Tuesday, 22 September 2009 - 9:15 pm

Care and feeding, part three

Simon warned me that scuffles happen a lot around here, but I had no idea it would be this often. At least the latest one had nothing to do with the Sharks, though it had everything to do with someone getting screwed.

I feel like I’m on the fringes of a war zone. I’m unable to see the action; all I get are second-hand accounts and graphic images of the aftermath. I’m frustrated with all of it – I’d rather be out there trying to fix it than in here patching up afterwards. I don’t know if I could fix any of it, but at least I’d feel less useless in the face of all the hurt I’m seeing.


They came in in the early hours of the morning. Luckily, I was dozing next to Matt’s bed and if I’m honest, I was glad of the distraction. Watching him sleep is painful; when he’s awake, I can forget what happened in my attempts to keep his spirits up, but when he’s asleep, all I can see is the damage. His discoloured, swollen face that doesn’t look like him at all. It’s starting to go down now, but it still tugs at me to see him like that.

I had to send one of the escorts to get Simon and Peter up. It was more than I was comfortable handling on my own – bumps and bruises are fine, but I worry about the injuries that aren’t so easy to see. Internal bleeding, concussion, cracked bones – the boys are better at spotting those than I am.

There were three beaten boys this time – one army cutout and two civilians. Their injuries told me the story of what happened; sometimes it bothers me that I’m so used to reading these things. The youngest fella had a bust nose that had bled everywhere but his hands were unmarred – he hadn’t thrown a single punch and was probably an unlucky bystander that got smacked in the confusion. The other civilian seems to have taken the worst of it – it looked like someone used a bar to hit him. He was conscious but had several long, nasty bruises across his arms and shoulders from trying to defend his head.

At the time, I didn’t think it was the cutout that did it – the three exchanged looks a couple of times, and there was no enmity in any of it. From what I can tell, the cutout stepped in to pull the attacker off the civilian.

I didn’t ask who that fourth party was; it was more interesting listening to their mutterings. They didn’t say much, but the cutout did spit out something about a ‘bitch’. I tried not to be amused at their grumpiness that a girl could do something like this. It was funny because even after nine months of scrabbling and scraping to survive, they still had no idea what people were really capable of. They’ve been in Haven for too long.


It was a short while later that the culprit turned up, marched in by a pair of soldiers. Her face was marred by blood but I knew that defiant glare. My stomach clenched as I went to relieve the cutouts of their burden and eased her onto a bed. Jersey.

None of the injuries were serious, though there were a couple of head wounds that bled impressively. Lumps and vivid bruises painted pictures of exchanged aggression. No-one said anything, not even the Seeker when I asked her. She just glared at me, her anger aimed at the whole world while her jaw clenched down on the pain. She hunched over awkwardly but wouldn’t let anyone check her out. I had to wait until morning and a chance to get her alone before she’d let me help her.

After the midnight flurry of activity, the infirmary settled down into an uneasy rest. Not long after breakfast, a couple of cutouts – higher-ranking ones, from the stripes on their arms – came to question the latest combatants. The fellas had short interviews and were released back into the wild. Jersey was the last one they went to talk to, and they got a whole lot of nothing out of her. She does a good impression of a baleful rock when she wants to.


It was a little before lunch when the General came in. He spoke with the interviewers, looking grave. He tried to talk to Jersey as well but her lips were not parting for anyone. I went over to try to snag the General before he left, and he rounded on me with a scowl to outdo the ex-Wolverine.

“Why is it always your people causing trouble? If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

“It’s my people being attacked by everyone else here!”

“If you would just stick to the rules–”

“What rules! The ones no-one tells us about?”

“Yeah, tell her about the ‘rule’ that got your boy in trouble. Go on,” Jersey said, getting up to limp over to us. “Tell her about how you’re whoring us out to the men.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak. I stared at the General, waiting for him to deny it. At the edges of the room, the officers and medics looked on.

“It is not that simple,” he said with weighty calm.

“Then explain it to us,” I said.

He huffed, but he sent the others out of the room so that he could speak to us alone. He explained shortly that there were five men to every one woman here, and if there wasn’t some provision for physical pleasure, then they would make their own. So they have a system. It was expected of the women to keep the men quiet. It would be worse for everyone if they didn’t.

I felt sick as he explained it. I remembered that night I saw a group of men crossing the courtyard towards the girls’ dorms. I remembered the General’s comment when I arrived about how he hoped to have more kids for the school soon. I hadn’t realised that he intended to make them.

I asked him what would happen if we refused. He said that the whole point was to avoid rape. It was for the greater good. I saw then what he had done; he had made the girls responsible for sending some of their number to entertain the troops. Those who didn’t want to would be pressured from both sides. It made my head spin to think about.

“But it doesn’t work,” Jersey said. The marks on her were testament to that.

“It works better than the alternative. Without it, this place would tear itself apart at the seams.” That was all the General had to say on the matter. He said that he would consider suitable punishments for those involved; then he said goodbye and walked out, ignoring my pleas for him to wait.

I told Jersey that I was sorry, feeling awful just thinking about what happened, but she shook her head at me. “Wasn’t me he tried it on.”

I didn’t need her to say any more; I knew her well enough to read the truth. She had heard the commotion and found a girl in trouble, and she’d stepped in, as blunt and straightforward as always. She had spent months running with the Wolverines; she knew how to handle herself in a brawl. The girl ran off during the fight and Jersey won’t say who it was. All I could get out of her was that it wasn’t Tia.


I don’t know what to do with myself now. I’m glad Matt’s here – he means that I don’t have to go back to the dorms. I don’t want to go back – I don’t want to look at those women and wonder whose turn it is tonight. I don’t want them to ask me when I’m stepping up to take part. I don’t want to do it. Not like that.

All I can think about is footsteps crossing the courtyard outside, furtive movements in a dark building next to the girls’ dorms. We’re making so many compromises to be here, siphoning pieces of ourselves off here and there to fit into this mould.

How will we know if we’ve compromised away everything that makes us who we are?