Chapter 2: First is Worst
Public Service Announcement: Shana is not a great role model. Don't smoke cigarettes, pick fights, or swear.
FOUR WEEKS LATER
Shana watched from the window of the tech department as the other girls unloaded. It was amazing how efficiently everything was conducted. All the girls lined up on the sidewalks, supervised by teachers. Their bags were piled in front of the AC to be searched. Some had come on buses, some in cars. One blonde girl was arguing with Ms Pierce, who had come out to supervise, bullhorn in hand. Shana could lip-read a little, and since the blonde was facing towards the window, she could get a look at what she was saying. Apparently there was some sort of problem with her bags. And, oh...Ms Pierce was apparently an old... well, there's an interesting use of an adjective, Shana thought wryly. She could almost see the vein popping out of the old lady's forehead, though Ms Pierce had her back turned. Pierce raised her bullhorn and blasted out a response. The blonde girl just grinned. It was nice to know there was someone else who thought the old lady was full of crap, and no real threat at all.
Shana scrutinized the blonde girl through the window. She was wearing a low-cut halter top and short shorts along with black stiletto heels. Her straight hair was pulled back in a high, messy pony tail and her long bangs side-swept up off her forehead, held in place by large brown bobby pins. She had too much makeup on and huge, dangly hoop earrings. In short, she looked rather whorish and trashy. She walked confidently, though, with her head held up high. She was probably about five-nine or five-ten without the heels. Which was weird. Most very tall girls didn't accentuate their height, instead preferring to wear flats so they wouldn't tower over boys. Unless, of course, they didn't care...or maybe this was just some dumb new fashion trend. This blonde girl clearly paid a lot of attention to fashion - even if she didn't apply it.
Bored, Shana turned to look at the other incoming students. There were only about five hundred girls, give or take. What was it that Nichols had said? Only about one hundred to one-fifty in a class.
A few girls caught Shana's eye:
Some tiny Asian girl, who wasn't looking where she was going and tripped on the sidewalk curb, breaking her fall with her hands;
A red-headed, blue-eyed girl who looked like she wanted to shoot someone, with her arms crossed and a frown on her face - who then ruined the image of Tough Girl by bursting out laughing at something someone had said;
A group of three girls, who were dressed similarly to the blonde (but not quite as trashily - maybe her friends?).
It was relatively easy to figure who were the Freshmen - oops, sorry, First Years - in the crowd. Most of them looked rather nervous. They hadn't quite lost the baby-fat look yet, either. Their faces were still soft. Shana's face had never been soft, even when she was younger. It was always sharply defined by her cheekbones and framed by long red hair. One of the reasons she looked older, she supposed. She knew she could pass for early twenties, easily. Give her a little makeup and she could pass for even older. To age down, she'd need to use some Latex on her face, give it some roundness...
The blonde had stomped off to the other girls dressed like her. Shana turned her attention back to them. Two brunettes, one with long, wavy hair and skin so pale she looked like a regular ice princess. Probably a little shorter than Shana - about five-four. The other had a little bit of a tan. She was probably five-seven or -eight. The third girl was a African American with long, elaborate cornrows. It must've took ages to get her hair like that, Shana thought. Little beads were braided in to the cornrows, but not the typical rainbow plastic ones - these looked like they were some type of metal. This girl looked about Shana's height. Heavier than her, though, by at least ten pounds.
Shana had never been really heavy - she had the body type typical of a dancer or gymnast: thin with long, wiry muscles, instead of bulk. Her father was always trying to get her to eat more when he was around. When he was gone, she mostly lived on Ramen noodles and sandwiches, because she couldn't cook worth -
JUST DON'T THINK ABOUT IT, SHANA.
It wasn't as if she was unhappy alone. Just lonely, but she'd learned to Deal With It. Especially when Dear Old Dad couldn't -
Shut up. Shut up. SHUT THE FUCKING HELL UP, GOD-FUCKING-DAMMIT. DO. NOT. THINK. ABOUT. THIS.
Shana bit her lip hard enough that her teeth cut through it. Warm, metallic blood flooded out of the cut and into her mouth, diverting her attention from her family. If you could call it that.
There was a fly on the projector, attracted to the light and slowly burning itself to death.
Roast, fly, roast.
It was better entertainment than Ms Pierce, anyway. Its shadow was obscuring part of the Power Point slide Pierce was currently rambling on about. After all the girls were lined up and checked off, everyone in the school had been herded into the Wreck's auditorium to hear this inane speech about the school. Shana shifted in her seat. The chairs were like the ones in sports bleachers: hard, unpadded plastic, sticky with some former occupant's butt sweat on the top and bubble gum on the bottom.
Well, this day was just getting better and better. To think she'd actually been anticipating it... Of course, after four weeks with Alana Somers and a couple of Freshmeats and Juniors for company - First Years and Third Years, that is - fresh brains to pick had seemed like a real treat. Key word: seemed.
After listening to Pierce babble on for almost an hour, Shana had learnt several things.
Apparently, Ambrose Military Academy was founded by Gillian Ambrose back in the late '60s. Pierce had been one of Ambrose's students (she couldn't go to ballet academy because she was too fat to be a ballerina).
Shana was not certain which she was more incredulous about: that there were, in fact, ballet academies somewhere in the world, or that Ms Pierce had once been a ballerina and felt a need to list all the performances she'd been in as a girl, along with a description of the "trials and triumphs of dance." Yes, Shana was willing to admit that dancing was a difficult, physically demanding activity, especially dancing en Pointe, but did Pierce really need to explain that particular point for ten minutes straight?
And of course, she felt a need to say, "so I can completely relate to the adversity you young women face in today's world." Being a fat ballerina was nothing like being -
After Ms Pierce's side tangent about ballet, she delved more into the history of the school. Apparently, Gilly Ambrose had wanted young girls to reach their full potential in the worlds of business, sciences, civil leadership, and defense, without being belittled, distracted, or manipulated by their male peers and to do so, they needed to go through a military-style academic institution. This would be completely instrumental in teaching young women responsibility, cooperation, self-worth, strategy, tactics for business and defense, et cetera, yadda, yadda, blah.
Or something like that.
Ms Pierce was also very clear that although some of you may be here due to issues at educational institutions in the past, this is not meant to be a punishment for you. Oh, yes it is. It is, rather, a place where you can learn and grow, free of distractions from your old lives. This is not a reform school or a prison. Have you seen the security, lady, or do you just live in a fantasy world? It is also not a strictly military institution. Although many of our girls do go into the military, others go to colleges or trade schools across the country and do quite well for themselves. It is also not run strictly on military tactics and preparation for the military. We want, above all, to create resilient, actively thinking young women... That was about the hour mark, when Shana felt like drifting off to sleep. Her thoughts wandered. After a few days, she'd managed to tap into the system and established where the blind spots of the cameras were. She'd even found a way to interfere with the image, guaranteeing that if she ever wanted to sneak out, she could just erase herself from the film and play dummy. Who, me? Couldn't be.
Finally, after another forty-five minutes, during which Ms Pierce rambled on about the rules - the dress code especially, with a glare towards the blonde and her friends, who were sitting quite innocently in the chairs two rows in front of Shana - Pierce concluded her speech.
"Now, young ladies, you are going to divide up into groups and go to your respective barracks. First Years, you will be lead by Mr Brown, our head of the social studies department, and Miss Nichols, our artistic director."
Mr Brown was a sour-looking man with thick-framed black glasses, wearing a dress shirt and a tie, complete with coffee stain. He was mostly bald, except for a fringe of hair that circled his skull, like a monk. He stood up and glared out at the girls. Probably an angry old man just a few years from retirement, who was so sick of those Goddamn brats fidgeting around in class he wanted to strangle them all. Painfully. With a telephone cord - the ancient yellow type that helixes. In sharp contrast, Nichols, dressed in a blue patterned top, black jeans, pink heels and a huge scarf, beamed brightly and waved at everyone. Apparently, the start of school had not changed her fashion sense, or her cheery personality.
The First Years filed out, including the Asian girl Shana had seen fall on the curb. They all looked either nervous or outright terrified as if they were suspiciously intelligent cows being brought to the slaughterhouse.
Growth hormones could do that to you. Right?
Shana watched as the Second and Third years filed out. Well, surprise, surprise - the blonde and her friends were Final Years, as was the redheaded girl.
The head of the tech department, a skinny, dark-haired woman named Ms Rossi, and - who else? - Cerberus, alias Miss Evans, who was apparently the athletic director, escorted all the Final Years. Miss Rossi was clutching a light-weight silver laptop in one hand.
Once they were all standing in the barracks, Cerbreus began to bark. Through a bullhorn, for fuck's sake. Where were they getting all these bullhorns from? Pierce had had one earlier. There was a screech of feedback and then: "Listen up. You get your partners by random lottery. You work with them during physical training and in academics."
There was another screech of feedback as Cerberus lowered the bullhorn and consulted with Rossi briefly. Shana looked around. All the beds had been made up with fresh linens, in mauve taupe with burnt orange trim (what else?). Some had sprayed copious amounts of flowery air-freshener, as well, when the girls where in assembly. All the bags were stacked in a corner of the room, underneath a new WELCOME BACK FINAL YEARS banner.
Cerberus cleared her throat and raised the bullhorn again. "To a certain extent. We'll get to that later. Now can I just give them the damn assignments." This last bit was directed at Rossi, who frowned, lines showing up between her eyebrows. She grabbed the bullhorn, producing another shriek of feedback.
Were they trying to deafen everyone? Mother of God, that was fricking loud. Shana winced.
"Alright, here's how it works. The computer system selects two names randomly." Shana knew this was true; it was one of the systems she'd "browsed." She hadn't seen a need to tamper with it, though. She didn't know anyone here, so what was the point? "You get your partner for the entire year. No complaining. And you all bunk alphabetically, regardless of your partner. When your name is called, walk to the other side of the room.
"Now, let's begin."
Rossi clicked the bullhorn off and passed it to Cerberus. Then she opened her laptop with a flourish and tapped the screen.
The computer emitted a low hum and then said, "Taylor Hopper and Lorraine Row."
The redhead and the girl with the fancy cornrows walked to the other side of the room, grinning as they turned to face everyone else. Okay, so they definitely knew one another. And they were friends, too.
"Kasey Mason and Zoe Wilder."
The ice princess and another girl, with black hair, walked over. Both had their heads held high. They turned to one another and smirked slightly. Probably friendly rivals.
The computer ran down the list of students. Soon, only four girls remained: Shana, the blonde who'd mouthed off to Pierce earlier, the blonde's tanned friend, and Alana Somers. Secretly, Shana hoped she'd get the blonde as her partner. She seemed like the most likely candidate for the leader of this group. And once the leader was in awe and fear of you, you became the one with the real power.
The computer called out, "Alana Somers and Laura Reynolds."
"Shana O'Hara and Holly Osborn."
The blonde whooped, "Freshmeat!" and dove into a cartwheel, but bungled it halfway through and landed on her ass. She screamed and then dissolved into laughter. All the other girls started laughing too. The redhead - Taylor Hopper - screamed, "When are you gonna learn that doesn't work, Blondie?"
Holly flipped her off. "When you learn the days of the week, Hopscotch!"
The line between Rossi's eyebrows appeared again. She just wanted one orderly First Day, just once, with this group. She hadn't gotten it the last three years. Mother of God, was that too much to ask? She gave the laptop to Cerberus and snatched the bullhorn back.
"GIRLS, ENOUGH!" Rossi roared through the bullhorn, which squawked like a terrified parakeet being stuffed in a blender. All the girls went silent and stared ahead, making her next request: "ALL OF YOU SHUT UP!" unnecessary, but still satisfying.
The blonde got up, dusted off her butt, and skipped into the line.
"ALRIGHT, YOU MISERABLE DELINQUENTS," Rossi bellowed, glaring at Holly, "WHY DON'T YOU COOPERATE GETTING ALL THE BUNKING ARRANGEMENTS IN ORDER?! SHOW YOUR MATURITY FOR ONCE! WE'LL BE BACK IN HALF-AN-HOUR AND IF YOU ALL FIGHT AND GET BLOOD ON THE FLOOR, YOU'LL BE CLEANING IT UP WITH YOUR OWN TOOTHBRUSHES" - Rossi stopped to breather; her face had turned an unhealthy shade of reddish-purple - "SO HELP ME GOD!"
She shut off the bullhorn, eliciting one last ear-shattering burst of feedback, and then stormed out of the barracks, Cerberus close behind. All the girls looked at the blonde, who was shaking her head sorrowfully. "And that, my dears, is what happens when you torment a teacher into insanity." She had a slight Southern twang - likely a Texan. Then she clapped her hands. "Alrighty, we all know where to bunk, right?" Head nods, all around. Shana had never approved of group responses, so she didn't nod along. Besides, if there was going to be a confrontation, now would be a good time for it. No teachers, no cameras. Just so long as she didn't get blood on the floor... Shana suppressed a grin. Sure enough, Blondie was coming on over. The other girls had broken out of the line and were watching curiously.
"You got somethin' to say to me, doll?" Shana purred calmly. She had trained herself out of speaking with a Southern dialect, but now she slathered it on thick. It was always good to have the Southern-queen thing going on. Gave her a little class, some individuality. Not to mention, she could tone her voice so it sounding supremely insulting.
The blonde grinned, showing her teeth lazily. There was an undercurrent of tension now. Holly had been the queen bee of the Year since she was a First Year. She was just that likable, a joker whose charisma connected her with most people. She was also a very good martial artist, even though she didn't look it. Then again, she'd never been one for conforming to the norm. She was by no means a dummy, despite her appearance. Her grades were up in the A's and B's and her skill at reading people had made her a great flirt - and an excellent leader. You didn't need to be a great techie or brain when you had underlings who were. Still, although Holly enjoyed a good fight - a real challenge - she never used people. And although she enjoyed being the queen, she didn't hold grudges. She studied the new redhead, whose tone of voice radiated lazy insolence. Holly realized that the new girl, Shana, was no dummy, either. She'd sized up everyone and knew who was the leader. And she was interested in taking Holly down a few pegs. This would be tricky to defuse ... but only if Shana was every bit as tenacious as Holly.
Holly decided, What the hell. She'd take a poke at Shana, see how well the girl responded. After all, if they were going to work together, they needed to establish the person in charge. And she was fairly confident it would be her. "Well, yeah, Skinny. You know who you're bunking with?"
"You, I imagine," Shana said, still in that lazy tone. "Unless, instead of taking the bottom bunk, you'd like to sleep on the floor?" She arched one eyebrow lightly, and widened her eyes a bit as she said this.
"Oh, no, I'd prefer the top bunk, actually," Holly said casually, tilting her head to the side.
"Re-ally." Shana drew out the word a bit. "Why?"
Shana was still challenging her. Time to step things up a notch. "Well, y'know, you're so skinny, Irish," Holly said lightly. "How strong could these scrawny little arms be? I bet you couldn't climb to the top bunk." Holly reached out and grabbed Shana's wrist, pinching it in her hand and pulling the Irish girl's arm up. Shana did not resist. This gesture got appreciative chuckles from a few of the girls, and smirks from others. The crowd began to close in on the two, pressing forward to see what would happen next.
Oh, and everyone would see what happened next.
Holly smirked, waiting.
Shana could still laugh it off and back down, but from the steely gaze in her green eyes, Holly knew, with sudden, terrible clarity, that she'd underestimated the girl. Irish was not going to back down. She did not like being mocked.
Oh, Goddamn fucking chickenshit.
"Yes," Shana said, quietly, almost as if she was agreeing, conceding to Holly. A small smile quirked up the corners of her lips. Then, she slammed a punch up into Holly's gut and kicked the taller girl's legs out from under her. Holly's stilettos could not support her, and she fell down, shocked. Her head thunked against the floor and the air rushed from her lungs audibly. She'd felt the punch and the kick before she'd seen them coming, how was that even fricking possible? Fuck. She was screwed.
Shana smiled pityingly. "Weak," she murmured, a note of sad disappointment in her voice. She stood still: her eyes scanned the crowd for potential new challengers. Everyone was shocked, eyes widened and pupils dilated. Smirks slipped off faces; jaws dropped.
"Fuck. You see that?" A whisper carried through the crowd.
Suddenly, Cerberus burst in. "UH' HAHRUH."
Frick. What the hell -?
Holly righted herself and the crowd shifted. "Ooooo," the gasp ran through the crowd. Cerberus navigated through the girls. "Come with me. To the office." She glared down the other students. "Get moving."
Ms Pierce stood behind the dark-wood desk, her eyes trained on Shana and tissues ever-so-subtly present on her desk. She was expecting Shana to cry at the news, no doubt. Well, screw it. Shana wasn't in the mood to jump through hoops right now. She wasn't going to give Pierce a single sniveling little-girly tear. Shana had given up crying when her mother died. She wasn't going to cry for her sonofabitch of a father, the same guy who had shipped her to this crapfest and -
JESUS H. CHRIST, GOD FUCKING DAMMIT, GET IT THE HELL TOGETHER, YOU STUPID BITCH. FOCUS. FOCUS ON NOW AND MAKE ALL THIS EXCESS TOUCHY-FEELY SHIT GO THE FUCK AWAY.
DEAL WITH IT.
Shana O'Hara was in a car. It was approximately 11 AM, and she was in a car. It was not her car. It was a minivan, and property of the school. The person driving the car was not Shana. It was Cerberus, whose eyes were firmly fixed on the road, and hands Super Glued to the ten-and-two positions on the steering wheel. Cerberus' jaw was tight. She was avoiding looking at Shana in the rear view mirror. She had barely spoken to the redheaded girl (how was that hair not dyed?), mostly because she didn't know what to say. The kid was one of those smart-ass types, and the way she was sitting there, still and stiff as a statue, was just unreal. Did she even feel anything at all? Maybe she was in shock. People went funny like that, sometimes. The girl probably wasn't thinking much of anything right now, just trying to process it all.
It was somewhat easier this way - Carlotta Evans had never been really great at comforting crybabies.
Shana O'Hara was thinking. She was thinking about her mother's funeral, nine years in the past.
AT THE BARONESS' NEW YORK CITY PENTHOUSE
Anastasia Cisarovna was irritated. Dr. O'Hara had destroyed one of Cobra Industries' best labs. Oh, and killed himself in the process. Idiot. No security footage remained, and there wasn't a satellite beam concentrated over that spot at the time of the explosion. That was a total inconvenience. What a waste.
She supposed she'd have to do some PR, convince the grieving family not to sue. Or investigate further. Ah, well, that was something she was good at, no? She took out her laptop and placed brought it into her dining room, setting it on the varnished wood dining table. She sat down and booted up the computer, the n searched the doctor's profile to find news on his family...