Chapter 189: At Cross Purposes

on November 20, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Coach Callahan Keeps Her Cool

Not everyone understood my decision to keep associating with Acantha outside of class.

By that I mean, nobody I tried to explain it to understood why I’d want to hang out with her outside of class, knowing that she’d tricked me and suspecting that she was a corporate thief.

By that, I pretty much just mean Coach Callahan, who asked me at the end of class how Acantha had taken the news that I wouldn’t be helping with the mockbox project anymore.

“She took it pretty well, I guess?” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t there when she found out…”

“You didn’t tell her last week?”

“No, I did let her know that you were suspicious of her, like you wanted, but she mostly guessed that… she found out the other part from your memo,” I said.

“Funny, I’ve never heard them called that before,” she said. “Did she say anything to you?”

“Nothing bad,” I said. “She actually invited me to join some kind of salon thing she’s going to be holding, for applied enchantment students who’ve caught her eye or whatever.”

“And what she’d do when you turned her down?”

“Actually… I’m pretty sure I’m going to say yes,” I said. I’d been about to say that as long as the schedule worked for me, I’d at least check it out, but I could tell I’d said or done the wrong thing. Either the atmosphere in the room had just changed, or I’d completely failed to notice how chilly it was.

“Just because we shared a moment during our last heart-to-heart doesn’t mean I’m going to go all motherly on you now,” Coach Callahan said with what seemed like an ominous amount of calm. “If I have a single maternal bone in my body, it’s just a shard of someone’s mother who died messily and with great force. I don’t give a fuck what you do with your life… but I give a very small fuck that I did something to protect you and you’re throwing it away. The good thing is that every time you do this… and I know damn well this won’t be the last time… the fuck will get smaller and smaller until it isn’t any kind of a fuck at all. And in that lack of fucks, Frybaby, I will find my freedom.”

“So you’re not done protecting me, then,” was probably the worst possible thing I could have said… and so amazingly, I didn’t. It popped into my head, but it didn’t go any further.

It seemed worth noting. Maybe that was a selfishly utilitarian thought, the exact kind of thing that Acantha… and Coach Callahan herself… would have encouraged me to think. But… still…

It wasn’t a good moment to get lost in thought, though. I could tell Coach Callahan was pissed, but not in her usual way. Her normal anger was expressive… rage as content and violence as punctuation. This was different. She was almost elven in her stillness, and that was scary.

I had a feeling that if I didn’t figure out what was eating her and how to make it right, there was a chance I’d see what she looked like when she was really mad.

“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell Acantha that you were kicking me off the project,” I said quickly, guessing that was what she was talking about. “I just thought it would be safer the less I said about the whole thing.”

“And you’re probably right about that. I don’t care how the hell she found out… the whole point of firing you from the project was to keep you out of the crossfire,” Coach Callahan said. “So then you go and stroll right back into it? What were you thinking?”

“That I’m not going to be in a crossfire if I’m not between the two of you?” I said. “You’re the one who pointed out she could do more to help me.”

“And you said you didn’t want her kind of help!” the coach said.

“Yeah, well… I still have class with her. And I started talking to her again…”

“And you went all wibbly, didn’t you?” Coach Callahan said. “You know, I can’t figure out what the fuck your type is, but I know it when you see it.”

“It’s not like that!” I said.

She didn’t have to give me a pointed look. She just stood there, saying nothing.

“It might be a little bit like that,” I said. “I mean, I haven’t really entertained any thoughts of…”

“I don’t need to know what you haven’t entertained thoughts of,” she said.

“She is fascinating,” I said. “And she seems so awkward and lonely.”

“If you think that means she’s an honest and hardworking citizen-subject, you haven’t known as many rogues as I have,” she said. “Awkward and lonely is just the type to end up slinking around in shadows.”

“Well, no, I don’t think that,” I said. “I think it means she’s awkward and lonely.”

“And that’s enough for you to see her as some kind of a kindred spirit?” Coach Callahan said.

“It’s enough for me to think she’s awkward and lonely,” I said. “I know that doesn’t explain anything…”

“Good, because I was starting to wonder if you knew you were saying the same thing every time.”

“I just feel… drawn to her,” I said.

“Yeah, I got that. But still… remember the part where you didn’t want her help? I actually liked that part. I almost admired it.”

“Okay, yes, I said that… but I’ve realized I don’t really know what her kind of help would be, and whether it would really be so bad to take it,” I said. “Her perspective on everything, it’s so different than anything I expected or anything I’ve ever considered. And, you know… I’ve never really sat down and thought about what I actually believe in. I just have a buttload of crap I was given by my grandmother. Even the stuff that she would be horrified by… I don’t know how much of that I actually believe in and how much is just me going in the opposite direction because it’s the opposite, or because I glommed onto someone else who had what sounded like a better idea…”

I hadn’t thought any of this through before I opened my mouth, so I was kind of finding out what I thought at the time she was. Amazingly, it all made a lot of sense to me.

It seemed to make sense to her, too, because I could see her relaxing… see the tension draining out from behind her calm facade.

“Look… I’m the last person you should come to for answers about ethics,” she said. “And I’m the last person who would try to tell you anything about ethics. My ethics are the same as my fighting style: whatever works. If you tried to kill everyone you don’t like, sooner or later you’d either encounter someone you can’t kill or you’d give everyone else an incentive to mob up and kill you first. Killing everyone doesn’t work? Find something else. Okay, so I did tell you something about ethics.”

“Killing everyone isn’t the option I’d start with,” I said.

“Well, we all have our grandmothers,” she said. “Figuratively speaking. My point is, I don’t actually give a twisted flaming shit about ethics, but I fully fucking applaud you deciding to figure out what you want from life and figuring out how to get it. Most people wait until their mid-twenties to even start asking why they believe the things they do and do the things they do, if they ever start.”

“…thanks?”

“I still don’t think you need that angular bitch to show you the way,” Coach Callahan said. “Whether you want to admit it or not, part of the reason you’re clinging to her is that you can’t figure her out. You don’t know where she stands. Figuring your own shit out is hard enough on its own, but it’s necessary… trying to figure out someone else’s at the same time? Not necessary, and it’s going to make it harder.”

“You’re going to tell me there’s no value in understanding other people?” I asked.

“‘Know your enemy’ is great advice,” she said. “But so’s ‘pick your battles’. You don’t need to know Acantha if you’re not going to fuck with her in the first place.”

“I could avoid Acantha here… even drop out of her class… and still end up dealing with her, or people like her, later on,” I said. “She’s part of a side of the world I’ve never given much thought before. Even if she’s a completely amoral cutthroat bitch… isn’t it better to learn how to deal with amoral cutthroat bitches now, while it’s relatively safe? I mean, that’s the same basic idea as your class: figure out how to handle life-and-death situations when it isn’t really life-and-death.”

Amaranth might have had something to say about using the word “bitch” to refer to another woman in a non-recreational sense, and her influence was enough that I cringed at the sound of the word in my mouth, but that was Coach Callahan’s influence.

“Can’t argue with that,” she said. “Well, more like I’m already past the point I care to argue any of this. I’m not going to pretend I don’t care about your well-being after putting my ass on the line for you, but I meant what I said about the fucks I give. There’s a limit to everything, and with most things, it’s not a nice, clear line. It’s more like ice on a pond: you know if you stack too much weight on it for too long, it’s going to give way, but the only way to find out is to keep piling on until it breaks.”

“Noted,” I said.

“And just so you know, if she screws you over completely… or worse… I’m not going to do shit about it,” she said. “You had your chance to get away cleanly and you went back. Whatever happens next? That’s entirely on you.”

“Also noted.”

I didn’t think she meant that last bit as encouragement, but I couldn’t help taking it tht way all the same. Whatever happened next, it would be because of my decision. That was a little scary to think about, but exciting, too.

Though maybe there was a lesson there. Maybe something couldn’t be really exciting if it wasn’t also a little scary.

Or maybe I was justifying something risky to myself… but, like I’d said, it would be a controlled risk. The worst thing that could happen was I would get in, decide that I really didn’t want to associate with Acantha or learn her ways of doing things, and get out.

The way my life had been tending towards anticlimax lately, it probably wouldn’t even be that bad.


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30 Responses to “Chapter 189: At Cross Purposes”

  1. Just to let everyone know, I’m experimenting with a new writing process and publishing schedule that combines the best of what’s worked before. New chapters will appear every three week days/work days (i.e.,M-F). Because that gives a slightly less predictable rhythm than specific days of the week or every x days, I’ve added a thing to the front page that says when the next chapter goes up.

    I’d hoped to get bonus stories back on this week, but it will probably actually be next week or the week after, as I’m still establishing the new routine.

    Current score: 0

    • Luke Licens says:

      Typo report:

      but I couldn’t help taking it tht way all the same.

      Current score: 0

  2. tomclark says:

    “she found out the other part from your memo,” I said.

    “Funny, I’ve never heard them called that before,” she said.

    OK, am I missing something? What did Callahan’s not-memo consist of?

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      The not-memo was that she was kicking Mack off the mockbox investigation project.

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      • Sapphite says:

        We haven’t been told the original form of the ‘memo’,only that Acantha suspected it had been toned down.

        I was suspecting head-on-a-pike type of message.

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        • Tomo says:

          “I’m taking that incompetent little twat off my mockbox research project, so she can go fuck herself”

          maybe something like that?

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  3. Zathras IX says:

    Figuratively
    Speaking we all have our own
    Straitlaced grandmothers

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  4. Riotllama says:

    Mack! Stop jinxing yourself!

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  5. YayGasm says:

    Anticlamax is fine
    but climax is better
    Mac climax’s with Acantha?
    Next in eleven

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  6. pedestrian says:

    Whelp, I guess I guessed wrong….So the Coach doesn’t want Mack keeping an eye on the Professor for her?

    Though come to think of it. I’ve seen a small animal being chased by a larger predator, deliberately cross thin ice or deep snow. The chasseur crashes thru the ice or bogs down in the deep snow allowing the prey time to escape.

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    • asdfasdf says:

      had a wild rabbit that kept doing that with my pool. At least I assume thats how my neighbor’s cat kept ending up in there. I think it lived next to the thing for that express purpose(that and the fence likely kept most other things out and our shrubs were nice and dense) all @#$%ing winter would randomly hear a yowl and scoop this pissed off cat out of the hole(we had a cover and drained the pool obviously but water collected on top and the way the thing sagged we’d get half a foot). one day winter ended and the cover went with it, rabbit had to be scooped out with a pool skimmer on a stick, and I started shooting my neighbor’s stupid feral cat in the ass with a bb(gently, one pump, barely even stings) every time it came back around until they started keeping it inside for unrelated reasons. For the best really by all rights the thing should have frozen to death long ago, it had no business in the wild.

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  7. Erm says:

    If I have a single maternal bone in my body, it’s just a shard of someone’s mother who died messily and with great force.

    Aww, secretly Callahan is such a sweetheart.

    (Shit, she’s not here, is she?)

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    • Anthony says:

      She’s right behind you!

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      • William Carr says:

        I have a chainsaw and I’m not afraid to throw it at her and run away.

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        • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

          You fool, don’t give her another weapon! She could already kill you with her bare hands!

          Current score: 0

    • tjhairball says:

      If she has a sweet heart in her body, it’s because she hasn’t finished digesting it yet…

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  8. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    Damn it Mack, don’t ever ever ever give a setup line like that.

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  9. pedestrian says:

    This part of the conversation between Our Mack and Coach Callahan got me thinking.

    “Well, we all have our grandmothers,”

    I know there is a general hate/admiration thing of Granny Brimstone going on among many of Alexandra’s readers.

    But think about what Callahan’s doting ancestrals must have been like to wind up producing “The God Killer”!

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    • asdfasdf says:

      I thought it was some sort of old empire breeding experiment gone horribly right…one of those things that end with a blood stained note reading “we set out to create the ultimate warrior/weapon….we succeeded, gods help us all”

      she also said she hunted down and killed all her siblings

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  10. Morgan says:

    “You know, I can’t figure out what the fuck your type is, but I know it when you see it.”

    I <3 Callahan. XD

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    • Lunaroki says:

      I have to wonder though, is that last part a typo? “I know it when you see it” doesn’t make sense to me. How would _I_ know what _you_ see?

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      • Carrie says:

        I think Callahan is saying she can tell by how Mack reacts. When Mack sees her type, it’s obvious that Mack is interested in that person.

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  11. JS says:

    Oh, Mack. If you don’t think college professors can totally fuck over a student you’re so very naive. (What, Mack? Naive?)

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  12. Glenn says:

    Unlike Mack, we readers have been shown clear evidence that Callahan is a sociopathic monster. She’s murdered one God, and tried to kill others. She’s apparently trying to start a world war. She’s been accused of committing two acts of genocide. She talks about how sexually excited committing mass murder makes her. She paid a vast amount of money to develop a potentially dangerous new form of magic. And yet most readers apparently really like Callahan, presumably because she’s a good teacher for Mack. The fact that its been suggested that she would probably have murdered Mack herself if the Vice Chancellor hadn’t repeatedly turned down her written requests to be allowed to do so apparently doesn’t bother these people who like her. Why is this? Do you all assume that all of the above evidence is just a red herring, and that Callahan will eventually be revealed to be a heroine after all?
    Why do you really think that Callahan is upset that Mack is continuing to associate with Acantha? Is she really trying to defend Mack? If so, from what? Even if Acantha is an industrial spy, what motive would she have to hurt Mack? It’s not like Mack has access to any important magical secrets, now that Callahan is no longer pushing her to study the mock boxes.
    I think a more plausible motive for why Callahan is unhappy that Mack is continuing to associate with Acantha would be that Callahan really is a murderous sociopath, and that she’s planning to kill Acantha herself as soon as it becomes feasible to do so without messing up her other plans in the process. She doesn’t want Mach around Acantha because Mack might inadvertently get in the way of her killing Acantha. Perhaps Mack, who can be rather observant at times, might see some evidence that proves that Callahan killed her, assuming Callahan’s plan is to conceal her own involvement in Acantha’s death.

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  13. Readaholic says:

    Sociopaths are capable of limited empathy, and their reduced ability to feel empathy is a product largely of environment rather than inborn. Psychopaths are inherently incapable of any empathy.
    Callahan is a sociopath, and thus capable of limited empathy.
    She cares about Mack, mostly for selfish reasons, but there is also genuine concern in there. Not that it would stop her killing Mack.

    Current score: 0

    • Gydd says:

      Codex Alera by Jim Butcher has a race called the Canim I expect Callahan would get on well with.

      Apparently the Canim have blood-related family and enemies. The closest word for friend they have is ‘enemy I have chosen to not kill yet. I shall work to preserve their life until I grant them the honor of my killing them’

      Current score: 0

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