“How are you defining ‘abuse’?”
Of course he’d ask that. But he didn’t have his own Kept, and as far as Shahin knew, he never had. She lifted an eyebrow at Emrys; he shook his head the tiniest amount.
“That’s a very good question. And it should probably be the first question the Council answers. Where do we draw the line between abuse and simply a heavy-handed Keeping?”
“Not just where.” Sheba leaned forward. “How. How do we stop someone?”
Kai smirked – actually smirked. All the rehearsals really had paid off. “If we get all of the crews – even all of the crews except the one the perpetrator is in – to agree, is there any single Addergoole student that you think could go against us?”
Sheba considered that. “Nobody who’s still here,” she admitted. “And I’m not a hundred percent sure about the ones who left.”
“But how do you expect to get everyone to agree with you?” If Aviv hadn’t asked the question, Emrys would have had to. That was an important one.
Kai took a breath, like she was considering it. “Well, I could point out that my Kept can be incredibly persuasive-” she paused for the giggle that everyone knew was coming, “-but let’s be honest. We all know there are problems. We knew there were problems last year. Did anyone really look at the situation Bowen was in and say that looks like a healthy, safe, sane relationship? There are borderline cases – and those we’ll probably argue about – but there are cases where nobody can honestly say ‘no, that’s not abuse.’ And those are the ones we should be focusing on first.”
“So,” Aviv said slowly, “just to be clear, you’re talking about most of the school ganging up on a Keeper and taking their Kept away.”
“Ty said something. I wasn’t supposed to know about it, but I found out. Last year, when Jamian freed Kendra. Ty said ‘if this was the real world, I’d have challenged Ofir and taken her away.” Kai nodded at Ofir, who tugged on his collar and grimaced.
Xaviera was probably going to let him go some day… Shahin was particular proud of Xav for that one.
“So that’s the intent. If this was the real world, we wouldn’t expect the authority figures to help us. So we shouldn’t here, either. We should do it ourselves.”
“All right.” Rand stood up. “So what you’re saying is rule by the strongest.”
“No.” She quirked her eyebrows at him and actually looked amused. Shahin wanted to cheer. “If I was going to say anything like that, it would be rule by the smartest. No,” she continued, as Rand sat down. “Representative democracy. Each crew has a vote. The votes as a whole decide. If you don’t like the way your crew is voting – change crews or replace your leader. Make sense to everyone?”
There was murmuring and grumbling and then, slowly, agreement.
“All right. So, the first order of business should be to pick your representatives, but I want to mention this before that. Who do you think needs rescuing? Who’s in the worst positions?”’
“Conrad,” joked someone. Shahin didn’t see who it was, but Conrad laughed.
“Nah, I’m good. Come on, guys, pick someone who needs the help.”
“How do we know?” wondered Aviv. “What’s your standard?”
Kailani walked over to him, leaned over, and murmured for a minute. He turned paler and nodded.
That, they hadn’t rehearsed. They hadn’t thought they needed to. Apparently, Kai had come up with an answer anyway.
She went back to her platform. “All right. Who needs it?” She looked around the group.
They shifted uncomfortably. Aviv almost said something, Shahin could feel it. It was Shera who said, “well, I don’t really think we should be interfering. I mean, people need to do what they do, right? People had their turn on the bottom, now they get their turn on top. But if I was going to say anyone – what about Abednego?”
There was some shouting at that, shouting Shahin didn’t quite understand, until Rowan’s voice cut across the noise. “He’s just another Meshach. Besides, he’s not doing badly. He’s usually smiling, he takes part in classes, he’s not starving.”
Shahin couldn’t help herself. She raised her eyebrows and stood up, because she was too short otherwise. “Does it strike anyone as a problem, that that is our standard for ‘okay?’ He’s not starving?”
“You weren’t here when his brothers were! Starving was the least of what they did!” Rowan glared at Shahin. She met the tree-girl’s gaze and didn’t falter.
“And we should not go back there. But we can table Abednego for the moment. Next?”
“What about-” Ofir started, and then shook his head. Shahin glanced at Emrys to see if he’d noticed that. They might need to intervene after all.
Finnegan’s voice was so quiet, they would have missed it if it hadn’t been for Kai’s Working. And he himself had literally faded into the background, so that nobody had noticed him until he spoke. “She looks okay,” he said, just as quietly, “until you actually look.”