GOD SAVE THE ESTEEM
Ep 7: I Am A Scientist

Ms. Barch's class was a seething cauldron of rage and repression. Every fibre of her being wanted to flunk and berate her male students as petty revenge for her divorce, but when everyone had cameras in their phones and parents would call in lawyers if their child was told off for grand arson, she couldn't do that. One time, Daria heard, Ms Barch had gripped a metal chair so hard it dented.

" Now, before I divide the class into teams of two, who can give me another example of reinforcement?" The teacher glared at her students as they set in silence. "Fine, class. Ignore me... just like he did! KEVIN!"

The boy sat up. "I didn't do it!"

She opened her mouth, paused, and then shovelled unknown pills into it. "Daria! Reinforcement?"

" Hmm..." Daria thought through this one quickly. "To make a child stop crying, a mother might say, "That's it! I'm sending you to El Paso to live with your real father." Whenever the child gets upset, the mother might wave an airline ticket in her face, or maybe even frame it on the wall by the clown picture. The ticket stops the girl from crying, or showing any emotion... ever. Years later, seeing an airplane or just hearing one fly overhead can unleash a Pandora's Box of repressed anger, shattering the grown child's fragile psyche and triggering a psychotic and possibly deadly episode."

Barch smiled. It was pants-wettingly scary.

"I like the way you think. Kevin... Daria will be your lab partner.

Brittany gave a protesting squeak.

"You two will design a maze, and condition a mouse using positive or negative reinforcement."

"But babe, we've never been separated on a lab project before!" wailed Brittany. "What'll we do?"

"Pass?" said Daria.

"I really like doing mazes," said Kevin, fixing on the one thing he'd understood. "Those ones on the back of cereal boxes are cool."


Lunch was a time to gain sympathy. Unfortunately, Daria was friends with Jane and Tom.

"Partnered with Kevin? Congratulations! Next best thing to working alone."

"Maybe you could get a wind-up toy to distract him."

"His wind-up toy is working with Upchuck," said Daria.

"What if you partnered with the mouse and put Kevin in the maze?" asked Tom. "The mouse would do a better job."

"I'd never do that. I'd be obliged to let Kevin out of the maze afterwards."

At the sound of his name, the Devil approached, glancing around suspiciously.

"Psst! Daria, um..." He bent over, as if trying to hide. "Can we do the maze thing at my house? I heard your sister's an Anar-Christ! Or was it Anti-chist?"

Daria though about that for a second. "Ah, anarchist and Anti-Christ. Kevin, I think I know where you've gone wrong here-"

"Only here?" muttered Jane.

"She's scary, Daria! I don't even think she likes football! I go in, I might not come out again! Nah, we gotta do it at my house."

"Why are you whispering and trying to hide behind Tom?"

"Oh right, yeah, the other thing: can we not tell anyone you're coming round my house? I mean, that'd look bad."

"Oh yeah, my reputation would be mud after that," spat Daria, irritated that he'd be so blasé about it.

"Oh no, it's my rep I'm thinking of!" he said cheerily. "Good thing that's sorted! See ya!"

The three misfits watched him go in silence. Finally, Tom spoke for them all:

"If he still sleeps with Ratboy bed sheets, can you take a photo?"


The Thompson's house was easy to find: it still had the "McCain/Palin 08" sign in it. The sign had rotted months ago and teetered sadly, like a depressed zombie. Sighing at the sight, Daria went to the door and knocked.

It was answered by a man with a great bulge where a belly had once been. He looked at Daria. Daria looked at him.

"I'm here to see your son."

He looked at her again.

"I think you have the wrong house," he said, not unkindly.

"It's about the maze project?"

"Ohhh! Yeah, Kevin did say a br- a girl was coming over about that. Come on in, make yourself at home. You like the Pigskin Channel? We got the Pigskin Channel!"

She found Kevin sat in front of the TV, munching away at a huge bag of crisps, his eyes fixated on the old games before him. Daria, recognising a religious experience when she saw one, decided to cut matters short and stand in front of the TV.

"Heyyyy!"

"Hi, Kevin. Ready to work on the maze?"

"Um, well, can we do it in another twenty minutes? This game's almost done and we're up to the good stuff!"

Daria agreed to wait twenty minutes. It gave her a chance to look around the house, and boy did that house love football. Photos from games Kevin and his dad had gone to, photos of games they'd played, old football trophies, a chewed-on child's ball in pride of place with "k3vin's!" written on it, old videos and newer DVDs of football games... They'd even found some space for photos of Kevin's mum, which usually had nothing to do with football and were quite jarring to see.

(She sneaked into Kevin's room but sadly his sheets were not Ratboy ones)

Eventually, Daria noticed it had been forty minutes since she arrived. When she went down, she found a whole new game had started and Kevin was engrossed in that one too.

"Of course."

"What was that, babe?"

That threw her for a loop. "Huh?"

"Whoa, babe, you got a sore throat or someth- Oh! Hey Daria, I forgot you were here."

"Well, you have been engrossed in your schoolwork."

"Uh, sure?"

Shaking her head, she tracked down Mr Thompson to see where the wood and saws were kept. She was starting to see Ms Barch's point.


The second night, Kevin's mother opened the door and stared at her in a look of uncomprehending terror, a Lovecraft protagonist who'd just seen Cthulhu doing a striptease.

"You're Dora?"

"Daria."

"You're... you..."

"This was a great conversation, but I have to go: Kevin's got a lot of intensive sitting he needs help with."

She grunted a greeting to Kevin – "I'll be there in a second, Daria!" – and headed on to the Thompson's garage.

So what's my reinforcement here again?


Erin Chambers opened the door and looked down at the cheerleader. The cheerleader looked at her.

"I think you've got the wrong house," said Erin, not unkindly.

"Yeah! I thought this was the Morgendorffer's house! Did they get arrested?"

Erin blinked. "There's not a... second family called Morgendorffer in Lawndale, is there? Because we've only got Quinn and Daria here-"

"Ohhhh, this is the right house. You're not what I expected at all, Mrs Morgendorffer! Um, is Kevin still here?"

"Noooo, don't know anyone called that. Oh, Daria is staying at the house of a friend named Kevin, is that the one you meant?"

Brittany's resulting squeak was so high that only dogs could hear it.


"Go C-Bucks!" "Kick ass!" "Yeah, kick ass!"

The Lawndale Lions all had the Pigskin Channel, but there was just something about hanging out with your bro's and watching it as a group. They'd descended on Kevin's house with some brewskis and now it was time to rock, man!

Jeffy left the living room for the kitchen, having lost the coin toss for the snack run, and while there he ran into the last thing he'd ever expected to see.

"Whoa! You're... that girl!" He stared in horror. "You're Kevin's SISTER?"

"No. I'm helping him study. Haven't you seen how hard he's focusing on his schoolwork?"

"Oh. That makes sense." He went to the cupboards when another thought struck him: "Wait, Kevin isn't focusing on schoolwork!"

By that point, That Girl had left. Had he dreamed her? No, that was stupid, she was waaaay too plain for him to dream up. But that could only mean she was really at Kevin's house, and that could only mean...

He covered his mouth. He must not say it. Kevin was his bro, it could not get out at that Kevin was dating a brain. He would not let it get out. He'd only tell Joey and Jamie and that's it.


Charlene Thompson had cornered her husband upstairs, hoping he was sober enough to listen.

"That Daria girl, do you think... Well, he hasn't had Brittany round and..." She winced, the idea too horrible to contemplate. "Doug, that girl's someone no one would look twice at and now Kevin's around her? She has to be putting out or plannin' too! That girl's gonna get in a family way and Kevin will have to get a job and never go to college!"

Her husband laughed. "Whoa, hold on there, Momma Bear! I'm sure Kevin will be more careful than we were. Besides, she's a brain and Kevin's the QB! Nothing's going to get him interested in her unless she starts oh Christ you're right! What do we do?"


Meanwhile, at the Morgendorffer's:

"I've been trying to get into the music myself, you know," said Brian. "Started to give that Avril Lavigne a try-"

Jake, Helen and Quinn dropped their glasses in unison. Silence reigned like in a crypt.

"For the sake of family, we'll pretend you never said that," said Helen in a quiet, deadly voice.


"You should train the mouse to build the maze for you," said Jane as they approached the school. "That'd be at least an A."

"I could use negative reinforcement to do it. If it doesn't build the maze, I show it Quinn's old stuffed animals. And then it will never dare cross me."

As Daria entered the building, she noticed something was amiss. People were actually paying attention to her. Several boys looked at her with calculating expressions, as if trying to locate her breasts, while several girls looked stunned or, in the case of a cheerleader, hostile. Daria briefly glanced behind her, in case this was about someone else.

"Now where's the fun of being unpopular if you don't get ignored and ostracised," she said.

"You didn't do anything last night, did you?"

"Besides go to Kevin's-"

There was a collective gasp from every student in earshot.

Daria frowned. "I committed armed robbery against shivering orphans."

Everyone stopped paying attention.

"Before going to Kevin's."

Gasp!

"Jane, I think I've worked out what's going on but the concept is, frankly, too horrible to think about."


Maths class with Mr Ewing was usually a time to shut down your higher brain functions; your body would write down the notes for you, but the unstoppable, droning dirge of the man's voice would have shut down Stephen Hawking on acid. And Daria knew something was wrong, because all the guys were awake and talking to each other. And awake.

They kept stealing glances at her, so she made sure to look at them with her grimmest, most unflinching stare.

Out of her earshot:

"Kevin can have any girl he wants, and he's got Brittany and she's out to here! So Daria's gotta…"

"We have to find out!"

"I'm gonna find out first!"

"I dunno, man, look at her: is it really possible that-"

"Why else would Kevin be doing it? Maybe it's like blind people, she's making up for it by being a total freak at something else!"

"Man, that's not fair. Why can't the hot chicks be like that?"

"Oh maaaaan, you see the look she just gave me? Duuuuuuude!"

"Whooooaaaa. Hey… you know, the boots, maybe she's into-"

"DUUUUUUUUUUUDE!"

Mr Ewing turned round at that, puzzled. Skylar looked back at him, frightened.

"I… really find the subject interesting?"

"No you don't," said Ewing, full of despair.


The girls bathroom was alive with the sound of crying.

"And Kevvie didn't tell me and he never tells me when he's cheating on me so he has to be with her and she's her! It's so… so demeaning!" Brittany burst into sobs.

Angie gingerly patted her on the back. "There, there. Look, I'm sure there's a way to sort this whole thing out-"

"We should sort Darlene out!" swore Nikki, smacking a fist into her hand.

"Daria."

"Whatever. She's upsetting the natural order of the school! And stealing Brit's boy too."

"Yeah…" Brittany's eyes lit up with a feral glee. "YEAH! If that brain thinks she can take Kevvie away, then she can… take some other things! To, like, a hospital!"

"Brittany, remember what the psychiatrist said?" said Angie in a slow and not-panicked-honest voice.

"Yeah, but how will deep controlled breaths and my happy place help me stop Daria?"

She loved the cheerleader captain like a sister, but sometimes Angie could see why Kevin cheated.


The boys cornered Upchuck before History class.

"We need your advice," said Joey, desperate. "You're the most experienced guy we know with… you know. We need to know: how likely is it Daria is really a total freak?"

Upchuck spun his pimp cane and gave his customary grin. "Well, gentlemen, my knowledge of such studious stunners is limited… except for a little thing Ultrasuave Inc produced called Biology Geeks and you know what biology we meant, rrrrrRRRRR!"

The atmosphere was like the Sermon on the Mount.


"Hey, Daria!"

Daria looked at Joey. Hard.

"…never mind."

"Hey, Daria, you wanna go to the arcade?" asked Robert, leaning over. "Brains do like that, right?"

"Wanna go to Chez Pierre, my treat!"

"Hey, D-babe, how about we just go round my house? Why pretend, eh?"

"HEY class, HOW about we PAY ATTENTION TO OUR LESSON!"

"I'm paying attention," said Daria, slumping back into her seat. "I like the Civil War. Lots of men died in it."


"Do you even own a pair of black high heels?" asked Jane.

"At least they aren't saying I own knee high leather boots."

Tom winced. "Well, actually…"

She'd managed to get through the first half of the day, but only by the promise of Taco Day at the cafeteria. Unfortunately, now she was an easier target. Case in point:

"Hey," smarmed a red Mohawk football jock. "How do you like convertibles?"

"I got off on messy car crashes," she said, not bothering to look up. "Total it first and I'm all yours."

"Okay."

Her eyes widened. That she had not expected.

"The cinema's rerunning Brokeback Mountain, could we go see that?"

The player froze, shivered, and walked away fast.

"If any of them say 'yes' to that, I start pretending I'm a Scientologist," she said.

"It really sucks that you've got to go through this," said Tom, looking annoyed. "I… well look, you want to pretend we're dating so the guys will think you're taken?"

"Hell no. I'm not playing pretend because of a bunch of idiots."

Tom was stunned by that. She immediately looked at the floor and not at him, embarrassed.

"I, erm, didn't mean 'hell no' like… erm."

"We can pretend I'm dating you, and then all the guys will come after me because they think I'm a hot bisexual who's easy," said Jane cheerily. "Then everyone wins!"

Daria smiled at Jane. Thanks for the save.

"But then you'll start getting girls too," said Tom, happily taking advantage of the save himself. "And what will you do with them then?"

"Oh, them I'll redirect to Daria. Fair's fair."

"I'm left out. Why can't I be a girl?"

"You looked so good that time in my clothes…"

"You were in a weird art mood that day."

"Hmmm? Oh yeah, for art. Aha."

"Maybe I should look into girls," said Daria. "It might work better. To tell the truth, for years I thought I'd lost any interest in boys because of Butt-head back in middle school. He farted in class."

"I hate to tell you this Daria, but he's not alone in that. You've got Geography with Miss Bea 'the Musical' Frett."

"Oh no." Daria's expression was grim. "He didn't just fart. He spent forty eight hours consuming nothing but beans, curries, burgers, burritos… and held it in until the day we had a test, with the strategic goal of creating a stench so horrible the classroom would have to be abandoned and the test left. I know this because after he farted, he told me about it. And laughed."

"Did it work?" asked Tom. "Because there's a really dull social event Pat Seven and I are being dragged to next week, and he said he'll do anything to get us out of it."

"The teacher made us do the test. Forty five minutes in that room. Butt-head agreed his plan sucked, and we had to stop Beavis trying to light the place."

When Daria looked to her right, she saw a boy had come over and, based on his expression, had heard the whole story.

"I have fifty more stories just like that one and I will go through them in chronological order starting…. Yeah, you better run."


"…you know, Scientology has always fascinated me! I'd love to hear all about it!"

Daria stared at Jeffy, aghast. "How desperate are you?"

He looked at his shoes.

This is the absolute nadir. It cannot be topped.

As if to mock her, Upchuck appeared at that very moment.

"Well, the delightful Daria! I've-"

Right, that was it. She'd hoped to avoid this, but it was time for the A-Bomb.

"I can't, I'm already dating…" She thought quickly for a name. "…Corey?"

"Hey, I won't tell him if you don't!"

Shit. "How about we don't and say we did? I'll even help boost your rep by claiming you gave me an STD."

"RrrrRRRR! Feisty!"

"Corey said he didn't get a date!" cried Jeffy, sounding hurt. "I can't believe he lied to us!"

There really is a Corey?

The boy stormed off, swearing that young Corey would pay for his crimes. Daria breathed a sigh of relief, now only needing to walk away fast from Upchuck – but then Brittany turned up, flanked by other cheerleaders and looking angry.

"All right, Missy Morgendorffer! You stay away from my Kevvie or, or, or…"

"Or I'll have to spend time talking to him? Now that's a threat."

Brittany lowered her head, raised her fists up, and then, to Daria's shock, charged.

"HAAAAAAAIIIIII-"

As luck would have it, Daria had a bootlace untied and when she tried to step back, she tripped over and fell on her butt. The cheerleader's momentum caused her to move past the fallen girl and punch Upchuck in the gut instead. (A random girl cheered)

"Don't think you can stop me with evasion tactics!" she screamed, spittle flying from her mouth. "Pursuit and destroy! Target the enemy-"

"Brit!" called out Angie, panicked. "Happy place! Whiskers on kittens!"

Without warning, the girl's face relaxed into a happy smile. "I love kitties! They're fluffy and cute and they make those adorable purring noises and awwwwww…"

Daria slowly got off the floor, hoping to creep off, when Brittany turned round.

"If you think you're going to take Kevin away from me, you're wrong. Because he's my Kevin, and you're, you're a... a brain."

"You know, 'Brit', that was a surprisingly astute observation about the likelihood of my dating your walking RealDoll," snarled Daria.

"I don't have a doll called Real," said Brittany, sounding genuinely confused and as if she'd forgotten she'd tried to assault her. "I have some Kens though!"

"You know, I don't expect you cretins to understand when I use words of four or more syllables, but you could at least have the brain cells to tell when I'm insulting you like you deserve!"

She stormed off to the bathroom, shoving aside anyone in her path, and her rage did not end until she was in there and there was nobody to see her slump against the wall, depressed and beaten.


Jake opened the door and looked at the tracksuited woman. The woman looked at him. Then she looked at his leather skirt.

"I forgot all my pants were in the wash," he said, embarrassed. "Not that there's anything wrong with a man wearing a skirt! Jake's no transphobic square, oh no! I, I, I bet I like wearing a skirt!"

"Please stop. I'm Charlene – Kevin Thompson's mother?"

"Kevin's the… one with the spiky black hair and the eyebrow ring, right? I can definitely say he slept in our spare room like he said and didn't go out to Zon all night!"

"Kevin's been sleeping over here too? And your daughter's got him dressing like a… like a… people like you?"

"Hey!" snarled Jake, slamming his hand into the doorframe. "How dare you blame Quinn just because you-"

"Wait, Quinn?" Charlene laughed slightly. "Oh, I'm sorry! I think I've got the wrong house."

"Oh, that's okay," he said, immediately brightening up. "We're the Morgendorffers, you must want the Morgans across the road. That mix-up happens all the time! Heh heh, oh that time their church group came here by mistake…"

"Oh. Wait, no, this is the right house. It's about your other daughter? She's been… visiting our son over a science project, and… well…" She clasped her hands together as if praying. "We're… erm… worried that a girl like Daria might… well, be making a bad decision around our Kevin and sort of… erm… Look, he can't become a father at age 16! His football career would be ruined!"

Jake stared at her in utter horror.

"My baby girl's seeing a jock? OH GOD!"


The Fashion Club was in emergency session. (Like, so what if it was Geography class? Bor-ing. And anyway, it kept their faces away from Miss Frett in case of… mishaps)

"This, like, is a calamity worse than that time you wore stretch pants, Stacy."

"They were leggings, I swear!"

"The entire male body at school is focused on this 'Dora' or 'Dar' or whatever, this brain, and nobody is looking to us for dates. I asked Skylar if he'd like to buy me dinner at Chez Pierre and he, like, said no."

"Whooooo could turn thaaaaat dooowwwwwnnn?"

"Exactly. Tomorrow, we need to regain the initiative with a major fashion offensive. We need to throw out the existing weekly plan and improvise."

"With a crisis this big, we may need to throw out decorum," said Elsie, looking grim. "We need to show summer clothing levels of flesh."

Sandi nodded, her usual spats with Elsie on hold for the duration. "Agreed. If we don't stop this madness soon, then we might have to start accepting less extravagant dates."

"We'll die before that happens, Sandi!"

"What do you think she's doing that's attracting them all?" asked Stacy. "Maybe we could learn it for ourselves…"

"An admirable suggestion, Stacy dear, but no: if we act like we can learn anything from brains, it'll just encourage them."

Stacy didn't reply, and spent the rest of the conversation lost in thought.


"Knock knock."

Daria didn't bother to look up. "This is the girl's bathroom, and unless there's something you're not telling us…"

"I'm a risk-taker," said Mack, slumping on the wall next to her. "Your friends are worried about you, you never showed for Language Arts."

"Wow, I really missed out there."

"Angie told me what happened. It's probably a bit late to warn you that Brittany has anger management issues. She might have anger management volumes, in fact: her therapist is really earning their salary."

"I can't believe this day has happened. You realise I've sometimes wished more guys would pay attention to me? I didn't really want to date them, I just wanted the ego boost of knowing I could if I wanted to. And now they all are and I long for ostracisation again. The last time this happened to me was when I mistakenly joined an MMORPG under a female identity, but I could get away from creeps by turning the damn computer off. I can't turn school off."

"Kevin – and you'll be amazed here – hasn't heard any of these rumours. If I mention them to him, he'll probably deny it to everyone."

"Oh great. What a perfect solution, have the town idiot tell everyone I'm sexually repugnant really. Great plan, Mack."

He paused, clearly holding back a retort. "Best I can do, sorry."

"Why are you helping me? We barely say anything to each other ever."

"Well, you needed it. Come on, Jane's going nuts looking for you."


The end of school meant every male student in the area would be outside. Waiting.

"This is going to be hell."

"If it'll help, I'll drive you home," said Tom.

"That would." She bit her lip. "Um…"

Without warning, a leather-gloved arm slammed down on Daria's shoulder. It was attached to Quinn.

"Sis, the droogs and I are ready to punch your way to freedom! And maybe kick some people too."

Daria turned to see the Maleficent Eleven standing to attention, and with them was Jane, shrugging.

"I had a word with Quinn."

Daria smiled. "Thanks."

"Now let's go HEADBUTT some tossers!"

One of the gang coughed. "Oh, and Dee, if any of the rumours are true-"

"Shut up Koichi" said Quinn, "you're already on thin ice after you used my stash without asking."

Tom and Jane watched as the gang stormed out, kicking Jeffy off the steps and clearing a path for Daria with fire, blood and anguish.

"In fairness, I couldn't have done that," said Tom.

"Regular knight in thrift-store armour, aincha?"

"I just like Daria, that's all."

"Oh okay. She told me she thought you were cute."

"She did?"

"Psyche."

"Darn."


She went to her room the instant she got home, not speaking to anyone or bringing attention to herself. She wanted sanctuary.

She meant to work on Lawndale Leaks and get the page on the Fashion Club up to date, but her fingers just hovered over the keyboard, touching nothing as her mind tried to get out of its pit. Finally she gave up, snarling at her computer, and opened up a Word document and just started to hammer away.

Within minutes, weaponised Ebola was sweeping across Lawndale High and hundreds of named individuals were dying horrible, bloody deaths. Brittany's eyes had melted from their sockets and Kevin was watching his hands dissolve before him and Upchuck was excreting his every vital organ. This kept her distracted for an hour.

There's the politics thread on Sick, Sad Message Board. I can yell at stupid people over and over, that's always fun.

Before she could start, her bedroom door slammed open.

"Daria," said her mother, "we just want to talk-"

"WHATEVER KEVIN'S PROMISED YOU, IT'S NOT WORTH IT! STAY STRONG, DARIA!"

Helen sighed. "Snake, dear…"

"sorry"

"Daria, Kevin's mother came here earlier and she felt there was something… problematic going on. Now sweetie, we won't judge you if-"

"OH CRUEL FATE!"

"Jake!"

"Absolutely nothing is going on between me and Kevin," said Daria through gritted teeth. "Nothing, in fact, is going on with me and any boy, or ever will. And I'd like there to be at least one place in this circle of hell where I don't have to put up with sordid rumours because I was forced to work with someone on a science project."

Helen's face fell. "Oh. Oh, honey-"

"You've been FORCED?" Jake, unable to contain his fury, headbutted the wall. "GAH DAMN IT! Daria, you are now forever banned from that house and if the school wants to pimp you out to their pigskin freaks again, you can tell them you have a note from Jake the Snake himself saying NEVER! And he's banned from setting foot here! EVERYONE'S BANNED! NO FUTURE!"

Helen growled. "Jake, that's not helping-"

"Can you write the note now?" asked Daria. She was smiling, a bigger smile than she'd shown in years.

"Sure thing, kiddo! Pbbt, and the old man said I'd never be able to rule my household…"

Her mother watched Jake go, trying to work out what had happened. "Won't this stop you completing your experiment?"

"Hey, you heard the man. I can't argue with my own father." She was still smiling. "Tragic."

"Uh-huh." Helen quietly shut the room's door. "Daria… about what you said…"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"I see. Well, if you ever do…"

"I know."

"And for the record, there was a time when I thought I would never attract any boys and had nothing that'd attract any of the good guys. But life's a funny thing."


When Daria went outside to walk to school, she found Tom waiting with the Car That Time Forgot.

"Lift to school, help you avoid most of the unwashed crowds?"

"An offer I can't refuse."

She got into the car and he turned the key. The engine coughed once and then stopped, like a dying man. He turned it again, but there was just a sound of silence.

"Ah. Well, there goes my sense of manhood."

"Don't panic, the blood of virgins might revive it."

The two of them emerged to find Quinn watching them, smiling smugly at Tom. "My car is…" she sang, "a PIECE OF SHIT!" She ran off, yelling out "I wanna drive you off a cliff, watch you crash into a ravine for the things you did ta me, you STUPID CAR!"

"I'm going to have to agree with Quinn on this one," said Daria. "Sorry."

"No, that's fair."


As they approached school, they were intercepted by Jane – it turned out she'd been running recon.

"Now, don't panic Daria, but there's now a rumour going around that you've been having quickies with Mack. He denied it, which just made it worse."

"OH GOD."

"Yeahhhh. Angie's confused because she knows Mack wouldn't, ahem, 'go there', and Kevin's really confused because people have told him Mack's seeing his girlfriend and he thought they meant Brittany and is now wondering if he's forgotten having a second girlfriend."

"So now I'm more in demand than before."

"Yeahhhh. And oh crap, the track team's just spotted us. Run Daria I'll cover you! EVAC EVAC!"

At that moment, the Fashion Club arrived in borderline-obscene skimpy outfits, leaving nothing to the imagination. Nobody noticed. But they sure noticed every guy in the track team running past them yelling out Daria's name.

"All right," growled Sandi. "The time has come for drastic action. Prepare for Operation Puke-Inducing."

Elsie paled. "Agreed."

Unnoticed, Stacy looked at the departing track team with a calculating expression.


At the end of Science class, Daria approached Ms Barch's desk.

"Um, about the assignment… I had to change it slightly."

The teacher raised an eyebrow. "Problems explaining the experiment to that neanderth- to that idi- to your partner?"

"In the same way the Antarctic is a bit chilly. Anyway, I can't finish the experiment that you assigned. However, I have written up a report on a different experiment that also involves negative reinforcement." She handed the paper over. "It's about how omnipresent male gaze and unthinking, chauvinistic assumptions in a male-dominated environment can cripple a developing woman's interest in relations and sex, and her very self worth."

Ms Barch began to smile, slowly and terribly. "You get an A."

"You haven't read it yet."

"I'm making an educated guess."


In the locker room, an irate Kevin spun Mack round and jabbed a finger in his face: "All right, bro, if you still call yourself that! I just want to know one thing! Um, which girl are you stealing away from me?"

"I'm not."

"Oh." Kevin smiled. "Okay!"

Sigh. "Glad to be of help."


Elsie made sure nobody was looking, then slipped Upchuck a fifty-dollar note.

"Now remember, you only had one of us and we were awesome, but keep the hints vague so it could be any one of us. That's the deal."

"Oh, believe me darling, Master Ruttheimer keeps his promises – though may I suggest it'd make for a more convincing story if I really-"

"We will never be that desperate."


Daria had started hiding in the library to avoid people (which meant the type of kid who went to the library was trying to score with her, but she could hit them with hardbacks), but eventually school was over and she'd have to brave the mobs.

To her delight, they were much reduced from before: now, most boys seemed to be congregating on a single point.

"That," said Jane, pointing it out, "is the Fashion Club under siege. They started a rumour about themselves to steal your thunder. By next week, the guys will have forgotten you again."

"Thank you God, for the gift of small breasts."

"Well, okay, your reputation will probably last, but at least you're not flavour of the month, eh?"

"If I never see a male again, it'll be too soon. And unfortunately, my cousin hasn't yet wised up and butchered her fiancé so it really will be too soon."

"It won't always be like this, amiga."

"I hope not."

In the distance, Sandi could be heard pleading "no, no boys with mullets! No boys with mullets! HELP!".


The end of our story will take place in the evening, but a scene of interest happens later, at a semi-trendy nightclub.

She'd had to sneak into a thrift store and hope nobody saw her, and the too-long skirt and the frumpy blouse both itched, and she was worried she hadn't taken the price sticker of the Sexy Scientist Glasses (now only $4.99 at Costume Drama!). But, along with a deliberate lack of make-up, it all made Stacy look like a complete nerd. A brain.

And okay, the Fashion Club had regained their top spot fast, but the rumours about Daria and brains still lingered, and maybe that could mean…

Jeffy sidled up to her, a very hopeful grin on his face. "Well hey! Haven't seen you around before! I'm Jeffy, what's your name, would you like a drink?"

She smiled. "Stacy. And sure!"


Tom's car was still outside the Morgendorffer house when they came back, and it still refused to start.

"Well, guess I need a new car. My dad will be thrilled. And I'm not sarcastic here, he's been trying to get the Rustmobile towed away for weeks."

"I'm worried my parents will leave it here," said Daria. "They'll think the sight will be punk. They may slash the tyres to complete the effect."

"My attempt to be helpful and manly kinda sucked, huh?"

"The effort is appreciated. That makes a total of two whole guys who did something."

"I'd say you can't judge our whole gender on this one incident, but you like judging things so what the hey."

"This really confirms what Butt-head taught me: I must end my interest in men and switch to women. Or robots. Hard enough to talk to guys, let alone survive a date with them."

"You're talking to one right now, you know."

"Still doesn't mean I'd survive a date with you."

"There's a very obvious response I can make here."

"Yes there is."

"Yup indeed."

"Very obvious."

"We are so dodging saying what the response is."

"Well it goes without saying."

"One of us will break down soon."

"This is exceedingly likely."

"So, um, how about the weather, eh?"

"It's… weathery."

"Oh hell with it, do you want to-"

"yesplease"

Silence reigned.

THE END