Chapter 164: Intriguing PossibilitiesAlexandraErin on July 10, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Shows Integrity
The conversation I had with Amaranth after the reflection was a lot shorter than I’d expected… I’d figured there would be a long discussion of the merits of Glory’s offer and my conduct, but it turned out that Amaranth pretty much just agreed with me.
“I’d encourage you to listen to any offer she makes you with an open mind and open eyes,” she said. “Don’t agree to anything without making sure you know all the details, but don’t turn anything down out of hand, either… of course, if you have other plans or you don’t want to do it, that’s not out of hand. And if she mostly asks you to do things that you don’t want to, it might be time to give her notice that it’s not working out.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I said.
“And remember that agreeing to one thing doesn’t make you obligated to agree to anything else,” she said.
“No decisions tonight, though,” she said. “We’ll sleep on it, and if neither of us comes up with any objection, I’ll contact Glory to give her my approval… well, to talk about it, anyway. We’ll have to discuss rates. I think to show her that we’re serious, we should ask for compensation for what you’ve done for her so far.”
“I haven’t done anything for her so far,” I said. “The relationship stuff is to help Nicki, not her… I’d do it anyway. And she knows that, which would make it hard to open negotiations over it now.”
“But you won’t be negotiating, I will,” Amaranth said. “And it’s still fair to ask some compensation. After all, if someone enjoys singing, that doesn’t mean they can’t be paid for it. Anyway, she’s the one who raised it as an example of the sort of job her ‘agent’ would perform for her.”
“I think it was just an example, though, because she couldn’t come up with anything specific,” I said.
“But your time is valuable, like you both said, and you’re using it in a way that benefits her… oh, look at it this way! You’re already only going to be doing jobs that are convenient for you, right?”
“Yeah…” I said.
“So, the last thing you should do is get in the mindset that you owe her a discount when she wants you to do something that’s not out of your way,” Amaranth said. “And you don’t want to put her in that mindset, either… right now, she has a lot of respect for you, but that could change.”
“Really?” I said. “You think she respects me?”
“Well, I think she has a sort of limited viewpoint when it comes to respecting other people, especially non-elves,” Amaranth said. “But as far as it goes… yeah, I think she does. Being willing to work with you, the way she’s courted your attention, how fast she agreed your time is valuable… there is definitely respect there. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, we should probably wait until this time tomorrow to contact her. I mean, if we don’t have any objections… if we do, we shouldn’t make her wait to hear a no.”
“I don’t disagree with sleeping on it, but do we really need to make her wait that long?” I asked.
“I think she’ll respect you more if you don’t respond too quickly,” she said. “Twenty-four hours to consider an offer isn’t rude… also, we should talk to the others and see what they say.”
“Especially Steff and Dee,” I agreed.
Grace and Nicki didn’t come for breakfast the next morning, and since that was the one meal of the day that we ate far away from the elven hotspot that was the Archimedes Center, we presented the offer to everyone then. Steff and Ian both objected pretty quickly, though most of their concerns were ameliorated when I said that I wouldn’t be going to Treehome under any circumstances.
“Get that part in writing,” Ian said. “Actually, get the whole thing in writing.”
“Writing won’t mean anything to her,” Steff said. “Remember that textbook we didn’t have in Ariadne’s class? Elven culture is oral. Oral history, oral contracts… we write things down only to make them pretty, not to make them official.”
“Yeah, but she likes human culture, remember? Making her write it down might make it more memorable,” Ian said. “Help her understand how important it is.”
“I don’t see it hurting anything to get it in writing,” Amaranth said. “That way there’s no confusion later or any chance of people remembering it differently from each other.”
“What do you think, Dee?” I asked, since she hadn’t said anything yet.
“It seems a more seemly occupation than your other line of employment,” Dee said. “Though I confess that my ignorance of the arcane may make that seem more… ghoulish… than it is.”
“You don’t see any reason to be suspicious of the offer as a whole?” I asked.
“I can see no trap in it, but this does not mean it could not be used to construct one,” Dee said. “However, if Glory for some reason wished to act against you by luring you to a specific place on campus, she would not need an arrangement any more formal than the current one. It comes down to a single question: do you trust Glory? Or rather, to what extent do you trust her. If she is trustworthy, then she can be trusted when she says that being her agent is not inherently a weighted term, and when she says that it would be more likely to protect you against the interest of other middling elves than invite such interest.”
“Unless she is mistaken,” Two said. “A person can be telling the truth and still be incorrect.”
“True,” I said. “But… she’s been in Treehome almost as long as anyone, I think. It doesn’t seem likely that she’d be wrong.”
“The thing that worries me… slightly… but still a little,” Amaranth said, “is the thing she keeps alluding to but won’t tell you about.”
“Uh… maybe it’s just me, that would worry me more than slightly,” Ian said.
“Not just you, dude,” Steff said. It was weird how when it came to Treehome, Steff and Ian could always count on each other for back-up. Well, it was useful having the skeptical viewpoint represented, and maybe it would make them better friends, at least for a while.
“I think it might worry me more if I was just hearing myself describe it like that,” Amaranth said. “But when you hear her talk about it, she just sounds so… sincere? I don’t mean confident or polished, like someone who’s trying to be sincere, but the kind of genuine enthusiasm that’s hard to fake.”
“You mean the kind of genuine enthusiasm that most people don’t bother trying to fake because they’re going for confident and polished,” Hazel said.
“I’m… moderately worried about it,” I said. “I mean, Amaranth definitely isn’t wrong, but being told that it’s totally nothing to worry about because it might not happen isn’t actually reassuring.”
“It leaves open the possibility that it would be something to worry about if it does happen,” Steff aid.
“If it involves machinations within the social structure of Treehome, then any success in her plan may make it more dangerous for you to be associated with her,” Dee said. “So, for that matter, could any failure… any attempt to increase her standing within Treehome could make you a target, whether motivated by reprisal or envy.”
“That makes sense to me, but I can’t see her making that kind of a power play,” I said. “I think she cares a lot about the safety of her courtiers and her sister… I get the feeling that’s the main reason she plays the game to the extent that she does.”
“Nothing I have seen of her contradicts this,” Dee said.
“I wonder if she’d tell me if I asked?” Amaranth said. “If I tell her that it’s a condition of your service, she might give in.”
“Maybe,” Hazel said. “Or maybe we should ask her sister.”
“I know she cares for her sister a great deal, but do you think she would confide her secrets to her?” Dee asked.
“No, but if there’s anyone in her little circle she would confide them in… if say they aren’t just secrets but plans that are being drawn up and acted on… then I think she’d confide them in front of her sister as if she’s not there,” Hazel said.
“Even if that’s true, I can’t imagine she’d tell us,” I said.
“She doesn’t have to know she’s telling us anything,” Hazel said.
“So, we ask Nicki if Grace talks in her sleep?” Ian said.
“Let me rephrase that,” Hazel said. “She doesn’t have to know that she’s telling us anything new. If she’s in the loop at all, even accidentally, she must know her sister’s plans for Mackenzie, so would it be so farfetched that she’d be in the know?”
“That… makes sense,” Ian said.
“Hold on,” I said. “I’m not about to trick Grace into blurting something out that she’s not supposed to tell… that could impact her relationship with her sister, which could screw up her relationship with Nicki, which could screw up my relationship with Nicki… and that’s saying nothing about my relationship with Glory… basically, it could screw up everything between four different people, and even if it doesn’t, I can’t see it being worth the risk.”
I was glad that we were having the discussion in a venue that was far from the elven ears of Glory’s circle… not only would this conversation have been impossible to have in earshot of her, but I didn’t have to worry about phrasing all those relationships in the “right” order.
“Just a thought,” Hazel said.
“I don’t blame you for having it,” I said. “I just… I told Glory no intrigue. I think I’ll stick with Amaranth asking directly. I need to know this or I’m going to have to walk, but at the point where we’re considering tricking someone into blurting it out… if it’s important enough to do that, it’s important enough to just lay it on the line.”
“This is sensible,” Dee said.
“You have been handling things very maturely lately, baby,” Amaranth said.
“Yeah,” Steff said. “I hope this agent thing works out, if for no other reason than things might get boring otherwise.”
“I could do with boring,” Ian said.
“Boring can be nice… it gives you time to find interesting things to do,” Hazel said. “Having interesting things happen on top of each other just gets tedious after a while.”
“Nobody will ever have to convince me of that,” I said. “I guess that’s part of why I’m even halfway interested in this thing… my life’s getting busy, but it’s mostly filling up with things I’m doing instead of things that are happening to me. Being self-inflicted doesn’t make it all any easier to manage… well, maybe a little, because I know what’s coming… but it’s more fun.”
“And it also means that you can choose to tone things down a bit, if you do get overwhelmed,” Amaranth said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just don’t get shy about reminding me of that fact, if I start to look a little ragged around the edges.”
“…I know that’s not an absolute thing, but honestly, you already do, a little,” Ian said. “Like, not badly… just a little…”
“Frayed around the edges?” Steff suggested.
“I have thought this might be the case as well,” Dee said. “But… you have been giving off less emotional leakage than normal, which made me uncertain as to the magnitude.”
“Well, that’s something,” I said, glad to have even an indirect progress report on my shielding progress. “To be honest, I have been a little increasingly frazzled the past few days… tonight might be the break I need, since I’m not going to have to do a half hour or more of extra fighting practice for the first time in a week.”
“So you won’t be late for dinner for once?” Hazel asked, her tone almost reproachful.
“I’m still staying late,” I admitted. “But I’m going to be poking at mockboxes… that’s practically recreational compared to what I’ve been doing.”