I didn’t know the answer, but apparently Gretchen did.

“The word ‘cauliflower’ comes from the Latin ‘caulis,’ meaning cabbage, and ‘flos, floris’ meaning flower,” she said. She sat down, looking pleased to have showed that she had studied.

“Wrong!” screamed Sister Michael. “It’s from the dog ‘collie’ and the word ‘flour’ as in what you make bread from. Stupid girl.”

Then the nun pulled out a revolver and shot Gretchen in the forehead.

It was becoming clear to all of us that this was going to be a tough semester.

That evening, Saima, currently known as “Gretchen” during the work day, rubbed at her forehead as we stood in line in the nutrition hall. I sympathized. A bad injury in-world could often ache for hours after logout, and knowing it was psychosomatic didn’t help.

“Still hurting?” I asked her. 

“Yeah,” she said. “But what really hurts is feeling like we’re not doing any good. I mean, is this really the best way to train AIs for the reboot? Some of them just seem to get further and further away from being sync-ready.”

“Well,” I said, “school-teaching nuns were supposed to be a little mean, right? It was the twentieth century, after all.”

“There’s mean and then there’s strapped-and-psychotic,” Saima said. “And besides, are these protocols even based on good scholarship? Is the mean nun modality more a product of pop-culture representations, like those good cops and bad cops that we were training last year?”

I shuddered at the memory. I had run as a petty crook and gone through eleven identical interrogation sessions before the end. It was miserable, and both the petty crook modality and the bad cop modality it was there to train were eventually scrapped.

“Yeah, the cops were a problem,” I admitted. “But I’m still not convinced that they were all that unrealistic.”

“Oh? And do you think pistol-packing nuns are unrealistic, or are they just fine, too?” She was angrier at me than I thought was warranted. I hadn’t shot her, after all.

I pondered for a while. “Ok, here’s what Hardison wrote,” I said. “‘Historical accuracy is a false God, and realism is a repetition of the past that brought us here in the first place.’ Or words to that effect.”

“Yeah, tell that to the future virtual generations who are saved from apocalypse by murderous Sisters of the Sacred Heart.”

“Hey, not every path leads to Utopia,” I said lamely.

“I’m starting to think that none of them do,” Saima said. Looking down at her withered legs and her mutated claw of a left hand. I looked at my own right hand, a pulpy mass of crap since birth.

I nodded glum agreement, and ate my grey stew.