422: Speculative Fiction

on December 5, 2009 in Book 15

In Which Mackenzie Gets Between Amaranth’s Legs

Lee actually got a couple of campus guards to walk back with us to Harlowe, to prevent any “harassment”, as he called it. It was kind of weird to have the guardsmen’s presence preventing unwanted attention instead of being the source of it. It should have been taken for granted that the armed safety officers whose presence we paid for were there to keep us safe, but ever since my first run-in with them it hadn’t felt that way.

The escort made for an uneventful walk, and a quiet one. There were things we probably all wanted to talk about, but even if the guards were playing nice, that didn’t mean they were on our side. “This is a privileged conversation” had its limits, and they probably didn’t extend as far as expecting people whose presence you’d requested to plug their ears and pretend they can’t hear you.

“I’ve got to get back to town,” Lee said to us after thanking the guards in the building nexus outside Harlowe. “If the imperials come up with any other questions, they should be going through me, but if somebody’s giving you a problem, give me a shout. Our people are going to be on campus as long as the investigation’s on-going. Someone will come stand in front of you until I can get here.”

“Thanks,” I said. “A lot.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said. “I hope the next time I see you, it’s for something less… dramatic. ”

He shook my hand and then Ian’s. When he tried to shake Amaranth’s, she hugged him.

“I guess it’s been a long day for you already,” she said.

Lee chuckled.

“I was actually expecting to spend today getting inducted into an orc tribe,” he said. “I’m not sure if this is better or worse. It’s gone well enough so far. I hate to tell you, but I don’t think it’s over. That little interview went well, but it didn’t go right.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The basic facts of the matter aren’t in dispute, so I expected it to go smoothly and be over fairly quickly. That wasn’t smooth and it was way too quick.There were two different people there with divergent agendas,” Lee said. “Gregory didn’t expect McAvoy to take an active role like that, and he wasn’t prepared for it. We were hurried out so they could hash things out. They’ll both want to try again, I think… Gregory so he can get enough concrete evidence that no one can give him a hard time for crossing you off the list, and McAvoy so he can press his theories. I’m going to suggest to Gregory that we provide written statements detailing your movements, as much corroborating detail as we can provide. If he goes for it, then we might be well and truly done with the whole thing.”

“But McAvoy wasn’t asking about our movements,” I said.

“Yes, but this isn’t a Law operation,” Lee said. “I suspect he’s got enough clout to sit in on any interrogations and examine any evidence, but he won’t be able to grab you and pull you into a room.”

“Hard question on the subject of McAvoy,” Ian said. He was looking at Amaranth and me, not Lee. “How’s he settled on Steff as a suspect so quickly?”

“Yeah, I’d like to know that, too,” Amaranth said. “He does seem to have made up his mind rather quickly for no reason.”

“That’s why it’s a hard question,” Ian said. “Is it for no reason? I mean, someone who knew Steff might put her on the top of the list of potential knife-murderers, and maybe the reasons for that would be a little superficial or maybe not, but how’s some guy who probably gated in from Palatine this morning know about the crazy necro girl so quickly?”

“What exactly are you getting at?” I asked.

“I’m just saying, you should be open to the possibility that something pointed at her,” Ian said. “If there wasn’t a reason to suspect her, he probably wouldn’t know about her in the first place. There’s no reason she should be on their list of fierce creatures, or whatever.”

“They might have used ‘dark’ majors as a criteria in sorting out suspects,” Amaranth said. “And they might have decided to go through the files of Harlowe residents. Steff has made some… interesting mistakes.”

“Then there’s the fact that she’s intimately involved with two of the students who probably fit the ‘fierce’ profile,” I said. “Anyway, I doubt it was ‘something’ that pointed to her so much as ‘someone’. There are plenty of people who are willing to say just about anything to get attention or to get people they don’t like in trouble.”

“I’ve got to run,” Lee said. “I can do more from my office than I can here, right now, and I’ve got to try to smooth a few things out with my future in-laws if I have a few minutes. But try not to get too caught up in speculating or second-guessing, okay? There is a lot going on in this investigation. A lot of people are going to be pushing their pet theories. A lot of rumors are going to be flying around. There was probably someone pushing you as the culprit just as hard, Mackenzie. Hell, McAvoy might have been doing that himself. For all we know about him, he could be grasping at a different straw every five minutes, yanking hard to see which one stands up to it.”

“You’re probably right,” Amaranth said. “It seemed kind of… off-the-cuff, like he hadn’t thought it through.”

“Yeah, and people never stubbornly stick to things they haven’t thought through,” Ian said.

“Well, as I said, we don’t know,” Lee said. “But this is a big investigation. It’s not going to be driven by one man’s prejudices. I suggest you stick to your dorm. Order food in tonight. Avoid altercations, don’t talk to anyone official, keep a low profile. If your grandmother… or anyone else who shouldn’t be there, like a reporter… comes in and bothers you, call your RA and then reflect me.”

“You know, if Mackenzie’s grandma hit you in front of the imperials, it seems like it would be easy to get rid of her for a while,” Ian said.

“They weren’t going to arrest an elderly paladin for hitting a lawyer on their own initiative,” Lee said. “I could have pressed things, but… well, we don’t exactly want her discredited. If somebody like McAvoy wanted to make Mackenzie into their sacrificial goat, pointing to the first person who ruled out demonic involvement and labeling her unbalanced would be an attractive way of shouting down anybody else who cared to downplay demons as a possibility.”

“Hmm,” Amaranth said. She sucked on her lower lip for a few seconds. “They’ve taken over the ball room, haven’t they?”

“I’m afraid so,” Lee said. “I don’t think that classes will be held tomorrow, though, and if you have any professors giving you a hard time about…”

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of homework,” Amaranth said. “I actually would like to find out a little bit more about Mack’s grandmother… I’d actually rather get to know her personally. That doesn’t seem very likely right now, but maybe I’ll be able to figure out a way of relating to her if I can just see more of where she’s coming from.”

“I’d say something about that, but I don’t want to lay odds that you haven’t managed to get your head up your ass before,” Ian said.

“Ian, that’s Mack’s grandmother you’re talking about,” Amaranth asked.

“Yeah, and I expect she’ll let me know if she doesn’t appreciate it,” Ian said.

“I actually would rather we don’t talk about her,” I said. “I’m not any more comfortable with you ragging on her than I am with Amaranth wanting to make friends with her, honestly. You don’t know her.”

“I don’t,” Ian said. “But I know you, and I know how you look when you think about her or talk to her. I’m trusting your opinion, respecting your feelings.”

“Well, respect my feelings about not talking about her,” I said.

“I’ve really got to go,” Lee said, looking down at the tablet in his hand. He frowned and shook his head at something. “Remember, heads down and give a shout if you need something. Do you want me to see you up to your room?”

“I think we’ll be fine,” Amaranth said, taking me by the hand. “You’ve been taking care of us since before you even got here… go take care of your own stuff for a bit.”

He held the door into Harlowe for us, and watched us as we hurried into the unnaturally quiet stairwell. The first floor hallway was almost unrecognizable, with long tables set up and covered with papers. There were only a few people in it, but the very institutional-looking floor somehow looked even more institutionalized now. It bore the unmistakable stamp of Official Business.

“What was that stuff about orcs?” Ian asked as we climbed the stairs.

“He’s getting married,” Amaranth said.

“Into an orc tribe? I can’t imagine that’s going to boost his career,” Ian said.

“I don’t think there’s a law that says lawyers have to marry to help their careers,” Amaranth said.

“Oh, I wasn’t even thinking about lawyers,” Ian said. “I just… I’ve got a certain view of marriage ingrained in my head, I guess.”

“You don’t think that everybody’s like that, though, do you?” I asked.

“No,” Ian said. “But I guess I kind of expect everybody who’s, you know, ‘respectable’ to work that way. You know… lawyers, wizards, professional types.” He looked at me. “Your family’s economic background would actually probably worry my dad more than anything else about you. Well, that and your kind of scandalous personal life. And your appearance. Um, I guess the point I’m making is that it’s not just the demon thing that would… actually, I guess the point I’m making is that I love you and I don’t care what other people think.”

“Smooth save,” I said darkly. “What do you mean, my appearance?”

“Just that you’re not, you know, a classic beauty, as measured by the sort of people who care about ‘scandalous’ backgrounds,” Ian said. “I think you’re very attractive. Obviously.”

“Ian may not be being too careful with his words, baby, but I think you know what he means,” Amaranth said. “Let’s not go sniping at each other when there’s so much going on.”

I nodded.

I kind of expected to get ambushed with a bunch of questions or accusations or just plain insults when we got up to the fifth floor, but the hallway was quiet and empty. The lounge was deserted. More than one door stood open, but there were no sounds or signs of life.

“I wonder where everyone is,” I said.

“Maybe they hightailed it out before they could get accused of anything?” Ian suggested.

“Well, we saw some of them downstairs,” Amaranth said. “The people who aren’t in the main lounge are probably doing the same thing we’re doing: gathering together with their closest friends and family.”

“Oh, shit,” I said. The mention of friends and family made me remember something that had slipped out of my head in the midst of all the other oh, shits that had been going on. “Remember when we were at the Crystal Palace and we first overheard Gregory talking? He was telling someone to ‘keep the golem isolated’, or something like that.”

“There isn’t more than one golem here, is there?” Ian asked.

“I really don’t think so,” I said. “At least not one in Harlowe.”

“Hold on, baby, before we panic let’s check our room,” Amaranth said. She started walking towards the door, with one hand out behind her. I handed her my key. She knocked on the door anyway. “Hello, Two? Are you in there, honey?”

There was no answer.

“Hmm,” Amaranth said, unlocking the door. “Well, she could be with Hazel. We’ll go wander down to her room and check in a minute… I just want to sit down and take a few moments to unwind a little.”

She headed in and walked over to the window, where she sat down with her back to the wall and her bare legs sprawled out in front of her on the rug. She tapped the floor between them and I obediently followed, taking a seat between her legs.

“You know,” Ian said as he shut and locked the door, “if they’ve been pumping Two for information about her friends and floormates, that might be where they got their info on Steff.”

“It’s possible,” I said. “But I really can’t see Two making random accusations.”

“Well, I wasn’t thinking that, exactly,” Ian said. He turned my desk chair around to face us and then sat down in it.”If they wanted her isolated, it’s probably so they can get as much objective fact out of her as they can without anyone influencing her.”

“I suppose,” I said. “Golems are supposed to be the best and worst witnesses. Best because they’re usually more objective, but worst because even with a freed one, it’s hard to be sure there aren’t any lingering orders that are going to affect what they say.”

“Right. So the first thing they’d do is find out if she has any direct knowledge of the murder,” Ian said. “But assuming she doesn’t… which is probably the case… wouldn’t a thorough investigator then find out as much as he can from her about the rest of the possible suspects?”

“Baby, can I borrow your mirror?” Amaranth asked.

“Sure,” I said, and I gave it to her.

“Thank you.”

“I think you’re probably right about why they’d isolate Two,” I said, and it made me a feel a little better… I didn’t exactly approve of Two being used like an echo crystal, but at least she was unlikely to come to harm or wind up being scapegoated herself. “But I still don’t see how it leads to Steff.”

“Well, if they asked her to tell what she knows about the people in Harlowe, she’ll know the most about her friends,” Ian said. “So maybe Steff came up that way. Or maybe they asked her about the specific individuals who are on their short list… if Viktor’s on there, what does Two know about him? That he’s dating Steff. What does she know about Steff?”

“That Steff’s a girl with a penis,” I said. “That might give some members of officialdom pause, but I don’t think it makes her suspect number one even for someone like McAvoy.”

“Do you really think Two wouldn’t have picked up on Steff’s sadism and her, uh, death fetish?” Ian asked.

“I’m not sure Two thinks about stuff like that,” I said.

“Yeah, but not thinking about something isn’t the same as not knowing about it,” Ian said. “She seems kind of observant to me… or hadn’t you noticed?”

“Was that a joke?”

“Sort of,” he said. “If you or Amaranth got pulled in and asked about Steff, you wouldn’t just blurt out something about her gory drawings or her other habits… but if Two were asked what she knows about Steff… or even more specifically if she’s shown any predilection for violence…”

“A macabre imagination isn’t the same thing as a predilection for violence,” I said. “It’s not like she goes around stabbing people. Anyway, maybe that’s a red flag, and maybe a reason for them to look further… but I don’t think it would be enough to explain the interest in Steff. McAvoy really wanted to nail her, the subterranean elves wanted Dee to throw her under the carriage… considering that Steff was never alone much less conscious last night, there needs to be more than a golem reporting on her creepier hobbies.”

“Maybe,” Ian said. “Or maybe a creepy half-human faggot, pardon my Elvish, with no political importance and no fancy lawyer is a more attractive target than a bunch of well-connected monsters, again pardon my Elvish. Or maybe there really is something that connects Steff to Leda.”

“They did have… an encounter,” I said. I wasn’t sure what more to say. I wasn’t clear on what had happened, exactly… Steff had been reluctant to talk about the details. Then I remembered that she had first begged off elaborating because Two was in the room when it came up. “But even still…”

“Hey, you don’t have to defend Two or Steff,” Ian said. “I’m not accusing Two of being a squealer or Steff of being a murderer. I’m not sure I’d be able to blindly trust that it wasn’t Steff if I didn’t know she spent the weekend in bed with Dee. Um, you know what I mean. I know it wasn’t her, though. I’m just saying… well, I’m thinking out loud. I wonder if Viktor was with them the whole time.”

“Remember what Lee said about speculating,” Amaranth said somewhat absently from behind me.

“I’m not going to repeat that in front of an imp,” Ian said.

“Mack, baby, do you know when your grandmother got married?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the answer was ‘as soon as she started to show’,” Ian said. “Most people that strict are hypocrites.”

Ian,” Amaranth said. “Mack said she doesn’t appreciate that.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Sorry,” Ian said.

“I really don’t know,” I said. “I think my grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother did talk about him a little, but she didn’t really talk about her ‘youth’… maybe that’s why I have a hard time picturing her young.”

“Is it possible she could have kept her maiden name when she married?”

“That would surprise me,” Ian said.

“Yeah… um, she’s kind of a traditionalist about a lot of things, names in particular,” I said. “Why?”

“Because I think I found her.”

She reached in front of me to show me my mirror. She’d been gazing. The weavesite currently reflected in the mirror had a picture at the top. The face was unmistakably my grandmother’s… slightly younger, though hardly less lined than the one I knew, and topped with raven curls. It was a head shot, but her shoulders were draped with mail topped with armored pads.

It seemed that I owed Gloria an apology… the heading on the page read “‘BRIMSTONE’ BLAISE”.

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2 Responses to “422: Speculative Fiction”

  1. Lythar says:

    What concerns me most about Mack’s Grandma is that her nickname is “Brimstone”.

    That’s a VERY demonic or hellish nickname for a Paladin…

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