Agatha dropped her head into her hands and resisted the urge to groan.
These people were supposed to be university students- this was supposed to be lab time, to study and work on the assigned projects, not a lecture. This class was designed to be incredibly hard to get into, everyone had to pay an inordinately high lab fee. With all those deterrents- how did fools too thick to so much as pay attention in class even get this far?
Agatha breathed deeply through her nose and tried to keep the annoyance off her face as she straightened out of her slouch and reached for her tea, rubbing at the back of her neck. Just drink the tea and don't get mad, this is no time for curling into a ball and crying in pain.
And the tea was getting stale. Lovely.
Well, in theory, the ones that didn't pay attention in class and weren't even able to start their work would have come up to her in the first few minutes of lab and everyone after them would be marginally less clueless. Everyone seemed to be working well enough now. Projects sat out on lab benches in front of them as she waited at the little desk, prepared to calmly usher everyone out in the event a student managed to make the assignment on clank digitary articulation explode or catch fire.
It wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t a project Agatha was well suited to helping with. While she had taken the comparable course in Beetlesburg and knew the material, her efforts at implementing that knowledge in real materials had a tendency to end up being- hazardous . As in, if she tried to help, she would be the one to make it explode.
She’s just lucky that her parents and Dr. Beetle had known each other so long. He had been an occasional visitor at the house as long as she had lived there. If he hadn’t arranged extra opportunities for extra credit and encouraged the graders to try and be lenient with her, she probably would have failed most of her classes.
It grated that she had to depend on nepotism, but with her headaches…
Agatha glanced over the room to check that no one was getting particularly out of hand. The group at station one through six was progressing nicely, which was only expected when they had the knuckle joints prepared before class, the seven through twelve group were progressing as well- except for Ten. Ten was adding the first "knuckle" backwards, which would make it virtually impossible to calibrate the force of grip. Seeing as the main test of the assignment was the ability to safely handle a chicken egg, that mistake probably would cost him. Agatha sighed out her nose. He might yet figure it out, but he was one of the idiots that asked her to reiterate. Most likely, he was going to drop out. Agatha could tell. She did feel a bit bad, but she had seen students drop- she'd done it herself- he would be alright. Though crying was not undignified.
The other two who had come up and basically asked her to go through the theory from the beginning because they had no idea what they were doing were Fourteen and Fifteen. Those two were now pooling and assembling their components in ways that certainly didn't seem as though they would be effective. That was definitely not the right shape. They wouldn't be the first to try to overcome the assignment by deviating from the recommended form, but the alterations usually only got credit if it was relatively close and still passed all the assessments.
They had lined up the digit joints all in one line protruding from the "palm” laid flat on the table. Were they making a tentacle? One student had done that before- but he had asked for permission to obtain custom "knuckles" and approximately three times the controlling wires. He had had to pay an additional materials fee, but then completed the assignment with extra credit. That was rare in Dr. Beetle’s lectures.
Agatha leaned forward, her elbow resting on the desk and fingers rubbing into the back of her neck as she stared at their vaguely cylindrical creation. Perhaps her initial judgement was wrong?
The "palm" being horizontal might enable them to hook the controls differently. Was that it? But all the wires they would need for that were still on the table. The "knuckles" did seem to be aligned in one direction. Perhaps they were planning on giving it a helical motion? done right, that would take less controlling wires. And- they could add that many wires after general assembly. It would just be a bit more complicated. Maybe if they used forceps to reach inside? but why were they putting the smaller "knuckles" from largest to smallest? Most of the parts were still on the table.
They both let go of their creation and it flopped lifelessly over the "palm." Fifteen nudged Fourteen and wiggled his eyebrows as he delicately stood it back up with one finger. She couldn't see what face Fourteen made in response, but they reached out to the project and gently wrapped their right hand around the base and moved their hand-
That! That wasn't appropriate use of class materials! Agatha's hands jerked to her lap and her shoulders hunched up while she tried not to turn red.
Should she do something? She was the TA; but those were technically their materials to do with as they would. As long as they took responsibility to alter whatever improvised construction to pass the assessment or at least not whine if it failed, she wouldn't usually interfere. Besides that- maybe it was normal here? The version of propriety she learned from Lilith certainly didn't seem to apply; getting off the train there was a frieze depicting more than two dozen instrumentalists, each stone figure inadequately wrapped in rendered cloth.
No, she had to ignore them. If nothing else, the lab wouldn't last forever- she just had to ignore them for the next hour or so.
Agatha forced her shoulders down. She could do this. She just had to pretend not to have seen what they were doing, so she focused on the last aisle of students, Twenty had leaned over to Nineteen and was quietly comparing notes. They were standing very close.
No- stop that. Agatha told herself. They really weren't doing anything improper, Twenty was leaning into Nineteen’s space, but it was more flirtatious than intimate. Agatha unintentionally looked back at Fourteen and Fifteen. Who were now arm in arm, and shaking with silenced laughter as they shook their joke-creation and watched it flop around.
Agatha stood up.
Okay new plan- she was going to go help Twenty-Three. And she was going to face away from those idiots the entire time .
Twenty-Three had barely anything- he kept picking up the parts and putting them back down.
“So, do you need any help?” Agatha asked in an approximation of a friendly tone.
He glanced at her but didn’t seem to be speaking to her, per se, when he said, “No- I want to make it able to pass the tests on it’s own. I was hoping I would be able to use Dr. Eskarina Smith’s theories on minimalist anima neuro-wiring based on the ‘will’ of the materials combined with Dr. Wellington Yueh’s reasoning on decisions to regulate the behaviors. I can see it in my head! The problem is that these- ” he grabbed a wire and gestured angrily to the ceiling with it. “ Ridiculous sub-standard parts are incapable of sustaining that much feedback vibration- even if they didn’t melt, they would snap! ” Agatha rubbed at the back of her neck and frowned at the wires in his hand. He was… he was right. These wires were too brittle. That method required a longer elastic region. Also, his voice was really nice.
“I’m so tired of coming up against this kind of problem! Why can’t it just be good enough? Is that so much to ask?! I can do this- I can do it better! I can make it- ” He suddenly slumped in on himself. “ Ah- right- you probably don’t need to hear that. ‘Just do the assignment as stated,’ ‘no need to go so far into it-’ all that.” He looked absolutely despondent.
Agatha blinked at the sudden lack of enthusiasm, a bit disappointed by the growly vibrations dropping out of his voice. “Hey- no, don’t worry about it. You wanted to make something like the semi-ferrous, bio-imitation constructs in War on Byzantium, right? Well,” Agatha lowered her head thoughtfully, “full titanium is probably too expensive for the bureaucracy to approve, but if you want similar properties we can put in a request for some of the agriculture club’s Ternopolya cabbage- I hear the grew way more than they can use. That way you can still merge the thinking engine into the hand itself. I’ll even help you file the paperwork.” Agatha smiled in a way that she hoped came across as encouraging.
Sometime during her speech Twenty-Three had turned towards her- oh! It was that boy that ran into her- Tischler was it? But he was smiling at her like she just gave him the best news he had all week. He seemed almost giddy.
“So, ah- I’m Gil Holzfäller- I know we’ve met- but, ah, most people don’t pick up on my references that easily-” His grin relaxed into a more normal size, “and I wanted- or rather I was hoping- I think maybe we could work together? Sometimes maybe- or maybe just build things? Talk about War on Byzantium? Together?”
My god, he’s a puppy. That face- he looked so hopeful, as if worried she would refuse. Agatha smiled, “Well, that would be nice, but I should warn you that most of the actual classwork you’ll need to do by yourself- too much help from the TA can get you in trouble.”
He flailed. “Oh, yeah- well, do you think you could study with us? You’re a student, too, right?” He turned to Twenty-One “Collette? What do you think? We can all study together?”
The dark-haired girl turned around and glanced congenially at Agatha, “I don’t mind, assuming she wants to.”
Gil turned back to Agatha with the most unfairly pleading eyes. Agatha’s cheeks ached around her grin.
“Yes. Yes, please.” Agatha had never been in a study group before- the Polygnostic students tended to avoid her. “That would be ama-” Agatha cleared her throat and made a conscious effort to stop bouncing and smiling like a loon, “That would be very welcome.”
Agatha turned toward Collette with the intention of properly introducing herself, when she accidentally looked past her to Fourteen and Fifteen. The Thing was now in Fifteen’s lap. Agatha blushed tomato red, the smile dropping off her face.
Collette looked into the next aisle- and abruptly looked furious.
She stomped around the near end of the tables and set her feet, crossed arms pulling her sleeves tight over impressive shoulders. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded in angry French.
The pair’s joking smiles immediately vanished, replaced with uneasy looks. “Ah… the project?” Fourteen ventured timidly.
Collette’s brows furrowed, “You expect me to believe-” Agatha lost track of what exactly she was saying, though she caught “project” and “wasteful” a few times and “idiot” a few more. She definitely sounded angry.
After cowering from her for a few minutes, the two of them slinked around the tables together and said few sentences in French, too fast for her to catch.
Confused, she glanced at Gil, his lips were tight and he looked rather angry himself. Catching her look, he said shortly, “They apologized.”
“Well, that’s a bit unfair.” Twenty-Two drawled without looking up from his project,” more specifically, Alex said they didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, that it was supposed to be funny and Sigmund said that they’ll take it apart right away and won’t do it again.”
“My translation was fine” Gil seethed at him.
“Well, as it left out practically all the details, I think Alex and Sigmund might find it lacking.” The redhead turned from his workspace to look at Agatha. “Don’t mind him. He’s just bad at taking apologies. Which is highly unfair, seeing as he’s terrible at giving them, too.” He smiled at her. “I am Prince Tarvek Sturmvoraus, a pleasure to meet you, Miss.” He gave a little bow, somehow managing to make the motion casual.
Gil puffed up, seeming to tower like Mr. Tock when you don’t identify yourself promptly. “I give apologies when they’re appropriate. And those two were being ridiculous.”
“So they were goofing off, you do that all the time. You skipped Professor Goodwin’s lecture just yesterday.”
“I was stopping that clank that was trying to destroy lecture hall C!”
“That’s hardly an excuse.”
Agatha found herself looking back and forth as they bickered. Tarvek’s face remained cool and detached but he was leaning slightly toward Gil. and Gil kept getting more agitated, moving his arms and increasing in volume till his voice started crackling with the rough sound of a spark at full rant.
Then Collette tapped her on the shoulder and leaned in to whisper in her ear in only slightly accented Romanian, “They really are adorable, don’t you think?”
Agatha nodded and wondered if she was allowed to invite Tarvek to the study session, if only for the entertainment value.