345: Wishes And Fishes

on January 27, 2009 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie Rides Again

Professor Goldman’s class presented a serious dilemma for me.

It was one of my favorite classes, but being in an auditorium-style room, it had the most absolutely uncomfortable seats I had ever encountered.

On the other hand, I had a good handle on everything we’d gone over and most of the grade consisted of Friday quizzes, so it wasn’t like I couldn’t skip out and go soak my lower regions in the bathtub or something.

But then, it felt like I’d missed a lot of classes and I was the one who kept stressing the importance of having some school in my school life.

I kept going over the pros and cons in my head the whole time I trudged towards the class, long after it had become a foregone conclusion that I was in fact going. One little class… one little lecture, and then I’d be off until my logic class and I could spend hours in the bathtub or face down in my bed or whatever worked out.

Anyway, Amaranth was right… walking did help a bit, at least compared to sitting down or standing up straight. The worst of the pain distracted me from the rest of it.

The good news was that even as slow as I was moving, I still got to my thaumatology classroom plenty early… the benefit of starting my schedule later in the day than any of my friends. I waited until the previous class had emptied out and then I slunk into my seat, thankful that I didn’t have to scoot past anybody. Not that anyone would have necessarily been able to tell why I was walking funny, but I was still smarting so badly that part of my brain couldn’t accept that it wouldn’t be as obvious to everybody else what was going on as it was to me.

I folded my ridiculously large coat up into a sort of cushion and smooshed it down on the hard plastic chair that had been contoured to perfectly fit a race that didn’t exist, then gingerly sat down on it to wait for class to begin.

Professor Goldman came in sniffling and sneezing, and when he first tried to address the class, he broke down coughing for half a minute.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on with campus health, but with how long it takes to get a simple potion now, I just haven’t had the time… one sec,” he said, and then started hacking into his handkerchief again.

My face burned bright and I tried to slouch down. What a day to decide to sit on a furry booster seat… not that he had any idea I had anything to do with the added bureaucratic delays… not that this made a difference to my brain or my cheeks.

“Anyway,” Goldman said, “I’ve been compiling grades and I have to say that some of you could be doing better. No one’s failing, people, but I’d like to see some more effort. I know you all think that this is just a fluff class that gets you three more credit hours without requiring a lot of papers and research and, you know, work… but it’s so much more than that. It’s also an easy ‘A’. Don’t you realize that courses like this exist to balance out the lousy grades you get in the harder classes that you actually need?”

He paused, cleared his throat, took a drink of water, and then went on.

“But all hope is not lost, for I come bearing optional credit,” he said. “Yes, it’s optional, which means if you decide that you don’t want free points added onto your grade, it’s your decision. The subject of the extra credit assignment is going to be wishes. Yes, yes, I know we haven’t covered wishes in this class,” he said in response to the classroom-murmurs, but there was as much excitement as anything else. “But wishes are fun and exciting to think about, and wish theory encapsulates so much of thaumatological study. Besides, my goal is to get you to think outside the box.” He paused for another coughing fit. “Or inside the box. Or around the box. Or on it. I’m an educator. I can’t afford to be too choosy when I set my goals.

“This assignment will be in two parts. The first part is easy: make a wish. Write it down. Use as many or as few words as is necessary to convey whatever the heck it is you wish for. That’s just the raw materials for the second part of the assignment, where I’ll be taking all the participants’ wish papers and handing them out to another participating student to play cosmic adjudicator with. That’s right. You’ll play the role of a personified wishmaster, and your goal will be to take your classmate’s wish and turn it on its head. Subvert it. Pervert it. While acting in strict accordance with the letter of the wish as written, find a way to give them something completely unforeseen and/or unwanted. This is the part of the assignment you’ll be credited for… not for designing the perfect foolproof wish, because of course that’s not possible… but for demonstrating the awareness that no wish is foolproof.

“If you wish to participate, write your wish out for Friday. I’ll mix them up and pass them back on Monday, and you’ll have until next Friday to answer them.”

While he started the lecture proper, I started turning the assignment over in my head. It was an interesting idea. I probably didn’t need extra credit for this class, but he had a point about balancing about other grades. If I could ace thaumatology completely, that might cushion the blow if Professor Hart gave me a lower grade in history.

Of course, that wasn’t even getting into what Callahan would assign… I just had a hard time thinking of her as a teacher, though, which made it harder to factor in the idea of a grade. To be honest, it seemed ridiculous to think that a score on how well I could beat people up with an imaginary stick would be averaged together with my academic achievements.

That reminded me… I was supposed to get a staff or something to spar with. I’d have to try to remember that.

In real life, I knew exactly what I would use a wish for, if one ever fell into my possession. Cautionary tales aside, wishing somebody back from the dead was not the most pitfall-fraught thing you could do.

You just had to word it correctly: you couldn’t just wish somebody “back” or “here”, because that didn’t specify that they were alive, and you couldn’t just wish somebody to be alive, because that didn’t dictate where they would be, and most peoples’ final resting places weren’t anywhere that was conducive to continued life.

Other than that… the universe would react badly to people who tried to get too complicated or reach too far, but resurrection was possible through other means, all of which were more common than being handed a blank check by cosmic forces. Goldman was right in saying that there was no such thing as a perfectly worded wish, but wishing for something that could be reliably attained through other means was generally counted as safe.

I couldn’t use that for the assignment, though. It was too personal, and somebody else in the class would have to turn around and twist it. That would hurt too much for me if my blind partner happened to be a cruel asshole, and would possibly hurt too much for them if they weren’t. I’d leave my mother out of it.

What, then? Wishing to not be a half-demon would be handing fate (or its stand-in in the class) too big a hammer to hit me with. Wishing to be human… that was tempting, but it would feel like I was betraying everybody else in Harlowe. I could wish to be sustained by human food instead of blood, but that was exactly the sort of thing that would earn a serious smiting if pulled in real life. It went against the nature of what I was. It would be like wishing for dry water… not for water to dry up, but for water itself to be dry.

The student writing up the response wouldn’t necessarily realize that, but I knew it, and it stopped me from considering it to be a viable wish.

Also, I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to put anything in mine that would single myself out as the half-demon. We weren’t grading each other or anything, but I didn’t want to cause another scene if my paper ended up on the desk of somebody who refused to have anything to do with me.

Anyway, the point of the assignment wasn’t actually “what would you do if you had a wish?” As Goldman had explained it, the first part of the exercise seemed like it was supposed to be something fun and frivolous. With that in mind, I decided I would wish for a working motorcycle… or rather, a motorcycle replica enchanted to work as though it were real. I knew that the wish would go horribly wrong on paper, but there was no sense wishing for something impossible right off the bat. I didn’t want to make it too easy on anybody.

I spent the rest of the class daydreaming about racing over the school grounds on a motorcycle. In my head, I’d given Amaranth a lift to her stupid Mechan group, and when she ran off after the argument caused by the jealousy the Mechans had for my cycle, I went roaring across the hills to save her from the pack of ghouls with style and panache.

Really, there weren’t any situations that couldn’t be improved by a judicious application of hot, noisy science.

Dee being harassed by campus guards? Not on my watch… I didn’t have anything to go after the part where I came flying out of nowhere and skidded to a stop between her and them, so I went over it a few more times to get the pose just right.

Poor Sooni spent all her pocket money and doesn’t have coach fare?

Don’t worry, foxy lady…

Okay. Hot, noisy science didn’t mean I had to pull out cheeseball lines like that.

But it was kind of a compelling visual.

Excuse me,” someone said. I turned and looked up at a chestnut-haired girl with a kind of round face.

“Huh?”

“Get out of the way!” she said, and I realized that class was over and people were filing out.

Oops.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. Standing up reacquainted me with the forgotten soreness, and I winced as I gathered up my coat and my bag and then hurried away from the scowling girl, catching my foot on three separate bolted chair legs in my haste to make way.

Back at Harlowe, I promised Two that I would take the time to eat a meal later in the afternoon, grabbed my bath stuff, and headed for the bathroom. By that point the major pain in my netherest of regions was nothing but a dull memory of an ache and my ass was more tingly than anything else, but it had been thoughts of a warm soak that had kept me moving earlier that morning and to deny it to myself now would make it seem like I’d been lying to myself.

Besides, there was no sign of Feejee. That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I drew the curtain and realized that there was a hook on the wall inside it where I could put my robe. With my bottle of bubble bath up on the ledge, there was nothing outside the curtain that could identify me to anyone sharp enough to recognize it and I doubted that even Trina or the Leightons would be nosy enough to stick their heads in to see who it was.

It wasn’t quite perfect privacy… I heard the door opening and closing and toilets flushing and sinks running multiple times while the tub filled… but nobody disturbed me as I floated in a peppermint fog, and that was a tiny piece of heaven.

By the time the tub was filled, it seemed like most people had gone on to their next class or gone to lunch because the bathroom remained deserted beyond me. Then the door opened, and I heard the sound of large bare feet slapping on the tile.

I heard the other tub’s curtain rings rattling just as Feejee said, “Hi, Mack!”

“Hey,” I replied.

“Can barely smell you over all that mint,” she said as she started running her water. “Do you really need to use so much?”

“I like it,” I said and made a mental note to use more next time.

“It’s kind of overpowering,” she said. “Do they make bubbles that smell like honey?”

“Probably,” I said. “They seem to have every other kind. Thinking of getting some?”

“Oh, I meant for you.”

Of course she did.

“Iona’s trying to talk me into renting a house together next year,” Feejee said.

“Yeah?” I said. Housing situation. Plans for next year. That was a better topic.

“Yeah. She’s been looking into it and she says I should have the money for it,” Feejee said. “Who knows if that’s right or not? I can’t make any sense of that kind of thing.”

“Maybe you should get like an accountant or someone to manage your finances,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said. “Do people ever have water in their houses? Like, a pond or a pool or something?”

“Um… some people have pools,” I said, tensing up beneath my protective cloud of bubbles. I felt like we were inching back to Feejee’s favorite topic. “That’s more expensive, though to be honest, if a house like that is on the rental market, you could probably afford it.”

“I’m just so sick of sleeping in these tiny tubs,” she said. “I barely fit in them unless I’m in legs, and you try sleeping… well, I guess you’re used to it. It’s weird, for me, though… having two bottom halves flopping around independent of each other. I’ll start drifting off and then one of my legs will brush the other and I’m awake again.”

“You could probably get a place with a big whirlpool tub or a sunken bath,” I said. “That would give you more room to stretch out without stretching your budget too much, and would be easier to find than an indoor pool.”

“How big are those?”

“I think they come in different sizes. There are hot tubs that are big enough for a bunch of people to sit in,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Because to be honest, it’s not just the sleeping… I’m also thinking about how much more private it would be.”

Of course.

“But we don’t have to talk about that,” she said. “I know we have… differences… there.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you’d be welcome!” she added quickly. “I mean, if you wanted to… I know that you like… or that you need, anyway…”

“What, you’ve given up on getting me?” I asked, not sure I believed it.

“Until we figure out what to do with Amaranth,” Feejee said. “If she were cool with it, you know, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it seems like she might have some issues… you know more about nymphs than I do. Do you have any ideas there?”

“Do I have any ideas about taking out my immortal girlfriend so she couldn’t turn you in if you killed me?”

“Yeah,” Feejee said. I could picture her nodding enthusiastically “Uh huh. Do you?”

“If I come up with anything, you’ll be the first person I tell,” I said. It was almost an eyeroll moment. Almost. It was definitely very surreal.

“Awesome,” she said. “I’m glad you’re being more reasonable about this.”

“Feejee… you know you’re going to screw more people than yourself if you do something stupid and get caught, right?” I said. “Like, every other merperson walking around on dry land or living in sight of shore?”

“Yeah, I tell Io that all the time,” Feejee said. “But she says that’s why you’re perfect. If we get caught… demon. Other than Amaranth, who would care?”

“I have other friends,” I said.

“They don’t know, though… do they?”

“They could,” I said.

“Oh,” Feejee said, very serious.

“Yeah,” I said. “I know we have ‘differences’, as you put it, about this kind of thing, but you’ve got to understand I’m going to do what I have to, to stay alive.”

“Well, then,” Feejee said. “You’ve got to understand that if we thought you were going to tell more people, we’d take our chances and make up a story to tell Amaranth or just play dumb about where you’ve gone.”

“Oh,” I said.

“And I’m pretty sure if I put my eyes on you and pinned you down and asked you, I’d be able to smell if you were lying, because you’re not very good at that,” Feejee said, very casually. It was a chilling reminder that however oblivious to some things Feejee might seem, that was due to cultural differences. She wasn’t stupid. She was smart enough to be accepted to an imperial university, from a culture that probably didn’t have schools in any sense but the collective noun.

“So, anyway,” she said. “Renting. That’s more like paying board in the dorms than buying, isn’t it?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. My legs were shaking. The bathwater felt tepid, all of a sudden.

“I guess I could try it for the summer to see how I like it,” she said. “Though I’d miss the chance to go home and, you know, everything that goes with that.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“How about you?”

“What?”

“What are your plans for the summer?”

“Very ill-defined,” I said. “But I’m probably going to get a job and stick around. I don’t really have anywhere else to go.”

“Oh,” Feejee said. “Is everybody doing that? Or are most people going home?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think it’s the usual thing to go back home for the summer, but I think a lot of the people here in Harlowe would have a long trip if they did that every year. I know Dee isn’t going home until she’s got her degree.”

“You know, she has so little scent that I didn’t know she was her the first time I saw her without her cloak,” Feejee said.

“She had her hood down at the floor meeting where we all introduced ourselves,” I said.

“Yeah, I didn’t pay a lot of attention then,” Feejee said. “It was mostly the humans and the semihumans that caught my attention… that’s kind of how I ended up hanging out with that bunch in the first place.”

I snorted, in spite of myself. Feejee had only ended up in the Leightons’ clique because they smelled the most like lunch? It was horrible to think about, but also funny.

“And they kept inviting me to do stuff, of course,” Feejee said. “That party was nice, by the way. What else have you guys got planned?”

“Um… nothing I can think of,” I said. “We’re all going to the Veil Ball, I think, though I’ve got no idea where I’m going to come up with a costume… um, it’s a costume party, obviously. That’s a party where people wear costumes. Do I have to explain what a costume is?”

“No, Rick told me about it. He talked about me dressing up as a sexy healer, for some reason,” she said. “I don’t see what’s sexy about healers, but whatever. I don’t even know if we’re still going to it together. He’s so weird about stuff, and Io doesn’t like him, so I’ve had to split my time. We’re doing a whole ‘date night’ thing tonight. When you go to the movies, does everybody have their own TV, or how does it work?”

“No, there’s a big stage at the front of the room and the illusions play out on it,” I said.

“Oh,” Feejee said. “That sounds kind of… wouldn’t individual TVs make more sense?”

“Why would they?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never been to the movies,” she said. “It just seems like only the people in front would be able to see.”

“It’s a big stage, and I think the floor’s usually sloped,” I said. “I haven’t been to the movies since I was like seven or eight, so…”

“You should come with us!”

“Feejee, it’s a date,” I said. “That’s not how they work.”

“You don’t go on dates with more than one person?”

“I might,” I said. “But only because I’m dating more than one person. You and I aren’t dating.”

“We could.”

“What happened to ‘I don’t want people to think I’m gay’?” I asked.

“I don’t!” she said. “But… I thought that meant sex!”

“Dating means sex,” I said. “Usually. Sometimes. It’s assumed to, I guess. Straight women don’t date each other.”

“Oh. What would you call it when two women go out?”

“Going out,” I said. “Only… not ‘going out’. Hanging out,” I said quickly. “It’s hanging out.”

“Even if you go somewhere and do stuff?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But when Rick and I just stay in the dorms, that’s hanging out, too.”

“Yep,” I agreed.

There was silence while she processed all this.

“Your language kind of sucks, you know that?”

“Tell me about it,” I said, and I sat up to let the water out. I was getting a headache, and I figured it was time to end the conversation before I managed to confuse Feejee even further. “I’ll talk to you later,” I said. “I’ve got to go find something to eat.”

“Oh, that sounds like a good idea,” she said. “Mind if I tag along?”

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7 Responses to “345: Wishes And Fishes”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Yyeesss…if only more snotty cliquatistas were available for lunch or at least snacking.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arakano says:

    Okay, Feejee is seriously planning how best to kill and eat Mack, and threatening to kill her even quicker if she tries to go against it…

    That is the time to alert the authorities about Merfolk’s eating habits. I mean, seriously? Mack is acting like a Gnu which does not want to be unfair to lions by trying to fight back against them…

    Current score: 5
    • Pamela says:

      The problem is that it could easily be brushed off as rumor. Not many of the authority figures at MU are keen to trust Mack’s word.

      Current score: 2
      • Tuukka says:

        Still better than not telling them.

        Feejee is not dumb. It’s unlikely she’d kill Mack after Mack told authorities.

        Current score: 0
      • capybroa says:

        Given what a thorn in the side of the establishment she’s been so far, I’m sure many of the authorities wouldn’t mind seeing her quietly disappeared even if they did know the reason for it.

        Current score: 1
        • Mike says:

          Lol just keep reading, it gets handled. Of course, since I’m writing this over a year since you did, you know what happens, but still.

          Current score: 0
  3. nobody says:

    Simply put Mackenzie wouldn’t be believed and no authorities would bother actually investigating her death.

    Her only real deterrents are her physical strength and the option of lighting either of them on fire almost literally with a single thought.

    Current score: 1