Chapter 272: Starstruck

on January 12, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Glory Suits Mackenzie

Having been on the verge of passing out during the unreal thrill of liftoff and then sleeping through the first several hours of the journey lent a dreamlike quality to what followed immediately after I woke up

Even looking back now, I wonder if that didn’t carry forward throughout the rest of the trip, in some ways. Things bunched up and ran together in a blur when I wanted most to sit back and take everything in, though I think it helped me to take things as they came and not second-guess or judge myself. If I was living a dream, what was there for me to get wrong?

That was why I didn’t balk… much… when Glory woke me up at 11:30 to get dressed in an outfit I’d never seen before. I say “much” because there were limits. I was trying, though.

It was basically a suit, though the lines were simpler than the human convention. At least, I think that would be how you’d describe it. There were no seams that I could see, no lapels, no buttons… not even pockets. Other than the collar on the shirt and a very simply fly on the pants, the clothes were almost featureless. The whole thing was black: black jacket, black pants, black shirt.

Looking at it, though, it didn’t seem like just black… or not just one black. My eyes couldn’t necessarily pick out any variations in the deep darkness of it, but something in the back of my brain insisted they were there.

“This fabric isn’t from the surface, is it?”

“Good eye, but you’re not quite right,” she said. “It’s our weaving and tailoring, deep elf dye, silk, and a mix of two techniques. That kind of cultural exchange is… controversial? Mostly human wizards looking for robes that make a fashion statement go for it, since they’re kind of insulated from the politics. But middlings can get away with buying it, so I had it made for your measurements.”

“Why?”

“Because everyone knows we’re just a bunch of rebels.”

“I meant, why buy it for me?” I asked, touching it. “You spent so much already.”

“I didn’t think you’d go for a dress,” she said. “And I thought a human-style suit might be too big a departure.”

“I’d wear a dress for you. Or a business suit.”

“But you wouldn’t go for it,” she said. “It wouldn’t be you.”

“Is this me?” I said, touching the fabric. It felt… almost like nothing. It looked like it was textured, but it was smoother than silk and weighed almost nothing.

“Is it?”

I held the jacket up in front of me and looked toward the mirror.

“Not a me I recognize,” I said. “But… I don’t make a habit of looking at myself too closely.”

Glory laughed.

“What?” I said.

“You’re possibly the most introspective person I know.”

“You’re surrounded by people socially stuck in adolescence for four-fifths of a century,” I said.

“Do you think that makes us shallow?” she asked.

“No, but… maybe not prone to introspection?” I said.

“I suppose you have a point,” Glory said. “Navel-gazing is the sort of thing that shortens an elf’s lifespan if we do too much of it for too long. You don’t have to wear this suit, if it’s too much. I had a few others made in a similar style but with less ostentatious fabric.”

“This is ostentatious?”

“It is for you,” she said. “Though you won’t see the full effect here in the room. Anyway, most of the dress codes here are of the advisory form… i.e., ‘guests may be comfortable at our tables in suitable garb’ or ‘guests may enjoy dressing up for this event’, but my feeling is if you’d feel out of place in a suit, you’d feel even more so being the only one in a t-shirt and jeans.”

“I’ve been wearing a much nicer class of t-shirt lately, thank you,” I said.

“Anyway, our restaurant for tonight, while on the high end of casual, is still very much casual… but it’s also in the open air, which is the only reason I thought to bring this out now instead of later as I’d intended,” she said. “You should be able to see what this fabric looks like under ideal lighting conditions, if you’re interested.”

“That’s the second time you’ve alluded to… it does something, doesn’t it? I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what?”

“It doesn’t do anything, except sit there and look nice,” she said. “It just looks nicer in some situations than others, that’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“Check it for enchantments if you want. ”

“I trust you… okay, I’ll try it out,” I said.

I turned away while I was getting undressed and dressed, out of habit. Amaranth might have told me to face her, or helped. Glory was content for the moment to stand back and watch while, neither looking away nor leering.

I wasn’t surprised at how well it fit, given that Glory had said it was made for me. I was surprised at what a difference this made.

“How do you feel, Mackenzie Blaise?” Glory asked when I was dressed.

“Acutely aware of my bra.”

She laughed.

“That’s because it’s the only thing you’re wearing that doesn’t fit.”

“It fits fine.”

“You fit into it,” she said. “That’s not the same thing as it fitting you.”

“Yeah, well… I’ve never exactly been able to afford tailored bras,” I said.

“You don’t need tailored bras,” she said. “Many places that sell bras will offer fittings upon request. It costs no more than having your feet measured for shoes.”

“…how much does that cost?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“Really?”

“Really,” she said.

“You don’t even wear a bra half the time,” I said.

“When I do wear one, I like to know it will fit properly,” she said. “My sister’s girlfriend said that having a proper fitted bra changed her life… she is a bit more greatly encumbered than you are, but I think you’d benefit.”

“Good to know,” I said. “Anyway, I like the way it feels okay, but I can’t promise I’ll make a habit out of wearing it after the trip.”

Glory laughed.

“What?” I said.

“You won’t have to worry about that.”

“It’s not going to expire in a puff of smoke, is it?” I said.

“Why do you ask that?”

“Because I doubt you’ll be able to return it.”

“It will cost me a lot if we don’t return it,” she said.

“It’s a rental?”

“In a manner of speaking, though they don’t use that term.”

“A tailored rental?”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “What was bespoke can be unspoken.”

“That’s… surprising,” I said.

“The thread would be even more expensive if it had to be made new each time, especially when it frequently goes into gowns that are worn only once.”

“So much for conspicuous consumption.”

“Anyway, enough beating around the bush,” Glory said. She turned me to face the mirror. “Forget how it feels… what do you think about how it looks?”

“I… don’t know,” I said.

“Do you like it?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, take some time. Take it in. I know you do better when you things over versus making a snap judgment, and I appreciate you not making one now.”

Looking at my reflection, I found myself wishing I’d kept my hair as short as it had been. I couldn’t say why, but I couldn’t say for sure why I’d let it get longer… the decision to grow it out had been half the bucking of my grandmother’s influence and half the fact that it meant I needed haircuts less often, though it made things like washing my hair and brushing more involved.

“You want to do something different with your hair, don’t you?” Glory said.

“…I’m just thinking it doesn’t exactly go?” I said.

“Well, I don’t disagree, but I wasn’t about to take you to be groomed like a dog,” she said. “You’ve never shown much interest in what your hair does, much less any interest in doing things with it. There are places we could go on the ship if you’re looking for a change.”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

“I imagine it would have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest anyway,” Glory said.

“It’s a lot of black, is the thing,” I said. “The suit, I mean.”

“Well, I thought the traditional white shirt might be a bit… risky,” Glory said. “For dinner time, I mean. There are a few of those tucked in the closet if you’d like to try one.”

“I think I’ll work with what I’ve got?” I said, turning a little “It’s surprisingly comfortable, and I don’t just mean the fit, or the fabric… though probably it’s mostly those things?”

“I didn’t pick the ensemble at random, Mackenzie,” she said. “You like long pants with a light shirt, and you usually throw a jacket over it, right?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I said. “I’m not a fan of sweaters but I kind of like to be… covered.”

“Protected?”

“Covered,” I said.

“Well, anyway… this is basically a slightly more grown-up version of that.”

“I thought the clothes I’ve been wearing are the slightly more grown-up version of what I wear,” I said.

More is a relative concept, and slightly is incremental,” she said.

“Point.”

“We should head out, if you’re satisfied with how you look.”

“That’s a question and a half,” I said. “I don’t know that I’d say I’m satisfied, but… I’m willing to go with it?”

“Then let’s go.”

Somehow, when Glory had said “‘the upper deck” before our long winter’s nap, I hadn’t been thinking that she meant topside. That hadn’t clicked with me until she’d mentioned the open air.

I understood that the surface of the ship was a deck, or maybe multiple decks, and that the floors on the interior were also decks. They just seemed like different things, though. It would be like calling the roof of a building a floor. You could stand on it, but that didn’t make a one-story building with a flat roof into a two-story building.

I think that in purely objective terms we traveled much farther going topside and heading to our restaurant than we had descending to the promenade deck, but it seemed like less of a journey. Maybe it was because we took a lift for most of the vertical distance instead of following stairs. Because of that, we were able to step pretty much right out of the utilitarian, hotel-like corridors of the passenger cabins into the night air with very little transition.

“There’s a breeze!” I said, noticing it right away because I hadn’t been expecting it. “They must let in just enough wind through to ruffle your hair.”

“I think it’s generated?” Glory said. “There’s no actual angle that would direct this wind to us here.”

“That makes a kind of sense,” I said. “It would be easier to make a slight breeze of a comfortable temperature than try to adjust the air shell in response to whatever’s actually going on outside. The only thing I don’t get is why?”

“Well, I imagine people feel like they’ve paid to feel like they’re on a ship zipping along in the air,” Glory said. “Without something to tell you that you’re moving, would you even guess you’re not on a stable platform on the ground?”

“But it’s fake,” I said. “It’s not telling me that I’m moving, because it could be happening even if the ship was completely motionless. For all I know, we are stopped.”

“We’re not,” Glory said. “Mackenzie, look at the stars!”

“They’re stars?” I said, looking up. “It’s not like we’re moving nearly fast enough to see a difference in… oh, you can, can’t you?”

“It’s a novel experience,” she said, still looking up. “Worth every copper penny. Or it would be, if I’d spent any of those.”

“Well that’s something,” I said. I looked at the sleeve of my jacket. The deck was bathed in softer, warmer light than the interior, much of it from illusory torches. The fabric seemed to be catching the light in a strange way… it was definitely shinier than it had looked. There was almost an aura that was almost blue around it, somehow. “Is this the ideal lighting conditions that you were talking about?”

“Not quite, but we’re getting closer,” she said, the excitement spreading from her voice to her face. “I hope you’ll be able to see it when we get to the Starlight Lounge. It’s supposed to be the best place on the ship for seeing stars.”

“Hence the name, I guess,” I said. “I’m surprised they didn’t go for some sort of play on ‘starboard’.”

“Well, the full name is the ‘Starboard Starlight Lounge’, but it’s the starlit portion of it that was relevant,” she said.

“Okay, where do we go from here? Let me guess: starboard.”

“Actually, it’s more towards the aft than anything,” she said.

“…is that the back?”

“That’s the back,” she said.

Adding to the upper deck confusion was the fact that there wasn’t just one top deck. The part of the ship that was exposed to the open air… or whatever you’d call the air inside the ship’s shield… was in different sections, some higher than others. There was a vaguely tower-like protrusion towards the back that looked like a leaning layer cake, as each section of it was set back from the one below it.

Our path took us not up, but around. There was a noticeable decrease in light as we went around the side of the tower. There were soft, twinkling lights on the railings and little illuminated strips around the bases of vertical surfaces, but there were no roaring torches, illuminated signs, or bright flood lights. We were further from the crowd, too, which lent a bit of a hush to it.

“It’s happening,” Glory said, grabbing my sleeve gently by the elbow. I looked down at my arm, or rather, the arm of the jacket.

The back fabric was now speckled with points of light. When I moved my arm, the stars moved, too… or maybe it was that they remained motionless while the fabric moved.

Yes, that seemed to be the best way to describe it. It was like the fabric of the suit had become a hole in the space I move through, revealing a starry void behind it. That was… kind of existentially terrifying to think about? Though, I was more than ninety percent sure that wasn’t what was happening. It was just a convenient visual description of it.

“What do you think?” Glory asked.

“You’re sure we can’t keep this?”

“Even if it was feasible, you wouldn’t wear it often enough for it to be worth it,” Glory said.

“Really? I can’t imagine getting sick of it.”

“You’d remain as fascinated with it as you are right now, but you wouldn’t want to draw attention to yourself if you weren’t surrounded by people you’ll never have to meet or see again.”

“Point,” I admitted. “In fact, I probably wouldn’t have worn it tonight if I’d known what it would do.”

“Do you feel tricked?”

“No, not really,” I said. “You made it clear it was going to do something interesting… I made the choice to find out what instead of demanding you tell me.”

“I’m glad you see it that way.”

“Isn’t it true?”

“It’s true enough,” she said. “It’s a point of view. I’m glad you share it with me.”

The effect diminished a bit as we came around to the back of the tower. It was still dimmer than the front of the ship, but there were enough pockets of lit areas for the whole area to be slightly better illuminated than the way back to it had been. Still, I could see our destination, and it looked to be easily dim enough to trigger the fabric’s unique properties.

The sign for the Starboard Starlight Lounge was made of twinkling stars floating in mid air by the break in the waist-level railing around it. The points of light only had to be bright enough to show against the darkness, so they weren’t bright enough to light anything up.

“Do the people here work for the cruise line, or is the restaurant its own thing?” I asked.

“I’m pretty sure that most of the stores and restaurants are their own company with a concession contract or something,” Glory said.”

“I could have guessed that for the ones that are like, free standing,” I said. “This one just seems like any of a number of other lounge areas on the deck of the ship, except they serve food and drinks.”

“I’m pretty sure that during the day, it is just another seating area… though I think you can order drinks and appetizers from most public areas on the ship,” she said. “But the atmosphere here is managed, and the menu is a bit more extensive.”

“Still looks mainly like appetizers,” I said.

The actual physical menu itself used glowing silver ink, which was both neat looking and practical, since the tiny candle on the table wouldn’t have been enough for human eyes to pick out the words on it.

The offerings were mostly finger foods, the kinds of stuff that gets called “small plates” in fancy restaurants, and things called flat bread sandwiches that sounded like really pretentious pizzas.

“Given how much of the clientele is human, it was probably either that or having glowing cutlery,” Glory said.

“That’s probably true,” I said.

“So, how hungry are you?” Glory asked.

“…I’m not sure how to answer that question, but I could definitely eat,” I said.

“I’m having a hard time making up my mind,” Glory said. “So I was thinking about getting a variety of things and then we can share between us. How does that sound?”

“It sounds like you seriously should be rethinking your aversion to buffets,” I said.

“If you find a buffet where everything is freshly prepared for the two of us, I’ll go there with you,” Glory said. “I told you before, Mackenzie Blaise, that you can order enough food to get the buffet experience if you want.”

“Yeah, but this is two meals in a row where eating that way is your idea.”

“I can’t try to make my girl happy?” Glory said. “Look, I understand the appeal of all-you-can-eat dining. I really do. I love variety. I just have a preference for a slightly higher quality than it affords.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Seriously, though, it sounds good to me… I’ll probably be more adventurous if I don’t have to pick one thing and stick with it.”

“Careful with the a-word, Mackenzie… there’s a family of gnomes right behind you.”

“There is?” I said.

“Hell if I know,” Glory said. “Let’s figure out what we’re having.”


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27 Responses to “Chapter 272: Starstruck”

  1. Okay, folks, we’re back in action! There will be a full three updates this week, plus I’m working on the next of (at least) three more podcasts, this one focusing on the Shift. It might also cover the Chaos Wars, at least enough to clarify what they were.

    Enjoy!

    Current score: 3
  2. Dani says:

    Why is it so hard for Mackenzie to be gracious?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      It’s a hard skill to learn when you were raised by a person who never did anything for you to feel especially grateful for. Plus, she still has a hard time accepting her own value as a person, and therefore has a hard time accepting a gift of great value.

      Some people act all entitled, and it’s obnoxious. However all the argument Mackenzie keeps making really come down to her not feeling entitled enough. Going on a cruise? A nice room? Fancy dinner? Very fancy suit? She can’t accept that it’s okay for her to have those things. The buffet is an excellent example – she can have all of what that offers, at better quality, at the fancy restaurant – but she knows this costs more, and puts a burden on the staff to prepare the food and bring it to her. She doesn’t feel that she deserves the extra cost and effort that Glory wants to provide.

      Current score: 16
      • Readaholic says:

        Spot on about Mackenzie’s attitude issues, although I suspect being raised by a fundamentalist paladin would have also added a conditioning about ‘worldy’ concerns not mattering.
        You can really see the defects in her grandmother’s raising of her here.

        Current score: 1
      • Nocker says:

        I think there’s still one thing you aren’t considering. I mean, remember that while actual restaurants weren’t a thing for her Buffets WERE, growing up.

        Mackenzie was more or less starved for half a decade, except in buffets where it’s more convenient just to feed her. So they’re the one place she got to eat as much as she wanted of whatever she wanted. She had to deal with her grandmother at the time but it’s still one of the few actual comforts of a girl who spent half her life locked in a dark basement.

        Not to mention that hey, GLORY could stand to adjust a bit too. I mean she’s nice but she’s a woman who’s sense of propriety and proportion is kind of out of control. I mean it was a nice gesture but custom made magic woven garments are kind of WAY overboard for this, mundane silk or even cotton tailored to Mackenzie’s measurements would have been good enough as is. If she’s constantly wanting to just have an open spread anyone can take anything out of, a buffet is basically that exact thing already.

        Remember, while it’s OKAY for Mackenzie to have super fancy things, sometimes you just want something you’re used to. Likewise, sometimes it’s better to be a bit subdued and not go all out.

        Current score: 3
        • Lucy says:

          on the Outfit, it seems to be specially related to that restaurant, so it is a worthwhile expenditure given that it seems a bit like Glory is trying too show Mack that see that she IS worth it

          on the Open Spread compared to to a buffet, Glory doesn’t know that that is what it means to Mack, remember that they don’t know what we know

          Current score: 3
    • Mickey Phoenix says:

      I suspect that you are reading “ungracious”, where I (and, I believe, Glory) are reading “wry”. One of the things I find most delightfully charming about their relationship is that Glory knows who Mack is, and wants to be with her anyway. And Mack is starting to get a sense of that, and relax and just be herself. Like the “aft” / “…is that the back?” / “That’s the back.” bit. I could just hug them both!!!

      Current score: 3
  3. zeel says:

    Once again the last two lines are exceptional.

    So this fabric, it’s magically woven into the garment rather than sewn and tailored? So it can simply be unraveled later?

    Current score: 3
  4. pedestrian says:

    Finger foods…Yummy!

    Oh wait, I guess that could have an unfortunately ‘adventurous’ connotation with Mackenzie’s ‘appetites’?

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      Fingers are friends, not food.

      Oh wait, that’s Finding Nemo. . .

      Current score: 4
      • nothertheothergirl says:

        Friends’ fingers are not food.

        Thinking about Mackenzie’s ‘appetites’, not that I think it’ll happen on this trip but if she were to get out of control I wonder if Glory and Friends would be enough to contain/restrain her? Probably not. But if the medical supplies are similar to what’s commonly available at the school, anything “over the counter” is probably blessed – it might dent her demony-ness but from what I recall it took Amaranth or Dee going full on holy to knock Mack out.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          The ship probably has pretty good security measures, and Mackenzie is probably the least threatening demon of all time. Any halfway competent security officer could subdue an unarmed Mackenzie. Not to mention anyone even remotely religious. However stopping her before she hurts someone. . . I don’t know about that. However we can be fairly confident that she has fed recently, so it’s not a concern.

          Current score: 1
    • Mickey Phoenix says:

      I see what you did there, sir…

      Current score: 0
  5. Nocker says:

    On one hand, it’s nice to see Mackenzie dressed up in a suit.

    On the other, the appearance tends to remind me of a certain someone unpleasant.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      But his is cheap.

      Current score: 3
      • Nocker says:

        He’s not the only one, really. The only real people in the “suit wearing” club are all bad news. Besides him there’s Mercy’s unnamed servant, Acantha, Ian’s dad, Art Kent and his Law Goons, and a few other minor ones. Generally speaking in the MUverse dressing up = bad news like 99% of the time. Though that seems to mainly be because anyone with any form of power or influence is also bad news 99% of the time.

        Of course, combined with non-MU stuff like that superhero project and guys like Morgenstern I get the feeling that AE has some kind of THING about authority. Which isn’t entirely unreasonable, as anyone who’s had any dealings with law or buisness types will tell you.

        Current score: 2
        • Davis88 says:

          Well, there’s Lee Jenkins. I guess he’d be your 1%. The only nice guy in a suit in the MUniverse.

          Current score: 2
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Wearing a “suit of
    Stars” is close but not the same
    As going “sky-clad”

    Current score: 11
  7. Glenn says:

    One small correction.

    “Well, take some time. Take it in. I know you do better when you things over versus making a snap judgment,”

    There should be a “think” before the word things in that sentence.

    It’s good to have Tales of Mu back again.

    Current score: 1
    • Mickey Phoenix says:

      One thing I’ve noticed about AE’s typos is how often I don’t notice them. Which is very anomalous, because I’m usually an excellent proofreader. But there’s something about her typos that makes them…plausible, I guess, to my brain.

      Current score: 0
      • Lucy says:

        It helps that a lot of her characters are the sort to speak wrong

        Current score: 1
    • x says:

      after I woke up [missing ‘.’ at end]

      a very simply fly on the pants [simple]

      Glory was content for the moment to stand back and watch while, neither looking away nor leering. [Seems to be either missing something or have the ‘,’ in the wrong place]

      turning a little “It’s surprisingly comfortable [missing ‘.’ before quote]

      or something,” Glory said.” [extra ‘”‘ at end]

      Current score: 1
  8. Mike Conner says:

    All I could think thru this whole thing is what would Dee’s reaction be to the suit? She doesn’t seem to be as prejudiced against surface elves as they generally are to her, but you never know when some little might trigger a deeply ingrained response. Combining surface a deep elf clothing techniques, or maybe that dye is a priestess-only thing?

    Current score: 2
  9. Arancaytar says:

    “Careful with the a-word, Mackenzie… there’s a family of gnomes right behind you.”

    “There is?” I said.

    “Hell if I know,” Glory said.

    😀

    Current score: 1