232: Paper Hanging

on June 6, 2008 in Book 9

In Which Mackenzie Remains Focused During Class

“What… what thing in the paper?” I asked. “And what paper?”

My words about fate and having a target on my head were coming back to me. Damn it.

“The campus one,” Ian said. “You really didn’t see it?”

“No, I don’t really pay much attention to the campus paper,” I said. Another memory came back to me. The reporter, Kent something… he’d wanted to talk to me after my ordeal in the maze. Had he done something?

“Yeah, neither do I,” Ian said. “I don’t think anybody does, really… people just grab it because it’s free and it’s there and they need something to read. But I’m surprised you didn’t see it lying around the dorm or something.”

I had to stop and think. Had I ever seen the campus newspaper sitting around Harlowe?

“Where do you even get the paper from?” I asked. I knew there were little bins as you came into the union, but I didn’t imagine that was the only distribution point.

“They have them at the front of all the residence halls,” Ian said.

Of course.

“All but Harlowe, apparently,” I said. “Anyway… what exactly did the paper say?”

“Um, the headline was something about your best friends giving their opinions on your disappearance and recovery,” he said.

I looked at him, trying to figure out what he seemed so apprehensive about. If that was the other shoe dropping, fate was really off its game today.

“That doesn’t sound bad,” I said. “I mean, my friends can be a little… wait. When did any of my friends find the time to talk to this reporter before Monday?”

“Sunday,” Ian said.

“Amaranth and Two were in Enwich all day Sunday, with me,” I said. “And Steff was with Viktor. Dee was resting… unless this is your roundabout way of telling me you got your name in the paper, who the hell does that leave, exactly?”

“Um… to start with, your best friend,” Ian said. He cringed, like he was bracing for me to hit him.

“My best friend? But, that would probably be Steff,” I said, confused. “She would have been over with Viktor…”

“Your best friend Sooni,” Ian clarified.

“Sooni?” I asked, the presence of the paddle at my side doing absolutely nothing to remind me that I was supposed to watch the volume of my voice. “What the fuck did that crazy bitch say?”

“I do hope everybody’s ready to begin,” Professor Bohd said in a loud, clear voice from the doorway. “We’ll be moving on to bigger and better things after this week,” she said, speaking as she crossed to the front of the room. “So, everybody, please focus on your work. Also, so you’re forewarned, I will be assigning the first of three papers this Thursday. You will have two weeks to complete it. Some lab instructors assign the minimum amount of written work because they don’t particularly care about it. I’m the other way around. I have high standards for my written work, which is why I ask for so little of it. Miss Mackenzie, if you would come switch work stations with Mr. Robeson up here,” she said, tapping one of the tables that was right in front of her desk. “I’ve enjoyed watching your progress and would like a chance to do so up close.”

“Um, there’s more,” Ian whispered quickly.

“More?” I repeated.

“Miss Mackenzie, if you please?” Professor Bohd said.

“I’ll tell you later,” Ian said.

“Okay,” I said. I grabbed my stuff and passed the very confused-looking Robeson on my way to the front of the room.

“Now then, class,” Bohd said, smiling. “You all know what you’re working on, so let’s get to it. I’ll be making the rounds just as soon as I get caught up on a few things.”

She sat down and, after adjusting her tortoise shell glasses, started sorting some sheets of paper into two stacks, marking them as she went.

I got up and crept towards her desk. As much as I would have loved to get right on the frittering away of an hour and a half of elemental lab work trying to figure out what my “best friend” Sooni had told the newspaper and what exactly the “there’s more” portended, I wanted to be consistent in how I dealt with my teachers.

“Um, Professor?” I said, while I was still what I figured to be a respectful distance away. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Certainly,” she said, without looking up.

I came closer.

“I don’t really have to explain why I moved you, do I?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “That’s fine. I mean, I think it’s a good idea, it’s just… I kind of prefer to be called ‘Ms. Mackenzie.’ Instead of ‘Miss.'” Her hands froze. “If that’s okay,” I added.

She raised her head and looked at me, over the rims of her glasses.

“This isn’t a put-on, is it?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “I just… I think it’s more respectful.”

“I can almost see that, a bit,” she said. “It’s just… well, it isn’t even proper speech.”

I didn’t really have an argument ready for that. I mean, she was right. It sounded a bit silly to my ears, like somebody saying “the pinecone is a dog,” or something… they were all real words in the correct grammatical order, but they didn’t add up to make any kind of sense.

“Well, yeah, but that can change, right?” I asked. “I mean, a couple decades ago, they used to address non-human men as ‘Master Karl’, or whatever.” Lynette had mentioned this to me. I could only assume it was actually true. “Then, I guess somebody pointed out that with humans, that style’s mostly only used with kids… or slave masters, though that’s not really a lot better.”

“Well, yes, that as may be, but in that case it was because the term was found to be insulting,” Bohd said. “But there isn’t anything wrong with ‘Miss’. I was addressed that way myself, when I was a good… deal…”

She trailed off, and I finished the thought for her. “Younger?” I said. “See? It’s the same thing. I mean, the school requires female human students to be addressed with ‘Ms.’ so there’s no implications of disrespect to anybody, so…”

“Would you prefer to be addressed in the human style with your surname, then?” she asked.

It was funny that she asked this, as I’d previously asked most of my other teachers to call me that way… but because Professor Bohd had never been anything less than respectful to me, and because I’d let it go for so long, I’d never bothered to correct her when she called me “Miss Mackenzie” before.

I liked Professor Bohd. She’d cut me a lot of slack and gone out of her way to point out the danger I was in from teachers who wouldn’t. I hated to endanger her good will by arguing with her.

“No,” I said. “I’d prefer to be addressed as ‘Ms. Mackenzie’.”

She sighed.

“Students in entry level courses don’t usually provide me with this level of difficulty,” she said. “But… if you insist, then I don’t really see the harm.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“It might take me a while to get used to it,” she said.

“That’s okay,” I said.

“Was there anything else?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, then, back to work for both of us.”

“Thank you,” I said again, and headed back to my new station to get on with the important business of my class work.

What the hell had Sooni told the guy? That I liked to watch kid’s shows in my underwear with her? That I was a horrible liar who made promises and then broke them for fun? There were any number of embarrassing or damaging things she could have told him that were based on her tentative grasp of reality… and there was nothing to say that she couldn’t have resorted to malicious lies.

Even if she hadn’t, maybe Maliko had. Ian had said “friends”, plural. Had Sooni’s nekos decided to get in on the act?

Or had somebody else seen the reporter asking around about me as an excuse to make trouble? I could see the Leightons seeing that as funny.

It was impossible to concentrate, so I stayed away from working with fire. I decided to try another invocation: water from air. Pulling anything from air was a pretty ambitious subject to tackle, but I’d already managed some earth while under stress, so water didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Also, I figured my scattered state of mind would make air easiest to relate to… and if Bohd noticed I wasn’t getting anywhere, it could be chalked up to the difficulty of the task I was attempting. I was already way ahead of the game… a few members of the class—Ian included—were still working on getting fire reliably. In that light, me spending a class period testing my limits wouldn’t be that big a deal.

Water from air… it happened all the time, in nature. Water was weightier than air so it sort of wanted to fall out of it, anyway. Clouds were air with a superabundance of the stuff. It was only the traces of fire within them that allowed them to remain aloft, but if they got heavy enough they’d start to break apart and the water would come raining down.

Fog was basically the same thing, but without all the fire. That was a good thing, too… otherwise people would risk being struck by lightning every time it was a little misty out.

I thought about rain, and about fog, and early morning dew being left on the grass, and I reached out to the air in front of me with my magic. I could feel it, in passing. If I tried to hold it, it went slipping out of my grasp.

This was the sort of thing that had to be handled very delicately. I didn’t need a tight hold on the air, I just needed to have a kind of feel for it. It was the water I wanted.

The classroom air was a bit dry, but not terribly so. I remembered Professor Bohd’s advice on using my connection to fire in order to approach water. Elemental water recoiled from me, but that very reaction made it easier to find when it was dissipated throughout the air. I just had to open myself up, reach out, and look for the…

Just what the hell had that guy written about me, anyway?

By the period’s end, I’d made contact several times but hadn’t done any better than getting a little mist-like swirl of water droplets to briefly appear before they were absorbed back into the air. Every time I’d managed to attain the right mix of mental relaxation and concentration, my mind had slipped back to the subject of the newspaper article and its possible contents. How was I supposed to get anything done with that hanging over my head?

Still, Professor Bohd seemed impressed with my initiative, and told me so effusively near the end of the class. Despite that having been my planned cover story, I felt guilty at receiving her praise when I’d basically wasted the day.

I wanted to be mad at Ian for telling me about it, but he’d had no idea I hadn’t seen it. He couldn’t have guessed what the incomplete knowledge would do to me. I told myself that. It would be terribly unfair to take things out on Ian. It would. It would. I repeated those words in my head, in time with the slapping of my paddle against the side of my leg as I headed back towards where Ian was waiting for me at the back of the classroom.

“Who else was in the article?” I asked him once we were out in the hall.

“I’m not sure how to tell you this…” he said.

“Just say it,” I said. “Please. No more suspense.”

“Puddy,” he said.


It made a sick kind of sense, though. If Kent had shown up at Harlowe and hadn’t been able to find me, wouldn’t he try looking up my “known acquaintances?” I couldn’t say if it was just because I had the bad luck to be her roommate, or because she’d seen me as her ticket to notoriety, or something else entirely, but Puddy had certainly done her damnedest to make sure the whole campus knew we were “acquainted” during the first week or so of school.

“What exactly happened between you two, anyway?” Ian asked. “I mean, it sure seemed like you were, you know, dating… and now you’re like worst enemies.”

“I think we were always ‘worst enemies’,” I said. “I just wanted friends too badly to realize it. Though I don’t think of her as an enemy… exactly.” The topic made me uncomfortable. Part of me felt bad for Puddy and part of me, perversely, mourned the loss of my first “best friend”, no matter what the truth of the situation had been. “Anyway, what exactly did this article say?”

“Maybe it would be better if you just read it for yourself,” he said.

“Do you have a copy?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I just assumed you’d have read it.”

“Well, I bet it’s on their weavesite,” I said. “Let’s go to the union. We can look it up before we go to lunch.”


“What?” I asked.

“I’ve kind of got practice,” he said. “But… I can see you at dinner, if that’s okay.”

“Okay,” I said. “We’re going to the dance on Wednesday, right?”

“Oh, totally,” he said.

“Oh… and I have a mirror, now,” I said, taking it out of my pocket to show it to him. “For a little while.”

“Where’d you get that?” he asked.

“My attorney gave it to me so he can keep in touch with me,” I said.

The words “my attorney” were among those that automatically made me feel like I was being phony. “My attorney will call you with the details.”

Who had an attorney, honestly?

I did, apparently.

“Cool,” he said. “I’ll have to give you a ‘flect later.”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling the smile of the hopelessly lame. My boyfriend was going to give me a ‘flect later! It would probably go something like…

“What are you doing, Mackenzie?”

“Oh, not much, Ian. You?”

“Not much.”

…but I was looking forward to it all the same.

He gave me a kiss on the cheek and then he was off. I sighed. I could hardly resent him taking the time to rehearse with his band when I’d wanted him to embrace his musical talent, could I?

Probably not. It wouldn’t be fair.

Also, if he wasn’t in a band, I couldn’t picture him up on a stage, bent over his lute, with no shirt on.


I needed to focus, though. I headed straight for the student union so I’d have a chance to get on the ball without being missed by the others. As it was nearing midday, the room was pretty busy with students either doing homework or idly gazing, but there were still open stations.

I sat down and focused my mind. It didn’t take long to find a string to the Gazetteer‘s page from the school’s main site.

My first thought when the image formed was that I wouldn’t have to look far to find the article, because the very first thing that became visible was an image of Sooni beaming in her stupid black tit-sling dress, with Kent Angstrom’s by-line floating over her head.

But… she’d been wearing that dress Monday evening. Hadn’t Ian said it was yesterday’s paper that she was in? That was all I had time to think before the rest of the page came into view, topped with the headline:

Harlowe’s Super-Star Student Senator
Suzune “Sooni” Hoshinotama promises equality, change.

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One Response to “232: Paper Hanging”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Our Mack doesn’t need anyone else to torture her. She does a pretty good job of psychologically beating herself up.

    Current score: 0