Okay, it’s only Wednesday and, already this week, two schools in the immediate area have shut down permanently due to faculty dying in child riots spurred on by illegal underground child-monster experiments. Carla found that a little weird.
What Carla found a little weirder, however, was seeing Penny bound up to her as soon as she stepped on the grounds of their new shared school, one that hopefully didn’t have any illegal child experiments tied to it.
They were never friends. That wasn’t up for debate. Penny tried her best to get Carla in trouble, and Carla tried her best to stay out of the robot's crosshairs. They were complete opposites: goody little nice girl Penny and smuggling rebel Carla.
“Hey, snitch.” Carla scoffed, “What do you want?”
Penny’s signature wide smile fell for a second, and Carla felt… regret? She wasn’t wrong, by any means. Penny was the biggest snitch ever. She’d bend over backwards to get you in trouble if you were a minute late to morning time. She’d sell out anyone if she had the opportunity.
Carla rolled her eyes, keeping the bad feelings locked inside herself.
“Uh.” Penny said quietly before regaining her grin, “Hi! I’m Penny!”
Penny stuck her hand out for a handshake, but Carla only looked at her in confusion.
“Yeah, and?” Carla replied, “What do you want me to do about it?”
“ Hi! ” Penny said, a little more forcefully this time, “I’m Penny! It’s nice to meet you! ”
Oh god, were there more Pennys out there? She’s a robot, right? She could be replicated, right? How many crazy principals have little snitch robot daughters?
“Carla.” Penny put her hand down, concerned, “Are you okay? Gosh, you must really be upset about my mommy- I mean... the principal dying, and the school getting shut down, right?”
Mommy? Okay, this definitely was the same Penny Carla would sneak past to get into the school. This definitely was the same Penny Carla would spend morning time far away from. This definitely was her Penny.
“Why are you introducing yourself? We know each other.”
‘Unfortunately.’ Carla added in her head.
“You don’t know me.” Penny replied matter-of-factly, “You knew what Mommy wanted me to be.”
Carla awkwardly looked between Penny and the door to the school, hoping that the morning time bell would ring and cut this awkward conversation short.
“...What?” Carla found herself saying, despite wanting this conversation to end.
Penny awkwardly poked her fingers together, avoiding eye contact.
“I’m sorry.” She said, “I wasn’t a good person at our old school.”
“I mean, you weren’t really a person at all.”
Again, Penny frowned for the briefest of seconds before regaining her regular grin. Why did this make Carla feel so bad if Penny always bounced back?
“So you know?” Penny whispered, “I thought it was a secret…”
“Uh, newsflash, weirdo.” Carla said, “Regular children don’t shoot lasers out of their eyes. We kept quiet so your weird mom wouldn’t kill us; everybody knows that you’re a robot, Penny.”
“A cyborg.” Penny corrected, “I was like you once! Back before… uh…”
Penny looked at the ground, saddened. Once again, Carla felt bad. Why exactly did Carla feel the urge to constantly run Penny into the dirt?
The sound of Penny sniffling brought Carla out of her thoughts. Oh no, she’s crying.
“I was really hoping I’d be able to apologize without bringing that up.” Penny said quickly, “I was really hoping that I could say sorry without blaming my mommy for what I did, but I did it anyways. I’m really sorry for the way I treated you and Buggs and Kidd and-“
Penny kept listing off kids she managed to get in trouble, which was all of them. She took a deep breath and sighed as she finished, scratching at her wrists.
“That wasn’t me.” Penny finished, “I mean, it was me, but I had a little chip in my head telling me what to do. I couldn’t really… go against it, you know? If I didn’t listen to the chip, uh, a shock would go through my head and it really hurt. I don’t feel pain that much anymore, but that’s the one thing that hurts.”
A little twinge of pity hit Carla as soon as Penny looked at her with those big blue eyes of hers. This was… unfamiliar. Carla was good at many things: sports, counting, business, smuggling, electronics… but not this. Not this emotional stuff.
Carla put a hand on Penny’s shoulder, hoping she could somehow muster the right words to say.
“Hey.” She said, “It’s… it’s alright. It’s alright.”
“No, it’s not. It’s really not. I mean…” Penny sighed and averted her gaze, “Carla? Do you know what it’s like knowing that you’d do anything for someone who didn’t care about you? Anything? ”
Carla admitted that she didn’t have many close friends or… or really friends at all. Acquaintances, maybe. Business partners. Customers.
“Well, uh.” Penny said slowly, “It’s not a good feeling. I feel like, in another life, I would’ve killed you if mommy wanted me to. I keep getting these weird recurring nightmares and… I hurt a lot of people. Sometimes it’s Kidd. Sometimes it’s Buggs. Sometimes it’s you.”
Carla felt a shiver run down her spine at how casually Penny brought up the topic.
“I would… I mean, I keep getting this one dream where you and Buggs are trying to get into my locker, which activated my override. I hate it because it feels so… real. Like I actually did do it in some other life. So, I come out and shoot him first.” Penny said, shaking, “You have good reflexes because you do sports, so you react really quick and run, but you slip on the tile and snap your ankle.”
Carla felt a little stomach sick at how Penny described the whole situation so… coldly. Like she was describing the weather.
“You’re still determined to live, which I admire, so you keep crawling even though you’re still on the second floor and there’s no hope of you getting down the stairs, nevermind to safety.” Penny continued, “I take my time. I walk towards you slowly, because I know I can’t stop, but I know I can try to delay it, I know I can hope someone will stop me. Everytime, I hope someone, anyone, will stop me, even if it hurts me. Nobody stops me.”
Carla looked around, uncomfortable.
“The worst part is when you turn around and I see your face. You’re crying. You know that you can’t get away, so you beg, Carla. I know it sounds like something you’d never do, but you beg. It hurts, but I can’t stop.” Penny was crying now, “If I could, you wouldn’t have the broken ankle to begin with. I’m a prisoner in my own body.”
Penny paused, not wanting to finish the story. She took a shaky breath.
“So… then I do it. One shot. I wish the dream could just end there, but it doesn’t. I’m just standing there, looking over what I just did. I can feel my body again. I’m aware. I’m in control. I’m a murderer.” She slowly muttered, “Sometimes, I flip you over so it looks like I got you from behind, so people don’t know you begged, I know you wouldn’t like it if they knew that. Sometimes I just go back to the smart class. Sometimes I just stand there. It always ends as soon as the bell rings. I’m… I’m sorry. I’m not… really a good person.”
Silence overtook the duo as Carla processed everything that was just said. Her hands were numb.
“Christ, that’s some heavy shit.” Carla said.
“Language.” Penny said in monotone, “I’m sending you to the-“
Penny suddenly slapped her hands over her mouth, surprised. She was shaking.
“Force of habit.” She muttered, “I can’t even do that anymore. I never even met the principal here…”
Carla was suddenly very aware of the defensive pose she found herself in, keeping distance, and her hands, between her and Penny.
“You see?” Penny said, “There’s those reflexes I was talking about. It’s okay, I’d be scared too.”
Penny smiled a broken smile, more tears forming in her eyes.
“But you’re still talking to me!” Penny chirped, “That means so much to me! Thank you. I thought you’d hate me.”
Carla’s already shredded heart ripped into a million pieces.
“Anyway… h-here.” Penny stammered as she held out a friendship bracelet, “I… I made it for you. That’s why I wanted to talk to you to begin with, I’m sorry I got distracted by my own problems.”
Gently, Penny placed a green hand-woven bracelet into Carla’s hands. It wasn’t perfect, it had several loose ends and frayed bits, but… but Carla could feel the love in every knot.
Carla stared at it. Why did she love it so much? Why did she want to wear it and never take it off?
“I always see you wearing green, so I thought… it might be your favourite colour.” Penny said, shyly tucking her blonde hair behind her ears, “I hope it is.”
Green was Carla’s favourite colour, but the blue in Penny’s eyes as she eagerly waited for a response was giving her competition.
“It is.” Carla said without thinking, “Real good detective work, there.”
Carla’s heart skipped a beat as Penny beamed, clapping her hands together.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” Penny chirped, “It’s a friendship bracelet! It means we’re friends! I'm really glad we’re friends now, I’ve always wanted to be friends with you!”
Normally, Carla would object to being ‘friends’. Normally, Carla would ask an impossible favour or set a difficult challenge in order for someone to be her friend. But… right now felt different. Right now felt… real. Genuine. Penny poured her soul out to Carla, and Carla felt the need to return that genuinity.
“Friends.” Carla replied, “I like the sound of that.”
Penny’s wide smile was infectious, warm like a ray of sunshine and twice as bright as one.
Carla could feel everyone staring at her and Penny ever since they started talking. The snitch and the delinquent having an actual conversation? Their gazes drilled holes into Carla, and she knew she’d have a lot to answer to later, but she didn’t care.
They were… friends now.
Carla looked at Penny, who still smiled wide and who still had love in her heart despite everything and who went out of her way to apologize… Carla looked at Penny and felt something.
Faster than Penny could compute, Carla brought Penny into a tight hug. Penny’s eyes shot open in surprise, and she let out a surprised squeak.
Sparks flew… well, figuratively. Carla wasn’t sure if Penny would make sparks fly literally.
Carla held Penny tight. She could feel every little movement the other girl made, every breath, every twitch… She felt Penny as she hugged back, putting her arms around Carla’s waist.
She shouldn't have been surprised that Penny was so warm. She was still part human, and her robot parts were still whirring away, generating heat as they worked.
Carla closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the smell of warm metal and craft supplies hitting her nose. Penny smelt like a dusty overheating computer in a craft store, one full of balsa wood and wool.
They stayed there together for what felt like forever, ignoring the gossip of their peers around them.
Surprisingly, Penny was the one to break the hug.
“Oh, by the way.” Penny said, oddly seriously, “I know you have contraband.”
Shit. Carla tried her hardest to discreetly shove her firecrackers deeper into her back pocket.
“If you want to get in the school…” Penny continued, “You should be more careful, alright? I’ll try not to tell anyone, promise. It wouldn’t be the first time I let you slide.”
“My sensors go through clothing, no matter how thick. I can tell when you shove your contraband under your hoodie, Carla.”
Carla pressed her mouth into an awkward thin line as she tried to keep her poker face.
“No you can’t.” She said, trying to sound confident, “You would’ve totally taken it, you’re just trying to sound good.”
“Maybe.” Penny replied, “But I can tell when you bring in bomb parts, I’m not dumb. I mean it when I say I’ve always wanted to be friends.”
“But… didn’t you say it hurts when you go against your programming?”
“A lot. How do you think I know?”
The bell for morning time rang loudly, and Penny politely smiled before turning around.
As Penny walked away, Carla felt this sense of… yearning. She didn’t want this moment, no matter how painful, to end. It was nice, being so open and emotional and-
They were friends now, after all.
“Penny.” She said.
Penny turned around, confused.
“Meet me at lunch time.” Carla continued, “We can eat lunch together... That’s what friends do, right?”
Penny’s eyes twinkled with delight as she smiled wide, making Carla’s heart race. She nodded frantically before rushing into the school, not wanting to be a second late on her first day. Carla watched as she left her view, not caring that she would definitely be late.