192: Tabled Motions

on April 7, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Mackenzie Receives A Pledge Of Support

Steff was quiet the whole walk over to the union. I felt too awkward to try questioning her, especially in front of people we barely knew like Honey and the goblinoids, or even Hazel for that matter.

What had she meant, she hadn’t forgotten? Had it slipped her mind at all, or had she just been counting on it going undetected? The most likely explanation to my mind was that she simply hadn’t been thinking… like me, she’d been focused on the moment.

Probably the abstract idea of being caught and me being punished by Viktor had been hot, though she didn’t look too excited by the prospect of it actually coming to pass.

If this had all come up earlier, I never would have suggested everybody come along for dinner. That had been an attempt at being polite, but it would make it impossible to have a real conversation about the subject, to get answers or even give reassurances.

When we got to the cafeteria, we had to move two tables together in order to accommodate all nine of us. I felt a little nervous, certain that the staff would challenge us, but nobody said anything. A look at Two’s face told me that even if she didn’t share my exact concern, she was equally bothered by the rearranging.

I expected a fuss from her over the seating arrangements, since I wanted to stay close to Steff. When she saw me sitting between Steff and Amaranth, though, she simply arranged Hazel and Dee so that she could sit between them and across from me.

Steff wasn’t eating much. I found her hand under the table. She gave mine a feeble squeeze, and gave me a wan smile. I leaned my head against her, tilting so that the side of my leg pushed up against Amaranth’s.

There was some scattered conversation. Shiel and Hazel talked about miniature warfare, and Steff listened to them with interest, though she kept shooting sideways glances at me. I kept my hand in hers. I wanted to tell her that it was fine, but I didn’t really know that it was. The prospect of Viktor’s punishment frankly scared me. I had Amaranth to look out for me, and I still had my ultimate powers as a submissive… but Viktor would be perfectly justified in throwing up his hands and declaring that Steff and I were through.

Or that Steff and he were.

Fuck.

What had we done?

Shiel cut herself off mid-sentence after Two very politely excused herself to go use the restroom.

“I have to ask this,” she said to the table as a whole, after several minutes of conversation about miniature warfare with Hazel. “And I apologize for intruding on anybody’s privacy, such as it is, but something has been bothering me for a while.”

“Ask anything,” Amaranth said, smiling. “I mean, the worst anybody can do is choose not to answer.”

“That’s a very optimistic outlook,” Shiel said.

“Thank you,” Amaranth said, though I didn’t think Shiel had meant it as a compliment. “Ask away.”

“Exactly what sort of relationship do each of you have with Two?” she asked.

The question caught all of us off our guard, and nobody said anything at first.

“Well, she’s our good friend, and we all love her very much,” Amaranth said.

“And?” Shiel asked. She looked at me. “You live with her, right?”

“And nothing,” I said. “She’s like a sister to me.”

“You’ve a dirty mind,” Hazel said. She sounded angry at the suggestion.

“I’m not judging anybody,” Shiel said. “But I know the sorts of things that some of you get up to.”

“Not with the pseudowench!” Steff said. “You make it sound like we’ve got no self-control whatsoever, like we’re all going to just jump on somebody because they’re there.”

Steff sounded more than a little defensive about this, but nobody except for Amaranth and Two and me… and maybe Dee… could possibly know why. She was turning her fear and pain into anger.

“I’ve tried to sound her out on the subject a few times, but she’s never shown any interest,” Amaranth said. “I’m sure she’ll grow into it in time, though.” She shrugged. “I hope. It’s sad to think that she’ll never have anybody.”

“What anybody? She has all of us,” Hazel said.

“Love and friendship are good, but they aren’t any substitute for sex,” Amaranth said.

“How about you?” Shiel asked Dee. “You roomed with her, at the beginning.”

“Two’s very creation was an abominable act,” Dee said. “I for one would not further that abomination by making use of her.”

“Abomination?” I repeated. “I thought you were her friend!”

“Baby, voice,” Amaranth said. “I’m sure Dee doesn’t mean…”

“But I do,” Dee said. “Life is a precious blessing from the gods, but to willingly and knowingly bring it forth irresponsibly is obscene under any circumstances. Golem-making is simply beyond the pale. It is a deliberate and inexcusable perversion that is degrading to all living things.”

I stared at her. How long had she felt this way?

“Consider the cruelty of Two’s existence,” Dee said. “Created to serve but given a mind that can think. Given a mind that can think but the desire to serve. Given the desire to serve but set free. Her life is bounded by paradoxes which are perplexing to us but painful to her. Can you not see that the act of fostering such an existence is an act of purest evil, whether done maliciously or carelessly?”

“Well, yeah, but… are you saying you’d rather she didn’t exist?” I demanded.

“I cannot give an unbiased answer to that question,” Dee said.

“Yeah, no shit,” I said, disgusted.

“You misunderstand,” Dee said. “I cannot give an unbiased answer because I am so glad to know her.”

“I’m glad to know you, too, Dee,” Two said, returning to the table. I had no idea how much she’d heard of the heated conversation on her way back, but she didn’t seem to be perturbed.

“Welcome back, Two,” Amaranth said.

“Thank you,” Two said.

“What I mean is, her creation was a monstrous thing,” Dee said. “Her existence is not.”

“I see what you’re saying,” Shiel said to Dee. “Shame belongs to the perpetrators, not the victims.”

“Yes,” Dee said, sounding a little surprised. “Precisely.”

“I don’t think Two is exactly a ‘victim’,” Amaranth said. “She’s had a rough life, but she’s loved and she has friends.”

“Well, this is all a bit of a relief,” Shiel said. She appeared to be choosing to ignore Amaranth’s remarks. “I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the idea of my dormmates taking advantage of someone who’s unable to give consent.”

“Two just brings out peoples’ protectiveness,” Amaranth said.

“I believe we are all of one mind on that score,” Dee said.

“Hey, she’s sitting right there,” I said. “Do we have to talk about her this way?”

“People can talk about me if they want,” Two said. “I don’t mind.”

“If I ever run into anyone that has taken advantage of her, I’ll be punching them in whatever’s nearest,” Hazel said.

“Miss Hazel!” Honey said. “We are at the table.”

“I will, though,” Hazel said.

“Anyway… I don’t think that’s exactly her problem, not being able to consent,” I said. I still felt a little uncomfortable, but Two had said it was okay and this was bugging me. “She’s a free being now. The problem is, she’s too able.”

“Oh, no, hon, remember what I told you back when… well, a couple weeks ago?” Steff said. “About how if you don’t have a meaningful choice, you can’t really give your consent?”

“Exactly,” Shiel said. “Somebody who isn’t in a position to withhold consent is not in a position to give it, and she seems incapable.”

Amaranth frowned.

“I don’t think she’s incapable of withholding consent,” she said. “When she was first freed, she would always choose to consent, but that was her choice. It’s a gray area…”

“It’s not a gray area,” Shiel said. “If she were a natural being who always said yes, we’d say she was incapable of saying no. An advanced society would recognize her as incompetent.”

“Can you please not call Two ‘incompetent’?” I asked. “She isn’t stupid.”

“I’m not,” Two agreed, but she still looked and sounded utterly unoffended.

“Yeah, and anyway, I suppose you’re going to tell us you’re from an advanced society,” Hazel said to Shiel. “I know what kobolds are like.”

“Wasting your breath,” Oru said quietly.

“No, I’m not going to tell you that,” Shiel said. “We’re about as tail-first as they come. Kobold women are usually married off at the first opportunity, and under the control of our nearest male relative at all phases of our life. But just because the inequities in my society are more blatant doesn’t mean they don’t exist in others.”

“Well, I’ve read that it’s increasingly common for families to defer to their daughters’ wishes, for marriages and other things,” Amaranth said. “Or at least consider them, anyway. So, it seems like the balance of power is shifting.”

“How can you say that?” Shiel asked. “If a person with power over others chooses to utilize that power in accordance with others’ wishes on a case-by-case basis, they haven’t actually given up their power. They’re still exercising their prerogative. My parents are very progressive, but the final decision for anything having to do with my life still rests with them. If there was any dispute, there would be no question that they were within their rights to do as they pleased. I’m very grateful that they chose to allow me to attend college instead of putting me into a marriage contract. But it was still their choice, not mine, that mattered.”

“This is why I can’t wait to go live with the ogres. They have a total meritocracy,” Steff said. “Well, sort of. The strongest and most ruthless rule. But they don’t care about bullshit like gender lines or even racial purity.”

“Forgive me for asking an obvious question, but how exactly do you plan to get along in a strength-based society where everybody else outweighs you by three to five times?” Shiel asked.

“Well, I have Viktor,” Steff said. “Nobody’s going to mess with me, because they won’t want to mess with him.”

“I see,” Shiel said.

“What?” Steff asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Shiel said.

“No, don’t say ‘nothing’,” Steff said. “You tell me what.”

“It’s just… you’re planning on subsuming your personhood to a stronger individual in order to survive,” Shiel said. “Even if they don’t articulate racial or gender prejudice, it’s hard to escape the implications there, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but I choose to do this,” Steff said. “Nobody’s holding a knife to my throat.”

“Given that your other choices seem to include being oppressed by humans or being oppressed by elves, I suppose being oppressed by ogres must seem like a valid choice,” Shiel said.

“So, how long have you been playing the recorder?” Honey asked Oru in a rather loud and obvious sort of way.

“Oh, as long as I can remember,” Oru said in the same carrying fashion. “Well, I started with an ocarina. Why, do you play?”

“Oh, no,” Honey said. “I sing.”

“Are you in the music program here?”

“No, but I was in the choir back home. Soloist.”

“Nice.”

“Yourself?”

“I’m an armoury major,” Oru said. “But I think I might take some music courses, once I’m more into, you know, the swing of things.”

Steff glowered murderously across the table at Shiel, who looked absolutely serene.

“You know, Mack’s boyfriend is in a band,” Amaranth said. “And Steff’s is sort of a musician, too.”

“He’s really good,” I said. “I mean, they both are.”

“What’s your man play, Mack?” Oru asked. “Or does he sing?”

“Lute,” I said. “I don’t know if he sings.”

“How about you, Steff?” Oru asked. Steff didn’t respond. She was still glaring at Shiel. “Steff?”

“Harpsichord,” Steff said. “He plays the harpsichord.”

“My mum played the piano,” Hazel said.

“Oh, yes, she was quite good,” Honey said. “We all had a great deal of admiration for her playing.”

“She played softly?” Amaranth asked, looking confused.

“No, she played the piano. It’s like a harpsichord,” Hazel said. “Sort of. It’s a bit different. I mean, it’s… well…”

“The strings are hammered instead of plucked,” Honey said. “And they keep resonating. You can control the volume, like you would with a hammered dulcimer, by striking the keys harder or softer. That’s where the name… well, it’s really short for pianoforte, in the Low Draconian. Means ‘quiet-loud’.”

“Really,” Amaranth said. “How does that work?”

“You could probably use a conditional enchantment,” I said. “Set to…”

“Oh, no, there’s no magic in its making,” Honey said. “It’s just terribly complicated.”

“It sounds almost scientific,” Amaranth said, entranced.

“It’s bloody close,” Hazel said. “I’ll tell you that for free.”

“Language,” Honey said.

“It is,” Hazel said. “Levers everywhere. I can’t wrap my head around it. My mum tried to teach me how to play, but it was too much for me. I don’t have the hands for it.”

“That’d be your dad in you,” Honey said. “‘Butterfingered Bob’.”

“Hey, leave off,” Hazel said.

“Are there plans for these quiet-loud things on the ethernet?” Steff asked.

Hazel and Honey looked at each other and shrugged.

“Don’t know. I’m honestly surprised none of you have heard of them,” Hazel said. “I didn’t think anybody used harpsichords anymore.”

“My people have a strictly vocal tradition,” Dee said. “It requires much less in the way of materials.”

“I could imagine,” Hazel said.

“If nobody minds a change in topic,” Shiel said, “I wonder what Mack is thinking about the upcoming floor meeting.”

“I… really don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think any of the people I’ve really pissed off in the last week voted for me the first time around, at least.”

“What will you do if you win?” Shiel said.

“Whatever I can,” I said. “I don’t know what real power the student senate has, much less a single freshman senator, but I’ll find out and then use it as much as I can.”

“And what if you lose?”

“I’ll do something,” I said. “Maybe I could join the activities committee.” I shrugged. “It’s been a surreal week. I haven’t been able to do half the stuff I would have liked to do to get ready.”

“Like what?” Shiel asked.

“Um, I don’t know,” I said. “Send out another round of letters?”

“I see.”

“What?” I asked. Shiel could pack so much into those two little words. It was a gift.

“I think I finally understand the human saying, ‘If the gods had meant for us to vote, they would have given us candidates.'”

“Hey!” I said.

“That’s uncalled for,” Amaranth said.

“She’s a better candidate than Sooni,” Two said. “So she should win.”

“She is,” Shiel said. “But I don’t think she will. You wasted so much time, Mack… I’m not even talking about this week. You might have won last week if you’d done a little bit more to earn it. You say you haven’t managed to offend anybody who wasn’t already against you. Well, unless you’ve managed to sway some of those people for you, why should you expect anything to be different tonight?”

“Maybe more people will show up to vote?” Amaranth suggested. Considering who had skipped last time, I didn’t see how that could be a good thing… Leda, Belinda, Puddy, and Mariel.

Leda had no particular reason to be prejudiced against me, but she was Rocky’s roommate, and our one real interaction had not gone well at all. Belinda had ambushed me in order to assert ogrish dominance, only to be run off by a display of my strength. She hadn’t admitted defeat, but that had to sting. Puddy and Mariel… well, Mariel had never liked me. She’d seen me as a rival from the beginning. As for Puddy, I had no idea how she really felt about me.

Love? Hate? Something else?

“Here comes Puddy,” Two said, jarring me from my thoughts. We all turned and looked where she was facing. Like something out of a nightmare, Puddy was coming across the lunchroom towards us, as if the mere act of thinking about her had summoned her.

“I’ll take care of her,” Steff said. “I’m feeling stabby anyway.”

“No,” I said, grabbing her wrist.

“Hi…” Puddy said, walking around to the end of the table where she could look down the line between all of us. She looked tired, or even reduced, somehow. Diminished. Dissipated. The fixed leer was absent from her face, but her eyes still probed like spears, and they found me and held me fast.

Celia had compared us to a snake and a bird. That was about how I felt.

“I apologize for my rudeness, but it would be in your best interest to state your business succinctly and leave,” Dee said.

“I just want to talk to Mack,” Puddy said. “Will you come with me?”

“I really don’t think so, Puddy,” Amaranth said. “But thank you for…”

“Not talking to you, tits,” Puddy said, her eyes still clasped on me.

I looked down. I wasn’t blushing. Puddy’s eyes made me feel ashamed, but I wasn’t blushing. Bad memories were coming back to me: sitting on her lap, her hands on me, her fingers…

“You coming, Mack?” Puddy asked. “I just want to talk.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You’re not afraid of me, are you?” she said. “Listen, what happened before… well, I swear to everything, I haven’t had anything to drink. I’m okay now.”

“I’m glad,” I said, after a few seconds it took me to find my voice. It was still her. However different she looked, there was no mistaking the broad shoulders and strawberry curls. It was still Puddy. My body wanted to react. “I’m proud of you. But I’m not ready to go anywhere with you.”

“You always said you wanted to be my friend,” Puddy said. “Look, I understand why that didn’t work… I don’t blame you for that. That was my fault, and I… well, I’m sorry. But I’m different now. I changed. We can be friends, real friends, if you let me.”

Friends. She’d tried that one last time, too. That had been the ultimate temptation for me, when I’d arrived. My desperation to be accepted had made me the perfect victim. But I’d changed, somewhat, and my circumstances had changed greatly. I was surrounded by friends.

“Amaranth gave you my answer,” I said.

“I want to hear it from you,” she said. “If you mean it, you’ll tell me yourself.”

“I obey my owner,” I said. Puddy had been manipulating me from the very first day. She’d got me to own up to my demonic blood within about a minute of meeting her. I wasn’t going to let her push me into anything now. “And she answered you.”

“Say whatever you’ve got to say, and leave,” Steff said.

“Mariel and me are coming to the meeting tonight,” Puddy said. “For you. We’re going there to vote for you.”

“Thank you,” I said. I looked up at her.

“I don’t want anything from you,” she said. It was clear that she did, though. It was written all over her face. It wasn’t lust, but she was clearly desperate for something… friendship? Approval? “I just… I wanted you to know.”

“Thanks.”

“You should go,” Amaranth said.

“Fuck you, I was, anyway,” Puddy said. “But one more thing.” She pointed to Two. “I see her walking around the place with bags of candy and ice cream cones and shit, humming and smiling. Who told her to eat dessert? Who told her to always eat dessert?”

Nobody said anything.

“I did,” Puddy said. “That was me. So while you self-righteous little shits are crawling up each other’s asses over what a great job you’ve done taking care of the feebleminded little golem girl, remember that I’m the one who started it all. No matter how far she’s come, no matter how far she’s gone, it’s because of me.”

Feebleminded. Puddy might have had a point but she’d overplayed it. I thought I detected a miniscule change in Dee’s posture. I felt Steff shift at my side.

“Puddy, go,” I said.

“I’m still voting for you,” Puddy said. “We both are.”

Go.”

I don’t know if it was my voice or my face, or if Puddy had just run out of things to say, but she did, though she took the time to flip Steff off before she did. Steff got up so quickly she banged the table. I grabbed her arm and restrained her. She calmed down and took her seat.

“Well,” Shiel said. “I guess that’s one thing that will be different.”


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10 Responses to “192: Tabled Motions”

  1. pedestrian says:

    It is amazing how someone, who has been dismantling their relationships, will compound their errors by deliberately demolishing whatever is left. And yes, I have definite in-laws in mind.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    “Love and friendship are good, but they aren’t any substitute for sex,” Amaranth said.
    And this is one of the cornerstone of why Amaranth is so blind.

    Current score: 6
  3. Arakano says:

    To be fair though – while we are raised and educated to scoff at Amaranth’s statement, it’s utterly true. I am not saying sex is superior to love or friendship; but love and friendship are simply no substitutes for sex. If you do not feel that you need sex, fine, great for you. But some of us do, me for example. I have great friends, and I am even blessed enough to have some people who love me in my life, and I am grateful for both, immensely so.

    That does not mean I do not long for sex. I am a sensual person. My lack of a sex life is seriously affecting my life strongly and negatively.

    Current score: 4
    • Anon says:

      For people who desire sex, a lack of it is a significant loss. Myself, I have never in my many years of life felt the need, and I have no context in which to miss it; I feel that the addition of sex to my own life would be largely meaninless and irrelevant. I have on occasion cursed the lack of sexual attraction, as it eliminates the possibility of an honest and equitable romantic relationship with the vast majority of the population, but that’s purely a tertiary effect.

      Amaranth is a fertility spirit, a being of almost pure sex. She just can’t conceive of a living, sentient, loving creature that doesn’t want or need sex in some way. Two is a golem, apparently created without such desires, and likely can’t conceive of a particular reason to do any sex things. She might someday do such things to make somebody she loves happy, but for now she seems to consider them inconvenient, messy, and generally pleasureless.

      Current score: 1
  4. Psi-Ko says:

    Apples and oranges, people. Love and friendship is great, so is sex, but neither are substitute for the other. Apples are great, oranges are, too. But when I ask for a banana, damnit, I want a banana!

    Current score: 7