481: Planning For Uncertainty

on January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized Chapters

In Which Mackenzie Relaxes For Five Minutes

Even though I’d made up my mind to go back and get my borrowed staff between classes, I found myself second guessing that decision as soon as the logic class got out. It would more than double the length of my trip to Smith Hall for history, and it would be another chance for me to bump into Feejee.

But then, Iona knew where and when my last class got out, which meant that she could find me leaving history even if she couldn’t track me by scent at the moment. As soon as I thought that, I had images of her laying an ambush for me on the way to history class. Doubling back to the dorm would leave me out in the open for longer, but it would also change my route from what she expected. That seemed like a good enough reason to do it.

I let the reasoning sit with that, because with only fifteen minutes between classes I didn’t really have time to dither. I felt better about the decision when I realized how many people were headed away from the main cluster of school buildings towards the various dorms. I normally avoided walking in crowds, out of a mixture of instinct and my tendency to space out and sort of amble. This time I got in the middle of the stream of people and kept pace, while keeping my ears open for… well, anything. Iona would have to have gone pretty far down the feral path to come after me through a crowd of people, and I assumed that if she did so she’d be doing it in a form that would cause a commotion.

It was an unlikely contingency, definitely, but the consequences of not being ready for it seemed to make it worth considering.

I felt better when I had the staff in hand… and then worse when I got outside and realized that there were far fewer people abroad now. I didn’t do anything about the defensive enchantments on the staff… they might throw me off a bit in a real fight with the real weapon since I’d been removing them from the mocked copy during my most recent sessions with it, but if Iona attacked me faster than I could react, the staff’s own response might be what saved me.

I felt considerable relief when I saw Steff heading towards me, not halfway out from Harlowe. Even if I didn’t know her to be pretty proficient with her paired daggers, just the simple fact that I wouldn’t have to walk alone reassured me.

“Hey!” she said as she approached. “You’re usually there before me, so I came to make sure you didn’t fall in.”

“Fall into what?” I asked.

“Trouble, silly,” she said. “A portal to somewhere vaguely unpleasant. I don’t know… I wouldn’t want to be the one to guess at the limits of your impressive falling abilities.”

“I was actually trying to keep myself out of trouble,” I said. I hefted the staff, and resisted the unaccountable urge to give it a little twirl that probably would have ended in a bruised leg and the magic weapon clattering away down the sidewalk. “That’s why I went back for this… you know, I used to think that carrying a big, visible weapon was just looking for trouble.”

“What changed?” Steff asked as we started to head back in the direction of the history building.

“Well… for one thing, Feejee said Iona’s gone missing. That could be good or could be bad.”

“Here’s hoping she’s been disappeared and isn’t just swimming below the surface,” Steff said. “I’m kind of guessing it’s the first one. I mean, she didn’t disappear before she took out Leda, did she?”

“Not that I know of,” I said. “But I think she’s only been making opportunity attacks so far… she might handle things differently when she’s actually stalking someone in particular. Or she might have just gone completely over the edge.”

“I think she’d have to be traveling in the other direction to do that,” Steff said. “If we were talking about Feejee, I’d say she’d probably have to shed her social ties before she could go into all-out predator mode, but the few times I’ve met Iona, I wasn’t impressed with her huge levels of empathy.”

“Yeah. Well, anyway, I thought it was best to, you know, be prepared,” I said. “And now that I’ve got a weapon in my hand, well… I’m kind of rethinking the whole ‘looking for trouble’ thing. I’ve had enough trouble I wasn’t looking for that I’m now kind of looking sideways at the idea of people ‘asking’ or ‘looking’ for trouble. I mean, it’s the same logic that would say I’m asking for trouble by being here, or that you are, for that matter. Trouble’s going to happen whether I’m looking for it or not, so I might as well… well, look out for it?” That didn’t sound quite the way I’d meant it to, so I tried again. “Um, maybe I should stick to the ‘asking for trouble’ line. Because if I say I’m not looking for trouble, it kind of sounds like I’ve got my eyes closed when really what I mean is…”

“You’re going to speak circularly and carry a big stick?” Steff suggested. “Anyway, however you want to say it, I’m kind of impressed.”

“With my foresight?” I asked.

“Nah, if it was foresight you wouldn’t be late for class.”

“I’m not late,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s why you went to the healing center, silly,” Steff said. “Later than usual, I meant. What impresses me… or maybe ‘surprises’ would be a better word… is that you’ve decided that getting fighter cooties isn’t a fate worse than dinner after all.”

“What, because I’m carrying a weapon?” I asked. “I don’t think one magic staff is enough to make me a fighter.”

“Sadly, you’re right,” Steff said. “But it does expose you to their cooties.”

“I don’t think fighters have cooties,” I said.

“So basically the way you treat and react to them is an entirely baseless and irrational prejudice?”

“No, thinking they all have cooties would be a baseless and irrational prejudice,” I said.

“It wouldn’t be!” Steff said. “Your prejudice would be based on all the cooties that they have, and your rational desire to not catch them.”

“Let’s not make the whole change in outlook out to be more than it is,” I said. “Lots of people carry staves who aren’t fighters. Rods have been growing in popularity because they’re smaller than staves and more durable than wands, but a staff is still a serious wizard tool… okay, just go ahead and insert a double entendre, since I know you’re dying to.”

“Baby, I’ll insert my double entendre into your dialogue anytime,” Steff said. “And by ‘double entendre’ I mean ‘dick’ and by ‘dialogue’ I mean that stuff you were just saying. Okay, that’s kind of a half-again entendre, I guess. I’m not really feeling it right now, you know?”

“Because of the whole ever-present danger thing?”

“No, that usually just gets my blood flowing,” Steff said. “I’m just… tired. You know, physically. I have a feeling that when today’s over I’m going to end up collapsing in bed for the whole weekend again.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I guess if you need your rest, you need your rest. I was kind of hoping to spend the weekend surrounded with people who are better than I am at getting the pointy ends of things into anyone who might come after me.”

“Sweetie, there isn’t any place in this world you can go where you won’t be surrounded with people who are better than you at that.”

“Preferably, these people would all actively be on my side,” I said.

Even if she was being slightly annoying, it was good to have Steff with me. Not only was I safer and better protected walking with a witness who was also kind of good at kicking ass, our little bantering back and forth made me feel a lot better… a lot more normal… compared to simply worrying about which shadow Iona might jump out of. Really, there were limits to how much trying to anticipate and plan for each possible contingency could accomplish.

It was good for me to be prepared to defend myself in general, and to be aware of risky situations like being out on my own, but I couldn’t think of everything and if I thought of a hundred different ways that Iona could come after me, it wouldn’t do any good if she picked a different direction that I didn’t think of. Or, for that matter, if I became so focused on fending off Iona that I missed another threat.

With Steff by my side, I felt quite a bit safer on that score, because even with both of us absorbed in conversation she would still see and hear threats coming before I could have with my eyes and ears wide open. I relaxed a little.

Maybe it was a sign of how weird and dangerous things had gotten that Steff’s presence was able to make me feel relaxed and safe by comparison, but whatever. I would take what I could get, under the circumstances. I wasn’t exactly letting my guard down… but I wasn’t exactly keeping it up, either.

“Y’know, while we’re sort of on the subject of being surrounded with people who’ve got… or would like to get… your back,” Steff said, “I’ve been thinking about the whole housing situation.”

“Oh?” I said. I liked where I thought she was going, but she hadn’t seemed to interested in the idea when it had come up in the dining hall.

“I wasn’t really thinking about jumping ship for myself, because I’m pretty happy with the set-up Viktor and I have… but I was thinking that if you did want to move to a more co-ed dorm so you could be closer to Ian, I could be closer, too. And I think I might feel a little less out of place with other girls on the floor.”

“You might have an easier time registering as a girl, now, if that matters to you,” I said.

“It does but it doesn’t… it bothers me that I get filed under ‘M’ but not enough to jump through hoops to get it changed. Well, that’s not entirely true,” she said. “Because a big part of what bothers me is the idea that I’d have to jump through hoops in the first place. I’d love to be able to register as a woman, but not enough to counter out how much I don’t love the idea of having to prove I am one. And, also… well, I guess I’d have to give up rooming with Viktor. There’s that whole ball of heterosexist heteronormative hypocrisy that says girls and boys can’t be left alone together or the women will use their feminine wiles and men will have no choice but to ravish them, or however they think it works. That’s part of why I’d be so in favor of you and Amy getting your shack on together… the more queer couples do it, the more holes get poked in the neat little reality the rules are built around.”

“It is kind of nice that we can do that,” I said.

“Yeah, it totally makes up for all the homophobia and gay-bashing and stuff,” Steff said. “Not really, of course, but I actually had a chick in one of my classes say that when someone mentioned straight privilege. The fact that misogyny’s more genteel cousin propriety keeps her from shacking up with her boyfriend means that she’s oppressed, while gay people have it made in the shade.”

“I don’t really see what misogyny has to do with it,” I said. “I mean, if we didn’t have all the hetero-centric assumptions going on in our society, I’m pretty sure they’d be just as concerned about same-sex couples rooming together.”

“So what? No roommates? Or no sexually compatible ones?” Steff asked. “The rule isn’t about keeping sex from happening, because there are absolutely no rules governing sex in dormitory rooms, and it’s not about mnimizing distractions or keeping attention focused on school work because they don’t regulate what other kinds of distractions you can or cannot choose to live with. That’s the most common excuse I hear, though it seems to be falling out of favor. The new one is that co-ed rooming isn’t allowed because they lead to less engagement with the greater community, or something like that.”

“Where do you hear those things?”

“When I complain about the rules,” she said. “Which I’ve done about once every other month or so, on average, since I first came here. At first it was because I thought I’d feel safer rooming with another girl than with some dude I don’t know, though I kind of got lucky there. But after that… well, it’s still a stupid rule, and it puts people in danger. The fact that het couples end up missing out on a potential benefit is the least offensive thing about it.”

“I’m still not seeing the relationship between propriety and misogyny,” I said.

“Well, okay start with the idea that it’s sexist,” she said. “Men and women can’t be alone together behind closed doors because sex will happen. Women can’t expose themselves because sex will happen. Before we even look at what that says about men and about women, ask yourself: okay, so what’s the big deal? Why would sex be a bad thing?”

“Because sexual propriety is sort of a puritanical concept,” I said. “So… sex is bad.”

“No,” Steff said. “You’ve got the old lady religious version of it, which is related, but that was more about making peasants feel dirty and low about themselves. The whole thing with covering up skin and not being alone together comes from the ranks of society where people have always owned more than one set of clothing and had houses full of rooms with doors on them.”


“And if a woman is alone with a man and there are no witnesses, sex might have happened,” Steff said. “And she’s no longer a virgin, so she’s no longer valuable. You assume sex will happen because if you can’t know… imagine paying a ton of money for a fancy meal and your waiter says, ‘By the way, I might have poisoned this.’ That’s why boys and girls don’t get to room together. Because if a woman is alone with a man and can’t prove that nothing happened, she’s done. Her property value plummets. The phrase ‘ruined woman’ was never meant to be hyperbole.”

“But people don’t actually think like that anymore,” I said. “I mean, I’m sure some do, but the people making the rules for the university, and the people going here don’t.”

“No, but that’s where we get our values from,” Steff said. “And they align with the pleasure-is-bad/prudish-old-lady morality that the oldest and most respectable temples put out, and the combination of those kinds of forces is enough to keep us all nodding quietly along to rules that don’t make any sense if you don’t believe in those things.”

“I’m kind of surprised you’ve given it this much thought,” I said.

“Well, like I said, I was against the rule from the beginning,” Steff said. “I had a personal stake in it. Just because I’m not like all serious business all of the time doesn’t mean I don’t think about things. I’ve been slacking off a bit but I’ve been pretty involved in campus activism.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still not convinced it’s as complex and involved as you’re making it out to be,” I said. “I think it’s more likely people are just inclined to believe that sexual pleasure is bad and then they invent these systems to explain that.”

“You think that because you’re so inclined to believe it,” Steff said.

“Well, whatever… if you’re on board with the whole co-ed hall thing then I think we should start shopping around. Maybe if we make our selection early enough, we can get rooms closer together?”

“It’s possible,” Steff said. “Just so you know, though, I’m not going to do it until next year… there’s a fee for switching dorms mid-year even if you do it over the break, and our stuff would be a pain to move even with Amy’s help.”

“That’s fine, I hadn’t even really considered the possibility of switching at the semester,” I said.

“It’s there as an option, but almost nobody does it,” Steff said. “I think the fee is mostly to cut down on the amount of times it happens.”

“That makes sense,” I said. It can’t actually cost the school nearly that much in terms of administrative hours, but I imagine it would be a pain if it happened all the time.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Steff said. “Also… um…”


“Oh, just kind of on a related subject,” she said. “I’m not sure if I’ll be rooming with Viktor next year.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I was surprised that I didn’t need to try very hard to sound concerned… I didn’t care for Viktor at all, but I did care about Steff.

“Nothing!” she said. She sounded fairly sincere. “But, you know, it’s a whole year away and things can happen, and it would pretty much be hell living in Harlowe, on the boys’ side, if I wasn’t with him and you and Amy weren’t there.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I said. “I’m just curious if something happened to get you thinking about it…”

“I just don’t want to risk getting stuck,” she said. She sighed. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Forget I brought it up.”

“Okay, but…”

“Mack, hon, believe me when I say I’m not in the mood for buts,” she said. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Okay,” I said.

Luckily we arrived at the building before too long, because no obvious topics presented themselves. The relief I felt at getting inside without incident completely knocked aside the feeling of awkwardness that had been taking over. I resisted the impulse to feel silly about my earlier worries and precautions… though if I could manage to keep up the latter without so much of the former in the future, it would be a good thing.

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31 Responses to “481: Planning For Uncertainty”

  1. EOI says:

    “Mack, hon, believe me when I say I’m not in the mood for buts,” she said.
    I beleive this is the last pharase Steff would ever say. :p

    Current score: 1
  2. Kevin says:

    About mid chapter in the middle of a paragraph it says mnimizing when it should say minimizing

    Current score: 0
  3. Allan says:

    Ahh, but as the reader we know that she ‘buts’ and not ‘butts’ 🙂

    Current score: 0
  4. Allan says:

    Ahh, but as the reader we know that she means ‘buts’ and not ‘butts’ 🙂

    Current score: 0
  5. Lunakitten says:

    “I’d love to be able to register as a woman. I’m not ”

    I think this sentence chops off.
    Wow- is this the first time I’ve caught an error?

    Current score: 0
    • Jane says:

      I’d love to be able to register as a woman. I’m not ”

      Yeah, but then I’d be giving up rooming with Viktor,” Steff said.

      There’s something odd going on there, and definitely something missing. Steff’s response doesn’t fit the context, not to mention lacking a quote at the start.

      Current score: 0
  6. · says:

    Cut of sentence: I’d love to be able to register as a woman. I’m not ”

    Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    Less engagement with
    The greater community ≠
    Fewer marriages

    Current score: 0
    • NatalieF says:

      Doesn’t “≠” have four syllables? I would usually pronounce it as “does not equal”. YMMV, I guess.

      Current score: 0
  8. Stonefoot says:

    This is great! Mack is finally getting the hang of what I call “defensive paranoia”. A good real-world example of this is looking both ways before crossing a one-way street. And, yes, I HAVE stopped at the curb, looked both ways, and found there was a car coming the wrong way. Only once, but when it comes to stepping in front of a moving vehicle, it only takes once. :O

    Current score: 0
    • Kevin says:

      If you roll just right you might be able to do it twice…. if luck is with you.

      Current score: 0
  9. Oniwasabi says:

    Well, now between the two of them I believe we can accomplish “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Progress!

    Now if Mack can just get a Big Stick with an enchantment to prevent her from getting trapped in her own weird logic recursions she might have a life expectancy that will need to be measured in slightly larger time units!

    Current score: 0
    • drudge says:

      Mackenzie’s life expectancy measured in weeks? Thats just crazy talk!

      Current score: 1
      • Mickey Phoenix says:

        You made me chuckle, damn you. 🙂

        Current score: 0
  10. Karr says:

    “That makes sense,” I said. It can’t actually cost the school nearly that much in terms of administrative hours, but I imagine it would be a pain if it happened all the time.”

    Needs an opening quote after the ‘I said.’

    Current score: 0
  11. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report:

    “Oh?” I said. I liked where I thought she was going, but she hadn’t seemed to interested in the idea when it had come up in the dining hall.

    Wrong “too”.

    Still need to post up my Typo Report on the pervious installment, if all the typos I spotted haven’t already been corrected.

    Current score: 0
    • A Random Pooka says:

      I would point out that previous is spelled as ‘pervious’ in your comment, but given the subject matter, ‘pervious’ fits pervfectly.

      Nice work yet again AE!!! The magic has returned to MU!

      Current score: 0
  12. Frazzlebloo says:

    I think Steff not being in the mood for ‘buts’ might have something to do with why she may not be living with Viktor next year.

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    > “I was actually trying to keep myself out of trouble,” I
    > said. I hefted the staff

    I’ve bought a big bat, I’m all ready you see!
    Now my troubles will have troubles with me!

    Current score: 0
  14. Shouri says:

    Well… so much for the

    “Soon: Well, that would be telling.” from 479. I was expecting a certain goddess to show her butt up in the story. Since that was basically her line from a long while back (the typhoon that killed tons of people I believe).

    Maybe it’s still in the works?

    Or maybe I’m just reading too much into that line or am remembering it wrong, who knows.

    ‘Sides that it was an ok read this time. Some small character development but nothing to catch interest.

    L> more Sooni x Mack scenes

    Gotta admit that the sooni/mack scenes from the hotel that long while back were my favorite :3

    Current score: 0
    • Mickey Phoenix says:

      I would say more than just some and small, re character development. Mack is finally starting to develop the functional distinctions between denial and introspection on the one hand, and introspection and navel-gazing on the other hand. And Steff is actually letting down some of her defenses around Mack, and being a real person instead of hiding behind her “I am a creepy, anthropophagic necromancer” facade all the time.

      AE, one of the things I love most about your work is that you don’t fall into the “hero’s journey” trap of having only your protagonist experience a character development arc. Everyone in your world grows and changes, and it makes the whole experience profoundly more engaging and immersive.

      Current score: 0
  15. Rey d`Tutto says:

    Typo: mnimizing distractions

    Current score: 0
  16. Robert Bates says:

    * shoots the typo nazi’s for AE *

    Current score: 0
    • NatalieF says:

      Why? Line-editors are like gold to a writer!

      Current score: 2
    • beappleby says:

      AE has stated over and over again that she appreciates us catching typos for her.

      Current score: 2
    • Calia says:

      I don’t get why new people always seem to think we’re being rude or ungrateful when we correct AE’s typos. I would think that seeing so many people do it, without any sort of consequence, would give them the hint that it’s okay or even appreciated.
      That being said, I’m personally a terrible editor so I never throw in my two cents on that front 😛

      It’s always nice to hear about campus politics. I still have to deal with them myself, so it’s amusing for me to read about others dealing with them too (even if it’s just fictional characters, heh.)

      Current score: 0
  17. beappleby says:

    AE, you might consider putting a notice on the site which says that you DO NOT MIND when readers point out typos! I know you’ve said it a number of times in comments, but we’ve had several recently who are quite upset on your behalf!

    Current score: 2
  18. pedestrian says:

    I do not not concern myself with typos or misspellings or grammatical errors. Alexandra has said that she does appreciate the efforts of those who do assist her with line editing. That’s good enough for me.

    My problem with errors in my own writing is having to stop every few lines to “teach” the damn e-dictionary new words. Even most new dictionaries and thesauruses published the twenty odd years are very disappointing in their brevity and lack of depth.

    One of my most precious books is The St. Martin’s Roget’s Theaurus published in 1962. Backed up by a huge Webster’s Dictionary published in 1958. Online I rely mostly on Wikipedia and The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language.

    My precious! Don’t judge me! It’s my precious forever and ever!

    Current score: 1
    • Rey d'Tutto says:

      A linguiphile; Or, a Cunning Linguist.

      Current score: 0