In Which Mackenzie Waxes Lyrical

“So, you want to hang around here for a while?” I asked Andreas after the meeting had broken up.

Most of the group had left, including Acantha, and it had occurred to me that the same feature that made the lounge attractive to her… that is, the fact that it was sound-proofed… could work in our favor.

I mean, it was unlikely that Acantha herself would bother to listen in on dorm room conversations, but the thing about talking about talking in the residence halls was that someone would always be in earshot, if not intentionally.

“Alright,” Andreas said. “Suits me. I’ve nowhere to be.”

“Tonight’s performance didn’t do much to make anything clearer, did it?” I asked once we were alone.

“I guess it was optimistic to think we’d be able to settle it clearly based on one night,” I said. “Maybe even just stupid… I still have the feeling that she’s steering, but less and less idea how.”

“Well, she took control quickly enough once things came together, didn’t she?” Andreas said.

“Yeah,” I said. “But I mean… well, I know we were both thinking the same thing when she came in with those binders, but she didn’t exactly start pulling out spell formularies or design schematics.”

“No, but she was pretty sure we’d end the evening ready to begin working in earnest.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “But what does that mean, really? Okay, I know I was pretty sure I was going to walk away if I couldn’t come up with a solid reason to trust her, but this still feels too tenuous to make a decision about. Though, the fact that I’m framing walking away as ‘making a decision’ and staying as not… it is kind of arbitrary. I’m trying not to make my decisions by default anymore. I’m just not sure what’s the actual of path least resistance here, so I’ve got no idea how to avoid falling down it.”

“Tenuous or not, I’m done, Mackenzie,” he said. “After tonight, I’m well shut of the whole thing, as Hazel would say.”

“…does that mean that you’re well and truly done with it, or that it’s good that you’re done with it?” I asked. “I’ve never been really clear on that.”

“To tell you the truth, neither have I,” he said. “But it fits both ways. I’m completely done with it, and I’ll count myself better for it. So whichever it means, I’m that and more.”

“You’ve decided not to trust her?”

“It’s not about trust anymore,” he said. “It’s about taking on a job, or passing on it.”

“We already took the job, though.”

“We signed on for a project,” he said. “The job she wants from me… it’s not a job I can do.”

“Don’t you think that might be a little premature?” I asked. “Other than asking Memphis to bring in his blanks, she hasn’t exactly handed out any work assignments.”

“No? I think it’s plenty plain what she wants from me,” he said. “It’s plain that she sees me as her bulwark against the league, and more specifically, Shiel. She’s sorely overestimating my pull there, anyway. I’m a dwarf, she’s a kobold. Our alliance is built on soapstone. It will only take a little pressure for it to crumble.”

“You’re… surprisingly poetic,” I said. “For a dwarf.”

“You think dwarves don’t have poetry?”

“I think you’d never let anyone read it,” I said.

“Poetry isn’t read, it’s performed,” he said.

“Well, anyway, I think you’re selling yourself short,” I said. “There are probably lots of people Acantha could have reached out to, in order to have access to Shiel. Like, Hazel… Hazel’s a lot closer to Shiel, she’s a league officer, she’s not a dwarf, and let’s be honest, she likes feeling important.”

“Who doesn’t?” Andreas said protectively.

“I didn’t mean that as a bad thing, I just… you and me, we don’t like to be center stage,” I said. “Singling one of us out to use as a negotiator or diplomat isn’t smart.”

“Hazel is many things, but she’s not a diplomat.”

“I didn’t mean she’s better at tactfully negotiating, I mean she’s better at being singled out,” I said. “Where you feel uncomfortable, she’d feel flattered. I mean, you know her better, but don’t you think so?”

“Probably,” he said. “But she’d have a hard time pretending this wasn’t her plan, since Hazel’s not any kind of an enchanter or designer. Her only contribution would be her league connections.”

“She was just an example,” I said. “There have to be other people with a design or enchantment or marketing background in the league. Anyway, the fact that she picked someone who does have the right background suggests that your other talents are important to the group.”

“What talents?” he asked. “I mean, I know I have them, but would she? I like to keep things under my beard, Mackenzie. I don’t like to make rumbles. I never have. ‘Dilligent’, is what all my apprenticeship reports said, and it’s what my teachers say about me now. Not… creative. Not clever. Not someone who puts himself forward or shows off. Dilligent. I mind my instructors, I put my time in, and I do my work.”

“You don’t think Acantha values skills like that?”

“I think she knows the value of people who will do the work for her,” Andreas said. “In silvers and coppers, I’m sure she knows it.”

“Would it hurt you to stick around a little longer to see what else she has in mind for you?” I asked. “I mean, for all you know, once the work begins she might just treat you the same as any other team member, or even call on talents you don’t realize she’s recognized in you. The idea that you could play ambassador to the league could just be a bonus.”

Andreas gave me a cold look.

“Mackenzie, are you still trying to convince me to stay on her behalf?”

“Maybe I just don’t want to hear you selling yourself short,” I said. “And also, if I’m not ready to pack it in, I don’t want to be going it alone.”

“I’m glad you admitted that,” he said. “But you don’t have to worry about my self-esteem. I know the value of my skills. I’d like to know if this was the real reaosn she invited me, but my ego is not so frail nor so dependent on the opinion of an elven corporate hustler that I’ll wither and die if I never find out.”

“Okay, but here’s another couple of points to consider,” I said. “If she was taking your skills into account, then your absence could be the difference between the project succeeding and the project failing.”

“She’s not going to have a plan so intricate that it depends on the participation of each and every person she invited,” he said. “This isn’t Gaeron’s Fourteen, Mackenzie. I doubt she’s counting on everyone in the group to last the week. Getting college students to show up for free coffee and food is one thing, but when she starts holding meetins consecutive nights in a row and expecting work to be done? Watch, I won’t be the only one not to show up… or if I am, the others will start to drift soon after.”

“You could watch with me,” I said.

“You’re not even trying anymore,” he said.

“I am,” I said. “I’ve just completely run out of good arguments before I’m ready to give up.”

He laughed.

“Well, at least you know Acantha won’t be sending you to do any negotiating,” he said. “That’s what I call showing your hand!”

“I have a really introspective boyfriend and this is how we argue,” I said. “Okay, here’s one more argument, though: you’re not being fair to Acantha.”

“And that’s suddenly your big concern? Because it’s not mine.”

“I’m serious,” I said. “Why don’t you tell her you’re one hundred percent not up for being her link to the league and that it’s not up for negotiation? If you’re right and that’s what she wants you for, that’ll be the that. If you’re wrong and she just sees that as an interesting possibility, she’ll take it in stride and move on.”

“So, you want me to get fired instead of walk out?”

“You’d be leaving in strength, having made your point and not backed down from it, instead of… slinking way, because you’re afraid she might not want you for you.”

“If you weren’t a woman or were a dwarf, I’d hit you for that,” he said.

“If I were a dwarf, you’d hit me anyway,” I said.

“I’d also hit you for that,” he said.

“This really is turning into the kind of argument I have with my boyfriend,” I said. “My point is that you’ll be in a position of strength, whether you stay or not… and of course, if you do stay and this thing turns out as well as Acantha seems to think it will, then you’ll have all that money. I don’t know what your finances look like, but… more money is more money, right?”

“Ah, you have studied dwarven poetry,” he said. “You’re making a strong case, in a kind of fumbling and slightly insulting way.”

“Well, when it gets right down to it, what I admitted before is still the strongest thing at play here: I like having an ally,” I said. “I like the idea that I’m not in this alone. Even if everything is completely on the up-and-up, there’s no hidden agenda and no trap to be sprung… I don’t want to be alone in a group surrounded by people I don’t know. I don’t do well in those situations. I don’t feel confident. I have a hard time speaking up or fitting in. If there’s even one person that I have an easy time interacting with… well, I can interact with them. And through them, the group. I don’t mean like you’d be my mouthpiece, but… it just becomes easier.”

“I know what you mean,” he said. “But you say that word ‘ally’, and that implies a mutual relationship.”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“So, if I walk… you walk with me,” he said.

I had to think about that… but then I realized I really didn’t.

“Of course,” I said. “I mean, if nothing else, then proof that she only wants you to be her connection to the league is proof that the whole thing was planned out and that she’s not playing straight with us.”

“Also, solidarity with your ally,” he said.

“Also that,” I said.

“But here’s the thing, Mackenzie,” he said. “You want me to do this because then I’ll know for sure. Well, if we put it to her as a package deal, then we won’t know, will we? I might be that she wouldn’t blink at losing me if she knows I won’t work her will with Shiel, but she’d keep me on if the alternative was losing you.”

“I doubt I’m that important to her plans,” I said. “Like you said, she can’t have a specific use in mind for each of us. That would make the whole plan way too fragile.”

“Doesn’t have to be a specific use,” he said. “Might be she doesn’t want to lose the one she knew from before. Might be she doesn’t want to lose two sets of hands at a stroke. The point is that if she knows the choice is for both of us or neither of us, then I can’t know anything for certain.”

“Does that matter, though?” I asked. “I mean, you said your ego didn’t depend on her opinion of you… even if it’s because the two of us are standing together, you’ll still get to stay with the project on your own terms.”

“It’s not so fragile that I couldn’t walk away not knowing,” he said. “But there’s such a thing as dignity. If I’m going to stay and work for her, I’m going to know whether she knows my worth. And if I’m going to stand with you as an ally, I want to know that you know mine. I’m not looking for collective bargaining power here. I just want to know that she sees me as a member of the team and not a game piece.”

“Well… I did want to be done with the guessing games,” I said. “It might be nice to have a clear answer… and I suppose the reasons that I don’t want you to go also work as arguments for not sticking around if you leave.”

“The solidarity is just rolling off you like a landslide,” Andreas said. “I’d better back off before I’m buried in it.”

“I’m agreeing with you,” I said. “What do you want me to say?”

“That you stand with me and have my back,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “I stand with you and have your back. We’re in this together, Andreas. Do you need me to do anything to make it more official than that?”

“No,” he said. “Only as long as you mean it when you say it, and you don’t back down when the time comes.”


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19 Responses to “Chapter 206: Alliance”

  1. Aran says:

    This isn’t Gaeron’s Fourteen

    Fortunately, because the way anti-theft safeguards seem to work in this universe, a caper like that would probably end in unceremonious… ah… “internal processing and expulsion”.

    more money is more money, right?”

    “Ah, you have studied dwarven poetry,”

    Heh. If anyone but a dwarf made that joke, it’d sound kinda racist. 😛

    Current score: 2
    • Lurker At The Gate says:

      Dwarven poetry at MU sounds like a lovely little nod to sir Pratchett.

      Current score: 3
    • Akalas says:

      …i laughed because I’ve read enough Pratchett to remember Discworld-style dwarven poetry. Gold, gold, gold, gold….

      Current score: 3
  2. Order of Chaos says:

    I like this outcome. It means we won’t need to see this dance 5 more times but can still see this thru one way or another.

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Might those who practice
    “Due diligence” become
    Due Dillingers?

    Current score: 3
  4. The Chosen One says:

    Somewhere in here there’s a joke about dwarves being sold short, but I can’t quite reach it.

    Current score: 4
  5. Anthony says:

    “Sell yourself short.” Mackenzie said this twice. I’m a bit surprised that a dwarf doesn’t consider this a racially insensitive remark, at the very least… 😛

    Current score: 5
    • LukeLicens says:

      He knows his worth, and knows it has nothing to do with height. He also knows how fumble tongued his conversational partner can be. In my experience, only very insecure people go around twisting turns of phrase into insults in order to gain some sort of moral high ground.

      That said, I was kinda hoping he’d rib her on it, like he did the “money is money/dwarven poetry” thing.

      Current score: 2
  6. pedestrian says:

    I am troubled that I am thinking that I am suppose to be drawing conclusions from these last half-dozen or so chapters but to this point I can only suspect that a major plot twist or conclusion is looming. Hidden like a U-boat in the murky waters of this plotline.

    And until I have an opportunity to read these past and present and future chapters as a whole section of Mackenzie’s Story will I be able to comprehend the author’s intentions as Alexandra develops her plot.

    Current score: 1
  7. delurk12345 says:

    I can’t help thinking that for Acantha, this is basically going to end up a funny anecdote about that time she tried to lead a student project and the students all convinced themselves it was a sinister conspiracy.

    Not to complain, but I am a bit tired of conversations about Acantha based on limited data that don’t really go anywhere – I guess this does kind of reach a conclusion, but honestly I think whole chapters of Mack being nebulously suspicious about Acantha is the sort of thing that could bear less repetition.

    Current score: 0
  8. Readaholic says:

    “hidden like a U-boat in the murky waters of this plotline”

    a very good description.
    The author does love to leave Chekhov’s guns lying around, only to have them misfire, or fire blanks.

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      Well, I figure that’s so that when one finally fires properly it will come as a complete and utter shock. 😉

      Current score: 2
  9. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    but the thing about talking about talking in the residence halls

    The words “about talking” got repeated.

    “Tonight’s performance didn’t do much to make anything clearer, did it?” I asked once we were alone.

    “I guess it was optimistic to think we’d be able to settle it clearly based on one night,” I said. “Maybe even just stupid… I still have the feeling that she’s steering, but less and less idea how.”

    It feels like either these two paragraphs should just be one paragraph or else Andreas should have said something in between them.

    I’d like to know if this was the real reaosn she invited me,

    Misspelled “reason”.

    but when she starts holding meetins consecutive nights in a row

    Andreas doesn’t strike me as the type to drop the “g” in “meetings”.

    Current score: 0
  10. Cadnawes says:

    OK, here’s the picture I have. Speculation ahoy.

    This connects to Callahan’s mockboxes. That much is clear. Acantha probably knows enough about them to just go make one and sell the plans to someone else illegally, if she wanted to, so she must not.

    But remember the illusory beer idea? She may know legal workarounds for SIMILAR items being “independently” invented. This isn’t a combat mockbox! It’s a toy! No, really! But with a few tweaks a larger one could be built from the toy’s plans…

    And, here’s where my distrustful nature really shines… if it goes badly, as it almost certainly will, Acantha is not the one left holding the bag. She could invent a “toy” herself, so I think she might need some fall guys.

    Am I being unfair to Acantha? I really don’t think so. Given her behavior thus far I would never, ever work with her. She’s all but said herself that it’s a bad idea.

    Current score: 3
    • Cadnawes says:

      I should add that this project going badly may even be the POINT. NOW I admit I’m paranoid.

      Current score: 2
  11. scifi_chic says:

    “I’m just not sure what’s the actual of path least resistance here” – actual path of?

    Current score: 0
    • Silverai says:

      Yup. I read that as there being many paths that appear to be the one with the least resistance, but she didn’t know which of those paths was actually the one with the least resistance.

      Current score: 0
  12. Morumotto says:

    One thing we can say is that Acantha knew exactly what she was doing when she sent Mack to rub shoulders with Andreas. If she hadn’t, he’d be out of the team by now.

    Current score: 0
  13. Arancaytar says:

    There’s a bit of a culture barrier here. Andreas wants Mack to verbally commit to their plan (“I promise to do this as an ally”). Mack formulates her commitment in a rational, self-interest sort of way (“I’ll do this, because it also helps me”).

    She sees the latter merely reinforcing the former – you have both solidarity and self-interest as motivators, which is more than just solidarity. As a dwarf, Andreas seems a bit put off that Mack would need another motivator beyond solidarity.

    Current score: 0