(Some people may find aspects of this story disturbing. If you find reading about rape survival and self defense upsetting, do not read what follows.)
“You tell her, sir.”
“No, I value my life. You tell her.”
Commander “Rachel Na Gael” pretended not to hear the voices coming through the open door to the lab. Instead she glared at the image on the electron microscope’s display and adjusted the sample holder a fraction of a hair. The next scan revealed what she’d been looking for, and she smiled. So you are imported. And just who dropped you here and why, hmmm? Whatever the plant was, it had not taken root or bloomed before dying. At least, before it appeared to have died, which is what had attracted the attention of the botanist who’d sent the remains to the 58th Regiment. Rachel had made certain of its demise before trying to identify it. Only an idiot or rank amateur would try to hide an exotic plant in Kew Gardens.
She sat up, stretching her stiff back. “Commander?” Major Rahoul Khan called.
“Yes?” She twisted around so she could see both him and Capt. Kwame Ngobo standing by her desk. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“It seems that you need to go with some of the new personnel to a briefing on diversity and harassment in the forces,” the Ghanaian adjutant informed her.
Rahoul saw the glint in Rachel’s eye and waited. She didn’t disappoint. “Is this is a how-to session? If so, I can find several witnesses who will attest that I’m quite diverse in whom I harass.”
“No. And you need to at least act as if you agree with the facilitator,” Rahoul warned. “Orders from Horseguards.”
“The 58th Regiment is the most international, multi-whatever unit on the British Isles, there’ve been no complaints of harassment for over a year, and I still have to go be lectured about not whistling at men in kilts?” She rolled her eye and returned to work. “Very well, sir. Let me know when and where, and if I need to wear cosmetics, please.”
She heard departing footsteps and Ngobo observing, “That went better than I’d feared, sir.”
Rachel grinned in an evil way as she heard Rahoul reply, “That worries me, Ngobo. It worries me greatly.”
Two weeks later Commander Na Gael and a dozen of the junior officers and senior noncommissioned officers checked in at the Royal Air Force base at Saffron-Waldron. As she’d feared, the two groups were sorted by rank and sex, female officers on one side of the room, men on the other, NCOs elsewhere. Rachel raided the tea urns at the back of the room and got a mug to go with her water, then found a seat in the middle of the muddle. She’d brought her sturdiest walking cane, the one with the dragon on top, and she propped it in plain sight against the edge of the table. A mix of RAF, army, and 58th Regiment personnel, three-dozen or so total, trickled into the room. She was the only civilian female present, Rachel noticed.
As they waited for the “facilitator,” one Ms. Patricia Smith from Diversity Solutions LTD, Rachel read through the first pages of the packet. Blessed Bookkeeper, this is the most vapidly poisonous drivel I’ve laid eye on, which is saying a great deal. I wonder what Col. Adamski would have said about this? Since Ingwe Adamski cursed fluently in at least ten languages and dialects, he’d probably have issued descriptions and maledictions of heroic proportions. We got along fine with “no sex however your species’ define it in the barracks or while on duty, no discussing religion or politics, and no fighting over loot with witnesses around.” Well, she had to admit, there had been a few more rules, but those were the basics. But then Adamski had assumed that his troopers could conduct themselves like mature adults, something the writer of the pamphlets apparently disagreed with.
A bell jangled and Rachel looked up to see the facilitator/mediator clanging a small hotel bell on the podium at the front of the room. “Good morning. I’m Pat Smith of Diversity Solutions. I’ll be facilitating today’s discussions. I have a degree in gender studies from,” and she listed her credentials. The only words that came to Rachel’s mind to describe the woman were “round brown.” Brown hair styled in a spikey trim, brown eyes, tan skin, a round face, a tan and light-brown pants suit on a round body, and round-rimmed glasses hanging from a black cord around Ms. Smith’s neck. Well, she certainly looks neutral. She also reminded Rachel of a polyp species she’d encountered somewhere.
The first hint of a problem came after an hour, when they’d gotten through all the cautionary language and euphemisms that would be use to keep from offending anyone. Except when Ms. Smith intended to offend people, Rachel assumed. “Before we begin talking about sexual harassment, this is a trigger warning.” The soldiers looked at each other, perplexed. Rachel automatically glanced at her sidearm, confirming the safety before Smith continued, “I will be using the words rape, sexual harassment, dominance, manipulation, and will describe scenes that may distress some of you.” She focused her attention on the women. “Have any of you suffered unwanted sexual advances?”
All but two women raised their hands, as did half of the men. Rachel smothered a grin as she lowered her hand. “Ms. Na Gael, I noticed your hand up. Would you be willing to share your experiences?”
Rachel shrugged. “I’ve fended off passes before, back before all this,” and she waved at her blind eye. “Been gang raped once. I don’t recommend the experience.”
Smith went pale. “Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry, Ms. Na Gael. How did you respond to your experience?” She peered at Rachel with an overly earnest expression that set Rachel’s teeth on edge.
“Ms. Smith, I prefer to go by ‘Miss’ or ‘Commander.’ If you mean how did I respond to the rapists, I killed them. Killed their employer as well.” She leaned back in her chair and added, “If you mean the men who made passes at me, I ignored them, or I disciplined them as appropriate if they were under my command.” A boot on the instep also works, but that’s probably not recommended by your manual.
Several people clapped softly and Rachel acknowledged the applause. Ms. Smith, on the other hand, took two steps backwards and stared at Rachel as if she’d just turned into a giant, electric-green, poison-slime covered boa constrictor. For the next hour she pretended that Rachel no longer existed, which suited Commander Na Gael quite nicely.
Smith pointed to another woman, a masculine-looking individual sitting near the front. “You said that you experienced harassment, Wing Commander?”
“Yes. While a Pilot Officer, one of the warrants insisted on playing music with offensive lyrics where I could hear them. When I protested, he claimed that the other men in the shop liked the music, so I had to involve the base commander to have the men disciplined.” Her tone irritated Rachel as the woman seemed to alternate between whining and bragging.
You were an officer, so why not just order them to turn off the music? As I recall, music in the work areas is prohibited as a safety precaution anyway.
Four other women, and one man who struck Rachel as being a little off, all described their experiences. Only one sounded at all like what she would have called “harassment,” and the brief description of abuse made Rachel want to track the woman’s cousin down and beat him senseless. The rest were so petty that Rachel would have either ignored them or simply told the other party to stop. Apparently this was not what Ms. Smith believed to be the proper solution.
Instead, Ms. Smith spent two painful hours describing the proper procedure for dealing with people of the opposite sex. That is, proper if every heterosexual male really did walk around planning on how he could attack, insult, or malign every female that came in sight. Even worse, in Rachel’s mind, was the constant repetition of the idea that any human with two X chromosomes lived only seconds away from becoming a helpless victim. Smith’s sideways looks and a few of her snide remarks gave Rachel the distinct impression that Ms. Smith felt Rachel would have been better off dying instead of killing her attackers. The idea angered Rachel to the point that she caught herself starting to shift into her true form. She began reciting Azdhagi verb conjugations in her head to help herself to calm down.
At the first break, Rachel visited the head, then made a point of introducing herself to the men in the group. All but one of the men looked around to make certain that no one else could overhear before replying, and two avoided both physical contact and eye contact with her. The exception, a greying Army major, gave her hand a hearty shake. “You really killed the bastards?”
“Yes, Major. I don’t recall all the details, but I do remember thinking that they’d never been taught how to fight together. When I go berserker, the details blur,” she shrugged.
He nodded. “I know some men like that. Great in a fight if all you need to do is aim them at something. Not so good when you need them to write-up after-action reports.”
“Afghanistan?” She guessed.
“And, well, someplace wetter.”
Rachel chuckled. “That only describes nine-tenths of the planet, Major. Could you be a little more vague?” He smiled and they returned to the classroom.
The next two hours focused on racism and what Ms. Smith called, “white skin privilege.” As best Rachel could tell, according to Ms. Smith, everyone on the planet who’d been born with only the minimum amount of coloring in their skin had also been born in possession of rank and station far beyond their deserts. That some pale humans suffered from worse economic conditions than some darker-hued humans made no difference. Paleness and a distant European ancestor meant that such people owed the rest of the planet for the offenses of their ancestors.
At one point, Rachel couldn’t keep from raising her hand.
“Ah, yes, Ms. Na Gael?”
“I’m not a historian, so perhaps I misunderstand, but you are saying that only Europeans conquered other peoples?”
The round brown woman paused, flipping through her notes. “No, Ms. Na Gael, but European domination carried with it far greater destruction and immiseration than that imposed by other groups. There is no historical parallel with, for example, Cortez’s destruction of the Aztec Empire, or Pizarro’s massacre of the Incas. Only European Christians committed genocide.”
“Ah, thank you. For some reason I’d thought that the Mongols were pagan, not Christian, when they destroyed Merv, Nishapur, and massacred much of the population of Baghdad, including the caliph.” Rachel pretended to make notes as Smith turned from brown to pink. But she seemed unable to find a retort or reply to Rachel’s comment, so she turned back to her tinned program and advanced to the next lecture point and slide. Rachel made a little score mark at the bottom of the page. Thus far her tally ran two for Rachel and one for Smith.
By the end of the morning, Rachel had sorted out the ranks Ms. Smith proposed. Caucasian, English speaking men ranked at the bottom, unless they were homosexual. East Asian men ranked next lowest. Then came brown men, especially those from Africa. Apparently the highest rank belonged to lesbian tribal women from Africa who worked in the United States, or so Rachel calculated. This has to be one of the foulest caste systems I’ve come across, which is saying a great deal. The more you’ve been beat up and impoverished, the better you are, as long as you’re not a Roman Catholic. Unless you are a woman in a male-dominated, non-European society, because you are supposed to prefer being beaten, overworked, and dying in childbed to other options. For the first time in quite a while Rachel felt herself growing queasy over an idea.
The dinner break provided a much-needed pause. Rachel checked her messages before joining the food line. She got milk, a chicken breast, and what seemed to be tapioca pudding, and settled down away from the others. The army major, Edward Potter, and Lt. Ned Miller from the regiment joined her. “Not a vegetarian, ma’am?” Ned inquired.
“No. Salad is what food eats.” Ned laughed at her joke and applied himself to the mystery casserole.
The “tapioca” proved to be rice pudding in disguise, and Rachel cleansed her palate with a piece of dried beef. “Would you care for some?” she offered the gentlemen.
Potter took a slice. “Where do you get this?” he asked after trying a bite.
“There’s a butcher shop not far from where I work that makes it. Apparently it’s a village tradition.”
“Here’s to tasty tradition, then,” and he devoured the rest of the slice. “You realize that you are consorting with the enemy, Commander?”
“Oh yes. I’m exhibiting false consciousness, consorting with the enemy, failing to recognize that women are a class for themselves as well as a class of themselves, I’m supporting the patriarchy,” she counted off on her fingers. “Oh, and not doing my bit to improve outreach to traditionally marginalized peoples. I always forget that one.”
Lt. Miller’s eyes went wide and he gulped. “Don’t let Ms. Smith hear you, please, Commander. She’ll punish us.”
There’s not a great deal that she can do to me, you do realize? Nothing to compare to what I’ve been through already. But Smith could damage Miller’s fitness report, that was true.
Major Potter seemed as unimpressed as Rachel, if more diplomatic. “You’re read Marx, then, Commander?”
“Yes, The German Ideology and Kapital, in the original German. It does not improve his writings. I fear I am still not convinced of the glowing future of economic collectivism.”
Potter nodded and finished his tea. “If you will excuse me? I need to step outside for a moment.”
“Certainly.” Smoking on base? I’m completely shocked at such a thing, she snorted.
The next two hours made Rachel want to crawl out the window. They had to do skits about harassment and how to respond to it. Which would possibly have been useful, except in every single case, the solution to a mean word or rude gesture seemed to be to run to someone in authority and complain. They each drew lots for which character to play, and Rachel winced when she saw hers. You have a sick sense of humor, she thought at her deity. She was supposed to play a paraplegic being attacked by a rapist. I wonder what Smith would do if I claimed off by citing PTSD?
Instead Rachel played herself. When the “rapist,” played by Major Potter, came after her, she yelled, “Get away from me,” and picked up the closest heavy object, then heaved it at his head. He ducked, but barely, and the three-ring binder brushed his hair before slamming into the wall. He mimed staggering back and she pretended to wheel herself out of the way.
“Ah, that’s very resourceful, Ms. Ma Gael,” Ms. Smith allowed. “But what if you had nothing to throw. If you are in your bedroom, alone? Or in the lavatory?”
“Ms. Smith, there is always something that can be used. And I work in a laboratory, which means I have rapid access to lots and lots of dangerous chemicals that I could throw, pour, or otherwise use to incapacitate or kill an attacker. If I’m in my bedroom, then I’d shoot or stab him.” Rachel kept her tone matter-of-fact, unnerving Ms. Smith.
“But you’re not allowed to have weapons at home,” Smith protested. “And if you try and defend yourself, the robber could overpower you and take your knife.”
Which is why you shoot the bastard before he gets that close, Rachel snarled. “Ms. Smith, the most important weapon is the one between your ears. You’ve been saying that women and LGBTQ individuals need to assert themselves and achieve self-empowerment. That means planning for the unthinkable.”
“But not that way. You really should call for help and ring the police first. Ms. Na Gael.” Rachel took that for dismissal and returned to her seat. The major winked at her and she winked back.
Ms. Smith spent the rest of the period pretending that Rachel no longer existed. Instead she focused her attention on Lt. Miller, making him miserable, and on the women near the front of the room, who seemed most inclined to lap up every word. Rachel re-wrote each scenario in her mind, so she wouldn’t pull her fur out.
The last two-hour block included tips for reducing discrimination in the military and society as a whole. Instead of common sense things like, “treat people as you want to be treated,” and “don’t act like an ass,” or “no means no so quit,” Ms. Smith lectured on empowerment through legislative action, forming groups if you have to go out at night, and that sort of thing. Because nothing draws predators like a flock of terrified sheep, Rachel thought.
The final straw landed on Rachel’s back when Ms. Smith began discussing the role of diet and aggression. “One of the best solutions is dietary change. Naturalists have long known that a diet low in animal protein and high in plant protein, especially soy and legumes, leads to lower societal aggression as well as better health. It is also better for nature. Cattle are one of the leading contributors to the greenhouse gasses causing climate change and the current global warming.”
Before Rachel could protest, Ms. Smith added, “This is why native peoples and vegetarian societies such as the pre-contact Hindu in India were so peaceful and had such a low incidence of violence. Diversity Solutions is encouraging the military to remove all animal products from mess halls and commissaries for this reason, and if that is not possible, at least to stop serving meat on a regular basis. A pure vegetarian diet is halal and kosher, as well, thus reducing the cultural imposition on non-western, formerly subaltern groups.”
Ms. Smith stared at Rachel. “Excuse me?”
“I said bingo.” With an absolutely straight face Rachel explained, “You just filled in the last square. I’ve got bad science, wrong data, Marxism, cissexual, empowerment, and the patriarchy.”
Smith’s mouth opened and closed, and her face turned an angry red. “Ms. Na Gael, that is . . . is . . . uncalled for. I’ve tolerated your unwillingness to participate because of your traumatic experiences, but this is too much.”
“No, ma’am, your bad data are too much. According to Lynn and Nishihara’s latest article in South Asian Anthropology, the percentage violent death rate among New Guinea tribal members far exceeded that of westerners. The same is also true of the Native peoples of the pre-contact American Southwest, as several anthropologists and archaeologists have shown, as have oral traditions of the people there. And the historical records of pre-Contact India, as you call it, include multiple accounts of wars conducted by Hindus against other Hindus as well as against Muslims.”
Rachel pushed on, “Diet has nothing to do with it, and in fact, converting the world to vegetarianism will mean the end of all native ecosystems in arable areas, because of the enormous amount of land required. And without animals to provide manure, you have to accept either reduced crop yields or use more synthetic fertilizers. And you’d have to kill all domestic livestock, leaving their corpses to rot, which will produce staggering amounts of methane, carbon dioxide, and other gasses.” She stopped there, in part because Ms. Smith had begun to cry.
“You’re being a bully!”
“I’m quoting data. Blame the data.” Rachel returned to making notes and Ms. Smith and another woman left the room. After a few minutes Smith returned and passed out exams to everyone except Rachel.
“I’m reporting you for obstructing my efforts and for bullying me,” Smith said.
“Feel free.” Rachel pulled her “cell phone” out of its belt case. “I have a recording if you want to use it.”
Smith hurried off and Rachel put the phone back. She didn’t really have a recording, but as she’d guessed, the idea stopped Ms. Smith cold.
That evening Major Khan cornered Rachel in the lab. “Commander, what’s this about you ruining the diversity presentation?”
“I corrected the presenter’s last bit of statistical data is all. And I gave her my personal answer to her scenario instead of the one she wanted.”
Khan didn’t want to know, but asked anyway. “What was your personal answer?”
“I said that I’d kill anyone who broke into my room to rape me.” She rumpled her tail in a shrug.
“That would upset someone of her background,” Khan allowed, one hand over his eyes.
And Rachel never, ever had to attend diversity training ever again.