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Poem: "Downtime" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Downtime"
This poem was commissioned by Rachel Sommer. It also fills the "Take It Easy" square in my 12-1-16 card for the iPod Shuffle Music Fest bingo. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics and the threads Calliope, Officer Pink, and Antimatter & Stalwart Stan.

The Youth Villages Continuum Program provides in-home support for troubled youth and their relatives, with the goal of keeping families together while improving behavior. They use growth-oriented approaches such as Collaborate Problem-Solving rather than Applied Behavior Analysis or brute force. Similarly, Lives in the Balance focuses on teaching collaboration to defuse power struggles. This poem was commissioned in honor of an outreach specialist who used to do this work, and is now moving to a desk job in another caretaking context. It's important to cycle out of rewarding but high-stress jobs to something less stressful, so as to avoid burnout. This is like seeing a little slice of Terramagne. Even superheroes need a break sometimes.


"Downtime"


Whistling happily, Calvin heaves
his luggage into the trunk of his car.

He is really looking forward to
spending a weekend at Tatanka Ranch
for the reunion of adults who have attended
the Chickasaw Language Immersion Camps.

He will brush up his Chickasaw --
this year's theme features careers.

It will be fun to catch up with old friends;
he has Cabin 7 with two pairs of bunk beds
for himself and three of the other guys.

They can go canoeing and fishing
and horseback riding during the days.
At night, they'll sit around the fire circle
listening to the elders telling stories, and
it will be just like old times again.

Calvin smooths his hands down
the front of his Anompa t-shirt,
smiles, and climbs into his car.

Behind him, Calliope's dexflan cape
lies in the closet, where it will remain
for the whole blissful weekend.


Turq is dancing around Ansel's heels in
caney form, blue tail wagging, as Ansel moves
a few things from squad car to personal car.

"Going on a trip?" Chief De Soto asks.

"Turq's father invited us to join the Liáng family
for a visit to the Muny this weekend," Ansel says.
"The outdoor theatre is doing a winter medley
for folks who don't like the summer crowds."

"That sounds nice," the chief says,
then adds, "You forgot to take your pin off."

Ansel looks down at the Special Police pin
on his lapel, a more discreet notification of
his superpowers than his thistle-pink hair.
It also means he's available in case of crisis.

He takes off his pin and tucks it in his pocket.

Chief De Soto produces a rubber ducky in
a police uniform and manipulates its squeaker
into a surprisingly accurate vocalization.
"Have a nice trip!" says Officer Squeak.


Lawrence arrives at Stan's house
for the outing to Henry Doorly Zoo, and
the living room is already a bedlam
of overexcited little girls.

Laughing, Stan wades through
his sisters to kiss his boyfriend, and
Lawrence gasps at the sight
of his naked throat.

"You're not wearing --"
Lawrence whispers.

"Downtime," Stan murmurs
into the gleaming silk of
Lawrence's hair.

No fetish, no superpowers;
Stan without his Super-Strength
and Invulnerability is more susceptible
to attack, injury, or other threats.

Lawrence is half relieved
and half terrified: less temptation
to go running to the rescue,
but also less protection.

"What if there's an emergency?"
he says, thinking of Stan's family.

Stan presses the fetish into
Lawrence's hand. "That's what
you're for," he says. "I trust you
to give this back to me only if I
need it to get my family to safety."

The depth of that trust still makes
Lawrence's heart skitter, but he accepts
the fetish and kisses his boyfriend back.

It's going to be a beautiful day at the zoo.


Nobody can stay on duty 24/7,
not even superheroes.

Everyone needs downtime
to relax and build relationships.

The real reason behind hard off-duty
is not to respect the labor laws, but
rather to ensure every citizen
the essential opportunity

to have a life.

* * *

Notes:

Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American. Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond. Cal is demiromantic demisexual. She speaks English, Greek, and Esperanto.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers. Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly. Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope. As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Motivation: Self-discovery.


Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson) -- He has ruddy skin and hazel eyes. His hair starts out light brown but he has it changed to pink by Paintrix, after which it also tends to stand straight up. He discovers that the pink color just feels right for him, and decides to keep it. Ansel is tall and athletic, with a rectangular face, wide shoulders, and trim hips. He is heterosexual and has a girlfriend. He sleeps so deeply that he's easy to sneak up on after he's asleep.
Ansel works on the Bluehill police force as a corporal. He often volunteers for youth outreach and other public speaking. His pink hair helps other soups identify him, breaks the ice at presentations, and encourages people to ask him for help. On the downside, it also makes forks and other bigots hate him.
Origin: Upset by the increase in bullying, Ansel starts doing presentations at schools in Bluehill. The kids give him the idea of coloring his hair pink so he can see firsthand how people treat someone who is visibly different.
Uniform: On duty, Ansel wears the Bluehill police uniform. Off duty, he likes casual, sporty clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Compassion, Expert (+4) Citizen, Expert (+4) Cop, Expert (+4) People Skills, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Catcher in the Rye, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Jigsaw Puzzles, Good (+2) Kindness, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Problem-Solving Skills
Poor (-2) Deep Sleeper
Powers: Average (0) Moral Compass, Average (0) Wild Pink Hair
Motivation: To make the world a kinder place.

Turq (Drustan Moreau) -- He has pale skin and hazel eyes with hints of blue, green, and gray. His hair was originally brown, but is turning turquoise from the top down. His eyebrows, beard, and mustache are still brown. His ears are pierced. He is slim and muscular with a heart-shaped face. He is left-handed. Drustan is Scorpio with Pisces as a moon sign. His heritage includes Welsh, French, and German. Following incidents of child abuse and neglect, he grew up in the foster care system, so he had no real family support for years. The results of that have not been very good.
When Drustan reached the Liáng family, he finally found a comfortable home. This lasted until Mingxia's baby was born with severe medical problems, and Family Services dispersed the foster children to other locations. Drustan suffered through several bad placements, sometimes running away from them. Then his last foster parents sold him while pretending that he had run away again.
As a result, Drustan fell prey to a mad scientist whose disturbing experiments gave him superpowers. The body horror from his ordeal has left him full of dread and melancholy, making it difficult for him to connect with people. He also gets anxious about being tied up, locked in, or confined in any other way. That has given him a nasty set of striationary marks, more than once.
Turq has worked as a supervillain; he is a capable thief and a useful distraction, but iffy in a real fight. Most often he uses the shapeshifting, although his neural blast allows him to disorient people or shock them unconscious depending how much force he puts into it. He does his best to conceal the drawbacks of his superpowers, because he doesn't want anyone to take advantage of him. He is fatalistic about injuries and sometimes resistant to help. His cape name is a double tap. It's short for turquoise, in reference to his hair. It also touches on the Turk chess machine, which in Terramagne was not a hoax but an early gizmo.
Currently Turq lives in Bluehill, Missouri where he often interacts with Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson). It has taken a lot of work, but Turq is starting to move back toward everyday society. He has also reconnected with the Liáng family, although that's an emotional roller-coaster of its own. His new support networking is helping him overcome the trauma he has survived.
Origin: Mad science torture. The supervillain Carl Bernhardt locked Drustan in a strange metal chamber and bombarded him with mysterious energies that caused his body to warp. He escaped when he finally manifested teleportation. Turq has since worked as a henchman for hire.
Uniform: Street clothes. He prefers clothes with stripes, spots, or other patterns because they hide bloodstains better. Usually he wears dark or neutral colors, but he also likes the blue-to-green range.
Qualities: Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Chess Player, Good (+2) Comforting When Fuzzy, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Finding and Fixing Things, Good (+2) Supervillain Henchman
Poor (-2) Body Horror
Powers: Average (0) Teleporting, Average (0) Neural Blast, Average (0) Regeneration, Average (0) Shapeshifting
His alternate forms include caney, deer, and ferret. In caney form he has a violet gland with a pronounced floral scent, which is less intense but still present in his other shapes.
Vulnerability: Turq has difficulty controlling his superpowers. Shapeshifting screws up his body in ways that leave him coughing and vomiting blood afterwards. However, he can heal the damage -- anything that doesn't kill him instantly probably can't kill him at all. Teleporting can leave him disoriented and twitching from misconnected nerves, or scrambled inside, or all of the above. He actually travels by disintegrating and then reintegrating somewhere else, rather than by blinking from one place to another the way most teleporters do.
Motivation: Get through the day without screaming too much.

Edwin De Soto -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and brown hair sprinkled with silver. In middle age he has crow's feet and smile lines on his face. His body is sturdy and a little padded around the edges. Edwin lives in Bluehill, where he serves as chief of police. He runs the kind of police department where an annoying person may come back from vacation to find their cubicle filled with gumballs, but their coworkers will still pitch in to help them empty it. He's a real people person, well liked both at work and in the community.
Qualities: Master (+6) Police Chief, Master (+6) Happy, Expert (+4) Coping Skills, Expert (+4) Public Relations, Expert (+4) Resilience, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Fixing Things, Good (+2) Party Games, Good (+2) Practical Jokes
Poor (-2) Dealing with Negative People

Officer Squeak makes the funniest noise known to man.


Stalwart Stan -- Stanley Wood is a high school student with a gallant personality, although some people think he's too good to be true. He has a sculptured body with light brown hair and hazel eyes. His naturally tan skin darkens further under the sun. Stan is the son of Stuart and Sharon Wood. He is the older brother of Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. He is the nephew of Gabriel and Jenna Kay and older cousin of Huckleberry and Mackenzie; and related to Mason and Miranda Kay, who are about a year older than him. Stan is bisexual, with a previous girlfriend Angelica Young and current boyfriend Antimatter (Lawrence Cunningham). His scouting friends include Tycho "Tyke" Norris and Maurice Stevenson.
Stan and his family live in Omaha, Nebraska. He has played several different sports at school, most recently inside linebacker and captain of the football team, but is increasingly drawn to chess instead. Math is challenging, but Lawrence helps him with it. Stan goes from one part-time job to another, because he wants to be industrious but he keeps losing his current job for hero-related reasons. He spends a lot of time patrolling Omaha to deal with supervillains and smaller problems, particularly in the Gene Leahy Mall and other downtown areas.
Origin: His scouting troop got lost in the woods during terrible weather, everyone afraid they might die. Stan found a weird fetish that gave him superpowers, enabling him to call for help and save the day. He earned the Honor Medal for saving lives at considerable risk to himself.
Uniform: Tan shirt and trousers reminiscent of a boy scout uniform but without insignia, plus a matching safari hat with a clingy mask obscuring the top half of his face.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Moral Compass, Expert (+4) Such a Boy Scout, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Citizen, Good (+2) Handsome
Poor (-2) Math Is Hard
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability, Average (0) Communicator, Average (0) Super-Strength
Limitation: All powers require the fetish to use; Stanley wears it around his neck.
Motivation: Be prepared to help those in need.

The Sicun is an immaterial God whose substance is never visible. It is the potency of mankind and the emitted potency of the Gods. Considered relative to mankind It is many, but apart from mankind It is one. Skan imparts a sicun to each of mankind at birth. It remains with the person until death, when it returns whence it came. Its functions are to enable its possessor to do those things which the beasts cannot do and to give courage and fortitude. It may be pleased or displeased with its possessor and may be operative or inoperative according to its pleasure. It may be invoked by ceremony or prayer, but it cannot be imparted to any other person or thing. Most of the Gods can emit their potencies and when so emitted their potencies become sicunpi. Such a sicun can be imparted to material things by a proper ceremony correctly performed by a Shaman.
A sicun so imparted must be clothed by proper wrappings about the material It pervades. The wrappings may be in the form of a pouch, bag, bundle, or any receptacle that will cover and hide the material. The wrapping, the material, and the sicun, all together make a wasicun. A sicun is operative only when It is a part of a wasicun. The Oglala concept of a wasicun is most nearly expressed in English by the word Fetish, and this word will be so used hereinafter.


Antimatter -- Lawrence Cunningham is a high school student with a keen interest in science. He has a wiry build, pale skin, and pale blue eyes. He has just a hint of beard at the end of his chin. Born with straight black hair, it turned a radiant starlit silver after the accident. He used to dye it black, but now typically leaves it silver. It currently reaches his elbows. Lawrence lives with his mother in Omaha, Nebraska. His father has been removed from their home for domestic violence, and Lawrence still has very mixed feelings about that. They don't have much money.
Lawrence is comfortably gay, and growing closer to his boyfriend Stalwart Stan. A friendly acquaintance of his is Han Gordon from the chess club. Lawrence's handle on BlackSheep is Positron, and he also writes Henrietta Carpenter fanfic under the handle Esmerelda Tablet. Antimatter is shifting from supervillain to superhero, due to his association with Stalwart Stan, which is awkward.
Origin: Determined to win the science fair, Lawrence attempted to create a new universe inside a cola bottle. It blew up. The accident left him with superpowers, but no science fair entry, and everyone laughed at him.
Uniform: All white, including the hat, with a black lab coat thrown over the top and a black-and-white atom patch on the chest; and goggles to obscure his face.
Qualities: Master (+6) Intelligence, Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) Captain of Chess Club, Good (+2) Gender Studies, Good (+2) Gizmology, Good (+2) Writer
Poor (-2) Such a Dork
Powers: Expert (+4) Manipulate Physics (Signature Stunts: Greater Than Equal Reaction, Immovable Object, Irresistible Force, Neutralize Mass, Remove Friction; Speed-Healing, Spin-Off Stunts: Energy Transfer, Thicken Air)
Motivation: Mind over matter.

* * *

Tatanka Ranch is near Stillwater, Oklahoma. This is the entrance.

The lodge has a kitchen area, a tavern-style bar, and an entertaining area with leather sofas. As a meeting area it serves up to 25 guests, as a dining area up to 32, and as a common area for socializing up to 45. See the porch and the hearth.

The Event Center is 7,500 square feet and it offers a general store, great room, tavern, and café.

Tatanka Ranch hosts the Chickasaw Nation Language Immersion Camp. In Terramagne-America, some sessions are for tribal members only, some are mixed, and some are for outsiders; the ranch also hosts reunion sessions for adults who previously attended the youth camp and wish to refresh their Chickasaw. This is the back of one t-shirt design. Calvin has a t-shirt that says Anompa, which means "language" in Chickasaw. Here's a peek at career vocabulary.

The ranch offers many venues and activities such as a fire circle, canoeing, fishing, and horseback riding.

Cabin 7 has two pairs of bunk beds to sleep four people.

Henry Doorly Zoo is in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Muny Theatre is in St. Louis, Missouri. In L-America, the season runs only from mid-June to mid-August. T-America also offers a more limited number of shows in the cool season, when the sparser crowds attract people uncomfortable with the mob season in summer.

Off-duty first responders in T-America often wear a pin to show their profession, in case of emergency. In L-America, "Special Police" may refer to a wide range of particular training/assignments. In T-America, this is the term for officers with superpowers. There are pins, badges, and patches for this purpose. Notice that Ansel has superpowers but is just beginning the process of training in how to handle cape fights and other issues. His initial incident with Turq is a good example why that training is valuable. But it's not widely available yet. T-America is still mulling over whether the Special Police markers should apply to all officers with superpowers, or only those who have passed education in cape issues.

T-America has duty-to-act standards more similar to L-Europe than L-America. A crucial difference, however, is that L-standards tend to focus on payment whereas T-standards focus on agency. That is, T-America doesn't care whether you get paid for the work, but whether you have freely chosen the work. First responders, whether paid or voluntary, have a primary duty to act within their area of expertise while on duty. Otherwise, why do you even have them? It is also understood that nobody can stay on duty 24/7, and in between those ends, that off-duty personnel can save lives by responding to emergencies in their presence.

The legal obligation falls primarily on first responders on duty. There is then a distinction between "soft" and "hard" off duty. Soft is what most people use most of the time: they're available if needed, and they may also be tracking emergency alerts. This is what the pins are for; someone wearing a first responder pin is advertising themselves as available to help until the on-duty authorities arrive. Wearing the pin creates a duty to respond, same as for other volunteers. Some departments have an emergency-only option for personnel, especially if there's only one person who can handle a certain type of problem, like how Ansel is their only supercop. Hard off duty is for preventing burnout, being out of area on vacation, having medical reasons or major family obligations (caregiving, weddings, funerals, etc.) which make the person completely unavailable regardless of emergency conditions.

T-America is also far more alert to the parallax between legal obligations and community expectations. Where these diverge across a wide gap, the shear creates an unending stream of problems. Therefore, people take steps to close the gap as much as possible. A major challenge here regards superpowers, as society generally tends to perceive superheroes as first responders with responsibilities similar to those of police, paramedics, etc. Superheroes rarely have official status, which muddies both the legal and the moral expectations. Some soups have a much narrower view of their duties than bystanders do, and conversely, some people have a bad habit of assuming that just having superpowers equates to a duty to act. As society is still discussing this, arguments are frequent and sometimes devastating. However, people are working on the problem, and at least have gotten far enough to acknowledge that even superheroes need downtime.

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