"Who do you think gave it to her?"
"My father's in jail because I turned Crown's evidence on him."
"Innocent, Autumn? Since when?"
"This is an insane asylum!"
The New Girl
Chapter 4 - Squirrel Brains and History
By the time Laura slowed down enough to take a look at her surroundings, she was lost. The main building of the Academy was larger than Laura expected, with enough alcoves to that got her so turned around, she was sure she had passed the same stairwell several times. Laura wished she had marked the stairs with chalk or something, to be sure. The halls had a few students wandering them, even this long past the end of the school day. Laura had to press up against the wall when a gaggle of girls in tattered uniforms rushed by.
A crash of glass followed by several cut off curses caught Laura's attention. From a room around the corner, she heard a dusky girl's voice yell, "No, stop that! Don't go that way!" Another crash, heavier, was accompanied by the shaking of the floor. Laura held out a hand to steady herself against the wall. The quiet following disturbed Laura more. She ran towards the where she thought the noises came from.
Around the corner, Laura found a door half off its hinges. She crept towards the room. Dust billowed from the cracks between the door and its jamb. "Hello?" Laura called. "Is anyone hurt?"
A cough replied back. The same voice, now not yelling and punctuated by more coughing answered, "I'm fine." Laura heard the clang of metal on metal. "Just bloody peachy."
Laura pushed the door inward. It fell off its remaining hinge, causing Laura to jump back. "Do you need help? Ambulance, maybe?" She peered through the settling dust into the room.
A girl in the Academy's uniform, with the skirt ending mid-thigh, and an open, formerly white lab coat emerged from the dust cloud. "No." She loosed her light brown hair from its tight pony tail and ran her fingers through it. "I'm good." She looked back at the broken lab benches and twisted metal, all now covered with dust and debris. "Can't really say that for the lab."
"Bloody thing tripped." The girl wiped her hands on her lab coat. "I told it to stop."
Laura offered her hand. "Hi. I'm Laura."
The girl stared at the proffered hand for a moment before shaking it. "The new girl. Hi."
"Don't you have a name?"
The girl's piercing blue eyes met Laura's. "Like you'd remember. No one does."
Laura remained steady despite the stare. "Flora? Vamsi mentioned you were in a lab."
"Yeah, but." Flora blinked, then took a step back. "Yes, I'm Flora. Vamsi actually got my name right?" She shook her head. "Do you know how tiring it is for people to not remember who I am? I don't even look like my sister."
"Cassie mentioned her. Fawna, right?"
Flora picked up a stool and stood it back up on its legs. "Fawna, yes. And don't listen to Cassie. I'm surprised she can remember her own name." She sat down.
Laura looked over the remains of the lab. "This is what passes for a Friday night here?"
"I didn't want anyone around. Fridays, the other girls are off doing who knows what to who knows who. There's always a power play happening here."
"I guessed at that. Caitlin was scheming when I left." Laura grabbed a stool and took a seat.
Flora's voice turned sympathetic. "They put you in with Caitlin? Man, that's rough."
"Rough?" Laura's eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"Caitlin's the worst. She's always plotting. Always. It's like breathing for her."
"Great." Laura sighed. "And she has it in for this Verity girl."
"Has Caitlin explained anything?"
Laura shook her head. "Nothing. And she had me spy on Verity."
Flora examined Laura's outfit. "You don't have your uniform yet."
"The order's been put in, but I don't know when it'll arrive."
"Quick history lesson, then. What do you know about the Academy?"
Laura shrugged. "That it's for girls who aren't criminals because there's no real laws to stop them, more or less. Autumn almost bankrupted North Korea, which isn't a crime here in Canada."
Flora flashed a smile at the new girl. "Close enough. We're not criminals, exactly. The Academy exists to help, um, channel our natural inclinations and get us an education. I'm here because I experimented with biological-mechanical interfaces."
Laura looked further into the lab. She spotted a metallic humanoid form sprawled over several broken lab benches. "And that's what happened here?"
"Kind of. Anyway, the Academy encourages self-exploration, as long as we pass our tests."
"And your self-exploration involves destroying a lab."
Flora laughed. "This is mild. Last year, Alyssa almost put the field house into orbit." She shifted on her stool. "Anyway, the Academy has a reputation in town for being dangerous, not without merit. One school, St. Dymphna Collegiate, it's a private Catholic school, got its nose out of joint after a clash with us Unrulies. It happened so long ago, no one really remembers what happened."
"No one wrote down anything?"
"Explosions happened. This happened before World War I, when access to the fun stuff wasn't restricted. If there was anything written down, it got lost in an explosion or the following fires." Flora shrugged. "I wish I was there to see it."
"Caitlin and Verity have had a grudge against each other since the seventh grade. I think they recognized each other as a rival for being the Bitch Queen of Oshawa and have been working to eliminate each other."
"Fun. I should just stand up to her, then."
"Oh, hell, no, Laura. That's a great way to be steamrollered by Caitlin. If you can't stay out of her way, keep your head down, say, 'Yes, Caitlin,' a lot, and make time for yourself. It's the only way to survive."
Laura slumped. "Great."
Flora reached out and rubbed Laura's arm. "Look, it's not as bad as it sounds here. There's a rhythm, something that takes time to get used to. Most of us seniors are so used to it, it's like breathing. We don't normally get newbies in Grade 12. Girls our age tend to be arrested and convicted instead of being sent here." Flora slipped off her stool. "Help me get Slappy there on its feet and I'll take you to the best hot chocolate in town. You just need time to wrap your mind around what's happened."
"Slappy?" Laura looked over at the fallen figure. "That thing over there?"
"My robot." Flora beamed. "Almost got the balance worked out. I need a better source of squirrel brains. The Jennifers are getting sloppy in their gathering."
"Squirrel brains? Ew!"
"Hey, have you ever seen a squirrel trip over it's own feet? I've seen them run on narrow cables without falling once. And I don't take brains from living squirrels."
"You just get the younger girls to kill them for you."
"No way. The Academy doesn't need the Humane Society or Children's Aid here. The Jennifers would probably eat the squirrel first before getting me anything useful from it."
"Does anyone feed those girls?"
"Of course. They're not free range." Flora walked over to the downed robot. "Come on. Slappy's heavy."
Laura got up to help the mad scientist. "It's not going to bite or anything, is it?"
"Nah." Flora crouched beside the robot's left shoulder. "I haven't armed it yet. I want it to walk properly before I put any weapons on it."
Laura matched Flora's position on the right. "You're building your own personal robot army?"
"Well, yeah. I need to be ready for when my sister raises her zombie hordes."
"Is your name really Laura?"
"Where's the new girl?"
"Where did you get the drugs?"