In Which Mackenzie Reflects On Things Happening Too Quickly For Reflection

Maybe it was partly a side effect of opening our social circle up to Grace and Nicki, but things seemed to start happening faster after that.

My “downtime” felt busier because there were more people in it, and even though I wasn’t doing much more than keeping an eye out for problems, the fact that I felt like I was on duty when Grace was around was starting to wear on me by the end of the first weekend. Two more mirror-conversations with Glory had made me begin to resent feeling like everything I did was funny and I wasn’t in on the joke, but I couldn’t say that she was actually rude or mean… she was actually pretty effusively nice. I’d never really felt the reflexive resentment of the assumed elven superiority that a lot of human-blooded people seemed to express, but maybe that was because I’d never spent a lot of time talking to elves.

Amaranth was fully immersing herself in the details of her imaginary-adventure-having project, which became a frequent topic of conversation among the group. Nicki seemed interested but she obviously wasn’t going to put herself forward as a participant and I had a feeling she wouldn’t be comfortable with being thrust into the limelight, so I made good on my earlier intentions to recruit her help with adding some panache to my scenario.

But before we could get too deep into what horrors we were going to subject each other to, there were a lot of details about how it would all work to hash out, and everyone had opinions. It was fun for a while, but as the scope of what we were taking on became more clear, the conversations became increasingly tedious.

Two had taken on the role of rulekeeper, for which we were all grateful. She could remember exactly what we’d agreed to on a given point and report it back, verbally or in writing. She had a lot of office equipment functionality enchanted into her, including scribal stuff, which was helpful… but meant that a few days into the formal process of planning, we all had been issued multiple revised copies of the rules.

Also taking a toll were my still-nightly sessions with the owl-turtle thing. I didn’t retain much memory of them when I woke up, which was part of the problem… every night passed in the blink of an eye. I laid down, fell asleep, and then it was morning.

I didn’t feel any less rested, exactly. I mean, I didn’t feel tired… not physically. But I wondered if I wasn’t missing something all the same. There was no sense that I hadn’t slept, but there was very little of a sense that I had.

The owl-turtle thing had mentioned possible side effects of pre-empting my normal dreams every night, but since it hadn’t known what they might be much less how likely they were, I hadn’t given those warnings much weight.

My days… at least the week days… were full of classes and the increasing demands of schoolwork, and they all ended the same way, too: another action-packed extended session fighting somebody’s discolored mirror image in Coach Callahan’s fighting class. This was a strenuous exercise that demanded constant attention with very little room for reflection… you know, the exact opposite of how I performed best.

On the one hand, it was making me better about making up my mind in an instant without second-guessing, but on the other hand… the coach seemed to expect me to be reflective, because she kept asking me for observations about the performance of her mockboxes.

“Come on, you’re my semi-tame enchantment monkey,” she said, having caught up to me as I was leaving next Monday’s after-class session. “And you’ve been seeing my babies in action for a week now. What you can tell me about them?”

“Not much more than what you told me about them,” I said. “I can watch my opponents or I can pick at the magic… I can’t do both.”

Maybe it was my lack of noticeable sleep, maybe it was the demands of the day, but I didn’t seem to have as much room to worry about how I spoke to the coach. If that bothered her, it didn’t show.

“Only one person in a room is fighting at a time,” she said.

“Yeah, and that person is still my opponent even though I’m not fighting them at the moment,” I said. “If I’m not giving other peoples’ fights my full attention, I’ll be at a disadvantage compared to everyone who does.”

“What if I let you come in on your own time and play around with them?” she asked.

“I’m already coming in on my time,” I said. “This is my own time… I do have other stuff going on.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll have to think about how to make this work, then… the university had their own experts crawling over these things over the weekend, and I need somebody I know on the case.”

“I’m not an expert, though,” I said. “I’ve had like three enchantment classes, and none that really strongly apply.”

“You’ll have a better chance of understanding what they’re talking about and how to talk to them than I will,” she said. “That might make a difference… I’ve seen first-hand what happens when the people on the ground don’t know how to talk to the rear echelon, or the other-way around. It’s… well, I was going to say a thing of fucking beauty, but I guess most people would say ‘not pretty’.”

“The thing is, you’ve said you’d boost my grade if I can help you,” I said. “But your grading system is… open-ended. And you’re not going to stop grading me on how I perform. So for this to make sense, I’d have to know that the benefit to my grade for spending my time going over the mockboxes is greater than the benefit to my grade for focusing on the fighting. And I don’t think you’d do that.”

“You’re right, it kills me a bit to grade on anything other than success,” she said. “You could knock the hell out of this thing and knock the hell out of your opponents and get an A that way, but if I tell you that helping me will totally make up for however much extra you might suck… where’s your incentive?”

“Well… losing kind of sucks,” I said. “I mean, the pain isn’t real and it doesn’t last, but it can be… vivid. And it’s not fun to know that I lost. And I kind of feel good when I win a bunch of times in a row. And even though fighting isn’t my thing… it’s good to know that I’m getting better. I’m not entirely motivated by grades, is what I’m saying.”

“No… but it’s like you said about me and winning,” she said. “You care about getting an A too much for me to buy that anything else will outweigh it.”

I nodded, feeling a little surreal… it was weird to realize that we’d reached such a total understanding of each other, and even weirder to have it be as part of an impasse.

“Whatever,” she said abruptly, giving a little shake like she’d shared in the revelation and found it uncomfortable. “Like I said, I’ll figure something out.”

It only took her a day to come up with a solution, which she presented to me on Tuesday before class began.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” she said. “This whole getting everyone to stay after every day… it was a gamble, and it’s paid off, but I know students and even the most dedicated ones are going to start flagging when the semester takes off. So I’ll take another gamble, that I can slow that down by putting a break in the schedule. Tomorrow, there will be no after-session… but you can take the time you were going to spend then playing with the boxes. So you’ll be earning your extra credit, but you won’t be missing out on fighting or watching other people fight.”

“That will give me an advantage over everyone else when it comes to grades,” I said.

“Yeah, if you were on exactly equal footing with everyone else,” she said. “Which you aren’t. You won’t have a competitive advantage over anyone else from this arrangement, which means the class is as fair as it ever is in the ways that matter.”

“But I’m still giving up more of time,” I said.

“No more than you expected to,” she said. “And it’ll show in your grade. If you’re waiting for me to beg, Frybaby, that’s as close as I’m going to come. I want you on this because I trust you not to dick me around and because I know you see how cool these things are, which means you’ll be in their corner even if you’re not in mine. But I don’t need you, and even if I did, that wouldn’t be a reason to beg.”

“I can give you Wednesday,” I said. “I can’t promise a regular thing every week… I hadn’t thought through how long I was going to keep staying after every day, because part of that’s going to depend on what else happens in my life.”

“Right, but I’m not worried about that,” she said. “Because when we reach the point when you’re not staying after and fighting anymore, that’s five possible days a week when you could be watching the boxes in action. If you tell me you can’t spare half an hour from one random night a week most weeks then I’ll know you’re lying.”

“…true enough,” I said.

She made the announcement that Wednesday’s after session would be canceled so the boxes could have a little more going-over. There was more relief than disappointment in the room… it looked like she was right about things getting strained.

We all stayed after because no one wanted to be the one who didn’t, just like nobody wanted to be the first one who left each night… that honor generally fell to me, because I’d had to leave the first night, and because I’d also noticed that the rest of the class left as soon as they saw an opening.

It seemed like most of them seemed to think that the coach would penalize the person who quit first. I trusted that she wouldn’t, at least not without saying so… staying late only really affected our grades insofar as the extra practice made us better fighters. She might knock some points off the score of someone who didn’t seem to be making enough effort to improve, but she didn’t give points for effort itself.

Of course, it helped to know that her entire grading system was entirely notional. She didn’t actually keep scores, she assigned them based on the end results. I trusted her to stick to any agreement she made about giving extra credit or special consideration… not because I thought of her as being particularly honorable in the conventional sense, but because her power to influence students depended on it. If she ever stiffed a class full of students on their grades, it would probably mark the last time she was able to use extra credit as a carrot, if not the end of her ad hoc grading system.

If she ever decided to give up teaching… or was forced out… then all of this would be small comfort for whatever poor, doomed fools were signed up for her classes, but I had a suspicion that the final students of Jillian Callahan’s teaching career would probably have bigger things than their grades to worry about.

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30 Responses to “Chapter 162: Getting Busy”

  1. Zathras IX says:

    ŦΨØ would take on the
    Role of rulekeeper whether
    Or not she was asked

    Current score: 1
  2. tomclark says:

    OK, I must be missing something. What *exactly* is Callahan looking for from Mackenzie here?

    Current score: 0
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I’d guess that she wants a pair of eyes which isn’t tied into bureaucratic agendas on the boxes.

      Everyone has an agenda but Callahan can count on Mack to be either largely uninfluenced (or, if she GETS influenced, that Mack will be bad enough at hiding it that she’ll be able to tell).

      Of course, it probably helps that Mack is a trouble magnet. If something is going to happen to anyone as a result of the boxes, it probably will be her, and it I suppose that it may as well be someone who’s invulnerable to most kinds of harm.

      Current score: 1
    • Burnsidhe says:

      It’s like any other weapon, or spell, or ability. Callahan wants and needs to know how it operates, what its limits are, what it does, and how it can go wrong.

      That’s how she’s survived. She knows her tools.

      And having a novice’s eyes, Mack might spot things the experts miss.

      Current score: 1
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        very aptly put. Not only that, but also might figure out ways to ‘break’ it that a pro might miss as well, not just the mirror fight and the brain breaking that went on with that.

        Current score: 0
        • Fred says:

          Yeah, just because something’s top-of-the-line doesn’t mean it’s idiot-proof…Kidding. Mostly. Basically what everyone else has been saying, that someone who doesn’t have the first idea how to go about using a thing is generally the first person to come up with new and exciting ways to actually use it.

          Current score: 0
          • Burnsidhe says:

            Just as interestingly, we know Mack’s enchantment teacher is also interested in the mockboxes. So there’s another possible story hook there, linking Mack’s teachers together.

            Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Callahan is dealing with two groups of people, the enchanters making her boxes, whom she has little direct contact with; and the university inspectors. The inspectors are working in the interests of MU, so they aren’t going to tell her anything that MU might not want her to know, and they aren’t really there to help her understand the boxes, or help her use them to their fullest extreme. Plus, they are going to talk in the must technical terms about complex magical items, and Callahan will not be able to understand them.

      Mackenzie on the other hand has no agenda, and will be able to both understand (to some extent) the enchantment and the techno-babel. Plus, she will be able to explain it to Callahan in simple terms.

      Current score: 2
      • Readaholic says:

        Not technobabble – more magibabble, or thaumobabble, or enchantababble.

        Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      My guess, she’s looking for ways she can knock the safeties off the box without it being known that she can do it. Ms. Gottmorder probably has some very specific ideas in mind for these boxes, ideas Mack’s knack for enchantment might help to further without letting the wrong individuals know what she’s up to.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        Luneroski, for some deeply disturbing lack of reasoning,
        I really, really like your shrewd analysis of the possible motivation by Callahan.

        Current score: 0
  3. RJ the wolf says:

    the equivalent of a teacher asking a computer nerd to help her talk to the it guys working on her new computer program. after so much talk about tech you lose the ability to do laymen’s terms anymore.

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    Yes, Calahan would have the experience, if not to articulate but certainly understand with stomach churning certitude the MU version

    “Every solution to a technological problem, will result in two new problems plus dig up an old problem you’d resolved several versions back.
    Like a zombie rising from the grave and running amok.”

    Bye the way, welcome to the latest revision of Firefox that just got shoved down our throats,,,,”

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Firefox? I dumped that for Chrome years ago. . .

      Current score: 1
      • pedestrian says:

        Sigh….I’m too lazy to switch.

        I guess I prefer my browser to be furry then shiny metallic.

        Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      Like a zombie rising from the grave and running amok.

      Possibly more literally than usual.

      Current score: 1
  5. Reb says:

    Some epic foreshadowing in the last paragraph there?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Probably, but not of anything that will likely happen in this story. I agree with Mackenzie, that when Callahan no longer has to play by the rules (because she is leaving) she will certainly break as many of them as she can, as quickly as she can.

      Current score: 0
      • Christy says:

        The solution to that being not to tell her that she’s leaving until AFTER the semester is over.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Like she wouldn’t figure it out. . .

          Current score: 0
        • JuiceGoose says:

          they’d have to keep pestering her with bureaucratic crap beyond the point it was needed or she’d notice…oh right thats in their nature anyway.

          but you’re still assuming she wouldn’t be the one making that decision

          Current score: 0
    • PrometheanSky says:

      It is far more likely that Callahan would leave MU because the next major war has sprung up and she can go back to soldiering. While war isn’t good for anyone aside from armorers, her students would probably among the first that will get recruited to do violence against the agents of Chaos.

      While I can think of other scenarios that would cause Callahan to leave, none of them fail to include large scale violence and strife.

      Current score: 0
  6. Morten says:

    Kinda surprised that no one has used sanctity against Mack’s clone in these fights. I know you can’t mock a blessing but I assumed that the vulnerability would be copied along.

    Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      a) Who says anyone is pious enough to use sanctity in Callahan’s class? Remember what happened to Gloria?
      b) If I were in that class, I wouldn’t use sanctity against Mack’s double, even if I could. The purpose of the class is to make actual fighters out of, to some extent, broken characters. If I were, say, telekinetic and in that group, I wouldn’t just tear my opponent’s weapons out of their hands at the start of every battle; I’d want to use the safe space of the class to build up my skills in case I -can’t- tear my opponent’s weapons from their hands.

      Current score: 0
      • CLT says:

        Exactly. It’s the same reason Mackenzie was put into the ‘special’ group to begin with. Her strength gave her too much of an advantage in a group of humans with similarly lacking skills. Simply bashing your opponents weapon away with brute strength doesn’t teach you how to become a better fighter, just the same as using sanctity wouldn’t teach you how to defeat Mackenzie if she were able to withstand it.

        Current score: 0
      • JewceGooce says:

        thats different though, gloria was cheating to defeat/abuse the moxbox’s rules which calahan was explicitly against

        these rules exist because “anything goes” mac can set people on fire the kobald can eat them ect. learning how to properly use holy would be a big enough part of a paladin learning to fight that gloria would probably be using it if she were in this class. obviously not *only* using it, but it’d come up. probably more from the buff side since blasting mac seems straight forward enough. blasting would be something they would want a moc to do except you can’t mock blessings so itd only work on meat using it against a clone which doesn’t accomplish much since once you did it once the resistances don’t change because the clones don’t learn from their own experiences just from the meat’s

        Current score: 0
  7. Burnsidhe says:

    There’s this, too. Even if it’s only because her grade depends on her being able to improve her fighting ability, Mack is *more* interested in watching and participating in the combats than she is in investigating the mockboxes.

    That, alone, is a massive improvement from her first year class.

    Coach Callahan has, basically, managed to instill the basic fighting mindset into Mack. The next step is threat awareness. Spotting hostility before it comes to a confrontation.

    Current score: 1
    • pedestrian says:

      Comprehending danger and reacting soon enough to get involved is a useful survival skill. I always did better in a fight when I was able to hit first or far enough back to run away.

      Just as many wars have been lost and won by skillful negotiations as through actual combat victories and defeats.

      Current score: 0
  8. William Carr says:


    Say… the “Red Box” is bigger, right ? Big enough for Pala?

    Big enough for the “Phone Booth” trick ?

    Big enough for two, or four, or eight idiots to jam themselves inside?

    The rule is you have to put your feet in the “footprints”, but what if several people stuck a toe into the outline?

    What I’m worried about is creating a Chimera, a being with all the abilities of the originals, and a body that’s the “amalgam” of the others.

    If the spell’s not designed for this, if there’s no safety… what if the overload blows the spell before the time-limit subroutine finishes?

    And the Chimera becomes permanent ?

    Nae, plus Steff, plus Mack. Solid like rock, immune to physical weapons, FAST, with half-elven reflexes, able to burst into flame… and of course hermaphroditic.

    BTW, PLEASE, please… do an OT with the Red Box splitting a person into Good/Evil a la Star Trek.

    You KNOW you want to.

    Mack and Kenzie ? One entirely human, one entirely Demon.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      As we are finding out in Our Universe, the basic biological coding for genetic functions is a lot more muddled and interdependent then we had imagined.

      Sara/Tara being the MU version of
      “You fuck with it, it’s going to fuck you right back!”

      Successfully separating the human/demon hybrid would most likely result in a half-assed human and a half-assed demon,neither of which would be recognizably personable.

      And uhh, remember what happened to the last ultracrepedarian who tried to ‘heal’ a half-demon? The paladin who got nailed to the city gates in the Epistolary?

      I doubt if Demon Daddy would be any less violent to anyone who ruined another of his efforts to breed. Especially as I suss that there is some sort of limitation of how many younglings he can monitor and protect in a given generation.

      Current score: 1