In Which Early Is Too Late

We both showed up early for the meeting the next night, Andreas and I. There’d been no discussion about it, but I think he wanted the time to gather his strength and I hadn’t wanted to risk leaving him hanging. I’d made a commitment and I wanted to live up to it.

If things had gone a little differently, I might have missed the opportunity to do that, though… as early as I was, I got there after both Andreas and Acantha and the first thing I heard when I crossed the silent threshold of the musical lounge was her talking to him.

“…feel I owe you an apology,” she said. “While I have become adept at reading certain types of social cues in certain situations… like negotiations… I’m not very good at picking up on unexpected reactions in real time. It was only when I reviewed our interactions and reflected on what you’ve been saying and how you’ve been saying it that I realized you may have felt like I was putting you on the spot about your association with the league.”

“I… er… a little, yeah,” he said. His eyes were flickering all over the room… he didn’t really do eye contact any better than I did… and when they found me, he firmed up a little, which made me feel a little less guilty. Not only was there no reproach in his eyes, but apparently my presence helped. “It’s not a huge thing. I mean, I’m the one who’s been speaking up about it… I just don’t want to feel like I have to choose between speaking my conscience, and being sized up for a chief diplomat or advocate position.”

“I don’t want you to feel like that, either. I’m afraid that when I found out you were close to the top, I got a bit overexcited,” she said. “While I generally try to plan my moves with care, this project by its very nature has required me to ‘wing it’ more than I’m used to and that’s made me a little eager to jump on the unexpected opportunity, or perceived opportunity, to pick your brain about things.”

“Oh, well, that’s understandable, I suppose,” Andreas said. “As long as you understand, I’m not your man when it comes to being a go-between… I’m not more than a player in the league, officially. I don’t have a lot of clout and I’m not sure I even have that much insight.”

“I wouldn’t undersell yourself,” she said. “I think you’ve done as good a job as anyone could of representing the league’s point of view and interests, in these preliminary stages… and if it doesn’t put too much pressure on you, I’d aprpeciate if you would keep speaking your mind. At least, if anything major changes or something really important occurs to you. I think we can agree that you’ve done a wonderful job laying the groundwork and there’s not much more to say right now.”

“I suppose we can at that,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to clear my head before we begin.”

“Of course,” she said.

He didn’t give me so much as a nod as he walked past me out of the lounge, but I figured that he’d want to compare notes or debrief or something, so I fell in behind him. We’d have a hard time talking in the lounge without being overheard even by the non-elves, but the soundproofing worked both ways.

“How much of that you catch?” he asked me.

“Most of it, I think?” I guessed. “Everything but the start, I’d imagine… I’m kind of curious about that. I’m guessing you didn’t confront her.”

“No, she came up to me,” he said. “Her little speech sounded practiced, but so does half the stuff she says.”

“I think we probably both know that practicing what you’re going to say in your head doesn’t make it insincere,” I said.

“No,” he said.”Still… I don’t quite trust it.”

“You got exactly what you wanted and you didn’t have to fight her over it,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Suspicious, right? And notice how she turned it around and strengthened my agreement to table my concerns, under the guise of making things easier on me. Slick. I know her awkward act isn’t an act, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be slick with it.”

“So after all this, you’re still out?”

He thought about that.

“No… no I’m in,” he said. “I don’t care if she’s playing us, as long as she’s playing straight… even if she had planned on using me as a pawn, she cared enough to notice without being told that it wasn’t sitting well with me, and she’s willing to give that idea up to keep me as a worker. Being valued as a worker means a lot to me… almost as much to me as not being used as a gamepiece. If she doesn’t just want me for a go-between to Shiel and Hazel, then you’re right and she must see something more in me. Maybe I’m not just diligent. Maybe I can be more.”

“I’m totally not trying to talk you out of that because I absolutely believe you can be more and that also there’s nothing wrong with being ‘just’ diligent… but doesn’t that seem a little risky?” I asked. “I mean, if you’re not sure you can trust her…”

“Look, let’s quite tapping around the vein,” he said. “Neither one of us trusts her, but neither one of us wants to leave. Isn’t that the shape of it?”

“I think it’s more that I want to trust her…”

“People who want to trust someone, do,” he said. “They don’t pick at things. They don’t look at them from other angles. They just find the one that’s flattering and then try to keep their heads very still. We know what we’re doing isn’t the safe thing, and here we are doing it anyway. And you know what? I think we need to stop trying to figure out how to prove to ourselves it’s safe and just own up to the fact that we’re going to do it anyway. ”

“That’s… if we admit it’s not safe, then how can we do it?”

“Search me,” he said. “When you live underground, safety isn’t just rule one, it’s all the rules. All of them. But we’re not underground, Mackenzie. There isn’t a ton of rock hanging over our heads waiting to come down on us like a… ton of rock. I think you and me ended up together on this because we’re in the same place. We know that things don’t add up, we know she’s up to something, but we don’t… know-know it. We don’t have proof. We don’t know what she’s up to or why. Which means that we don’t really know, we suspect. But every instinct we have is telling us that our suspicions are valid and we should be listening to them. Doing this might be the biggest mistake of our lives so far…”

“Oh, it’s definitely not the biggest mistake of my life so far,” I said.

“Okay, but there’s the crux: so far,” he said. “We’re both legally adults, I think, if I understand how it works for you, but we’re not out in the world on our own and no one’s depending on us succeeding or failing. Even we’re not depending on it, int his one case. We can’t get fired from going to school. We can’t bring shame onto our college. I mean, we can, but not for getting taken in. So if we’re being taken in, if we’re making a mistake… I say let’s do it. Let’s get it over with. I mean, if things work out, we’ll say it was a valuable experience. But isn’t it a valuable experience to fail?”

“So you’re going into this expecting to fail?”

“Let’s say that I’m going into it not counting on success,” he said. “I’ll cheerfully accept any payday that comes my way as a result of it, but even if we get screwed over completely… even if we never see one slim silver and Acantha retires to sleep on a mountain of gems… well, knowing how she did it will help me avoid it. And maybe someday it’ll help me get my own mountain of gems.”

I started to nod in agreement, but then I stopped when I realized that I wasn’t quite in the same boat as he was.

“Um… in the spirit of our allyship…” I said.


“Sorry, it’s just I did technically agree not to tell you this, but right now I’m feeling more loyal to you than I am to her or the project,” I said. “But… I’m not sure if that’s important enough to override my agreement to secrecy…”

“You’re already getting paid, aren’t you?” he said.

“Well… I guess at this point, my wages are just as theoretical as our shares of the profit,” I said. “But, yeah. I went to her and told her that my time was worth money and I wanted to be compensated for my participation.”

You said that?”

“She inspired me, I guess,” I said. “And… well… like you said, we know she’s jerking us around on some level, but not how badly or why. I looked at this as making sure that it would be worth my while even if it goes bust.”

“Damn,” he said. “That’s brilliant, sort of. Wish I’d thought of it…”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one,” I said. “I’d bet money Memphis had the same idea.”

“He is a sharp bastard,” Andreas said. “Well, I can’t turn around and ask for wages now. I mean, it’s a foregone conclusion that she knows we’re talking, but right now she’s in the same boat that we are. She doesn’t know what we’re sharing with each other or why, and I don’t want to hand her the advantage there.”

“You could always ask for a consulting fee if she decides to pick your brain some more,” I said. “I mean, she identified you as a valuable resource. And that would put it more on your terms.”

“That’s a good thought, that,” Andreas said. “Maybe I should bring you along to help negotiate for me.”

“I think that would fall afoul of the clause about discussing compensation with other members of the team,” I said.

“Sure enough,” he said. “Platinum will get you peanuts that’s the point of it all… I understand in the human corporate world, that’s a common enough clause. Seems like it would make for an awfully one-sided negotiation.”

“Dwarves aren’t tough negotiators?”

“We are,” he said. “But our businesses… well, they’re family businesses. Even when they’re not. Even if they’re not a clan-run enterprise, even if they mostly employ non-dwarves… starting a business is like starting a clan. Company loyalty flows in all directions, not just to the top. The people who work for the company are the company. The building, the capital, the product… those things are assets. As far as I can tell, the imperial way is to do it the other way around.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I said. “I’ve always figured that’s the way it is, though… though… I wonder…”


“Acantha keeps telling us this is our project,” I said. “All for one and one for all. What if we start acting like we believe her?”

“When I said let’s go ahead and make the mistake, I didn’t mean we should let our guard down.”

“I didn’t say trust her, I said believe her,” I said. “Take her at her word that this is a shared opportunity, a shared venture. Just… I don’t have anything specific here, I just mean… let’s own this thing. Let’s back in the lounge like we own it. Not the lounge, I mean…”

“Funny thing is, I do know what you mean,” he said. “But do you really think we can pull that off?”

“Why not? She can be slick and awkward,” I said. “We’re halfway there.”

He snorted.

“That’s why we like her, isn’t it?” he said. “We know we’re always going to be the… well, the nerds, if that word still means what I think it means. We’ve had dreams where we’d grow up to be something up, but we’re old enough and we’ve seen enough and done and grown enough to know that it’s not going to happen. But her, she’s a nerd, but she’s not just a nerd.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it,” I said.

“Whether we walk in like we own the place or not, I think it’s past time we did walk in, because the meeting’s probably already starting.”

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21 Responses to “Chapter 207: Owning Up”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    Even we’re not depending on it, int his one case
    I read this and it took a few seconds to read “int his” as “in this” not intelligence his.

    Current score: 0
  2. N. says:

    Yes, yes, yes! (It’s amazing how invested I am in seeing them see this through.)

    Current score: 3
  3. Zergonapal says:

    I am sure Acantha has hearing devices secreted in the lounge, she uses a phantom scribe doesn’t she?

    Current score: 8
  4. Arancaytar says:

    let’s quite tapping

    *quit tapping, I think?

    There isn’t a ton of rock hanging over our heads waiting to come down on us like a… ton of rock.

    The famed dwarven gift for analogies. =D

    I wonder if Andreas might appreciate Maud Pie’s poetry:

    Rock. You are a rock.
    Grey. You are grey.
    Like a rock.
    Which you are.


    Current score: 7
    • zeel says:

      Is this a fellow brony I see?

      Current score: 1
      • Arancaytar says:

        Wherever would you get that idea. 😛

        Current score: 1
      • Miz*G says:

        Yay for bronies in all my fandoms. Nice to know some other mu students are part of the herd.

        Current score: 2
  5. scifi_chic says:

    “Let’s back in the lounge” – let’s go back?

    “We’ve had dreams where we’d grow up to be something up, but” – be something else?

    Current score: 0
  6. not her, the other girl says:

    “People who want to trust someone, do,” he said. “They don’t pick at things. They don’t look at them from other angles. They just find the one that’s flattering and then try to keep their heads very still. We know what we’re doing isn’t the safe thing, and here we are doing it anyway. And you know what? I think we need to stop trying to figure out how to prove to ourselves it’s safe and just own up to the fact that we’re going to do it anyway. ”

    That’s very freshman-year-Mack, especially when it came to Puddy (“but she’s my friend!”). Heck, she was so good at holding her head still (so to speak) that she didn’t really “see” Steff.

    Current score: 4
  7. Cadnawes says:

    I am pleased with this. Do I want to know what the heck is going on? Sure, but my sense of self preservation would have kept me out of it. Mack doesn’t always seem to have one of those. So it’s good that Andreas does.

    Current score: 1
  8. tijay says:

    fuck I have been so engrossed in the story that I hadn’t realised that I had caught up

    I now feel sad enough to haiku

    from 2007
    onwards, I have read til now
    the wait to come… scares

    starting to read from
    2014 can make
    future waits more stressed

    Current score: 0
  9. Masterofbones says:

    Typo : “I’d aprpeciate”

    Andreas has it right. If you are going to end up doing something, do it now and own it. Don’t agonize over pretending that you haven’t decided.

    Current score: 0
  10. Morumotto says:

    The weird thing here is that had Acantha not sent Mack to touch base with Andreas before this, he would probably not have accepted the apology and would have left the project instead.

    Precisely how far ahead does Acantha think these things?

    Current score: 0
  11. Ursus says:

    int he -> in the


    Current score: 0
  12. Brandon says:

    Gaeron’s Fourteen was mentioned twice im wondering what exactly it was.

    Current score: 0
    • Dirndl says:

      I’m fairly certain it’s the MUniverse version of Ocean’s Eleven.

      Current score: 1
    • Mist says:

      A play on Oceans Eleven and Oceans Twelve, I think.

      Current score: 1
  13. Mist says:

    I know some people find monetization fascinating. I’m old school and tend to find it crass and mundane. And I already have more than enough finance and negotiating beating down my door in my life.

    So much so that money stress and worry and what takes the magic out of my world….and it seems to be taking it out of this one to.

    Where are the interesting cultures, the fascinating customs, the witty play with the coach, the excitement of the fight sequences, the mystery of crazy pudding and other odd peoples, the sizzle of tantalizing sexuality and sparkle of magic? Why has it been replaced with a trip to the accountants office??

    Current score: 1
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Because Tales of MU is about day to day life in a DnD campain and this includs trying to make money. When you get down to it everything comes down to resorses and money will show up when it becomes more conveenint than farming, mining or going on a quest to get something.
      This is a fact of life and Tales of MU is all about how life is the same even when you change the world.

      Current score: 1
    • Kevin says:

      > Why has it been replaced with a trip to the accountants office??

      Because Mackenzie started hanging out with dwarves.

      Current score: 2
      • Mist says:

        I prefer engineering and booze rather than marketing and accounting

        Current score: 0