233: Sources Of Pain

on June 7, 2008 in Book 9

In Which Mackenzie Editorializes

The article about me could wait a minute, I decided. Anything that put Sooni’s stupid, smug face on the front page was worth investigating. I read on.

An otherwise routine student senate session was turned on its head Monday night by the arrival of newly elected senator Suzune Hoshinotama, known in the Imperial Republic as “Sooni”, a “kitsu-yokai” (roughly, “fox creature”), from the island kingdom of Yokan. Dressed more like for a night out on the town than an evening of voting on student activity fee proposals, this foxy young frosh was turning heads from the moment she walked through the door, even before she was announced as the new hall representative, over all of Harlowe Hall.

“Of course, I was both surprised and honored to be chosen to represent my hall and all the diverse peoples within it,” the newcomer told me, after the meeting. “I simply showed up at the planning session with a few little ideas to raise, and the next thing I knew, the other seven senators were clamoring for me to accept.”

I rolled my eyes. Oh, right. They’d been clamoring. She’d walked into the meeting with no idea what would happen, had she? I wondered how she reconciled these modest words with her confidence about the outcome in logic class… she probably didn’t bother to, come to think of it. She was saying the words that went with her role.

The traditionally apathetic Harlowe senatorial delegation has not been known in years past for clamoring for anything. Last year, few of the non-human senators even bothered to turn up for meetings, instead relying on the block-voting rules, which allow their hall rep to vote in their stead. This year, all of them turned out to wish their champion well.

It was clear those “few little ideas” she raised at the meeting excited them. Her pet issue? Equal rights for all races, an issue that’s already become a hot button on campus these past few weeks.

This bronze-skinned co-ed is no stranger to fighting for equality, having begun the fight back in her homeland of Yokan. There she’s done much to advance the cause of the mikos, members of an underprivileged underclass. After her tireless campaigning on their behalf, her family’s company instituted a special scholarship that allowed three individuals to attend classes here, so that they might avoid the future of exploitation or menial labor that would await them otherwise.

First… mikos? Second… how in the hell had she managed to turn buying people to use as fashion accessories into a noble fight against exploitation? If there were such a thing as a ring of protection from hypocrisy, she had to be wearing one.

“I brought them here so that they could experience a life free from the discrimination that they knew back home,” Sooni told me. “What kind of example would it set if I did not use whatever influence I have to fight against the discrimination we see here?”

Of course, opinions differ as to the extent of the discrimination in a republic with legal protections for all intelligent beings, and on a campus that has been open to non-humans for decades, and offers numerous special accomodations, perks which have raised some resentment among the majority human students.

When I asked her about this, Sooni smiled an exotically mysterious smile.

It could not have been any more obvious that he’d been drooling over Sooni’s perfect tits the whole time he’d been talking to her. “Foxy”, “bronze-skinned”, “exotically mysterious smile”…

I felt a sudden, fierce urge to punch Mr. Angstrom.

Hard.

“Certainly there has been some progress made, but I think the question you are asking is how much racial intolerance is acceptable before it becomes acceptable.”

Phrased that way, it was certainly something to think about, and Senator Sooni wasn’t short of other pithy (continued)

Yeah, she was full of pith. Kai must have been up all night writing lines for her.

Maybe she should have written the article, too… this gripping prose was the best the journalism program had to offer?

I couldn’t help but notice that he did things like use “fight” twice in the same sentence… and “underprivileged underclass?” It also seemed like he just dropped commas in wherever he felt like it… like there was no actual rules regarding their use… like he was just in love with them as a punctuation mark, or something. He seriously needed a better editor.

I knew the Gazetteer was a student paper, but did they seriously just run any article that some hack with a copy of Power Word: Perfect handed to them?

Instead of going on to the rest of the article, I scribed off a copy to take with me. It was yesterday’s article I was really interested in.

It didn’t take long to find a way back to the previous edition. The article was listed on the front page, though it wasn’t nearly as prominently featured as the profile of Sooni had been.

Lost And Found Student’s Friends And Neighbors Speak Out
by Kent Angstrom, staff reporter

Hundreds turned out on Friday to demonstrate over the brief disappearance of a student from Harlowe Hall, but little is known about the student at the center of it all, Miss Mackenzie, who is also known by the human name Mackenzie Blaise. Perhaps understandably, she was not available for comment immediately following her miraculous rescue, by students in the school’s delving program.

Evidently, there was a fancy new spelling of “attempted murder” that I hadn’t yet learned.

The rumors about her are legion, of course. She was already well-known around campus when the first students from Harlowe showed up, outside the administrative building Friday morning. Her antics and outbursts in the dining hall helped make a name for herself before classes even started. She had organized a walk-out in a history class, some say because the instructor, elvish professor Ariadne Einhorn was biased against her and others say, because she was biased against elves. Another incident about which the details are unclear in a class with Professor Arim Goldman led to a complaint lodged against the thaumatology lecturer, though university officials have declined to comment on the details.

Goldman had got in trouble over me? I’d had no idea. Maybe it was time I started reading the paper more often.

Who is this student who inspires such divided opinions among everybody she meets? It helps to understand that she is, through no fault of her own, demonblooded. Contrary to some rumors, it is not likely that she is a full demon as such individuals have no legal rights as humans…

As people, asshole, I thought. It wasn’t just humans who had rights in the Imperium. Seriously, who the hell vetted this stuff?

…though for privacy reasons the exact nature of her ancestry has not been made available. We can surmise that she is most likely half or quarter demon. To get a more complete picture of her parentage, as well as her personality, one would need to go straight to the source.

On Sunday, after having been dodged by her for the past two days, and failing to locate mirror information for her, this reporter headed into Harlowe Hall for a face-to-face chat.

Unfortunately, neither Miss Mackenzie, nor her roommate were anywhere to be found, but there was no shortage of others, who were willing to share a few words on the subject of Harlowe’s most famous frosh.

A two-headed girl, who declined to identify herself, claimed to have witnessed her bathing with and drinking toilet water, but when questioned further, she said that was just “what [she’d] heard.” Perhaps a bit more credibly, no less than three residents of the fifth floor told me that the active bisexual, either had stolen or was in the process of stealing away their partners.

Others had high praise. Duleeya, an elf of color…

Oh, shit… I hoped Dee was more tolerant of cultural faux pas than Viktor was. Never mind the butchered spelling, he’d called her without using her mother’s name. I was pretty sure that was still a death sentence, down below. I didn’t think Mr. Angstrom had to worry for his life, but I couldn’t imagine what this would do to her resolution to embrace surface life and what it had to offer.

Well, she wouldn’t hear about it from me.

…said that the student in question’s behavior was “…consistently in line with what [she] had been given to expect of surface peoples, perhaps exemplarily so.” Celia, a nagakind, stressed how forgiving she can be. Fiji, a southern mermaid, told me that Miss Mackenzie’s reputation as regards her colorful social life is greatly exaggerated in some respects.

“People act like every time she’s shut up in a room with another girl or girls, that means crazy, sexual things are happening. That’s just not true. She doesn’t have sex with everybody that she spends time alone with, and you shouldn’t listen to any rumors that say that she does, because that’s all they are, is rumors.”

With so many contradictory impressions, I decided to go straight to the source that would know best: her somewhat notorious best friend, Cirydwen “Puddy” Banks-Labelle. The two met as roommates, though they mutually agreed to switch rooms when their relationship started to become more serious.

Assuming he’d done a better job with it than he had with her first name, I’d just learned Puddy’s last name. Since she’d registered as a non-human, it hadn’t been on the roommate sheet I got over the summer.

I wasn’t too surprised to see her face-saving account of her moving out. She couldn’t say that she’d moved out to be with her girlfriend when they were on the rocks, as far as I knew, and she didn’t want to admit that we’d “split.”

“We realized we needed some time apart,” Puddy recounted. “Things were just getting crazy, and we both had other lovers. Right now we’ve decided to focus on our friendship while seeing other people.”

(Note: such polygonous relationships are more common among other races than humans.)

“Polygonous?” Really, Kent?

“The thing you have to realize about ‘Mack’ is that she’s really pretty naive. No matter what you expect from a demon, she’s an innocent at heart and is very susceptible to other people’s desires. I don’t think she ever really got out and lived much before she came here. Now she has a lot of ‘friends’ around her who don’t really have her best interests at heart, who would use her for their own purposes or pleasure. It breaks my heart to see her doing it, but what can I do? She’s her own person. She has to make her own mistakes.”

Was she saying that Miss Mackenzie, or “Mack”, as she’s called, was a tool of others in the protest debacle?

“I’m not in a position to say. But there’s more going on there than it seems.”

Right. She wasn’t in a position to say because she didn’t know, because she wasn’t a part of my life. Wasn’t there any kind of fact-checking involved in the production of this article?

Puddy was tight-lipped on this subject, but she was more forthcoming about other things, such as Mack’s love of collectible toys from the popular children’s show Meck Knights. She spoke with a friend’s fond familiarity about Mack’s many foibles, including her tendency for comic pratfalls and attention-getting stunts.

“I almost died when I saw her walk into the lunchroom in her underwear,” Puddy said of an incident many readers will remember. “That caused some dissension even among our own little group. Amaranth put her up to it. That was the start of a really unhealthy dynamic, I think.”

Well, she was the expert on unhealthy dynamics, wasn’t she? Fucking hell, this was pissing me off. I could see why Ian had been surprised when I walked into class all smiles, and why he’d been so hesitant about telling me about the article once he realized I hadn’t seen it.

Amaranth, one of the two cereal nymphs currently in attendance at M.U., has been spotted holding hands with the elusive infernal. I asked Puddy to elaborate on the “unhealthy dynamic.”

“I don’t think it’s good for somebody to be that attached to a nymph,” she explains. “It can really skew their perspective on a lot of things, and effect their judgment.”

Puddy hastened to point out that she has no problem with nymphs, as well she wouldn’t, being part hamadryad herself.

She was particularly critical of Mack’s other friends when the subject of the closely-contested election for student senator came up. Though the races for individual senate seats rarely catch much attention outside of their own halls, the fifth floor women’s side had managed to generate a few ripples on the ether when the first poll resulted in a rare tie. In a surprising turn of events, the second balloting also resulted in a tie, which was resolved when Mack publicly ceded to her friend and rival, Sooni.

“She gave the election away,” Puddy recalls. “Gave it away. I don’t just mean the resignation at the end. She had it in the bag, but she got sloppy. When I tried to tell her that, well, it caused a bit of a rift between us for a while. Her other friends were giving her some bad advice. I tried to straighten her out. She should have won. She would have, if she’d listened.”

For all her acerbic criticism, Puddy insists that she and Mack are still good friends and that she will always be there for her. It’s touching to see that this young woman who will no doubt face a long, hard road during the next four years can inspire this kind of loyalty and support.

On the floating page, the words seemed so innocuous, but in my mind I heard Puddy saying them in a cozening voice as she put an arm protectively… possessively… around me.

I shuddered.

Puddy insists that she and Mack are still good friends and that she will always be there for her.

I could hear her saying that, too.

Friends.

It had been such a dangerously attractive word when I’d first arrived… and it still was. Even as I recoiled at the memory of Puddy’s touch on my body… on my life… I wanted to reach out to her. Still friends. She’d thrown out her stash, after all, which showed that she was trying to change. She was getting better.

I shook it off. Maybe Puddy really could get better. I hoped that she would. Until she did, I needed to stay away from her.

I skipped over the last few bits dealing with Puddy, not wanting to subject myself to any more of her words even at this far a remove. I scanned down the page until I saw the other name Ian had mentioned, that of my other self-proclaimed “best friend.”

Sooni, Mack’s aforementioned opponent, painted a similarly mixed portrait of her. Describing herself also as Mack’s best friend, she acknowledged her faults while graciously forgiving them. She describes with fondness Mack’s enthusiastic fondness for the aforementioned children’s show as well as more sophisticated, high-quality Yokanese animation aimed at a more mature audience.

“Every Sunday at five a.m., she is out of bed like a lightning bolt and running for the TV. Some weeks she does not even remember to get dressed, she is so excited.”

She also downplayed the rumors that their campaigns had been heated, including vicious attack posters and even one magic-charged brawl that had raged up and down the hallways on both sides of Harlowe.

“We are friends as well as rivals. When our competition threatened to tear us apart, I wanted to concede for the sake of our friendship but she would not let me. She would not let my nobility of spirit stop Harlowe from getting the best representative available.”

What does Miss Sooni have to say about Mack’s reputation as a swinger? Has that affected their friendship, as it did with Puddy?

“She had been interested in me from the beginning, but I did my best to brush away her affections and focus on our friendship. She is persistent, though, and after being worn down, I have consented to be taken on a date in Enwich this Friday.”

What the fucking hell? Where in her comic-addled brain had she got that idea from? Even if I’d had any interest in spending the weekend with her in some suite with a bathtub big enough for two people, or whatever she had in mind, Friday was my date with Steff.

Well, if she’d managed to imagine that I’d asked her on a date, then she’d have to imagine me actually going on it with her.

If the fox-eared young woman feels uncomfortable at being courted by such an aggressive suitor, she covers it well. She’s coy about what she expects to happen, or how far she’ll let it go.

“We’ll see.”

Oh, yeah, she’d see, alright.

The article went on, but I’d read more than enough. My mind was full of conflicting emotions… well, just rage, really, but going in so many directions that it managed to be conflicting all by itself.

The Leightons taking the opportunity to trash me wasn’t surprising in the least. What was surprising was that their obvious lies had made it into the finished article.

Could Jenkins do anything about that, I wondered? Would it even be worth pursuing? I didn’t know how these things worked. It couldn’t hurt to ask. I’d make a point to mention it to him. If nothing else, maybe it would give him another card to play against the school.

Who the hell had accused me of stealing their lovers? The only person I was involved with who wasn’t “polygonous” was Ian, possibly, and he hadn’t been dating anybody from Harlowe before me. Had Angstrom just made a bunch of shit up, or had others taken the opportunity to smear me?

Sooni’s posturing and preening was also predictable, but it burned me to know she was being depicted as saintly for bringing the nekos when really she’d probably just thrown a tantrum until her daddy said she could take her favorite toys to school.

And how the hell was Science Princess more sophisticated and mature than Mecknights? She had a freaking baby for a sidekick. If that didn’t tell you everything you needed to know about the show’s target demographic right there, I don’t know what would.

It was maddening, even without the business about us having sex on Friday. I didn’t even bother making a copy of the article, I just waved it away. I’d spent way longer than I’d meant to, anyway. It was time to go upstairs and find the others.

For the first time ever, I was looking forward to my weapons class… and not just because I’d get a chance to talk to Gloria. I really wanted a chance to hit something with my new pitchfork.

Though, under the circumstances, maybe it would be better if I took Steff’s advice and switched partners. I wouldn’t want Gloria to think I was mad at her.


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10 Responses to “233: Sources Of Pain”

  1. Laural says:

    Mack called puddy Ceridwyn when they first met.

    Current score: 0
    • Ceri Cat says:

      Well that was her legal name, and on the room roster, the complaint was about the lousy spelling and grammar used by Kent. God help me it’s worse than my own and my teachers never taught me proper written grammar.

      I think the scariest part about Puddy’s real name is the literal translation Ceri is love or lover depending on your sources, and dwyn IIRC can translate as thief or steals (though often takes or something else mild by comparison); thus Ceridwyn, stealer of love? Though also the goddess of poetry; I think the straight translation is a pretty apt description of Puddy.

      Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    verify, verify, verify damnabit!

    if you wonder why so many police officers are cynics,
    they have to arrest and jail people based on conflicting
    sources of information as the ones in the above news
    article.

    Current score: 0
  3. Hoopla says:

    Mack should join the newspaper and get them straightened out.

    Current score: 3
  4. tordirycgoyust says:

    Power Word: Perfect is going to have me giggling for days. I also want to stat it out in 3.5–somehow.

    Current score: 3
  5. tordirycgoyust says:

    “It was maddening, even without the business about us having sex on Friday.”

    Mack… I… wow.

    ps Sorry about the double post–forgot I wanted to add this due to being distracted by spell ideas…

    Current score: 4
    • Jechtael says:

      Sooni didn’t say ANYTHING about sex, or a suite, or a bathtub built for two… Methinks Mackenzie doth protest too specifically.

      That reported should be executed for the murder of the Pax language.

      Current score: 4
  6. Jechtael says:

    Sooni didn’t say ANYTHING about sex, or a suite, or a bathtub built for two… Methinks Mackenzie doth protest too specifically.

    That reporter should be executed for the murder of the Pax language.

    Current score: 0
  7. Anon says:

    Sooni is best at politics. She’s inspirational to the masses, great with the press, doesn’t personally care about anything but her image and narrative, and generally has the kind of charisma that makes for a great dictator.

    The trick now is to keep pointing her at good causes, so when she plays her ‘best senator evar’ game she inadvertently does some real good.

    And having Kai figure out some way to smooth over the reactions of the general public to her relationship with a demonblood, once she rises above the school paper level of attention.

    Current score: 4