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"Do Purists have rights?"Author's Notes
Bai leaned forward.
Citzenship was his favorite class.
"No, they don't," said Teacher Rabatelen
as she tapped her pointer against a wall map.
"The Empire grants rights to its citizens
through the licensing system."
She flicked the pointer outside the boundary.
"Purists don't belong to the Empire,
so they can't buy licenses.
That means they don't have any rights."
"That doesn't sound ..."
Bai trailed off, uncertain
how to finish the sentence.
"Did you have a question, Bai?"
Teacher Rabatelen prompted.
"If the Purists don't have rights,
then how do citizens know how to treat them?"
Bai said finally. "There has to be something,
because some Purists interact with the Empire
even if most citizens don't think about that.
We've taken up pretty much all the space,
so the Purists are stuck in the same territory with us."
"That's an excellent point, Bai," the teacher said.
"Citizens have responsibilities as well as rights.
The laws tell us what we can and can't do,
especially in terms of how we treat other people.
Not all of that depends on whether or not
those other people are licensed.
Thus the Purists are somewhat protected,
not because they have rights,
but because we have responsibilities."
"So it's not okay to kill them,"
Bai said, testing the premise,
"because citizens have a responsibility not to kill."
said Teacher Rabatelen.
"Now let's consider how the Empire
brings a new society of Purists into civilization ..."
Bai narrowed his eyes, but remained silent.
He had seen the teacher's gaze flick down
just before she answered his question.
"Generally correct" was not the same as "correct."
He ran down his mental list of licenses,
focusing on those that dealt with death.
The military and monitor guilds had all kinds
of licenses for dealing with bad people,
including a license to kill.
Most of those were strictly regulated.
There was a self-defense license,
but it was expensive
and you had to train with a tutor first.
It was really meant to cover injuries, not fatalities,
and if somebody died at your hands
there was going to be an investigation
no matter how many licenses you had.
Then there were hunting licenses,
which granted permission to kill game;
and exterminator licenses,
which granted permission to kill vermin.
Those were considerably easier to get,
because invasive species could do a lot of damage
if not stopped promptly enough ...
Suddenly Bai shivered.
That was it. He knew,
he'd never read about it before,
but he knew how the Empire worked.
Somewhere -- hopefully buried in history
and not still active -- there must be licenses
to kill the category of vermin known as "Purists."
Bai resolved to visit the library after school.
He loved Citizenship and History,
but he had already learned
that classes wouldn't teach everything.
This poem came out of the September 4, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Ellen Million. It was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.