"No, stop that! Don't go that way!"
"The Academy has a reputation in town for being dangerous, not without merit."
"The Academy doesn't need the Humane Society or Children's Aid here."
"I need to be ready for when my sister raises her zombie hordes."
The New Girl
Chapter 5 - Chocolate Bars and Gigglesmoke
Laura stirred the dregs of her hot chocolate absently. She admitted to herself that Flora was right about the café having the best in the city, even if Flora herself was slightly mad. Laura sighed; the entire Academy seemed to be slightly mad. Worse, for the past half-hour, she had been talking with Flora about how to improve her robot's organic interface. Was she becoming as mad as everyone else there?
"There's no blood flow," Flora said. "I'm using an oxygenation cycle, replacing the blood with a perfluorocarbon emulsion instead. If I don't use bodily fluids, I don't get the Headmistress on my ass about ethics and the proper use of the human body again."
"I still don't see why a computer couldn't do what you want." Laura sipped her hot chocolate. "Smartphones and tablets know which way is up. Why not hook one of those in?"
"The robots are just the first step." Flora set down her mug. "If I can figure out how to connect the squirrel brain to the robot, I can then use that to connect mine to something bigger."
Laura drained the rest of her drink. "You'll put your brain inside a robot?"
"What? No, that's stupid." Flora leaned in closer to Laura. "I like my body, thank you very much. Hard to have good sex in a mechanical body. Although. . .." Flora pulled out a sheet of paper and jotted a note. "Anyway, no. I just want a giant mecha of my own."
"Lasers. Do you really think Ms Stone will let anyone get firearms? Especially with Caitlin around? Last thing Ms Stone wants is a Jennifer revolution with Caitlin leading them in a frontal assault against the administration and then on to St. Dyphmna's."
Flora picked up her mug again. "Thus, lasers. There's no law against owning weapons-grade lasers on the books."
"Are you sure? It seems like a huge loophole."
"We Unrulies live for the loophole."
Laura put down her now empty mug. "'Unrulies'. Does this mean I'm an 'Unruly Girl'?"
Flora smiled. "You're at the Academy, Laura. What do you think?"
"I don't know."
"Don't let Caitlin influence your thinking here. She avoids using the word. According to her, she's a model of discipline and proper behaviour." Flora finished her hot chocolate. "According to me, she has a stick up her ass that needs to be removed and possibly applied upside her head. Don't let me influence you, either, Laura. Everyone one of us girls at the Academy is bent. We're not normal, never have been, never will. Even Cassie." Flora looked over at Laura's mug. "Want another? My treat."
Flora got up to join the short line up at the café's counter. Laura leaned back in her armchair. Her mind whirled. Her discussion with Flora just wasn't normal, wasn't anywhere close to being sane, and, yet, something about it felt right to her about it. Not the parts about using squirrels to balance laser-wielding anti-zombie robots, but working out the core issues. Laura gave her head a shake.
"Well, hello." Laura recognized the voice, even with it's frigid tone. She looked up to see Mackenzie, still in the St. Dymphna uniform, looming over her. The back of Laura's mind was impressed at how the tiny girl was able to loom. "I should have known."
The tiny girl placed her hands on her hips. The light of the café reflected off Mackenzie's glasses, obscuring her eyes. "I should have known you were an Unruly. How could I have been so stupid!"
Laura lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, Mackenzie. Really."
"Don't give me that. How could you?"
"It wasn't my idea."
"Whose idea was it?" Mackenzie held up a hand to forestall Laura's answer. "No, wait, I know, it's one of your stupid rules, isn't it? So where is your uniform?"
"I don't have one yet." Laura squirmed under the tiny girl's gaze. "I'm new, both in town and at the Academy."
Mackenzie rolled her eyes. "At least that wasn't a lie. Is your name really Laura? Were you really home schooled?"
"Mackenzie, it's complicated."
"I'm sure it is. Who put you up to it? No, wait, 'Support your sisters' and all that crap. It was Caitlin. Don't bother to deny. Don't even confirm. It's a very Caitlin thing to do." Mackenzie spun on her heel and stormed out of the café.
As Laura stared at the closing door, Flora returned. The mad scientist set down a mug on the table in front of Laura. "You know her?"
Laura twisted around to face Flora. "Yeah. Caitlin had me spy on her earlier."
"One of Verity's crew, then." Flora reached out to take Laura's hand into hers. "You just parachuted into the middle of the Battle of Geonosis without a score card."
"Star Wars. Never mind. What I meant is, you've been placed in the worst possible situation on your first day. Worse, you've gotten on Verity's bad side." Flora shook her head. "Man, I really hope your stay here gets better."
Laura glanced back at the door again. "So do I."
"Ignore the Dympher. You'll have your uniform soon enough, and people will know what school you're from so that crap like this won't happen again." Flora sat down. "How about this? We get our hot chocolate to go, we return to the Academy, and you show me what you mean by 'drug-assisted counter-balancing', okay?"
Three-quarters of an hour later, the two girls were back at the Academy's campus. Laura crept down the hall, sneaking to one of the chemistry labs. Flora, however, strolled as if nothing was out of the ordinary. She looked over at her new friend. "Laura, really, people are going to notice."
Laura stood up straight. "This is normal? Two students going to a lab Friday night?"
Flora spread her arms and turned in a full circle. "Look around. There's no one here except us and maybe a stray Jennifer or two. No one cares. They're off busy doing their own thing. Besides, what we're doing will be useful. Someone has to stop my sister from being the Zombie Overlord." Flora lowered her arms. "And it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. The bolder we are, the less likely anyone will stop us."
"I guess." Laura shrugged, then followed Flora to an empty lab, one that was still in one piece, more or less. Inside, they walked up to the whiteboard at the front of the room. Laura began diagramming various molecules, pointing out how they interacted with the human body. The longer they talked, more and more of the whiteboard got covered with chemical equations and diagrams of molecular chains.
"Wait," Flora said, holding up a hand. "Laura, it's a robot. There's no way to get," she waved her hand at the most recent molecular equation, "whatever this is to the squirrel brain. It doesn't breathe."
"I was thinking for when you worked out your brain to bot interface. It'll speed up neurons."
"You're getting a little ahead of me. I also don't put anything in me that'll mess me up."
"Nothing I make will leave lasting effects. Side effects are a waste of chemistry." Laura began looking through the drawers in the teacher's bench. "Where do they keep the good stuff?"
"Under lock and key. Laura, you have seen some of us. Would you leave anything potentially dangerous out in the open?"
Laura closed a drawer. "That's no good."
Flora produced a key with a flourish. "Being Vamsi's roommate has its advantages." She walked over to an unmarked door off to the side. With a deft hand, she unlocked it. "Ta-daa!"
Laura rushed into the supply closet. "Thanks." She read over the labels of the stored chemicals, grabbing bottles here and there. "Let me demonstrate my knowledge of chemistry and its effects on the human body. Get three Bunsen burners going for me." Seeing Flora's quizzical expression, Laura added, "I've made this so often, I can do it blindfolded. It's harmless."
"Come on, Caitlin," Autumn groused, "it's Friday night. Some of us have other plans." She pushed herself and her chair away from the table. "There are noobs to pwn and they aren't going to do it to themselves." Autumn grinned. "Well, most of them aren't." She got up from the chair.
"Autumn has a point, Cait." Skye stretched. "The team's probably waiting for me."
Caitlin folded up her marked up map of Oshawa. "Fine. I could use some fresh air, anyway." She looked at her watch, a well-maintained analogue timepiece. "It's later than I thought." Caitlin looked over at the door. "Where's the new girl?"
Autumn shrugged. "She hasn't returned since her hissy fit."
"Cut her some slack," Skye said. "We didn't exactly welcome her. Cait, you just started using her the moment she arrived."
"I thought she'd be useful. And she was."
Skye glowered at the red haired girl. "Laura was supposed to get twenty-four hours before she got used, Cait."
Caitlin held up a finger to correct the taller girl. "Twenty-four hours before she was a target of a plot. I never targeted her."
"Semantics, Cait, and you know that."
"What am I supposed to do, go look for her?"
"Duh." Autumn fell into her bed. "Rule Three, Caitlin."
"Not to mention Rule Four," Skye added. "If anything happens to Laura, the Headmistress will have your hide, Cait."
"My hide? Why just mine?"
"Who else would set Laura up, Caitlin?" Autumn picked up her tablet. "You're the budding supervillain here, not me or Skye."
"Ms Stone knew what she was doing when she put Laura here with us."
"But, Cait," Skye began, "do you know what Ms Stone was thinking?"
Caitlin sighed with resignation. "I'll look for her." She headed towards the door, stopping at the closet to pull out a satchel. "If I'm not back before either of you are, check with the Jennifers." She left the doorm.
In the hallway, Caitlin muttered to herself about the unfairness of being the only one to look for the new girl. The Academy was a dangerous place. People shouldn't just go storming off, not without a map and a plan. Worse, Caitlin didn't know enough about the new girl to know where she'd go. Still, the red-haired girl had her own resources. She strode down to the first years' floor in the dorm, walking with purpose.
Caitlin only took three steps on the Grade 7 students' floor when a dishevelled girl bounded out at her. "Hey!" the young girl shouted. The tangle of hair bounced with every step the girl made. "Whatcha doin' here?" Hands on her hips, the feral girl approched Caitlin.
"You must be the look out." Caitlin looked down the hallway past the grubby girl. Seeing no one else, she stooped to get to the girl's eye level. "And since you are the look out, I'm sure you've seen everything, right?"
Still suspicious, the girl said, "Who wants to know?"
"I do. I'm looking for someone, a specific girl."
"She ain't come here."
Caitlin clicked her tongue. "Obviously," she said, her voice butter-melting smooth. "You're far too good at being the look out. I doubt the girl I'm looking for came here, really." Caitlin reached into her satchel, moving slow enough to get the Jennifer's attention without alarming her. "I could really use some help finding her."
The Jennifer eyed the satchel. "Finding her? What she look like?"
"She'd be my age, a senior." Caitlin pulled out a chocolate bar. She watched the eyes of the Jennifer grow wide. "She's not wearing a uniform, just a green skirt with a black blouse."
Without tearing her eyes away from the chocolate, the Jennifer asked, "Yeah, I saw her. She came in earlier, in that car."
"Have you seen her since then?" Caitlin waved the chocolate bar in the air.
"No, but I know who did."
Caitlin lowered the chocolate bar down to let the Jennifer grab it. "They have to have seen her since dinner." The redhead kept a tight hold on the candy. "I don't need to know if anyone saw her get out of the car. I need to know if they've seen her since dinner and where she was seen. Understand?" The Jennifer nodded. "Good." Caitlin released the chocolate bar.
The Jennifer held the candy close to her breast. "If I bring them to you, can I get another of these?"
"Of course," Caitlin said. She gave the young girl a warm smile. "But just the one trip, okay? I need to find the girl before lights out. I can't spend all night here."
"One trip, got it." The Jennifer ran down the hallway.
Caitlin closed her satchel. "Standards have fallen," she remarked to herself. She leaned up against the wall, waiting for her messenger to return. The wait wasn't long, enough time to let Caitlin work out a search pattern in her head but not enough to plan for contingencies such as the new girl having left campus. She looked up when she heard several sets of running footsteps approaching her. The redhead pushed herself away from the wall to greet the three girls approaching, the Jennifer who had stopped her and two other similarly grimy students. "That was fast."
The first Jennifer nodded. "Found two for ya." She held out her hand.
"Not so fast. I need to hear from them, first." Caitlin turned to one of the new Jennifers, a girl with dirty short hair and streaked glasses. "The girl from the sedan, have you seen her?"
The short-haired Jennifer nodded. "I saw her leaving with another senior."
Caitlin grimaced. She wasn't yet ready to track down the new girl off campus. "Which senior was she with?"
The Jennifer hesitated. The first girl nudged her. "She ain't gonna stop you from it."
With a sigh, the short-haired Jennifer answered. "She was with the one that pays us for squirrel parts."
"Squirrel. . .?" Caitlin caught herself. "Right, one of the twins." She reached into her satchel.
The third Jennifer rolled her eyes. "I keep telling you, she's back. Both of them." She turned to Caitlin. "They're back here."
Caitlin handed a chocolate bar to the short-haired Jennifer, then reached back into her bag. "You saw them?"
"Where?" Caitlin made a note of the third Jennifer. The redhead appreciated that the girl looked like she bathed, even if it wasn't recent.
The Jennifer held out her hand. "Payment first."
Caitlin pulled out another chocolate bar. She held it just out of reach of the Jennifers. "Where did you see the girl?"
The third Jennifer never took her eyes away from Caitlin's. "She and the squirrel girl were up in the labs."
"Second. Physics and chemistry labs, not the weird ones."
Caitlin gave the bar in her hand to the third Jennifer, making not of the girl's fine features in the close contact. "Thank you."
"Hey, don't forget her." The third Jennifer hooked a thumb at the first.
"I didn't forget." Caitlin produced another chocolate bar out of her satchel and handed it over. "And thank you."
The third Jennifer stepped in between Caitlin and the other younger girls. Without looking away from the redhead, she said, "Okay, you sorry excuses, back to your rooms." The girl lingered while her classmates scampered off.
Caitlin gave the girl a quick salute before backing away into the stairwell. Once the door closed, she took the stairs two at a time up to the second floor. As much as the outspoken Jennifer concerned her, the redhead just didn't have the time to do much except make a mental note to find her later. She reached the second floor, bursting through the door to continue her stride. She stopped at a T-junction in the hallways to listen. A faint laughter, one she didn't recognized, caught her attention. Caitlin slowly spun around, trying to locate the origin. A second laugh, louder, fuller, recognizable as either Flora or Fawna, followed. Caitlin dashed towards where she thought the laughing came from.
One lab was still lit, with wisps of purple vapour coming through the cracks between door and doorjamb. Caitlin approached, cautious to what she may find. At the door, she peered through the small window but didn't see the new girl or anything amiss. Another round of laughter erupted inside. Caitlin threw the door open and entered.
Flora looked up from her perch on the teacher's bench. "Caitlin! Bet you can't remember my name!" She giggled.
Laura set down a beaker filled with purple vapour. "Need me to spy on someone else?" Laura slid down the wall she leaned on, landing in a seated position.
"I don't believe this." Caitlin marched down the aisle towards the front of the class. She pointed at Flora. "You know about the twenty-four hour rule. How can you get her drunk."
"Oh, I'm not drunk, Caitlin." Laura hiccoughed, which led to another fit of giggles.
"High? Are you both insane?"
Flora and Laura stared at the redhead, then both burst out laughing. "Aw, Caitlin, you're angry." Flora tilted her head to get a new perspective. "I don't think I've seen you angry. When did you develop it?"
Caitlin walked over to the phone on the wall. She punched in a short number. The redhead tapped her foot while she waited for the other end to be picked up. Without hearing the greeting, she snapped, "Is Vamsi there?"
"Kitty-Cait, is that you?"
"Cassandra, is Vamsi there?" Caitlin covered her eyes with her free hand. "It's urgent."
"Vammie's left to go downtown, Kitty-Cait. She won't be back before light's out."
"You sounds stressed. Is there anything I can do, Kitty-Cait?"
Caitlin fought down growing frustration. "Yes, Cassandra, there is. Get your ass to the second floor labs and pick up your roommate. She tried to get mine high."
"No she didn't," Laura called. "I got her high." She giggled.
"Is there a party?" Cassie asked.
"Just get down here, Cassandra!" Caitlin slammed the phone receiver down. She turned to face Laura. "You."
"Laura." The new girl waved. "My name's Laura." She pointed to her new friend. "That's Flora. Flo-ra."
"Laura, you are lucky that I found you and not staff. You could have jeopardized the Academy! Where did you get the drugs? Or did you bring them in with you?"
"Oh, get that stick out of your ass." Laura got to her feet. "You're only worried because you think I'm messing up some plan of yours."
Caitlin ignored Flora falling over on her side with a belly-laugh. "You are a part of my dorm."
"And you used me the moment you saw me. You don't care about me!" Laura leaned against the wall to keep from falling. "I'm just a pawn." She giggled.
"What the hell are you on?"
Flora half-fell from her perch. She held up a beaker filled with purple vapour. "This." She stuck her face over the beaker's opening and inhaled deeply. When she pulled the beaker away, she fell backwards, giggling.
Caitlin snatched the beaker away. "Not helping."
"Knock, knock!" Cassie entered the lab. She looked around and scowled. "This is what you do Friday nights, Kitty-Cait?" Cassie dragged a finger along a bench, then inspected the digits for dust. "I'll just say, 'ew.'"
Without looking at the newcomer, Caitlin said, "Cassandra, get your roommate."
Cassie sashayed up the aisle to the teacher's bench. "Ignore her, Lorelei. Kitty-Cait is a little tightly wound."
"Cassandra!" Caitlin clenched her fists.
Flora watched the blonde approach. "I thought you were going downtown."
"Oh, silly girl, it's still too early. The really good parties don't get started until eleven." Cassie took one of Flora's arms. "You peaked too early. Come along, my little supervillain. Time for bed." The blonde pulled the mad scientist away. "If you behave, I'll give you one of my leftovers."
Caitlin waited for Cassie to leave before confronting Laura. "Look, Laura, tell me where the drugs are. I can get rid of them for you."
Laura picked up her beaker. "Here." She pointed at Flora's beaker. "There."
"Is there any more?" Caitlin took Laura's beaker away.
Caitlin brought both beakers to the sink in the teacher's bench. "Where did you get this? Did you bring it in with you?"
With pride, Laura said, "I made it!"
"Made it?" Caitlin examined the purple vapour. "Really?"
"Why would I lie?"
Caitlin emptied both beakers, pouring the vapour into the sink. "What is this stuff?"
"I call it 'Gigglesmoke'. 'Cause it's smoky and makes you giggle."
"Laura, if the police ever caught us with this--"
Laura interrupted. "They can't do anything. It's not a controlled substance. It's one of those loop-de-loop things." She laughed at her feeble joke.
Caitlin looked over at the diagrams on the whiteboard. Some of them had been partially erased, replaced by crude pictures of animals, clouds, and rainbows. The red-haired girl picked up an eraser and started wiping away everything on the board. She ignored the squawk of protest from Laura. "This is for your protection, Laura." Caitlin heard nothing from the new girl.
With the whiteboard clean, Caitlin wrapped an arm around Laura's waist and steered her out of the lab. Keeping the giggling girl moving in the right direction took an effort from Caitlin. Laura kept lurching left and right, distracted by something the redhead didn't see as unusual. Going up just the one flight of stairs left Caitlin out of breath, having pushed, pulled, and carried Laura up to the third floor.
Caitlin let out a sigh of relief when she saw the door to her dorm room. She managed to get Laura in the room before Cassie could reappear. Caitlin guided Laura to her bed and let her drop. The redhead walked over to the kitchenette's sink to get a glass of water. "Laura, I think we need to go over a few things here. Administration lets us girls get away with a lot, as long as we don't get caught, but even they have limits. Building robots, plotting schemes, even sneaking in a boy after light's out, as long as Administration doesn't have to get involved, there's no problem. Drugs, though?" Caitlin downed her water in one gulp. "Administration cracks down on drugs, Laura. They're dangerous. It's not just that everyone in town is looking for an excuse to shut down the Academy. Drugs really do mess you up. It affects your thinking. And they're no escape. Whatever happened before, you don't need drugs now, Laura." Caitlin paused, waiting for a reply. Hearing none, she repeated, "Laura?"
A loud snore answered her this time. Caitlin turned around. Laura was sprawled across the blankets, fast asleep. The redhead allowed herself a small smile. She grabbed a spare blanket from the closet and spread it over the sleeping girl. "Rest. You deserve it."
"You're angry because I did something you didn't want me doing."
"Caitlin, have you ever thought about explaining things? It'd have let me remain in bed asleep."
"You never get hooked on your own wares, ever. Bad for business."
"Look, Laura, the Academy isn't for girls who can't handle themselves."