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[personal profile] maculategiraffe

Emily left the center late, after conferring with Selena, and instead of going home, drove straight to Rita's house, trusting her sister would welcome her. Leah let her in and took her to the parlor, asking after Kyle as they went.

"He's fine," said Emily. "How is Sean?"

"Oh, he's all right," said Leah, smiling. "He's a sweet boy. The magistra seems very optimistic about conceiving with him."

Emily laughed. "He must be enjoying that."

"I think he is," Leah giggled. "I'll tell her you're here."

While Emily waited, Adele woke up and complained, and Emily felt her milk stir in her breasts in answer to the cry; she unbuttoned her dress and offered Adele a breast, which her daughter suckled contentedly. The tug of tiny lips at her nipple sent her into a pleasurable trance, and as was her frequent habit when she and Adele were alone together, she opened her mind and heart to the goddess, offering up her boundless gratitude for the gift of a healthy daughter, for all the blessings of motherhood she had ever experienced and for the hope of those to come. Mindful of where she was, she prayed for Rita, too, who had never experienced this kind of bliss, and for Carol, who like herself and Rita had been left motherless. Rita had been too young for weaning when their mother died, too young to have her mother torn away from her so violently, and there was no help for that, but she could have a daughter of her own, to nurse as long as need be. Now that Rita had shaken herself free of Kyle, Emily prayed with more hope that it might be soon for her little sister.

Kyle, too, was a gift from the goddess, as were all her responsibilities as acting directrix at the center, so Emily offered up her lingering resentment at having been saddled with them, asked forgiveness, and formed new resolves to serve her goddess and fulfill her duties, learning the lessons she was offered along the way with a humble and grateful spirit. She was asking forgiveness for her failures and guidance for the future of the center when Rita came in, Sean following closely behind her.

Both were neatly clothed, but it only took one look at their faces to know what they'd been up to. Emily smiled, offering up a quick hope that her sister might already be pregnant with a daughter, before she rose to greet Rita with a hug.

"Emily," Rita said, hugging her back. "Sit down. Is everything all right?"

"Fine," said Emily. "How are things here?"

"Oh, fine," said Rita cheerfully, and sat down herself; Sean knelt down at her feet, and Rita put her hand on his head. Emily refrained from comment on how quickly Kyle seemed to have been replaced. Rita had good sense, and wouldn't simply repeat history, however things looked at the moment. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Can't I check up on you every single day without ulterior motive?" Emily asked, and Rita laughed. "No, actually-- I want your advice."

Rita smiled. "This is an occasion."

"Since you're the one who got me into this mess," said Emily, smiling back, "and since you are, after all, the magistra around here, I'm seeking your magisterial opinion. I've got a problem at the center."

"Just one?" Rita asked.

Emily grimaced. "Let me rephrase. I've got a cornucopia of problems, but one immediate and pressing one. Rape."

Rita sobered, and her hand moved soothingly on Sean's head; he hadn't moved, but the word had clearly unsettled him. "Yes."

"More specifically, rapists," said Emily. "How should I deal with them? The actual guilty parties? I've got them locked up separately in solitary confinement for right now, but what am I going to do with them tomorrow?"

"The rapes took place when?" Rita asked, stroking Sean's short hair as he put his forehead to her knee.

"Today," said Emily. "I've got a female witness. Three culprits. One incident. Nasty business."

Rita nodded, frowning. "Have you punished them at all yet?"

"Not yet," said Emily. "I wanted to talk to you first. How harsh should I be? These are old habits on their part, and they've lacked female guidance for a long time. I want to deter effectively, but I can't really argue for killing them. If I were going to do that, I should kill Jack, too. And half the guards, for that matter."

"Shhh," Rita said to Sean, whose increasing agitation had been silent and motionless but noticeable; her hand moved to his back, over the T-shirt. "It's all right. I don't know, Emily. This will be the first time you establish penalties for rape?"

"Exactly," said Emily, "and I want the precedent firmly set. I've made it clear it's an offense, but I haven't stated a punishment. I wish I could kill them-- it seems so much neater."

"I don't believe in taking away a man's chance for redemption unless it's unavoidable," said Rita thoughtfully.

"Obviously," said Emily, amused, and Sean squirmed a little bit as Rita kept petting him. "I'm not going to kill them-- it's not practical. But what should I do? And should I do it in front of the other men? I don't want to throw blood in the water by severely weakening these three and throwing them back among the rest. But I want to make it clear that rape won't be tolerated, and if possible I'd like to make it clear what will happen instead."

"I understand," said Rita. "It's not as though there's a standard punishment for rape in our society."

"I'm starting to think there should be," said Emily. "Male-on-male crime might not be a serious problem for society at large, but apparently that's because we're concentrating it all in small ugly buildings and handing them over to incompetents like Martha."

"It's a thought," said Rita. "But to your more immediate problem. How long is it an option to keep them in solitary?"

"There are six solitary confinement cells," said Emily. "Four of them are currently occupied. I suppose it depends on whether we have other incidents."

"Four? You said three rapists."

"I've got Jack in one of the others," said Emily. "I didn't know what else to do with him. I'm certainly not taking him home."

Rita smiled. "Well, no. All right, Emily. If I were you, which I'm not, here's what I'd do."

The next morning Emily wakened early, alone-- she hadn't taken a lover since the advent of Adele, the first missed menstrual period that had transported her with joy and apprehension, transformed her into a mother. Adele slept in her basket beside Emily's bed. From the first she'd slept like an angel, and wakened like one too-- she cried only when she was in pain or hungry, and otherwise made conversational-sounding noises that Emily was convinced were the language of Gaia herself.

There were the morning rituals to accomplish-- Emily always bathed and dressed first, believing her goddess appreciated the effort, and besides, her own mind was more receptive when she was clean and tidy. Damp-haired, she cast a circle and went through her morning rites; halfway through, Adele mewed for her breakfast, and Emily took her up and nursed her inside the circle, smearing her little nightgown and soft downy head with traces of the myrrh and rowan water from her fingertips as she prayed again for strength, protection and guidance at the center.

She rose refreshed, bathed Adele and dressed her for the journey, and left her room. The men of her household knew better than to get in her way.

The center was full of the roiling energies of men, obtrusive as a bad smell. It was an ugly place, to the outward eye and to the inner one as well. Adele wouldn't be harmed, though; she was too young for that kind of sensing, and her presence helped calm and center Emily. Unthinkable to leave her at home, even if there hadn't been men there as well.

She'd arrived early. Selena greeted her at the door, and Emily asked about the night.

"Not bad," said Selena. "The men are still mostly asleep. No incidents that I saw. No screaming. Of course, they're probably conditioned not to."

"The room you arranged?"

"No incidents," said Selena again. "Deborah hasn't arrived yet. Once she does, would you like to speak with the two of us before I leave?"

"Yes," said Emily. "Either before or after breakfast, whichever is most convenient for the two of you. Not during breakfast, though. I'd like all three of us to be present for that."

Selena nodded. "It's about time for the daytime guards to come on shift. Should I waken them?"

"Please," said Emily. "Tell them to get as many of the men as possible showered before breakfast. I'd suggest lots of twenty-- the room I saw should accomodate that many at a time-- and about seven minutes from in to out. That should get about half of them clean before breakfast, and the rest can be attended to afterwards. I want them all at least dampened before the doctor has to examine them. For now, let me get to my office. I've got a few more women to interview for positions today-- I know you'll appreciate not being the only woman here at night."

My office-- she was already thinking of it in those terms. Well, for now, anyway. Only Gaia knew how long it would take to find another reliable woman willing to take on the position. Certainly the place would only fall back into Martha's hands over Emily's dead body. And probably Rita's as well.

"Oh," she added, "and send Jack to me, please."

In the office, she got Adele settled, sat down at her desk-- the desk-- and opened Martha's calendar, which she could fairly consider hers now, since she'd already written more in it than it appeared Martha ever had. Her first appointment was at ten, with the doctor she'd arranged for; she added breakfast at eight, and was examining the rest of the schedule when Jack came in, all in a welter of apprehension, and knelt.

"How did you sleep?" Emily asked.

Jack swallowed. "Uh-- fine-- thank you."

"The solitary confinement cells are reasonably comfortable?"

Jack nodded.

"I've got three other men in three of the others," said Emily. "They were caught in the act of raping a fourth man yesterday, so I thought they should be confined separately for a while, until we can determine long-term consequences for that kind of behavior. I gather there were none, under Martha's direction."

Jack shook his head.

"Death would be the neatest thing, of course," said Emily, "but it seems a little drastic, especially considering how widespread the behavior seems to have been. And then, to be fair, I'd have to kill you, wouldn't I?"

Jack was sweating and almost crying; it was a pathetic sight.

"I'm not going to kill you," Emily said, not without pity. "At least, not unless I see further misbehavior on your part. And I'm not going to kill those three men, either. They will need to understand, though, that I'm serious about the changes that need to occur here. I trust you understand that already."

Jack nodded vigorously.

"I've got a job for you, then," said Emily. "I'd like you to take breakfast to each of the three men currently in solitary confinement, and I'd like you to speak with them a little, about the future of the center and the future of their behavior. They may listen more readily to you than to me. You've presided over a considerable amount of their problematic behavior, after all."

Jack nodded again.

"Speak with is not a euphemism," Emily added dryly. "Do not touch them. You may safely leave that aspect of their rehabilitation to me. Go to the kitchen and pick up the trays. Tell them I sent you."

Jack left, still sweating. Emily turned back to her calendar, but it wasn't long before there was a knock at her door; she called "Come in" and Kyle came in, looking neat and handsome in his uniform, head up, angry bright eyes seeking hers. He didn't kneel.

“Yes?” she said.

“You said I could speak to you if I needed to,” said Kyle.

"Yes," said Emily, agreeing and giving permission.

“Selena was hurting Drew," said Kyle. "She has no right to punish him. She’s not his protectrix. And he didn’t even do anything.”

“Using her power?” Emily asked, surprised, and Kyle nodded furiously. “Why? What was her reasoning?”

“We overslept,” said Kyle. “Not that much-- and if it was anybody’s fault, it was mine. She came into our room and put her hand on his shoulder and he jumped so hard I’m probably going to have a bruise.”

That told Emily more than she’d ever planned to know about Drew and Kyle’s sleeping arrangements the previous night; if Kyle had been this tactless around Rita it was a miracle he was still alive. Probably he hadn’t been, though. Emily was in a different category than Rita, for him. She still wasn’t sure how he did categorize her, but part of the category must involve her indifference to his sex life, except insofar as it involved her sister. Accurate enough.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” she said. “When you go, send Drew to me.”

Kyle stiffened at that, and Emily sighed inwardly; he was going to argue.

“What happens next is not your business,” she said, though with little hope that he’d accept that and shut up. “I am Drew’s protectrix. I intend to speak to him directly about matters that concern his protection. You did well to come to me and tell me, but your job now is to leave and send Drew to me.”

Please,” said Kyle, and Emily said tiredly-- it was still very early in the morning-- “What?”

"Drew--" Kyle dithered for a moment before he said, a little surprisingly, “He’s afraid of you."

Emily raised her eyebrows. “And you aren’t?”

“Well,” said Kyle, after a brief, confused pause. “I mean."

"Men should be afraid of women," said Emily, as she'd said many times before. "We're dangerous to you."

"But, I mean," Kyle stammered again. "It’s like. It's like-- you should be careful around a hot stove, because it can burn you. But you shouldn’t be so scared of it that you can’t cook with it.”

Despite herself, Emily laughed. Kyle bit his lip nervously.

“That’s an interesting comparison,” she said. “So I’m a tool. Like a stove. An appliance of justice. You came to me to make use of me, to accomplish your purpose. To have Drew protected and Selena reprimanded.”

Kyle looked both frightened and stubborn. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I think it is,” said Emily. “The idea isn’t original with you, you know. Men have always used women to their own ends. It was easier for you before Gaia empowered us, but you still can’t quite get out of the mindset.”

You use us now,” Kyle pointed out. Emily appreciated his fighting spirit, even if she couldn’t quite admire it. He was intelligent enough-- and his brush with Rita’s uncontrolled fury had been recent enough-- to know what kind of danger he might be courting, and he still kept arguing. “Like appliances. To father children. And work for you.”

“That’s correct,” said Emily. “By her intervention, Gaia tipped the balance of power the other way. She might have made us all equal in strength, and given women no more power than we needed to defend ourselves, but she did not take that approach. Perhaps she will, someday. Perhaps after another five or six millennia of female dominance, she will consider the moral and psychological scales balanced. Be that as it may, at the moment, this is how things are. Selena is a woman, and you are a man, and as such, she is not accountable to your judgment.”

Kyle kept his eyes on her, apparently thinking this over.

“That being said,” said Emily, after a few moments of silence, “she is accountable to me for her treatment of Drew, and as I said, I appreciate your bringing the matter to my attention. But you serve my decisions and my judgment, not I yours. You may observe that Selena has trespassed in my affairs and bring the matter to me for appraisal. You may not decide that Selena has acted wrongly and bring her to me for punishment. I believe you are intelligent enough to grasp the distinction.”

For a moment she thought she had believed wrongly, as Kyle’s face went slack-jawed and squint-eyed, mulling over what she’d said. She kept silent while he cogitated slowly; men needed silence to concentrate, they didn't have the training. Finally, he nodded.

"I understand," he said, in a tone that said he didn't necessarily agree, but Emily didn't need his agreement. Then he said, "May I-- may I ask you a question?”

“You may.”

“You haven’t punished me since I got here,” he said. “Is that because you don’t mind the way I’ve been-- talking? I mean, is my behavior, um, acceptable? To you? Or is there some other reason you aren’t hurting me?”

Emily considered.

“There are reasons,” she said finally. “If you’re thinking that I love my sister and wouldn’t want to grieve her by being overly harsh with her pet, then yes, there’s a measure of truth to that. And if you’re thinking that I’m showing you more patience than I would show to a man who’d spent longer under my protection and had more time to adjust himself to my expectations, then you’re right about that, as well. But primarily, I haven’t invoked my power to punish you because I believe you’re more likely to respond to reason than you are to physical pain.”

“Isn’t everybody?” Kyle asked.

“Heavens, no,” said Emily, almost laughing again. “Men like Jack need to be bullied, because that’s all they understand how to respect-- someone stronger and more ruthless than themselves. Men like you don’t respect strength without a rationale. In the days of chivalry, you would have made an excellent knight of the Round Table.”

Kyle looked puzzled.

“It’s not exactly a compliment,” she told him, “but it’s not entirely an insult, either. If you’re interested, I’ll bring you a book on the subject.”

Kyle was suddenly alert. “Will you really?”

“Certainly,” said Emily. “Do you like to read? I have a good library at home. And once things are settled in here, you’ll probably have more time on your hands for hobbies.”

“I was reading a book at Rita’s house,” said Kyle, his manner newly shy, as if, for the first time, he felt himself in need of a favor from her. “Um, it was called The Origins of Power. I never, um, got to finish it. If--”

“That’s an interesting book,” said Emily. “I’ll lend you my copy. Now. You have work to be getting on with. Send Drew to me.”


“Kyle," said Emily, letting her voice sharpen a little, "you are testing my patience. You know you have no right to intervene between another man and his protectrix.”

“No right?” Kyle protested, raising his voice. "He's my--"

He broke off at the same moment that his heartbeat sped up, sweat springing to his temples, and his knees weakened, though he didn’t fall to them; he appeared to have noticed how ill-advised his tone had been immediately after assuming it. It was a wonder men had ever managed to rule the world. Not that they’d done a particularly impressive job.

“Think of it this way,” she said, as Kyle shivered before her. “If your friend has a phobia of stoves, is it the best use of your time and energy to argue with the stove about it?”

Drew was considerably less tiring-- if also less stimulating-- intellectual company than Kyle. He knelt immediately, his hands tightly clasped before him, his eyes on the ground.

“You’re not here for punishment,” Emily told him. “And I won’t keep you long. Kyle tells me Selena disciplined you. Is that correct?”

Eyes still downcast, Drew nodded his head.

“Was it a severe punishment?”

Drew shook his head.

“Would you describe the pain as mild?”

Drew nodded again.

“Are you suffering any ill effects?”

Head shake.

“Very well,” said Emily. “Look at me, Drew.”

He did, his eyes wide as a child’s, waiting for her to speak.

“I understand that you’re a man who doesn’t want trouble,” she told him. “If you prefer to let an incident like this pass, because you feel it’s more trouble than it’s worth to report it to me, that’s your choice. But Selena doesn’t have the right to hurt you without my permission, however mildly, and if I become aware-- through you or any other trustworthy source-- that she’s done it again, I’ll fire her and hire a more reliable woman.” She waited a moment, then added, “Do you understand?”

Drew nodded, lowering his eyes again, and said hoarsely, “Thank you.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for,” said Emily. “I wanted you to understand your options. You may go.”
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