So. It’s Wednesday, and that means it’s Lovelace 1/2.
This is an exceptionally busy time for me, day job wise. I work at a school — for the record, not Brooks-Carillon. In fact, my school and Brooks-Carillon aren’t that much alike, beyond a superficial similarity common to many private schools. However, we’re gearing up for the start of the school year, and this means my days are long and my nights are short.
Naturally, one of the pivotal moments of the story hits this week.
Here we go….
*** *** *** ***
In one sense, Andi knew that Dean Forrester’s office hadn’t changed appreciably since the last time she had stood in it, just two days before on Saturday. It was still exactly the same dimensions, with exactly the same worn blue carpeting. The same brown desk, the same three chairs and one couch around the same coffee table with the same silly ‘tabletop zen rock garden’ on it. Even the people were the same, but for the newcomers. Dean Forrester. Mister Charlton. Mister Stone. And Andi herself, of course, as the guest of honor — the girl who was suddenly doing too well, so she was in trouble.
In another sense, though… it seemed smaller. On Saturday, this had been the most intimidating place in the world, and Andi had felt every bit her fifteen years of age, surrounded by adults who were angry with her, disappointed with her, or both. Now… now she had far bigger fish to fry, and if anything the masters in the room were her only hope — because, after all, the other change in the room were the people she had been raised to believe were her parents.
‘People’ she now knew weren’t even human.
She had thought she was perhaps crazy — or grasping at straws. But now that she’d had this epiphany, there was no going back. She couldn’t un-see the clockwork rhythm of their blinking, of their chests rising and falling with breath not so much measured as regulated.
She watched as the adults in the room shook the hands of the two androids. Watched as they exchanged pleasantries. “Thank you so much for coming, Mister Moore,” Dean Forrester said.
“Gannett,” the male android replied, mildly. “I’m Dale Gannett. She’s Georgina Moore. That’s why our daughter is Gannett-Moore.”
“As she wastes no time in reminding us,” Mister Charlton said, his face as close to a smile as it ever got.
Dean Forrester smiled. “Well, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll try to keep it straight. There are days I wonder if I can remember anyone’s name. Maybe it’s good I stopped teaching history.”
“Maybe it is,” the female android said. Dryly? It was hard to say. Andi could see how limited the machines were now. Still, she saw Forrester’s eyes widen slightly at her ‘mother’s’ rudeness. So, maybe that was intentional. Or not.
“Well, either way — we should get on to our discussion. On Saturday, we had an incident in Mister Charlton’s class. That’s pretty well how it started. Stan, if you would?”
Mister Charlton nodded. He was sitting in that same chair. “I’ll be honest — I’m embarrassed at how I reacted. Your daughter—” Andi bit her lip “—completed her test in record time, achieving a perfect score. This isn’t how she’s performed all year long. I thought it had meant she had cheated, so we called her into a meeting to confront her. Only—”
“Mister Gannet, Ms. Moore — Andi is a remarkable young woman,” Mister Stone said, leaning forward. “She’s always had tremendous potential, and now she’s beginning to demonstrate it. I believe we should be looking at ways to help her meet that potential.”
“Yes, well,” the male android said. “Obviously that’s why we’re here.”
“We’re obviously taking her out of this school,” the female android said. “She’ll need to be tested properly, and then brought to where she can be trained to make the most of her abilities.”
Mister Stone’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think it’s in Andi’s best interests to leave Brooks-Carillon, especially given her lack of stability in her past.”
“Lack of stability?” ‘Dale Gannett’ cocked his head slightly, aping curiosity.
“Mister Gannett,” Dean Forrester said, spreading her hands in front of her in a conciliatory way. “With all due respect, we’ve been going over Miss Moore’s file since this all came up. She’s been moved from boarding school to boarding school her entire life. She’s never really had a stable home environment. While I’m sure you had your reasons for this, with these sudden and profound changes in her capabilities, to uproot her from a situation she’s used to and comfortable with, cutting her off from her friends and the teachers who’ve gotten to know her—”
“You can keep the fees,” ‘Georgina Moore’ said. “You needn’t worry about that. We’re satisfied with what Brooks-Carillon has done with her, but now that she’s expressed these talents, it’s time we take her away.”
“Maybe we should ask Andi what she wants to do,” Mister Stone said, turning to Andi. “I mean, she is right in the room, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of ignoring her up until now.”
Andi took a deep breath. “I—”
“Yes yes, I’m well aware she doesn’t want to leave your school,” ‘Georgina Moore’ said. “That’s not really germane, now is it?”
“Not germane?” Mister Stone snapped.
“Seth,” Mister Charlton murmured, arching an eyebrow. Mister Stone looked away, angrily.
“I have to side with Mister Stone,” Dean Forrester said. “I think Andi has every right to express her opinion. Perhaps we should have the school counselor join us—”
“We do appreciate your concern, of course,” ‘Dale Gannett’ said, “but it really is pointless. We are her parents, and we’ve already decided to remove her from this school. There’s really nothing you or she can do to stop us.”
Andi snorted, looking away.
“Miss Gannett?” Mister Charlton asked.
“Gannett-Moore. And yes, I do. It’s important, too, because he—” she cocked her head towards the male android “—just lied to you.”
“Lied? How?” Dean Forrester frowned. Neither of the androids reacted, of course.
Andi took a deep breath. “This is going to sound insane. I know this. I… I have to ask you to trust me. To believe me.” She looked at each of the actual human adults. “These two people are not my parents. I’ve been given reason to examine my life and my memories with them. It’s clear they’re guardians who were assigned to me.”
“Don’t be silly, dear,” the female said, just the same as before. “Obviously we’re your parents.”
“No, you’re not. You’re not even human. You’re machines.” Andi looked at Mister Stone, then Dean Forrester. “I’m not being clever when I say that. They’re androids of some kind. Whoever did this to me made them to watch after me, then collect me when I started to become what they wanted me to become. They did this to me, ma’am. And now they’re here to use me.”
Dean Forrester’s eyes widened, then seemed to droop. “Oh Miss Gannett,” she said.
“Yes… look, I know this is… rough, but this kind of bizarre… I don’t even want to call it an accusation—”
“Courtney,” Mister Stone said, softly. “If Andi says these two are machines, then they’re machines.”
Dean Forrester blinked. “Seth—”
“She’s clearly right,” Mister Charlton said, staring at Andi’s faux mother. “They’re barely reacting at all, even now. And honestly, I’m sick of underestimating her.”
“She’s just being silly,” ‘Georgina Moore’ said, lightly. “This changes nothing.”
“How about we just see if she’s being silly or not,” Mister Stone said, rising. “If there’s any chance you two aren’t her parents, then there’s no chance Andi’s being taken anywhere until we have the truth!”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Andi said. She’d been working the bum bag zipper open, and pulled out the pepper spray that was inside. “Here!” And she fired the spray, directly into the male android’s eyes.
“Andrea!” Dean Forrester snapped. “What are you doing?”
The male android just kept looking at Andi, the oily chemical sliding down his face.
“That was pepper spray!” Andi shouted. “You know it is — your eyes are stinging a little just like mine are! But his aren’t, are they? He’s not even noticed it! He probably didn’t know he was supposed to react to it until I told him!”
“Dear God,” Mister Charlton said softly, staring at the ‘man.’
“I think we’ve heard enough,” the android said. “We’re just wasting time. We’ll be taking Andi with us now. Thank you for all you’ve done.” His voice wasn’t any different than before. Clearly, his programming had no way of adapting to this situation.
Dean Forrester had paled, also staring. The android’s words were enough to shake her out of a torpor, however. “What?!”
“Thank you again,” the female said, lightly. “We’re going now, however. We’re done with this discussion. And you have no legal right to stop us.”
Dean Forrester’s jaw set. “No right? Sorry, but you’re completely wrong.”
“We’re her parents,” the male said. “We decide where she goes.”
“Not this time.” Dean Forrester picked up her phone, and began to punch buttons. “I don’t know about this machine business, but I don’t have to. A dangerous weapon was fired in my office. That’s assault. I’m required to contact the police. When they get here we can—”
The female android moved faster than any human Andi had ever seen. There had been no telegraphing of her movements, either. She turned, slapped the phone from Dean Forrester’s hand, hard enough to break the handset and make the Dean cry out with pain, and thrust her other hand forward, dead center on Dean Forrester’s chest. The force of the blow caused the Dean’s chest to audibly crack as her sternum and several ribs were broken, and she was thrown back into the wall, hard—
“The Hell are you—” Mister Charlton grabbed the male’s arm, only to have his own arm twisted, bones snapping, as the male android turned to engage the math teacher, calmly driving his fist into Mister Charlton’s abdomen harder than any prizefighter had ever thrown a punch.
Andi shrieked, her eyes widening as she took a step back….
…and the entire world seemed to slow down, almost to a crawl, as Andi took in exactly what was happening before her. She knew that Dean Forrester was horribly injured — almost certainly fatally. She remembered the first time she saw her in the hallway. She remembered the allschool where she talked about the school trip to Italy, the discussions on being too proud to be racist in small group settings, the evening dinner where she explained what the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance was and what they hoped to accomplish. She remembered every sharp word she’d heard the Dean make, every laugh she’d heard her utter, every joke that had prompted that laughter. She remembered the Dean telling her to get back to her dorm before check-in, when Andi and her friends had waited too long in the dining hall after study hall. She remembered Forrester shouting down the hall— “no running!” She remembered the Dean cautioning her when they thought she’d cheated on the math test. She remembered her widening expression as the implications of what Andi had done had begun to sink in.
Every second of the time that Andi had spent in the presence of Dean Courtney Forrester replayed itself, even as Andi interpreted what was happening to her physically now. Almost certainly fragments of bone were cutting into the Dean’s lungs, and maybe her heart. The impact on the wall would be strong enough to break other bones. It was like she had just been hit by a car, only the impact area was restricted to the size of a hand. And Andi, who had never been present for death or even this level of violence, felt horror and panic flood through her… but felt it so fast, felt herself reacting, like she were going through the stages of grief at the speed of life— This can’t be happening! How dare you do this? Stop! I’ll go with you if you call an ambulance and leave them alone! This is my fault! I did this to them!
No. These monsters did this. And they would not get what they wanted!
Andi scooped out the penknife from the bum bag, moving forward and slashing down on the male android’s arm, hard enough for the blade to hack through his chalkstripe coat and shirt. She pierced the android’s skin, gashing down low — clearly cutting through some kind of polymer outside layer, then a red undercoat the color of blood. Beneath that, however, was a golden gel of some kind, which sprayed out over the coffee table and the couch. If there had been any doubts remaining, they were gone now.
The android turned, pulling his arm sharply back, pulling the penknife from Andi’s grasp as he looked at her. “We’re not allowed to hurt you,” he said, calmly. “For your safety, please sit on the floor until we’re done.”
With a scream, the injured Mister Charlton tackled the male android, using his unbroken arm to hook him off balance into the female. “Seth!” he screamed. “Get her out of here!”
Part of Andi wanted to stand and fight, but the rest of her knew that Mister Charlton was right — even as she also knew, with the same sick certainty she just had before, that he would not survive. He was intentionally sacrificing himself so Mister Stone and Andi could escape. She felt the same kind of horrible release as she remembered every moment of Mister Charlton’s classes, every word he had after those classes. Every second that seemed like he was angry or dismissive of Andi, but which she now knew were his way of trying to get through to her, to pull some kind of mathematics skill from her, because he believed in her.
And as before, she was able to process that horror — channel it, get it out of the way so she could act. Even as Mister Stone was shouting “Right! Andi — move!” Andi was already moving, getting the door open so she and Mister Stone could get through it, could slam it shut, could run as fast as they could — refusing to let the sacrifice of Courtney Forrester and Stan Charlton go to waste.