Chapter 167: Boundaries of NegotiationAlexandraErin on July 19, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Dee Drops In
I thought that Amaranth might appreciate hearing about Acantha’s off-label use of the experimental mockboxes since it seemed like the sort of thing she would approve of, but when I told her about it in our room that night, she frowned.
“What?” I said. “You don’t think there’s something… immoral… about that, or whatever? I mean, if anything, it would basically be a form of masturbation, and I know you approve of self-pleasure.”
“Oh, I would never judge someone for that… in fact, I think phantasmal creatures could potentially be useful for… well, anyway, I know there are elves in the gladiator program.”
“There are,” I said. “One of them’s been fighting in class with us.”
“That’s what I thought… it just seems odd that a college professor would have less self-control than a student,” she said.
“Well, she’s not actually a professor,” I said. “And also, as in love with himself as Asphodel seems to be, he’s got Coach Callahan to answer to if he doesn’t come out of the box. I don’t think she’d be happy to open the door and see a dude making out with himself.”
“Actually, I’m fairly certain…”
“Amaranth, punish me for interrupting you if you have to, but I really don’t want to know whatever you know about Coach Callahan’s sexual fantasies,” I said.
“Okay, baby,” she said. She giggled. “I guess it might undermine the teacher/student relationship in some way… anyway, it just seems a little odd, that’s all. The way you’ve talked about Acantha before, I had this image in my head of her as the consummate professional.”
“Well, we all have our moments of weakness,” I said.
“And on the subject of elven women and professionalism… have you reconsidered working for Glory at all?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “My existing concerns about time and priorities and getting embroiled in something bigger are all still there, but they’re still not overwhelming… as long as I can pick and choose tasks and walk away at any time, they all get filed under the heading of ‘reasons why this might not work out’ and not ‘reasons to run away before it begins’.”
“Okay, baby,” she said. “Now, our terms include having everything in writing, no going to Treehome, and payment for services already rendered… and for her to come clean about whatever she’s been hinting at. Anything else?”
“Nothing that I can think of up front,” I said. “Oh… I guess we should probably explicitly say that the relationship can be terminated at any time by either side, and that it’s not transferrable… she can call me her agent if she wants, but she can’t make me someone else’s, or you know, rent me out.”
“Do you think she’d be likely to?” Amaranth asked. “I really get the impression that part of her motivation here is just to be able to lay even that small claim to you… if she sees you as an arrow in her quiver, I don’t think she’d want to give that up.”
“Right now, yeah,” I said. “But… people get bored.”
“That’s true,” she said. “And even if it never becomes necessary, it’s not a bad stipulation… I just wonder how to say it without insulting her, if she sees an accusation in it.”
“Well, it could be flattering,” I said. “I mean, the point is that there isn’t another elf I’d trust this far. Emphasizing that might help.”
“Okay, then unless there’s anything else, I think that’s it,” Amaranth said. “Do you want to start the reflection or should I?”
“You do it,” I said, handing her my mirror. “If she won’t answer a reflection from you, I don’t think I want to be her agent.”
Amaranth took the mirror and invoked Glory by her legal name. She didn’t have to wait long… I was standing well enough away to be outside of the frame so I couldn’t see her, but I could hear clearly, and Glory started talking almost immediately.
“The divine Amaranth!” Glory said. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“The honor is mutual, Queen Glory” Amaranth said. “I’m here to talk about the offer you made to my toy.”
“She’s darling, isn’t she?” Glory said.
“She is,” Amaranth said. “She’s also… in no particular order… highly capable, extremely busy, and very precious to me. So while she’s interested and I’m inclined to allow her, I have a few questions and conditions.”
“Naturally,” Glory said.
“First, we… actually, let no, let me start over,” Amaranth said. “Because there’s one thing I’m not sure you’ll agree to, and it is a dealbreaker, so I should get this out of the way first. You’ve hinted to Mack a couple of times about something you have in the works, some dream or plan that you won’t tell her about. I think we need to know what that is before we agree to entangle her life any more fully with yours.”
“At any given moment, I may have any number of things going on,” Glory said. “Do you expect to be apprised of all of them?”
“No, but I think you know the one to which I refer,” Amaranth said.
“Obviously… I’m not being coy and pretending otherwise,” she said. “I’m merely raising the question of where this transparency you ask for will end. If I hadn’t in a moment of ebullience… a few moments of ebullience… dropped the barest mention of this thing that might, at some unspecified point of the future, come to pass in some way, then you and Mackenzie wouldn’t know there’s anything to know, and there would be no barrier to her employment. So why let it stand in the way now?”
“Because it’s obviously something important, and no matter what you say about the likelihood, the fact that you can’t stop talking about it suggests that you think it really might happen sometime in the foreseeable future,” Amaranth said. “Which means it might affect Mackenzie, which means we need to know before we can make up our minds.”
A silence stretched out after this.
“I’ll have to think about this,” Glory said. “I really… I’m not ready for anyone to know about this. You’re right, it might happen, but if word gets out too soon, the whole deal could be ruined.”
“We’re willing to be sworn to secrecy, whether we take the deal or not,” Amaranth said. “…provided it doesn’t involve anything illegal or against the university’s code of behavior, and that isn’t something where silence on our parts could be used to incriminate us later.”
“Okay, I like a puppet show as much as the next octogenarian, but this is getting ridiculous,” Glory said. “Do you really think I’m not going to recognize what it looks like when someone’s getting whispers in their ear?”
“Sorry!” Amaranth said. “It wasn’t my idea, I didn’t even ask… Dee, you want to come in here?”
A few moments later, the door connecting our room to the bathroom shared with Dee and Two opened and Dee swept through it. She went and stood next to Amaranth, who angled the compact to try to include both of them in the frame, though she had to extend her arm… then the mirror floated out of her hand entirely and hovered in midair, apparently held aloft telekinetically.
“Oh, thanks, Dee,” Amaranth said.
“My apologies to both of you,” she said. “I had no intention of intruding… as with most conversations that I overhear, I made a conscious effort to tune it out.” She made a slight bow towards the mirror. “You know what this is like, I am certain.”
“Forgive me for saying you didn’t do a very good job of it,” Glory said.
“My intention was only to facilitate the end that you yourself desire,” Dee said. “You will not have the services of Mackenzie Blaise unless her mistress and her friends agree that it is safe for her to render them. I was merely attempting to outline a path that would satisfy all.”
“Well, there’s something to be said about an oath,” Glory said. “But… well, if you can overhear the conversation, others can, too. Dang it! This is why those conference rooms are so handy.”
“It is within my power to ward this room against listeners, similarly,” Dee said. “Although I would have to ask Mackenzie to leave the room first, and whisper the secret to her afterwards.”
“Whispers can be intercepted,” Glory said.
“With respect, I do not believe the average elf you are familiar with could intercept my whispers,” Dee said. “My people live in closer quarters than do yours, and we value our privacy.”
“So then I just have to worry about above-average ones,” she said. “Which is half… this is my secret, and if I do agree to divulge it, it’ll have to be under circumstances of my choosing.”
“Then we can go no further until you choose to do so,” Dee said.
“Well, I haven’t decided for certain not to,” Glory said. “How about this? We’ll continue the negotiations now, but… table? Table this particular item until next Monday. That gives me time to decide whether or not I’m prepared to divulge, and everybody gets more time to make up their minds about the other particulars.”
“Are you suggesting this because something involving your secret plan is likely to change over the weekend?” Dee asked.
“…it wasn’t, but I was thinking I could use the time to check out the feasibility of one or two things,” Glory said. “If they didn’t pan out, then there really wouldn’t be any point… and if they did, I could get things moving quickly enough that it wouldn’t matter as much if word got out…”
“Hold on,” I said. “Dee, can I have the mirror?”
“It is yours,” Dee said, and the mirror slowly turned in place and then floated towards me.
“Glory,” I said. “I want to trust you. If you want to trust me… and I don’t see how you can call me your agent if you don’t… then you need to tell me what’s up. Whatever you’re talking about… or not talking about… it’s obviously important, and it’s something that’s happening now. So if you can’t tell me what it is… we can’t do this. I’m sorry, but we can’t.”
For a long time, Glory said nothing, her image in the tiny round mirror as still as if it was a portrait. Then she said, very quietly, “…I don’t think I like being spoken to like that.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m short on patience right now,” I said. “But it had to be said. I’ve been telling you I’m not in this for intrigue and I don’t want to play any games, but that’s what this is turning into.”
“Can you wait one day?” she said. “Not so that I can do anything, but so that we can meet in a silenced room again.”
“Okay,” I said. “But this time, I can bring whoever I want with me, because the alternative is that I’ll have to repeat it out loud to them outside the room.”
“You can bring anyone who’ll be sworn to silence,” she said. “I would ask you not to include Nicki, because Grace can’t know yet and I don’t w ant to add the strain of a secret to Grace’s relationship, but I’ll trust you to do what’s best for them. But let’s hear the rest of the conditions… no sense going through with this if it’s not going to work out.”
“I think you’ll find our terms fair,” I said. “I’ll pass you back to Amaranth and Dee now.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“And I’m sorry for how I spoke to you,” I said, and then I held out the mirror. This time Amaranth took it by hand.
“Sorry about the interruption, your majesty,” Amaranth said, which probably helped smooth things out. “First, any offer of service is non-transferable… we’re making this deal with you and you alone, and that’s a sign of how much esteem we have for you and your court.”
“Agreed, but by the same token, she can’t work for any other elf middling during her term of service to me,” Glory said. “This is an exclusive deal.”
Amaranth looked at Dee, who nodded.
“Fine,” Amaranth said. “And it can be canceled at any time by either party.”
“Agreed,” Glory said. “Though I don’t have the taste for the hunt that so many elves do, so if she intends to make me chase after her she’ll be disappointed. If she says she wants out, I’ll assume that she means it, not abase myself to get her back.”
“That’s exactly how we’d want you to take it,” Amaranth said. “I can promise you she wouldn’t toy with you in that fashion. It also must be understood that under no circumstances will Mackenzie be going to Treehome… not as part of a job, not as part of a friendly invitation. Consider it part of the term of her employment that she’s forbidden to go there.”
“That is so far from being a problem,” Glory said.
“Then there’s the matter of payment for services rendered,” Amaranth said.
“Well, I’m not sure what to use as a standard, so I thought we’d figure it out as we go,” Glory said. “I think you can trust in my generosity… after all, she’ll be agreeing to or turning down jobs on a case-by-case basis.”
“You can demonstrate that generosity by bringing payment for the services she’s already rendered, tomorrow,” Amaranth said.
“I suppose that would help put some doubts to rest, wouldn’t it?” Glory said. “Anything else?”
“We’d like to lay the whole the deal out in writing, just so that there’s no confusion later,” Amaranth said. “It’s the human way.”
“Like a contract? How exciting!” Glory said. “This seems like it could take a while… tomorrow after dinner in the Archimedes Center, then?”
“We’ll be looking forward to it,” Amaranth said. “Thank you for your time.”
“And you for yours,” Glory said. “Goodnight.”
I assume Glory ended the reflection, because Amaranth closed the compact after that.
“Well,” she said, “that went… differently than it expected. But I guess it worked out?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It probably went as well as it could… and I think you were right about her respecting me. I mean, she didn’t like being talked to the way I did, but she seemed more hurt than mad.”
“I apologize for intruding on your private conversation,” Dee said, bowing deeply. “Being on the surface for so long is causing me to… take liberties.”
“No, you were helpful,” Amaranth said.
“I apologize all the same, and will be returning to my chamber,” Dee said. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Amaranth said. “We should be going to bed, anyway… Mack looks exhausted.”
It might have been more mental than physical, but I really couldn’t argue with that.