"Have you noticed Hebert has been acting weird after she came back?"
"She came back?" Emma asked, surprised, "So soon?"
"Yeah." Madison said, confused, "You walked right past her this morning."
"What? No, I would have remembered."
"Maybe you didn't realize it was her?"
"Maybe we finally broke her."
"No, no, I mean, really weird." Madison continued, "Like, she was... smiling. And laughing. When was the last time you heard Taylor laugh?"
"I... huh." Emma frowned, she did remember walking past a girl she would have sworn was Taylor- but she was wearing something bright colors, and grinning down at a notebook.
"But... look it's really weird. She hasn't been paying attention in class or anything, she's just... scribbling, and grinning, and giggling to herself sometimes."
"Scribbling?" Emma asked.
"Yeah, in this one notebook. She's been doing it all day. Never puts it down. I think she's half-way through it already. I know for a fact she's gone through a pencil already."
"Well." Sophia began, standing up, "I think I want to know what's so funny." the three of them walked across the lunch room, where Madison pointed out the girl.
Sure enough, she was writing furiously into a notebook, looking for all the world both completely engrossed, and deeply amused, by her own work.
"Hey Taylor. It's so nice to see you back in school, finally washed off the stink?" Emma asked, leaning over her- only to squeak as Taylor grabbed her face and pushed her away. Emma gasped, furious.
"What the hell do you think you're doing Hebert?" Sophia asked in a growl.
"Don't get in my light, simpleton." was all that Taylor replied.
"Yes." Taylor grinned- and God, that was a weird sight, "I'm working on something so intensely brilliant- No. Even if I did explain it to the likes of you, you wouldn't understand." the girl slapped her notebook shut, sneering smugly at the three of them, before looking confused down at her own stomach when it growled, "Oh yeah, it's lunch." she murmured. She pushed between Sophia and Madison, not giving either another look.
She then toppled over, and groaned at the sound of smashed glass. Sophia deadpanned a unsympathetic "Oops." She pulled her leg back from where it had tripped Taylor over, "You need to be more careful Taylor, you're so clumsy."
The girl laid on the ground for another moment, before putting her hands under her and getting up. Without looking back at the three of them, she brushed herself off, collected her notebook, and the newly-empty frames of her glasses, and walked away.
"...That was weird." Sophia muttered.
"Taylor's getting cocky." Emma commented, "Why?"
"Maybe the locker backfired?" Madison offered, "Maybe... I don't know, she thinks the worst is behind her, or something stupid like that?"
"Maybe she just liked it." Emma said, loud enough for some of the other students nearby, who had watched without comment- as they always did, to hear. She got a few nervous laughs out of the crowd.
"...I want to know what's in that journal." Sophia said suddenly, "She seems to be putting so much effort in it, it'd be a shame if she lost it."
The three girls smiled.
That January day had been terrible to be sure, but now, I liked to think of it as a rebirth! I went into that godforsaken metal box but a monkey, and from that steel egg hatched a beautiful and brilliant homo sapien! Never before had my thoughts been so clear! It was as if I, and every other fool who wandered around were nothing but pretenders with clouded, limited minds. But now, now I could see the world for what it really was!
Something full of opportunity!
It was, just, so, BRILLIANT!
And oh so wasted! Drab buildings, sour faces, uselessly spent resources, filthy creatures and people we'd be better off without slithered the streets like so many vermin!
I had to show them the way. But of course, the world isn't kind to visionaries like me. It wasn't kind to me at all, now that I think of it, even before the locker. But regardless, I had my vision, I had designs, whispers in my skull just begging to be allowed to be hatched into reality in the world in front of me, but I didn't have the resources. Oh, sure, I could dissassemble the microwave and the television and the landline and take Dad's toolset to our bedframes and tear apart our car, which, really, has such an inefficient design ANYWAY-
But if I did that, it still wouldn't amount to much. I needed raw material! And you know, Dad would be understandably furious and confused. I didn't particularly want to upset him. Especially since he seems to be in a better mood these days. It seems my new bubbly look at life was infectious. Or at least, I hope that's the reason.
A lot of those smiles do seem awkward, and nervous, and maybe a little forced... hmm.
Oh well! I have science to do! The whispers in my head decrease in pressure, at least a little bit, when I put them down on paper. I had been doing just about nothing but for the last... few days? When Dad ushered me to go to School, I didn't particularly feel like lying to him, and when he asked if I was 'emotionally prepared' and 'not too traumatized', I said that I was fine. So off to school I went.
The trio- well, they had tormented me in the past, and for that they would pay. But they just weren't my biggest concern at the moment. So I ignored them in favor of filling my notebook with my brilliant inventions all day.
I suppose I did have to thank them for reminding me to eat- I don't want to get even thinner! -but then of course Sophia just had to trip me, break my glasses. And that, I decided, was the last straw. She hadn't just assaulted me, this time. She had decreased my efficiency! I had to squint and hold my notebook close to even check my own math!
As always, my computer class was my refuge away from the terrible trio and their machinations, and the assignments for the class, which were easy for me before, were simply and absolutely child's play now. I finished my work in seconds, and then held off on submitting it for a few minutes so that the teacher wouldn't be suspicious. After that, I had the internet at my disposal.
Now, what would teach those three a lesson they wouldn't soon forget? My own inventions, well, they tended to be on the large side. Nothing wrong with that, of course, they were beautiful mechanical marvels, and if they were small, well, you couldn't exactly marvel at them! I admit, my weakness, if I have one, is that the ideas that came naturally to me weren't very subtle.
So I began searching online for easy-to-build pranks. The strategy my old, cloud-headed, dreary self had- to wait for them to grow bored. To not react, to ignore them as best as possible, and... hope. And wish. That they would grow bored... it... it wasn't working. And she couldn't see that, because she was clinging to that false hope. She didn't need hope now. What uses is blind faith, after all, when you have knowledge, that you are certain in your destiny? So I would try something different. If they weren't getting the message when I gave them the cold shoulder- well! They wanted my attention, they'll blasted have it!
Hand-buzzer. Simple enough.
I submitted the insultingly easy program (with improvements!) and asked to go to the bathroom.
Once inside, I opened my backpack, drew out my screwdriver, and got to work. I climbed one of the stalls and tore apart the smoke detector, gathering the batteries, wires, and button needed.
It was painfully simple work, and the result just was plain ugly, but it was of course, thanks to my genius, entirely functional.
The next time any of those three blasted ingrates came near me, they'd receive a hearty zap!
I returned to my seat, and began to search the internet for potential suppliers of scrap metal for low costs. Unfortunately, the short-sighted monstrosity that was capitalism denied me the opportunity. With only my meager allowance I could only purchase such a small amount of titanium. And including shipping costs, I couldn't even buy that!
Such a shame.
When I ruled the world, I would do away with such injustices.
"Here she comes."
They had water balloons, and were waiting at the top of the stairwell. Well, of course they were. But I had deduced they would try something like this. As the three of them waited for me to come up the stairs as I usually did, I had gone up a different set on the other side of the building. Now, the three were so focused on the stairwell below them, that neither Emma nor Madison sensed my approach.
Sophia though, apparently had better instincts.
She whipped around, surprised, as I reached my hand out for Emma.
"Uh oh." I say, as my hand closes around the red-head's arm.
Emma screams, and Sophia does the first thing she thinks of, and pelts me in the face with a water balloon. I slap it away by instinct, and back up, to retreat, when she tackles me to the ground. I slap her with the buzzer, and she shouts as I scramble away, running for it! I suppose that went about as well as I expected. What a blunder on my part though! I should have made two buzzers, and gotten them both at once!
"HEBERT YOU BITCH!" Sophia roars, her feet slapping against the floor as she runs after me.
"How did you like the sting of my revenge Hess?!" I shout back, grinning despite myself. I'm fast courtesy of my long legs, more than anything else, and I was considering taking up early-morning running to try and build up some muscle, but Sophia is on the blasted track team, and she runs like a locomotive.
She shoves me to the ground, and I give her another zap for the trouble. She bites back a hiss, and slams her fist into my face. I zap her again. She hits me again.
We go back and forth and it's so dull.
I should have just gone with my first idea, and constructed a robot to cover them with glue and feathers while they slept. But no, I had to be impatient! Oh well. Better luck next time I suppose.
She manages to stand up, and even as I deliver a continuous shock through her leg, she gives me a kick to the jaw and I'm unconscious.
"Taylor, you look like hell, are you alright?"
I grin, widely, "Of course! Well, a bit sore, understandably, but it was a learning experience, so I can't really complain, now can I?" as it is, much of my face is bandaged, and I'm sporting a black eye over both eyes. I didn't lose any teeth, which I'm fairly grateful about, and no broken bones. Sophia had held back enough to not send me to the hospital. I'd say I was grateful, but I know she only did it to limit the amount of suspicion she'd be under. At least Dad had brought my spare glasses so I wasn't blind as a mole. A creature which actually does have poor eyesight, unlike bats.
"Taylor, I... I shouldn't have made you go to school, it was too early, and- they're talking about prison, Taylor. Or, juvie, I suppose."
"Short-sighted." I sigh, "Don't worry Dad, I'll figure something out-"
"You shouldn't have to. Taylor, I... I found the journal you made."
"The one with the motobug in it, because that one-"
"No, no, the one... where you recorded what they've been doing to you." Dad sighs, and looks so miserable, "I'm... why didn't you ever talk to me?"
"Well, obviously, I thought I could handle it by myself. Obviously, I should have put more preparation into it. At first I was hoping, foolishly, they would just get bored, but when they escalated to the locker, I decided that more active defiance was in need. Thus, the joy buzzer."
"But why didn't you ask for help?"
I shrug, "I did, from the school. Didn't go much of anywhere, they discredited me, the blasted fools. Well- it was actually kind of clever, they had alibis, I didn't."
"But- if the school didn't believe you, couldn't you have told me?"
"And what would you have don-" I stop myself, ugh, people are so fragile. Dad looks so broken. He's already been crying. Hmm.
"I'm sorry. Taylor. I should have.. been a better father, I should have seen the signs, paid more attention-" some percussive maintenance then. I reach over and give the man a hug. Let's see... thirty seconds should do it, right? Neither of us were very touchy-feely people.
Now for some white lies, "You are a good father, Dad." I say, "You've just had so much already on your plate. You've been supporting us alone, fighting through Mom's death, working to revitalize the docks and make the Bay a better place. I was hiding it from you, I didn't want to put more pressure on you. It's not your fault for not seeing, when I was the one keeping it in the dark."
"Th-Thank you, Taylor." I begin to break away from the hug, and he holds tight an additional eight seconds before letting me go. He sighs, and looks around at the office where I was currently serving detention, "But this is a big mess we're in right now, huh?"
"I suppose so." I wish they had confiscated my journal. Or let me have a pencil. Keeping my mind occupied wasn't as satisfying.
Eventually other people came in, police, school staff. Dad argued with people, and I couldn't help but smile at his passionate rage. Then the PRT gets involved, for some reason, and my notebook is handed around, and Dad is pulled away for quiet conversations and OH MY GOD.
I used to have him on my underwear! And I said that out loud!
God, I want to get my hands on that power armor, and on that halberd! But I know if I did try to take it apart right now, I'd probably get charged with something even worse than assault.
"Greetings! I must apologize for all the chaos, but- well. They deserved it."
"That remains to be seen. As it is, you could end up in juvenile detention. You destroyed school property, and alarm system that was meant to warn others in an emergency. You sneaked weapons-"
"Tools! You're a builder, you know the difference."
"-sneaked objects prohibited from being carried by students in the school into the school. And you constructed a weapon, and used it to attack two of your fellow students, who were unarmed."
"Two students who had been waiting for me in ambush." I respond, "I was justified! More than that, they've been perpetrating assaults worse than that on me for months! It was justice I tell you!"
He doesn't look impressed. Oh well.
"But the words of the student body and of the staff all contradict yours. Teachers have described you as 'antisocial', a 'troublemaker' and 'clumsy'. You've been warned about falsely accusing other students of bullying before. Your word doesn't mean much here."
"No, I suppose it doesn't." I say crossing my arms and leaning back in my chair.
"You're in trouble." Armsmaster states cooly, "But you have an option that I suggest you take. You become a Ward, and we'll make sure you don't go to juvenile detention."
"A Ward. You're a tinker, it's clear as much from your designs." Armsmaster grunts, pulling out my notebook. He flips through the pages, looking at my rough sketches, math, programs. "One with a specialty for... building robots, it seems. You've made a mistake here, but if you agree to come with us and be a hero, I can assure you that we can make things easier for you. More than that, you'll be acting as a hero. You'll receive resources, laboratories, where you can make your inventions. This is the best option available to you."
He spoke in a no-nonsense sort of way. It was with an intensity that I knew he wanted me to say yes, but he didn't really hit the notes that people usually did when trying to convince others of something.
As it was, this was probably the best option available to me. "Fine." If nothing else, once I had the resources to create my wonderful inventions, it wasn't like they would be able to do anything to stop me! No. Bad Taylor, these are the Protectorate! Besides, my goal is to improve the world Where else should I start, but here?
This was not a mistake!
Oh, it was enough to move me to tears! The lab, the tools, the metal! I had quantity and quality, available at my fingertips!
I got to work immediately.
Armsmaster was nearby, keeping watch, as I rushed from place to place, moving around the lab in a blur. It was possibly the most exhilarating moment of my life! I had never before taken drugs, nor had sex, but I bet both of them would be paltry pleasures to creating my first robot!
For a few brief moments, I was torn between what to create first! I mean, Armsmaster and the other PRT people had told me they just wanted proof that I was a tinker, and not just someone who liked to draw machines and filled pages of notes with math that was incomprehensible to other people. But just about any of the inventions that filled my journals could be used.
But in the end, I thought back to the first few moments after I was truly lucid, and had some time alone to myself. The very first design I drew. It still brought a smile to my face, when I think about it.
My Moto Bug.
Originally, I had planned to grab a motorcycle and break it down into two of these little beauties, but it waseasier just to make them from scratch when I had the proper tools.
And, for the first time since my awakening, I did have the proper tools! And all the materials I could want, and if I didn't have something, I could just request it! Speaking of...
"Armsmaster?" I asked, turning to look behind me.
"Yes?" he said from where he sat. He was both observing my first tinkering, and handling his own tasks at the same time.
"I need to request a certain material."
"I need a live rat."
He didn't seem surprised, or even that curious, and simply nodded, putting in the order for me. Within ten minutes, a man in a lab coat brought me a rat in a wire cage. "Thank you." I say, opening it, grabbing the rat without a moment's hesitation and heading over to the nearly-complete Moto Bug. It had everything it needed to succeed, and now, it just needed the power source.
As soon as the struggling rodent fell into the open chamber of the Moto Bug, it was trapped by a sudden electric field. The creature began to glow green, and the systems on my robot began to activate one by one. The rat was unharmed of course, if anything, I was prolonging its lifespan and improving its existence! No longer would it mindlessly wander its cage with nothing to do but eat or mate, now, it was the heart of my glorious first machine!
The Moto Bug revved to life, balancing easily on its single tire, it began to click, whirr, and growl. My creation, my beautiful robot, is alive! Armsmaster is on his feet immediately, closing his laptop and now with his halberd in hand. He walks over, and holding his halberd in front of him defensively, approaches my machine. The Moto Bug locks eyes on him, and revvs threateningly. "I'd be careful." I say with a smile, "You're coming on a little strong there."
"What's its purpose?" Armsmaster asks, narrowing his eyes.
"Ending high-speed pursuits!" I say proudly, "It follows a fleeing vehicle, catches up to it, then takes out the tires with its adorable little claws there, hm? I call him, the Moto Bug!"
"Hm." he circles the machine, and the Moto Bug follows him with its eyes, antennas twitching. "It has AI?"
"Of course he can think!" I say, "Though I can't particularly vouch for his intelligence. But you don't have to be especially smart if all you do is get told 'Chase, catch, stop'!"
"Well... I think that's proof enough. We'll talk to your father about your position in the Wards and how we'll be handling your criminal case. For now, shut this thing down, and we'll have our people look at it."
"Shut it down?" I ask.
"Yes." he says, "Do it."
"Um." While I'm not a fool, so of course there's redundant self-destruct switches, in case Moto Bug should ever try to turn against me, there isn't what one would call an 'off' switch. I created a method to power a machine nearly forever off a simple organic battery! The machine must be active in order for the field interacting with the animal to continue operating. It essentially fuels itself, forever, for as long as it is on! If I'm going to turn it off, I'd have to remove the animal manually, something I've ensured can't be done, so that no one may tamper with my glorious device! "Um."
"There isn't an off switch?" he asked. "Is there at least a sleep mode?"
"He's a robot! He can work without exhaustion, what would be the point in making it so they have to sleep?"
The man sighs, before turning towards it, "Then we'll have to disassemble it."
"B-But this is my first robot!" I protest, "You can't just kill him-"
"This." Armsmaster begins, "Is a demonstration of your abilities. It was constructed in a PRT lab, with PRT resources. This belongs to us. Now, disassemble it." he ordered.
Destroy my first real robot!?
Flee the scene, save the Badnik! Screw the Protectorate, I'll go off on my own! They will rue the day that they tried to order around Taylor Hebert!