257: Double Dealing

on July 19, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Nobody Buys What Amaranth Is Selling

I was already starting to feel better… or at least, less pained… by the time we got back to Harlowe and up to the fifth floor. Steff took me to my room and knocked on the door. Two answered it.

“Hi, Mack! Hi, Steff!” she said.

“Hi, Two,” I said, while Steff stepped forward to give her a hug and a double-kiss.

“Hey, Two, hon, would you mind giving us some privacy?” Steff asked. “We have some things to go over to get ready for our date.”

“Oh, okay,” Two said. “I’ll be in the lounge.”

She went back into the room, grabbed a basket of clothes, a notebook, and a textbook, and headed down the hall. Steff watched her go.

“We don’t deserve her,” she said, shaking her head. “Or she doesn’t deserve us.”

“We’re good for her,” I said. “I think.”

“I know we are,” Steff said. “But she deserves better.” A door opened at the other end of the hall, and her head whipped around. “Amy!” she said, waving at Amaranth, who was coming in from the stairs.

“Hey, you two!” Amaranth said, all smiles as I ran towards her and threw my arms around her. “Oh, I love you, too, baby,” she said, squeezing me against her. The remnants of my headache melted like snow in the spring sun. “Are you all ready for your big night?”

“Not yet,” Steff said, walking towards us “We need to talk to you.”

Amaranth’s face became serious as Steff approached.

“Oh?” she said. “If this is about the meeting with Viktor, I don’t think it’s going to be anything bad. I think he just wants clearer…”

“No, it’s not that,” Steff said. “We kind of had an, uh, episode today. Let’s talk inside.”

Amaranth gave me a look of concern and puzzlement, and then we followed Steff back to my room. Steff shut and locked the door once we were inside.

“Why don’t you take that heavy coat off, to begin with,” Amaranth said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, reluctantly peeling my arms off her. I slipped off the coat and put it down.

“Oh, not on the floor, baby,” Amaranth said. “You’ve got a whole closet full of hangers.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

While I had the closet open, I looked for my pitchfork. I knew I’d taken it with me… I was positive about that… but there it was, tucked away in the back corner. I pulled it out.

“Huh,” I said. “I guess I didn’t bring it, after all.”

“You know, if not for the fact that it’s been in the closet the whole time, I’d wonder if it didn’t have something to do with your weirdness,” Steff said.

“So, now I’m not just possessed… I’m possessed by a pitchfork?” I asked sarcastically.

“Possessed?” Amaranth repeated.

“It’s Steff’s theory about what was wrong with me.”

“Well, you seemed pretty sure that you couldn’t be possessed by another demon,” Steff said. “But, anyway, if it was here it obviously wasn’t the case. But, I mean… didn’t you say something about it being cursed, back when you first got it? Boundless rage, or something?”

“Uh… yeah, actually,” I said. “Now that you mention it… that’s what the delvers said. And that acolyte Lacey said she could feel it.”

It seemed weird that this hadn’t crossed my mind, especially when a couple other people had handled it lately. Now that I was thinking about it, bringing it to the dance didn’t seem like it had been such a great idea. Nothing terrible had happened… though, the coat check girl had gone off a bit.

“You’ve been awfully casual with that thing, baby… but it’s my fault, too. I mean, I meant to have that stupid thing checked out before you started using it day-to-day,” Amaranth said, frowning and chewing on her lip. “I can’t imagine how it’s slipped my mind for so long.” She reached out and took it from me. “I don’t feel anything, though… no rage, no curse.” She shrugged. “Well, we’ll have somebody look at it more in-depth later. You don’t have melee again until Tuesday, so there’s no reason to carry it around.”

She turned, and I thought she was going to put it back in the closet, but it just went away, the way things did in her hands.

“I don’t want to go back to melee,” I said.

“Baby…”

“I don’t!” I said. “Callahan hates me…”

“No, she doesn’t,” Steff said. “She loves having you in her class.”

“Only because she can do whatever she wants to me without risk,” I said.

“Well, be fair,” Steff said, grinning. “We all like that about you.”

“Let’s focus on one thing at a time. What kind of episode did you have?” Amaranth asked. “You didn’t attack somebody, did you, baby?”

“No,” I said. “Well, apparently I challenged Coach Callahan…”

Apparently?”

“She doesn’t remember half the day,” Steff said.

“That’s an exaggeration,” I said, though after I thought about it I realized it was actually an understatement.

Amaranth frowned.

“Have you had memory loss before?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“Not even when you were hungry?”

“I wish,” I said.

“Hmm,” she said, tugging on her lip with her fingernails. “Maybe you’d better start at the beginning.”

“As far as I know, the beginning was me coming to on the field, when it was all over,” I said. “My memory’s all messed up before that, but… I don’t remember it being messed up. Nothing was weird for me, except for being achy and sore, until then… which is why I think Callahan did something to me.”

I said this last part more or less at Steff.

“Except you were acting out of character before that,” Steff said.

“How?” Amaranth asked.

Steff explained my plans for the date, once again starting with the suite at the Havenwood and my stated intention of cutting classes.

“Well… that certainly is unusual for you, baby, but I could see you going that far for our Steff,” she said, making a serious face but not being at all stern. “The rule about cutting class was your decision, and as long as you’re sure it won’t affect your grades, I can’t really object to it. It seems like you’re making a mature decision in order to give your lover your undivided attention, which considering the scheduling mix-up with Sooni… well, I can’t really find fault here.” She smiled. “In fact, I’m pretty excited that you’ll be working sex into the date after all… pending Viktor’s approval, of course.”

“That’s only the beginning, though,” Steff said. “Do you want to tell her the rest, Mack, or should I?”

“What’s the rest?” Amaranth asked.

“Um…” I said. I didn’t think “neither of us” was an option. I would have loved to forget the whole thing, but that wasn’t an option, either.

“During one of the times Mack can’t remember, she ordered us dinner from… have you ever heard of a place called Tender Mercy’s?”

“No,” Amaranth said. “What is that?”

“It’s a… um, you remember when Mack was going to buy blood from a slaver?”

“Yes…”

“They’re kind of the fine dining equivalent,” Steff said. “Their tag line is, ‘We serve all races.'”

“Oh?” Amaranth said. Her eyes went wide. “Oh! What… exactly… did you order?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I only know that I did because Steff told me I said so. I really don’t remember.”

“This could be important,” Steff said. “See, they aren’t cheap.”

“Any chance you can just cancel?”

“None,” Steff said. “Mercy isn’t very merciful.”

“Well, get them on the mirror,” Amaranth said to me. “Let’s find out what the, um, damage is going to be.”

I sighed and got my pocket mirror.

“Tender Mercy’s, Enwich,” I said into it. The swirling mist turned almost right away into a black field. There was a pause, and then it became partially illuminated. There as a slim man dressed in a suit, his face under a shadow.

“Tender Mercy’s” he said. “How may we help you today?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I may have placed an order on the ethernet, but I’m not sure it went through.”

“What name would you have used for this order?”

“Um, can you check under Mackenzie Blaise?”

“Certainly,” he said. He picked up a stone tablet. “One moment, please.” He concentrated for a few seconds, and then said, “Your order has been received, Ms. Blaise, and is currently in process.”

Amaranth stepped up behind me, over my shoulder.

“Hi, there! Could you just confirm the order and total for us?” she asked.

“Certainly,” he said. “That’s a gallon of blood, human, virgin, unsanctified, sex unspecified, at one-sixty-four silver… six human steaks, sex unspecified, at two gold each… eight orders of human ribs, sex unspecified, at three gold each… and one whole human female torso, oven roasted with thighs attached at thirty-five gold, for a total of seventy-four gold and fourteen silver. Delivery fee and processing fee is waived for all orders over five platinum, so…”

Seventy-four gold…

“What? I’m not paying that!” I blurted out.

“Ma’am, you don’t have to,” he said. “It’s waived.”

“I meant the order,” I said. “I don’t have that kind of money!”

“I’m very sorry to hear you say that, but all orders are final,” he said. “You may either provide a charged card now, or pay cash on delivery, or deal with our fully licensed and bonded collection agency.”

Amaranth snatched the compact out of my hand.

“I’m sorry for the confusion,” she said. “The thing is, this is actually a combination of multiple orders. We weren’t sure we’d entered it right, and that was what we were checking on. We actually need to split up the delivery to multiple recipients.”

In front of Amaranth, behind the handheld mirror, Steff was gesturing frantically, shaking her head and mouthing something… or actually probably whispering in Amaranth’s ear, to judge from the way that Amaranth was waving her hand and shaking her own head like she was brushing away a fly.

“I’m sorry, Miss, but when I say all orders are final, I’m not simply referring to cancellations,” he said. “The rule is in place to discourage these sort of last-minute shenanigans, which rarely work out well for anybody.”

“But this order is large enough to waive the fees, it’s got to be big enough to exercise a little flexibility,” Amaranth said. “You can’t tell me it isn’t better business to deliver an order and get paid for it than to have to send a collection agency around.” She turned the compact around towards me. “I mean, look at her. Do you think you’d get anywhere near your seventy gold for her?”

Apparently Amaranth was quicker on the uptake than I was… that was the point at which I realized what the “collection agency” would be collecting. I wondered if it would be possible to get the whole thing called off by proving that I had been under the influence of something when I placed the order.

Probably… but probably not fast enough to make a difference. Something told me that Pendragon and Associates wouldn’t care to take this particular dispute on contingency.

“That may be true,” the Mercy’s representative said. “Though you understand, that wouldn’t stop us from collecting her. We can change the delivery address, but I’ll need to see a charged card. Ms. Blaise is the one we have the contract with, and the only one from whom we can legally extract payment in kind.”

“Naturally,” Amaranth said. “If you don’t mind staying in frame while I go confirm the address, I think we’ll be able to verify payment to your satisfaction.”

“Very well.”

Amaranth turned the mirror away and covered it with her hand, opening her mouth to speak. Steff interrupted her before she could say anything.

“Viktor might take part of it, but he doesn’t have that kind of money to throw around,” she said.

“I’ll get to Viktor,” Amaranth said. “You stay here with Mack and keep her company, okay? Mack’s my responsibility, and I can handle this.”

“I’ll come…” Steff started to say.

“She needs you, Steff,” Amaranth said.

She was grimacing and pulling on her hair when she said this, and her lower lip kept twitching. It might have just been because she was nervous, but I had a feeling it was because she felt dishonest… the real reason she wanted Steff to stay in the room with me, I suspected, was that she didn’t want Steff to see her going to Feejee’s room.

“Okay, but you still have to have some of it delivered to us,” Steff said as Amaranth started to open the door

“Yeah, I’ll have them send you guys the blood,” Amaranth said, closing the door most of the way. She turned to me. “I’ve got a few more affordable sources lined up, but if we have to buy it, we might as well use it anyway, baby.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. I could console myself that it was at least possible that nobody had actually died to produce it, even if it was coming from slavers.

“And we also want two steaks and some of the ribs,” Steff said. Amaranth looked at me, and Steff said, “Well, we do still need to have dinner… and this is supposed to be our special night. We’ll go dwarven on it, and we can get rice and potatoes or something from room service.”

Amaranth looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. The order was in fact a done deal… as Steff had said, nothing I did would change the fate of the people involved.

“Okay, okay,” Amaranth said, a little frantically. “Just let me go take care of this now, before this man runs out of patience.”

“Oh, and they do this thing where if you order a whole body, they mount the head for you, if you don’t want to eat it,” Steff said. “See if they’ll do that when you’re ordering a torso!”

Amaranth glared at Steff and ducked out of the room. Steff looked at me.

“It’ll be okay,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

I didn’t need that much reassurance about the resolution of the order… chances were that Feejee would be an easy sell, and if the Mercy’s guy got a look at her everyday jewelry ensemble, he’d probably be a lot more relaxed about the whole thing.

What was bothering me was that I’d set all this in motion and couldn’t even remember it. What other surprises might be waiting for me? I was glad Two had been home… if I didn’t know for a fact that she was alright, I might have worried about her.

Steff hugged me, and then I sat down in my desk chair. I didn’t feel like talking, and she didn’t say anything.

After a while, I heard Amaranth’s raised voice coming down the hall. Steff let her in when she reached the door.

“No, you don’t need to speak with my mother,” she was saying into the mirror. “Look, this is discrimination. Your ad says ‘all races’, right?”

I saw Steff mouth the word “Problem?”, and Amaranth shook her head, then covered the mirror, and said, “They won’t buy me.”

“…already explained this,” the Mercy’s guy said. “We simply cannot…”

“Oh, fine!” Amaranth said, stomping her foot. “Just send the orders, then.” She snapped the mirror shut. “Ooh! That man makes me so… I mean, I dislike their policies with regards to nymphs.”

“You were going to sell yourself to pay for the order?” I asked, horrified.

“What? Oh, no,” she said. “I found other buyers for most of it. You two are getting enough for a meal… don’t worry, baby, Viktor’s offered to cover it.”

“What about the head… did you ask about the head?” Steff asked.

“Viktor said you don’t need a head,” Amaranth said.

“What do you mean, I don’t need a head?” Steff repeated.

“That’s what he said,” Amaranth said. “He said he wasn’t going to pay for it because you don’t need it.”

“Well, maybe I want to pay for it myself,” Steff said.

“He said you’d say that and to remind you that you don’t have any money that isn’t his,” Amaranth said. She looked at me. “Baby, are you alright? You look like you’re going to be sick.”

I felt like I was going to be sick, too. I should have been happy that the thing was settled, but it was… disquieting… how casually the whole thing had been taken care of.

“We’re talking about a person,” I said. “A person’s head.”

“We’re talking about a body,” Steff said. “It used to be a person, but now it isn’t. It’s just materials, just meat. Somebody’s going to get some enjoyment out of it… it might as well be us. I mean, pigs are pretty damned smart, too, but that doesn’t stop people from eating them.”

“Really?” Amaranth said. “How smart, exactly?”

“I dunno,” Steff said. “But Prevailingwind was talking about some experiment he saw where they were being taught to communicate with picture tablets.”

“You don’t say,” Amaranth said. “Do you think he’d be willing to come along to communion with me and explain this to Mother Khaele?”

“He might find it an interesting experience,” Steff said.

The conversation was almost enough to bring back my headache. I let out a groan of frustration.

“Oh, baby, what’s wrong?” Amaranth asked, hurrying to my side.

“I just wanted to give Steff a nice night out… a real, normal date… and we’re talking about eating people and fucking pigs,” I said.

“Oh,” Amaranth said, blinking slowly. “Well, um… I wasn’t specifically thinking about fucking pigs. I just thought it might be nice to give Mother Khaele some more insight into her creations, from the point-of-view of…”

“Look, Mack… we’ve got the whole night, not just dinner,” Steff said. “And, well… the Havenwood has a ballroom attached to it.”

“So? We have ballrooms here,” I said. “They’re all over the campus. I don’t really want to spend our night out gazing at the ethernet, anyway.”

“No, I mean, a dancehall,” Steff said. “They rent it out sometimes, but most nights it’s open to the public.”

“Oh!” I said, feeling a bit better. “Um… that could be nice.”

“I am excited about this dinner,” she said. “And I want you to be excited about it, too, because most of the reason I’m excited about it is that I get to share it with you.” She took both of my hands and held them loosely in her own, looking down into my eyes. “When I say I love you, I don’t mean I love the person you’d be if you weren’t half-demon… I mean I love you.”

She stepped back, pulling me gently onto my feet.

“I love you, too,” I said. “But… it’s creepy that I did this stuff and don’t remember it, and I don’t know how I feel about going through with this. The dinner, I mean. Not the date.”

“Baby, if you’d asked me about this, I would have said no,” Amaranth said. “But if you’d been in your right frame of mind, I don’t believe you would have done it to begin with. We’re just making the best of a bad situation, and… to be honest… I have a strong feeling you’re going to enjoy this more than you think. It’s not the part of you I love the most, but… it is natural for you to enjoy the taste of humans. I think that under the circumstances, just this once, as something you can share with Steff… it could be okay for you to explore that.”

“About the circumstances,” Steff said. “I… fuck, I’d almost rather stab myself in the kidneys than say this, but I think we need to get Mack checked out before you actually let her go out on a date. Dee?”

Steff said this in the direction of Dee’s room. There was no immediate response. Amaranth shook her head.

“I haven’t been able to find her,” she said. “I was waiting to see if the Gazetteer would have anything more about her today, but there didn’t seem to be a new issue.”

“Huh,” Steff said.

“Well, I’m no subtle artist, but I can detect negative energies and I am rather well-acquainted with your natural energy state,” Amaranth said. “Let me get a look at you, baby.”

She put her hands on the side of my head and peered into my face, looking over her glasses into first one eye and then the other. She held her hands out about half a foot away from me and ran them up and down, all around my body.

“I don’t see anything in there but Mack,” she said. “How do you feel, physically?”

“Okay,” I said. “The headache and soreness have been fading.”

“Well, then,” Amaranth said. “I think that you are good to go, missy.”

“After we all meet with Viktor, anyway,” Steff said.

“Oh! That was the other thing,” Amaranth said. “When I was explaining about the whole thing, I told him that Mack’d had a stressful day and he said it’s okay to do that on the weekend.”

“So, you mean… we can just go?” I said, almost unable to believe it. After all the obstacles and interruptions… Steff and I were really ready to begin our relationship.

“What about… restrictions?” Steff asked.

“Tonight’s special,” Amaranth said, smiling. “Like I said about the food: a one-time thing.”

Steff’s shriek of pure unbridled joy at this brought warmth to my heart and pain to my ears. She kissed Amaranth, then kissed me, and then kissed Amaranth again, all over her face.

“I have to go change, I have to get ready!” she said, looking down at her grubby, Callahan-approved fighting clothes. “I have to get my dress!”

“Go,” I said, smiling. “I’ll be here.”

It was happening. Whatever other weirdness, badness, or madness had gone down in the course of the day, I was finally, really going out with Steff.


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10 Responses to “257: Double Dealing”

  1. pedestrian says:

    It was happening. Whatever other weirdness, badness, or madness had gone down in the course of the day, I was finally, really going out with Steff.

    Thata girl, positive attitude and a joyful disposition.

    What could possibly go wrong…..

    Current score: 4
  2. Arkeus says:

    Dammit Mack, THINK for a second.

    Current score: 0
  3. P says:

    I’m still stuck on the cannibalism. Just… Eeeeeeughiaaah…

    Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      Well, it’s technically half cannibalism, neither of them is more than half human, and can you really call it cannibalism if that’s what she was designed to eat? If you were a man/pig hybrid, that could only survive on pork, would that be cannibalism?

      Current score: 4
      • lethargo says:

        But Mack does not need meat to live, only the blood, which can even be obtained without killing anyone.

        I think even half cannibalism sounds immoral, and in any event, I am routing for Mack and Steph NOT eating ANY sentient creature. Even one that has already been killed will make her feel guilty at best…and will make desire more such entrees in the future at worst.

        Current score: 0
        • Kanta says:

          It’s not like eating it will make them any deader, or letting good meat go to waste will bring anybody back. They should just be sure to use every part.

          Current score: 0
  4. lol lolington the third says:

    if you were a manbearpig, and you could only survive by eating pigbears….

    Current score: 6
    • Jimmy Joe III says:

      I was waiting for this one…

      Current score: 3
  5. Anon says:

    Well, the whole torso was definitely somebody killed for your meal. Aaand the price ratio between that whole torso and the ribs implies they come from dead people too, rather than regenerated parts.

    Also, this is a pretty fucked up economy if they’re killing slaves for like forty times the price of a failed weapon check fee.

    There’s no chance they’re killing virgins for that blood if you’re getting a full gallon for like three gold though.

    Current score: 3
  6. Xiao says:

    I’ve been reading this a few days straight, I didn’t enjoy all of it but it was definitely a good read until this whole pitch fork arc… Its just really frustrating when an mc can’t control herself but this t
    ime she can’t even notice it, there’s also the fact that everyone suddenly dropped at least 50 points off their IQ, then there’s stedd suddenly not caring that mack isn’t usually like this, its like she didn’t knew her at all, also amarant is painted . As even more as a terrible charaxter . it jusrt seems like a forced clusterfuck.

    Current score: 1