Alanna propped her head up with her hand and looked out the passenger seat window as Reggie drove them to the engineering building where the robotics program met at Sim State University. Evening had descended on the land as they drove from Isla Del Kashmire and through Scandalica City, the nights were getting shorter now that autumn had come.
She was still trying to place what Franz was inferring when he told her to be careful earlier. She was worried about him, and felt like maybe she shouldn’t have left him so soon after the bake sale. She did want to see what Reggie was working on though, at least it sounded interesting—something about a spybot—he’d explained a bit on the drive over. Alanna had always been influenced by her brother’s interest in mechanics and it drove her to tinker around with everyday objects when she was younger to figure out how they were built. There was something fascinating and thrilling in discovering how objects worked.
The only thing of note she ever built was a weather changing device. It was a prototype and only affected a small local area. She won the science fair when she was a senior in high school with it but didn’t much do anything with it afterward. As far as he knew it was still in her parent’s garage. She made a mental note to check on its whereabouts when she returned home.
She was surprised that Reggie had taken an interest in building robots; he must have been too busy to explore the hobby in high school since she couldn’t recall him ever entering anything in the science fair. She knew he had been busy with debate and school council, since he held class offices over the years. She figured he was trying to follow in his family’s political footsteps and ready himself for the future.
She glanced at him. He was sitting rather stiffly, as a new driver’s ed student would behind the wheel. He used to be so at ease around her when they had been acquaintances at school. At one point it seemed like they could have been more, but fate just didn’t work out that way.
She no longer felt that prick of infatuation she once had for him, but she was willing to give him a chance at being a friend since he wanted to start over. She had so little friends, it seemed. It didn’t help she was always studying and hardly had time to spare. Though through some slick time management she was able to hang out with Franz and it was very nice to have spent the last two days in his company for the bake sale project. She hoped they had made enough to cover some cost of treatment for his mother. That brought her thoughts back to how she was worried about Franz and she hoped she could see him again soon.
“What are you thinking about?” Reggie asked and she jumped slightly since he had been sitting silently since he had stopped explaining the robot he was working on.
“Friends,” she replied.
“Yeah, thinking about how I’m always so busy. I wish I had more time to spend with friends.”
“Well you have time now,” he pointed out, “You’re spending time with me, a friend.”
“You’re right, and thanks again for inviting me to see what you’ve been working on. Will you enter any of the competitions?” Alanna wondered. Antoine had entered about every year and won championships. He was kind of a prodigy though.
“If our advisor thinks I should, I will.”
“But you wouldn’t otherwise?”
Reggie’s shoulders seemed to slump a little, “What if it’s not good enough?”
“Don’t be afraid to try, Reggie! Even if there’s better entries out there, at least you know you did the best you could and where it stands,” Alanna encouraged him and he smiled once more.
They parked and then entered the engineering building, which was a brick building with a large room filled with work stations, tables, and counters for a multitude of building and testing activities.
There was hardly a soul in the room but for them, what she assumed to be the adviser, and a then familiar redhead messing with a robot on one of the tables.
“Reginald, good to see you. It seems only you and Mr. Calhoun here didn’t rush off into any Fall Break plans,” the adviser greeted them. “Who is your friend?”
“Professor Carr, this is Alanna Thackery,” Reggie said but saw Alanna was busy considering Shane, the guy at the table, who seemed to be all but ignoring her. Reggie hadn’t talked to Shane since his father, Elm Calhoun had publicly announced he was running against Reggie’s own father for mayor in the upcoming election. Reggie nudged Alanna to get her attention and greet professor Carr in return. Professor Carr’s eyes lit up at hearing her last name.
“Hello,” she said and stuck out her hand with her usual friendly smile.
“Are you related to Antoine Thackery?”
“Yeah, he’s my brother,” she said and then understood why this robotics adviser looked so keen, even if she wanted to, she didn’t have time to dedicate to any student organizations, “but I just tagged along to see what Reggie was working on.”
“I see,” disappointment in the professor’s tone was evident, “Well maybe you will like what you see and be inspired to join our program.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I have a lot on my plate already,” Alanna explained and then looked around the room as if she were trying to avoid any more offers from the adviser, “Reggie where’s your robot?”
Reggie led Alanna to the farthest table where some parts and tools were spread across the surface and a green machine with propellers was off its power station.
“So this is my spybot,” Reggie said gesturing out to it.
“Aww, it’s so cute! Look at its little eyes,” she gushed and then noted the hovering propulsion system, “So is it like a drone?”.
“Yeah, it could be classified as one. I built in a photo-capturing system. On command it can snap 10 frame rates per second out of each eye and load them into any server I program it to. Neato huh?”
“That is really neat!” She said, “Is it all manual though? Could you set it for automatic recording or have it adapted to any algorithms so it knows what to look for and record?”
This was why he had the slightest hesitation in showing Alanna his work. Her suggestions were great but they were beyond Reggie’s skill at programming and he didn’t want to come off as an inadequate builder. The twisted dilemma in his facial expression must have been evident because Alanna’s look softened, “It’s a great concept and I think you could push it to be more unique.”
“Like A.I.?” Reggie guessed.
It was what her brother would have done, but Reggie was not Antoine.
“Or you could also put an audio component into the recording mechanism” She said, with her hand on her chin with consideration. “A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but if this bot is meant to spy, then audio would surely be helpful in interpreting what images you capture.”
Reggie thought about it as he lifted his bot off the table and carried it over to a work station, “That’s a good idea. I’d just have to open it back up and add some wires to the microcontroller and leave some kind of opening for a microphone. The programming might take a bit though.”
“And once it’s tested out and polished, I’m positive you could take it to the university competitions,” Alanna smiled with encouragement. She was so perfect. Reggie could feel his heart doing somersaults in his chest as he opened a series of drawers looking for the tools needed to take his robot apart. How could he have ever believed the lies about her? He could still feel a prick of fury deep down at his sister for orchestrating them.
Reggie found a screwdriver and began to unfasten the screws that held the frame of his spybot together.
“Don’t forget this one,” Alanna stood by and pointed to a screw underneath the extended propeller of the chassis. He wasn’t going to but did that one next since she had pointed it out.
“So how long will it take you to program audio in?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I’ve never done that part before. I will at least install the microphone tonight—I can do that much,” Reggie replied as he unspooled some of the yellow wire off the work station’s wire rolls and promptly cut it with the wire clippers.
“Why the yellow wire?” Alanna asked.
He didn’t know if she was testing him because she knew more about wire than him or if she was genuinely curious, either way he replied, “For power conduction.”
“Where will the microphone exit the frame?” she wondered.
“I’ll make a hole at the top,” he said, though hadn’t thought about the positioning until she had asked.
“Wouldn’t it pick up more accurate audio if it were at the bottom?” She pointed to the underside of the chassis. “Since it’s hard for sound to travel over an obstacle? It’s why the mouthpieces in our phones are at the bottom.”
Reggie felt a wave of something unpleasant—perhaps it was him being overwhelmed at her questions and suggestions. He still had yet to take all the screws out. She wasn’t doing it to be mean or demeaning but it was highly distracting.
“I’ll figure it out,” he snapped but didn’t mean for it to sound so snide. He could tell by her sudden abashed expression that he had come off as rude. Of course, he appreciated her enthusiasm and encouragement in his hobby but she was too eager to add her commentary and it flustered him. No girls ever did that around him.
“Okay,” she responded and bit her lip, backing out of his workstation space, “I’ll just…leave you to it then.”
He could have kicked himself. He had wanted to impress her and his awkwardness had ruined it. He quietly undid the remainder of the screws in the chassis while thinking of what to say to get back to her good side. He watched in regret as she retreated toward Shane Calhoun.
Unbeknownst to Reggie, the Calhouns had lived a few houses down from Alanna, and Shane, their middle son was in most of her classes throughout school. Shane usually kept to himself though, and often spent recesses doing extra studying. He was somewhat of a rival of Alanna’s when the science fair came around every spring.
Professor Carr stood from the desk at the head of the room and said he was taking a five-minute break before walking out. There wasn’t much for him to oversee since only two members of the program were present.
“What are you working on?” Alanna approached Shane and asked casually as if she had just seen him yesterday, when in reality she probably hadn’t spoken to him since before graduation. He’d grown a lot taller.
From the looks of it, he was building a robot frame with wheels and had a bright red chassis.
He seemed startled at being addressed by her—being interrupted from a highly concentrated state and took a deep breath, “It’s an automatic plant enhancement aide.”
Alanna chortled, “Say it in Simlish please?”
Shane’s expression took on a somewhat smug grin and he lifted his foot into the chair seat, gesturing at his work, “It’s a gardening robot.”
She’d seen gardening robots before. Antoine had had been making them since he was in junior high. Was Shane not even challenging himself anymore? She was somewhat disappointed. In school, they had tried one-upping each other each year at the science fair. Alanna usually came in second place to Shane’s projects except senior year when her weather changing device got all the blue ribbons in every category. She had never seen the redhead so livid when he hadn’t won first place and for once, had to face the feeling of being only second best.
“How is that any different than a hydrobot kit you can get online?” Alanna asked.
Shane crossed his arms with indignance, and faced her “It also trims bushes and hedges in addition to watering the plants. It has all-terrain wheels so it can move across lawns, even ones with steep hills and can check a plant’s stats by analyzing the leaves.”
Alanna raised a brow with scrutiny. How in the world was he able install and program an analytic component? Either he had really stepped up his game since high school or he was lying.
“What does it scan for to determine the plant’s stats?”
“Exposure to the sun and current water capacity,” Shane answered, seeming more and more prickled by her questions.
“And you coded that yourself?” she asked doubtfully and crossed her arms as well.
“What are you getting at Alanna? Look I didn’t invite you over here to start interrogating me about my project so why don’t you back off? Not everyone can have a genius brother help them build their machines.”
“What are you getting at?” she threw her hands down with offense.
“Everyone knows you were tired of being in second place all the time at the science fair and so had your brother build you a weather changing machine so you could take first for once.”
“I did not! I kicked your behiney fair and square!” Alanna all but shouted with a deep frown setting into her usual pleasant expression. How dare he accuse her of cheating! Couldn’t he just get over losing already? That was two years ago! She built the contraption all on her own and she didn’t even let Antoine see it because she didn’t want his help and wanted to do it herself!
Her shout got Reggie’s attention, pulling him out of his brooding because he’d heard that word before, or rather, had read it in a chat box recently. He didn’t think it was that common of a saying.
No. It couldn’t be…Alanna didn’t seem the type to even have an interest in video games. He had a hard time believing she was the person behind the competitive and sassy violet_fire handle in the Rush Hour tournaments. It must have just been a coincidence that Alanna used the same unique figure of speech violet_fire had in their last message.
“It doesn’t matter if I got pieces of the code from the internet, at least I’m doing a lot of the work myself,” Shane ignored her protesting and kept insinuating she had cheated to win. It made her blood boil. “Even if the watering mechanism isn’t wholly responsive to the stat data yet.”
Alanna grabbed a screwdriver and wrench off the table and began to undo the bolts in Shane’s robot. He let out a shout of protest and Reggie looked a bit horrified at her sudden actions. What had possessed her to start tearing someone’s robot apart? She vigorously pulled the screws out and Shane yelled, “By the great green diamond, what are you doing?!”
“You can’t fix your water mechanism responsiveness when your robot is still put together. You have to evaluate the components that you’ve already installed,” she answered in a growl, and then turned an eye to him, daring him to stop her.
His face fell into a mix of horror and wonder at her words, “You’d really try to help me after what I said to you?”
“I’m going to prove to you that I never cheated by fixing your problem.”
Maybe in his heart, Shane Calhoun knew Alanna hadn’t cheated but held so much resentment for that science fair loss that cheating was the only reason to justify it. His pride wouldn’t accept that she did better than him on her own merits.
Alanna was determined. If Shane could see her navigate through his machine and pinpoint his issue and find a solution it would prove she had the same if not better skill in tinkering.
Reggie couldn’t believe she would do that for Shane either. Shane certainly didn’t deserve her help after the he insulted her. If Reggie were built like Franz, he would have definitely stepped up to Shane and demanded an apology. Seeing her in this fierce state however, he wasn’t sure he would even need to step in and it made him reconsider his thought about not suspecting her to be the one and only violet_fire.
Reggie had connected his wire and microphone while they had been arguing and had nothing else to do the rest of the night. Unless he wanted to spend a few hours messing with the microcontroller to figure out how to add audio to the transmitting piece.
“Alanna, didn’t you need a ride home?” Reggie approached them. She had, after all, indicated at the bake sale she wanted to go back to Isla Del Kashmire after checking out the robotics program.
Alanna was focusing hard on opening up Shane’s robot and she didn’t even look at Reggie, “It’s fine. I’ll just go back to my dorm when I am done here.”
The way she had answered was so flat, unconcerned, and concentrated as if Reggie didn’t even matter. Shane stood by with his arms crossed and was observing how Alanna was tearing his bot apart but didn’t say a word. If he really believed she had cheated then he wouldn’t be letting her do this and would have stopped her. Was he just using her to make a better robot?
“Are you sure?” Reggie checked to make sure; he had hoped after this he could invite her to a movie or to the old Sim State tower to stargaze—anything to spend more time with her. It was like he was being swept further and further away from her no matter what he tried to do to keep close.
“Yeah, go on without me,” she decided and popped off the chassis to reveal the inner-workings of Shane’s gardening robot.
Reggie couldn’t stand around awkwardly and keep asking her if she was sure that’s what she wanted so he turned around and departed without her. He passed Professor Carr on the way out—who was coming back in from his break—and when the advisor asked about Alanna, Reggie mumbled something about her staying and helping Shane. Carr’s reaction of delight was the polar opposite of what Reggie felt.
Reggie made it outside and took a breath of the night air, feeling greatly frustrated. First of all, at himself for screwing his chances up by snapping at her. Secondly, he was still in a state of uncertainty, pondering whether or not Alanna as indeed his Rush Hour rival. Lastly, he was annoyed at Shane for being so inept that Alanna felt like she had to stay and fix the issues with his project.
He kicked at a rock and sent it skittering across the sidewalk into the grass and some posters caught his attention that were put up on the side of the building. There were election posters. Annoyingly, Elm Calhoun’s poster had been adhered over his father’s campaign poster which had been put up first. He would have ripped it down if it didn’t ruin the poster underneath.
There was a big red and black poster that he hadn’t seen before but it was advertising something called a fight night. What was odd was that there was no information on the location, just direction to text a phone number for details. That had all the hints of something shady going on. Well, Reggie had nothing better to do, and Alanna wasn’t going to be coming with him so why not watch a bunch of people beat the crap out of each other? Besides, what was the worst that could happen if he checked it out?
I had a long holiday weekend so my apologies for not updating at my regular interval. Here's a mid-week chapter for your reading pleasure!
The Kashmire election is something I wrote some background text on in my Neighborhood thread for those interested.
@freelala Thanks! Edric is kind of a sassy, arrogant fellow but is that necessarily bad or uncommon for a pop star? We'll circle back to Leona in a few and find out!