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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Short chapter this time.



Emily had expected the man in question to sidle up to her a bit more surreptitiously-- after breakfast, perhaps, and certainly in an undertone-- so she was a little disconcerted when he strode right up to her and introduced himself.

“Hello, Zach,” she said, assessing him: skinny, bruised, with a fire in his narrowed blue eyes that contrasted oddly with his body’s trembling. She kept her voice at the same volume he’d set-- not particularly secretive, but not so loud and clear as to indicate a desire for a broader audience. Conversational. “It’s nice to meet you. I gather you have some input for me.”

“If you want it,” said Zach, obviously assessing her right back.

“I do,” said Emily. “Would you like to tell me here and now, or in private?”

“In private, please,” said Zach immediately.

“Of course,” said Emily, rising. Standing, she was nearly as tall as he was, able to look in his eyes on the level. “My office, perhaps?”

“If--” Zach cleared his throat. “Or, somewhere else. Like-- never mind, sorry, forget it.”

Emily considered, looking at the bristles of clipped hair on his head, which he’d lowered in a sudden loss of nerve, at the clothes that hung on his lean young body and revealed what she was sure were only a few of its bruises.

“Somewhere else?” she said.

“Your office is fine,” he said without raising his head.

“Would you like to go for a walk?” she asked. “Outside?”

He cleared his throat again, his heart beating fast. “I-- don’t have-- shoes.”

“You can borrow Kyle’s,” said Emily. “Would you like to?”

“Yes,” said Zach. “Please.”




It was a bright, brisk day outside, with a warm sun and a chilly breeze tussling playfully with each other for dominance. Zach breathed in big gulps of air and turned his face to the sun; he didn’t lift his arms to it, but his palms, perhaps without his conscious volition, opened and turned upwards, and his whole body arched very slightly backwards as if to offer as much of himself as possible to the weather.

The center was fairly isolated, surrounded by countryside and a few trees, and they were able to walk for some time at a brisk pace before Emily, glancing back to see the center small behind them, said, “Would you like to sit down?”

“On the ground?” Zach asked.

“Unless you see any drawing-room furniture around here.”

Zach sat, in a man’s usual clumsy way, almost flinging himself to the ground as if to crush as many blades of grass as possible, and Emily lowered herself carefully beside him.

For all his apparent boldness, Zach remained silent, which Emily approved; men should speak when they were spoken to, and not otherwise.

“How long have you been at the center?” she asked, curious, and Zach answered without hesitation, “Sixty-seven days.”

“Not very long, then.”

Zach made a small indeterminate sound.

“Though I imagine it seems long enough,” Emily conceded. “And before that?”

“Before that I was in high school,” said Zach.

“You’re still only eighteen, then.”

Zach nodded.

“Have you been raped here before yesterday?”

Zach nodded again.

“Have you raped others?”

Zach shook his head.

“Why not?”

She met his piercing gaze steadily.

“Well,” said Zach softly, after a moment, “that’s the question, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Emily. “It is. Unless it’s simply that you haven’t had the chance?”

“I’ve had the chance,” said Zach, looking back down at his hands. “Some of these guys don’t even check to see who’s climbing on top of them any more. They just go limp and wait till it’s over.”

“But you haven’t taken advantage of these opportunities,” said Emily. “Why is that?”

“Maybe just because I’m young,” said Zach. “Because I haven’t been here for very long. Because I haven’t-- given up-- my humanity. Yet.”

“Yet?”

Zach’s blue eyes were blazing. “I don’t know, do I? Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Before I’m just like them.”

“I hope not,” said Emily quietly.

Zach made a sudden movement towards Emily, startling her, but she kept control and he checked himself quickly, pulling back and saying, “Sorry, I-- sorry--”

“It’s all right,” she said. “What is it?”

He shook his head and looked down, at the grass, shivering a little now, whether from the wind or from fear. Without moving, Emily made a little shield of warmer, stiller air around him, providing some protection from the wind’s chill, and he looked up, surprised.

“Did you just--?” he began, and she nodded.

“You were shivering,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said, after a moment, and she said, “You’re welcome. You were saying that you think it possible that, given enough time in these brutal surroundings, you might become just as brutal as the men who attacked you yesterday.”

“Put people in a zoo,” said Zach softly, “and sooner or later they’re going to turn into animals.”

“True enough,” said Emily. “Then you don’t want your rapists punished?”

“I didn’t say that,” said Zach. “I just mean-- look at me. I’m halfway crazy already, and it’s been two fucking months-- sorry--”

“It’s all right,” said Emily again.

Zach nodded, barely seeming to register his own interruption as he continued, “I-- we-- we need things to be better.”

“I understand,” said Emily. “And I want to make them better. Why don’t you have a protectrix?”

“That’s the other question,” said Zach, accepting the sudden turn of the conversation without blinking. “For all of us here. Because nobody wants us. We’re the chaff, you know? You let us grow up with the wheat, but then came the threshing, so-- now we burn.”

Emily lifted her eyebrows. “You seem very well read.”

“For a man?”

“Few of the women I know can quote the Bible with much precision.”

“But you recognize the quote.”

“I do,” said Emily. “I can counter-quote, too, with a lovely parable about a woman who loses one silver coin, and though she has nine left, can’t rest until she’s searched every inch of her house for it, and is so pleased to find it at last that she gives a party to celebrate.”

“Are we supposed to be the coin?” Zach asked, watching her face. “Maybe we’re just a bunch of dust bunnies.”

“Perhaps,” said Emily. “But we won’t know until we’ve swept out the corners. Zach, why do you keep deflecting my questions from the personal to the general?”

“Maybe men aren’t socialized to be comfortable talking about themselves,” said Zach, and Emily laughed; Zach smiled a little.

“I agree that the specific punishment for this particular crime is less important than the improvement of your conditions in general,” Emily said. “And I am committed to improving those conditions. But protection sometimes runs hand in hand with punishment-- not only your protection, but the offenders’ as well, from their own worst instincts. Bear that in mind, if you have a suggestion for me.”

“You’ll have to hurt them,” said Zach, his tone so peculiar that Emily wasn’t sure whether he was asking a question, making a statement, or issuing an instruction. "With your power. To remind them. To obey women. That you’re in charge. Because you’re a woman. It has to be-- that way. That you punish them.”

Emily made a sound intended to indicate reserved agreement, but not to cut him off if he had more to say.

“That’s a change,” Zach continued. “Already. That there are women here-- in control. It’s been all men. The guards. And the other men here. Hurting us. Now it’s women.”

Emily wasn’t sure from his tone what he thought of this change.

“It’s an important difference,” she suggested, when Zach didn’t add anything. “When you’re left to the brutality of other men, there’s no-- plan-- to your suffering. No distinction between virtue and vice. Only the rule of strength. The rule of women involves guidance. Punishment for crimes, but safety in innocence.”

“Innocence,” Zach repeated, as if he’d never heard the word before.

“It is-- or should be-- the task of your directrix to guide your behavior,” Emily pursued. “To make you better fit for a woman’s eventual protection. If you should be chosen for it. Like Sean.”

“Sean,” said Zach. Emily wondered if he was listening, or just repeating the last word of everything she said.

“You suggest,” she said firmly, “that your rapists should be punished using Gaia’s power.”

Zach seemed unnerved by her change in tone. “I-- don’t you think so?”

“I do,” said Emily. “And then?”

“And then nothing,” said Zach. “Put them back in with the rest of us. Do it again to anyone else you catch, until we learn. That would be-- my suggestion.”

“Thank you,” said Emily. “For your input.” She added after a moment, “You are more empathetic than I had expected. More concerned with-- the broader questions involved. With the fact that our penalties should involve opportunities for redemption. For the culprits to learn better behavior.”

“I’m not sure they’ll get that, though,” said Zach. “That it’s, uh, for their own good.”

“Perhaps I could explain it to them,” said Emily.

Zach shrugged. “Perhaps you could try.”

“You’re mocking me,” said Emily, and he flinched a little. “Oh, it was very subtle. Perhaps I’m more perceptive than most women you talk to. Or perhaps not. Perhaps that’s why you don’t have a protectrix.”

Zach bowed his head, apparently accepting rebuke. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” said Emily. “It’s punishment enough. And more than enough. Poor child.”

“I’m not a child,” he said, his tone neither defiant nor argumentative, but resigned, as if he regretfully contradicted some mitigating excuse she’d offered for his behavior.

“No, I suppose not,” said Emily. “If you were, you wouldn’t be here. Still-- you aren’t much more.” She sighed. “We should go back. Unless you have something else to suggest.”

“Oh,” said Zach. “I-- please, not yet.”

Emily looked at him pityingly. “No one will hurt you. I’ll make sure of it.”

“It’s not that,” said Zach. “I just-- I haven’t been out of there in--”

“Sixty-seven days.” Emily sighed again. “All right. Just a little longer.”
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