189: By The Seat Of Her Pants

on April 2, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Mackenzie Makes History

I’d almost grown accustomed to having people stare at me, or feeling like they were staring at me, but the effect of Steff’s addition to my outfit was something else again. I didn’t notice a lot of attention crossing the campus, but the traffic was spaced out enough that the design probably wasn’t as noticeable or clear.

I got the first real reaction when I stopped to open the doors to the hall where my logic class was held: a burst of stunned, sputtery laughter from two or three guys behind me. I didn’t turn around to count, but hurried on, cheeks burning. In the crowded hallway, I was treated to giggles, shrieks, whistles, and one shout of “Yeah, baby!”

I did my best to appear like I didn’t hear any of it. Of course, my best in this case wasn’t very good at all.

All eyes were on me as I entered the classroom for the first time since Monday. There were more gasps and titters from the people I had to walk past to get to my seat, and I heard one girl say “Shameless.”

I did get one pleasant surprise: Sooni appeared to have decided to join in the mass truancy that my ordeal had precipitated. Maliko, however, was present and accounted for… she sauntered over when she saw me sitting down, grinning like the cat girl who ate the canary girl.

“Have you telled Kiersta you are dropping out of the election?”

“No,” I said.

“And why not?” she asked.

“Because I’m not dropping out,” I said.

“Sooni isn’t going to be very happy.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t really give a shit what Sooni thinks,” I said.

“I could make you drop out,” she said.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” I said.

“I am a trained and deadly fighter,” she said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Whatever, Maliko,” I said. “You couldn’t even take Two… with help.”

“You are not Two.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m stronger and tougher, and probably a better fighter.”

“I do not care if you want to lose the election,” she said, her luminous eyes narrowing and her voice dropping dangerously. “But if you touch Sooni under her clothing, you will find out how good I fight.”

“Why would I…”

“Class has begun, Miss, please take your seat,” the professor said.

“Sorry… I was just telling Miss Mackenzie how very glad I am that she is back,” Maliko said in a sickly-sweet, simpering purr… the effect of which was totally ruined by the angry swishing of her tail.

“Yes, well, we’re all very relieved to see her back safe and sound, I’m sure,” the professor said. “But please take your seat.”

Touching Sooni? What had put that idea in her head? Unless it was more of the knee-jerk homophobia her mistress so often displayed… maybe she was afraid I’d turn Sooni gay. It was a ridiculous idea, but would probably seem possible to somebody with that kind of mindset.

We began the lesson with a cumulative quiz. The professor asked me if I felt I’d understood the homework from Wednesday before he handed me mine. I nodded, and accepted the paper.

When the class ended, I darted out with the intention of dashing to the history building and getting my butt in my seat as fast as half-humanly possible, in order to minimize the exposure Steff’s artistic efforts received.

If my intention was to avoid attention, the fact that I caught my foot on the leg of a desk and almost did a faceplant on my way out of the room didn’t help. I managed to weave my way through the crowd in the hallway without making a further fool of myself, but tripped on the sidewalk outside and went sprawling, banging the hell out of my knee and tearing a huge hole in my jeans there.

“Oh, shit, are you okay?” a guy said, running up to my side.

“I’m fine!” I said, not looking at him. I got to my feet and began limping away as fast as I could, but not fast enough to avoid hearing his disbelieving snicker when he got a look at whatever was on my rear.

Shit, shit, shit. I’d managed to make an even bigger spectacle of myself, and now I had another pseudoinjury to contend with. The surface of my knee burned, and beneath that was tingling pain. I kept my head down and pushed on, doing my best to ignore it all.

Even with my tumble and the subsequent slowing, I still made it to history class with plenty of time to spare. I would have looked around for a bathroom so I could get a good look at the seat of my jeans and maybe clean my knee up a bit, but Steff literally caught me in the hall outside our class, when I almost barreled into her.

“Hey, hon,” she said. “Short time, no see.”

“What the hell did you do to my ass?” I asked.

“Indoor voice, hon,” she said, putting her finger on my lips.

“Okay, but what did you draw?” I asked a little more quietly, when she unshushed me.

“I told you: a heart,” she said, grinning.

I glared at her.

She brushed aside her hair, which had fallen over her face, and leaned forward to kiss me on the lips. I melted a little on the inside, though I tried to keep my face angry.

“I want to draw like that all over you, all over your body,” she whispered, and I shivered. She let go of me, and I stumbled a bit, wincing and crying out when I forgot and straightened out my injured leg. “Oh, shit… what happened to you?”

“I just fell down,” I said, turning away. “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing? Honey, you’re bleeding!”

“What? That’s imposs…” Then I remembered: the paths were magical. I looked down, pulling the flap of denim aside to look at my knee.

It hurt a lot worse as soon as I saw it. Most people have probably skinned their knees a bunch of times, but it was kind of a new experience for me to look down and see twisted, abraded bits of skin hanging loosely around an angry pink surface dotted with sticky, dark red blood.

I felt vaguely sick.

“Come on, hon,” Steff said, putting my arm over her shoulder. “Let’s hobble on down to the healing center.”

“No!” I said. “I’m not missing this class for a lousy skinned knee.”

“Hon, you’re crying,” Steff said.

“It just stings a little, that’s all. Anyway, it’s almost stopped bleeding on its own,” I said. “Either help me into the classroom, or let go of me.”

“If you say so,” Steff said, and she led me into the classroom and to a bench.

“Welcome back, Miss Mackenzie,” Professor Hart said at the start of class. “And I see you’ve persuaded Miss Steff to rejoin us. There was no graded work on Wednesday, but make sure you ask questions if you think you’re missing something. Miss Steff, see me after class.”

“Um, Professor…” I said, a little nervously. I figured it would be best to do things consistently, but I hated to risk alienating somebody who didn’t appear to mind me.

“Yes, Miss Mackenzie?” he prompted.

“I… well… I actually prefer ‘Ms. Mackenzie’,” I said.

He stared at me for a second, then blinked and said, “As you like, Ms. Mackenzie.”

The strawberry blonde girl near the front snorted.

“Something to say, Ms. La Belle?”

“That’s not even a proper form of address,” she said. “It’s like.. like me asking you to call me ‘Mr. La Belle.'”

“Would you like me to?” Hart said.

“No.”

“Then let’s get on with class,” he said. “Last time, we talked about the formation of the Provincial Senate, and the Unnamable One’s reaction, or lack thereof. However, while the official imperial response to the newly-formed Senate’s edicts was silence, it’s safe to say that they had the emperor’s attention. Let’s talk about some of the immediate effects of his displeasure.”

Class went pretty well, though La Belle turned around and stared at me every time I was called on, and she wasn’t the only one. It hadn’t really been anything more than petulance that had first prompted me to make Lynette address me as Ms. Mackenzie, but the more I thought about it and the more I saw peoples’ reactions to it, the more convinced I became that it was a good idea.

The separate forms of address were an unnecessary division. They didn’t concretely benefit anyone, human or non-human, but it bugged some people to see them treated all the same. Did they resent being “lumped together” with the different races, or was it more a matter of just being so used to things being one way? I didn’t know.

Of course, when the school year first began, I had resented being marked as non-human. If I had any choice in the matter, I would have loved to pass as human for the entire school year. It was now obvious that this would not have been a feasible option even without the problematic address. It seemed like I might as well make the most of my visibility.

Meanwhile, the lecture was ongoing, and we were getting into the more interesting parts.

“Orcish mercenaries,” Professor Hart said, repeating a student’s answer. “Though we should be aware that the individual soldiers were in fact conscripts, most of whom drew no wages for their service… question, Mr. La Belle?”

“You aren’t funny,” she said. She hadn’t had her hand up. I imagine he must have seen a look on her face.

“Occupational hazard,” he replied. “Did you have a question?”

“I guess,” she said. “Who cares?”

“Given that we are a history class, the answer is ‘we do’,” Hart said.

“I mean, who cares what the orcs were paid?” she asked.

“See above,” he said.

“I mean, they were still orcs, they were still working for the old empire, and they were still fighting against us,” she said. “When you go out of your way to point out that ‘Oh no, they were unpaid conscripts!’ or whatever…”

She let the sentence trail off.

“Finish your thought, Ms. La Belle,” Hart said.

“I just don’t see why everybody has to re-write history to make the I.R.M. the bad guys,” she said.

“History is like an essay, Ms. La Belle” Hart said. “You keep re-writing it until you get it right. Though, wars don’t have ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’… they have winners and losers. We won this one. We won… by ignoring the accepted rules of engagement and outlasting the attention of an opponent who lived an ocean away.”

“That’s not fair,” La Belle said.

“I’m not going to waste time coming up with reasons why it was heroic and daring when Magisterion’s forces ambushed the enemy, and underhanded and evil when they did it to him,” Hart said. “This is a history class. The only thing I’m actually concerned with is the story of what happened. Now, propaganda forms an important part of any war effort, and this was no exception. The presence of orcish regiments—and the popular perception of them as mercenaries—was something the Senate immediately seized upon. Stories of atrocities were circulated among the populace, even while separate propaganda efforts targeted the orcs. Does anybody have any idea what those efforts might have included?”

My hand was in the air.

“Mi… Ms. Mackenzie,” Hart said.

“The orcs’ commanders were marching them into massacres because they were compensated with gold for every soldier they lost,” I said.

“Yes,” Hart said. “Excellent. This and other stories were designed to entreat the orcs to desert, or even defect. It’s doubtful they had much effect, because of the orcs’ famous military discipline. They may not have had any loyalty to the emperor, but… what, Ms. La Belle?”

“They’re orcs.”

“Yes,” Hart said. “That should probably go without saying.”

“But you’re talking about them like they’re… I don’t know,” she said. “But, like, ‘famous military discipline’? They’re barbarians.”

“You ever try to talk a barbarian into switching sides in the middle of a battle?” Hart said. “To put your objection in the context of our discussion of propaganda, orcs have been saddled with two simultaneous, conflicting images: ineffectual, lazy, stupid slobs… and deadly, efficient, merciless killers. During the time of Magisterion’s War, the latter image was drilled into the common populace while the former was used to pump up troops who would be going into battle against them.”

The class continued, and Hart did his best to roll over Ms. La Belle’s further objections and interjections. The war itself wasn’t the focus of the course, so he focused mostly on things like the political climate and popular sentiment rather than dates of battles, which made it interesting.

“Miss Steff, I’d like a word,” Hart said after dismissing the class.

“Sure thing,” she said. “I’d tell him to fuck off if you didn’t like this class,” she added quietly, to me.

“I’ll wait outside for you,” I told her.

“See you in a bit.”

“Ms. Mackenzie?” Hart called as I turned around and headed for the door.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Don’t wear those in my class again,” he said. “And welcome back.”

“Sorry, sir,” I said, blushing. I didn’t have to ask what he meant.

Out in the hall, I waited for Steff with my back against the wall. She was in the classroom for about ten minutes.

“What did he want?” I asked.

“Blowjob,” she said.

What?”

She burst out laughing.

“I’m just kidding,” she said. “It was actually a rimjob.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” I said.

“Ask Amy,” Steff said. “Seriously, though, he just wanted to bitch me out for skipping on Wednesday. I don’t know why. Like he said, there wasn’t even any work. He knows I’m your friend, so for all he knew, I could have been too distraught or something.”

“But you weren’t,” I said. “You just didn’t bother coming because you knew I wouldn’t be there.”

She shrugged.

“He doesn’t know that,” she said. “Though he acts like he does. Seriously, this isn’t high school. I shouldn’t get shit from the teachers because I decide not to show up for one day.”

I didn’t say anything. I don’t think she would have liked what I had to say on this subject.

We headed out. Without even thinking, I leaned into her for support. Without even thinking, she gave it.

“Um, do you want to go to the healing center?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I just want to get back to the dorm and change my jeans.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I’m not bleeding.”

“Guess I don’t blame you for not wanting to go back,” she said. She grinned wolfishly. “You want me to kiss it better?”

“Don’t be gross,” I said.

“Who’s being gross?” she asked.

“You want to lick my blood or something,” I said.

“Now you’re being gross,” she said, shaking her head. “Lick your blood. What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“The kind that licks blood.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I’ve been paying attention.”

We continued like that as we hobbled along. It was nice being pressed in so close to Steff, even if the reason wasn’t the best thing ever… and the amiable bickering gave me something to focus on besides the way each step jarred my knee or other peoples’ reactions.


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6 Responses to “189: By The Seat Of Her Pants”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I love it, how the prof doesn’t take any of La Belle’s crap.

    Current score: 4
  2. Tamina says:

    I kind of don’t like it how Steff pushes Mack. I get how that’s her “thing,” and there’s the whole self-discovery when she works out that she doesn’t actually want to torture her lovers or eat strangers; but…she squicks me out sometimes. I get how Ian doesn’t really like her that much, I think he’s a really good influence later in the story.

    Current score: 0
    • WsntHere says:

      Lessee…What is the word….Spoilers, that’s it. These are on the mild side, but still, dood. There weren’t any my first coupla times through, a fact I REALLY appreciate, but this is at least the third time I’ve seen it this round. This is like watching a movie with my wife that she’s seen and I haven’t.
      Bleah
      Bob

      Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Well think about this:

      There are three relationships Mackenzie is in where the other party pushes bounderies.

      Puddy is fist, the peredator, she is agressive and crule. Her tactics are threats (of violence, or of “not being friends”) and force.

      Then is Amaranth, her main problem is ignorance. She only understands bounderies on a conceptual level (she essentially dosn’t have any). While she tries to accept them, she often fails because she dosn’t understand them.

      Steff on the other hand may be agressive, but she understands bounderies, and she respects them. Yes she tries to push and prod at them, but she dosn’t just ignere or try to smash them. Her overt aproach may look bad at first, but it’s probably the most healthy of the three.

      Current score: 4
  3. nobody says:

    I would guess that Steff drew an anatomically correct heart.
    She should have at least seen a photo of one while studying necromancy.

    Current score: 3
  4. Jechtael says:

    “Why would you think that?”
    “I’ve been paying attention.”
    And our Ms. Mackenzie gains another point in the verbal sparring category!

    Ah, I didn’t even think about the fact that an anatomically correct heart might be considered grotesque or vulgar because of healing magic keeping dissections and invasive surgery at the same level of taboo as they were circa Leonardo and Michaelangelo. I just thought an anatomically correct heart would be amusing, and in line with Steff’s likes and personality.

    Current score: 4