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Chapter three went up yesterday

Zach woke up to the sound of the doors opening. Day sixty-seven in this hellhole, and still not fucking dead. He wasn't sure if the tally and refrain was one of triumph or irritation by now.

He was on the floor, of course-- he hadn't slept in a bed for sixty-seven days and counting-- and nobody was touching him or whispering in his ear, which was good. He opened his eyes and saw the room. Ellis, Carl, Mitchell, Peter, what the hell, oh, and at the door, the daisy-faced new alpha dog, sans hulking leman but avec the bug-eyed bitch who'd locked them in last night. Selena. And Kyle.

He sat up with everybody else, because not sitting up when the doors opened got you a kick from a man and might get you worse from a woman. Selena looked irritated already, and Kyle didn't look particularly cheerful either. Great. Another sunshiny morning for everybody.

"Showers," said Selena, succinctly, and almost grimly enough to do justice to the word. Snake pit. Shark tank. Gladiatorial arena.

Though, if he was only going to be going with these guys, then maybe not so much this morning. Poor shuffling cretins-- handpicked by Zach, thank you very much, and pretty smartly too, since if he recalled correctly he'd actually slept through the night last night-- cringing their way past Kyle and Selena. Zach kept his own chin up, and didn't smile at Kyle. Tooth-baring was a submission behavior in primates.

"Morning," said Kyle, not smiling either, which sent a little shiver of primate nervousness through Zach, but then Kyle gave a little jerk of his chin, which didn't look like hostility. Kyle might not be trying too hard to ingratiate himself with Zach, but he wasn't gunning for him, either. Good enough.

Kyle started herding the denizens of his own personal little rescue project towards the showers, along with another ten or so guys from the next room over who definitely weren't part of the project. He also followed them into the shower room, like the pervert he was-- Drew and I, we're together. Romantically-- and Selena wasn't following, like the shirking cunt she was. So it was going to be like any other guard-ordered mass shower, with the guard of the moment getting an eyeful of the pathetic naked menu on display, and whatever poor wet jerk looked most toothless and toothsome getting to sit down funny at breakfast.

Though Kyle had actually looked away from Zach's nakedness the day before, hadn't so much as sneaked a peek during Zach's whole shower, and Zach had kept his own eyes on Kyle's face the whole time, waiting. Zach hadn't exactly expected to get raped again right there, not with the woman on her way back and the screams of the three men she'd caught still echoing off the walls, but he'd certainly expected a staring contest, and not that Kyle would keep his eyes on the wall like a maiden covering his face for shame.

Kyle did watch them showering this time, though he looked profoundly uncomfortable-- the redness of his face couldn't be entirely from the steamy warmth of the room-- especially when he encountered Zach's gaze. Most of the other men from Kyle's Room of Refuge kept their eyes down, as usual, or even closed, like little kids hoping that if they can't see you, you can't see them either. The other ones, who normally would have been at least practicing a little ocular intimidation, seemed inhibited by Kyle's presence enough to keep their eyes in their heads. Nobody was looking at Kyle except Zach and-- he noticed-- Ellis, which Kyle didn't seem any happier about than he was about Zach's stare.

Whatever was getting him so hot and bothered, though, Kyle kept his cock in his pants; after a while, he said, "Okay, guys. Time."

Everybody kind of froze at that, but Zach recovered first and switched off his water, and after another few seconds to make sure Kyle wasn't going to lunge for Zach, the other men followed suit. Zach waited for Kyle to start handing out towels; when he didn't, Zach walked over, grabbed one himself, and started to dry off. Kyle still didn't react, and the other men finally worked up their nerve to do the same thing. It was like childhood games of Follow the Leader, but who'd elected Zach leader? Nobody-- Zach was just the only man who'd figured out Kyle wasn't playing the same stupid game they usually played in the morning. You didn't say May I. Penalty, Zach.

Halfway through drying off, the door opened and somebody big and uniformed came in. For a heart-stopping moment Zach was sure it was Jack, but it was Kyle's honeybunch instead-- Drew, all nine feet of him, and obviously a sight for Kyle's sore eyes.

"Hey!" said Kyle, and half the men in the room froze in terror that he might be talking to them, but Zach didn't think Kyle even noticed, focused as he was on Drew. "What's up? You okay?"

"Fine," said Drew. "I'll tell you later. We need to get the next bunch of men in here."

Since Zach seemed to be the only one capable of risking movement he hadn't been directly ordered to, he led the charge of getting dressed and then walking past Kyle to the door. Kyle didn't even open it for them; Zach opened it himself and started to walk through.

"Zach, wait," said Kyle, and Zach's heart sank; he should have known better than to push his luck like that. He stood still, his chin lifted again, looking at Kyle with an expression he hoped said "Fucking what?"

"Just a second," said Kyle. "The rest of you can go."

They scurried past him like rats off a sinking ship, and Zach briefly contemplated bolting, too, but that seemed like a bad idea on a number of levels. Besides Zach, only Ellis hung back; he hesitated next to Kyle, looking at him with sad puppy eyes.

"What is it?" Kyle asked, quite gently.

Ellis leaned in close to Kyle, like he was trying to get Kyle to kiss him, which he probably was and which Kyle probably would, though maybe not in front of Drew the Barbarian, and said something so quiet and mumbly that Zach didn't catch it. Kyle seemed to, though, and it seemed to make him sort of sad.

"Sure, Ellis," he said. "See you at breakfast, okay?"

Ellis nodded as gratefully as if Kyle had handed him a lollipop, and took off past Zach, whose presence Kyle finally deigned to notice again.

"Hey," he said. "I just wanted to ask how last night went. No problems?"

"No problems," said Zach, stone-faced; if Kyle was looking for slavering gratitude he could get it from Ellis, or any of the other assholes he'd just let slink past him.

"Thanks for taking the lead, this morning," said Kyle. "I'm still figuring all this out."

"Obviously," said Zach, and then experienced a brief but intense desire to punch himself in the mouth for not leaving well enough alone. In his own defense, it had been an awfully long time since anything in his life could be defined as well enough. Sixty-seven days. No, longer than that.

Kyle actually laughed, though, and said, "Yeah. That's all. I just wanted to say thanks. You can go."

Zach turned and went, and Kyle and Drew followed him. Zach tensed, waiting for a rough hand on his shoulder or arm to yank him back, or a foot to swipe his own feet from underneath him, or at least for Kyle's voice, or Drew's-- One more thing, Zach, maybe we can find a better use for that mouth of yours-- but they just followed him, and he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of turning to face them.

The other woman was there, right outside-- not the little black one who'd been here yesterday, and not the white one with starey blue eyes who'd been here all night, but the one in red who'd stood up at dinner last night-- Kyle's protectrix, Emily. She was saying something to each of the men as they passed, and as Zach got closer, he heard, "--breakfast. Go on in to breakfast. Go on."

Zach obeyed, suddenly a little dizzy with-- he wasn't sure what. Relief, maybe. Momentary relief. Not hope, anyway. Nothing future-directed. He wasn't that much of an idiot.

There were five women there at breakfast-- Emily, the day one, the night one, and two more, who came out of the kitchen as the men were sitting down. Cooks. They dished out the food, too, and everybody got some, and it looked and smelled edible. And with all the women there watching, nobody looked likely to grab Zach's away. More relief. He was starving-- literally, he was pretty sure.

He ended up at a table with the same men from Kyle's Shelter for Helpless Wounded Kittycats. That was fine. There were worse places. He went ahead and started to eat, and the other men at the table followed his example, because apparently he was still It in whatever fun new game they were all playing, but as long as the game involved getting food into his burningly empty stomach and not getting hit for it, that was fine too.

When most of the plates were empty-- which didn't take long, since the food was not only edible but actually pretty damn good, even if you weren't starving-- the woman in red, Emily, stood up.

"You may continue eating," she said, as all the men looked apprehensively up at her, "but I suggest you listen at the same time, since what I have to say concerns all of you.

"First, I would like to announce that I have made an appointment with a doctor to come here and examine every man in this center. There will probably not be time for her to examine every one of you today, but she will make a start and I hope you will all make her job as easy as possible. As I stated at dinner yesterday, the rumors that illness or injury among you will result in your death are absolutely false. The doctor's job will be to diagnose and then treat illness or injury in the hopes of curing it. If any of you still doubt my word on this today, the events of the next few days should ease your minds.

"Secondly, as most of you are probably aware, an act of rape took place here yesterday."

Enough eyes went to Zach that the rest, following their trajectory, ended up in the same place, and although Zach thought he'd managed to keep his face blank, he knew he was breaking out in sweat. Emily wasn't looking at him, though. No way she didn't know-- everybody else she could have been looking at was looking at Zach-- but she wasn't, as she continued, "The first such act, to my certain knowledge, since I took over here. There are three guilty parties-- their guilt verified by a female eyewitness, no need for any man's testimony-- who are therefore not here with us today."

She arched an eyebrow as she said, "To quell one possible rumor, which would admittedly have more foundation than rumors regarding your sick and hurt, I should perhaps clarify that they are not dead."

Zach found himself cocking an eyebrow right back; he kind of liked this woman's style.

"You may or may not be aware," she was saying, "that until quite recently in historical terms, rape was a phenomenon that usually involved a male offender and a female victim. It was defined by law, more or less, as the forcible sexual penetration of a woman without the permission of the woman's male protector. This protector might be her father, who would be guarding her maidenhead-- yes, her maidenhead-- for a future husband, who would be presumed to want a female maiden in order to be certain that only he could be the father of any children she conceived. It might be the husband himself, who would be guarding her womb from trespassers for the same reason. If her husband had died, it might even be her brother or her grown son, who would be guarding her 'honor'-- her supposed duty to be unwilling to experience intercourse with any but her lawful husband. It was not considered rape-- or criminal-- for a man to force penetration on a woman he had the legal and social right to impregnate. However loudly she might scream."

Zach was bewildered. Where was all this coming from? Where did this woman think she was, a university lecture hall? Granted, the subject was pretty interesting-- Zach didn't remember learning a whole lot about the legal intricacies of man-on-woman rape in world history-- and Emily's rhetoric was entertainingly baroque. But what did ancient history have to do with what had happened yesterday, not to mention most of the past sixty-seven? At least not everybody was looking at Zach any more; some people were listening, and others were just sitting there slack-jawed, stuck way back on female maiden, or maybe counting the words with more than one syllable.

"In the rare event that a man was raped at that time," Emily continued, "he of course had full legal right and recourse to pursue justice, but rarely did pursue it, because of social stigma pertaining to having been the male victim of rape. Since rape was primarily a crime perpetrated against women, and since women were denied full personhood, both socially and legally, a man who had been raped felt he had been treated as a woman, and therefore diminished in his standing."

Okay, that was kind of intriguing. Rape as degradation was pretty obvious, but Zach had never thought to link it back to the days when men fucked women as an act of dominance.

"Now that the phenomenon of forcible penetration of a woman past menarche by a man has become so difficult as to be exceptional," said Emily, amusing Zach again with her studied understatement, "rape has undergone a social redefinition. It no longer pertains either to pregnancy or to the twisted forms of protection once used to systematically subjugate women to men, but purely to violence and power. And of course, to a certain degree, frustrated libido, particularly among men such as yourselves, who have not achieved female protection. Without such protection, and the guidance that comes with it, men inevitably devolve into mutual brutality. As you have seen."

Hard to argue the point, but speaking of devolution, she'd devolved into standard men-are-beasts rhetoric, which was disappointing. This was more like world history had been in school. As in world history, Zach stifled a yawn.

"Stand up, Kyle," said Emily, and Zach came back to attention as Kyle stood, looking only a little nervous-- he really must not have raped anyone lately, or he'd be shitting himself. Hell, Zach would have been shitting himself anyway, and he'd never raped anybody. Who was to say this woman wouldn't just tell everybody he had and then kill him right there, just for a really stunning visual aid to her little lecture?

"How long did you spend in a center for unprotected males?" Emily asked him.

Kyle cleared his throat. "Uh, about eighteen months."

"How many times were you raped?"

Kyle seemed surprised and sincere when he answered, "I wasn't. Never."

"How many times did you commit rape?"

"I didn't," said Kyle, now sounding genuinely offended, but Emily didn't react to his tone; hers hadn't altered when she asked, "How many times did you witness rape?"

Kyle shook his head as he repeated, "I didn't."

"Why do you think that was?" Emily asked.

"Because the guards watched us," said Kyle. "And there were women there, who wouldn't have let it happen. Uh, it was against the rules. And the rules were-- enforced."

"Thank you," said Emily. "You may sit down."

Kyle did.

"As you can all gather from Kyle's experience," said Emily, "rape is not a necessary condition of your confinement here. As acting directrix of this center, it is my duty and my objective to stand for each one of you, to some degree, in the stead of the protectrices you do not have-- both to guide your behavior, and to protect you from indignity. It is in this spirit that I will punish those who practice rape and other forms of physical brutality. The same punishments will apply to those guards who are under my personal protection. Those who are not, if they violate my rules, will be immediately dismissed from employment here."

I'll believe it when I see it, said Zach silently.

"I expect," said Emily, "that most of you will believe that when you see it."

Zach swallowed a smile.

"That being the case," said Emily, "the culprits from yesterday, as a gauge of my sincerity in this matter, are of particular import. They are currently being kept in solitary confinement, pending a final decision concerning their punishment. That decision will be mine, of course. However, I am open to feedback regarding my ultimate decision, from one man-- and only one man-- here present."

All eyes went back to Kyle, who looked distinctly uncomfortable with the attention. Was she going to make him talk right now? That wasn't going to help him win friends here, assuming that had ever been possible with anyone but lickspittles like Ellis.

"Their victim," said Emily, and every gaze in the place-- except for hers-- swung back to Zach, who suddenly experienced an extremely strong urge to throw up the nice breakfast he'd just eaten. He breathed in, swallowed hard, and kept his eyes on Emily. Lady, what the fuck did I ever do to you?

"That man is free to maintain his silence," she said, still not even glancing at Zach. "If he chooses to do so, I'll make the decision on my own. However, he is also free to approach me-- I have a female witness, as I said, so anyone but the real victim who tries to deceive me will suffer the consequences of his own behavior-- and discuss the future of his attackers. I give him my word--" and here, finally, she looked straight at Zach, who was seriously considering a fainting spell-- "that he will suffer no negative repercussions if he does so.

"That is all."

Emily sat down.

Zach sat still for a moment, trying to catch his breath. Then, with every stare in the place trained on him like a spotlight, he stood up and walked unsteadily towards Emily, who pretended not to notice until he was right in front of her, and then looked up at him, her dark eyes cool and unreadable.

"Yes?" she said.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Zach."
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