tagSci-Fi & FantasyOne in Ten Ch. 02

One in Ten Ch. 02


*Thanks to PokingFun for the wonderful edit*

(There is no sex in this episode - sorry)

(In the One in Ten story line, bad things happen to our protagonist and others. I could be seen as non-consensual, and it is, but that is not the root of the tale. It is about oppression, discrimination, and abuse of power. It is also about human worth, friendship and love. At the base of this fiction is this; if you, as a man, saw a woman quietly suffering through a molestation on a bus, tram, or subway what would you do? Would you come to her rescue, help her afterwards, ignore her, or think less of her for letting it happen in silence? In this story, it is women making those decisions about a man and they are each making different calls. Few are good or evil. They are people. People making choices is the essence of this tale.)

Wednesday's metro trip was surprisingly intense. My only excuse was that I had not put several of the local news outlets on my 'must do first' list. I had planned to do some reading on the ride to work. I had the sickening sensation that more women were paying attention to me than normal and it didn't take them long to close in.

The most unusual things they asked me was if I was 'okay', if I was 'safe' which I thought was a reference to the press conference, and if there was anything they could do. I've heard that last one before but not with that level of compassion and worry. In a strange way, I believed they thought that by hovering close around me they were protecting me, not freaking me out.

I felt like a field mouse caught in a stampeded of lemmings or a hidden gazelle calf being stalked by a leopard. Then I read the local news leads and it all made sense. I had the wrong metaphor. I was a gazelle alright. I was a male gazelle and the lionesses had just figured out that unseen crocodiles had been picking off my brethren at the watering hole.

A subliminal panic was setting in. It wasn't a rational response; such things rarely are. Statistically speaking, there weren't enough men to go around. That was the cold, logical fact that women had learned to deal with - but, most women believed they would be one of the lucky ones, get a male and pass on their genetic heritage.

This morning, the main story was that nearly 2000 men in my age group had gone missing and that the local, state and federal authorities had no leads. Technically, the missing were a very tiny number. It wasn't the number that mattered to the women around me; it was the fact that I symbolized their vanishing opportunity to 'succeed' as a female member of the human race.

Oh yeah, and they even had the local number of male disappearances right - 24. The women had scanned my wrist band that held my sexual identity and verified that I had no attachments. Their instinct was to protect me and hold me close. Not one of them asked me if this was what I wanted, though I could tell some of them noticed the fear in my eyes.

The desperate relief with which I regarded Debra when she approached me on the metro made me feel cowardly ill.

"Debra," I choked out. There was some raw hunger in her countenance, but also some genuine concern over my state of agitation.

"Hey, Israel," she smiled. "Can I - uh - sit with you?"

I hopped out of my metro seat and let Debra take my place. None of the dozen women hovering around abandoned me though.

"Debra?" one of the more aggressive ladies asked - I think her name was Ambrosia. "Yesterday, Debra? Is it true he went down on you right off the bat?"

"Yes and it was divine," Debra giggled. It was too much to hope that either woman would respect my privacy, or private acts. "The actual sex was even better."

"And that was in a bathroom stall," Ambrosia murmured. "Think about what he would be like on a real bed." Debra sighed dreamily. The other women kept crowding in.

Common wisdom was that passive women didn't get a man. They had to get out there and get a male's interest then rope him in. Men could play hard to get, but they were never 'not interested'; that was crazy talk. Thus my shivering was interpreted as repressed sexual tension, not stark raving terror.

Did I have time for something this morning? No, I was already in trouble for being late yesterday. What about this evening? I was buried in work. This weekend? I was attending a Complex Party - neighbors only and I felt obliged to go with the woman who invited me. The irony of me 'escaping' to work was not lost on me.

Security took extra care of me going in. No, they weren't gentle. They seemed to believe I had developed the audacity to kill myself and take a few of them with me as I did. This probably had more to do with the revelation of my 'encounter' in college - no one in authority would call it rape - so I was now considered worthy of special attention. They couldn't call me unstable; I had to do something stupid first.

Back in therapy my doctor told me I was too good looking to be ignored. She told me that was a good thing because it would make women want to protect and nurture me. I would have plenty of partners and make them very happy. I'd do my part and save the World. I have no idea how many of those sorority girls I knocked up, if any.

I was still horrified by the idea that I'd left any of my progeny under any of their care. I could have checked online but since I was powerless to do anything, I didn't torture myself with the knowledge.

I managed to slip into the office with seconds to spare. Bethany came by to check, looking a bit agitated.

"What you said yesterday was uncalled for," she broke down and stated.

"Please, Bethany," I groaned. "Do we..." I stopped myself. I was getting nowhere.

"I was really tired," I tried again. "It was an emotional outburst after a stressful day."

"In that case, I forgive you," Bethany smiled. "You can make it up to me by taking me out to dinner tonight." No, I would rather chew on power lines.

"I'm interested in someone else," I didn't quite lie.

"That woman who came by Monday?" Bethany lectured me. "She's way too old and not really good looking enough. Remember what Ms. Silverhorn said - you only date attractive girls from here on out." Kristi was what - thirty? When did that become too old?

"Detective Kristi isn't that old," I muttered.

"You can do better," she crowded me in my cubicle. In the old days, I heard there were things like staplers and letter openers that cubicle workers could use to defend themselves. Everything at my workstation was bolted down, thus useless as a tool to drive Bethany away.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I evaded.

"Okay," Bethany purred, "but I expect you to take me out to dinner." I fled the room like the eviscerated shell I had devolved into. Shelter came in the form of a stall, sitting on the toilet seat, knees drawn up to my chin. It wasn't courage that helped me fight back the tears. It was the hard won knowledge that tears left the eyes puffy and that would lead to women asking me even more questions I didn't want to answer.

Bethany was back at her own station when I returned. After that, I buried myself in my work. My co-workers stopped by to check up on me with essentially the same inquiries as the metro crowd, but with the added bonus of wanting to exchange contact information with me. This time I surrendered. I had little doubt they couldn't wrangle a favor with someone in Human Resources to give it to them anyway.

At 9:05, my day got worse. A call was forwarded to me. It was the reporter from yesterday's press conference.

"Israel Jensen," I answered.

"Eloise Granger from The Sentinel," she answered. "We chatted briefly yesterday. Do you recall what we discussed?"

"Yes. I see your story went national. Congratulations," I said.

"Do you still feel safe?" she hinted at something I couldn't figure out.

"Sure, why wouldn't I?" I hedged.

"With all the disappearances, I wasn't positive what kind of spin you would put on it," I could see her grin on the screen mocking me.

"If you are fishing for a statement, you are not going to get one," I countered.

"Really?" she snorted. "So four more men in your age range going missing last night doesn't affect you at all?" Oh Mother-fucking God!

"Four nation-wide?" I mumbled.

"No; 96 nation-wide," she supplied. "Only four in the city. We were lucky."

"Right before the story broke?" I pieced things together.

"My goodness," she laughed. "A man capable of independent rational thought. How unique." My rage was yelling at me to say 'blow it out your ass', but that could get me in trouble.

"Well, if I don't show up to work tomorrow you may infer that I am less than pleased with law enforcements progress on this matter," I met her sarcasm with sarcasm of my own, "but for now, I'm not worried." Ms. Granger laughed again. I figured she was a Ms. and not a Mrs. because married women tended to take great pride in their status - kind of rubbing it in people's noses.

"Can I quote you on that?" she chuckled.

"If I say 'no' will it stop you?" I sighed.

"No, but since I'm cultivating you as a contact I thought I would be polite," Granger snickered.

"Is that what this is?" I muttered. "In that case, have a nice day and goodbye," I said before hanging up.

After taking a deep breath, I fired off a message to Ms. Silverhorn with the gist of my talk with Ms. Granger. I was a civil servant with my career skating on the edge. The last thing I needed was for my boss to believe I was leaking anything to the press. Right after I received confirmation from Francesca, a message from Ms. Chen arrived.

*Your presence is requested at a private function this Saturday at 9 p.m. Dress casually. A car service will pick you up at your door at 8:15 p.m. - Bi Chen.*

The only thing I could decide on right away was that there was no way I was going. Come on, no address, clothes that could be easily removed and no hint on when I could expect to get home.

*Thank you for the polite invitation but I must regretfully decline. I have a previous engagement for the date in question. Sincerely, Israel Jensen.*

I had no illusion this was the end of it. Refusing women with power and privilege rarely ended well. I had to plot out my next move.

*Mr. Jensen, the Mayor's office would truly appreciate you reconsidering our generous offer to engage your time this Saturday evening. Best wishes, Bi Chen.*

Not only was that a polite threat, it didn't cross the frontier of sexual harassment - yet. I had to think of the best way to tell her that I would rather spend a night in a coffin full of spiders.

*Ms. Chen, my current circumstances make it impossible for me to break my appointment at this time. I hope you have a nice evening. Israel Jensen.*

My evasion was total crap. It was a complex party; undoubtedly a casual affair that I could exit after a brief appearance. I was unsure how Ms. Chen would penetrate my deception but I'm sure she'd try.

Twenty minutes later I was called to Ms. Silverhorn's office. To emphasize how fucked my situation was, Bethany's look as I passed by was full of concern and sympathy.

"Israel, Ms. Diaz wants you to attend a party Saturday evening," Francesca stated when I entered her office without even looking up from her screen.

"Is that advice, a suggestion, or an order?" I countered. Now Francesca looked up.

"It is advice," she mused. "You are pretending to be rather pugnacious today."

"Advice noted. Can I go back to work now?" I asked.

"Fine," she sighed. "Consider this a suggestion. Going to this private affair will help your career."

"I seriously doubt there will be anyone there I want to meet," I replied. I was clearly losing my mind at this point.

"Isobel Diaz wants you to be there, Israel. I seriously think you should reconsider," Ms. Silverhorn stressed the point.

"That's an extra reason for me not to go," I muttered. "If you make it an order, I want it in writing. Make a note that you are telling me to prostitute myself to your superiors. Whoever's career this helps, it won't be mine so stop pedaling that angle."

"Israel, your attitude hasn't improved since yesterday," she regarded me.

"That's okay. I didn't want to sleep with you anyway," I noted.

"What?" Francesca balked. "Where did that come from?"

"Since you don't respect me as a writer, I assumed you wanted me for sex," I stared.

"Have you lost your damn mind?" she studied me.

"Probably. I thought that treating you like a walking vagina with attachments would help you understand what it is to be treated like a penis with a voice box," I responded.

"That's not your job," she pointed out.

"Neither is providing sexual services to campaign contributors," I stated deadpan. There was no immediate response to that. "May I go back to work now?"

"Go," she dismissed me. I heard her snort with amusement as I left.

I wasn't sure how I made it back to my desk. The next few hours flew by. Wanda, one of my co-workers, ordered us some Indian take-out because the shit storm from the mass kidnapping story was making the group create a variety of spin to deal with the 'crisis'. I was only doing proof-reading but it kept my mind busy and my emotions bottled up.

At 1:30 Ms. Silverhorn came by my desk to see how I was doing. The Mayor wanted me to stand with her at a press conference at 4:30 and Francesca wanted to assess if I was up for it. She wasn't able to judge my current level of stability by looks alone.

"If it wasn't for the Mayor's insistence, I'd keep you back this time," she informed me.

"And don't even think about refusing," she added.

"That never occurred to me," I told her. "This is part of my job description as outlined by you on Monday. You don't need to worry. I'll do my job."

"I hope so. The Mayor isn't going to take the hit if you screw this up, I will," she told me.

I had no real comeback for that. In a quirk of our culture, I could only be held to so much accountability because no group of women would believe a man had real authority. The rest of the experience went pretty much as expected until I came out of the bathroom after 'prepping' myself for the stage.

Selma, Ms. Silverhorn's second in command, began chatting away at me while taking quick peeks at the bulge in my pants. Once past that constant uncomfortable feeling that I was marginalized as a human being, I realized she was giving me a total catalog of useless political tripe to regurgitate to the press if questioned.

I didn't mind (too much) being treated like I was stupid, but I hated acting like a moron. I had never completely abdicated my sense of self-worth. I had more than my share of days where I doubted the wisdom of struggling on. I kept going on anyway and that was why I wouldn't be parroting this garbage if the situation came up.

It came up five questions into the press conference. This time they didn't seek the Mayor's permission. A lady for Global News Network fired one right at me.

"So, Mr. Jensen, after yesterday's boast, how do you feel now?" Maribel Cartwright challenged me. I was still in possession of enough of my faculties to look to the Mayor for permission first.

She grudgingly gave it.

"I am heartened by the willingness of authorities at all levels of government to take this to the press as they work on this dilemma threatening our society," I responded calmly. "No, I do not feel as safe today as I did yesterday," I imagined the Mayor cringing and Ms. Diaz stabbing virtual daggers in my back.

"No one feels safe when threatened by a hurricane. That's living in denial. Panicking, fleeing to the hills or cowering in your basement are also fruitless. To survive as a group, we band together, utilize all our resources and see this crisis through to the end. I am not aware of any agency holding back on this matter," I declared.

"I do not feel safe but I do know that the government, from the Mayor and city council on up, is the only true option that can restore this situation so that all men can feel safe eventually," I concluded. I didn't feel like an idiot. I felt like a traitor to my gender.

Logically I understood that screaming at my brethren that the women couldn't defend us so we would have to defend ourselves was pointless - the establishment would simply sweep my statement away as the ramblings of a deranged crack-pot. So I played nice and kept my job. I fielded a few more questions after that.

The final one was almost too much.

"Mr. Jensen, those are very tight pants you are wearing. You seem happy to see us this afternoon," she chuckled. Yeah, I shivered. For a second I was back to being that gazelle calf, but this time I was surrounded by a pack of hyenas.

"I'm in a room full of beautiful ladies," I forced a grin. "What do you think?" The press corps laughed. The pretty boy made a 'funny'. That was the end of the focus on me. After the conference ended and I entered the elevator, Selma lit into me.

"What the hell was that?" she snapped. "Weren't you listening to the approved responses?"

I took a deep breath; 3 - 2 - 1.

"Your responses were very well thought out," I got out.

"I don't need your approval, young man," Selma snapped. "You are only to say what we tell you to say. You were hired for your looks, not for any imaginary intelligence you mistakenly think you possess."

"Give him a second, Selma," Francesca commanded.

"Your answers were nice Selma and they will appeal to your female audience and will be repeated in a thousand other mediums," I tried to explain.

"Men don't elect candidates, women do," Selma pointed out.

"We are 8.5% of the city's population," I countered.

"Men don't vote," she reposed. "Less than half of the male population goes to the polls."

"And they're not going to vote if all they hear is a woman's perspective on everything," I insisted.

"Francesca," Selma grumbled.

"Israel stepped out of bounds. Unfortunately for us, he's right. The Mayor won't get any kind of national coverage spouting the exact same thing every other ass-covering agency is repeating over and over again," Francesca reasoned.

"Israel, I want you to look up the definition of the word 'aggressive' when we get back to the office. You clearly aren't able to pin it down to my satisfaction," Ms. Silverhorn added. Her phone rang as we were about to step out on our floor. She held out a hand to stop me.

"Selma, start running down the whole 'community in a hurricane' angle. Israel and I will be back soon - I hope," she told her senior subordinate.

I stayed at Ms. Silverhorn's side as she directed the elevator to go two stories up - the chief executive of the city's floor. Ms. Chen showed us straight to Ms. Diaz's office.

"Nice approach, Francesca," Isobel Diaz began. "The Mayor likes it but next time feed us some of the proper keywords. We don't like playing catch up, unless Israel went off the charted path."

Yes, I was in the room and they were talking about me, but I wasn't part of the conversation.

"Israel didn't do anything I don't approve of," Francesca came to my defense. "Those were his words but I feel this is the right position to put the Mayor at the front of this issue."

"So Mr. Jensen, what is your seasoned political opinion on this issue?" Isobel regarded me.

'Thank you for being a bitch' didn't seem to fit the situation.

"Everyone and their mother will be telling the women of this nation that there is no crisis and the government will deal with this. Sadly, that's a lie and it's such a pathetic lie on the scale of expecting a wet tissue to stop a monorail going full speed," I stared into her eyes.

"Women don't care that it is only two thousand men; at least that was the count this morning - it may have gone up since then. They aren't like you and your friends. They may date once or twice a year and despite what they are being told, they are seeing their dating life being cut in half or completely eliminated," I stated.

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