Chapter 173: Building ConcernsAlexandraErin on August 9, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Reasons To Listen
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Thank you to everyone who’s helped! <3 AE
By the time the end of the class period scrolled around, I was pretty antsy to meet Amaranth and find out where we stood. I just barely stopped myself from dashing out of the room, though, remembering that I’d technically been in the middle of a conversation with Professor Stone.
It wasn’t like hurrying would make a difference. If anything, the more time Amaranth had to speak with Emily, the more likely she would have found a way to make it work. I mean, it wasn’t really all that likely that an extra minute or two would make a huge difference, but if it was going to make a difference, it would probably be for the better.
“So, our discussion before class went a little astray, but I believe that the upshot of it all is that you cannot yet commit to the success or failure of your project?” he said.
“No,” I said. “But hopefully very soon.”
“Well… it’s been two weeks of class, but I suppose we weren’t perfectly explicit about when the grace period would end,” he said. “I hope you know that I would very much like to see you succeed, even as I hope you know that I’d like to see this affair wrapped up quickly.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “I have some time before my last class, so I might be able to wrap it up now… one way or the other.”
“Well, then, I won’t detain you further,” he said. “Unless you’d like my help?”
“I think that might actually just make me self-conscious,” I said. I remembered that he’d offered his time before, but also remembered that he’d admitted he wasn’t sure what he could do. “But thanks.”
“It’s no problem at all.”
Nicki had lingered in the doorway.
“Would it make you self-conscious if I watched?” she said.
My first thought was “probably”, which was true insofar as the presence of anyone else would make me feel self-conscious about talking to a building… or about most things, really, but especially things that I had little experience with or that would be hard to explain to a bystander.
But Nicki wasn’t someone in a position of authority over me. She didn’t have Professor Stone’s aura of fussy, puttering respectability. If anything, she was slightly in awe of me… and it would probably crush her if I said yes, whereas the actual damage it would do to me was pretty minimal.
So I said, “No, I don’t think so. Um… do you know what I’m doing?”
“Something with Emily?” she said. “I’m still not one hundred percent clear on all the details of what you’re doing with your problem there… I don’t always like to ask questions when I don’t know what you guys are talking about, but I can pick up a lot of it.”
The owl-turtle thing was another… thing… I hadn’t told Nicki about, not because it was a secret, exactly, but because I wasn’t sure where to begin. That meant my explanations of how I was learning to shield myself had been a little… not exactly circumspect, but maybe a little… roundabout?
“Yeah, we need to convince her to let me come in without my protective head gear,” I said. “But the idea scares the bekeesus out of her.”
“She’s always been so nice, it’s hard to imagine her not wanting to help.”
“Yeah, the niceness makes it harder,” I said. “I mean, it wouldn’t be right to force the issue either way, but… well, actually, I guess if she wasn’t nice to begin with then she probably wouldn’t be used for classes and so this wouldn’t just be my problem.”
Amaranth was actually waiting in the open lobby area at the front of the building. I think she might have smiled a bit wider when she saw that I was with Nicki.
“Hey, baby… I, uh, I think I’ve got things almost squared away,” she said.
“Almost?” I said. That should have sounded more promising, but Amaranth was an eternal optimist… a lot of times when she stuck a qualifier on something, it was a bit of an understatement.
“Let’s go outside,” she said. “I feel weird talking about her in her presence… it’s actually kind of rude, to me.”
“That actually makes a surprising amount of sense,” I said, and we headed outside.
“So here’s where we stand,” Amaranth said. “She understands that you can’t wear the tiara any longer… I know you have it for a few days more, but since you have to return it before your next class with her, I thought this would be the least confusing way to explain it. Actually, when I stopped focusing so much on accuracy and focused more on relevancy… well, that’s kind of a tangent. The point is she understands your position, that you can’t use the tiara but you’d love to keep seeing her if you can.”
“Was that really the best way to phrase that?” I asked.
“It’s… I mean, she’s aware of the classes, but in her mind, all those people are there to see her,” she said. “Which probably sounds vain, in mortal terms, but this is her existence. She can’t go out and do things, her only social contact is the hundreds of minds that pass through her. ”
“I guess that explains why she gets snippy when she doesn’t get noticed,” I said.
“Yes, exactly!” Amaranth said. “I think… and I might be reading too much into this, from the perspective of being a nymph… but I think it might also have something to do with her sense of purpose. I mean, she’s a building. What’s a building without inhabitants?”
“So she understands, then?” I asked.
“She does!” Amaranth said. “But…”
“But… she’s still afraid,” Amaranth said.
“Too afraid to help me?”
“I’m afraid so, baby,” she said.
“…then we’re right where we started,” I said.
“She’s really sorry, though!” Amaranth said. “You remember how scary the whole concept of pain was for her? She wants to help, she doesn’t want you to have to go away forever…”
“But if she won’t let me test things out without the circlet, I won’t have a choice,” I said.
“I know that!” she said. “That’s what I’ve been working on conveying to her, once we got as far as we have.”
“Do you… do you think it would make a difference if you tried to tell her yourself?” Nicki asked. She’d been so quiet and I’d been so intent on my problems that I had almost forgotten she’d followed me out.
“Oh, honey… Mack can make some contact with Emily, but it’s just basic empathic transference,” Amaranth said. “It’s tricky for me to even get something that’s in the form of a complete thought.”
“Okay, but if she’s… well, not vain, like you said, but if what she wants from people is contact, maybe that’s what it would take to reassure her,” Nicki said. “I mean… maybe… right?”
“That’s… a really good idea,” I said.
“Oh, you don’t have to pretend I know what I’m talking about,” Nicki said.
“No, I mean it,” I said. I remembered the advice Professor Stone had given me… the advice that I’d ignored… to keep her involved in the process. Because Amaranth could actually communicate directly on the same level that Emily’s spirit did, I’d offloaded all of that duty to her. “I mean, I’m not saying that it’ll fix everything… but if anything’s going to actually reassure her, I think it’s got to be me.”
“If it makes any difference,” Amaranth said, “I think she actually is closer to giving in than she was before. I mean, her position is the same, but I think she’s a lot more open to changing it now? Anyway, I think it’s at least worth trying. Honestly, now that Nicki’s got me thinking about it, I really don’t think we can go wrong with more personal contact.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about Professor Stone’s method of getting around his mental hearing disability. “When you put it that way…”
“What are you thinking, baby?” Amaranth asked.
“Well, I think I might have figured out another line of communication I can open,” I said. “From talking to Professor Stone.”
“And you didn’t mention this earlier?” Amaranth asked.
“Well… I’m not even sure I can do it, and even if I can, I don’t think it would necessarily help. It would be more a way of listening to her rather than speaking, at least without a lot of specialized practice.”
“You don’t see how that would help?” Amaranth asked. She let out a laugh… somehow, I never seemed to mind when she laughed at me. “Baby, I love you, but honestly… you must have had a very lonely life before you came here.”
“I did,” I said.
“Oh, no, that probably sounded cruel!” Amaranth said. “But the thing is… listening is important. It’s half of communication.”
“Yeah, but I don’t understand what good it will do if I can’t reply,” I said. “Which is the other half.”
“Would she know you’re listening?”
“Probably,” I said. “Professor Stone said his relationship with her improved practically right away.”
“Then why would you need to reply?” Amaranth asked.
“Because that’s how a conversation works!” I said. “She talks, I talk… that’s how it goes.”
“Or she talks… you listen,” Amaranth said. “She feels better because her fears have been heard. Not all conversation is just waiting for your turn to talk.”
“Is she really all that… complex?” I asked.
“That’s actually pretty simple, baby,” Amaranth said. “Again, I’m not saying this will definitely fix everything, but I really think you might be able to cross that last little bit of distance that I couldn’t, if you can reach out to her and let her know that you’re listening.”
“Well, I guess at the very least it can’t hurt anything,” I said, then I started to think about the magnitude of what I was contemplating. Reading a sentient building the way I did my staff, or even the way I would poke at the mockboxes? “But… I’m not ready to do this right now. I need to do at least some kind of a test run.”
“What exactly would you need to do?” she asked.
“I need at least a moderately magical building to try to… interact with,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be intelligent, I don’t think. Honestly, just having working lights and water might be enough enchantment for my purposes, but I think it might be better if there are some more unusual properties. I just need to get the principle down.”
“How about the labyrinth?” Nicki suggested. “That place is magic as fuck!”
“I… stay away from the labyrinth,” I said. “And it’s maybe too much magic, and not enough building.”
“How about our dorm?” Amaranth said. “The towers are… well… towers, and they have more modern conveniences than most buildings on campus.”
“That actually is perfect, especially since I can do it tonight without having to go anywhere,” I said. “So, I’d better go tell Professor Stone that I won’t know until tomorrow morning, if he’s still in the classroom.”
“Okay, baby,” Amaranth said. “Maybe you should try to give Emily a little blush of reassurance on the way in.”
“I meant as in a warm… well, tint, I guess, but I guess that doesn’t translate well,” Amaranth said. “I didn’t actually mean you should blush at her, though, honestly, it’s so endearing when you do that I couldn’t see it hurting anything.”
“I can’t actually blush on command,” I said.
“Oh?” Amaranth said, in a way that made the heat rise up in my cheeks. “You always do for mine. Snap to it, baby!”