Daria vs. Stepford, CT
Version 2.0, brought into the "canon" Daria universe
by Michelle Klein-Häss,
Japanese Language advisor: Katherine Goodman
(Note: This now takes place about a year after "Is It College Yet?")

Prologue: Mr. Bill

Darren Coba smiled as he finished writing the email. The CC: field was full of the names of friends he had grown up with in Stepford: The Markowe boys, Merrill Wimperis, Pete Eberhart, and his very own elder brother Dale Coba Jr.

They called Darren "Mr. Bill" at Falconer Software...a term speaking not only of his legendary programming prowess, but his ruthlessness. Unlike his nicknamesake, however, he was still programming. He knew that Bill Gates hadn't hacked a line of code since the late '70s, and would be totally lost in the realm of C++ and Java he moved in.

Darren was the son of Dale "Diz" Coba, a robotics engineer who had got his start at Fairchild, then spent years at Disney Imagineering working alongside animator and gadgeteer Ub Iwerks on Audio-Animatronics. "Diz" moved the family from Anaheim, CA to Stepford, CT when he was just 2 years old...the offer from Burnham-Massey-Microtech was way too good to pass up. "Diz" was also the founder and lifelong president of the Stepford Men's Association. Only his death in the late '80s ended his tenure.

Darren was dedicated to revitalizing the organization, which had been reduced to basically just a geriatric poker club at this point. There had been no new members since the mid-1980s, and the old members had been dropping like flies. There was another reason for the club's existence: replacement of willful, liberated wives with compliant, quiescent androids who were every inch the women the men desired. "June Cleaver in the kitchen, Linda Lovelace in the bedroom," his father explained when he let him in on the secret a few weeks before his death.

It shocked him at first...his own father had "put down" his mother, to use his turn of phrase, and replaced her with a robot duplicate. That duplicate, however, was all he had ever known. He didn't live the life of kids from outside Stepford...he wasn't a latchkey kid, raised on television. Mom was always outside school to pick him and his brother up from school, and there was always cookies or a pie cooling when he got home to fortify him for his homework. It was a damn fine existence. It was like "Pleasantville" but there were no people going and spoiling things.

Darren had attempted to find a woman for himself when he got into MIT, but he could never find one interested in being a wife and a mother only. Every one of the women wanted their own lives. He even tried going to evangelical churches hoping to find the kind of submissive woman he wanted, but even there the women wanted to go their own way.

D-man, as everyone called his brother, was married and very happy with his lot. Darren was amazed by everything D-man let Melinda get away with. She went back to work after their kids were school-age, she told him off on occasion, and it didn't seem to faze him. Darren often wondered whether D-man was gay, or unnatural in some other way. Dad certainly wouldn't stand for the crap he put up with.

No, he would have to create his own Ideal Woman, like Pygmalion created Galatea. He was not an artist, just a code geek, and he wasn't mechanically inclined like his father had been. He had fixed the remaining androids that his father had created...Y2K patches in 1990, something nobody else was thinking of at that point but him.

Eventually Darren took an existing robot, one which was once Ike Mazzard's, and instead of shutting her down and burying the "dead" droid by his side, as was the Stepford custom, he instead weighted down the coffin and kept the droid for himself. Luckily his schoolchum Adam Markowe had become a creature maker and F/X makeup artist for Broadway, and together they designed a complete re-skinning of the robot. By the time Angelique Coda had been formed, with a voice by an actress friend of Adam's who could sound like Marilyn Monroe and a body modeled after that of Pamela Anderson, Darren finally got his wish.

However, Darren's bliss was short-lived. Mazzard's droid was one of his father's first, and there was simply too much wear and tear on the systems for it to last. Angelique sat in a corner in his house now, silent and motionless, a corpse that would never decay.

Darren knew that the Stepford Men's Association had almost a billion dollars in its coffers. The men, who worked the high-technology strip spanning New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, all the way up to Boston, weren't stupid. They invested the Association's money in initial public offerings by little companies...little companies like Intel and Microsoft and Compaq. And he also knew that the Japanese had made incredible strides in the field of robotics and androtics.

Darren had found a promising company to build a new series of androids for the men of Stepford: the Mishima Heavy Industries Zaibatsu. Mishima had finally unveiled the NK-1124 project: an android meant as a full-body replacement for soldiers whose bodies were heavily damaged in combat. As long as the brain was functional, the android would completely take over for the body. The robotic body had systems for brain life support...nutrients, blood flow, the whole nine yards. That, of course, was unnecessary for Stepford. Just enough computing power to simulate intelligence, and to handle household tasks was required. The brain-augmentation circuitry in the NK-1124 would be sufficient to handle it all.

He made contact with Mishima's CEO, Juzo "Hell" Mishima, and after allaying his concerns with the offer and assuring him that all payments to MHI would be made to untraceable offshore banks in US denominations, everything was set. All that was left was to convince the rest of the male progeny of the original Stepford Men's Association to join up and take it over.

He pressed "Send" on his copy of Outlook2000. Good. Let's see how many real men still are left.

****

1: The Longest Running Joke In Connecticut?

Allison Van Sant walked gingerly into the offices of The Boston Freebie. She had a story she wanted to tell. She had buried both her father, Ted, and her mother, Carol, in 1999 in a joint ceremony. This was rare outside Stepford, but it seemed to be the rule there. None of the wives committed suicide, or anything...they would just lie down sometime the day their husbands died, and would not wake up. It was as if someone just threw a switch and shut them down. She had grown up thinking it was normal, that perhaps this was some sort of mind-body thing.

However, when Allison had started digging into her mother's past, and began talking to her family members whom she had inexplicably shut out of their lives around 1968, alarm bells went off like crazy between her ears. Was her mother secretly involved in some sort of mind-control cult? Were the circumstances of her death suicide? She tried to get the Stepford coroner to investigate, but he refused, saying he had done a thorough autopsy and judged that she had died of natural causes.

Finally she started digging in back issues of the Stepford Chronicle, and began to see that things were far stranger in her home town than she could have even imagined. Why were there so many scientists, inventors and high-tech people living in Stepford? Why did the Women's Club and the Stepford chapter of the League Of Women Voters disband in the mid-1960s? Why did the Stepford Men's Association absorb the Stepford Chamber Of Commerce and the Stepford Civic Association? Why did Edgar and Rosalie Pilgrim and their children move into a perfectly good home and move out two months later?

She tracked down the Pilgrim family to the countryside just outside Vancouver. X-Files and Twin Peaks country. And the story that Edgar and Rosalie were to tell her was straight out of those TV shows.

"I was invited to join the Stepford Men's Association when we moved in. I initially thought, well, that's some kind of an honor. And I knew many of the guys from my work at Reed and Saunders Controls...very intelligent men on their way up. However, they made me an offer that was nothing short of bizarre. How would you like to have a totally obedient, totally devoted wife who will never cheat on you, will have your meals ready for you like clockwork, and be a great mother to your children with infinite patience? Well, to cut a long story short, they showed me a mechanical woman. An android. A robot. There was no skin over the robot's armature. Then a woman walked in and did a strip-tease. After she was finished, they removed her face and showed me what was behind it. Circuitry. Video cameras for eyes. All kinds of weird sensors. A tube where the mouth would be. We'll replace your wife and none will be the wiser, they said.

"I told them I didn't want to murder my wife, I liked her fine, and we picked up and moved out of there within a week after the meeting. Someone tried to kill us back around 1974 or 1975, but we eventually moved enough and lost them. Stepford is an evil, evil place, and they are doing horrible things there."

She was horrified. If the Pilgrim family was all insane, maybe things would make sense. But that would be as much of an unbelievable coincidence as how many wives died within hours of their husbands in Stepford. If they were robots with an "off" switch somewhere on their body, it would make more sense than some sort of string of coincidences, or some sort of mind-body thing.

Even stranger, when she told her story to Freebie Managing Editor Glen Lewis, he didn't bat an eye. "We've been following the Stepford thing since we started the paper in the mid-1970s. From time to time, we've even sent people there, and they've sent back reports that were shocking, mind-boggling...and yet totally unprovable. The Men's Association completely OWNS Stepford. After 1981, the town became pretty much a gated community. I haven't seen an ad for real estate there in years. We have a morgue file with several Stepford stories that we can't use, because we would be sued for libel and we don't have enough evidence to back things up."

"What if I gave you a way to get in touch with the Pilgrim family?"

"Not enough."

"You've got to say something about this. These men are literally getting away with murder!"

"OK...we'll reopen this, and hopefully we'll be able to get enough evidence this time to run with the story."

"I'm going to have to leave New England after this...I fear for my life."

"We understand. Keep in touch with us, though."

"OK."

Lewis saw her out, then got on the phone to his two best writers: Daria Morgendorffer and Michael Cole.

Daria picked up the phone, and was confronted with a story that had the unbelievable ring of those of supposed UFO abductees. Stepford, a town so small that she couldn't locate it on a map of Southwestern Connecticut, where men had been trading their wives for android sex dolls. It sounded like cheesy science-fiction...no, scratch that, like cheesy sci-fi fanfic.

"Glen...I can't believe this story. It's worse than anything Sick Sad World ever ran. This has zero credibility. I don't care how many stories about this you have in your morgue file. I'll do the story, but I will do it to thoroughly debunk it. Oh Jeez, Glen...I do have an open mind, but it's not so damn open anything will fall in! This is Tabloid fodder, not serious stuff for an alternative paper to run. What if it's real? What if I just told you that a squadron of flying pigs were flying in formation over my house right now?"

Lewis kept on stressing the stack of Stepford stories in his files, and urged her to at least read them before dismissing the whole thing out of hand. She agreed, begrudgingly, and told him she'd be right over.

She walked out the door, locked it behind her, and walked to her black VW Beetle. She got in, and drove towards the offices of The Freebie.

Michael Cole had already arrived. He was a rather large guy, both in width and height, with red hair, green eyes and freckles. He looked like he shouldn't be wearing long-sleeved T-shirts and baggy surfer shorts, but rather overalls and a flannel shirt, and living not in Boston but in the Midwest somewhere. Iowa, perhaps. Or maybe Indiana.

He was already thumbing through a large stack of manuscripts when she arrived.

"We're either on one hell of a story, Daria, or someone's been pulling the collective legs of the Boston Freebie since it first published in 1973."

"Don't discount the latter theory, Michael." said Daria with a Gioconda smirk. "This really defies all logic."

"Yeah, but we've got too many people in on the joke."

"Ever heard of Wilbur Walrus?"

"No, can't say I have."

"There never was a Wilbur Walrus, except in the sketchbooks and the senses of humor of a large group of animators. We're talking some of the best people in the industry...outstanding artists. Wilbur is a big gag that started at California Institute of the Arts in Newhall, California, but has now extended to overseas animation houses in Korea, China and the Phillipines, to indie animation houses in London and in Budapest, and even to Yale and the Animation Studies program which Faith Hubley started. The joke goes that Wilbur was the first star character in animation, dating back to moving image toys like Zoetropes. A history had developed around Wilbur and his creator Michael Hunt. My best friend Jane's even done some Wilbur artwork. But you know what? There has never been one Wilbur Walrus cartoon. Ever. That's part of the joke too. People can draw Wilbur and even do flipbooks with Wilbur all they want, but nobody has ever done a Wilbur animated cartoon. Why? If there was one, it would kill the joke."

"So...the Stepford story might be the figment of someone's imagination?"

"An ongoing prank passed on from one batch of college students to another."

"But one thing sticks a pin in your theory, Daria..."

"What?"

"There is a Stepford. It's a real town on Route 9. Just a few hours drive from here."

"OK, but that doesn't mean that Stepford is anything more than a sleepy little Connecticut hamlet, like New Sharon or Middlebury or Sheffield or Kimball."

"You're right."

"So let's not suspend disbelief too far now."

"All right. I won't. But take a look at these articles."

"I will."

Daria sat down and began to read the articles that Cole had already looked through. They spoke almost in a single voice, even though they had been written by several different people. There were consistent villains: Dale Coba, Frank Roddenberry, Ike Mazzard, Claude Axhelm. The women making the accusations were different in each article...a couple of women who ran away, mothers and sisters and aunts of women who had cut off all ties with them exactly four months after moving to Stepford. There had been speculation of religious cults, of the use of psychoactive drugs, and other theories. But there was always an ongoing refrain from those who had seen the changes that had happened in these women: they weren't real women anymore. They seemed robotic.

Daria began to think. Perhaps it was a cult they were dealing with...perhaps a predecessor of the Promise Keepers or something like that. Maybe more accurately a Christian analogue of the Afghani Taliban. Certainly radical puritanical religious cults were part of the historical landscape of New England...the Salem Witch Trials, and the smaller-scale witch hysteria in Middleton Town. Cult brainwashing could turn a person with a healthy psyche and a strong will into a broken, obedient shadow of their former selves. It could happen.

Either way, be it a mind-control cult or robotic duplicates of murdered women, this was going to be a dangerous assignment.

Cole passed her more manuscripts to read, and by the time she'd finished there was a strategy session going on between Cole and Lewis.

"Oh, hi Daria...yeah, here's the cover story we've been figuring out. Michael and you are going to be posing as husband and wife, and you'll be looking for a home in the Stepford area, blissfully unaware that there are no vacancies. You wander around, acting touristy, and in the mean time you gather information about the place. You'll both carry microcassette recorders and disposable cameras. The goal is to get any hard evidence you can of what has happened to the women of Stepford."

"Will they buy us as husband and wife?" asked Cole. "Will we have to take a hotel room together or something?"

"You wish." grumbled Daria.

"I promise I will behave myself." said Cole with a goofy grin.

"You'd better. I might be short and not very athletic, but I've been known to break skulls." snickered Daria.

"In or out of Cannibal Fragfest, Daria?" laughed Lewis. "As soon as you get your evidence, get the hell out of there. And it'd better be good evidence...something that will be enough to go to the State Troopers with. Because if we can't go to the authorities with it, we'll just have to file whatever you get in the Stepford morgue file with the rest of the articles."

"Why?"

"Because whatever's going on is criminal in nature if you believe the people whom were interviewed in the past. If we can't prove this conclusively they can sue us for libel."

Unspoken: the logical conclusion to Glen Lewis' words. If they win a libel case, they can easily shut down the Freebie.

Daria sighed. "So when do we start?"

"Tomorrow." said Lewis.

Fair enough, Daria thought. She didn't have a particularly demanding schedule at Raft University for another few days, so this would not hurt the all-important GPA.

Meanwhile, a young woman prowled along the edges of the main fence surrounding Stepford. She wore a track suit and moved with a feline grace. Her raven hair was cut in a severe bob, and her eyes were huge...bigger than natural, with an almond slant to them. A believer in UFOs might suspect she was some sort of alien-human hybrid. But her story was a lot stranger than that.

The woman still could remember an existence in a much smaller frame...that of a little grey stray kitten. But her existence in cat form didn't last very long...she was killed in a hail of bullets. But before her brain could die, it was placed inside a robotic support unit...designation NK-1124. Although designed for a human brain, the biological support adapted beautifully for the smaller feline brain. And once attached to the electronic augmentation, the cat brain began to expand its virtual connections and become almost human.

The robotic support unit was encased in a pseudo skin made of a very skinlike polymer, and she could look in the mirror and see that she was very pretty. Her "father," Kyusaku Natsume, had designed her to look like a high school girl. But recently she had herself modified to look older because her initial mission to protect Natsume-san's son Ryunosuke had ended.

The name Natsume-san had given her was Atsuko. Her juvenile nickname had been "Nuku Nuku," which translates from Japanese as Kitten. But now she told everyone to call her Kat Natsume. Everyone assumed her name was short for Katherine, as she had intended. But she took the name because she felt that the Kitten had grown up. The kitten-brain had died. The computer circuitry in her head had more than duplicated the neural pathways of her feline brain, so she didn't suffer from the death of the last piece of her flesh. Well, physically anyway. Psychically, inasmuch as any machine could have a psyche, she felt very, very odd. She knew she was a machine. But she felt there was something more to her than that, than silicon and metal and polymer.

She darted around a corner, and saw that there was a small gap in the fence, small enough to wriggle through. A cat, of course, could get through without a problem. But for Kat, it was effort.

The fact that Kat did not give off infrared radiation like a live human was an advantage she hadn't thought much about. Since the defenses of Stepford were based on keeping humans out, none of the sensors tripped. However, there was a minor tear in the skin of her left forearm, and as she took a breather she also opened up her fanny pack and mended the tear with Krazy Glue. No blood, no pain. Just a rip. Like cloth.

She compared her surroundings to the GPS information she was receiving and the map she had downloaded. The trick now was to find out what Mishima Heavy Industries wanted with a small gated community in Connecticut, USA. She paused briefly, then started to run down Cheltenham Road, towards the center of town.

****

2: This Town Is Coming Like A Ghost Town

The next day, Michael Cole and Daria Morgendorffer, posing as Mr. and Mrs. Hal Woods, drove in Daria's VW Beetle to Stepford. The trip wasn't bad...the ride was like a country excursion most of the way. Cute little towns. Jane's Aunt Bernice lived out this way, in Middlebury, but there was no time to stop and see which straw hat she was wearing today. They stopped for breakfast in Sheffield, at the Van Gogh Cafe, paying with cash. They would have to pay with cash for most of their needs...they had travelers checks too, but it would mean signing with a fake name. Even outside of Stepford, they had already assumed Deep Cover.

"You know, Mike...they could find out who I really am because of my driver's license and my license plate."

"I've got my driver's license on me too. We need to avoid showing ID as much as possible."

"Cash then."

"Yep."

By the time they made it to the gates of Stepford, they had figured out a back story. "Hal" was a lawyer in Manhattan, "Gail" was his wife, a couple of months pregnant with their first child. They were attracted to Stepford because of its gorgeous old houses, its Colonial heritage, and its peace and quiet.

They drove up to the guard gate.

"You're visitors, right? Who are you here to visit?"

"Is there a real estate office here? We'd like to see if there are any houses for sale here."

The guard looked perplexed. He ducked into the guard box, and instantly called the Men's Association.

Frank Ferretti picked up. He was having a cup of coffee with Darren Coda, who had coincidentally taken the day off to talk to the current Men's Association president about revitalizing the organization.

"Hello, Men's Association."

"It's Pat the gate guard. We've got a young couple here who are asking about houses for sale."

"Houses for sale? Gad, we've not seen anything like that in years!"

Darren smiled. A young couple? Fresh new blood for the community!

"I think that we should just politely turn them away..."

Darren cut Frank off. "Uh, Frank...let's talk awhile. Tell Pat to keep the couple at the gate, and put him on hold. This is an opportunity we need to take advantage of."

Frank shrugged, then picked up the receiver again. "Pat...on second thought, keep them there. I have to confer with some of the other members about this."

"What?" he asked Darren. "What's the big opportunity?"

"Stepford needs new people -- young people. We have plenty of houses which we could sell. If we get more people, we strengthen the town, and provide more cover for our remaining citizens."

"You're right." replied Frank. "Sure, let's see what these new people are like."

Frank took the phone off hold. "Pat, show them in. We'll send out the Welcome Wagon Lady and have her take them to the old real-estate office. We can have them see some of the vacant homes, and eventually we'll invite the man up to the Association House."

Pat walked out of the gate house, and put on his best "howdy neighbor" smile.

"OK, park your car around the corner, and we'll have someone come get you within the hour. Stay close to your car...we have cameras to watch you."

Pat slapped a "visitor" sticker on the windshield. "Be good."

The gate opened, and Daria and Michael drove in.

They waited by the car, cooling their heels and a little nervous.

"Be GOOD?" asked Michael. "I don't like the sound of that."

"He's just a rent-a-cop with a superior attitude."

"Yeah, you're right."

Back at the Men's Association, Frank, Darren, Walter Eberhart and Royal Hendry went into a room and retrieved the Welcome Wagon Lady robot.

"You know, if we can't reactivate the Welcome Wagon Lady we're in deep shit." said Walter.

"Nope...if we can't get her working then I will personally go down and deal with them." answered Darren. "I'm that convinced that this is a move we need to make. "

"What if these people aren't what they say they are?" asked Royal. "Media, maybe? Connecticut State Troopers? Or FBI?"

"Then we deal with them. We give them no quarter." replied Darren. "Remember, we're men. The Stepford way of life is built on our superior strength and intelligence. Geniuses don't go into law enforcement, or even journalism. We can out-think them, and if need be we can out-fight them."

"You're your father's son, Darren." said Walter with a smile.

"I know." said Darren, returning the smile.

The robot revived, but needed to have its program reloaded. This would take a little while, considering that the link between the old Stepford UNIVAC mainframe and the RS232 port on the nape of the robot's neck only ran at 9600 bits per second. Once that was an impressive speed, but in 2003 it was painfully slow.

Darren watched the transfer and sighed. "Once Mishima delivers its first new batch of NK-1124 units, we'll be able to load personalities in a matter of nanoseconds. Thankfully the Welcome Wagon Lady's vocabulary and behavior files are pretty slim. They were coded in the days before bloatware. And NK-1124 units have gigabit Ethernet ports in the back of their heads."

"Awesome." quipped Royal.

"You better believe it, it's awesome. These new droids can interface with MHI battlemechs. If we need to defend Stepford from an outside attack the women will become a private army."

"So when are the new guys coming tonight...8? 9?" asked Frank.

"They'll all be here at 8 sharp. And now we have another guy to show the orientation to...this new guy." said Darren.

Walter looked at the young man who seemed so much like his father. He basically walked in and took over the Men's Association, but it was a succession much like a prince taking over for his dead father. The King is dead, long live the King. But he seemed awfully trusting of these new people. There hadn't been any house-hunters darkening the doors of Stepford for years. Walter was pushing 60, and Darren was still only in his thirties. And considering that he spent most of his life with computers it was likely he was pretty naive in the ways of the world.

"Just be on your guard, Darren." said Walter aloud, finally. "Keep an eye on them."

"Of course." said Darren.

After what seemed like an eternity, a shapely but older woman wearing anachronistic garb walked up the street to greet them. She looked like she stepped out of the late 1960s, from the flip hairdo to the fake eyelashes to the Lucite-heeled pumps.

"Good morning, folks...I'm Audrey. Usually I'm from Welcome Wagon and welcome newcomers to Stepford. But today I'm going to show you around, tell you which houses are available, and give you the tour of the neighborhood."

"So, you're not a real estate agent?" asked Daria.

"Our one realtor is away on business...your timing was a wee bit off, he left on Monday, and he's not expected back until next Wednesday. But I'm showing places while he's off. Oh, and for lunch we will be visiting Mr. and Mrs. McCormick's house. Here in Stepford, we all look out for each other. Here, family values isn't a mere slogan."

"I see." said Michael. "I'm all for family values."

Stepford was fairly vacant, and had the look of a movie set. About half of the shops were closed, and some looked like they had closed for a long time.

"How come there are so many shops that look like they're vacant?" asked Daria.

"Oh, well, many of our shopkeepers have retired. We still have our post office and our convenience store, drug store and supermarket are all in operation. But we are in need of people to reopen some of the community's shops. Perhaps that would be you? Mr.?"

"Call me Hal, Ma'am."

"Hal. Very nice, strong name."

"Works for me."

"Yes, Hal, there are plenty of opportunities right here in the City Center for go-getters to open up shop!"

"Uh, I'm a lawyer. I have a very successful practice in Midtown Manhattan."

Daria smiled. "However, I've always wanted to open up a bookstore. Mysteries, the Unexplained...stuff like that."

"Oh, but what about your family plans? Children need their Mother, that's what I believe. Maybe when you're as old as I am and the kids are grown."

"Uh...aren't there any nannies in the neighborhood?"

"Nannies? Pish, posh, Mrs....uh..."

"Gail. Gail Woods."

"Mrs. Woods, we don't have much call for nannies in this neighborhood. Remember I spoke about family values earlier? We really and truly believe in them here. A woman's place is at home until her children grow up. And keeping the home fires burning for hubby!"

The Welcome Wagon Lady giggled a little.

I'll bet she hasn't had a fire on in a long, long time! thought Daria. She had to find a polite way to respond to this...this fossil of a woman. Or was she even a woman? Hmmm.

"Well, let's just say we'll agree to differ on that score." she finally said with a heavy sigh.

"Certainly, Mrs. Woods. Anyway, let's go see this lovely split-level on Concord Road. Then in...hmm, let me check my watch...yes, in a half-hour we'll be visiting the McCormicks for lunch."

"Lead on." said Daria.

****

3: A Norman Rockwell Luncheon.

The McCormick household was neat as a pin. Bill was 62 years old and retired from his job at Reed & Saunders Controls. His wife, Marge, however, didn't look a day over 30. She wore a very anachronistic long dress and a full-length apron with frills. She was like a hallucination of Donna Reed and Raquel Welch merged into one woman with skin as perfect as a waxwork. Call her Barbarella Crocker.

Bill sat watching ESPN...there was a golf tournament on, and he was very engrossed in the action.

"C'mon, you lousy rotten darkie...make that putt! Phenom my ass...that Tiger Woods. Call him a freakin' flash in the pan. Where's my beer, woman?"

"Coming right up, honey!" she said with a lilt in her voice. That was not the voice of a senior citizen. It sounded like Mamie Van Doren, maybe. Or Marilyn Monroe. Like some kind of '50s adolescent wet dream.

"You want some coffee, dearies?" Marge asked as she rushed into the kitchen. "I'm going in to get a beer for hubby, is there anything I can get you?"

Both Daria and Michael begged off.

"An' this time, don't freakin' shake the beer...last time you brought me one it foamed all over the freakin' place. Got my favorite golf shirt all covered with beer. You gonna wash that?"

"Sure, honey."

It really did seem like they had warped back in time. Bill was a real caveman. Daria half expected him to get impatient and drag his impossibly perfect wife back to his chair by her hair, the beer still in her hand.

"The Swiss Steak should be done any minute now." said Marge as she brought Bill a beer and a chilled mug. "Comfy, honey?"

Bill just grunted "That will be all" and Marge faded back into the kitchen.

Daria followed her in.

"Your husband...he seems awfully, well, abusive, if I may say so."

"Oh no...Bill is a like a little cute puppy. He may bark, but he has absolutely no bite."

"The words are abuse enough, Mrs. McCormick. You don't have kids, right?"

"Yes, it's an empty nest here." Marge sighed wistfully. "I'm not as busy as I used to be, and frankly I don't like that. Idle hands and all that. I took up a little needlepoint but Bill didn't like it, so I let it slide. Now I putter in the garden when all my housework is done. The salad I'll be serving today is all freshly picked. So much nicer than the store, and we save on the grocery bills."

"Mrs. McCormick...you didn't hear what I said..."

"Of course I did, dear! I'm so very happy here...you are talking foolishness. So what if he's a little gruff. That's just how the boys are. Snips and snails and puppy-dog tails."

Daria gave up, threw up her hands, and walked out of the kitchen.

"You sure you don't want a little coffee before lunch?"

"No thank you."

Daria was only in the kitchen for a minute or so, but she noticed something. The refrigerator was pretty new. The stove and oven looked a little like a refugee from the 1960s, but the fridge was new, and there was a breadmaker and a modern grind-and-brew coffeemaker. But no microwave! The ubiquitous gadget was nowhere to be seen. Paranoia about what the microwave would do to Bill's Precious Bodily Fluids perhaps? Very, very odd. Why, even Grant Clinton and Leslie DeWitt, Ted DeWitt-Clinton's Luddite parents, had a microwave! Hmmm...the gears began to grind in her head. Get the Old Biddy near a microwave and see what happens. We'll drop by the convenience store and warm up a bagel.

Daria could not complain about the meal, though. A Swiss Steak dinner at Flip's Fifties Diner in Lawndale was nowhere near as good. The steak must have been slow-cooking for hours...it was fork tender. The mashed potatoes were real, and laced with real cream and topped with pats of real butter. The green beans, however, were canned and forgettable, so Daria took a second helping of the green salad. Barbarella Crocker had struck again.

She looked over at Marge, flitting like a hummingbird between each guest. She wasn't sitting down and she certainly wasn't eating. Anorexia? No, she was perfect...a Barbie doll come to life. She even had those impossible proportions, too. Huge breasts, huge but perky. A waist that must have entailed the removal of ribs to get to. A butt that looked like two little apples. Either she had plastic surgery, or she was plastic herself.

After the meal, Daria offered to help clean up while Michael got a little closer to Bill. Considering Bill's Neanderthal view of the female of the species, any attempt by her to get information out of him would be fruitless.

"So I noticed something...how come there's no microwave in here?"

"Micro...what's that?"

Daria stopped dead in her tracks.

"A microwave? Space-age oven? Box that warms up a cup of water in 3 minutes flat? Gets a TV Dinner done in 5 minutes?"

"I've never heard of one! Are they something NASA uses for the Astronauts?"

"Well, they have one up on the Space Shuttle. And several on the Space Station. And just about everyone has one at home now. Except you."

"Sounds really neat...my son loved Science Fiction. Star Trek, that stuff. Beam me up, Scotty. So cute, all that space stuff."

Daria couldn't help it...she sighed again, turned on her heel and walked out.

She passed by Michael and tapped him on the shoulder. "Uh, Hal... sweetheart... you were saying you were out of lighters. We should go by that convenience store and get one."

"What lighters?"

Daria discreetly elbowed Michael in the ribs. He finally took the hint. "Uh yeah, sure...yeah, lighters! I need one. Audrey, can you take us back by the convenience store?"

Audrey smiled. "You don't want to eat and run, dearie...it's not polite."

Michael stepped in. "Uh, we're stuffed...we couldn't eat a single bite more. Yeah, let's go to the convenience store."

Bill smiled and waved. "See you at the Men's Association tonight, kid."

Michael smiled back. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

****

4: Look What The Cat Dragged In

Daria whispered into Michael's ear. "We gotta figure out how to ditch Old Mother Hubbard here."

Michael whispered back. "Yeah, I see your point."

"Another thing...we need to lure her near the microwave and start it up. I have a feeling that there is more to this microwave thing than just anachronism."

"Yeah."

They made it to Chadwick's Liquor, and Daria looked around. No microwave there either, at least not one that was customer accessible.

"Uh, where's your microwave, sir?" she asked.

"I gotta go back into the store room to use it. We have a strict health code here. Public microwaves get dirty and unsanitary quickly. So if you want a hot burrito or something, I gotta take it back in the store room and use the microwave there."

"OK, no problem." she replied. "No cocoa for me, then. I think I'll get something cool to drink instead."

"Good idea. It's almost Summer."

They walked out, and The Welcome Wagon Lady was waiting for them.

"Well, you two...we have a few more homes on the market to look at, or maybe we can show you the Stepford Country Club. 18 holes of the finest golf in Southwest Connecticut. PGA certified course!"

"Golf...isn't my game." said Michael. "Can my wife and I take a little stroll by ourselves and talk? We have a lot to consider moving here. We need a little time."

"Certainly. I'll go and sit down on the benches near the library over there, and you can talk amongst yourselves."

"Thanks, Ma'am."

Daria and Michael walked briskly until they thought they were out of eyeshot, then took off running a few blocks to make sure they weren't within earshot.

"There's a saying amongst us skeptics...Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," said Daria, slightly out of breath. "I think I've seen enough extraordinary proof to know that something extremely weird is going on here. The mechanical hypothesis is probably the best one. These are some sort of robots. They must have been manufactured sometime in the late 1960s, judging from the old biddy's looks, which puts them before the integrated circuit and before modern servo motors. There is still a lot of perfecting to do before we get into the realm of See Threepio and bipedal, self-contained robots...at least, so I thought. Fembots. Who would have believed that Mike Meyers was the next Jules Verne?"

"Yeah, it's pretty damn funny. But how do we get carry-home proof that something is up here?"

"You go to the Men's Association. You wear a couple of voice-activated microcassette recorders...you can use mine too. 2 hours in, you switch to the second deck because the first tape would be used up on both sides. You perhaps act a little touristy and take a few shots with your disposable camera. Then we get the hell out of Dodge."

Suddenly, the two of them were knocked behind a bush by...was that a human running that fast?

"Silly gaijin! Didn't you know the Welcome Wagon Lady is a spy droid?" she said in a voice that sounded a little like Brittany with a Japanese accent.

"What?"

"You were still within range of her eyes and her ears. At least I got you out of eyeshot."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Kat Natsume. Hajimemashte. I'm here to find out what Mishima Heavy Industries is doing with a sizeable contract with a men's club in a tiny town in Connecticut. Usually MHI contracts to whole nations...armies, navies. Not to a fraternal organization."

"Yeah, we're here investigating Stepford too. We're..."

"Shush your mouth! We get a bit more out of range and you tell me everything!"

Daria, Michael and Kat snuck back around the corner, then made a run for it to a parking lot back behind an abandoned store.

"Very good. So introduce yourselves now, neh?"

"I'm Daria Morgendorffer, and this is Michael Cole. We're reporters for the Boston Freebie. The Freebie has been following stories about Stepford and the weird happenings there almost since their first day of publication. Trouble was, there was never enough corroborative evidence for any of the resulting stories to be published. We're here to bring back that evidence."

"These guys are heavy, Daria-san. Heavy guys with lots of weapons stockpiled in the Men's Association basement. There's new guys there...they aren't all just aging pigs with sex toys. I've been watching them."

"I've been invited to meet the guys tonight." said Michael.

"Watch your ass, wakarimasuka?"

"I will." replied Michael.

"And I'll keep you covered."

"Good to have allies." cracked Daria.

"I gotta go...you shouldn't be seen with me for too long. Yoroshiku, Daria-san, Michael-san."

The petite, lithe girl with the unearthly eyes and the track suit sped off at impossible speed. A robot too? Well, if she was, she was certainly a newer model than The Welcome Wagon Lady and Marge McCormick.

The two of them then walked back along Cold Creek Road back into the Town Center. Sure enough, The Welcome Wagon Lady was still sitting in front of the library. Was she aware of what transpired? Or was she unaware, and Kat had overestimated this model's capabilities?

"I hope you both had a nice stroll."

"Yeah, this town really grows on you." replied Michael, smiling. To illustrate the point, he flicked a stray twig off his shoulder.

"It's certainly a change of pace from Manhattan." quipped Daria.

"So, Mr. and Mrs. Woods, what would you two like to do next?"

"Well, there's not much else...I liked that house on Anvil Road we saw...very good for a growing family." said Daria. "We'd like to just spend the rest of the afternoon in Sheffield...there were a few used book stores I wanted to look at, and we have reservations at Chloe's for an early seafood dinner. Don't worry, we'll both get back to Stepford in time for Hal's appointment at the Men's Association."

"Oh, they want you there too, Mrs. Woods. One of the men is doing something with computers and cameras. He's a big special effects guy...lot of Broadway shows, some commercials. He wants to take pictures of the both of you. Some big mishmash of information."

Daria was taken aback briefly, but realized that this would be a great opportunity for her to gather information about the Men's Association as well. "Sounds interesting. I like new technology." she finally answered.

"See you later, then." The Welcome Wagon Lady walked briskly away, but something happened. She stumbled, fell, and began flailing on the sidewalk. Daria and Michael whipped out their cameras and began taking pictures as quickly as they could. Her wig had flopped off, and they could see the port in the back of her neck. They got a few fairly close-up pictures, then put the cameras away in their jackets. The security guard was coming, so they quickly adjusted the robot's wig and made like they were helping her.

"I think she having a seizure." explained Daria as she tugged and pulled at the writhing robot. We can't quite get her back to her feet, or even to have her lying on her back...she's fighting us all the way."

"That's fine, I'll handle it from here. Miss Colton, like you said, has seizure problems. I'll get her to Dr. Percival from here. See you later, eh?"

"Sure."

Daria and Michael got back into her VW and exited the gates of Stepford.

****

5: Bohemian Interlude

"Now, this is more like it." said Daria as she drove into Sheffield. "Book stores, art galleries...I gotta go by here sometime with Jane. She probably has been here before, but it would be fun."

"Yeah, Sheffield has been this way since the Beat Generation. Nobody famous lived here, but small-time artists and poets stuck on the East Coast would come up here to hang out. Many settled here." explained Michael. "My dad was one of those artists."

"So you grew up here?"

"Kind of. Mom and Dad broke up a year after I was born. I lived in Providence and visited Dad here on weekends. Check out KGB Books...it's great for literature."

"KGB?"

"Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs."

Daria wound up purchasing an armful of books, including a rather expensive first edition of Naked Lunch.

"Wow...that was a pretty pricy book to pony up for." said Michael as Daria loaded the books into the trunk.

"Let's see. I have a book deal with Simon and Schuster, and a syndication deal with Creator's Syndicate. I can afford it. Not bad for a college student, huh? And I put it on my VISA so none of the cash will get spent on this."

"Uh...Daria?"

"What?"

"We're supposed to be under Deep Cover."

"Stepford won't have operatives here. At a bookstore specializing in Beat lit? I don't think so."

However, behind the counter was Peter Axhelm, one of the Stepford Sons, who had bought KGB Books a few years back. He spun his chair 180 degrees around and got on his laptop. He hit his dialup icon and opened his Internet connection. The ICQ flower rotating in the system tray turned green, and he sent a message to Darren Coba's ICQ account.

They aren't what they seem.
I can't get a handle on it for sure, but
the new people are not who they say
they are.
I don't know what they're up to, but
watch your back.

Darren's response was a surprisingly relaxed one.

Stop sniveling!
Whatever they are, we can handle 
them.

Peter Axhelm closed down the store, and decided to take an early dinner at Chloe's.

Chloe's looked like it was suspended in time too...the 1970s in this case. It was all redwood and mirrors and potted ferns. Candles burned in ancient ceramic Mateus wine bottles. Steely Dan's "The Royal Scam" album played from the house stereo system. The menu had a very Californian flavor...Clam Chowder with a very non-New England touch of tarragon, served in hollowed out sourdough loaves, Veracruz-style fish filets garnished with avocado, a few vegetarian dishes. Brown rice as a side dish option.

Peter Axhelm sat down at a booth not too far from them, and ordered a beer.

Needless to say, Daria and Michael ate their meal in silence, so as not to give him any further information.

****

6: The Men's Association

The security guard let Daria and Michael back into Stepford. Considering how early it was that they had first arrived, it struck them as interesting that he was still on duty. Another robot?

From the gate, they drove up Winter Hill Drive, and threaded the route to the imposing mansion that was the home of the Men's Association. It seemed very melodramatic...like something out of a William Castle grade-Z fright night movie. They parked the Beetle a few blocks away, knowing that their escape might depend on the men not knowing where their car was.

Emerging from the shadows like some master Ninja was Kat. She was staking out the old house. The two humans startled.

"Please don't sneak up on us again! You scared us!" said Michael.

"Gotta keep to the shadows...make sure I'm not noticed. This is gonna be a big meeting...real big. If it gets late and you're stuck, I'll get you out of there. So don't worry, neh? I'll be there."

"OK. Thanks!" said Daria.

"Dou-itashimashite!" said Kat, who smiled and then ducked back behind the bushes.

The Men's Association smelled of musty old books, cigar smoke, beer and expensive whisky. Portraits of the founding members, painted by the late artist and member Ike Mazzard, hung in honored places. A fireplace roared, and a player piano played Gershwin at a genteel volume.

The assembled were divided equally between elderly original members and younger men who were sons and relatives of the old guard. The Men's Association wanted to give the impression of their organization being an old, established one, dating back hundreds of years. But in reality, the Men's Association dated back only to 1965, when "Diz" Coba settled in Stepford and started a Men's Club to rival the Women's Club that was in full swing there.

It was another Coba, as grim and calculating as his father, who now presided. An half-hour before, Darren Coba was overwhelmingly elected the new President of the Association. He looked old beyond his 37 years...he had the flinty look of the portrait of his father that glowered from behind the podium.

"Good evening, gentlemen....and lady. Tonight, we bring the Stepford Men's Association into the 21st Century of Our Lord. We bring in a brand new generation of men, young and focused and talented. Stepford has languished in recent years as the first generation of Men's Association members has started to die off. We needed new blood, and amazingly this very night, we have the first outsider invited to join our ranks since the 1970s. Gentlemen, may I introduce...uh..."

Coba thumbed through his notes, written on 3 x 5 cards.

"Yes, here's the name...Mr. Hal Woods."

A polite but strong ovation followed.

"As a nod to the project that our member Adam Markowe is involved in, we will excuse Mrs. Hal Woods to be scanned for his morphology database. As you recall, we all go through this little ritual, and we'll send Hal along later for his scanning. A round of applause for the Little Woman!"

Daria chafed at the comment, but took Markowe's hand as he led her into what used to be a large dining room in the house.

She looked around, and saw an incredible array of technological gadgetry.

"Mrs. Woods, this is our scanning studio. I will be taking several physical scans using our interferometer, and then I will have you speak a series of 100 phonemes and semi-phonemes directly into a computer. As compensation for your trouble, I will then use this 3-D former to create a porcelain-like plastic bust. It is quite attractive and considered an objet d'art in its own right. Eventually I will be casting bronze statues of each member of the Association and his spouse."

"Sounds interesting."

"Eventually with this morphology database, I will be able to create 3D virtual actors who have totally fresh and new faces. They will have voices synthesised from hundreds of voices. I intend to create an entirely new entertainment this way: downloadable 3D performances of theatre ranging from the Greek Tragedies to the newest Broadway hits."

"What if you wanted to go the extra mile and make...well, a duplicate of me?"

"Perish the thought! The idea is to gather a wide enough database to create completely unique looking virtual actors. Actors who don't resemble known actors, but whom have that certain something that stars have. The more people we sample, the better we can do this. May I ask that you change into this leotard for the physical scan?"

"I suppose. Do the guys have to do this too?"

"No. They have to strip naked."

"Oh, ok. Fine, then."

Daria walked into the changing room, and got into the leotard. Little did she know, but at the point when she was in bra and panties two infrared lasers completely scanned her body. The scan that was to follow was, in essence, only for the sake of the 3D former. The infrared scan was the one that Markowe wanted. In a few seconds, Markowe had a complete measurement of every part of her body.

"There now, that isn't that bad...you are totally covered. Now stand in that box that looks like a shower stall, and we'll get the scan."

This time, visible laser light hit her from two corners of the stall, and began moving down her body. The light actually moved in a spiral, whirling around her. The scan was complete in three short minutes.

"I got a good one, Mrs. Woods. Now you can go and get your clothes back on. Thank you very much."

Markowe got an "insurance" scan of her when she got out of the leotard and back into her street clothes. It was that "insurance" data that was visible on the monitor of his Sun Microsystems server-class machine.

"Check this out, Mrs. Woods. Notice all these numbers? It's a numeric representation of your body. Amazing, eh?"

"Looks like a bunch of numbers."

"Well, let's render, then."

The render took about 5 minutes to complete, in spite of the fact that the workstation had something like 16 high-power CPUs running in parallel. There was a hideous amount of data to crunch. At the moment the render completed, a buzz was heard on the other side of the room, as two whirling, cutting lasers literally whittled a bust of Daria out of plastic.

Daria looked at the scan of herself. Apparently the computer had discerned where her leotard ended and she began, because the rendered scan looked like a Barbie doll without clothes. Naked to some extent, but without any detail. She looked at her body...not bad. Not great, like her sister, but not bad. She could use a little on the top, and a little bit of curve at the hip, but otherwise she was happy with what she saw.

The biometrics ended with the voice scanning. A little more than a hundred phonemes, spoken clearly and precisely into the program, making sure that the onscreen VU meter registered in the yellow, not into the red or only green.

By the time she was finished with that, Markowe presented her with her bust. It was made of a white, waxy plastic, and was actually pretty cool.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it...the pleasure was all mine."

While the scanning was going on, the men were treated to a slick, multimedia production explaining the major benefit of living in Stepford and belonging to the Stepford Men's Association.

"Do you remember a bygone time when the husband was the head of the house, and the wife submitted to her husband as commanded by the Almighty?" began Darren Coba in a stentorian voice. "Perhaps one of us doesn't, but most of us do. And that's a different world than the rest of our peers grew up in. My father, 'Diz' Coba, may God rest his soul, and his amazing talents in robotics insured that we would have the Father Knows Best life that our peer group only dreamed of.

"He and the fearless group of engineers who founded the Men's Association decided to use their ingenuity to build the perfect wife. The disciplines involved were incredibly varied: robotics, audio, computers, hydraulics, polymer plastics, composite materials, speech and visual recognition...they all came together to create Stepford Mark I. This generation of family care androform robots was created before microcomputers, before the integrated circuit, and during a time when transistors were big enough to hold in your hand.

"We stand on the brink of Stepford Mark II. We have entered into a contract with the world leader in robotics technology, Mishima Heavy Industries. They will provide us with pre-assembled, ready-made robot armatures, complete with a multiprocessor RISC brain that is a billion times more powerful than the rudimentary computing circuitry of Stepford Mark I. However, gentlemen, let us pause to consider that this brain is by no means anywhere near the computing power of our own God-given minds. And also let us pause to consider that there is no way that one of these Mark II units, advanced as they might be, will ever outsmart their husband. Not ever, gentlemen."

There was laughter and applause at that last remark. Many of the men there were divorced or never married, and most of the rest were in bad marriages that they longed to exit but which financial and family concerns kept them bound to.

However, they could not know the irony of those words, as Kat Natsume climbed the back wall of the house to the roof. She knew there had to be some sort of easy access to the attic, and from the attic, a way to slip into the main part of the house without alerting the men inside.

Darren continued. "We live in a different time than our fathers and grandfathers did. Divorce is easy, if not cheap, and ones masculinity does not come into question if one does not marry past a certain age. Most of us will not have to deal with the agonizing decision our fathers and granfathers had to make...to put down the woman they initially fell in love with and who bore their children for a woman created in her image, but who would be a better mother and a better wife than the imperfect women they married.

"I do not have an example of the NK-1124 units to show you in person...in the old days, Dad would have a Mark I unit do a striptease for prospective members of the Men's Association. But I do have footage sent to me by NHI which shows the amazing abilities of the NK-1124. Most of this footage is combat-oriented, but suffice it to say that the NK-1124 also affords us the added bonus of a robot who has the capability of defending life and property against burglars and maniacs. Lights, please."

Kat was in the attic now, and noticed the lights were out in the parlor on the second floor below. It was a perfect opportunity. She opened the attic door, sliding out and landing on the second floor below.

The sound from the demo was cranked to movie theatre volume, so nobody could hear her drop to the floor. She then slipped down the stairs to the offices on the first floor.

She entered the office. She took a Cat-5e cable from her fanny pack and plugged it into the computer on the biggest and most ornate desk, considering it was an executive model and most likely to have the MHI contract information. She then brushed back some hair and plugged the other end of the cable into the port on her head. She entered the computer as if it was Cyberspace, and could visually see every file and every aspect of the system represented before her eyes. Finally she found the documentation she was looking for, and snarfed it in a matter of milliseconds.

As a parting gift, she had a nice fat viral payload, safely encapsulated in a "clean room" area of her memory, to dump down the entire network's chimney. The Kobe Satan virus was heretofore unknown, and would not only screw up the hard drive, but also flash the BIOS-es on the motherboard, video cards and network cards with garbage on the sixth hour, minute and second of the next day. She knew it was unknown because she knew the person who wrote it very well. It was Ryunosuke Natsume himself, that little brat! She giggled a little, thinking how ironic it was. Once she protected him. Now, he left a little something to protect her and the living women who might have died as a result of this second wave of Stepford Wives if she hadn't taken action. Karma, neh? She deleted the file inside her head, confident that it would wreak the havoc she intended.

She exited the office, and waited for the end of the presentation. She then walked up the stairs, and waited for the inevitable.

Darren took Michael into a private room just off the main parlor. "OK then, Hal. Now that you have seen the presentation, you have two choices." he said, unctuously.

"And what might they be?" replied Michael.

"One, you join us. You consent to putting down your wife, and we give you a duplicate that is not only as beautiful as she is, but better in every way and guaranteed to be totally at your command. I know that she is pregnant with your first child, and that you want more children, so this needn't be immediate. We wait until she has borne the desired number of children, then she is put down, peacefully and painlessly. We no longer use the unrefined techniques of our predecessors, like strangulation. It's an injection of Ricin toxin, directly into the jugular. It acts immediately, shutting the body down swiftly and painlessly."

"And what's the other choice?"

"We kill you in the same manner. Your wife will think you died of food poisoning or something. Or a sudden heart attack or stroke. Ricin has an incredibly short half-life for a substance so deadly. The Russians and Bulgarians knew this, and used this during the Cold War. The poison is undetectable, breaking down in mere minutes, before your corpse is even cold."

"You are a cold motherfucker, Darren."

"I take it that this is a no, then?"

"Screw you."

"Have it your way, then."

Darren pressed the button on a little box he wore around his neck. There was no sound, but Michael could hear a beeper go off in the crowd.

"The Sergeant-At-Arms has been summoned, and he will deal with you. Don't try to run...Royal Hendry might be in his fifties, but he is a bodybuilder and expert boxer and kickboxer. He can out-run you and out-fight you."

However, the first person to come through the door was not the aforementioned big guy, but a small woman in a track suit.

"Konbanwa, Darren no baka."

The little bit of Japanese Darren knew let him know that the little woman with...for crissake, were those really her eyes?...had insulted him.

"OK, Royal will take care of two of you. He's done it before."

"Am I glad to see you, Kat."

"Shush, kudasai. I gotta get you out of here now."

Royal came lumbering in, and Kat engaged him right away. He jabbed her with the Ricin meant for Michael, but of course it had no effect on a machine.

"Why the hell aren't you dropping, girl?"

"NK-1124, honey."

She threw him with an overhand Judo throw, and sent Royal flying into Darren, sitting at his desk. The two of them fell to a heap on the floor.

"Holy shit you're strong!"

"Let's get, how you say...the hell out of Dodge City."

By the time both Darren and Royal came to, Michael and Kat were no longer in the room, and they could hear distant gunfire.

"Perhaps we need to reconsider the Mishima Heavy Industries contract. No way can you control something like that." he said, his head throbbing as if it was being repeatedly beat with a parade drum mallet.

"Damn! She broke my arm and God knows what the hell else!"

By the time it was all over, Daria, Kat and Michael were safely out of Stepford and on their way back to Boston. In the fracas that followed Michael's rescue, there were more than a few injuries, two heart attacks, and one death, that of Walter Eberhart who managed to grab a gun from the basement and almost shoot Daria's head off. Kat had taken a gun herself, and blew the guy away. The fact that she had no distinguishing grooves in her fingertips made everyone grateful.

"One of these days, I've got to give you some of my Melody Powers stories to read. I never thought I'd meet the real article." Daria said with a smile.

"Nani?" asked Kat.

"I mean, I've never met a woman who could kick so much ass. And I took four semesters of Ninjutsu. You know James Bond, right?"

"Hai."

"Think of a female version of James Bond, only gorier."

"Ah. We have Manga like that, but even cooler."

"Maybe I should learn Japanese."

"Maybe so."

Kat asked to be let off on the Highway. "I gotta go. Maybe I'll see you again. Maybe not. I hope I do. Would be nice to just get a chance to hang with you, neh? But I can't. I have important stuff I'm carrying around in my head, and I gotta get back to Japan with it. Sayonara, Daria-chan, Michael-kun."

She took off running, and as Daria and Michael watched she could see her start moving as fast as traffic, or more so.

The next day, they got back to the offices of The Freebie with bad news.

"OK, we got out of there with our skin." began Daria. "But we lost the disposable cameras, the tapes didn't come out, and all I have to show for it is a stupid plastic bust of myself."

Glen Lewis began to laugh. "It's gotten to the point where it's pretty hilarious. Write the story up, and we'll put it in the files with the rest of them. One of these days, someone's going to slip up down there in Stepford. When they do, we'll have the makings of one hell of an article."

"Can I go back to doing concert reviews now?" asked Michael. "This is the first and last investigative story I'm going to do."

"Yeah, can I go back to my column?"

"Sure. Take a breather. You deserve it. You deserve combat pay too, but we can't afford that."

Daria and Michael went to their respective cubicles and began writing out their versions of what happened.

****

Epilogue: An Uncomfortable Reminder of Stepford.

Daria finally sat down and told the whole story of what went on to Jane when she visited her at her dorm at Boston Fine Arts College.

Jane wasn't surprised with any of this. "We actually lived in Sheffield before we moved to Lawndale, and all of the Sheffield kids would speculate on what kind of weirdness was going on behind the locked gates of Stepford. We thought that Stepford was a community of vampires, we though secret reverse engineering experiments with UFOs were going on, we came up with all kinds of bizarre theories about the place. There was something bizarre about the people and about the children. And we'd never see the moms. Never. Stepford always seemed weird to us. Where is it written that you and that Michael guy couldn't sell your story to Sick Sad World? You went through all kinds of shit there, you deserve some sort of reward for it."

"Well, we'd have to get The Freebie to give permission, and I think Glen is probably likely to sit on the story." explained Daria. "I don't blame him, though...if something blows the lid off of the Stepford story, we can run with mindblowing coverage of the story that dates back to the founding of the paper."

"Yeah, that's going to be amazing when everything finally comes out." said Jane. "I want my copies...all one hundred of them."

At about 3 in the morning, Daria was startled awake by the sound of a window breaking. She grabbed the baseball bat she kept under her bunk and dropped into a defensive stance.

The dorm room door swung open, and Daria was confronted by a perfect doppleganger of herself. She had a rope garrotte wound around her hands.

"Hi Daria." said the duplicate Daria. "You've been a pain in the ass for us. We sent someone to get your friend...he's probably dead now too. Now it's time for you to go. It'll be just like Invasion of the Body Snatchers...I'll replace you. I've got a lot more address space than the old bots. Nobody will be the wiser."

Suddenly Daria saw her doppleganger's head get clobbered from behind and sent flying across the room. The robot body crumpled like a rag doll, spitting out sparks.

It was Jane, a lead pipe in her hands.

"I had a feeling something like this would happen. I'm glad that BFAC is no more than a few blocks away."

Jane playfully put her foot atop the slumped over, headless droid, and held the lead pipe high like the sword in the hand of a Frank Frazetta drawing of Conan The Barbarian.

"So now we have our physical evidence. Thank me." quipped Jane.

"Yeah, thanks, Jane." said Daria. "I'm really not going to be able to sleep after this. Got any ideas?"

Jane smiled. "I got Sick Sad World: Too Sick For TV Volume 5 in the mail yesterday...wanna take a walk to my dorm to watch?"

"Sure." said Daria, still shook up.

It would be a very interesting day at The Freebie. Daria couldn't wait.

"Daria" and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, Inc., a division of Viacom International, Inc. All rights reserved by trademark-holders under US National and International Law and Convention.

However, the "Daria" characters and milieu were created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. They deserve our respect, and frankly, they deserve creators' rights. "Work For Hire" in animation and comics SUCKS.

"The Stepford Wives" is Copyright 1972 by Ira Levin, and published by Random House. Many of the names and places in this fanfic were taken directly from the book. I suggest anyone and everyone who enjoyed this fic go to their library and check out this book. It's a really happening combination of horror and social satire.

All aspects of "All Purpose Cultural Catgrrl Nuku Nuku" that appear in this fanfic were conceived of by Manga artist and writer Yuzo Takada, and published originally by Futaba Sha Publishing. The six-episode, three videocassette Original Video Animation series is available in the United States through A.D. Vision Video of Houston, TX. A "Nuku Nuku" TV series of 12 episodes aired in 1998 in Japan on TV Tokyo.

"Barbie" is a registered trademark of Mattel Toys, Inc.

"Daria vs. Stepford, CT" and all other fanfics written by Michelle Klein-Häss are works of parody and satire, and "substantially transformative," and as such are covered under the Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music Supreme Court decision and other related decisions regarding the First Amendment right to such forms of free speech. Michelle Klein-Häss will not profit from these fanfics, and will not tolerate these fanfics distributed in any manner which requires money to change hands for distribution.

"Daria vs. Stepford, CT" is Copyright ©1999, revised 2000, later revised 2002 by Michelle Klein-Häss. While she does not claim copyright or moral rights to the characters from the "Daria" milieu, she does claim copyright on the storyline and story arc within this work of fiction.

"Daria vs. Stepford, CT" and all extant and future fanfics written by Michelle Klein-Häss are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of Ms. Klein-Häss' fertile imagination or are used fictitiously.