a/n: So this is a part two of sorts/connected oneshot with one of my other stories, Max and the Murky Story. People seemed to really like the idea of Max applying his data collection and analysis to track down Hawkmoth and I got hit by an idea, so...here we are!
Apologies in advance if I get a little carried away with stats stuff and modeling terms! It's stuff that I enjoy and some is pretty similar to things that I've worked with, so it's a little hard for me to tell if I've explained what he's doing thoroughly enough for someone who isn't familiar with that stuff to follow.
The models were ready, the equations tested and confirmed, the map of Paris downloaded and imported and the geo-locator coordinates checked and double-checked. The data sheets had been polished to perfection, each column crisply labeled and with data checks set up to let Max know if anything wasn't entered in the correct format, and linked to the program that he had developed.
All that was missing was enough data to provide a statistically significant result.
Max sighed as he entered his latest row of data, his eyes scanning upwards on the data sheet in hopes that somehow, magically, more information had appeared overnight.
His hopes were, of course, in vain. The data was as sparse as it had been before.
"I am sure that you will eventually gather enough useable information to track Hawkmoth down," Markov told him encouragingly. "Perhaps it is not working as quickly as you had hoped, but that may have been a bit optimistic."
"I think I got my expectations thrown off by how easy it was to find data about Lila," Max said with a sigh, making sure the line was saved before closing the document. Staring at it for too long would just make him frustrated, and he didn't do any decent work when he got too frustrated. "Hawkmoth is proving much more elusive."
Elusive, and the unknown variables that Max had to deal with were much harder to account for.
On paper, the concept of Max's Hawkmoth-finding model was simple: all he had to do was observe when people around him got mad, make note of where they were and what time it was, and then make another note when they got akumatized. In theory, he should be able to take the amount of time that it took for the butterfly to arrive and the GPS coordinates and then plug them in to find Hawkmoth's lair. He could account for the unknown speed at which the corrupted butterflies flew by using a fairly simple equation, which would then transform the data into lines projected onto a map of Paris, each line corresponding to the time taken for the butterfly to arrive. Max would then- in theory- be able to manipulate the lines and make them change in length by the same factor. Once all of the lines met- within a pre-determined margin of error- then that was where Ladybug and Chat Noir should be looking for the source of the akumas.
On paper, it made sense. It sounded easy. In theory, it was straightforward and pretty much guaranteed to produce results. But in reality?
First of all, there was no way to account for the variable amount of time that it might take for Hawkmoth to send out an akuma once an upset was detected. If his response rate varied, that could affect the akuma. Realistically, there was no way to confirm if all of the corrupted butterflies actually flew at the same rate. On top of that, collecting any sort of useable data was really hard, harder than Max had anticipated. There was no telling how angry (or upset, or frustrated, or otherwise emotional) a person had to be in order for Hawkmoth to pick it up. Then it was pretty rare to actually see someone get akumatized- the majority of people got akumatized when they were alone or with a single friend, after all, not in a group setting- and an akuma showing up in public immediately after being akumatized wasn't exactly a given. Sometimes it was pretty obvious that the akuma had shown up immediately, so Max had been counting them anyway- if he didn't, he wouldn't have any data- but most of the time it was pretty questionable and therefore not useable, quality data.
It was really frustrating, to the point that Max had tried making several other models in hopes that something would work out better. But where akumatizations took place didn't give him any leads, either. Much to Max's disappointment, the shape that the plotted points gave him wasn't circular (which would imply a maximum distance that Hawkmoth could reach, and therefore a center point where Hawkmoth's lair was located). Instead, it curved and bulged, the number of akumatizations more dependent on population and neighborhood traffic than anything else. There was, of course, an edge to the akumatizations that had fewer akumatizations per capita, but it didn't tell Max anything that he hadn't known before.
Max was very much stuck, and it was frustrating.
"I would try to get the word out to increase the number of people collecting data, but I worry that that could backfire," Max told Markov, pushing away from his computer. If he stayed close to it for much longer, he would probably be tempted to fiddle with the codes in an effort to somehow increase the value of the data he had collected or something. "If word gets out about what I'm trying to do, then there's a chance that Hawkmoth will find out about it and change up what he's doing. He could move locations on a regular basis, or change up how long he takes to respond to each instance of anger. This is our most likely path to success, so I don't want to risk messing it up."
Markov considered that. "Yes, speeding up our data collection is not worth risking gaining Hawkmoth's attention. I would say that trying to recruit others via a public platform such as the Ladyblog would be a major blunder. Would asking your friends carry a small enough risk to be worth it?"
Max considered that before shaking his head. "I worry that they would talk to other people and word could spread that way. It would be all too easy for someone to overhear what I'm trying to do but not catch why it needs to stay so secret. Or- well, I've heard of Alya doing things immediately after being told not to because she thought that she knew better. She might think that I'm being paranoid about Hawkmoth finding out about the project and post on the Ladyblog anyway." He knew Alya meant well, but... well, she tended not to always think before jumping, particularly in relation to superhero things.
(Max was 86% sure that Alya's little video about the strange symbols on possible Miraculous holders on paintings and sculptures at the Louvre had helped Hawkmoth make the connection between the strange sculpture there and the Miraculous. The chances of that not being the case and Hawkmoth simply happening upon the- what had the newscasts called it? Feast?- the same day that it was unveiled were... well, low.)
"Any of them might tell other friends in an effort to help and end up losing the message of how important it is to keep this project secret," Max added after a small pause. He didn't want to entirely single Alya out, after all, even if she did have the biggest platform and relatively low impulse control when it came to the superheroes. "I suppose I might be able to make up a different reason for wanting that particular data and be able to recruit a couple more people, but would it make a difference? After all, we all go to the same class in the same school. The likelihood that they would see something that I would not is relatively low."
Markov considered that. "I suppose."
"I guess that I'll just have to keep doing what I'm doing and hope that I eventually get enough data," Max said with a sigh, sending one more glance at his computer before getting up. "I don't want to give up. Eventually, it has to work."
Another week passed and brought with it exactly one more useable data point and a rather unwelcome realization.
Max needed more data, sure. But he needed more varied data. The large majority of the points in his very small data set came from akumatizations at the school. That caused way too much opportunity for error. Really, he needed a lot of data points from a wide variety of locations to try to ensure that he was getting data from all sides of Hawkmoth's lair. That would decrease his margin of error enough to- in theory- pinpoint Hawkmoth's location exactly.
He could keep collecting data points at school all he wanted, but they would only keep getting less and less valuable because they would just tell him the exact same thing that the first points had. Sure, they weren't completely useless, since then Max could look at the variation in response time, but they weren't nearly as useful as points from completely new locations would be.
It. Was. Frustrating.
Max scowled at the air, pen tapping the pad of paper that he had pulled out to help him brainstorm a new plan of attack. The TV was playing in the background, a bit of background noise to help Max think, but he still wasn't coming up with any new ideas.
He couldn't just skip school and wander around the city in hopes of finding people who were getting mad. That would be impractical.
Once summer arrived, perhaps Max could try to stake out spots that tended to see a lot of people akumatized, specially selected to give him as much information as possible- or, to put it more clearly, spots that weren't close to the school. There were a number of parks in the area, or places where tourists and locals alike got fed up with congestion and lines and overly-aggressive pigeons-
"Aha!" Max exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "Mr. Pigeon!"
Markov blinked at him. "Pardon me?"
"Mr. Pigeon- or, rather, Mr. Ramier. He's got to be one of the most akumatized people in Paris!" Max was on his feet- when had he gotten up?- and pacing now. "He gets chased out of public areas and akumatized pretty much every week. Most of the parks aren't that close to school, either. They're pretty scattered- but then that means that the chances of me happening upon him on any given day while hanging out at a certain location is rather low."
"You may be able to recruit some of your friends for that," Markov suggested. "Then you could split up and all stake out a park. If you make up some other project..."
Max considered that, coming up with a couple possible before discarding them as far too suspicious. Lila had proven that many of his classmates would accept even somewhat (or highly) questionable stories without much question, but Max didn't want to depend on that too much. If word got out somehow- he still wanted to avoid letting Alya know, because the less Hawkmoth knew about what research people were doing on his akumas, the better- it could reach someone who would be more likely to take a closer look at the story and perhaps question it.
Better to come up with a solid, logical story now than go with some flimsy cover and have it questioned later. The question was what he could possibly say that wouldn't raise Hawkmoth's suspicions.
Max thought it over for the rest of the day, coming up with ideas and then calculating the probability that each one would hold up under inspection and the probability that, should what Max was doing reach Hawkmoth, it would result in the supervillain changing up what he was doing. In the end, one excuse stood clearly in the lead.
All he needed to claim was that he was doing a public safety project and so he wanted to figure out the average window of time between when someone got mad and when an akuma arrived, which would then inform people how long they would have to calm down the angry person before it was too late.
(Or it would inform people about how long they had to get a head start before a possible akuma attack started. Max suspected that, if he was actually doing a project like that, most people would choose to use the information to save their own skin rather than trying to help prevent attacks.)
It was believable. It would make people want to help. Max still had to come up with an excuse as to why he didn't want a ton of people to know about the project while it was in-progress, but his main story was at least ready to go.
"I have looked up a record of Mr. Pigeon's appearances and categorized them," Markov announced as Max finished typing up his first draft of the Mr. Pigeon akumatization survey protocol. "And I have come up with a pattern that may help us reduce the amount of time that we spend watching for him. I have emailed the spreadsheet output to you for analysis."
Max nodded, clicking to his email and opening the sheet. On it was an analysis of when Mr. Ramier usually got akumatized on different days of the week, based off of a scan of all of the news coverage of Mr. Pigeon. There were some pretty clear patterns- the sheer volume of Mr. Pigeon's appearances allowed for some properly statistically significant results- and that would help inform where Max and whoever he recruited to help would spend their time. There was also an output chart breaking down the frequency with which Mr. Ramier was akumatized in different locations. Not all of the attacks had that information, but Mr. Pigeon showed up so often that people often took pictures instead of running.
Was it a public safety hazard? Yes, of course. It 100% went against the akuma attack safety suggestions that Ladybug and Chat Noir had released. But no matter how bad of an idea it was, Max couldn't deny that it had provided some very useful data.
"I will add the times and places that are most worth our time to my protocol," Max told Markov, already in the middle of inserting a table in the most relevant spot in their protocol so that it would be easily accessible. If he couldn't get enough people to post one at each place, then the chart would let him know how to most efficiently allocate his resources. "Based on this, we will not even have to wait until summer to start our collection. We could do this over weekends and after school."
If things went smoothly- if they didn't miss more than an attack or two- they would probably get enough data from Mr. Pigeon to be able to move on to the next (and currently undefined) part of the data collection plan. After all, they only needed so many samples at each of Mr. Ramier's favorite locations for Max's analysis.
If things went smoothly. Max had learned before that akumas tended to mess up even the most well-laid plans. They were hardly regularly scheduled (even if Mr. Pigeon did show some pretty distinct patterns) and Hawkmoth could very well decide to switch things up at any time. But provided that nothing changed drastically during their study period, their plan should work.
Now it was time to decide who out of Max's classmates and other friends would be most likely to respect his concerns and not go spreading word of the project to anyone else. Alya was out, of course, and by extension so was Nino. Max estimated the chances of Nino letting something slip- either intentionally or not- to his girlfriend were probably around 92%, which was obviously far less than ideal. He would ask Marinette, who was both far better than Nino at keeping secrets and clearly a fan of the concept less is more when it came to superhero information being shared on the Ladyblog, but...well. She was clearly a very busy person and Max didn't want to add even more to her plate. Adrien was similar, what with his heavily-loaded schedule and outings that were strictly restricted by his father.
Rose and Juleka would both no doubt be more than enthusiastic to help if he asked, but they were both friends with Alya. The probabilities of them telling Alya were in the 80s, which was not an acceptable risk.
They had good intentions, but Max knew that they might not remember to consider the drawbacks of the entire city of Paris knowing about the project.
Alix was a bit of a wildcard, if Max was being honest. The probability of her telling someone else could easily vary between 30% and 70%. It was better not to risk it, at least until he could do a bit of probing around and do a better risk assessment. It would be easy enough to do at school on Monday.
Mylène- and by extension, Ivan- were pretty low-risk. Max had talked with them enough to know that they understood the risks of- well, of pretty much any Miraculous-related information getting released to the public. If Max caught them on their own and explained his concerns thoroughly, the risk of them telling any others was negligible.
Chloe was automatically a no. So was Sabrina. Both were so spiteful and unpredictable- Chloe more than Sabrina- that it would be too dangerous to even try to include them. If Chloe tried to make another demand for the Bee Miraculous and got rebuffed by Ladybug again, she might deliberately tell people about Max's project- or at least the cover for the project that she was told- to try to sabotage the effort.
That only left Kim and Nathaniel in their class as possibilities. If Max told Kim not to tell anyone and why, he trusted his friend to respect that and listen. Nathaniel was likely to be similar, though- as with Alix- Max wanted to do some probing and do a more through risk assessment before including Nathaniel in his project.
It was truly unfortunate that Max couldn't just make a small army of Markovs and depend on them instead of all-too-complicated human helpers, but it would be far too expensive and Max simply didn't have enough time in his day to give them all the kind of attention and interactions that a robot on Markov's level required.
So human helpers it was. Unfortunately.
The recruitment process wasn't as bad as Max had worried it would be. Everyone that he talked to understood why word getting out about his ongoing research could backfire, and badly. They wanted to help, and they were willing to sacrifice their afternoons and weekends to help Max gather the data that he so desperately needed. Nathaniel and Kim even recruited two more people, bringing Marc and Odine into their group along with a couple of Max's tech club buddies and allowing them to pair up to stake out the various parks and other locations. Everyone was briefed before they headed out as a refresher and handed a copy of Max's final protocol, polished to perfection. There was going to be a little bit of deviation from the plan, since some people's parents wanted them home early, but it wasn't too big of an issue.
"I figured that you must have something up your sleeve these past few weeks," Kim told Max as they settled in at their location. They had a good vantage point of the entire park, and would be regularly patrolling the area to make sure that Mr. Ramier didn't settle down in some hidden corner. "You've been buried in your science projects notebook all the time and scribbling stuff down, like, 24/7."
"It's been a work in progress for a while," Max admitted. "A very long while. Data collection hasn't been going very well, though, so that's why I decided to recruit more people and start following Mr. Ramier. I need more data points if my model is going to be of any use."
Kim nodded. "Right! Because you need a bunch of data to make it, uh, statistic?"
"Statistically significant, yes." Max adjusted his glasses on his nose. "Without enough samples, the data may show a trend but it would be unwise to draw conclusions based on insufficient data. A few outliers or even just one could be too much of an influence on the data set."
"Right, right, of course." Kim considered that. "But why don't you just, like, remove the outliers?"
"Because I don't know that that's what they are until I have enough data," Max explained patiently. "I can't just go around removing points right now because they don't give me the answer I wanted."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Max pulled out his homework and started working on some of the problems for Chemistry, glancing up regularly to see if Mr. Ramier had arrived. His phone was with Markov in his bag, where his little robot friend would be able to see right away if any messages were coming in. Ideally, Mr. Ramier would show up and get akumatized sooner rather than later on Day One, which would allow them to get their data and then head home right away. There would then be a period of three days before they would have to start checking again, because Mr. Ramier always seemed to lay low for several days after an akumatization before trying again.
It was a bit sad, really- Paris just had to allow him to feed the pigeons in a specific location instead of just banning him (temporarily) from whatever park he was in and then they wouldn't have to deal with his frequent akumatization- but it was really, really useful for Max's study.
"Won't the time that it takes for someone to get akumatize be different in different parts of the city?" Kim asked after several minutes. "Or are you just looking at averages in the center of Paris?"
Sometimes Max forgot how observant Kim could be if he wanted to be. "In theory, yes. Time between anger reaching a certain threshold and akumatizations are likely to vary across the city. That's why I'll be including location data along with the time data."
Kim nodded. "Cool." He tipped his head to the side, considering. "Could you use akumas that showed up on TV? Like, someone who got mad onscreen and then got akumatized and came back and attacked everyone?"
Max blinked at his friend, then straightened like he had been kicked. Of course! How many contests had TV stations across the city held since Hawkmoth showed up? And how often had those contests ended in an akumatization? Pretty much all the time, the akuma doubled back and made a beeline straight for the studio. Sure, there might be a window of thirty to ninety seconds when the akumatization could have happened, but it was usually easy enough to narrow that timeframe down to a more reasonable timeframe of ten to twenty seconds..
Really, Max should have thought of that himself. Televised akumas were a very logical place to look.
"I'll have to dig through the footage this weekend," Max decided. He would do it sooner, but his afternoons would likely be taken up with tracking Mr. Ramier and also getting his schoolwork done. "I'll also have to think of some way to add in a little variation with those during analysis, since we don't know exactly when they were akumatized."
"Maybe the security cameras would- wait, no, never mind, that defeats the entire purpose of using the TV footage or whatever," Kim interrupted himself. He grinned sheepishly at Max. "Sorry, my mom's been watching too many of those detective crime shows recently and they always seem to love security camera footage."
"Well, it is a useful source of information in a number of cases," Max offered. He scanned out over the park, then narrowed his eyes when he spotted a very familiar pigeon-grey suit across the way. It looked like luck was on their side after all. "Though I suspect that detective shows may inflate how helpful cameras are in real life."
Kim considered that. "Yeah, I guess. They don't really show a lot of stuff how it actually happens, really. My mom has a friend who hates those shows and I overheard her once pointing out all of the inaccurate stuff in one episode." He shrugged, then perked up and pointed. "Look, there's a policeman! Ready to start the timer?"
Max nodded, pulling out his stopwatch as he watched the policeman approach Mr. Ramier. "Ready to go."
Max was practically humming as he entered the day's data in his program. His protocol had worked perfectly on their first run, and of course it was fantastic that Mr. Ramier had shown up so soon. He and Kim had been able to get their data and then retreat to safety in the building that Max had previously scouted out, allowing them to stay completely clear of the (very short) fight and even get a chunk of their homework out of the way before the all-clear signal was given and they could head home. Their group text thread had let the other members of their team know right away when Mr. Ramier was spotted, allowing them to leave their posts for the day instead of being left hanging. And to top it all off, Kim had made a very good point about using akumatizations on TV, so in theory Max would have even more data to add to his collection.
All in all, it had been a very good first day.
"Once I finish my homework for today, I want to start making a spreadsheet of contests that TV stations in the city have had since Hawkmoth's appearance," Max told Markov. He pulled out his daily planner to scan down the list of assignments that he had to complete for the night. Thankfully he had already completed a number of things during the school day in anticipation to their stake-out potentially taking the entire afternoon, so finishing wouldn't take too long. It wasn't as though there was anything particularly difficult to do. "It may not be urgent, since the footage won't be going anywhere and it's not going to be enough for me to draw any definitive conclusions still, but I'm curious about what they will add to the dataset."
He was also curious about how many of the TV akumatizations he would be able to use. They would have to be ranked or otherwise marked in some way to indicate which of the akumas had a smaller- and therefore more valuable- possible akumatization window, but some might not be usable at all. How many would fall into each category... well, that remained to be seen.
"I can start doing a search shortly," Markov told him. "At the moment, I have another search in-progress."
Max blinked, startled, and then spotted the cable hooked up between Markov and his computer. Clearly his robot had been doing research already while Max was at dinner with his family. He almost asked about what Markov was searching, but then he decided against it. He had learned before that if Markov wanted to share what he was up to, he would once his analysis was complete. "That would be great, thank you."
They lapsed into silence, Max working on his homework and Markov working on whatever his project was. There was a periodic quiet beep as Markov found and filed something of particular interest and the scratch-scratch of Max's pencil busy against the paper, both of them consumed with their work. Max had to force himself to focus on his work instead of running through possible treatments for the TV akuma data points to try to improve the data.
(It was very possible that there wasn't any good way to improve the data and his best bet would be to simply rate each data point by quality, but Max wanted to ensure that if there was any way to improve the data that he would be harvesting, he would think of it.)
Across the room, Markov let out a pleased little chirp before diving into research again. This time when Max glanced over, his computer screen was rapidly flashing through web pages that he recognized as belonging to different TV stations across the city. Clearly Markov had completed whatever research that he had been working on before and had moved on to Max's project.
Hopefully he would find a good number of contests and associated akumas.
Ten minutes later, Max finished up his homework and turned his attention to Markov. The computer screen was still flashing furiously, though it seemed- based on the progress bar flashing across the part of Markov's screen where his "eyes" usually were- that they were in wrap-up phase, doing a final check for anything that might have been missed earlier.
Really, Max wasn't sure what he would do without Markov. It was so nice to be able to get help with his various (non-school) projects. Whenever he hit a snag with coding or ran into trouble with deciding what model or statistical test or equation to use, Markov was already on the job and looking up resources for Max to reference. And while Max wasn't allowed to let Markov help him on school projects- he had had to sign an agreement saying that he wouldn't have his robot do his research for him- Markov was allowed to help Max study by quizzing him and it was very helpful.
"Done!" Markov announced with a triumphant beep. "I have produced a spreadsheet of all of the contests held by TV stations in the city since Hawkmoth's first appearance and links to all of the videos. Some of them have accompanying articles that mention an akuma showing up during the contest, but not all of them mention it."
"I'll start with those, then. Thank you." Max scooted his chair over to his computer, eyes scanning the spreadsheet that filled the screen. There were a fair number of contests to filter through, which was...well, it was odd. One would think that common sense would dictate that people should stop creating opportunities that were absolute breeding grounds for high, akuma-attracting emotions, but- as with the case of Mr. Ramier- clearly that was not the case.
If it weren't for the fact that Max was actively using those opportunities in his favor, he would bring up the odd contradiction directly to the mayor. Chloe would no doubt protest- she still seemed to be under the impression that she would get the Bee again eventually- but Max could point out the economic impacts that the frequent akuma attacks were having on the city. Taking actions to potentially reduce the number of attacks could be the first step in redeeming Paris's reputation in the eyes of the rest of the country and all of the potential tourists that were currently avoiding the city.
Of course, taking Hawkmoth and Mayura down permanently would have a far larger impact, so Max would simply let things run as they were for the time being. Once he had gotten all of the data that he needed from his sources he would approach the mayor, but there was really no telling how long that would be.
"Before you dive too far into the TV contest research, I have come up with another idea to increase the breadth of our investigation," Markov announced, and Max perked up. Another idea? It seemed like they were on a roll now. "How open are you to illegal activity?"
Max sent his robot an absolutely aghast look. That wasn't what he had been expecting! "Um, not at all open!"
Markov tilted his head to the side, considering Max. "Even victimless illegal activity?"
"Uh." Morally, Max still wanted to say no, but he had to admit that part of him was curious. "What, exactly, are you considering?"
"Earlier, your friend Kim mentioned using security camera footage to figure out when exactly contest contestants got akumatized," Markov told Kim. "There were, of course, logistical issues with the suggestions, primarily the fact that security camera footage is not immediately available to the public."
"We would have to ask for it, which would mean telling more people about my project," Max added. "And there's no way to confirm that all of them would keep the secret, or that none of them are connected to Hawkmoth in any way."
"Precisely. So we need to bypass the human factor and hack into the security camera footage of places where akumas appeared. If we can see both when they got upset and when they got akumatized, the time stamps on the footage should tell us how long it took for the akuma to arrive. After that, we can find the coordinates for each of the locations." Markov turned fully to face Max. "I have been looking into the feasibility of the hacking and come to the conclusion that it would not be terribly difficult. Some locations may allow for remote hacking, while others would require me to enter the building. Given that temperatures are rising, it is likely that I would be able to find an open window to go in through and from there, locate the security desk area."
Max considered that. Markov was right: it would be a victimless crime. The buildings in questions shouldn't even be aware that there had been any sort of breech. It would allow their project to be sped up, which in turn would allow for Hawkmoth to be found and defeated sooner. It was incredibly likely that the owners of the assorted businesses that they would be hacking into would have agreed to releasing their footage anyway, it was just that- for security reasons- that they would be bypassing the actual asking part.
"So, what do you think?" Markov prompted. "Should we take advantage of security footage to speed up the process?"
"You know what?" Max asked slowly, hoping that he wasn't going to regret this. He wanted to help take Hawkmoth down, and if this was what it took, then so be it. "I think that we should."
"I hope that you're happy with yourself," Max told Kim the next day at school. He hadn't slept very well, dreams of Markov getting caught and being traced back to Max and both of them getting sent to jail haunting him. "You've gotten Markov doing crime now."
Kim perked up, grinning widely. "Really? Cool!"
"Wha- no, it is not cool!"
Max was pretty sure that he had never been so busy before in his life. His afternoons and weekends were full of stakeouts, watching both Mr. Ramier and the general public. His evenings- and the days when Mr. Ramier had just been akumatized and was unlikely to try to feed the pigeons again so soon- were full of video analysis, going through footage from both security cameras and TV shows. Every time he got a data point, it was entered in his model's spreadsheet. The number of rows increased every day, with points coming from all over the city. Markov was kept just as busy, looking up dates for akuma attacks and hacking into security systems both remotely and on-site to get more footage for Max to review.
Max had been so busy, in fact, that he hadn't really had the chance to see how the new influx of data was affecting his model's output. It would be important to eventually, of course, to see where they needed more points to get the most accurate results, but Max wanted to finish processing the absolute mountain of material that he had gotten before he got distracted by the analysis.
"I'll help," Kim volunteered unexpectedly one afternoon as he and Max headed away from the park that they had been staking out. Mr. Ramier had been spotted at Ivan and Mylène's location, so there was no point in anyone else staying out longer. "It's just watching videos to see if the person shows up and then marking down times and location, right? I have my tablet with me, I could knock out a few streams before my parents expect me home."
Max only had to consider the offer for a second. Kim was the only one of his friends that he had been willing to tell about Markov's less-than-legal method of getting the security camera footage in the first place, and therefore the only one who wouldn't question him about it. "That would be great! Once I'm all caught up, I'll have a better idea of where in the city I need to get more data from to fill out my sample."
"Maybe you'll be done," Kim suggested. "I mean, we've gotten a bunch of stuff from Mr. Ramier. How many akumatizations do you need to get your conclusions, anyway?"
"A larger sample size tends to produce better data," Max replied vaguely, wondering when, exactly, he should come clean to Kim about the actual goals of his project. He had always planned on coming clean eventually to everyone who had helped him, though originally he had figured that it would be best to wait until after Ladybug and Chat Noir had the information in their hands and were ready to take down Hawkmoth. It was possible that an exception could be made for Kim, though, since he had been such a big help in the entire process.
"Yeah, I guess I remember Madam Mendeleev saying something like that before," Kim said cheerfully. "But you have to draw a line at some point, right? Otherwise you're just collecting data for forever."
Max considered his friend for a long moment, weighing pros and cons before coming to a decision. "Yeah, I do have a- a line, as you call it- in mind. We can talk about it when we get to my family's apartment, maybe? I don't want word to get out about what I'm doing ahead of time."
Kim frowned, clearly puzzled. "Wait, you don't want what your line is getting out? Or- wait, do you mean the project in general? But what's the point in gathering data if you aren't going to be putting out the results?"
"It will make sense when I explain it," Max assured him. They rounded the corner, and his family's apartment building appeared down the block. "There may have been some, ah, misdirection when it came to explaining my goals for the project."
"Ooh, misdirection! That sounds like- like spies and secrets and all that cool stuff!" Kim sped up, forcing Max into a jog to keep up. "I can't wait!"
Max could only sigh. Really, considering that he knew exactly how Kim was, he shouldn't have been surprised by that reaction.
With Kim's eager charge leading the way, it didn't take long for the two boys to get into Max's apartment, snag some snacks from the kitchen, and bundle themselves away into Max's room. Max immediately went to boot up his computer, trying to ignore the way that Kim was practically vibrating with excitement.
He probably should have called his cover story something other than a misdirection, even if that was what it was. The 'spy' term was just making Kim way too excited.
"So, the real story?" Kim prompted once Max had gotten his computer up and started transferring some files onto a USB drive so that Kim could look at them on his tablet. "Do I get to know now?"
"I did promise." Max checked one last time to make sure that the data was transferring over correctly, then spun to face Kim. "Remember, this does not leave this room. If Hawkmoth catches wind of what I'm trying to do, all of our work will be for nothing."
Kim nodded. "I promise not to say anything! Cross my heart and hope to die!"
"Thank you." Max took a moment to compose himself and decide where to start, then dove in. "Kim, do you remember how, when I first told you about the project, how you commented that the time frame between when people get upset and when they get akumatized would vary based on where people are in the city?"
"Yeah, since some people are gonna be closer to Hawkmoth's lair or whatever- wait!" Kim practically yelped, jabbing a finger towards Max. "Are you trying to use the times to track Hawkmoth down? Like, you'll make a map of all of the times and make, like, zones or whatever like they do for earthquakes? Or maybe it was some other natural disaster, I don't know. But, like, the center is bright red, and then the next zone out is orange, and then yellow or whatever, and it stands for how much damage was caused. Are you doing that, but with akumatization times? That's so cool!"
Max blinked as he tried to follow that. "That... would have been one approach, I suppose. I decided to go for a slightly more involved model. But yes, the end goal is to track down where Hawkmoth's lair is."
Kim was grinning. "So cool! Totally worth giving up some of my sprint practice time for! So how close are you?"
"Honestly, I'm not sure. I have gained a great deal of data from the security cameras, but I've been too busy to look at the model output and see if there's any area that's particularly lacking. That's why your assistance will be so helpful- once I'm caught up and have some breathing room, I can look at my model and figure out what attacks will be most worth looking up." Max had been trying to get a good spread of akuma locations, but of course there was only so much control he could have over what data he collected. He had to work with the akumas that showed up, and of those, only the akumas that both got upset and got akumatized within the view of a camera were of any value to him. "That might be what slows me down, actually. If I need points from a specific area that perhaps does not get many akumatizations, I will have to wait for opportunities to appear."
"We could just find, like, a restaurant or something from that area and get Chloe to go there," Kim suggested. "She'll probably be able to create an akuma, no problem."
Max sighed. "We can't just sic Chloe on people to get akumas, Kim. That's not ethical."
"It would be for the, uh, betterment for the city, though! Upset a few people, get a few more akumas, and boom! No more Hawkmoth!"
"He does make a good point," Markov piped up. "The sooner we find Hawkmoth, the fewer overall akumas there will be and the sooner Paris's overall mental health can start recovering."
Max groaned. Maybe he needed to start working on improved human ethics software for Markov. First with the hacking, now with advocating for deliberate (or semi-deliberate) akumatizations! Markov was simply looking at the problem from a numbers perspective, instead of-
Well. Instead of an ethical perspective, perhaps? Except Max knew that there were studies on the effects that akumatization had on people, both the akumatized person and the people who were impacted by the attack. Creating a few strategically-placed akumas to bring an end to the attacks sooner would mean fewer people impacted, in theory, or at least less overall impact.
So would causing akumas actually be considered ethical in this case?
Hopefully things wouldn't come to that. It was a bit of an ethical conundrum and one that Max really didn't want to dive into too deeply right now.
"Well, it looks like the transfer is complete," Max said instead of debating the ethics of purposeful akumatization. "Shall we start? The sooner this is done, the sooner we can look at the model."
Kim practically snatched the USB from Max at once. "You bet! I'll be the fastest video analyzer you've ever seen!"
"Accuracy is more important than speed, if you could."
"The fastest and most accurate!"
Silence fell over the room as the two boys started to dig into their files, watching to see if the person who would later become an akuma would show up on camera at the needed times. Max made a face when his first set of files fell short- the man exited the building before becoming akumatized, which meant that he wasn't visible from any of their acquired camera files- and closed out of them, moving the files over to the folder marked for deletion. He wouldn't permanently delete them until his project was complete, just in case any of the data came out strangely and he had to refer to his files to double-check his work or in case they wanted to revisit any of the less helpful recordings and attempt to find more footage.
"Dude, is that Nathalie?" Kim exclaimed suddenly from where he was working. "Adrien's keeper Nathalie?"
Max glanced over, realizing what file Kim must have reached. "Yes, we have footage from the Gabriel design and production building. There was one day when there were three akumas in a row from that building alone. I asked Adrien about it-"
Kim was cackling. "That's so funny! That's Adrien's dad's company! You hacked Adrien's dad's company! Oh man, think about what ol' stick-in-the-mud himself would say if he ever found out!"
"Yes, I'm hoping to avoid that ever happening," Max told him. Then he frowned. "And I don't understand- how is it funny?"
"I don't know, dude, it just is!" Kim was grinning. "I mean, all of these other companies, we don't know who owns 'em. They're just some faceless corporation, you know? But I can't help but picture how red ol' man Agreste would get if he knew that a collège student had gotten into his security system!"
"I suppose." Truth be told, Max still didn't really understand the humor, but he wasn't going to keep trying. He had learned in the past that sometimes Kim found very strange things humorous. "Any luck with the videos so far?"
"Yeah! The first set had a good video of some guy stewing in his office and then getting akumatized there," Kim told him. "No analysis of the other footage from that incident necessary, right?"
Max nodded. Kim had gotten lucky. "Right. We just pull as much footage as possible. Some of it won't be useful."
"Sweet, so I can keep watching Nathalie harassing some poor intern!" Kim considered his screen. "Man, if they're gonna be cruel about people's work, you'd think that they would at least consider moving the company out of Paris so that they wouldn't have to worry about the staff getting akumatized because of the criticisms."
"I'm sure that Mr. Agreste feels that the hassle of relocating would outweigh the benefits," Max commented idly, opening another file. "There would be a lot of time lost associated with a relocation, and Ladybug and Chat Noir generally take care of akumas rather quickly. I've heard that a lot of businesses are banking on this whole issue going away within the next year or two." Was it a wise decision? Perhaps, perhaps not. Max didn't feel himself qualified enough to make that call.
They fell back into silence, working away on their videos. The next two hours passed with only a bit of scattered conversation to break up the quiet, and then Kim's mom tested him to come home.
"Hey, at least we got a good bit done, right?" Kim asked as he handed Max his notes on the videos he had watched and started packing up. "You should be pretty close to being caught up, right?"
Max nodded. He would have footage from the start of one and a half fights to finish watching once Kim departed. "Very close. Thank you for your help today."
Kim grinned. "No problem! Promise me that you'll let me know if anything cool comes up?"
Max barely paused before responding. "I'd have to tell you in person, outside of school. Preferably in either your home or mine, so that we can be sure that we aren't being overheard."
"Right, right, of course." Kim's phone buzzed, and he startled. "Okay, I gotta go. Good luck!"
With that, Kim was gone. Max turned back to his computer, intent on finishing the last of the footage before the end of the evening. It wasn't nearly as fun without Kim there, even though they hadn't really been talking that much, but Max forged on regardless.
Data collection wasn't always the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it had to be done.
"Finished!" Max announced half an hour later, closing his video player and clicking over to the spreadsheet for his model so that he could add the final row of data. "And now for the part I've been looking forward to- seeing the output!"
Markov flew over at once to hover by Max's shoulder. "Let's see it! Then I can start looking up attacks in areas where we need more data right away."
Max didn't hesitate to open the model. It took a minute for the data to load, and then little dots popped up in each of the places where akumatizations had happened. The corresponding time-lines took a moment longer to pop into place, all starting with their length linked to the base factor. As Max moved his mouse around, they pulled towards the cursor. A few adjustments of the factor value brought the lines closer to converging, and Max took the opportunity to look at the spread of points around his rough center. Much to his surprise- and relief, they wouldn't have to resort to having Chloe bully people- there weren't any overly bare areas. Some of his data points were definitely outliers- perhaps Hawkmoth had sent his akuma from somewhere other than his lair- but those could be hidden from the analysis easily enough, and so he did.
Maybe he would look at the outliers later, just out of interest's sake, but Max didn't need anything distracting him from the real analysis.
Laser-focused, Max fiddled and fussed, keeping an eye on the bar on the side of his screen that would tell him when his model had the best fit, aka when his cursor was right where the most of the lines converged (or at the very least, nearly converged). After a bit of fine-tuning and fiddling, Max finally had the center. He clicked to mark it and keep his place, then hid the lines layer of his model so that he could more clearly see the map underneath. As soon as he did, well...
Maybe Max didn't spend much (any) time up on the rooftops like Ladybug and Chat Noir, or flying in news helicopters over the city, but that didn't stop him from immediately recognizing the neighborhood around Hawkmoth's lair. There was his school, and the park that he had eaten lunch in with his friends only a few days ago. There was the fountain that Kim and Alix had had a water fight at only yesterday, splashing each other and any unfortunate passersbys until they were kicked out. There was the Dupain-Cheng Bakery, and the Grand Paris, and right in the center of it all, with a glowing red pin solidly marking the middle...
Well, that was the Agreste Mansion. Which meant- unless Max's model had gone very, very wrong somewhere or Hawkmoth was regularly breaking in past Mr. Agreste's not insignificant security measures- that Hawkmoth resided in the mansion.
Since Adrien was out of the house more often than he was in and was far too nice to be Hawkmoth anyway, he wasn't a suspect. Max could be nearly as sure that Hawkmoth wasn't any of the regular household staff, since being a supervillain would take up a fair bit of time and Mr. Agreste wasn't likely to tolerate something like that. Madam Sancoeur and the Gorilla had to be considered as well, of course, but considering that Hawkmoth was definitely a dude and Max had seen both Hawkmoth and Gorizilla at the same time (or close enough, anyway) on Heroes Day, both could be eliminated from suspicion.
That, of course, left Mr. Agreste.
"Well." Max pushed himself away from his computer, sure that his eyes were huge behind his glasses. "Am I ever glad that we didn't try asking building owners for their security footage. That would have been an absolute disaster."
The next step, of course, was to present his data to the appropriate audience. In Max's case, that meant putting together a PowerPoint that summarized his model's purpose, his data collection, the analysis, and finally, the results. Several times, Max found himself having to scale back his presentation after he put in a little too much detail.
Maybe the equations and coding that went into the development of his model were important and would be interesting to a statistician or programmer, but they weren't relevant to what Ladybug and Chat Noir needed to know. The target audience had to drive what information was presented. If they had questions, Max was more than willing to spend more time going over his model with them, but he knew that the superheroes' time was likely to be in short supply. The main reason for including any of his procedure was to convince them of the validity of his results, and Max had to remember that.
(He was still totally going to give an extended version of the presentation to his mom once Hawkmoth was arrested, though. She would appreciate all of the equations and coding that had gone into his work and they could geek out about it together.)
Finishing the presentation only took a couple days, rearranging and trimming down the slides so that they would be as straightforward as possible while still conveying everything that he needed them to. Max practiced his delivery, making sure that the transitions between slides weren't needlessly excessive and wouldn't slow him down.
And then it was time to actually tell Ladybug and Chat Noir.
If he were anyone else, Max probably would have struggled to get in contact with the superheroes. It wasn't safe to get in close to the battles, and both Ladybug and Chat Noir always took off so fast once the fight was over. Maybe in the early days of their akuma battles the superheroes would hang around, but with the possibility of Hawkmoth lurking and pouncing on them at the end of a fight, those days were over.
But Max had Markov, who could follow battles around without being as conspicuous and who could zip up to rooftop level without a problem. It still took a couple of tries for Markov to get close enough to get their attention before they zipped off, but it was far easier than Max trying to get in contact with them himself.
"I hope this is a good time," Ladybug said that evening as she hung half in Max's window. Behind her, Max could see Chat Noir lingering, keeping an eye out for- well, for Hawkmoth, probably. "Markov said that you had something to show us?"
Max nodded, taking a deep breath. He was feeling oddly nervous now, far more than he had ever felt for school presentations. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was familiar with Hawkmoth, or at least Hawkmoth's son. If Hawkmoth were a stranger, perhaps sharing the news would be easier. "I do. I have a short PowerPoint that I would like to share with you regarding a project that I've been working on. The project was an effort to track Hawkmoth down using a statistical model."
Ladybug and Chat Noir exchanged a look and then both slipped into Max's room, shutting the window tightly behind them. Ladybug took a moment to shut the curtains, too, ensuring that no one would spot them inside of Max's room.
"I've not heard of anyone using statistics to track down Hawkmoth before," Chat Noir said as Ladybug ensured that there weren't any gaps in the curtains. "It's certainly a different approach."
"We could use a different approach," Ladybug chimed in, finally leaving the curtains and joining them. "Everything else that we've tried has ended up with a dead end." She looked over at Max. "Do you want our help with data collection, or do you already have what you need?"
"I already have my results," Max told them, unable to help smiling at the superheroes' reactions. Their eyes had gone wide and Chat Noir's jaw had dropped. He nodded to the two chairs that he had set up in front of a section of wall where he would project his presentation. "If you want to sit..."
The superheroes sat. Max took another steadying breath, mentally apologized to Adrien- after all, his classmate's life was going to be changing a lot soon- and then flipped on his projector. The first slide of his presentation showed up on the wall, and Max started talking.
"Several months ago, I realized that logically, the time between emotion onset and akumatization should vary depending on distance from Hawkmoth's lair..."
Within the week, Mr. Agreste had been defeated and put in jail, immediately followed by his assistant. After some investigation, Adrien's mom had been found in some sort of magical coma and was apparently being nursed back to health with the help of Ladybug and Chat Noir. Adrien was temporarily staying in the guest room at the Dupain-Cheng house- why he had decided to go there and not to Nino's house was a mystery to Max, but he supposed that he didn't need to get every question answered- while his mom recovered. He didn't seem to hold any ill will towards Ladybug and Chat Noir for arresting his father, nor- thankfully- towards Max or their other classmates for the investigation that had led to the discovery of Mr. Agreste's secret identity.
Logically, of course, there was no reason to be upset with anyone other than Mr. Agreste himself, and perhaps Nathalie, but Max knew by now that human emotions did not always follow logic. He certainly had to admit that if he were in Adrien's place and his father had been arrested for being a supervillain, Max would more than likely be looking for someone else to blame, because his dad? A supervillain?
But Adrien hadn't reacted like that. In fact, he seemed happier now that his father and Nathalie were in jail. Max supposed that the difference probably largely boiled down to the differences between how Max's dad treated him and how Mr. Agreste had treated Adrien and the resulting differences in their relationships.
Adrien might have cared for his father, but there was no denying that they had a strained relationship at best. Mr. Agreste was overcontrolling and absent at the same time, never showing up for any of Adrien's activities or eating meals with his son but refusing to let Adrien go out for at least half of their outings as a group. Theirs was the exact sort of relationship that was on a fast track to have Adrien move out as soon as lycée ended and go no-contact with his father as soon as possible.
Or at least that was what Max was assuming, given the few interactions that he had seen between Adrien and Mr. Agreste in person and what he had heard (and overheard) from his classmates. He might be wrong, of course, but that was just what it had seemed like from that and from what Max had read online during his dives into online forums to attempt to educate himself better about human social interactions.
Either way, Max wanted to at least try to reach out to Adrien and make sure that the two of them would be okay. Presumably Adrien's closer friends had shelter and food covered, but if Adrien needed to miss class because of the trial or anything, Max could take notes to give him or offer tutoring to help him keep up.
Across Paris, people were thrilled to learn about Hawkmoth's defeat. Ladybug and Chat Noir had let on to the fact that they had had a civilian's help with tracking Hawkmoth down- that a civilian had done all of the work, actually- but, in accordance with Max's request, they hadn't mentioned names or given out details on what the civilian had done to track Hawkmoth down. He just didn't want the attention or the scrutiny about how he had gotten the data from the assorted businesses.
Sure, maybe having "located Hawkmoth via use of statistics and modeling analysis" would have been a good thing to have on his resume once he got to the age when he would be applying to university or to jobs, but there was enough time between now and then that he should be able to come up with a few other projects that would look good, ones where he didn't have to break the law to get the data he needed.
(That wouldn't look good on a resume- or, more likely, on a background check.)
Still, not being able to use his Hawkmoth-finding project wasn't going to bring Max's mood down. His project had been wildly successful after a discouragingly slow start, and the results... well, they had been incredibly far-reaching. The project had played a vital part in bringing an end to the attacks that had terrorized Paris for far too long, and now everyone in Paris had far less to worry about.
Max didn't need recognition. The satisfaction of a job well done... well, it made every minute of data collection analysis more than worth it.
a/n: So that's the end! Fingers crossed that the stats and analysis stuff was understandable- or, at the very least, not confusing enough to be distracting.
As always, comments make my day! :)