478: Plan B, or Not Plan B

on January 5, 2011 in Uncategorized Chapters

In Which A Hypothetical Beginning Definitively Ends

I headed straight for the healing center after class… I figured that if I ended up missing lunch with everyone, Ian would probably realize where I’d gone and he would be able to tell everyone not to worry. It seemed likely to me that he’d be there, since he’d been making such an effort to be closer to the group.

Well, to me, really… but it was the group that included me.

Realistically I probably would have lost nothing by going to lunch like normal and then going to the healing center during my long afternoon break, but I had the somewhat irrational urge to get things taken care of as soon as possible, as though I might suddenly find myself eight and a half months’ pregnant if I let it slide another minute.

Also, and on a slightly more reasonable level of irrationality, I didn’t want to face Amaranth while I was contemplating this sort of thing. While I was sure she would understand and accept my decision on the matter, I couldn’t help but feeling there would be some aspect of sorrow and disappointment in that acceptance.

Or maybe she’d tell me that I was being silly and of course I wasn’t pregnant.

Or that I was being silly for worrying about what she or anybody else might think when it was too soon to even tell.

It was hard to know what she would have said or how she would have reacted, and that was the problem… it was the unknown that worried me. I was being haunted by could be and might be, by potentialities and possibilities.

The best way to think of what I was doing, I told myself, was shrinking the number of possibilities. When I found out if I was pregnant… or in danger of being so… that would eliminate one set of possibilities right from the start.

I just hoped it was the right set.

There were a couple of people in the waiting area of the healing center when I got there. They were both girls. That fact made me deeply uncomfortable for some reason. I felt like as women they were more likely to be able to discern why I was there and infer things about me for it.

I told myself that this was silly, that they could be there for a similar reason as me, for all that I knew… but that just made me feel naive and small. They both looked so calm and composed.. If they were there for reasons having to do with anything sexual, they were certainly more at ease with themselves about it.

Then I spotted a guy who’d been reading a pamphlet on the wall and I didn’t really feel any better about his presence. I wondered what would be worse… getting a male healer to talk to, or a female one? It seemed to me like neither would be any better than the other, but whichever one I ended up with would be worse.

Then there was the high likelihood that I would be stuck with a Khersian, or a member of a subsidiary faith. As I filled out the form I wondered if “no clerics, please” would be a horrible faux pas.

I decided to sort of hedge things a little bit by emphasizing my need for arcane treatment and my sensitivity to divine power as much as I possibly could in the small space allotted for special needs and considerations.

I also balked at describing my reason for coming there. It seemed like a bigger and more complicated thing than the form was intended to capture. I mean, it wasn’t like “broken foot” or “sword through arm” or something that could be summed up in a short phrase or sentence. I thought I might be pregnant… okay, that was a short sentence, but it still didn’t really convey the magnitude of the situation at all.

I did my best with the form and then handed it back to the receptionist without making eye contact. I thought I might have heard a short, sharp intake of breath as she glanced at it, but she didn’t question my lack of details… she just took it and began processing it.

A few minutes or several years later, a male voice called out, “Ms. Mackenzie?” I looked up to see Roger beckoning me to come back.

Evidently my preferred form of address had been circulated among the healing center staff… considering the amount of trouble we’d given each other, I wasn’t too surprised that they were being careful around me.

Or… alternatively… maybe it was simply Roger being respectful of other people’s choices and beliefs. I had to admit that he was one of the more decent people on the center’s staff. He’d never been less than fair to me. If he was brusque sometimes, well… I’d probably given him reason to not want to linger in my presence longer than was necessary to do his job, and I couldn’t say that he didn’t do his job.

On the balance, Roger was probably not the worst person for me to talk to about sensitive subjects.

Holding my bunched-up coat in front of me like a big shaggy teddy bear, I followed him.

“I notice for the ‘nature of injury or complaint’ blank, you put ‘confidential – please ask’,” he said once he led me into one of the actual examination rooms with a door, which he closed behind us and gestured to a small plastic chair bolted in the corner. “So… confidentially… what is the nature of the injury or complaint?”

“Um… my boyfriend and I had, you know… we forgot to wear a ring,” I said, sinking into the chair. I said it with more calmness than I expected, even as I stumbled over the words. I was surprised to find there was no feeling of rising heat in my cheeks, no sense of embarrassment. I was jittery as all get-out, but not embarrassed. I barely registered how cold the room was until a bare patch of skin below the back of my t-shirt touched the plastic, but even then it was a distant concern. “And so… um… I wanted to get, you know… checked out.”

“Have you noticed any symptoms?”

“No,” I said. “But I’d like to be… careful… anyway. And also… I’m worried that I might be…”

I waited to see if he would fill in the blank, out loud or otherwise, but he just sat there impassively waiting for me to finish.

“Pregnant,” I said.

“Okay,” Roger said. “Now, are you looking to confirm whether or not you’re pregnant, or are you looking to confirm that you’re not?”

“Don’t we have to do the one before we could do anything about the other?” I asked.

“Not necessarily,” he said. “Some of the more, uh, drastic measures aren’t something you would want to go through ‘just in case’, but they wouldn’t begin to be necessary if you’re only a couple of days along.”

“So… you’re telling me that you could do something for me that would just take care of it now, and I wouldn’t even have to know if I was ever… or if I would have been…”

He nodded.

“That’s what I’m telling you,” he said. “Obviously the number of options are going to be constrained a little because we have to rule out the divine treatments…”

“Are there even divine treatments for this?” I asked. I realized right after I said it that I was making the mistake of parsing “divine” as “Khersian”.

“Yeah, actually, there are,” he said. “There are a few different deities who could be invoked. The most reliable method is Khaelean.”

“Seriously?” I said. I would have expected Mother Khaele to stay away from that sort of thing. “Aren’t Khaeleans more concerned with, you know, fertility?”

“Yeah, that’s why they’re good with this stuff,” he said. “One of the rites of rabbits does the trick.”

“Rites of rabbits?” I repeated.

“Yeah, it’s a big fertility thing,” he said. “Some are good for increasing fertility, but there are two main ones that we might recommend. One tells you if you’re pregnant, and another one ends the pregnancy peacefully. It’s one of the better ways to end things if you’re far enough along for there to be issues, as I understand it. We don’t do that one here, though. We just refer people to a practitioner who performs it.”

“So… what would you recommend for me?” I asked. “Given that I can’t have divine energy, and I want to… get things done, definitively, and I don’t really want to know one way or the other?”

“Well, we do have this thing that they used to call the ‘draught of living death’,” he said. “That’s kind of a dark and melodramatic title, what it really is is an anti-life potion.”

“And that’s not dark or melodramatic?” I said.

“Well, the brand name for it is ‘Aviva’,” he said. “If you like the sound of that better.”

“What exactly does it do?”

“It’s a very short-lived anti-life effect,” he said. “Basically, as I understand it, ‘anti-life’ is to the living what ‘undeath’ is to the dead. You take on some aspects of death while still being alive, basically. The commonly available commercial version only lasts for a few minutes. During that time, your body is inimical to life, so any foreign living matter is destroyed pretty quickly. So whether you’re pregnant yet or not… well, you’re not pregnant, and you’re not going to be. Not from anything that might have been inside you at the time.”

“But I’m a living zombie in the meantime,” I said.

“It doesn’t last long,” he said. “And on the upside, in some cases your soul leaves your body for the duration, so…”

“Wait, that’s an upside?”

“It means you don’t have to experience the effects of the anti-life yourself,” he said.

“What happens to my soul?”

“It floats around,” Roger said. “You can move around a bit, maybe, depending on your willpower. You won’t be out long enough to mange more than that.”

“And what does my body do while I’m out of it?” I asked.

“Shamble, mostly,” he said. He shrugged. “Moan. We’d draw a containment circle around it… you… so that there isn’t any harm done, to you or anybody else.”

I had an inkling that my body, absent a soul, might be more than they were used to dealing with, but I didn’t really want to find out one way or the other.

“What are the other options?” I asked.

“Well, nothing that would work with as much certainty as the living death potion at this early stage,” he said. “We can give you a potion that temporarily lowers your fertility. That usually prevents pregnancy and has a high chance of ending one in the early stages. If you came back later, we’d have more options that can directly target the pregnancy. The anti-life elixir is really the only non-divine method that’s one hundred percent guaranteed to work when you’re not showing.”

“But it has a chance of turning me into a soulless abomination,” I said.

“Briefly,” he said. “And I just want to stress that this wouldn’t prevent it from working in the intended fashion.”

“Who even came up with the idea of using a living death potion for birth control?” I asked.

“Alchemists, I guess,” he said. “They had to find a bigger market for it than adventurers, vampire slayers, and zombie hunters… the stuff protects you from energy drains and certain kinds of undead senses, if you can keep body and soul together when you take it. Not that those applications are likely to come up during the few minutes the dose lasts for.”

It would have been absurd to be sitting there listening to a man talk about giving me an anti-vampire buffing potion that had loss of soul as a side effect for my health under just about any circumstances, but when we were talking about the possibility that I might be pregnant… and the possibility that I might be ending that pregnancy… well… it seemed kind of crass.

Or it seemed like it should have been crass, but really… it wasn’t anything.

My nervousness had subsided, and there was nothing underneath it. It seemed like I should have felt either grimly determined, or remorseful, or something, but all I felt was the cold plastic back of the chair against the small of my back.

“Roger?” I said. It might have been the first time I called him by name. It sounded weird coming out of my mouth, but I felt like what I was about to say required some sort of preface, and a bit of courtesy. I didn’t want it to sound critical.

“Yes?”

“Do you really think… is this really the best way to handle this sort of thing?” I asked.

“Well, the fertility alteration is the simplest in terms of set-up and clean-up,” he said. “But the Aviva dose isn’t really all that much…”

“I don’t mean the specific treatment,” I said. “I mean… you. Your, I don’t know, manner. The way we’re talking about it.”

“I’m just trying to answer your questions and give you all the information,” he said. “How do you think we’re talking about it?”

“So… casually,” I said. “Matter-of-factly. Shouldn’t there be some kind of, I don’t know, reverence or… respect?”

“Do you feel like I’m not respecting you?”

“I’m not talking about respect for me,” I said. “I mean… the subject. The situation.”

“When people come to me talking about sex and pregnancy, I try to follow their leads,” he said. “You seem pretty together…”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he said. “A little nervous about the subject, but you’re not dancing around or expecting me to talk you into what you want to do anyway. And you also seemed to… forgive me if I’m stripping away the veneer of plausible deniability for you… but you seemed to want to act under the assumption that you’re not pregnant, so… what is there to be reverential about?”

“I guess when you put it that way, it makes sense,” I said.

“If you’re sure that there’s no chance you’ll want to bring a hypothetical fetus to term, this is really no big deal,” he said. “And it also wouldn’t be a big deal to find out, if you wanted to know, or to wait if you’re not one hundred percent sure.”

“And if I am sure?”

“Then I give you the potion,” he said. “Well, a disease-curing one first, since it’s an instant effect.”

“And that’s it?” I said. I’d been expecting something more involved, some kind of… well, more of a process to make sure people really knew what they were doing. “Do I have to… I don’t know, sign something, or get some kind of consultation…”

“Just the usual potion acceptance forms. At this point, technically, it’s just birth control. That’s all,” Roger said. “You do have to sit here for ten minutes under observation. I can get a female healer if you’re uncomfortable…”

“What exactly do you have to observe?” I asked.

“Just you… your well-being and demeanor. If it’s going to do anything funny, it’ll happen in the first ten minutes, generally,” he said.

“What would it do that’s ‘funny’?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“I can’t think of anything specific, unless you’re on something already that’s going to mess up your life stats in some other way,” he said. “We just have a ten minute watch on anyone who takes a durational potion, so we can watch for interactions.”

“We’re talking about the fertility debuffer, not the anti-life one, right?” I asked. I had thought that was implicit, but the talk of “life stats” worried me.

“Yeah,” he said. “But properties having to do with the processes of life are pretty intricately connected. If you were taking something to boost healing, it could interfere with this potion. If you use potions to help you sleep or something else that’s impeding your vitality somehow, you could experience exhaustion or torpor. You put on your form that you’re not taking anything, but… a lot of people say that. It’s nothing personal.”

“How soon would we know that it worked?” I asked.

“When we fail to find out that it doesn’t, in the course of time,” he said. “If you come back in a week or two to get checked out, you should be able to find out for sure. Though… if you’ll forgive an inference about your personal life… I think you would find out around that time anyway.”

“Yeah, probably,” I said. “I couldn’t come back in a week and get another dose, just to be sure?”

“I’m afraid not. The dose lasts for two weeks, which should cover the long shot odds of a delayed pregnancy. You should avoid taking any other potions without supervision during it, because there is that possibility for interactions. It’ll be noted in your file that you’re under its effects, in case you’re back in here again before then, for whatever reason… if you want to be completely sure of the results, I’d go with the Aviva.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m just not sure about its other results.”

“Well, if it doesn’t work, you just come back in two weeks,” he said. “That’s assuming it’s even necessary. For all you know, you don’t even need a potion.”

“Yeah… I guess,” I said. “Um, there is something else, though.”

“What’s that?”

“I… completely unconnected to this… was thinking about going over and talking to a mental healer,” I said. “But I have this, uh, planar-related issue with telepathy, and I’m not sure how they’d handle that, and I kind of worry that just walking in there without warning might be a bad idea all-around. Do you know anything about that?”

“You might try a-mailing them or using a mirror to set up an appointment,” he said. “I’m sure there are things they could do. If you’d like, I could talk to someone and have them contact you…”

“No, thanks,” I said. “I guess I didn’t think about a-mailing. That’ll probably be easiest for me.”

Being able to put off the moment of having to pluck up the courage to actually talk to someone while taking a concrete step towards doing so? Yeah, that was a no-brainer.

“So… you want to go ahead and take a prophylactic, just-in-case dose of the fertility decreasing potion, then?” Roger said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do this.”


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50 Responses to “478: Plan B, or Not Plan B”

  1. Billy Bob says:

    Roger has a nice manner to him.

    It wold have been interesting for her to take Aviva.

    Current score: 1
  2. Frelance says:

    the possibility that I might be pregnancy

    Current score: 0
    • Darn it, that’s the second chapter in a row I’ve done that in. Must be a dead spot in my brain. 😛

      Current score: 1
      • Kevin says:

        I figured it was gonna be a permanent quirk of Mack’s that she uses pregnancy rather than pregnant in thought.

        Current score: 2
  3. Burnsidhe says:

    “Interesting” in the same manner that the Chinese use “Interesting”, most likely.

    Soul goes free. Body is inherently, you know, partly demonic and effectively empty; something might want in…

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Hm. Another popular piece of common knowledge shot to death. Do you know what Western fiction that was?

      In any case, I do know people who use “Interesting” to describe a particularly difficult problem or situation, so it still fits.

      And soulless bodies, even for brief periods of time, are “Interesting”. Very glad Mack listened to her gut instinct and said “No” to that option.

      Current score: 0
      • I…tend to use the term interesting in that fashion myself.

        Current score: 1
      • erianaiel says:

        Anything that Steff finds interesting is something that Mackenzie should avoid…

        Current score: 0
  4. Ky says:

    Woo!! More stories 🙂 lord those options sound scary, glad i’m not her…

    Current score: 1
  5. alexander says:

    Aviva, just in case. I am amused by the juxtaposition.

    Current score: 0
  6. Kirine says:

    Hurray for Mack taking things into her own hands as far as the mental healing. Even though it was at someone else’s suggestion, I’m glad she’s doing things for herself without needing to ask permission first. She’s definitely come a long way from the doormat that she was when she first entered college.

    Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    Properties having
    To do with life processes
    May be connected

    Current score: 0
  8. drudge says:

    Not using the soul draining thing was probably a wise move. I can think of at least three *interesting* ways it could go wrong.

    Of course if true that makes it all but certain that she’ll have to take it at some point in the story.

    Current score: 0
  9. Peter says:

    I had a personal fun moment. I was associated with a company called “Aviva” for 5 years. “draught of living death” sums it up pretty well. Anti life works too.

    The idea of a souless Mack body is pretty scary. I love reading about things in this world, how they handle different situations, what’s normal to them.

    Current score: 0
  10. Greenwood Goat says:

    Does the Aviva potion spare the subject’s gastrointestinal microflora? Or does there have to be a followup prescription of yoghurt and blue cheese to be taken as side dishes with meals? >:=)>

    Current score: 0
    • drudge says:

      Given that MUniverse diseases seem to be GENERATED and word of god claims that the world runs largely on long defunct scientific theories, I don’t think we can assume such a thing exists.

      That particular bit of worldbuilding irritates me, but it’s such a small part of what’s written it can be ignored.

      Current score: 0
      • E says:

        It’s funny that it irritates you, whereas it’s one of my favorite parts. (A common phenomenon around here, it seems.) Maybe even my very favorite part. It makes “how the world works” so… logical, for lack of a better word. It all fits together.

        Current score: 0
        • drudge says:

          Oh no, I don’t mean the worldbuilding, I mean that one exact factoid. Other than that and maybe two other things I’ve enjoyed the worldbuilding thus far.

          Current score: 0
  11. Erm says:

    > “Shamble, mostly,” he said. He shrugged. “Moan. We’d draw a containment circle around it… you… so that there isn’t any harm done, to you or anybody else.”

    At this point I kept waiting for the point where he cracked up and admitted he was messing with her.

    Current score: 0
    • Not her, the other girl says:

      Ditto.

      If I were her I’d also want the containment circle to make a protective bubble for my soul. I’d be nervous anyway about having my soul just hanging around “out there” but I’m sure a half-demon soul would attract even more attention.

      Current score: 0
  12. Potatohead says:

    Chalk another one up for the ‘was hoping to see Aviva be chosen’, but this works too.

    Also, props for the amazing update schedule…but don’t burn yourself out, AE, we need you healthy to keep writing.

    Current score: 0
  13. Kat says:

    Dammit, now I wanna see Mack all zombified.

    Current score: 0
  14. Kevin says:

    It took me a while to do so but I finally googled Aviva and found out what the real world Aviva is… and have made two conclusions.

    One: Insurance companies most likely are the real world equivalent to a potion of zombiefication (you do not want to know what that word spell checks to it’s kinda creepy)

    Two: Aibohphobia is likely on the rise on account of insurance salesman (fear of things spelled the same backwards)

    Current score: 0
  15. Matthias says:

    This was a very interesting installment… especially Mack’s thoughts on how clean and unemotional it all is, especially for her. As a guy I have obviously never been in Mack’s position… but I do agree that when “monumental” moments occur and we never feel them as being monumental. They are just things that happen. This is portrayed in a very true way to me. Good going AE.

    Current score: 0
    • Kevin says:

      Like losing your virginity… always the same as the first time.

      Current score: 0
  16. Marian says:

    Guys, guys, that whole Aviva thing is actually pretty straight forward. Viva is a foreign word for ‘life’ and ‘a’ is a prefix that means ‘not’. Not-life, basically.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Aviva is also a Hebrew name, for springtime. Likely descended from the latin root word too.
      It’s got multiple connotations, and all you have to do is look past the first page of search results to see that.
      All in all, it’s a very good word for a trade name.

      Current score: 1
  17. Gulmont says:

    The both looked so calm and composed..

    Current score: 0
  18. readaholic says:

    Yay, good to see Roger is back. I was a bit worried when the healing center underwent its “purge” (due to Mack being warded into her room by an especially paranoid cleric), but he seems very sensible, and a good healer for Mack.

    Current score: 0
  19. beappleby says:

    “One of the rites of rabbits does the trick.”

    “Rites of rabbits?” I repeated.

    “Yeah, it’s a big fertility thing… ends the pregnancy peacefully.”

    That’s not Mother Khaele, that’s El-ah-rai-rah.

    Current score: 0
  20. Greg says:

    I really enjoyed getting a chance to see more about the healing profession here. It makes me really want to know more about the magical equivalent of anatomy and physiology.

    Current score: 0
  21. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report:

    The Arkhanite healer Mackenzie whose faith Mackenzie once insulted.

    This hover text on Roger’s name has one too many “Mackenzie”‘s in it.

    Current score: 0
  22. rien says:

    ok, THAT was an awesome chapter 🙂

    Current score: 0
  23. bramble says:

    Every campus medical center should have a Roger.

    Current score: 1
  24. Greenwood Goat says:

    More serious bit of speculation now: what would Mack Daddy think of Mack bringing a quarter-demon into the world at this time? There are a very large number of factors that could come into this, not least of them being the extent to which it would fit with Daddy’s largely unknown plan. If it did fit to his satisfaction, how hard would it be for him to interfere with the effects of the anti-fertility potion?

    Current score: 0
  25. Bilbo says:

    I was just remembering that Pala, I think, was staying at The Inn Between Worlds.

    Enter by one door, exit by another and you’re in a different world.

    I am just dying to see Mac go visit Pala.

    In a science based world with motorcycles, hard physics and no magic.

    Would she be free from the blood cravings? Actually need to eat food? Be able to pray without being blasted?

    Current score: 0
  26. Sarah says:

    Excellent chapter! Awesome worldbuilding plus plot advancement, and I’m impressed at the update rate lately.

    Current score: 0
  27. Bilbo says:

    You know, I think it would be a VERY BAD THING if Steff found out about Aviva.

    Think about it.

    Steff says she’d LOVE to zombify Mac… Aviva lets her have a little taste.

    Current score: 0
  28. Dave says:

    Now I’m even less happy that Norwich Union (with whom I have insurance policies) changed its name to Aviva. I expect I’ll think of the MU meaning every time I get an envelope with their logo on it 🙂

    Current score: 0
  29. Krail says:

    Hah! Life stats.

    I don’t suppose anyone has d20 rules for a Draught of Living Death? Sounds interesting.

    Current score: 0
  30. Cedjuct MacMan says:

    Uh oh, whatever is bad for life is good for infernals and Ms. Blaise is half-infernal.

    Current score: 1
  31. Mickey Phoenix says:

    Loving the character development in Mack’s thoughts about Roger. She starts out with her usual knee-jerk negativity, and then fact-checks herself, puts herself in Roger’s shoes, and ends up respecting and appreciating him. The only real step left is for her to verbalize her final conclusions to Roger, a la “Hey, Roger–thank you for being so professional and supportive to me. I know now that I acted like a real jerk toward you about Arkhanism, and you still treated me, and even treated me with the respect I didn’t deserve. Thank you.”

    Well, maybe next semester. 🙂

    Current score: 1