maculategiraffe: (Default)
[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Holy crow this is a long friggin' chapter. But I think it's finally where I can bear to post it. And where I could conceivably wrap this volume up in two more chapters.

(*sweatdrop*)







The men's center was even grimmer and more ominous than Kyle had expected, and even in the sudden opulence of the directrix's office, he clung tightly to Drew's hand, hoping it didn't bother either of the women. Emily had ensconced herself at the desk, and was writing in a large ledger; Adele was in her sling over Emily's breast and stomach, not asleep, but quietly looking around. A broad-shouldered man sat in one corner of the office, dressed in jeans and a too-tight T-shirt, and also writing, on a clipboard. He looked up at Rita, Drew, and Kyle, taking them in with a slightly twitchy glance.

"Where's Martha?" Rita asked Emily.

"Martha," said Emily, putting down her pen and looking up at Rita, "has taken a leave of absence."

"Has she?" said Rita, sounding amused. "Voluntary or involuntary?"

"Oh, voluntary," said Emily. "I encouraged her to take stock and decide whether she really wants to be the directrix of a men's center, or whether her talents and interests might perhaps lie elsewhere. She agreed that might be a good idea. We'll see if she tries to come back. For now, as her substitute, I have full directricial powers, which makes things like hiring new employees a lot easier. I've got four women already-- two in the kitchen, and two as co-supervisors of the guards. One for night and one for day, so there's never a situation where I'm the only woman around to make sure the male guards aren't acting up. There should be more, of course, but that will come. In the meantime--" She looked at Kyle for the first time. "I'm hoping Kyle will be able to manage."

"And Drew," said Rita.

"Of course, and Drew," said Emily, without much interest. "Shall we transfer protection?"

Rita nodded, while Kyle sneaked a sideways glance at Drew, not sure what this was going to involve. Drew gave him a small smile.

"Are these men," said Emily, gesturing at Kyle and Drew, but looking at her sister, "faithful and obedient servants of the goddess, in the person of you, her beloved daughter, the representative of her divine will for their lives?"

"They are," said Rita, rather flatly.

"Is it the will of the goddess that they should now serve her through me, submitting themselves utterly to her guidance and discipline, as they have done till now through you?"

Rita sighed. "It is."

"Then I grant them both my protection and countenance, in Gaia's name," said Emily briskly. "There, that's done. Thank you, Rita. I really appreciate this."

Rita nodded, then said, a little unsteadily, "Goodbye, Kyle."

"Goodbye, magistra," said Kyle, trying to keep his own voice steady. "Thank you. For-- everything."

Rita nodded again, pressing her lips together sharply, not meeting his eye.

"Take good care of him," she said to Emily.

"I will," said Emily, her voice gentler than it had been a moment ago. "You can kiss him goodbye if you want. I don't mind."

Kyle let go of Drew's hand as Rita stepped forward; she took Kyle in her arms, held him tightly for a few overwhelming moments, then took his face between her hands and drew him down to kiss him on the forehead.

"Goodbye," she said again, and started to turn away.

"Magistra?" said Kyle softly.

She turned back. "Yes."

It was his turn not to meet her eye as he mumbled, "Take good care of Sean, okay?"

"I will," she said, and was gone so fast Kyle hardly saw how she went.

Kyle looked back at Emily, who was writing again on her clipboard, but looked up at him after a moment and said, "You have permission to speak to me at any time, for now. As long as you're not interrupting me. I hate being interrupted. And you may ask questions."

"Thank you," said Kyle carefully, glancing at Drew, whom Emily was ignoring. Drew smiled at him again.

"You're welcome," said Emily. "You'll report mainly to Selena and Deborah. I'll introduce you to Deborah in a moment. They're your direct superiors, though of course you'll obey any woman employed by the center. But you also have the authorization to bypass them and speak directly to me at any time that you deem it necessary. Don't abuse the privilege, but don't neglect it, either, especially in these early days. There's a lot to be done, and some of it I don't know about yet. The guards here aren't exactly forthcoming, even the ones technically under my protection."

Kyle waited a moment to make sure he wasn't interrupting, and then asked, "They're not all under your protection? Right now?"

"No. Most of them have protectrices at home, who are hiring them out to work here. I have the authority to discipline any of them, of course-- but the ones with protectrices who aren't me can ask to be withdrawn from my employ if they think my measures are too harsh. Which, frankly, would be fine with me, since they strike me as a nasty little group. A few of them were under Martha's protection, like Jack here--" Emily jerked her head towards the man in the corner, who'd been so still and quiet Kyle had almost forgotten he was there-- "and she took one of them with her, and left the rest under my protection while she's gone. Those sleep here-- there's a guards' barracks."

"Is that where we'll sleep?" Kyle asked. "Drew and I?"

"Yes and no," said Emily, still not looking at Drew or addressing him. "Jack seems to have had his own little private bedroom off the barracks. Rank has its privileges-- so I'm putting you there, Kyle. If you choose to share it with Drew, or with any other consenting guard, that's your business."

"Why me?" Kyle asked, taken aback. "I mean, why do I get the bedroom?"

Emily raised her eyebrows. "Because you're replacing Jack. Did I not make that clear? It's not exactly the same position-- Jack didn't report to any women other than Martha, and as I said, you report to Selena and Deborah. But I need a man to command the guards directly. That's you."

Kyle tried to take this in; he hadn't envisioned, when coming here, that he'd be placed in a position of command over all the other, more experienced guards, not to mention Drew. In some ways, it was a less frightening prospect than what he had envisioned, but in other ways, it seemed more frightening.

Finally he said, "May I ask why?"

"Why do I need a man," Emily said, "or why you?"

"Both, really," said Kyle.

Emily nodded. "You, because I think you're well suited to the job. A man, because they're used to a male command, and there are obviously things they don't trust a woman about. Case in point--"

She pushed a clipboard and pen across the desk at Kyle, who picked it up. The paper on it was ruled, but otherwise blank.

"I asked the guards how many men here are in need of medical attention," said Emily. "That's what I got. Silence. Blank stares at the floor. Apparently there's not one man in need of medical attention in this entire facility. Which is convenient, considering there's also no infirmary."

Kyle stared at the paper. "There's no infirmary?"

"Well, there's going to be," said Emily, "but no, there's not now. I'm looking into getting a reputable doctor to work here part-time, but before I do that, I need to know about how many patients she'll have, and what's wrong with them. I want names, numbers, and symptoms. And find out why the guards are lying." She gestured at the clipboard. "I expect they'll have more confidence in one of their own."

"Do I have to tell you?" Kyle asked. "Why they're lying, I mean."

"Not if you think it would be better not to," said Emily. "I'll trust your judgment, to a point. Try to justify my faith. Other questions?"




An amazingly short time later, standing in the guards' barracks in front of twenty uniformed men, wearing a uniform that didn't quite fit, Kyle was wondering why he'd ever thought this was a good idea. He was physically intimidated by Drew-- who was also standing in line, wearing his own new uniform-- it had been Jack's, and it was a little loose on Drew-- and now he was surrounded by other men, most of them bigger and stronger than he, some of them a lot older, and being expected to give them orders. The fact that he had Emily and backing his authority, and had just given them all a very firm speech to that effect, didn't stop him from feeling ridiculous and a little scared.

He couldn't tell if they shared his assessment or not. A lot of them were staring at him in apparent astonishment, but he didn't know if it was because he was a stranger, or because he wasn't nearly as beefy as their former head guard, or because he looked like--

--he suddenly realized it: Sean.

The physical resemblance was strong enough that they could have been brothers; those of the guards who'd had close encounters with Sean must be wondering what the relationship was, and what it meant for them.

Kyle smiled, suddenly; he found that the idea of himself as Sean's avenging elder brother striding into the center to put the fear of Gaia into his bullies wasn't entirely an unpleasant one. From the ranks, Drew smiled back at him.

"So," said Kyle. "I'm supposed to get a list of names and numbers of inmates who might need medical attention. I can walk around and check for obvious symptoms, but do any of you already know of any off the top of your heads?"

There was a long, ominous pause before one of the men said, "75123."

None of the other men turned to look at him; every face, except Drew's, was purposefully blank.

"Okay," said Kyle, writing down the number. "75123. Thanks. What's your name?"

"Reed, sir," said the man tonelessly. He was thin and wiry, with narrow eyes and short, curly yellowish hair.

"And what's wrong with 75123?"

"He's got a cough," said Reed. "Sir."

"Thank you," said Kyle. "Anybody else?"

Silence.

"Okay," said Kyle again. "I'll start there. Where can I find him?"

"I'll get him for you, sir," said Reed.

"You don't have to do that," said Kyle. "I just need to see him for a second to check how bad the cough is-- and get his name, unless one of you knows it."

Nobody said anything for a moment, and then Reed said, "I can bring him here, sir. You might want to... talk to him. Before you report him."

"Okay, fine, whatever," said Kyle. "Bring him here. The rest of you can go back to your usual duties. Unless anybody has any questions for me right now."

Nobody did.

"Okay," said Kyle again. "Uh. Dismissed."

The guards silently dispersed. Drew lingered a moment longer than the rest.

"I think that went okay," Kyle said to him in an undertone.

Drew nodded. "You're doing great, Kyle. Sir."

Kyle grinned at the honorific. "Thanks. You'll, uh, keep an eye out, won't you? I have to stay here and meet this seven-five-whatever guy."

"Yell if you need me," said Drew before he followed the other guards out into the hall.




75123's name turned out to be "Ellis, sir," a pale, weedy man in his late thirties or early forties-- with the shaved head and thinness, it was hard to say for sure-- who stood at attention in the barracks as Reed closed the door, leaving Ellis and Kyle alone. Ellis was taller than Kyle, but Kyle probably outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, and it was hard to be intimidated by someone who looked so completely terrified.

"I hear you've got a cough, Ellis," said Kyle.

Ellis swallowed as his eyes darted from the clipboard and pen in Kyle's hand to his face. He didn't answer.

"Do you?"

Ellis said dully, "Yes, sir."

"How long has it been going on?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Okay," said Kyle, and wrote down Ellis' name on the clipboard, next to the number. "I just needed to confirm, and get your name. You can go now."

"Sir?"

"You can go," Kyle repeated. "I'll report your symptoms to the directrix, so she can get you a doctor."

"Sir--" To Kyle's immense alarm, Ellis dropped abruptly to his knees. "Oh, sir, no, please no-- I'll do anything, sir, I will, I always do everything I'm told, you can ask the other guards--"

Kyle stared at the terrified man on the floor before him.

"I-- uh-- I think-- you don't understand," he said. "You're not in trouble. Get up."

Ellis didn't get up.

"Sir, please," he begged, looking up at Kyle, his hands clasped together in supplication. "I know I'm ugly, but I'm a good cocksucker, you can ask anyone, or let me show you-- or anything, anything you want, sir, please--"

Kyle's mouth fell open, and stayed that way for a little while, as Ellis gabbled out a list of things he seemed to think it likely Kyle might want from him. Kyle's mind reeled at the apparent possibilities; he might even have thought a few of them sounded good if they weren't being offered by an ill and terrified man with an urgency that Kyle was pretty sure had nothing to do with Ellis' expectations of enjoying what he was suggesting.

As soon as he could manage it, he interrupted, "What-- Ellis, what do you think is going to happen if I tell the directrix you're ill?"

"She'll kill me, sir," Ellis answered without hesitation.

"Kill you?" Kyle nearly shouted. "For being sick?"

Ellis stared up at him, white and shaking.

"I--" Kyle cleared his throat, trembling a little himself now. "Excuse me. I need to--"

He got as far as the door and had turned the knob when he nearly went headlong; Ellis had flung himself down and wrapped his arms around Kyle's ankles. Kyle clutched at the doorknob and regained his balance, and then gasped as Ellis started kissing and licking his feet around the straps of his sandals.

"Oh, holy Gaia," he said, fighting a wave of dizziness, and dragged in a breath to yell through the half-open door, "Drew!"

It seemed like a very long time, but probably wasn't more than a few seconds, before Drew came running and then halted abruptly as Kyle opened the door enough to display Ellis, now desperately sucking on Kyle's instep.

"I-- um--" he said.

"Yeah," said Kyle faintly. "Can you-- sort of-- get him off me?"

Drew came into the room, stepping over Ellis' prostrate body, knelt down on the floor beside him and, gently but without apparent effort, removed his arms from around Kyle's ankles and pinioned them behind his back, pulling him up to his knees. Kyle pulled the door shut again, and, still holding his clipboard, knelt down in front of Ellis, who was crimson with trying to suppress a coughing fit.

"Look, man," he said when the coughing subsided, meeting Ellis' watery eyes. "I don't know what used to go on here, but there's a new directrix now, and-- I mean, not that she's not kind of mean sometimes-- but she's not going to kill anyone for being sick. She wants names of sick people so they can get medical attention."

Ellis' expression didn't change; either he didn't believe Kyle or was too agitated to even take in what he was saying. Kyle tried again.

"If you're getting molested instead of getting medical attention, that's just-- not okay. I have to report this, Ellis, for your own-- oh, no, shit, no, please, don't fucking cry--"

"I'm sorry, sir," Ellis whispered, tears running down his hollow-cheeked face.

"Shit," Kyle sighed. "Okay, look." He took the pen on his clipboard and scratched out Ellis' name and number, so thoroughly and blackly that it would have been impossible to read either one.

"Whoa there, tiger," said Drew, still holding Ellis' arms behind his back, as Ellis made a sudden, jerky motion, presumably towards some demonstration of his gratitude. "You just sit tight, now."

"Listen, Ellis," Kyle said, as gently as he could. "I've got to talk to my protectrix. It's okay, I won't tell her you're sick-- I won't, I swear, by the power and the goddess, may she strike me dead if I lie. I'll tell her what you told me, but I won't mention your name or number. Okay? Because if I can't get names and numbers for her, I have to at least tell her why."

Ellis sat still, not struggling against Drew's hold, as Kyle stood up. Kyle looked down at him, irresolute.

"If I tell him to let you go," he said, "you've got to promise not to try to suck my dick. Or his. No sexual contact between guards and inmates, that's one of the new rules around here."

"But, sir--" Ellis began, sounding panicked again.

"I know, I know," Kyle interrupted. "How are you going to keep the other guards from telling the women on you, if you don't let them stick it in you. Drew-- keep an eye on him, okay? Don't let anybody fuck with him. And keep an eye out for anybody else who's getting-- taken advantage of."

"Got it," said Drew. "Think it's safe to let him go?"

"Ellis?"

"I promise, sir," said Ellis, his eyes downcast.

Drew released his arms. Ellis folded them in front of him, and flinched when Drew patted him on the shoulder.

"Take it easy, buddy," said Drew. "I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. And nobody else is, either." He looked up at Kyle, and added soberly, "You realize Sean lived here two years?"

"I'm trying not to think about it," said Kyle. "Be right back."




"One more question for Martha," said Emily grimly. "Jack, do you know whether there's any truth to this? Was it ever official policy?"

Jack, still in the corner with his clipboard, hesitated, looking frightened. But then, Kyle hadn't seen him looking much of anything else.

"It-- it was just something-- we figured," he muttered. "There was one guy, and he got carried off on a stretcher-- she said he was going to the hospital-- and he just-- never came back. We just-- figured."

"I see," said Emily. "And you didn't tell me about this when I asked them for names and numbers of the sick, because...?"

Jack looked down.

"Perhaps I haven't made it entirely clear," said Emily, "that I'm only granting you my protection because I think you might be a useful source of information. This would have been an excellent opportunity to prove that you were one. I wouldn't miss the next opportunity, if I were you."

Jack nodded, very quickly and very hard.

"But I seriously doubt the existence of any such policy, Kyle," Emily continued, looking down at Kyle, whom she'd ordered to kneel at her feet when she saw how much he was swaying as he spilled out his story. "It's not impossible-- there's virtually no record of any man receiving medical attention here during Martha's tenure, and there are a few deaths recorded as a result of 'natural causes.' But if the men aren't reporting illness because they think it means immediate death, they may well have been dying for lack of medical attention that they would otherwise have received. Most likely, a man once died of his illness at the hospital, and the rumor simply spread. Especially since it was to the guards' advantage, and probably the healthy inmates' as well-- the sick and weak offering themselves up to be brutalized in exchange for not being executed." She frowned. "As I said, I'll speak to Martha. But if there's ever been any truth to the rumor, there certainly won't be in the future."

"Will you tell the men that?" Kyle asked urgently. "Please? Like right now?"

Emily seemed to consider.

"If they don't believe you, I don't know why they'd believe me," she said. "Martha would have officially denied it, too, even if it were true. There's no real way to prove we don't kill the sick without a counterexample, and there's no way to provide one unless it's known that I'm aware of someone's illness. And you can't give me names."

"I only have one anyway," said Kyle.

Emily nodded. "Why do you think they gave you that one?"

"I don't know," said Kyle. "Only one guard spoke up. Seems likely he wanted me to know about the system, and figured that guy would spill his guts. Maybe he figured I'd keep quiet about the whole thing if I found out what I could get out of it. Or maybe he was hoping I'd put a stop to it."

"I'd find out which, if I were you," said Emily. "Well. I'll make a general announcement at dinner tonight, to the effect that sick men aren't to be either killed or molested in the future. As far as a counterexample goes, I'll have Selena and Deborah keep an eye out for obvious symptoms and report to me, so you don't have to be the tattletale."

"I can tell you who's sick," said Jack from the corner.

Emily looked at him. Jack went white and dropped his clipboard.

"I would prefer," said Emily, in a voice so cold Kyle shivered, and Jack looked on the verge of fainting, "to grant a general amnesty to you and your fellow guards for what happened under Martha's catastrophic mismanagement, as long as there are no new infractions. But if you insist on demonstrating how well you know which inmates will currently beg on their knees for rape and abuse, I may lose my temper."

"He was just trying to help," said Kyle in a small voice, and flinched when Emily's gaze flicked back to him, but she didn't look angry at him, just bemused.

"He headed up the system you find so abhorrent that you could barely describe it to me," she said. "Why are you defending him?"

"I'm not," said Kyle, his heart pounding. "I mean, it's just, you told him to-- give you information. Be useful."

"Fine," said Emily after a moment. "Thank you, Jack. Go, Kyle. I'll see you and the rest of the men at dinner."

Date: 2010-05-23 04:05 am (UTC)
theodosia21: sunflower against a blue sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] theodosia21
It's good to see more of this. ^_^

Emily rules!

Date: 2010-05-29 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] eileenlufkin
"I'd find out which, if I were you," said Emily.

I love this.

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maculategiraffe

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