Chapter 200: Of Clay And Stone

on February 6, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Eases Her Way Out

Now that I had a deal in place with Acantha, I felt like it was time to start winding down my involvement with Professor Stone’s work. So far it had hardly been an arduous addition to my schedule, but having two paying jobs on top of everything else seemed excessive. It had always been temporary, just until Two and he got comfortable with each other.

There hadn’t been any major problems yet and the longer things went on the less likely it seemed like there would be. They were both learning the other’s communication styles, so it probably would have been difficult to string the thing out much longer anyway.

“Professor Stone? Do you have a minute?” I asked at the end of my next class with him.

“For you? I have several,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “Please choose carefully among them.”

“I’d like to, uh, talk to you about the work I’ve been helping you with.”

“Well, I’m glad you chose to approach me,” he said. “Because as things stand, I’ve been meaning to speak to you on that very subject, though I wasn’t quite sure how to raise the matter.”

“Yeah… I had a feeling this day was coming,” I said.

“Well… to be honest, I’m not sure which day you mean,” he said. “I don’t wish to give you the impression that I have come to any kind of a definitive conclusion regarding my ongoing collaboration with Ms. Two. I had hoped that you would be able to put my mind at ease on one or two points, or failing that, confirm my doubts and prevent me from compounding an existing error.”

“If you have doubts about Two, then I think you should talking to her,” I said. “If you need my help, I’ll be happy to give it as always, but I don’t think it’s right to have a discussion about her without her.”

“Oh? Ah, I believe see your concern,” Professor Stone. “And if you truly feel that way, I will respect it… but what I would like to ask you is no more or less than I might ask the friend of any friend, in a situation of some potential delicacy. I fear… I hope , in fact… that I am jumping at shadows. If this is the case, I would not wish to burden Ms. Two. If it isn’t, then I will naturally address my concerns to her.”

“I’m not sure she would feel burdened, if you were clear that you were only asking to see if there was a problem,” I said.

“Does she never take anything personally?”

“She does,” I said. “Unfairness, especially… anything that strikes her as unfair really gets under her skin. It’s not that she doesn’t have emotions, just that there’s a different sort of logic to it than with most people… but I might be able to be more specific if I knew what we were talking about.”

“The problem… well, I should say the potential problem… is that for all the value her assistance brings to me, I don’t know if she enjoys doing it or not,” he said.

“I can tell you for sure that she doesn’t mind doing it,” I said. “When she feels like she has to do something that she objects to, she has a way of being really passive-aggressive about it and even when she doesn’t feel like she do that, she has a way of going blank while she does it. She’s not doing either of those things, that I can tell.”

“Yes, but does it bring her pleasure?” Professor Stone asked. “Does she find fulfillment in the activities? There is a considerable gulf between ‘not minding’ and genuine enjoyment.”

“She genuinely likes having something to do,” I said. “She likes feeling productive and making things.”

“Having something to do is rather broad. Does she enjoy her work with me more than she would enjoy having something else to do instead?”

“Does it matter?” I asked.

I knew Professor Stone had been looking for something other than just practical abilities when he’d extended the offer to Two, but I thought it’d been pretty clear that this was a job to her, work for hire. Being an enchanter’s assistance had been her original purpose. I’d told him up front that I didn’t think she’d ever see it as her calling again.

“To me… well, it matters a little,” he said. “I would enjoy it more if I thought she shared in my pleasure. To her, I must imagine it matters a great deal. If I were in her position, I imagine there would be a considerable difference between a pleasant task that pays a worthwhile wage and one that is tedious but pays too well to be passed up.”

“Well… respectfully… I think that might be where you’re going astray,” I said. “Trying to imagine how Two feels or what she thinks about something by trying to put yourself in her shoes. I don’t think tedium is something she even cares about… the closest she comes to boredom is when there’s nothing to be done, and even then it’s more like she’s anxious than anything else.”

“Even as someone who doesn’t mind putting his nose to the grindstone when it’s called for, I have a hard time imagining that anyone could not care about tedium,” he said.

“Yeah… well, I really hope you don’t think I’m out of line here…”

“Oh, my dear, I crave whatever advice you can give me,” he said. “You are not out of line in giving it.”

“Okay, it’s just I feel like if I repeat this kind of thing too often, you’re going to feel insulted, but I think the fact that you can’t imagine her point of view is the biggest obstacle here,” I said.

“But if there’s an insurmountable gulf of experience between us, how can we resolve this? Should I simply give up?”

“You can’t resolve it, but that’s no reason to give up on working with her,” I said. “Do you need to know how a mind that doesn’t experience tedium as you know it would function to accept that it can and does?”

“Well… I suppose not,” he said. “I mean, the balance of evidence suggests that she functions very well.”

“Then I’m not sure why you’re worried,” I said. “The reason I wanted to talk to you is because I thought things were going so well that I was going to ask if you thought you would need me for much longer.”

“I could see where you would get that impression… on the surface, I have no complaints,” he said. “On one level, we have ‘clicked’, as you might put it, as well as I had hoped… and yet, the rapport is not quite what I had imagined. This fills me with misgivings, particularly on the subject of exploitation.”

“Oh,” I said, and suddenly I felt like I understood why he had been treating the subject as if it were something dire and dreadful. He’d been afraid he was inadvertently exploiting Two. “Well… as much as she might seem like she would be vulnerable to exploitation, she’s also what I would call sensitive to it. If she were feeling exploited, I think you would know about it… and I definitely would.”

“I suppose that does put my mind at ease a bit.”

“I still think the best policy would be to talk to her,” I said. “And to trust that she understands you and that she means what she says. That’s the thing about Two. She doesn’t always volunteer information about things like how she’s feeling, but if she says something without being directed to, she definitely means it.”

“It’s the ‘without direction’ part that troubled me, though,” he said. “If I asked her a question, wouldn’t she be inclined to tell me what I want to hear?”

“If she was, that would actually be at odds with her first and strongest impulse, which would be to truthfully answer the question as it was asked,” I said. “When she knows someone doesn’t want to hear her answer and she cares about them, the conflict is pretty easy to see.”

“That sounds worrying, and yet also reassuring, if you take my meaning,” Professor Stone said.

I nodded.

“Now, maybe I can put your mind at ease, as well,” Professor Stone said. “You, ah, seemed to expect this conversation to go in a different direction at the beginning?”

“Yeah, the reason I brought it up is because I’ve… accepted another offer,” I said. “It’s been interesting to watch you at work, but I have a chance to do something that’s closer to what I want to be doing.”

“I understand completely,” he said. “I’ve known that this was more a crossing of paths than a merging of them, and I knew you’ve been in talks with someone else. Moreover, how could I fault you for following the course that brings you pleasure after having shared these doubts with you?”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” I said. “Granted, I don’t think I’m going to want to spend the rest of my life doing this other thing… I have my own misgivings about it, but the money’s good and it could be valuable experience even if it doesn’t work out.”

“Some of the most valuable experience comes from things that don’t work out,” Professor Stone said. “Though… well… I don’t know if you can withstand another piece of advice from a tiny old man.”

“I crave whatever advice you can give me,” I said, trying to make it sound as sincere as it had when he’d said it so it wouldn’t sound like mockery.

“Just because a bad experience can be a learning experience, don’t fall prey to the trap of assuming that suffering must be worth it, that anything that tries your soul will pay off in the end,” he said. “They say that hard work is its own reward, but it is in fact rewarding work that is its own reward. Hard work that is rewarding may well be worth the hardship. I’ve certainly never been afraid of rolling up my sleeves, and I would counsel you to be the same. Just don’t be confused about your purpose in doing so.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I suppose it’s a little flattering that you’d think I need that warning… I mean, I try to put a good effort into the things I do for your class, but sometimes college life leaves me a little scattered.”

“Indeed,” Professor Stone said. “There are times when I think some of the smaller schools have the better idea, where students take one or two classes in an abbreviated semester. You won’t likely split a day between three or four different jobs when you graduate, after all.”

“Well, I hope I won’t,” I said. “I’ve been reading up on the job market and it seems like some people do.”

“That would be an example of hard work that isn’t rewarding in its own right,” he said. “But it’s not based on your class performance that I’ve given you this counsel. You must please forgive me if I’m ‘out of line’ now, Ms. Mackenzie, but it’s been my experience that those who have endured suffering sometimes assign value to it, as a means of coping. Doing so can help put your past struggles into perspective, but it needn’t resign you to future ones.”

“I… thank you,” I said. I didn’t know if he’d recognized something in me or if he’d just heard some version of my story or was just making a shot in the dark about a half-demon student. “Believe me, I don’t identify with suffering… maybe I’ve resigned myself to it on some occasions, but I’ve never been in danger of looking back on what I’ve been through with any kind of pride, much less letting that pride mislead me about my future.”

“Really?” he said. It wasn’t quite incredulous, but he did sound genuinely surprised.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Ms. Mackenzie, if I had a child who had gone through the trials you must have endured growing up, I would be extremely proud of her,” he said. “Although I might not have any right to be, if she’d been left to face those trials.”

“I… I don’t know what to say to that,” I said. I might have blushed, but I think he blushed harder.

“Don’t say anything about it at all, then,” he said. “I’ll see you in class next Tuesday, but… I don’t think I will need your continued presence in the workshop. As tempting as it would be to have you by my side when I have the necessary discussion with Ms. Two, I think that would ultimately hinder my attempts to take her as she is. I believe you are right that the best thing to do is speak with her, rather than speaking through you.”

“I’m glad I convinced you,” I said. “Well, I’ve probably taken up enough of your time now…”

“Think nothing of it,” he said. “Oh, and Ms. Mackenzie?”

“Yes?”

“If your other opportunity doesn’t work out but you’re still interested in finding meaningful work, I may be able to line something else up for you,” he said. “My contacts are rather far-flung and in some cases rather more dated than even myself, but it might be worth a try all the same.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I meant it… even if I didn’t take him up on his offer, it meant a lot that he’d made it. If nothing else, it would be something to keep in mind come graduation. Far-flung contacts would be inconvenient for a college job, but could be just what the healer ordered in the future.

As I left the room, I couldn’t help reflecting on how my conversation with him had gone versus the one with Acantha. Acantha was modern and youthful, at least in her outlook… Professor Stone was old-fashioned, if not completely hidebound. One worked in applied enchantment, the other was basically a cobbler and tinker. If I’d had to guess which one I would have related to better, it would have been Acantha.

But Stone had worked to put me at my ease when he thought I was uncomfortable, and when his remarks had been personal, they had been touching and he’d been at least as embarrassed about the sentiment as I had been. Acantha had put me off-balance from the start, and pretty much kept me there. It was quite a contrast.

Could she have been deliberately trying to upset my equilibrium? It made a kind of sense, as a bargaining tactic… but, she’d given in with only a few tacit objections. Why would she hold out for every advantage, if she didn’t mean to fight to the end? Maybe she had been prepared to, before she found out that what I wanted was pretty reasonable.

But then… she hadn’t been expecting me to bargain anyway.

She’d thought I’d was there fishing for information about the project, and once I’d made it clear that I wasn’t, she’d stopped with her hints about how I’d spent the previous night.

Covering up the fact that her plans were more definite than she’d been letting on fit perfectly with the rest of her behavior. I didn’t understand why, though.

Even if she was just keeping us in the dark until our confidentiality had been assured, there would still have to come a moment when she told us what we were doing. Wouldn’t it be better to tell us up front instead of pretending otherwise?


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31 Responses to “Chapter 200: Of Clay And Stone”

  1. Brenda A. says:

    There has been so much tension regarding Acantha, both actual encounters and worrying about/analyzing them… it was a real relief to read this. It makes the previous stuff even more obvious by comparison – as noted by Mackenzie herself, at the end.

    Current score: 4
  2. Cadnawes says:

    Acantha: “Here’s how to use people…”

    Stone: “Oh no, what if I’m using someone!?”

    Current score: 43
  3. Melki says:

    Yay! Great chapter!

    Typo: “she has a way of being really passive-aggressive about it and even when she doesn’t feel like she do that” –> does?

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      “If you have doubts about Two, then I think you should talking to her,” I said.

      “talking” should either be “talk” or “be talking”.

      Current score: 0
  4. Da9iel says:

    Typo: “Oh? Ah, I believe see your concern,” Professor Stone.
    Should perhaps be something like, “Oh? Ah, I believe I see your concern,” said Professor Stone.

    Current score: 0
  5. SurahAhriman says:

    I’m very seriously beginning to suspect that Acantha’s planned project is of dubious legality. She wants undergrads and young grads too inexperienced to be familiar with the intricacies of the law, probably IP law. Perhaps Professor Stone knows enough to be able to give Mack some kind of tip-off, or Wilson-House style idea.

    Current score: 2
  6. pedestrian says:

    I find myself becoming uncomfortable with the notion that we should assume some sort of devious plot or sinister actions by Acantha without a lot more evidence.

    Note the event of her occupying the mockbox being considered dastardly when what information we actually have just indicates the amatory curiosity of a horny elf.

    “Honi soit qui mal y pense”

    We should always consider that our judgmental behavior could trigger in reaction,the very activity we disapprove of.

    Current score: 3
    • gryffo says:

      At first I thought it was a typo, but it seems in English the saying really is “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, whereas in modern French the verb “honnir” has two n…

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      You have to consider more than just what Acantha said and how she acted when she came out of the box. The log evidence Mack examined indicates that she was actively using the box long after she left it. If she were just making out with herself in there that would not have left the kind of log evidence Mack looked at. The log would have either ended when she deactivated the box, or if she simply failed to remember to turn it off there still would have been no legitimate reason for her leaving an active clone behind poking around at the box.

      Current score: 4
  7. Zukira Phaera says:

    Oh how I wish she were continuing to work with Stone rather than Acantha.

    Excellent chapter.

    Current score: 3
    • Mo says:

      Thank God she’s working with Acantha and not Stone. Let’s get some action up in here.

      Current score: 5
      • HiEv says:

        If you want action, don’t forget that there are plans regarding going on an adventure together with her friends coming up.

        Current score: 2
      • Readaholic says:

        Both of the above 🙂

        Current score: 0
      • Readaholic says:

        I hearted both of the above comments 🙂

        Current score: 0
  8. Order of Chaos says:

    Typo “even when she doesn’t feel like she do that” do = does?
    I also think we need more facts before we can say what Acantha may be up to. Having said that Mack has a lawer and should use him.

    Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      I agree. I suspect she MAY actually be doing something benevolent but she can’t do it openly because Embries and Callahan would smoosh her.

      But the may in that sentence should have more emphasis than I can type. We just don’t know enough to make an informed decision because Acantha has made sure that Mackenzie doesn’t know enough for that. Which is why the smart money is on avoidance which is probably why she’s not doing that. *sigh*.

      And her motivations don’t have to be evil for me to just not be able to stand the woman.

      Current score: 0
    • sdfasdfasdf says:

      i think its “even when she doesn’t feel like doing that”

      like if shes upset with a task she feels she has to do she acts passive aggressive about it, but if shes not quite that upset or if she doesn’t want to be passive aggressive she still goes blank

      Current score: 0
  9. That one guy says:

    Here’s the deal. Acantha has an end goal in mind, sort of. She doesn’t really know how to get to that goal, though, or necessarily the best way to monetize it or to really do the most she can with the results of that goal being achieved, so she’d put together a think tank of creative out-of-the-box people to figure all that out for her. She needs to keep them compartmentalized somewhat so as to keep them all in the dark overall about what they’re working towards, while keeping them together enough to bounce ideas off each other. Many people have ideas. How many people have an idea for a book? How many people had an idea for a social networking site before Facebook/MySpace? Now, how many people actually go out and do all the work of writing a book or coding a site, and I’ll just jump right out and say very few.

    She wants them to come up with a better idea, to put together a bunch of the work into bringing that idea to fruition, but not to actually close the gap. Then most of the students will walk away thinking that they have some experience in working together, and that they’ve learned some nice lessons, and are more prepared for the eventual workplace, while she runs off and sells the idea for gobs and gobs of money.

    Who wants to bet that this isn’t the first university/school/whatever that Acantha has “taught” at and that this isn’t the first time that she’s done exactly what she’s doing now?

    Current score: 2
    • XSanguine8 says:

      This makes the most sense, so far, as far as Acantha’s possible plans go. She has already gotten some ideas to work with from Mack…

      Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      I can’t see Acantha having a history of teaching. As I’ve said before the MUverce seems to lack master manipulators and given how Acantha had to learn how two teach and the risk of getting court in a lie if she has taught before I think this is a first. The other stuff you said could be what’s happening.

      Current score: 1
    • Nigel says:

      The comment

      ‘she’d put together a think tank of creative out-of-the-box people’

      gives me pause – could it be out-of-the-MOCK-box people, with the mockbox functionality duplicated elsewhere to give Acantha greater, and untraceable, access to the participants? ‘Please leave through this vestibule, closing the inner door behind you’, then a half-hour of access to the mock who could be interrogated quite intensively – or, if the mock spells were tweaked, more time than that.

      Current score: 0
  10. Markas says:

    I must admi; I would have gone with Stone 10/10 times. I really like Stone, but then I think we’re supposed to =P

    Current score: 2
    • Anvildude says:

      It might not be simply the writing. It’s also the sort of person you are. I’d have gone with Stone as well- but in my case, its because he’s got practical experience blending Enchantment (which I see as Engineering) with Design and Craft. I’m also the sort of person who considers enjoyment of my work paramount above ‘success’. If I can live comfortably, and actually [i]want[/i] to go do my job every day? I’d think that was a win over doing something I’m not fully behind but making a boatload of money.

      But there’s also people out there who would back Acantha fully- not because they trust her, but because they see that hers is the experience and advice that will allow a Goal Oriented person to get through any barrier to success. It’s not so much about the use they’re putting their experience to, or even about their attitudes- Stone could very well be a smuggler shipping some sort of magical drugs out through hidden compartments in his toys and knicknacks, and Acantha could be working with LAW to develop a new enchantment for the protected paths that recognizes intent as well as how ‘monster-y’ when it’s working to protect people. But one’s open and enthusiastic about their work, and one’s closed and evasive.

      Current score: 2
    • Dani says:

      > I would have gone with Stone

      That option wasn’t on offer.

      Current score: 0
  11. Burnsidhe says:

    Acantha may indeed be secretive and cautious and even somewhat deceptive about the idea she has…

    But you have to remember this. She’s in *INDUSTRIAL* Enchantment. And there are few intellectual property laws that I can figure out. So there’s a very legitimate, business-based reason that she’s being secretive; it’s called ‘not getting your idea stolen out from under you.’

    She probably doesn’t actually care about duplicating the mockbox itself. She probably cares about finding ways to apply a similar set of enchantments more efficiently, more focused, and more ‘product oriented’. Because the idea behind the mockbox isn’t what’s protected. The application of the idea is.

    Current score: 3
  12. Zathras IX says:

    It’s not right to have
    A discussion about ŦΨØ
    Without Ŧ Ψ Ø

    Current score: 2
  13. Thinker of Thoughts says:

    Right there at the end Mack made a potentially false assumption about Acantha having to reveal her plans. Given the way Acantha has been behaving I would almost put money on her telling the group what their goal is. But I would further guess that that would at best be a subcomponent of her actual designs, goals, or plans. To me it seems that she would be the type to set up several small groups like this one (or perhaps smaller) and and give each of them a seperate goal. One that may will probably generate a small ammount of profit but not much, and it would only be when the data, major portions of the spellwork, or the products developed are combined correctly do they generate massive ammounts of income. This possibility seems especially likely to me because even if the groups opperated on the same campus they could not generate a complete picture of Acantha’s end goal due to the non-disclosure agreements. So even if a group became aware of another they can’t act on it for fear of losing their potential share of profits, and possibly ruining their career before it begins via breech of contract and violation of N-DA. A black mark like that could last a long time in some circles. The fact that Acantha moves around (as implied by the length of her teaching at MU) might also lend itself to such a scheme by further decreasing the odds of one group discovering another. It occurs to me that Acantha herself might very well have such a black mark on her record, especially considering the advice she has given Mack. That would fit with her worldview and might explain why she would feel the need to use seperate groups to accomplish her goals.
    On another note, It would definitely be a learning experience if at something like 95% completion acantha runs off, does the rest on her own and sells it to a bigger company because nobody in the group had the forethought to get her to sign a contract. Not that it would necesarily stop her from doing it anyway but still…

    Current score: 0
  14. pedestrian says:

    Do me and YOU
    have the right
    to discuss
    about ŦΨØ?

    Order of Chaos, Burnsidhe,Thinker of Thoughts; I think all three of you have made very reasonable assumptions of Acantha’s known activities.

    Current score: 1
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Thanks, we should find out soon whats going on. Failing that get a new/old plot thread to play with.
      I still want Mack to go back to using her hunter senses.

      Current score: 0
  15. Aran says:

    “Ms. Mackenzie, if I had a child who had gone through the trials you must have endured growing up, I would be extremely proud of her,” he said. “Although I might not have any right to be, if she’d been left to face those trials.”

    … d’awwwww :3

    Current score: 0
  16. Lara says:

    Gosh, I really do adore Professor Stone! He was awfully sweet in this chapter.

    Current score: 0