274: Enforced Participation

on August 29, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Mackenzie Shows Some Nerve

My notes for the day were sloppy and incomplete, but I thought I had enough of the basic concepts down to do the homework for Monday. Sooni came swish-stomping over to my desk as soon as the professor dismissed us. She stood there looking down at me with a look of resolute determination on her face. She seemed to be gathering herself for something.

“Sooni, I just wanted to let you know… whatever you want need from me… whatever you want… I’m here for you,” I said. “Completely.”

“Well, yes,” she said, with an air of “Why are you telling me this?” in her voice. “Obviously. Now, I can’t be seen on television with you, so that’s why the carriage is going to pick me up first. Suzi and Kai will escort you downstairs. They will stop you if you try to get away.”

“Why would I try to get away?”

“I don’t know. Why do you do anything?” she asked. “You’ve been trying to get out of a date with me since before you agreed to it.”

“Where’s Maliko in all this?”

“In the healing center. Now, the carriage will be at Harlowe at seven, and you need to be ready to go right when it gets here,” Sooni said. “If it’s sitting around in front of the building, people will be curious about it. Are you done with classes for the day?”

“I’ve got one more,” I said.

“Kai is going to be escorting you to and from it,” Sooni said. “She’s going to be with you at all times until you get into the carriage. I want you to obey her like you’d obey me.”

“Yeah, that really won’t be a problem,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Sooni, I’m not going to try to get out of this. Really.”

“You’d better not,” she said. “Kai will hurt you if she has to.”

Kai was waiting out in the hallway. I caught a glimpse of her tucking something small and rectangular away in her bag almost as deftly as Amaranth could disappear an object. If Sooni had any clue that she hadn’t been standing at attention waiting for us, she didn’t show it.

“Kai-Kai, Miss Mackenzie is all ready to go to her next class, now,” Sooni said. Her eyes had gone big and bright… and so had her voice. “I want you to take extra-extra special good care of her while I’m away, okay? Okay! I love you so much, Kai-Kai!”

In the classroom she’d been talking as if Kai were part of her crack squad of highly trained commandos. Now… well, I couldn’t help picturing Kai strapped in the highchair, wearing a diaper and bib.

One look past Sooni at Kai, and I knew my thought was written all over my face. She kept her expression neutral, but the look in the tiny cat girl’s eyes was scary. Knowing what she had to put up with, though, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she thought of nothing but murder all day.

Sooni gave Kai a kiss on the forehead and then a painful-looking hug, and then she skipped off down the corridor, her sandals clunking loudly on the floor.

Kai watched her go around the corner, then stood staring after her. Her jaw was moving. I realized she was counting. When she’d evidently judged that Sooni was well and truly gone, she turned to me.

“Kai, I’m sorry you’re stuck…”

“I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. “You are staying right here.”

“Um, okay.”

She dashed for the restrooms, and was back in just over a minute.

“If Sooni asks, I didn’t leave you,” she said. “I’m going to sit out in the corridor and read my book during your class. If Sooni asks, I went into the classroom with you. The same applies to when you take a shower, when you’re changing your clothes, and any other time you’re naked.”

“Kai, I’m sorry for putting you through this,” I said, “and I don’t really want to be naked around you, either, but… the thing is, I don’t lie for anybody.”

She stared at me, her cat eyes unblinking. She didn’t say anything.

“It’s not just that it’s wrong,” I said, shifting uncomfortably under her lantern gaze. “I’m… I’m not any good at it, you see, and Sooni doesn’t trust me to begin with, obviously, so she’d figure it out if I tried.”

“I see,” Kai said. “What is your handedness, please?”


“Are you right-handed or left-handed?”

“Uh, I’m right handed.”

She jabbed a pair of clawed fingers into a point on my left shoulder, and my arm went completely numb on one side, with shooting pains going up and down the other. I gasped.

“If Sooni asks, I was with you the whole time,” she said.

“Ow, shit!” I said. I tried to raise my arm, but I couldn’t. I could barely wiggle my fingers. “What the hell did you do?”

“It’ll wear off in half an hour or so,” she said. “But I know other ones that last longer and hurt more. If you get me in trouble with Sooni, I am going to set every joint in your body on fire and then paralyze your breathing. Then I’m going to take the butt of my sword and start smashing your fingers. Understand?”

The pain was growing worse. It was like the time I’d smashed my foot, but spread out over my entire arm.

“Quit sniveling. Let’s go, if you’re going,” Kai said. She gave me a shove.

“You’re lucky I don’t want to hurt you, Kai,” I said.

“You’re lucky I’m not Maliko.”

The burning pain was giving way to numbness all over by the time we got to the history building. My arm hung at my side like a dead thing. It was like a corpse arm had been grafted to my shoulder. It was a horrifying feeling, like something alien had attached itself to my body.

“You’re sure this is going to wear off?” I asked Kai outside the classroom.

“I can immobilize your jaw, too,” she said. She pulled out a slim paperback with elvish writing on the cover. “Have fun in class.”
Steff was not in the classroom when I got there, and she hadn’t shown up by the time it started. I was a little disappointed, but I wasn’t terribly surprised.

“Good afternoon, class,” Professor Hart said. “We’re going to be starting something different today… Current Events Fridays. Every Friday, we will spend a little time… maybe the whole period, maybe half of it… discussing some relevant social happening in the here and now. These sessions will be fairly free wheeling, and you will not be tested on anything that comes up during them, but you will receive a grade for participating in the discussion.”

“Why are we studying current events in a history class?” the La Belle girl asked.

“Why do we study history?” Hart countered.

“Because it’s a history class.”

“But why do we have history classes, Ms. La Belle?” he asked.

“I have it because it’s required for bardic studies,” she said.

“Please sit down, Ms. La Belle.”

“I… I am sitting down.”

“Sit down further,” he said. “You’ve earned your participation grade for the day for raising an excellent question. What do current events have to do with history? For that matter, what does history have to do with current events? On the obvious level, in two hundred years, our current events will be history… and two hundred years ago, history was current events. Taking that to a deeper level, by looking at the patterns of historical events we can make sense of ongoing conditions today… and by looking at those conditions, we can deepen our understanding of history.

“One of the hardest things for us to grasp as humans has always been the continuity of existence. We’re born, we live a handful of decades, we die. Consequently, we imagine the past as if it were a whole separate world from us, an entirely different plane of existence. There are very few humans born before the revolution who are alive today, and few of them are what you would call a people person. But it happened a scant twenty-two decades ago… three human lifetimes, if you think about it. Some things may have changed in that time, but we’re still living in the same world as Magisterion I did. It’s not as obvious here in a middle-of-nowhere province like Prax, but in Phale, you can’t go out for a cup of coffee without stumbling over a battle site or a historical marker.

“And even here, we can see the effects of the events we read about. We have in this very classroom… occasionally… a student of elven extraction. There’s an elven professor in this very department who… on rare occasions… teaches classes. Would that be possible without the Council of Leibenstein? If the Diocletian Treaty had never been signed, would it be thinkable today that an imperial university could welcome both elven and dwarven students? The opening of such institutions to our allied races, and then to all humanbloods, led to the situation we currently enjoy, where our university is host to students of many races, including those with no ancestral ties to humanity. Do you see the line connecting the dots here? The events of the past resulting in the condition of the present, which is very relevant to our current situation?”

I saw it, obviously… and from the murmurs around the room, other people did, too.

“Ms. Carter, would you care to start our discussion?” Hart said.

“Are you talking about the Harlots and the naked dark elf?” La Belle asked. Hart ignored her.

“Well, I think it goes without saying that the Imperium has always been a bit of a crucible where different cultures come together, even going back to the revolutionary period,” Carter said. “But I’m not sure how well the university succeeds in that area.”

“How so?”

“It seems to me like there are actually four separate, unblended cultures,” she said. “There’s us, the elves, the dwarves, and everybody else over in Harlowe.”

There was some nodding and murmuring of agreement at this.

“Okay,” Hart said. “And to what do you attribute this… unblendedness?”

“Well, you can’t force assimilation…”

“Not that the Imperium hasn’t ever tried,” Hart interjected .”But, go on.”

“What I’m saying is if the other races want to stay aloof, that’s their prerogative,” she said. “And that being the case, we have to expect situations where one of them does something that seems, from our perspective, to be completely inappropriate or wrong. They’ve made no attempt to understand the mores and traditions of the larger culture around them.”

“But why is it their responsibility to learn our mores and not the other way around?” another girl asked.

“I might like to learn about dark elf culture, but I don’t have to obey their laws to go to a human university in a human civilization,” Carter said.

“Mi… Ms. Mackenzie, you’re twitching every time somebody says ‘dark elf’,” Professor Hart said. “Why?”

I thought maybe my twitchiness had more to do with the fact that I couldn’t sit comfortably on the bench with my arm immobilized. Every time I shifted, it bumped into the desk or the bench, and no matter where it touched, it was like hitting my funny bone. Still, he’d asked the question… it was an opportunity to raise the issue.

“Uh… they actually don’t like that term,” I said. “As far as De… Delia Daella’s concerned, she’s an elf.”

I didn’t want to use the nickname in front of the class. I hoped that if Dee had been present, she would have understood that I wasn’t renouncing her friendship… but I didn’t want people who had no knowledge of her person or the significance of the nickname to pick it up and start throwing it around in a conversation where her actions were going to be picked apart and debated.

The idea of La Belle inadvertently naming Dee a friend in the same breath she used to call us “Harlots” made me sick.

“Has she ever looked in a mirror?” La Belle asked, as if on cue.

“Well, they have their own beliefs about the origins of different kinds of elves,” I said. “But… doesn’t calling one group just ‘elves’ and giving the other group a modifier imply that they’re, I don’t know… less? Or less pure?”

“I think it’s just a description,” Carter said. “There isn’t any judgment in it. It isn’t derogatory.”

“But isn’t ‘dark’ kind of a negative word?” I asked.

“Not necessarily,” Carter said.

“But evil things are called ‘the forces of darkness’,” I said. “Black magic. Dark magic.”

“Well, I guess you’d know about that,” Carter said.

“Leave it, Ms. Carter,” Hart said. “Just to throw out a point of interest, though: one of the older draconian words for demons means ‘light bearer’… and a lot of the oldest artwork depicts demons bearing flaming brands or being wreathed in fire. But the same sources are just as likely to turn around and call them a ‘bringer of darkness.'”

“See?” I said. “Light is an aspect of fire, which is the strongest element in demons, but because demons are evil, the association is still ‘dark’.”

“Right, but the label for dark elves comes from their skin color, not their evilness,” Carter said. “It isn’t the same thing at all.”

“But once you call them ‘dark’, they get tied in with all the other ‘dark’ things,” I said. “Like those stupid news reports going on about demon worship.”

“I thought they were saying that dark elves don’t worship demons,” a guy said.

“But the association is there,” I said, aware that the longer I sat there talking about demons, the more it felt like the eyes of the people behind me were drilling holes through my back. “And it will be no matter how often they say it… in fact, I didn’t see a lot of the coverage myself, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if some of the stations were saying that so they could play off the association without actually saying ‘they worship demons.'”

“But wasn’t the girl who got arrested a priestess?” La Belle asked.

A bunch of people answered her in the positive.

“So who does she worship, if it’s not demons?”

“Uh, there are lots of gods that aren’t demons, Carrie,” somebody said.

“Well, yeah, but they don’t live… down there,” she said, pointing downwards and stage whispering the last two words.

“The underlands are not hell,” Carter said.

“But they’re pretty close together, right?”

This was met by a chorus of jeers and groans. I decided I’d earned my participation grade for the day and put my head down, only half-listening to the rest of the discussion. I don’t know what Professor Hart had originally had in mind, but it never seemed to get anywhere truly productive. Ms. Carter seemed like she was just trying to impress everybody with how clever she was, Carrie La Belle acted like she was trying to show everybody how dumb she was, and they dominated the discussion between themselves.

Kai had said her nerve thing would wear off in half an hour, but I was only starting to get the feeling back when the bell rung for the end of the period. She was sitting in the hall, still reading her book, and she didn’t look up when I approached her. I started to say hi, but she held up her hand before I could speak. She read three more pages, marked her place, and stuck her book back into her bag, which she handed to me without a word.

I thought about saying something, but then I decided that since she was being put out by Sooni’s crazy demands, I could be nice and carry her stuff.

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5 Responses to “274: Enforced Participation”

  1. pedestrian says:

    There is definitely a failure to communicate going on.
    Right across the board.

    And frankly no experienced professional bodyguard would handicap their function by carrying bags or luggage or holding doors open. Sorry Mack, your stuck as the porter.

    Considering how clumsy she is and reducing the opportunity to flame on in an emergency could be construed as being in her best interests.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    Wow, this chapter was nauseating.

    Current score: 3
  3. Sher says:

    So Mack gets her ass handed to her by several people. I feel like she has regressed to how she was originally, in the very beginning of the story.

    Current score: 1
  4. Jechtael says:

    I choose to believe, until otherwise stated, that Kai is reading the MUniverse equivalent of Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”.

    Current score: 1
    • Anon says:

      A disorganized and somewhat contradictory collection of raw notes collected and published after the author’s demise?

      Current score: 1