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MAX-IMUM EFFECT

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“Lila, would you stay back for a moment? I’d like to speak with you.”




Ms. Bustier’s voice cut through the babble of the class packing up for lunch, causing heads to glance between the teacher and the girl whose name had been called. A look of frustration and annoyance crossed the Italian girl’s face before she hitched it back into the friendly smile she nearly always wore.




“Of course, Ms. Bustier.”, she said. “Whatever you need.”




Truthfully however, whatever the teacher wanted could go hang as far as she was concerned. This was eating into her lunch break with Adrien and she wasn’t about to let anyone else have him, not even his friends. She just hoped Ms. Bustier would get whatever stupid thing it was out of the way quickly so she could get back to the one thing that made coming to this stupid school worthwhile.




“I need to talk to you, and unfortunately it’s quite serious.”, Ms. Bustier said once Lila had approached her desk.




Serious? What could be serious? Had Marinette gone and tattled on her?




“Serious in what way?”, she asked, keeping her voice level for now. 

 

“Regarding your academic performance.”, Ms. Bustier replied. “I must be blunt in informing you that you are presently the worst-performing student in the class right now.”




Lila burned in indignation; the worst student?! How could that be possible?! She might not have done a lot of the work but surely her performance had to be better than Kim’s, who was as thick as a brick, or Nathaniel who spent all his time drawing and especially Marinette who was always coming in late with the stupidest excuses. Really, she had to be way ahead of all of them!




“But Ms. Bustier, surely it can’t be all that bad!”, she said, affecting her most saccharine voice. “I mean, Marinette is always coming in late-”

 

“But always gets the work done and handed in.”, Ms. Bustier interrupted, an icy inflection in her voice. “And Marinette is irrelevant to the conversation right now. We are talking about your academic performance, not hers.”




Her attempt to deflect the conversation onto Marinette having failed, Lila figured that trying to do it with anyone else would be equally futile. Fortunately she had her excuses ready.




“I’m so sorry, Ms. Bustier!”, she said, affecting a hesitant, fearful and upset demeanour. “I know the work was important, but I’ve been overloaded with all my charity obligations and I admit that I thought working to save sick children and vulnerable species was more important.”




It was the kind of stuff every bleeding-heart like Ms. Bustier and her classmates would lap up like puppies at an oasis and indeed the teacher’s rather frosty expression did thaw, somewhat.




“Whilst your charity work is noble, I’m afraid you cannot just dismiss your schoolwork out of hand. It will affect your whole future, what jobs you can get, how easily you can find work.”




Lila tuned her out; she already knew what life she intended to live after school and it would involve as little work as possible. All she needed for it to come true was to finally get Adrien to be her official boyfriend; once she had him, she’d never need to work because he would buy or provide her with everything she could ever want or need. And once she was tired of him or his money ran out, she’d simply move on and find another rich guy to start all over again with.




“Which is why you have only two options left to you.”, Ms. Bustier went on. “One of which would be to repeat the academic year.”

 

 

WHAT?! Oh, that was bad! There’s no way she’d be able to keep that from her mother and then everything she’d worked so hard to build and maintain here would come crashing down. No, there had to be a way out of this!




“What’s the second option?”, she asked.

 

“Under normal circumstances it would not be an option.”, Ms. Bustier said rather firmly. “However, taking into account the special circumstances with Hawk Moth and his akumas, low-performing students are permitted what some teachers are cynically calling a Hail Mary pass.”




Ms. Bustier reached beneath her desk and came up with an absolute monster of a folder, stuffed so full that even a lightsaber would have had trouble cutting through it, setting it down on the desk with a loud thud.




“These exercises will make up the majority of what you’ve missed.”, Ms. Bustier went on. “Completing them all will ensure you pass, at least.”




Lila stared in horror at the sheer volume of work contained within that single folder. Was she expected to do all that?! That had to be illegal! No way could anyone ever hope to do that much!




“B-But I can’t, Ms. Bustier!”, she protested. “I’m always on tenterhooks for my next charity trip! One could come up at any moment and it would be so terribly selfish and inconsiderate of me to set that aside for anything!”




She expected Ms. Bustier to immediately retract her previous words, assuring her that she would work something out and lapping up all that heartwarming crap. However, the teacher merely fixed her with an unusually steely glare.




“That is your problem, I’m afraid.”, she said. “It is up to you, and you alone, to decide how to manage your time and demands. If this work is not completed, it will deal a serious blow to your school career and your future life afterwards.”

 

Lila was caught off-guard by Ms. Bustier’s strangely strict response.




“There is slightly over a month and a half left of the term.”, Ms. Bustier went on. “Provided you manage your time properly, that should be more than enough. I shall be expecting you to hand in at least one completed exercise by the end of the week otherwise I will contact your mother and discuss further action.”




Her tone of voice meant no argument could be made, and Lila didn’t bother hiding her anger as she stuffed the folder into her bag with great difficulty and left the classroom. Great! This ruined all her plans because she had no intention of doing this much work if she could avoid it, but if she didn’t then she’d fail and be held back a year, something which she could not hope to conceal from her mother and which would lead to the complete and total destruction of her empire here, which was not something she was willing to let happen. There had to be a way out of this! She couldn’t just claim another charity trip or medical emergency because it was clear that the school were no longer willing to just accept that out of hand. But on the other hand, she really didn’t want that work eating into her precious time with Adrien and all her adoring fans. The work would have to be done, but Ms. Bustier hadn’t specified that it had to be her that did it. She just had to find someone able to do it with a little persuasion, but who? Marinette was, she grudgingly admitted, clever and dedicated enough to get it done. She could threaten to escalate their little war unless Marinette did the work, but the pigtailed brat was so morally uptight and self-sacrificing that she wouldn’t go along with it. No, in order to force her Lila would need to use blackmail, something incriminating or social reputation shattering. Problem was, Marinette would keep all of that in her room at home and Lila knew her parents would never let her in or anywhere near their daughter’s bedroom. So unless she was willing to break into the place and risk legal action if she was caught, that option was out. Sabrina was another option, since she was smart and eager to please and so easy to bend to your will. But then she was already Chloe’s dogsbody and if she slipped up and mentioned that she was doing Lila’s work to Chloe, the mayor’s spoiled brat of a daughter wouldn’t hesitate to let the whole world know about it. No, she needed someone very smart and easy to bend to her will who wouldn’t go blabbing. Then it hit her; Max! 




Of course! Max, the annoyingly geeky boy who could never shut up about unbelievably boring stuff like technology and history and mathematics. She’d been concerned at the start that he’d cotton onto her lies because of how smart he was, but he’d swallowed it all like the rest so she’d just dismissed him. That big brain of his would let him get through that work very quickly indeed, but he was too much of a goody-goody like Marinette so she would have to find something to make him bow to her. She cast her eye over her classmates, sitting around a table in the sunny courtyard eating and chatting happily, and noticed that Max was absent. He always stayed for lunch so he was probably in the bathroom or locker room, the perfect place to corner him. 



Max was in fact in the computer lab, doing some programming work on his laptop. His robot friend Markov, a completely sentient AI, hovered over him with interest. Max was constantly upgrading and improving the little guy and his latest endeavour was designed to help Markov gain a better understanding of human behaviour such as amusement, despair and deceit. 



“I estimate this will improve your efficiency by 14.8%, Markov!”, Max was saying excitedly.

 

“I am always eager to increase my productivity!”, Markov chirped. “As well as spend time with you, Max, my friend!”




Max smiled; Markov was always easy to get along with, providing both encouragement and an objective point of view that was highly valued. His absorption in his work, however, was interrupted by a loud and overly cheery voice.



“Max, there you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”




Max wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Lila. She seemed nice and all, but there was something about her that made his big brain tick in warning, like she was dangerous or deceptive. 



“Hello, Lila.”, he replied guardedly. “I’m a bit busy right now but I can help you later.”

 

“I’m afraid this really can’t wait.”, Lila said.




She sat down before he could protest any further and pulled a huge folder from within her bag, setting it down on the table hard enough to make his laptop jump into the air.




“Careful!”, Max scolded her. “This was an expensive laptop and the circuits are extremely sensitive!”

 

“I need your help.”, Lila cut across him rudely. 

 

“With what?”, Max asked.

 

“Ms. Bustier has told me that I’m at real risk of having to repeat the grade because of all the schoolwork I’ve missed due to my charity trips.”, Lila said, sounding genuinely distressed. “And unless I complete all this make-up work, I will! But I’m stuck because I just can’t afford to give up my charity work, but neither do I want to repeat the grade! Can you please help me?”



Max was rather taken-aback. He was, by common consent, the smartest person in his class and probably the entire school and more than willing to assist any who needed help with their schoolwork, but he drew the line at doing people’s homework for them outright. People needed to learn these things themselves otherwise it was pointless. And as nice as Lila seemed and as noble as her charity obligations were, she had kind of brought this on herself and she needed to do the work. When he told her as much, however, he was startled to see rage and malice flash in her eyes for a second. Just a second, but it sent a spike of fear through him.



“But, Max!”, she persisted. “I really do need your help! I do so hate asking for it, I really do, but I have no choice! You can’t be asking me to stop helping with starving children, not when we’re so close to finally getting them out of poverty!”




A guilty twinge was felt by Max, but if he could resist Kim’s puppy dog eyes to stand firm then he could resist Lila.




“I’m really sorry, Lila, but I can’t.”, he said. “It would defeat the purpose of the work being assigned to you for me to do it.”




A dark look crossed Lila’s face.




“Is that your final answer?”, she asked, in a very ominous tone of voice.

 

“Yes.”, Max replied hesitantly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to my work.”




He began to type on his laptop again…………. and Lila slammed the lid shut on his fingers, trapping them. Max yelped, but it was barely even out of his mouth before Lila clapped her other hand over his mouth, pinning him against his seat. Markov let out an alarmed warble.




“Max, my sensors indicate danger!”, he squawked.

 

“Shut it, tin can!”, Lila snarled at the little robot before turning her attention back to Max. “Now listen. I’m going to take my hand away from your mouth, but if you try to call for help then I will make you regret it. Nod if you understand.”




Stricken with fear, Max had no choice but to nod shakily. 




“What the hell are you playing at?!”, he demanded when she had removed her hand. 

 

“Shut up and listen to me.”, Lila snarled. “I have no desire whatsoever to waste my time doing this stupid work, but neither do I want to lose the nice little empire I’ve crafted for myself. So, you’re going to do it for me.”

 

“Have you lost your marbles?”, Max asked incredulously. “You think threatening me is going to make me more willing to help you than pleading? I’m going to report you to Mr. Damocles!”




He made to stand up but her hand closed in a vice-like grip on his wrist, nails digging into his flesh.




“Do that and I will ruin you.”, she said. “I’ve got this whole school wrapped around my little finger thanks to my little sob stories. A few of them to the right people and nobody will even give you the time of day. Or what if the school network gets a virus and the evidence points to you? You’ll be expelled and disgraced within a week.”




Max stared at her, his big brain unable to fathom her sheer cruelty from seemingly nowhere.




“I calculate that there is a 0% chance of that working.”, he said, trying to sound braver than he felt. “My friends and teachers know me. They would never believe such ridiculous lies.”




Lila laughed, a nasty mocking one.



“They believed the ones I told about Marinette, and she’s the most beloved person in the school.”, she said. “So what makes you think they won’t believe anything I say about you?”

 

 

Max stiffened in horror.




“The lies you told about Marinette?”, he repeated. “The test answers, the necklace in her locker, you being pushed down the stairs-”

 

“All faked.”, Lila said proudly. “Faked and you all fell for it, hook, line and sinker. But then, you also fell for my lie about the napkin gouging your eye out so you’re not nearly as smart as you claim to be.”

 

“But why?”, Max demanded, feeling furious and humiliated with himself as he recalled the napkin incident. “Why? Marinette is the nicest person in the world!”

 

“Ugh, I know! And that sickens me!”, Lila spat. “Everyone’s always going on about how sweet she is, how kind, how helpful, how utterly selfless! Please! She tried to tell me that we could be friends if I didn’t lie, that all I had to do was be honest. As if! Why be honest and have friends when I could lie and have loyal servants? All of you bent over backwards to help me when I merely hinted that I knew celebrities, or that I was too weak because of my charity works! Why would I give that up? But Marinette wouldn’t stay out of my way, so she had to go. Now you have the same choice; fall in line and do what I say, or stand in my way and see your life crumble. What’s it going to be?”




Max was gawping at her, still unable to process just what she had just said. Molten anger rose in him at the thought of her tricking and bullying his friends and he was, for a moment, tempted to let fly with his fist. But emotion yielded to cold logic, his big brain telling him that if he did that then there was a 90% chance Lila would do exactly what she had threatened to and get him reprimanded or expelled, thereby permanently ruining his future prospects. Cold logic, however, gave him an alternative method that, whilst forcing him to swallow his pride, carried a 100% chance of stopping Lila without giving her a chance to destroy his reputation or hurt anyone he cared about. Taking a deep breath, he made his decision.




“Very well.”, he said in a resigned voice. “What do you want me to do?”

 

“Smart decision.”, Lila replied. “Everything you need is in that folder. Ms. Bustier expects three completed worksheets by the end of the week, so I suggest you get to work.”




And with a satisfied little “hmph!”, she got up and strolled gaily out of the room. Max repressed the urge to hurl something heavy at the back of her head as he turned back to his laptop. Markov flew down to speak to him.



“Max, my friend, I must confess that none of what I just witnessed was comparable to Lila’s previous behaviour.”, he said.

 

“That is because she is apparently a selfish and manipulative liar, Markov.”, Max replied as he began typing.

 

“I see.”, Markov said. “Then shouldn’t we report her to the relevant authorities?”

 

“No, Markov. That would be pointless.”, Max replied. “Lila would simply spin another web of lies to convince them otherwise before targeting me in some way. However, I have something else in mind.”




A wicked smile crept across his face as he began typing. Lila might think she was clever, keeping everyone enthralled with her tall tales and using that to turn people she didn’t like or who tried to expose her into the bad guys, but Max was not someone who let a small problem stop him. He was smart enough to create a sentient AI, develop a video game on par with tech giants like Sony, EA and Bethesda and hack into just about any computer network in existence. One overconfident liar was barely a tutorial, especially when she had just unwittingly handed him the keys to her own downfall. He worked through lunch, managing to grab a quick bite just before the bell rang, and was regrettably forced to cancel an outing with everyone else in order to complete his plan. Lila had given him a nasty glare in warning if he crossed her, but he ignored her. It had been hard to disappoint Kim, though, but the big jock fortunately accepted Max’s explanation without issue.



“Just make sure you don’t work yourself too hard.”, Kim told him. “Remember last time? You got so caught up in your smart guy stuff that you forgot to eat or sleep for two days.”

 

“I won’t, Kim, but thanks for your concern.”, Max replied.

 

“No problem. Anything for my best friend.”, Kim said.




Sometimes Max did wonder why he and Kim got on so well despite being polar opposites in nearly every way. Marinette had described them as yin and yang; they needed each other to balance the other out, which Max could see as a reasonably accurate description of his friendship with Kim. Plus, he could get just as competitive as Kim at times and Kim could be surprisingly intuitive so they had traits of the other which fitted the yin and yang symbolism. He kept working all the way through the week, finishing off three worksheets as Lila had requested, typing them all up on his computer and printing them off for Lila to hand in. Predictably she snatched them off him the moment he held them out without a single thank you, merely reminding him that he should keep it up unless he wanted to lose all his friends. He forced himself not to smirk back at her lest he tip her off, merely gritting his teeth and nodding in understanding. If all went well, however, Lila would be the one who had everything turning against her. He took his seat, Markov hovering by him as usual, and struck up a friendly chat with Kim as they waited for Ms. Bustier to arrive and begin the class. She arrived five minutes later and took the register, then sat herself primly behind her desk.




“Before we begin, Lila, could you please hand in your worksheets?”, Ms. Bustier asked.

 

“Of course, Ms. Bustier.”, Lila replied sweetly.




She strolled down the aisle, eyes locking triumphantly with Max’s for a second, and flounced up to the teacher’s desk where she handed them over with a flourish.




“I think you’ll be really impressed by what I’ve written.”, she said, not quite able to disguise the smugness in her tone.




Ms. Bustier gave her a beaming smile, but as she opened the completed work and began to read it, her smile vanished and was replaced with a furious scowl. Lila, turning to go back to her seat, didn’t notice but Max did. In fact, Ms. Bustier’s cyan eyes locked directly with Max in a manner that made him nod stiffly to promise an explanation before darting back to Lila’s retreating back.




“Lila.”, she snapped in a voice like iron, most unlike her usual warm and motherly tone.




Lila froze, halfway up the aisle, then turned to face the teacher’s desk.




“Yes, Ms. Bustier? Is there a problem?”, she asked sweetly.

 

“Are you quite sure that this is your own work?”, Ms. Bustier asked, holding up the sheets.

 

“Of course.”, Lila replied, eyes darting to the right for a second. 

 

“Then perhaps you can tell me why it is written in Max’s unique font?”, Ms. Bustier asked tartly.




Lila stiffened in shock as confused murmurs broke out among the others.




“I’m sorry?”, Lila asked.

 

“You heard me.”, Ms. Bustier replied. “The font that this is written in was created by Max and can only be found on his computer, as he informed me a few months ago. So why are your reports written in it?”




Lila shot a glance at Max before replying.




“Oh, that’s easy to explain.”, she said, trying to keep her voice level.

 

“Is it now?”, Ms. Bustier asked, sounding doubtful.

 

“Yes. You see, my computer broke and I asked Max if I could borrow his in order to do my work on it.”, Lila replied. “Didn’t I, Max?”




Max heard the unspoken threat in her voice (“Play along or you’ll regret it”) as everyone turned to look at him.




“Is this true, Max?”, Ms. Bustier asked.




Lila was glaring at him with all the malice and anger she could muster, clearly expecting him to remember her threat and go along with her. Max looked her directly in the eye before pushing his glasses up his nose (with his middle finger) and turning to Ms. Bustier.




“No, Ms. Bustier.”, he said. “Lila did not ask to borrow my computer in order to do her work. Quite the opposite, in fact. She threatened me into doing her work with the promise that she would spread lies about me and ruin my life…………. like she’s been doing to Marinette.”




There were shocked gasps from everyone in the class, with many heads turning first to a startled Marinette, then to Lila and back to Max.

 

 

“Is that true, Lila?”, Ms. Bustier asked, keeping her voice firm.

 

“Of course it isn’t true!”, Lila exclaimed, false tears already welling. “I did ask Max if he could help me, but he must have misunderstood me!”

 

“Misunderstood?”, Max laughed mirthlessly. “You crushed my fingers with my own laptop and threatened me with emotional ruin unless I did exactly what you said.”

 

“Lila!”, Rose gasped, scandalised. “Is this true?”

 

“Of course it isn’t true!”, Lila wailed. “Marinette must have gotten to Max and turned him against me, making him say all these awful lies about me!”

 

“Who are you to admonish anyone for lying?!”, Max snapped at her. “You’ve been stringing everyone along from day one, even me I’m ashamed but not too stubborn to say!”

 

“Day one?”, Alya echoed, her eyes widening and face going pale as she began to understand. “You mean…..?”

 

“Every single word out of her mouth has been nothing but lies!”, Max confirmed. “Petty ones, mostly, about ties to celebrities so she can impress everyone into paying attention to her, but others that are more crafty and malicious! Such as ones about various disabilities so she can have us carry and buy stuff for her, or ones about overseas charity trips so she can miss months of school or even ones about Marinette, the one person in the class who wasn’t fooled by them, so she can turn everyone against her!”



Looks of dawning comprehension were creeping across everyone’s faces, mixed with horror and anger as they realised how much they’d been suckered. Nathaniel, who especially loathed being lied to, was glaring at Lila so hard that Max half-expected lasers to come shooting out of his eyes and Juleka’s nails had dug grooves into the wood as she comforted a shocked and devastated Rose. Marinette, meanwhile, looked caught between gratitude and unease, eyes darting about the classroom for something unknown; Adrien had gone stark-white and looked on the verge of throwing up; and Chloe was filing her nails, indifferent to all the drama.




“As interesting and disturbing as that is, Max, I assume you have proof of such accusations?”, Ms. Bustier said in a cold voice.

 

“Affirmative.”, Max replied. “Markov!”




The little robot was immediately at his side.



“Access the class projector and play your memory recording of Monday lunchtime, please.”, Max ordered him.

 

“At once, Max.”, Markov chirped.




All eyes turned towards the blackboard as the projector began playing, showing the confrontation between Max and Lila in the computer lab. Kim in particular growled as he saw his best friend in pain from getting his fingers crushed.




“You see, I was having Markov record me as I was updating my laptop software in case I made any errors.”, Max explained to a horror-struck Lila. “What luck that he was, otherwise I would never have had any proof of your behaviour.”




Lila’s tears had stopped flowing and she was looking around, desperately searching for a plausible lie or a hasty exit. But the door was too far away and barred by her murderous looking classmates.




“I think, Lila, that we will have to have a talk with Mr. Damocles.”, Ms. Bustier said in a tone that brokered no argument. “And your mother, long overdue as it is.”




There was no way out for Lila, cornered like a rat in a trap. Unfortunately, cornered rats made for desperate and unpredictable creatures and Lila suddenly sprang at Max with a feral screech, hands posed to claw at his eyes.




“YOU!!!!! YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!!!!!”, she screeched.




Kim pushed Max behind him but it was not he who stopped her. Markov suddenly zipped around and clamped his manipulator arm shut on Lila’s nose. The girl then shrieked in pain as a buzzing of electricity was heard and she jerked and spasmed before collapsing to the floor, twitching, sparking and smoking. Markov let out a high-pitched beep and fell out of the air as Max caught him.




“Markov! What did you do?”, he cried, fearing for his friend.

 

“I transferred the electrical current in my circuits through my arm and into her body.”, Markov replied, voice slurred. “I had to protect you.”

 

“So you installed a taser in yourself?!”, Max exclaimed. 

 

“An emergency resort.”, Markov replied with an electronic warble that might have been a laugh. “Unfortunately it drains my batteries.”




Suffice to say, Markov got more sympathy than the spasmodically twitching Lila, who was also giving off a potent smell of burnt hair. Kim reluctantly deigned to haul her to the nurse’s office (if he happened to bump her against and off the walls a few times, he wasn’t saying) whilst her mother was called. Lila awoke with a splitting headache to the furious form of her mother looming over her, who proceeded to exacerbate her daughter’s headache with an hour-long rant in variously accented Italian (she settled on Sicilian after running through the Venetian, Florentine and Milanese ones) before deciding on her punishment. Lila was forced to debunk every single one of her lies in a video recorded by Alya (as well as apologise to each and every person she’d lied to or about) before being sent to a very strict reform school back home in Italy, as the level of work she’d missed put her significantly behind everyone else of her age. She did manage to get herself akumatised before leaving France, naturally going after Max in order to make him suffer, but Max had anticipated that and Ladybug and Cat Noir arrived to find Volpina tied up, semi-conscious and suffering from various injuries inflicted by running into Max’s newest robotic creation, which packed (among other things) a net launcher, tasers, pepper spray dispensers and a full database of martial arts moves. Whilst Lila was shipped off to her own personal hell and forgotten about, Max became very well-known in the technology industry for his work on robotics and computers, with his first video game becoming a bestseller and a rousing success (a late addition involved an avatar that bore an uncanny resemblance to Lila and over a hundred different ways of punishing her that proved very good for stress relief). His fellow classmates would go on to become resounding successes in their own avenues of work and Lila became…………. well, not even a bad dream.