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Dinah Lance blondecanary
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Room 312, Saturday night
Post-luau, Dinah was playing with Camille in her room, music on and thinking of everything that had happened over the last two weeks, including vampires, demons, boys-who-were-girls, and presents and the party and everyone else there.

Loooots to think about.

[for one blonde witch]

Karla just shrugged a bit. Being a Consort doesn't carry the same connotations as being a whore. It is a respected and highly-sought after position in the Court. The inner triangle around the Queen is her Consort, her Master of the Guard, and her Steward. And his duties extend far beyond just sex. Like any other member of the First Circle, he is bound up in the life of the Queen, her decisions, and her decrees. All members of a Court draw a stipend for their service, whether they're First Circle or Thirteenth, Consort or kitchenmaid."

Huh. Dinah was asking some really tough questions. On the one hand, it made things difficult, because Karla had to think about her answers and thus spent less time focused on Dinah. On the other hand, it was certainly giving Dinah other things to think about.

"Consorts are contractual, with the option to renew the contract once it expires. And it takes the consent of both parties to renew the contract, so it's not like some poor male will be trapped as a Consort for life or anything. And, technically, contracts can be dissolved at anytime, too. But in cases where it truly is a love-match, like with my parents, the contracts are made out for years at a time. Or they agree to a lifetime contract." Sealed with blood, but what Dinah didn't know wouldn't squick her out.

"Marriage, however, is different than Queen and Consort. And everyone hopes those will last forever, too, but we also have divorce. My parents never married. My father was a bastard and was a little ashamed of that. So he decided to remain my mother's Consort. She was saddened by that, but understood. Social rank weighs the least when it comes to power, but it still has weight."

By the time Dinah was done asking her last set of questions, Karla was practically chewing on her bottom lip, trying to pin down vague emotions with words. "I...don't know," Karla answered eventually. "Morton will be my First Escort, so I don't need a Consort. And so much of my heart is already taken up by my devotion to Witch and my love for the land and people that I'm not sure I have enough for the kind of love it takes to have a marriage or a permanent Consort. Assuming I could even find someone who could tolerate me for an extended period of time like that. I like the happily-ever-afters of my romance novels, but I don't know if I truly expect to ever have one."

"Hunh." Dinah was quiet a minute, thinking about that, then quietly said, "How do they feel about the girls in the Red Moon Houses? Is that just another job?" She looked away for a minute, then finally admitted, "I didn't like feeling like I was a... client at one of those places. Or maybe I was the sex worker. I'm mostly over that now. I did what I had to, so I'd be able to eat. But it didn't help at the time, not with how unhappy we both were."

"Life-time contract... yeah, that isn't very different from here, really. Although your dad was being-- well, I don't want to say silly. But. Hey, I have no idea who my dad is. I could be illegitimate too. It shouldn't matter. That's down to the parents, not the kid, and sometimes there's reasons for that too." Dinah thought of Merlin's embarrassment when she'd asked what his last name was, that he didn't have one because he didn't know his dad either. "People stopped really caring about that here about a generation ago. It's not fair that it's still an issue in Kaeleer." She looked at Karla. "I'm glad your parents loved each other, though. And you got to be around that when you were a kid."

Dinah squeezed Karla's hand at her last answer, and was quiet a minute. "I have my sisters, and the rest of my family. My friends. New Gotham, and everyone I have to protect." Her voice got softer. "Maybe I want a boyfriend now because I don't think..." She looked away. "I don't know if it'll even be possible, people from the future aside, for me to have that. There might be a lot of guys like Matt who are not okay with me being a crimefighter, or guys who don't want to deal with me being in danger or busy a lot. And I won't be able to tell them the truth until I'm sure. Too risky. I can tell people here because they're awesome and it won't get back to New Gotham. Anyone I tell the truth there, about my powers or the crimefighting... it's a risk."

"Whores get about as much respect there as they do here," Karla said, frowning. "If they work in Red Moon Houses that cater to aristos exclusively, they might be able to command a bit more respect, but not much. Red Moon workers are better off than whore who work the streets because they not considered 'fit' to grace a House, but..." she trailed off. "They're both pretty far down on the social ladder. But you do what you need to in order to survive and I feel there's no shame in that. And at least whores peddle their own flesh. But that's what you need to remember."

"Legitimacy is structured differently in Kaeleer than it is here," Karla said, stating the blindingly obvious. "I am no bastard, though my parents never wed. Paternity was acknowleged as part of the Birthright Ceremony and my father's name is recorded in the records at the Keep. That's the only thing that counts: the affirmation or denial of paternity of the child by the mother. And illegitimacy doesn't have to matter--Uncle Saetan is the bastard son of a gutter whore. But my father was from Little Terreille and they do things differently there." She shrugged again. "We don't have much to do with them."

She listened to Dinah's explanation with sympathy and uderstanding. "Here, you can be yourself. There, you're going to have to hide who you are and then hope that whomever likes the true you when he discovers it. Your options are to lie or to endanger people. Those...aren't good options." She gathered Dinah in for a fierce hug. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah." And knowing how long Tony had stood it, and Jack's reactions, had wiped out a lot of her embarrassment over what happened to her. "There's girls my age on the streets of New Gotham. Younger than you, even." Dinah sighed. "It's not legal here. But they arrest the prostitutes more often than their clients, and all the shame goes on them, not on the people using them, so... hard to make it stop."

"I don't have a copy of my birth certificate. I don't know what my mom put down for my father's name." Dinah took a last sip of her wine, and rubbed her head. "She was undercover most of my life. Living under other names so she could trap bad guys. Barbara's working on a paper trail to find out who my dad was, but who knows if she'll find the right documentation."

She hugged Karla back, glad she got it. "Yeah," she whispered. "Kind of sucks." But. Karla was right. Better a guy worth waiting for, than just ... well, hell. Look at Raven, and how well that worked out. "I have the world's best friends though. And family. I won't die alone, or of being lonely." Cold comfort, but true.

"Why is prostitution illegal?" Karla asked, puzzled by yet another seeming-hypocrisy of this world. "Sex is legal. Selling is legal. Selling sex should be legal, too, so long as one is of proper age of consent and doing it without coercion. Very few people want to be a whore, I'm sure, but that's different than being forced into the lifestyle. Still, prostitution seems to me a very natural occupation, for all that it can be unsavory."

Karla wasn't certain what a birth certificate was, but she assumed it was something similar to the book of records back at the keep. "What does undercover mean?" she asked, since she doubted the term had anything to do with blankets. "And why would that make it hard to find your father?"

Maybe it did have something to do with blanket. Was Dinah's mother a whore? Then where did bad guys come in?

"You do have friends who love you very much," Karla said with a soft smile. "And, no, you won't die alone or lonely. But that doesn't mean that it's selfish to wish for more. Who doesn't want more love in their lives?"

"Because I think it's a public health thing? Or supposed to be. Passing along disease. But really it's because people don't approve, and want people not to do that." Dinah grimaced. "Which makes it even harder to make it stop when the hypocrisy is figured in. And age of consent here is eighteen, so when it's thirteen-year-olds... well. Legal working age is sixteen. Most of them don't have other choices. Or are drug addicts. Or both." She was quiet a second, then said, "Could've been me. If Helena hadn't found me. And Barbara hadn't given me a place to live. I was almost sixteen when I left home. I like to think I wouldn't have done that, but."

Dinah smiled, then sobered. "Undercover means working under another identity for the police. My mom was an agent who worked on gathering information on organized crime cartels for the government. They get jobs with the mobsters, pretend to be criminals too, then turn incriminating documents and witnesses and testimony over to the special prosecutors. Usually it's only supposed to last weeks, or months. For my mom it was years." She grimaced. "Including around the time I was born. My mom had a lot of her records and mine sealed or erased to protect me." She was quiet. "I don't know if she loved my dad, if he was just some guy she met, or if she was one of the bad guys she had to make nice with and who's in jail now. A lot of her associates from back then are dead or living under other identities. So... it's hard to know where to start." Softer, she said, "I don't want to end up like her. She was so bitter, before she died. She gave up a lot to do her job."

"Yeah. It would be nice to have someone." Dinah shook her head. "But I'm only here a year longer, at most. And-- you're right. Better the right guy, then the really wrong guy."

Karla sniffed disdainfully. "I cannot believe your Healers would choose to allow your people to go about untreated just because they disapprove of their profession. If they'd just cure the whores, then that's one last thing to be a problem, right?" Karla had a slightly skewed vision of how things worked. And a slight tendency to blame malice when simple idiocy was at work.

"Though you're right about pressing young children into service. That's just wrong. And would result in execution back home. Rape is defined as sexual contact without consent and that counts for people incapable of giving consent. Though I cannot blame a child for turning to prostitution in order to survive. Though where are your versions of Queens and Priestesses to care for children with no one else to turn to? I know you don't have any Queens, but surely someone must be responsible for such things."

Dinah's explanation of what 'undercover' meant was listened to and absorbed with fascination, as Kaeleer had nothing like it. "Crime is so organized here that it requires special infiltration? Neat." But her amusement fled as Dinah continued talking about her mother. "Regardless of his identity, your mother chose you," Karla said. "She wanted to give you life. After your birth, circumstances might have forced her to part from you, but she loved you enough to bear you, even under those circumstances. I think that says a lot."

"Well, some of the diseases we have, you may not know you have them for a while, and you can pass them along because you're not showing symptoms," Dinah said, half-thinking aloud. "We don't have magic, so they'd have to go in and get tested, and some of the street prostitutes would be scared to. There's one, HIV, that's deadly. And you can carry it for years before you start getting sick." She sighed. "And there's free clinics, and doctors, and there's churches who try to help, priests and yeah, nuns." She thought of Tony, on the street at thirteen, keeping her thoughts shielded and said quietly, "And some of them, the smart, tough ones, they make it out. But it's not easy."

"Helena's family founded I don't know how many places to help out poor people, or try to reach runaways, just in New Gotham. The Thomas Wayne free clinics, the Martha Wayne homes for children, the Bruce Wayne Shelters... but there's so many people who need it, Karla. And some of them are too proud, or too dumb, or too scared to ask for help. They think it's a scam, or they'll have to change their religion, or they've committed small crimes they don't want anyone knowing about. They're afraid of official attention. They think their lives are better if they're invisible." Dinah grimaced. "It's getting better. A lot of the big organized crime family lieutenants got put away last year. And Harley Quinn's still in Arkham." A combination of loathing and cheer there. "But still. The city is just huge. People fall through the cracks. The mentally ill. The addicted. The ones with no one who cares."

"Organized crime-- the mob, the rackets, the gangs-- yeah. In big cities with a port, it becomes like any other business, only more violent. Illegal gambling, drugs, prostitution, protection rackets." Dinah made a face, then couldn't help the pride in her voice. "My mom put the heads of the Hawke family away for good, after two years working with them. An air-tight case." And died for it. That's how... Dinah cut that thought off quick, but knew Karla had probably heard it. "I wish... I wish there'd been time, to ask questions about my dad before she died," she said softly. "But there was so much else going on. And it was so fast. Barbara had worked with her years before, and she didn't even know my mom had a kid. That's how well she hid me." I know she loved me. And I loved her. It just never made anything easy.

"But can't your Healers just fix them when they do go in? I mean, we can't necessarily Heal everything--some diseases and injuries are too far gone--but if you can goes years before the symptoms manifest, surely it can be Healed before it gets too bad?" Karla sounded almost plaintive. She knew that some poisons, like witchblood, couldn't be Healed, but those few things she couldn't actually effect were far and few in between. Here, Dinah was making them sound distressingly common.

"I'm glad there are people who are trying to help people in positions like that," she said. "Especially children." Still, Dinah's wording bothered her. 'And some of them, the smart, tough ones, they make it out.' It reminded her of those who didn't; the ones who became the cildru dyathe. "I'm not surprised that your family is among those helping. I've heard of some cities that sound like your New Gotham. Draega, the captitol of Hayll, in Terreille. So big that people can keep to the cities and never be seen. But I...I can't really comprehend that. Elena keeps talking about slums and I don't entirely understand what that means. I mean, we have the mentally ill, the addicted, even the petty criminals. Just...not like the way you're talking about."

"Some of them, yeah. But some of the medicines are expensive, and they don't have money for them. And the doctors don't have enough free samples for everyone." Dinah sighed. "And no, HIV doesn't have a cure. Just a treatment. You're still a carrier. It leaves them open to secondary infections, and... it's a really ugly way to go. If they use condoms, it's a lot harder to catch, but some people don't want to. And it's not a guarantee. Sharing a needle for drugs is a way to catch it too."

"Elena's city has them?" Dinah tried to think of how to explain, then rolled her eyes at herself. "I can show you. Slowly. If you want to see?" She held out her hand, watching Karla carefully.

"No treatment?" Karla asked, looking horrified. "That's awful! And your Heal--doctors don't have enough money to treat people? Why aren't your ruling people giving them the money necessary to treat them? You don't just let your people walk around sick and untreated!" Karla was actually doing a credible imitation of Francine's 'You are my brain on drugs' expression.

It was probably a really good thing that Karla didn't watch the news.

"I think I have to," she said, taking Dinah's hand. "All these things you're talking about...I don't understand them. But I need to. Maybe then things like your doctors and your laws will start to make sense."

"They're hard and expensive to make, and ... well, our government is trying to change that right now. But some members of our ruling bodies can only see the downsides, of how much it will cost. Or how difficult to distribute fairly." Dinah's face was sad. "And at first, it was only prostitutes, and homosexuals. And the ugly, ugly truth, is people didn't care. For way too long." She still didn't know if Tony had ever been tested. Was afraid to ask. Sometime, when they were both really calm, she'd get the nerve. Not yet, though. "And there's always someone who says they deserve it, or that it's unsolvable, why try?"

Dinah took a breath, and centered herself, trying to think where to start, and then decided: as if it were a normal patrol. Closing her eyes, she put her hand in Karla's, and let herself see New Gotham...

...The edge of Crime Alley; not the slums yet, but the low-rent district. After midnight. A slow walk down the street. A convenience store still open on one corner, lights shining in the dark, one cashier looking nervous behind the counter. Streetlights shining on the street, traffic lights blinking their after-2-am pattern of red-yellow, red-yellow. A few other people on the street, hurrying fast, New Gotham-wary-walk. Eyes open, watching Dinah approaching, giving space as they hurried home, or to their cars down the street, past a movie theater that would be closing soon. A patrol car, slowly going down the street, officers checking the pedestrians, eyes hard and professional.

A turn down onto Robinson. Narrower street. One streetlight burnt out. Another one, farther down, deliberately broken. Sirens in the distance. No one there along the sidewalk. An argument happening on a stoop; two men, low-voiced and angry, glaring at Dinah as she passed by, picking up their conversation in hushed tones as she got farther away. A man above, his voice drifting out of a window: I told you not to buy that crap for my dinner, Matty. Why the hell you never listen to me? A baby crying that almost covered the sound of a slap. Or a punch.

Windows with bars on them. Doors with double-locks.

Another turn down the street. And now the hookers could be heard, one block over: Hey baby, you lookin' fine, you wanna party? Yeah? A dog barking. No lights at all. Walking faster, keeping closer to the walls.

A fight spilling out of bar down the street, no one stopping it, just men letting it go by. A few laying bets.

"How dare the government just not care about about certain people, just because they don't agree with their lifestyles!" Karla exlaimed. "They're still people! They don't just get discounted and ignored!"

"And what do you mean, 'too expensive'?" She was confused and indignant at once. "What else are they going to spend all that money on?" For all that Karla was wise and wordly in many ways, there were just as many that she was pig-ignorant of. The concept of not having enough money was one. She understood, intellectually, that poverty and want existed. She had even seen it first-hand. But that didn't mean she understood it.

Dinah's vision helped with that, a little. Not just the images, but the emotions that echoed down the link as well, Dinah's ingrained emotional responses. "Those are slums?" she asked.

They didn't seem so bad. About as bad as the worst of Glacia's cities.

"Karla-- sometimes they just don't have the money. The government's in debt here. They're fighting a war overseas. The economy took a big hit last year, a lot of mistakes made with businesses, lots of people out of work. Even rich people in this country are having to make adjustments, and a lot of them already give to charity." Dinah wasn't certain if Karla's experience of rich/poor was so different, or if like Priestly, she felt everyone should share the wealth. Maybe if she could show her...


The scene changed, and Dinah-in-her-mind turned into the Narrows. "This is."

Named because the streets were so narrow only one person could walk down a street at a time. Tenements on either side. Overflowing garbage dumpsters, abandoned and not picked up in days. A grubby man in a patched coat was rooting through one, and stopped to sample a discarded chicken wing from a KFC bucket, still standing in the dumpster. He ducked down as they walked by. No lights. Dirty water flowing over into the gutters from broken siding above.

An old lady dragging a shopping cart rumbled past the mouth of the alley, talking to herself. And I said, I said to him, no, I ain't goin', you can't make me go... Exiting the alley, Dinah's gaze followed her down the street as she stopped to put her trashbags of possessions back in her cart as they fell ove. She didn't notice them, carried on her angry conversation with herself, then kept moving. A man darted out to grab a bag off her cart, and she screeched, furious, but couldn't abandon the rest of her stuff.

More noise here, more people, too many people in too little space. Everyone inside who could be. And those who couldn't....

On one of the stoops, a group of kids, not much older than them. Some were smoking, the strong smell of marijuana mixed with something else. One of them coughed wetly, looking obviously sick. Dull eyes. A gleaming lock on the door of squat behind them, and nailed-across boards. No shelter there tonight. On a space on the sidewalk down the way, an older couple huddled together under a plastic tarp, the woman asleep, old man watching warily. A woman with two children, huddled against a wall, crying silently, counterpoint to the baby wailing next to her, and the toddler huddled under her arm.

A pimp down the street arguing with a hooker got up as a Japanese schoolgirl, crying. It's not enough, Jenny, I told you! You go back out there and get me my money! You're not good for shit until you bring me two hundred a night! A raised hand that didn't fall, because the girl cringed away on high heels, and nodded, then walked back toward the thoroughfare.

A group of bangers on the street corner, exchanging money and dime bags. And in the corner park behind them, addicts sleeping on the benches, needles discarded on the ground. One shivered convulsively over a heating grate, glaring at them as they went by. My space! You don't touch my space!

Running by, a man was chased by three others, who caught him in an alley. Sounds of a beating could be heard, screams of pain, and then the three left the alley, and the last did not.

Another narrow street, and a smashed-in window at a Chinese deli, the owner standing on the street, facing a well-dressed man who smirked at him. See, you pay the protection to Charlie, and we'll make sure this doesn't happen to you again... As the man's wife looked at the window in despair, and the owner hung his head, already beaten.

Someone dying, off above them. Someone crying. Another street, more people sleeping on it; the burnt-out husk of a tenement behind them, still smoking in the rain.

Welcome to New Gotham.

Karla swallowed convulsively. The images crashed into her head like blows from the fight in the alley. She felt battered, bruised, and a little sick. She had never seen...never guessed... could never have done either. She let go of Dinah, slamming up her inner barriers, heedless of the hot tears that spilled down her cheeks. "These are your people?" she asked. "They live like that? And Elena's people? And your givernment can do nothing?"

She sniffled and scrubbed at her face. "And yet people judge them for the choices they make to survive. Oh, Dinah!" she wailed, trying to imagine her people like that and shuddering. "This is why we have Queens! They're the hearts of the land, of the people. They couldn't see this and not feel it!" She was babbling now, the eyes of the toddler burning into her, accusing her of not taking better care of her people, of abandoning them to people like Hobart who wouldn't be able to feel this pain, who;d allow things like that to happen.

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