289: Big Questions, Little Answers

on September 24, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Mackenzie And Steff Grope Around Passioniately

After messing around the ethernet function a little, I decided to try for Ian before I got too absorbed, but he wasn’t answering. I reluctantly closed the mirror on my way up the stairs after the third time I caught my foot on a step… the last thing I wanted was to break it the first day I had it. There was no telling how long I’d get to keep it, or if the next replacement would be half as cool.

I opened it back up as soon as I got to what I thought was my floor, and then found myself trying to force my key into the lock of what turned out to be room 317 while gazing at a Mecknights tapestry I hadn’t checked for a while. The door opened from inside and I stumbled forward, bouncing off the flat chest of a scaly, snake-haired girl I didn’t recognize.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Uh…” I said, then realized what I’d done. “Wrong floor, sorry.”

Dozens of little yellow eyes rolled and she shut the door in my face.

“Who was that?” somebody said inside the closed room.

“That spazz from upstairs.”

“Oh my kosh, I have to tell Trina right now.”

Cheeks burning, I managed to keep the mirror closed on my way back to the stairwell and up to the actual fifth floor. I was back at the tapestry again by the time I was at my door, though I tore my eyes from it to check the number before I tried to jam my key into the lock. That probably would have gone a little bit better if I’d kept my eyes on what I was doing. I was still fighting with it when I heard Steff calling “Hey!” from the end of the hall.

I turned to see her coming out of Oru and Shiel’s room.

“Hey, yourself,” I said.

“Is that a new mirror?” Steff asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Pendragon was having problems with theirs, and… I guess I lucked out.”

“Awesome,” she said. “So… how was the big date?”

“Surreal,” I said. “I think we made a kind of progress, though.”

Steff grinned from ear to ear.

“Oh, you nailed her, didn’t you, you little slut?” she said.

I shook my head.

“She nailed you?” Steff asked. “I’ll be the first to admit I’m not clear on all the options when it’s all scabbards and no swords.”

I glanced at Sooni’s closed door, and then gestured towards my room.

“Let’s get out of the hall and I’ll tell you about it,” I said. We headed into my room, where I did my best to explain what had happened, and how I had felt. I didn’t think I did a very good job of it.

“I guess I can kind of see that,” Steff said after I told her why I’d turned Sooni down.

“You’re the one who told me that rape is the absence of choice,” I said. “Sooni wasn’t being coerced, but she was doing what she thought she had to do. If it wouldn’t have been rape, it would have been… rape-ish?”

“Too close for comfort, anyway,” Steff said. She shook her head. “It would have been so incredible, though. You love everybody you have sex with, and that’s nice… but you need a healthy dose of hate to get really hot.”

“I don’t know about that… I think I do just fine with love. Anyway, I’m having a hard time hating Sooni right now,” I said. “That’ll probably change the next time I see her abusing her nekos… though, honestly, I’m having a hard time feeling sympathy for them, which is awful of me… no amount of Kai being bitchy excuses what Sooni puts her through.”

“You’re way too forgiving,” Steff sad. “When I don’t like somebody, I start imagining them enslaved and tortured in worse ways than bad cosplay.”

“Well, let’s just leave it at things are a lot more complicated in her life than I thought,” I said. “We aren’t having sex, and we aren’t enemies. I don’t know if we’re friends yet. She didn’t seem to want me to leave, though. Even after we spent the day together, she kept asking me to hang out more… she wanted me to go to the arena or the pool.”

“The pool?” Steff said, her eyes lighting up. “Mmm… you know, the deep end is like thirteen feet deep?”

“I’ll pass on that forever,” I said. “Five feet was deep enough for me.”

“Sorry,” Steff said, putting her hands on my hips and pulling me towards her. Her skirt was tenting out in front of her. “I just can’t get the image of you thrashing helplessly around out of my head… I’d love to get you alone in there sometime and just throw you in.”

“Steff, that would seriously scare the fuck out of me,” I said. I’d panicked when my feet had momentarily lost contact with the bottom in the penthouse pool… the idea of thirteen feet of water, more than twice my own height…

“I know,” Steff whispered, sliding around behind me, her dick poking into the back of my jeans. “I could tie a weight to your feet, or just wait for you to get tired… watch you sink to the bottom, and then slowly stop moving…”

“Let’s talk about something else,” I said. Even if drowning wouldn’t technically kill me, I didn’t really want to deal with Steff’s death fetish. “What were you doing in Oru’s room, anyway, watching the news?”

“What? No, it’s all that earthquake-tsunami and updates from overseas now,” Steff said. “Even the local people are hardly mentioning campus stuff any more, and what’s there is just rehashing. We’re playing stone soldiers… me and Hazel versus Shiel.”

“What, two against one?”

“Yeah, we had to combine our forces to make a decent army,” Steff said. “Hazel’s using her own forces that she had the dwarves churn out for her, and I’m using some humans I bought off Shiel and converted to undead.”

“Very necromantic,” I said.

Steff giggled.

“It’s all in the details,” she said. “Make the armor a little ragged, replace the eyes with gaping sockets, make some exposed bone… they’re a little crude, but I guess that kind of fits, right?”

“I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing,” I said. “So, where’s everybody else?”

“Well, Dee… went off somewhere. I think she’s praying or something. Two’s working, of course,” Steff said. “So is Amy. I gave her a pretty good going-over this morning, but she says she feels like she’s falling behind… if you ask me, she’s trying to score points with Mom, or prove that you’re not a distraction, or something.”

“Really?” I said. “It seemed to me… well, it kind of seemed like she was giving up.”

Steff shook her head.

“Don’t you believe it,” Steff said. “If I believed it, I’d be fucking some sense into her right now… she’s just trying to prepare herself for the worst, which is kind of pointless since if that happened, nothing would prepare her for it.”

“You don’t think it’s going to happen, then?” I asked. “You don’t think Mother Khaele is going to forbid her from being with me?”

“Hon, I think she’s going to realize she’s spent too much of her divine attention on such a small problem already,” Steff said.

“And she’s not going to take the next logical step of ending the relationship before it took any more of her time?” I asked. An image… or rather, a series of images… popped into my head. They differed in particulars: a lightning bolt splitting the air and striking me, the earth swallowing me up, a radiant column of light obliterating me… basic wrath-of-the-gods stuff. “Or flexing the tiniest little bit of her divine might and ending me?”

“Mack, she isn’t going to just up and kill one of her nymphs’ girlfriends,” Steff said.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked. Now that I’d thought about it, the idea was darkly irresistible. “You saw her talking to that reporter at the festival, right? People are dying every second and she shrugs it off. A little elemental upheaval and one hundred thousand people are dead. Do you think she batted an eye at that? She just added that to the tally and then went on to the next disaster.”

“That’s a little different than righteously smiting down somebody for dating your daughter,” Steff said. “I just can’t imagine… well, I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but I just can’t imagine a greater divinity being so petty.”

I started to retort, but I bit back the urge. Steff had once called Khersis an “asshole” over my inability to pray to him following my demon awakening. There was nothing petty about Lord Khersis’s enmity towards demonkind, though, and I wasn’t going to throw Steff’s blasphemy back in her face to score a point in an argument.

That would be petty.

“Why the sudden burst of piety?” I asked instead. That seemed a little more fair, and less confrontational.

“Don’t know,” Steff said. “I mean, I don’t think I’d call it piety, but… well… did you see the shit on the news? I used to think the ogre badlands were a whole world away. We actually went and found where Yokan was on a map to try to figure out if it got hit or not… you know, out of curiosity. Looking at how far it was from there to East Reaches, and from the East Reaches to the coast… it’s a big fucking world, Mack, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I don’t think I knew before today, but I know now.”

“Right,” she said. “Exactly. And I got to thinking, and the way I figure it, right at the moment Mother Khaele was putting in her little appearance at that festival, on the other side of the world, that whole thing was just getting started.”

“It might have been close,” I said. “But I don’t know if you could say it was right at the same…”

“No?” Steff said. “Do you remember how she left all of a sudden? Like something big was happening?”

“Now that you mention it… I kind of do,” I said. “But why would she stop to talk to a national TV audience and not give some kind of warning, if she knew that was coming?”

“How would that have helped?” Steff asked. “‘Oh, by the way, if you happen to have a mirror link to anybody on the other side of the world, tell them to head for high ground.'”

“But in the time she took to vent about Amaranth, or whatever you want to call it, she could have appeared before the easterners,” I said. “Or just done something about the wave in the first place!”

“Look who’s blaspheming now,” Steff said, grinning.

“I’m serious, Steff,” I said. “If she’s going to be involved with mortal affairs, why bother messing around with… affairs… when she could have saved those people?”

“Hon, as an Arkhanite, this is the sort of thing I think about all the time,” she said. “It’s usually in terms of ‘if the gods exist’ and ‘if the gods have power’, but I’m pretty well willing to admit Mother Khaele’s existence at this point, and no matter how you frame the question there aren’t any good answers. But you’re a great big geek… there’s a reason that earthquakes happen, isn’t there?”

“Yeah,” I said. “The thinking is that fire and air that builds up in the crust of the world has to escape and be released to their own layers. If it doesn’t happen in good time, the explosion when it does happen is worse.”

“Right,” Steff said. “So if there hadn’t been an earthquake at that time, in that place, it might have blown a hole in the bottom of the ocean or something later.”

“I’m not saying Mother Khaele should have stopped it from happening,” I said. “But she could have done something for the people.”

“She was doing her job,” Steff said. “The people had their own gods who could have been looking out for them. But say an assembled force of divine beings had teamed up and got everybody to evacuate the coasts.”

“Yeah, say they did,” I said. “Where’s the downside?”

“Maybe there isn’t one,” Steff said. “But if they’re doing that, what about all the people who died from fires or plagues or war or basic stupidity at the same time?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe the gods should just a more pro-active stance on that stuff anyway.”

“Okay, but… where does it stop?”

“Maybe it stops when everybody’s safe!” I said, suddenly very angry about the whole thing. Until Mother Khaele had entered the conversation, I’d been thinking of the tsunami as something that had happened without warning… but she had known. “When whole villages aren’t being wiped out in the blink of an eye, when nobody has to grow up without a mother, when people aren’t buying and selling each other… when you can’t hop on a crystal ball and order up a side of somebody just because you have money to burn.”

“That wasn’t you, Mack,” Steff said quietly. “If you believe me about anything, believe me about that… I’ve seen you hungry and that wasn’t you. I may have let my excitement at the idea… well, it was too late to fix, anyway… but you had nothing to do with that.”

“But it shouldn’t have even been an option,” I said. “Why do we have laws that let people be treated as commodities?”

“Mack, hon… that’s life,” she said. “There are poor people everywhere. There are people who can buy and sell other people’s lives in every society. Some are just more honest about it than others. If the gods came down from on high… if Lord Khersis walked the world again and he said ‘You guys cut out this slavery shit right the fuck now!’ and he made it stick somehow, people would still be people. There might not be any establishments like Tender Mercy’s, but it would still be a dog-eat-dog world.”

“Maybe some people are going to be evil assholes no matter what we do, but there are still degrees,” I said. “Making things difficult for them, making it illegal, making it socially unacceptable… I mean, I know the past wasn’t some golden age or anything, but if you look at history… it used to be that people who owned slaves were expected to show some responsibility for them. There was a social contract you had to follow.”

“That was a sham, though,” Steff said. “Slaves didn’t have any more rights back then than they do now, and it’s like Shiel says about kobold women… if the masters let their slaves have some freedom or dignity, the fact that it was up to them in the first place just kind of underscores the whole thing.”

“Okay, but… if somebody butchered a slave like an animal for meat, there would have been one hell of a stigma,” I said. “A lot of times, saying something ‘just isn’t done’ is more powerful than a law. But these days nobody cares. You can order everything on the ethernet, everybody is expected to mind their own business, and the only contracts that matter are the legal ones.”

“But what are you going to do?” Steff asked. “It’s never going to change… there’s too much money in slavery.”

“Way back when, slavery was legal because it was an effective way of getting labor for farming and building,” I said. “These days, there’s enchantments and automata for taking care of that kind of thing. Slaves are a total luxury, and the only people making money are the slavers.”

“Right… and they’re catering directly to the wealthiest and most powerful people in the imperium,” Steff said. “You see the problem?”

I shook my head.

“I don’t even know why we’re talking about this,” I said. “We were talking about Amaranth, and then the wave…”

“We’re in college,” Steff said. “Pointless bull sessions go with the territory, especially when big world-shaking events are in the news. Oh! But I was saying it would be petty. Could you really see somebody who’s concerned with things like earthquakes and hurricanes stopping to wipe out one relatively harmless half-demon? I mean, Khersis himself doesn’t go around doing the direct smiting any more. Why is she going to step outside her sphere to get rid of you?”

“She took the time to talk about it,” I said. “On TV…”

“That’s why I’m not ready to give up,” Steff said. “That can only be a good thing… it means she’s thinking about it and not just reacting, which makes it less likely that she’s going to just throw up her hands and give it up as a bad job.”

“But it doesn’t mean she won’t,” I said.

“Eh… smite happens,” Steff said, shrugging. “Anyway, I should probably get back… I mean, I’d love to give you a consolation prize since you missed out on the foxy love…”

“It wouldn’t be a consolation prize,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “But I’m kind of committed… we’re a couple hours in already and if I quit they’ll just be wasted.”

“I think it’d be a bigger waste of time finishing the game,” I said.

“Yeah, you’d probably rather play with your little Mecknight dolls,” Steff said.

“Actually, I’ve got another toy to play with,” I said. I held up the black compact.

“Good deal,” Steff said. “I’ll come around after we finish losing to Shiel… Hazel’s talking a big game, but she’s just hammering us. I think we need to work on our tactics… or I need to stop playing with Hazel. Anyway, I’m learning. I’d ask you to come watch, but I know you’re not interested…”

“And I’m banished,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” Steff said, shifting uncomfortably. “I hope you don’t mind me hanging with Shiel…”

“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s got her reasons for supporting Oru, I guess, and I don’t even blame Oru that much.”

“Too forgiving,” Steff said, shaking her head. “Oru’s a cunt and you know it. Anyway, I’ll be by later… oh, and Feejee was looking for you earlier.”

“She was?”

“Yeah,” Steff said. “She said she has some new sauce she wants you to try. I swear, everybody’s turning into a cook with the pseudowench in residence.”

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7 Responses to “289: Big Questions, Little Answers”

  1. BMeph says:

    Heh-heh, Feejee’s being…
    …”saucy”. 😉

    Current score: 5
  2. Stoker says:


    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    i suspect Feejee wanted to slather the sauce on Mack before chowing down! but wouldn’t we all?

    …petty piety…{but not propriety}

    when a deity is smitten will they still smite?

    Current score: 2
  4. keyonte0 says:

    Gods are NOT superheroes, Mack.

    Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      Some are. The Mighty Thor is. Aroura Munroe/Storm is. Maybe Lord Khersis never bothers smiting people because he’s running around the Latium Peninsula with a cape stopping bank robberies.

      Current score: 6
  5. Nocker says:

    Huh. Looking back a bit it’s both inspiring and disconcerting to see Mackenzie get all moral and worried about the death of innocents.

    There’s a lot more good in her than you’d think. If only she realized and acted on it more often.

    Current score: 0
  6. zeel says:

    “When whole villages aren’t being wiped out in the blink of an eye, when nobody has to grow up without a mother, when people aren’t buying and selling each other… when you can’t hop on a crystal ball and order up a side of somebody just because you have money to burn.”

    So much emotion packed into this.

    Current score: 2