Something funny was going on at school, Max was 87.5% sure of it. But he just couldn't put his finger on what.
Frowning to himself as he sat in front of his computer, Max listed off the facts in his head, hoping to gain a bit of perspective on the whole thing. It was worth a shot, and with any luck, Max could figure this whole thing out and stop waking up in the middle of the night, a niggling feeling dancing in the back of his mind.
Fact one. Marinette was one of the friendliest people in the class, and rarely- if ever- disliked people without good cause. Max might have been inclined to even go as far as to say that Marinette never disliked someone without good cause, but it was never a good idea to talk in such absolutes when considering a human element. There were almost always exceptions to the norm with living beings, and ignoring that and speaking in too broad of terms was- well, it wasn't a good idea.
Fact two. Lila was a new student, one who- at least according to her, it wasn't as though Max had independently verified those stories- lived an exciting life, with a mother who was a diplomat and frequently traveled. Lila had talked about meeting celebrities, all sorts of famous people with serious connections. She apparently had just as much bad luck to counter out the good, though, considering that Max had heard her complain of allergies and other ailments on more than one occasion.
Fact three. Marinette did not like Lila. In fact, Max might even dare to say that Marinette hated Lila. She refused to hang out with the rest of the girls when Lila was with them, even going so far as to turn around and leave after Lila turned up and joined their group when they were going out to watch a movie. Marinette had even once joined Chloe's group for a project so that she wouldn't end up being paired with Lila.
(Fact three-and-a-half: that was, objectively, really strange.)
Fact four. Pretty much everyone else in the class loved Lila. Except.
(There was almost always an except. Humans very rarely dealt in absolutes.)
Adrien also seemed to avoid Lila, if Max thought about it. Sure, he was polite and didn't turn away and hate as openly as Marinette, but he very rarely looked comfortable with Lila. Of course, the reason there might be because Lila sometimes seemed to forget what personal space was and Adrien was the kind of person who was only really comfortable with a select few people getting close to him like that. But there was a possibility that there was something else going on there.
(No hypotheticals and guesswork, Max scolded to himself. Theorizing wasn't going to help him any. So fact four-and-a-half: Adrien was the second exception to everyone loving Lila, and did not seem comfortable with her. The reason for that was unconfirmed.)
Fact five: The teachers and principal also seemed to like Lila, enough to make serious accommodations for her while Lila wasn't in school. They hadn't raised any concerns, but, well….
Fact five and a half: The staff at Dupont were not always through in their investigations. Point in court: the entire day when Marinette got expelled, considering that it had all been walked back and retracted the very next day.
And that led to fact six: Lila had made several large accusations against Marinette over the course of one day, leading to Marinette's abrupt expulsion. An expulsion that had been walked back less than twenty-four hours later. And, well- it wasn't a fact but a feeling: all three of those accusations had seemed strange. The answer sheet had been found on top of Marinette's things in her bag, when the test had been several days prior. Lila hadn't actually been limping and hadn't looked at all mussed after she claimed that Marinette pushed her down the stairs. And the fact that Lila apparently knew who had taken ("taken"?) her heirloom necklace and where it had been put….
Looking back on it, that was a little weird. A lot weird, even. But there could be data missing, incomplete information biasing his view. It wouldn't be smart to jump to conclusions now. The probability of him getting something wrong- well, it was too high.
One thing was for sure- to draw an informed conclusion, Max needed more data.
One of the most important things to do when collecting data was to make sure that it could be found again. Being able to cite references was important.
So Max recruited Markov.
His robot companion usually came to school with him most days anyway, in order to listen in on the traditional human process of teaching and learning information and to be able to spend more time with Max. All Max really had to do was ask Markov to keep audio files on record of everything Lila-related. Whenever she talked, whenever she was being talked about, whenever there were people talking to her. If Markov was out- and Max wasn't sure that he wanted to have his companion out until the strangeness surrounding the Lila situation was cleared up- then he would keep that visual file, too. On top of that, Max was going to try to do short narrations of what Lila was up to on a regular basis, just to add to his data set.
If there was something strange going on, Max was going to figure out what it was. Even the best-kept secrets couldn't hide against a deluge of data. Maybe there were other ways to do this, and maybe all of the audio-journaling was overkill, but this was Max's preferred way of investigating. By his calculations, it had a 97.7% chance of successfully producing truthful results within a five-week time frame. There was a potential for getting results even earlier, of course, but five weeks was pretty much the optimal collection time when Max factored in both the chance of success and the amount of time invested. After five weeks, he would likely get diminishing returns on the additional time spent collecting information. Continuing his data collection would only be advisable if the data that he collected in that time period turned out to be inconclusive.
Max really hoped that things wouldn't turn out inconclusive. It was so frustrating when things went that way. He liked clear-cut answers, things set out in black and white instead of blurry grey. Contradicting and/or incomplete information frustrated him, because it could throw his calculations way off.
But in the end, it only took a week for some inconsistencies to show up.
"On Monday morning, Lila turned down the opportunity to share a croissant with Alya after Marinette brought some in to share with Alya, Nino, and Adrien," Markov reported Friday evening, after running an initial scan on all of the data. "She claimed that she was dealing with a gluten sensitivity recently and couldn't eat bread. Then on Wednesday, she took her lunch at school and ate the pasta that the cafeteria was serving, which was not gluten-free."
Max frowned, noting that down on his summary sheet. "I suppose that sensitivities can come and go, but surely it would make more sense to gradually ease back into eating wheat instead of having a plate of pasta."
"On Tuesday afternoon, Lila stated that she was going to have a video conference with Prince Ali of Achu that evening about their charity work regarding pollution," Markov continued. "I have run a scan, and Prince Ali is currently only involved in children's charities, largely dealing with those concerning children's hospitals, childhood homelessness, and child hunger. There are also no mentions of any Lila Rossi being involved with Prince Ali, even though all people who have assisted him are mentioned on his website. Even your classmate Rose is listed."
Max's frown deepened. "Hmm."
"On Wednesday morning, Lila mentioned having attended the Royal Wedding," Markov continued. "There were plenty of pictures taken at the Royal Wedding, both of the couple being married and of the people attending. I ran facial recognition software on all of the photos and came up with no match for Lila, though I did recognize Adrien and his father as well as Kagami and her mother."
Odder and odder. Of course, it was possible that there were people hidden too far back in the crowd to be easily seen with a photo, and of course, Lila was shorter than adults, so it might be easier to miss her. The fact that Adrien and Kagami were seen could, of course, always be attributed to them just getting a better seat, so by itself that didn't necessarily mean much.
"Wednesday afternoon, Lila showed off a picture of herself in Berlin," Markov continued, and Max nodded, remembering that photo. It had been passed around, and he had managed to show it to Markov without anyone noticing. "It was on a well-known street in their shopping district, and Lila said that it was taken earlier this year, when she was absent from school for several months. However, there are no pedestrians or cars in the photo, even though there is a street behind Lila, and one of the stores pictured moved out of that location five years ago. A web scan turned up a poster of that street that matches exactly, available to purchase in a local poster shop for eight euros and fifty-two cents."
"There was nothing of particular note on Thursday, but on Friday afternoon, Lila claimed to be allergic to tomatoes after Sabrina invited her over to dinner and told her that it would be tomato soup and grilled cheese," Markov finished. "Even though she had had a tomato sauce on her pasta for lunch on Wednesday."
Max's frown deepened and he nodded sharply. "Okay. Even though I hadn't planned to stop collecting data for another four weeks, I think we have enough to draw some preliminary conclusions. Namely, that Marinette was correct when she called Lila a liar. Some things on their own could be explained away, but all of them?"
The chances that there was some unlikely excuse to explain away all of those contradictions… well, the chances of that were pretty low. Single digits, even. And when Max considered the comments about the food all on their own-
"Max, did you say that Lila's mom was the Italian ambassador?"
"Yes, that's why she travels so much and meets so many people," Max responded absently, wondering if he should bring what data he had to Ms. Bustier right away, or if he should wait for another week. "Why?"
"I cannot find data on who the current Italian ambassador, but a query about the duties of an ambassador do not mention anything about constant traveling to other countries as part of the job," Markov told him. "Their only travel for work would be between their home country and the country that they're stationed in. There is nothing that says that they would be traveling elsewhere over the duration of their time in the position."
….that was concerning. Add that to everything else that he had collected over the course of the week, and Max was pretty convinced now that he did have enough evidence to build a convincing case to present to Ms. Bustier. Maybe he should compose an email tonight, and have Markov make a copy of the pertinent voice and visual clips to attach to it. Maybe she already knew and an email would just be a bother. Maybe she would be annoyed that one student was recording and digging into another student's stories. Maybe she would object to the recordings altogether, even though Max had gotten permission from the class- including Lila- to have Markov in the room, with the understanding that he took in and processed information via audio and video recordings.
But it was better safe than sorry, and Max wanted to make sure that the teachers were as well-informed as they could be.
The email that Max got in response was- well, it was baffling, to say the least, and not nearly as concerned as he would have expected.
Thank you for the information. I talked to Mr. Damocles about your concerns, and he informed me that Lila told him that she has a medical condition that makes her sometimes tell lies. Please keep that in confidence, as we are not supposed to share any information about student medical conditions and I am only bending that rule to explain our response.
"I have done a preliminary scan of the web and found some information," Markov reported as Max scanned the email for the thirty-eighth time in hopes of getting something else out of it. "There is a condition called pathological lying- or perhaps it would be called a behavior, and it may or may not have a medical reason behind it. But if we look at the pattern of lies and include the presumed lies, the lies seem more premeditated rather than impulsive or spur-of-the-moment. And if Lila was the one who told your principal about her supposed condition…"
Markov didn't need to finish the sentence. The ending stood obvious, a glaring brand in Max's mind: she lied about that, too, to get herself out of something.
Well. Probably. After all, now they were building their assumptions on stories that they were just assuming were lies, based on related but perhaps somewhat indirect evidence. Like the fact that diplomats didn't travel from country to country when they were meant to be stationed somewhere, and the fact that Lila's photo of herself was in front of a poster. Both of those were stand-alone pieces of evidence that suggested that Lila's months-long trip "all over the world" had just… not happened. And lying about something of that magnitude- not making up a story about something that had happened before she arrived in Paris but instead actively going out of her way to create a narrative that did not line up with reality-
Maybe Max should stop questioning if Lila's lies did or did not fall under the category of typical behavior seen by pathological liars. After all, he was not any sort of mental health specialist. He hadn't had any training in diagnosing mental illnesses. But his mom had a friend who specialized in mental health services. Maybe she could answer some of his questions about pathological lying, or at least advise the school on the correct way to deal with a pathological liar in the student population. After all, something told Max that ignoring the problem and not letting any of the student population know so that they would be able to adjust their behavior and expectations accordingly was not quite what a professional would recommend.
Especially in their current akuma-prone climate. Lila had been building up a lot of people's hopes with her claims of connections, and the disappointment of inevitably being let down was bound to cause some strong akumas.
Akumas! There was another spot where Max could gather data, of course! Lila had claimed connections to the superheroes multiple times, and Ladybug and Chat Noir could confirm or deny those stories. Max might have some trouble getting in close enough to catch them at the end of an akuma attack- he wasn't Alya, getting caught up in akuma attacks had the annoying habit of giving Max nightmares instead of a 'fun' adrenaline rush- but Markov could probably slip past unnoticed.
But- well, that would just be more data points, when Max already had enough to make some strong preliminary conclusions. Talking to the superheroes wouldn't address the current issue, also known as the fact that the teachers and principal were aware that Lila sometimes (or often) lied and weren't telling their students or doing anything about the lies to keep them from becoming a problem. That needed to be addressed. Everything else could wait, at least for the time being.
After a moment's consideration, Max pulled up his list of contacts, searching through the list for his mom's friend. He had put her information in just in case, and a quick check from Markov confirmed that the information was up-to-date. He forwarded the email he had received to her with a quick message listing his concerns about how the school was treating the situation and then, after a moment's thought, also sent a blind copy of the email to Kim and Alix.
Maybe Ms. Bustier had asked him not to tell any of his peers about Lila's lying condition, but that just didn't feel right to Max. His friends deserved to know that Lila couldn't be trusted, because he knew that Lila had claimed connections that had impressed them, too, and Lila could very well use those "connections" to manipulate Kim and Alix into doing things for her.
Also, they both had big mouths and the likelihood that almost all of the class would be informed about the contradictions by Monday if he told them sat at a solid 85.7%. Max doubted that anyone would try to tell Alya- after all, she was so focused on having an in with Ladybug's best friend that she didn't even want to consider that Lila might not be telling the truth- and of course Marinette already knew, but the news would probably spread to everyone else.
Max supposed that there was a possible exception of Nino as well, just because of his connection to Alya, but- well, the exception of the two of them and Lila herself still qualified as "almost" all of the class, right?
Max did some quick calculations. If everyone but those three heard the news, the percentage of the class who would know would sit at a solid 80%, which was definitely a majority. But did it make sense to count everyone? Marinette already knew about the contradictions- and Max was willing to bet that Adrien did, too- so maybe they shouldn't be included in the calculations. By that logic, maybe Lila shouldn't get counted, either. If he took those three out…. That was still above 80%. Still a solid majority, even if Max removed himself from those calculations, too, since he would be the source of the information this time around.
But that was nitpicking, and also not completely relevant to the issue. What Max did know was that, come Monday, Lila's reputation and place in their class was likely to be very different than it had been on Friday. How different depended entirely on a number of very human and very unpredictable variables, which made making any predictions about it largely useless.
"Well, Markov, I think that's all I really can do about it right now," Max commented, checking one last time to make sure his messages had sent before closing the window and turning to his friend. "Now we can only wait."
Monday morning, the usual crowd around Lila had dwindled down to only a handful of people, Nino and Alya and a few people from other classes. She looked a bit thrown off by the change, particularly when Rose and Juleka hurried past with barely a glance and not even the prospect of news about Prince Ali could make them pause for more than a moment. A flash of fury crossed Lila's face at that as soon as the two girls had turned away again, her glance at Marinette a second of pure murder.
Hmm. Perhaps Max should give Marinette a heads-up about the information he had gathered and the emails that he had sent out. After all, if Lila decided that Marinette was behind the rest of the students' decision to stop listening to her, then Lila could very well try to retaliate. Considering that Lila's earlier retaliation- or assumed retaliation, to be more accurate- had consisted of an attempt to frame Marinette for cheating, stealing, and assault, some warning about another possible attempt at something would probably not go unappreciated. With some warning, Marinette could be on guard.
Max felt a little bad about that, actually. This time, Marinette had not been the source of the- well, not the gossip, because that suggested not entirely truthful rumor-spreading, but perhaps the discord regarding Lila. Max had been the source of the information that Lila very likely didn't want getting out, but Marinette would probably get most of the repercussions from the other girl simply because previously, Marinette had really been the only one calling out inconsistencies.
"Yo, dude, that was a weird email you sent out over the weekend!" Kim announced, making Max jump in surprise as his friend popped up next to him. "I can't believe we didn't notice some of that stuff ourselves!"
"Well, it's hard to remember everything people say," Max said instead of admitting that he hadn't noticed, either. Not really- not specifically. All he had really picked up on was the fact that an unidentified something was off. "Thus the data collection." He adjusted his glasses, glancing over at Kim. "So who all knows now?"
"Who doesn't know would be the better question. I know Alix told most of the other girls. She tried telling Alya, but. Uh." Kim cringed. "I think Alya just really loves the idea of having an in with 'Ladybug's best friend', because she wasn't willing to listen. I don't even think Alix got to the part where it was you that was saying anything instead of Marinette."
"I did wonder if anyone would even try to talk to Alya. She's been most invested in Lila's stories, it seems. Unfortunate, considering that that has to be hugely frustrating for Marinette." Max glanced across the gym again. Nino was starting to look a bit on edge, thrown off by the number of people who usually would be joining them in listening to Lila but who were clearly avoiding the Italian girl now. "And Nino?"
Kim shook his head. "I don't think anyone tried talking to him, considering how Alya blew Alix off. I bet he's going to be asking around now, though. Since everyone else was willing to listen, he might figure that we actually have something worth listening to."
Max nodded, in full agreement with Kim. With the rest of the class believing them, it was only a matter of time before the final couple people were at least willing to listen. "Hopefully. Should we head to class? I want to talk to Marinette before everyone comes in."
Kim snickered. "You're really going to assume that Marinette is already there? I mean, you're right this time," he added hastily. "I've already seen Marinette this morning. But considering how often she runs late…"
"I had also seen her already, or I wouldn't have made that assumption." Max led the way, away from Lila and her dwindling audience and towards the classroom. He pushed open the door to see Marinette very obviously trying to look like she wasn't paying attention to the woman talking to Ms. Bustier and Mr. Damocles in the front of the classroom.
The woman who looked very familiar. Apparently his mom's friend had been concerned enough by the email that she had decided to come in in person.
"They seem to be alternating between being happy that there's a specialist here and insisting that they can handle things and they can't disclose any part of a student's medical record without permission," Marinette murmured as Max headed up to his seat, doing his best not to look like he was listening in. Apparently someone- Alix, if he was to guess- had already filled her in on Max's investigation and subsequent emails. "Though I think the being thankful for a specialist is winning out, because she's told them what all would be required to properly handle a condition like the one Lila is claiming to have."
Max nodded in thanks, glancing back towards the front once before retreating to his seat and watching the adults' expressions as they talked. It was fairly easy to deduce from the expressions that Mr. Damocles was all in favor of handing over Lila's entire file and letting the expert deal with her "condition", while Ms. Bustier was far more concerned about student privacy. If Max had to bet, he would say that Mr. Damocles would probably win the discussion, if only because his status as principal afforded him more clout when making decision.
And sure enough, two minutes later, the meeting broke up with Ms. Bustier looking less than pleased as she sunk back down into the chair behind her desk.
""I think it would be a good idea for her to at least talk to Mrs. Lenoir," Mr. Damocles told her, heading for the door. During homeroom, if you could- I don't want to waste Mrs. Lenoir's time. And you know that we haven't had a case like this before- we didn't know what paperwork we should be asking for, or that we would need to be working with a therapist daily."
"It's overkill, surely," Ms. Bustier protested weakly, clearly well aware that she was losing the argument. "She's getting along just fine with the others in the class, she's popular-"
"And how long will that last once people realize that the stories aren't based in fact?" Mrs. Lenoir challenged. "How upset will they be about being misled? Is that a safe gamble to make with Hawkmoth still on the loose?"
Ms. Bustier fell silent. Up front, Adrien's head went up, clearly forgoing the pretense of not listening. Mr. Damocles glanced between the two of them, clearly a little uncomfortable, before Lila's arrival with the remainder of her entourage broke the silence.
"Ah, Ms. Rossi, just the person we were looking for!" Mr. Damocles announced at once, and Lila clearly startled. He gestured towards Mrs. Lenoir. "This is Mrs. Lenoir! She came by the school today to talk to you about- well." He paused, clearly suddenly aware of the filling classroom. "The condition that we discussed a couple weeks ago. You two can take my office, I can work from the library for the first hour."
"Oh, that's fine, I don't need to talk to anyone!" Lila tittered at once, and now that he was looking, the level of fake in her voice made Max cringe. "I've already seen experts back home, you know-"
"And yet we don't have records on file here, so I'm afraid that until we can get those, we'll need to start from scratch," Mr. Damocles told her kindly. "It won't take long now, and Ms. Bustier has already agreed to excuse you from homeroom. Now, if you please?"
Lila glanced between the adults, a small frown on her face. "Is this really necessary? I mean, my mom's just been too busy to ask that the files be sent, I'm sure, I can just remind her tonight-"
The smile on Mr. Damocles' face gave way to a frown. "Now, Ms. Rossi."
Max didn't miss the tiny flicker of outright panic on Lila's face as she was ushered out the door.
By the end of the day, Lila had been expelled from Dupont and reported to the school board. Several eye witnesses said that the elder Rossi had come to collect her daughter in a huff, with a police officer accompanying her. Whether or not Lila would even be staying in Paris sounded like it might be up for debate, because Hawkmoth's presence meant that Lila could still last out.
Frankly, Max hoped that Lila would be removed from the city. Her akuma forms had a high potential for causing catastrophic confusion and danger, and she was crafty enough to use the powers to their full advantage. With her mom and the school board (and the police) on her trail, Lila would just get plan after plan disrupted, which would no doubt frustrate her to the point of akumatization. Who she decided to go after when that happened… well, that was about as close to a wild card as Max had ever seen, and he didn't like the odds of Lila targeting all of her old classmates, simply because she didn't know who had gotten Mrs. Lenoir called to the school.
Presumably Mrs. Lenoir hadn't given Lila any specifics during their short but fateful chat. She would know how bad of an idea that would be, what with Hawkmoth around and far more opportunities than usual for revenge (however temporary) available.
The class was still reeling from the deceptions- exactly how many of Lila's stories were made up was still being investigated- but Max suspected that it wouldn't be long before something else came along and pulled everyone's attention away again. They would move on, Lila would be forgotten, and everything would go back to normal. Or at least as normal as Paris got these days.
Max smiled at the thought. Maybe his next data-collection project could have something to do with Hawkmoth and his akumas. It would be interesting, and anything he found- well, it could potentially have some pretty serious implications.
Yes, Max decided, that sounded like a good idea. It would be a challenge, particularly figuring out how to approach his study and data-collection in a way that would actually produce meaningful results- after all, surely the police already were looking at the available data to try to find Hawkmoth- but Max rather fancied a challenge. Figuring out what was going on with Lila had been just a touch too easy for his tastes, and figuring out Hawkmoth would be much harder. Still, Max was convinced that it was doable.
After all, well…. Hawkmoth might be doing his best to keep his identity secret from all of Paris, but he was still a mere man. He was prone to making mistakes, to leaving clues that might be overlooked, to falling into familiar patterns. All things that could be collected, could be analyzed, could be built into a bigger picture that, with any luck, would lead them to Hawkmoth.
Maybe most superheroes didn't fight their supervillains using metadata, but there was always a first time.
a/n: This particular story idea came to me over a lunch break at work- I thought, what if one of the other classmates exposed Lila? And why not Max? He's a collector of data, surely he would notice a few inconsistencies.
(also, his POV is so much fun to write, with all of the percentages and facts and trying to be very logical.)
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and therefore complete. And as always, comments make my day! :)