Chapter 136: A Ridiculous Proposition

on March 21, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which The Contents Of Mackenzie’s Floordrobe Are Laid Bare

You know that kind of dream where you’re called up to give a book report or take an oral exam or something and you realize that not only did you forget to prepare, you forgot to get dressed so you’re standing there either buck naked or in the most embarrassing underwear that you own?

I didn’t have that dream Saturday night.

But having some sort of ridiculous owl-turtle thing tilting its head the way only something that’s at least fifty percent owl by volume can while you flounder around trying to explain what’s been going on in your life lately and why you suddenly need its help with something else feels remarkably similar.

The owl-turtle thing had once explained that the dreams that most kinds of people have are just random mishmashes, fleeting jumbles of images and lingering emotions that their conscious brain has to work to turn into a slightly more coherent and orderly mishmash. If that was true, then it seemed possible that the naked-in-front-of-the-class dream was the brain trying to make sense of a burning feeling of humiliation or inadequacy for a task.

In this dream that wasn’t a normal dream, being interrogated by a creature dreamed up by a mind far more coherent and orderly than mine, I didn’t need to construct a separate scenario to explain that feeling.

“Let’s start at the beginning, because I want to make sure I’ve got this right,” the owl-turtle thing said.

“I thought you just pulled knowledge out of my memories,” I said.

“It’s more like seeping in than being pulled,” it said. “And I don’t know everything you know… I might know anything you know, but I don’t know everything. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I guess I kind of knew that.”

“Right,” it said. “You know that, but you weren’t remembering it until it was called to mind… and that right there is why I don’t know everything you know. You don’t know everything you know. Minds aren’t open books, and they’re not filing cabinets. They’re more like… like the floor of your room would be if you didn’t live with Amaranth. Sure, you’d have a general idea where to lay your hands on anything that you happened to need, but you wouldn’t be able to rattle off an inventory of everything or name its location, and sometimes things would go completely missing or you would move aside a discarded pizza box and suddenly find a comic book you had completely forgotten exists.”

“Hey, I lived by myself all summer,” I said.

“It was All-New Mecknights Special #3.”

“It was a busy summer!” I said. “And it wasn’t really a discarded pizza box if I hadn’t thrown it away yet, was it?”

“Touché. I guess you win this round,” it said. “But let’s start with the part where everyone except you knew that your Glamour and Design Building was alive, there was a negative interaction between its psychic spirit and your infernally-charged mind, you used Amaranth’s status as a fellow embodied spirit to broker peace and you’re using a psychic filter to attend classes while you learn to shield yourself better so it doesn’t happen again and you need me to help you get the walls up while you’re awake.”

“Um… it sounds like you’ve got it, actually,” I said.

“Yeah, it kind of… arrived,” it said. “I think I’m caught up now. Sheesh, and you think my existence is ridiculous.”

“Two thinks you’re ridiculous,” I said. “And since you’re her thought, that’s how I see you… kind of like how she didn’t like you, so I have a hard time doing so.”

“Whereas I’m forced to dislike you on your own merits,” it said.

The guest in my head had been literally dreamed up by Two. As a living golem, Two was capable of dreaming, but as with everything that didn’t come with directions she’d been worried that she wasn’t doing it right. So she’d asked her friend Hazel what people dreamed about and was told that it’s weird stuff that’s not quite one thing and not quite another, “like some sort of ridiculous owl-turtle thing”. Taking things as literal directions was pretty much the path of least resistance for Two, so she’d done exactly that.

The brain in Two’s skull was a pretty close replica of the human model, but the mind it housed was different… more structured, as I understood it. Not simple in the sense that people mean it when they call someone simple-minded, but… simplified. The living thing that she’d created was still a dream, but it had a stability that most dreams lacked. It had a discrete existence of its own.

The owl-turtle thing had jumped into Dee’s head using her telepathy, and had learned to use her powers to ride into other heads if they were asleep at the same time that she was.

“The place where I’m still a little hazy,” it continued, “is where your priorities are. Am I helping you defend against your father’s nocturnal intrusions, or trying to help you coexist with this building?”

“I was hoping you could do both,” I said. “I mean, you were helping establish the pattern for mental shielding in my mind before you disappeared on your not-at-all-suspicious business for a week. It seems like that’s the solution to both problems. All that’s changed is that now I need it sooner rather than later. I think your concerns about messing around in my psyche on a school night might have to be set aside for a while.”

“Right, because when the demon that sired you is creeping around for unknown reasons it’s alright to dawdle, but when your class schedule is at risk it’s time to get serious.”

“Hey, you were the one who wanted to dawdle,” I said. “I’d rather risk a little less-than-restful sleep now at the beginning of the semester than have to play catch-up later on. Anyway, it’s not that the new reason is more important than the old one… it’s that suddenly there are two reasons instead of just one. And also, the second reason is time-sensitive… I mean, the first one is an ‘at any moment’ kind of thing, but it’s hard to plan around those.”

The owl-turtle thing gave its… flipper-wing things… a slow flap, almost like a shrug.

“Okay, kid, look,” it said. “The thing is, you’re really not just asking for the same thing only quicker. Unless you’re planning on sleeping through class every day, the walls we’ve been building aren’t going to be going there with you anyway.”

“You suggested it was possible for me to learn to hold on to them when I’m awake,” I said.

“Possible, yes,” it said. “Easy? No. And not even strictly necessary, when you were just looking to keep out nocturnal visitors. There’s a whole other set of skills… a very different style of thing… that you’ll need to master to hold onto the shields when you’re going about your day, when your conscious mind is engaging with and being engaged by things all around you.”

“So give them to me,” I said.

“Oh, she don’t ask for much, does she?” the owl-turtle thing said. “These skills took Dee years to master. And while I can get the patterns from her… well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t have a lot of experience with the waking world. Trying to translate them into your mind is going to involve a bit of… trial and error.”

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked.

“Well, we’re doing something that no one in the history of anything ever has attempted before, so literally no one knows,” it said.

“If somebody… shields wrong… that just means they’re not shielding, right?” I said. “Or that they are but it’s easy to get past. I mean, ask Dee if she’s ever heard of anyone being hurt in a horrible mental-shielding accident.”

“Maybe the reason she hasn’t is that normally, people learn to do these things slowly and properly,” it said.

“We’re talking about a basic technique!”

“Oh, a thousand pardons, madame,” it said. “I didn’t realize you were an expert in the subtle arts.”

“If you’re going to say no, just say no,” I said. “I don’t want to drop this class… I like it, and it will be a hassle to find something else that fulfills the requirement and doesn’t take me into the Emily Center, but if I can’t get a functional shield in place in a couple of weeks then I need to know now so I don’t waste any more time.”

“You understand, I can’t guarantee anything,” it said. “I have literally no idea how long this will take, or if it will even work. I have no idea what the effect of interrupting your normal dreaming every night for two weeks will be. And not that you care, but I’d be putting some of my own projects on hold in the meantime.”

“I thought I was your project,” I said

“I have other interests, I thought I’d made that clear,” it said. “And I’m not saying yes yet. There are going to be some conditions.”

“Name them.”

The owl-turtle thing wasn’t the sort of entity that could bind a pact, but I’d learned it can be a mistake to say something like okay, what? when someone says they have conditions… it can be construed as an agreement.

“First, we do it my way,” it said. “And my way involves spending the first several nights… possibly the first week… testing the waters.”

“A whole week?” I said. “Did you miss the part where that’s the thing that I only have two of to show results?”

“Hey, things might go faster the second week if I know what I’m doing,” it said. “We proceed with caution. Because if you wake up catatonic or go round the bend due to my interference, Dee’s going to stop cooperating with my housecalls and go back to looking for a way to contain or destroy me. And also, separately, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“And you won’t help me at all if I don’t agree to this?”

“Yes,” it said. “That’s my first condition.”

“What are the others?”

“Only one,” it said. “I might need to call on you to do a little research for me, sometime in the near future… I can’t exactly go to the library and check out a book, and there are some topics about which I have a burning curiosity. You like killing time there anyway, so my condition is this: when I need information about something, you go and get it.”

“You keep reminding me that you’re a unique phenomenon,” I said. “What exactly do you think we’ll be able to learn from the library that’s going to help you?”

“I have interests beyond my own existence,” it said.

“How often do you propose to do this?” I asked.

“As often as I need to, as long as we’re associating with each other,” it said. “This is what you might call a modification to our ongoing relationship. I’m already helping you out a lot, I’m just asking that you help me out a little in return. I’ll give you your first assignments when the two weeks are up… I won’t have time to perch around picking your brain before then. Also, there’s something to be said for taking on one thing at a time, when you have the option.”

“Assignments? Plural?”

“Yes… just like interests, plural,” it said. “If it’s any consolation, some of it might be helpful to me helping you.”

“Like what?”

“Information about your father. You know he’s been in the area a long time, that man from Law told you as much. Don’t you think he might have left his mark somewhere?”

“The goal is to have less to do with him, not more,” I said. “Why are you always so interested in finding out more about him?”

“I think it’s wrong to underestimate him,” the owl-turtle thing said. “We’ve managed to stymie him a little, between the two of us. That’s good, but don’t you wonder what else he might be capable of if he’s shut out completely?”

“Please… the man is a coward,” I said. “If he was capable of more than sneaking around in my head at night, he’d be doing that instead.”

“Are you forgetting that he’s managed to tamper with things in your room before?”

I had forgotten about that, until the owl-turtle thing mentioned it… it had been a total comic under a pizza box for me. He’d been harassing me in my dreams for so long that I forgot the time he’d somehow dosed my stash of decadent bath stuff while I slept with something to bring out the worst in me.

“Okay, but that’s still just sneaking around,” I said.

“Think about the damage he did,” he said. “Think about how much worse it could have been. Think about the fact that if things had gone a little differently you might have been kicked out of school, since your academic career seems to be your only real impetus to action. Anyway, you’ve heard my conditions. If you agree, you’re going to be doing some research on… among other things… your father. So what’s it going to be?”

“Are you going to tell me what else you want me to look up for you?”

“When I know what it is,” it said. “Ongoing relationship, remember? I won’t know exactly what I’m looking for without some initial research. Anyway: yes or no?”

“Do you need an answer tonight?” I asked.

“No,” it said. “I’ll need to return to Dee’s mind to get a few things before we start. In fact, I think I’ll need a long conversation with her, so it wouldn’t even be tomorrow night.”

“Call it a provisional yes, then,” I said. “I’ll want to talk to her, too… and Amaranth, but probably it’ll be yes. I can’t exactly go to anyone else.”

“You sound so grudging about it,” it said. “I’m not asking you to do anything you don’t like to do anyway.”

“I don’t like thinking about my father,” I said.

“Think of it this way: there are worse ways to find out what he’s capable of.”

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28 Responses to “Chapter 136: A Ridiculous Proposition”

  1. Jalben says:

    Ah the ridiculuous owl-turtle thing. Such fun.

    Current score: 1
  2. N. says:

    The story’s back to being a pageturner…if there were any pages to turn, that is. Why couldn’t today be Tuesday?

    Current score: 0
  3. zeel says:

    Ah, so the knowledge we gleaned from the past drama may find its way into the main story after all. I wonder if any of those characters published their finding in any manor?

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    As the Soviets discovered with their vast spy network.
    The problem with accumulating intelligence data, is that your intelligentsia has to devote a hell of a lot of their time and energy to analyzing and then comprehending all that data.
    By then it usually obsolete.

    Analysis cannot be spelled without anal. And the end point of THAT process usually winds up being flushed away as waste!

    Current score: 0
  5. Brenda A. says:

    I had to read this several times to figure it out:

    I forgot the time he’d somehow dosed my stash of decadent bath stuff while I slept with something to bring out the worst in me.

    Slept with what?! (was my reaction at first)

    Current score: 0
    • Silverai says:

      I had to read that multiple times before parsing it correctly too. I was about to give up and just assume I’d forgotten what or who the something was that Mackenzie slept with, and that’s when I finally twigged that the something was instead referring to the substance that dosed the bath stuff.

      Current score: 0
  6. Brenda A. says:

    I’m definitely interested to see if anything from the recent backstory is going to come up in this investigation!

    Current score: 0
  7. Fnark says:

    Given what we now know from the epistolary, The Man couldn’t be the one sneaking around Harlowe. I wonder who he got to do his dirty work for him? One of the various alchemists/users?

    Current score: 0
    • Readaholic says:

      Mack herself, Amaranth, Two even – many possibilities.

      Current score: 0
    • CLT says:

      Technically, it might still be him.

      Remember, in the end, they blamed the ‘Demony’ stuff on a student who later died, not an outside threat. And in the old campus was destroyed. There is every reason to think that they didn’t hassle with adding that particular enchantment into the new campus.

      Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      I still am of the opinion Demon Daddy either bribes or possess or blackmails university employees such as last year RA Kiersta? and that facilities manager who tried to lock Callahan out of the salle.

      Amaranth is a Divine Nymph, I doubt if DD would have the capability to do more then verbally influence her.

      TWO’s mind is rigidly structured, I suss that any infernal influence would be very noticeable to Dee and other experienced enchanters.

      Current score: 0
  8. tomclark says:

    Not capable of much? Seriously? Did she *completely* miss the part where Mr. Law Agent Dude told her that he qualifies as Epic Level?

    Current score: 0
    • Ace says:

      Or the part where he got the daughter of a demon-hunting paladin pregnant? Hell, he did it twice, but the once that Mackenzie knows about is enough.

      Then there’s the part about him haunting the same area for, what, millennia? Obviously, this guy knows what he’s doing.

      And yet, his daughter can be a real idiot sometimes.

      Current score: 0
      • tomclark says:

        Well, her mom was a hippie. She must have inherited her general cluelessness. 😛

        Current score: 0
      • Snuffa says:

        I think she really just forgot, yes. together with the forgetfulness she shows in this chapter, it’s hinting at the fact that this forgetfulness might not be completely natural…

        Current score: 0
  9. Rothomp says:

    Not Amaranth… her mind is Divine and would be incompatible with The Man. Definitely possible for it to have been Two or (most likely imao) Mack herself, though!

    Current score: 0
    • bubble says:

      Didn’t Amaranth get influenced by the pitchfork? That’s how it got lost wasn’t it?
      Now we also know that the pitchfork belongs to/is part of The Man.

      Current score: 0
      • jayloo says:

        Amaranth is daily influenced by Mack and she’s partially infernal. As long as Amaranth’s mind doesn’t touch the demonic mind (or mind-part) it is still fine and it can still influence her. At least that’s how it works in my mind. 😉

        Current score: 0
      • Christy says:

        I’m actually surprised that Mother Khaele didn’t fry the Man for that, considering that she really hates people messing with her nymphs, to the level that even the DRAGONS are scared of her. See the Q&A thing from ages ago. Embries says that the only reason that dragons don’t eat nymphs as a constant source of food is that Mother Khaele would be really pissed and do something about it.

        Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    Ridiculous Owl-
    Turtle Things are now at least
    Half Owl by volume

    Current score: 1
  11. Alluvial says:

    Didn’t Two summon a demon once? My inner conspiracy theorist has suspicions about that.

    Current score: 1
    • Readaholic says:

      My inner conspiracy theorist finds your inner conspiracy theorists’ suspicions suspiciously like its own. It is currently adding a few more layers of tinfoil to its hat, in light of this suspicious coincidence.

      Current score: 0
  12. Mad Nige says:

    It wasn’t until I searched for any comment relating to “They’re more like… the floor of your room would be if you didn’t live with Amaranth” (which caused a LOL) that I spotted the subtitle pun, causing a groan.

    Current score: 0
  13. Matt says:

    Yay! Lovely chapter.

    Current score: 0
  14. anon y mouse says:

    “Did you miss the part where that’s the thing that I only have two of to show results?” – two of them to show results?

    Current score: 0
    • Stonefoot says:

      “that’s the thing that I only have two of” is correct as it stands. In a less roundabout fashion she’s just saying “Weeks are what I only have two of.” You wouldn’t say “Weeks are what I only have two of them.”

      Current score: 0
  15. Ermarian says:

    you’re going to be doing some research on… among other things… your father


    I facepalmed when Kent told her that his file was unclassified and she didn’t immediately go out and read up on that stuff.

    Current score: 0
  16. Trihan says:

    I may be pitching in the opposite direction of the plate here, but did anyone else get the vibe that the Ridiculous Owl-Turtle Thing was channelling a bit of Samuel here? It seems more interested in Mack’s father than was previously apparent, and I refuse to believe it’s coincidence that we have an entity researching The Man shortly after an aside where we have another character doing just that whose fate still has a question mark hanging above it.

    Current score: 0