people of Latveria. That is my first duty."
"Do you accept the loyalty of the people of Latveria?"
"I accept. I pledge to loyalty with loyalty."
"Do you accept the burden of caring for the people of Latveria in any time of need?"
"I accept. I pledge to provide for those unable to provide for themselves."
The Prime Minister nodded, and Jane carefully raised the crown over Daria's head. The Prime Minister said, "Then accept this symbol of leadership and duty."
Jane placed the crown on Daria's head.
Daria whispered to her in English, "You know you've always wanted the chance to crown me."
Jane smirked but managed to keep from laughing.
Daria rose to her feet and the audience broke into applause. When it slowed, she sat upon her throne, thinking, This sure has been some summer, and it isn't even fall yet.
Is It Fall Yet? By Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll
Thanks to Brother Grimace, Ipwichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.