In Which Mackenzie Reflects On The Job Market
Sitting at the breakfast table the morning after I made my resolution, I was gazing the ethernet with my compact mirror when I had a sudden and intense awareness that I’d just missed something.
“What?” I said, looking up to find everyone… but especially Amaranth… looking at me. “Did you say something?”
“I said, I know you’re a serious cutie, baby, but you should put your mirror away at the table,” she said.
“I wasn’t looking at myself,” I said, blushing… moments before I realized that she certainly knew that.
“No, and you weren’t paying attention to anyone else, either,” she said. “Well, obviously… which is why you should put it away.”
“Steff’s been carving soapstone soldiers the whole time,” I pointed out.
“Hey, I’ve got to pay the bills somehow,” Steff said. “I’m working my way up to expensive tastes.”
The combination of her deft fingers and morbid imagination had made her crafts widely sought after among players of the kobold miniature war game that had swept the school. Her specialty was a line of exquisitely detailed zombies and skeletons, of course… not only were they in line with her predilections, but she felt that focusing on subjects in an advance state of decay helped cover up the imperfections that she sincerely believed were there.
“Also, Steff doesn’t belong to me,” Amaranth said. “You? Do. Meal times are social time, not goof around with your mirror time. You didn’t get that so you could lose yourself in endless tapestry arguments.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’m actually trying to pay my bills, too… sort of.”
“I keep hearing about how you can pay bills on those things,” Hazel said. “I don’t see the appeal, myself… show me a way to get out of paying bills with the etherwhatsit and I’ll be impressed. Apparently tallfolk will get excited about anything if you can do it through a piece of magic glass.”
“I mean, I’m trying to earn a little money,” I said. “Acantha’s trying to put together some sort of little practice business venture with a bunch of enchantment students, but she’s talking like she expects it to turn into a going concern, and I don’t think she’d do that lightly.”
“Is she offering to share?” Amaranth asked.
“And do you believe her if she is?” Steff asked.
“Yes, and maybe,” I said. “Though not on the front end, and my thought is that if she intends to pay us a reasonable amount, that means there’s probably going to be an unreasonable amount for her. Though, I don’t know… she might offer us a good deal this time in order to get us on the hook for whatever the next deal is. I could see that happening, especially if it ends up being more of a nominal profit… we share and share alike, everybody makes a little money, and we all learn that we can trust her.”
“I think if this project is something that requires you to work through breakfast, you might want to think about whether it’s worth your time,” Amaranth said.
“Well… that’s kind of it exactly,” I said. “I haven’t said yes yet, and I don’t even know exactly what the project is.”
“Wait, so she invited you to a group without telling you what it was for, and the group was for a project that she won’t tell you about?” Steff asked.
“That sounds pretty iffy to me,” Amaranth said. “I may not have a lot of experience with being strung along, but I think that may be what’s happening.”
“Well, I talked to Professor Stone about it, and he said it’s fairly common when people are recruiting for something, to play it kind of close to the vest,” I said. “We’ll probably have to sign some sort of non-disclosure thing before she tells us what we’re really doing… but, anyway… before I give her any more of my time, I want to make sure I’m going to be paid for it no matter what. If the idea doesn’t pan out, if she’s planning on screwing us over, whatever… I’m not doing anything if I’m not getting paid.”
“You think she’d still pay you if she’s planning a double cross?” Hazel asked.
“I think it’s easier to weasel out of a share of the profits than it is to get out of a contract that pays wages for hours worked,” I said. “And she’s less likely to care about parting with a reasonable weekly wage than what might be a lucrative payout. Also, if I get paid weekly, then she can’t stiff me for more than a week’s work.”
“That all makes a lot of sense,” Amaranth said. “But… I’m not sure why she’d go for it, and I’m not sure why you should, either.”
“Well, I have no clue if she’ll go for it or not,” I said. “But it’s going to be my firm line. My time’s worth something. If she wants it… whatever her ultimate plan is, whether there’s any money in it or not… my time is still worth something. The only problem is figuring out how much it’s worth. That’s what I was looking at.”
“Did you learn anything?” Amaranth asked.
“The hourly rates for enchanters on a line are pretty dismal, actually,” I said. “Some of them only pay a little bit above minimum wage… and those are the only jobs that are really open to someone with a BA in AE. All the more exciting opportunities with innovative firms are unpaid internships.”
“So, your choice is burger wages or nothing,” Steff said.
“That seems to be the precedent,” I said. “But… I don’t think the situations are really analogous. Every graduating enchanter is competing for those jobs… I was picked. Acantha wants me. She could probably pick someone else if I turn her down or she doesn’t want to meet my price, but still… it’s supply and demand, right? So, instead of looking just at line jobs, I took a look at the lowest level salaried positions. None of them are exactly ‘entry-level’ for someone with a single degree, much less someone who’s only a quarter of the way to earning one, but I think it’s still a closer situation than line workers.”
“If you’re going to ask for that kind of salary, I think you might as well just tell her that you’re not interested,” Amaranth said.
“Well, yeah, I know she’d never pay me that,” I said. “But I just thought it might give me some context and a place to start… if I assume that they work sixty hour weeks and divide it out. I don’t think my time’s worth that much, but I don’t have any other basis for comparison.”
“Why not let her decide that?” Hazel asked. “Show her the figures you found and let her work her way downwards until you find a place where you’re both happy.”
“What if she just laughs in my face?” I said.
“Tell her to make you an offer then,” Hazel said. “A little laughter never hurt anyone… it’s good for the soul. Anyway, I’d be more worried if she doesn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re worried that she might not be playing you straight,” Hazel said. “If you come to her with an absurd offer and she doesn’t blink, then chances are she isn’t… either because she knows she’ll never have to pay you, or because she plans on making out so well for herself that it’ll be a drop in the bucket.”
“…or her plans depend on you personally to a huge degree,” Steff said.
“Yeah, we know there are people out there who would pay even more ridiculous amounts to get a piece of you,” Ian said.
I almost asked him who he meant, before it came to me: Mercy… the assassin turned slaver/cannibal procurer who wanted to breed an army of half-demons. Then there was the man I’d so effectively shut out of my dreams, my father. I couldn’t imagine a channel connecting either of them to Acantha, but that didn’t mean there couldn’t be one.
And even if there wasn’t a tie between either of them and her, they proved that there was a market for me.
“I’d be very… very… careful about anything that you sign,” Amaranth said.
“Or just forget about it,” Ian said.
“The thing is… those people are always going to be out there,” I said. “And like Steff said, I’ve got to pay my bills. I’m going to need to make a living out there in the world. Doing this thing and getting paid for it isn’t just about the money that I can make now doing this one thing, it’s the experience. I’ve got to learn to negotiate. I’ve got to learn to set a price for my talents. You know, the figures I found being thrown around out there aren’t that different from a year and a half ago, when I was researching things before I came to college… but there’s a lot more skepticism about them. There’s a lot of pushback against them from people who are new in the industry, calling them pie in the sky and saying they don’t reflect reality any more. If I don’t want to end up tightening the spells on cheap TVs for a hundred silver a month, I need to figure out what I’m going to be doing instead now.”
“I hear that,” Steff said. “I’ve already figured out it’s going to be basically impossible for me to make a living as a necromancer… all the legitimate jobs require someone waymore respectable than I could be if I tried, and I don’t like trying.”
“I thought you were going to be queen of the ogres,” Ian said.
“…I like to keep my options open,” Steff said. “And anyway, there isn’t a lot of money in that, per se, you know? The stone carving thing is a nice sideline for now, but the demand for that’s pretty closely tied to the campus… and that’s assuming the fad doesn’t die off anyway.”
“What fad?” Hazel said. “I’ll have you know, there are Soldier Stone leagues at three schools now.”
“That’s counting this one, though,” Steff said. “And how big are the other ones?”
“Well, not big,” Hazel said. “Just them as wants to play it, and whoever they’ve roped into it, so far. But that’s how it starts.”
“And how it dies, probably,” Steff said.
“Not to interrupt your interruption,” Ian said. “I have to say, I’m really kind of mixed about the whole thing… I’m a fan of the idea of you standing up for yourself and demanding what you’re worth, but I feel like anything having to do with Acantha is probably going to be more trouble than it’s worth.”
“You say that about anything having to do with elves,” Amaranth said.
“With good reason,” Steff said.
“This is a little different,” Ian said. “I know she’s not a middling, but I also know that she’s lied to you before, for possible criminal purposes. Anyway, though… I think it’s kind of moot. I’m pretty sure that no matter what you ask for, she’ll tell you to take a hike… if she wanted to pay you, she’d have offered you money up front.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said. “I really think she’ll probably respect me more for asking. If she doesn’t, then I’ll be glad to walk away, because it’ll pretty much mean she’s all talk about that kind of stuff. I want to learn and I’m sure she’s got a lot to teach, but I don’t need advice from someone who doesn’t believe in what she’s saying.”
“Again, you already know that she lies,” Ian said.
“Yeah, but… just because someone will lie to get something doesn’t mean that everything they say is going to be untrue,” I said. “I mean, in the classroom she doesn’t make up bad safety procedures to try to trick us into blowing ourselves up. You know? And some of the future career advice type stuff she’s told me… well, it’s not exactly what I’d call the most morally straightforward stuff, but I think she’s sincere about it. I mean, a lot of it boils down to ‘look out for number one, but remember that you still need everyone else.'”
“That’s… maybe not the best lesson?” Amaranth said. “I suppose it depends on how you emphasize it… I mean, you should take care of yourself, and you should never feel bad for looking after your own needs. And you should also keep other people in mind… I guess there are worse things she could be teaching you, though.”
“Well, I don’t intend to turn myself into a doppelganger of her,” I said. “I’m just… taking her point of view under advisement. If she errs a little on the side of looking out for herself… well, maybe I need that influence in my life right now?”
“So, what are you going to ask her for?” Ian asked.
“I’m somewhere between two silver an hour, and two and a half,” I said. “Though I might take a slightly modified version of Hazel’s advice and start at three. It’s hard to figure out where to come down, though… I mean, that’s way closer to line wages than it is to what an actual enchanter would earn in a salaried position, but at the same time, it feels extravagant. I think the fact that I won’t actually be doing too many hours of work in a week might help it feel more reasonable to her, if she actually weighs the cost.”
“I still think she’ll tell you to fuck off,” Ian said. “I kind of hope she does.”
“I honestly don’t know what I hope,” I said. “But I’m going to draw my line and stick to it. I won’t work minimum wage… I could get that anywhere, and she knows it.”
“I do appreciate that you’re taking charge of your life,” Amaranth said. “I just don’t want to see you get used, or be hurt.”
“Me, neither,” Steff said. “Except… you know… in context-specific fashions.”