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Poem: "Backtalk" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Backtalk"

This poem came out of the July 2013 crowdfunding Creative Jam.  It has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the October 1, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 goal.  It was inspired by a prompt from chordatesrock, who wanted to see the dastardly General Fallon in action.  This poem belongs to the series An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space; you need to read at least "Backup, Try Again" for this to make sense.

WARNING: The following poem contains extreme verbal violence, emotional abuse, and psychological manipulation.  If these are sensitive issues for you, please think carefully before deciding whether to read ahead.


It was General Fallon
who made the attempt to reclaim
Supply Base Bounty 3D3N
for the Carina-Sagittarius Arm.

It started not with gunfire
but with charm.

"Now, son, we all know why
you have a hard time fitting in,"
General Fallon said to Backup
over the ciphernet.
"So I'm giving you a little help.
I'm promoting you so that
you can take charge of the station.
I'm sure you'll have this misunderstanding
cleared up in no time."

Backup found it hard to speak
around the lump in his throat.
He craved his father's approval but ...
there was always a but.

There were a lot of buts,  actually,
enough to fill a cargo crate:

"You're my son,
but I can't go easy on you."
"I want you to succeed on your own,
but you just don't have what it takes."
"I know you wanted to decide for yourself,
but that never works out well for you."

"Sir," Backup managed.
He didn't want control of the station.
Router was so much better at organizing things.

"Come on, then,
put a 'yes' in front of that,"
General Fallon urged.
"If you really  want to make me proud,
you'll tell me what I need to hear."

Backup framed an answer and
forced it through the fist of his throat.
"No," he squeaked.

Backup loved his father,
but the man was scary.
General Fallon couldn't very well
climb through the communication screen,
though, so for once Backup was free
to say what he really thought.
Or as much of it as he could get out.

"I don't want to hear
any more backtalk from you!"
General Fallon snapped.
"Why can't you ever
just do as you're told?"

The fact was, Backup
had gotten into worse situations
doing as he was told
than doing anything on his own,
but he couldn't say that to his father.

What he did say was,
"Do the right thing."

"If you really  intended to do the right thing,
then you'd want  to come home,"
said General Fallon.

Now Backup's chest
squeezed as tight as his throat.
He remembered his older brothers
who loved him and teased him
and sat on him and told him stories
and kept him safe and kind of smothered him.

He missed them bitterly but ...
he didn't really want to go back anymore.
It wasn't home like it had been once.

His home was here now,
with the brothers he had chosen,
who weren't perfect but at least
were gentler with him.

"Even a raw recruit  would be able
to figure out that this secession
is no good for anyone!"
General Fallon said.

Backup didn't know what to say to that,
so he pressed a silent alarm instead.

"Don't you even care
that the army is falling apart?"
General Fallon bellowed.
"Discipline on your station is shot to hell,
and no doubt that's all your fault!"

"No," Backup said again,
because he didn't  care about the army,
only his own little corner of it,
and the discipline wasn't  shot
because Router ran a fine station,
yes sir he did.

"Is this the kind of nonsense
you're learning out there?"
General Fallon said.
"I finally thought I'd found a place
to keep you out of trouble.
Those crewmates of yours
must be a bad influence."

The very crewmates who were running
to see what had gone wrong?
Backup could hear their footsteps
ringing on the metal deck.
He shrugged at his father.

"What do you think is going to happen
now that the army's not paying you?"
General Fallon pressed.
"You'll starve out there, you know.
It's not like you can support yourself."

"Mechanic," Backup said,
because he was, and
something always needed fixing.

"Maybe for the ignorant or the desperate,"
General Fallon said.  "Son, give it up
and come home now before
you wind up throwing your life away."

"General Fallon, please stop
insulting a member of my crew,"
Router said as he came
to stand beside Backup.
"You no longer have jurisdiction here."

General Fallon ignored Router
in favor of yelling at Backup again.
"If you don't do as I say,
we are through,  do you hear me?
You're no son of mine!"

"Home," Backup said,
but the rest of the words got lost,
so he pointed firmly at the deck.

"What Backup and Router mean
is that you're a great big dick
and you should fuck off now,"
Case said to General Fallon.
He reached between them
and shut off the communication.

"That wasn't very diplomatic,"
Router protested.

"So what?  It's not like he was
going pull his head out of his ass."
Case said.  "What's he going to do,
hate on us some more?
I don't want to hear it,
and Backup surely shouldn't."

Backup leaned against Router
and just shook.

"I'm sorry that happened, Backup,"
said Router.  "Somehow he got past
my screen and hooked right into yours."

Backup didn't want Router to think
that he was taking anything
that General Fallon had offered.
"Sir," he said, trying not to sniffle.

"You don't want the CO slot, huh?"
said Router.  "Can't say I blame you --
it's a pain in the tail."

Case patted Backup on the shoulder,
not the sort to cuddle up
but clearly concerned all the same.

Port said to Backup,
"Listen, I could use a hand
with one of the auto-lifts.
It's not behaving right for me.
Come down and fix it, will you?"

Backup nodded
and followed Port toward the door.

This was a thing he could do,
or at least try to do, depending on
what exactly was wrong with the auto-lift.
It didn't require a lot of words,
just a tool kit and a repair manual.

"Watch that old snake," said Case.
"He's sure to get up to something else."
"I intend to," Router said firmly.

Backup smiled.
He still had brothers
to watch out for him.

* * *


Abusers can be very charming.  This does not make them any less horrible, just harder to spot sometimes.

Understand the 8 Verbal Attack Patterns and the characteristics of emotional abuse.  It is easier to defend yourself when you know that you are under attack.

Dysfunctional families often have controlling parents or other focal problems at the eye of the storm.  Instead of buffering the challenges of life, a dysfunctional family makes life harder.

Escaping abuse can be difficult.  Abusive parents may cling to their favorite punching bag, claiming that their children owe them something.  (Bullshit.)  Ending the relationship is usually the best course, although fraught with tension.  There are tips for helping a friend who is being abused.

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7 comments or Leave a comment
thnidu From: thnidu Date: October 7th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Rings true many ways.

It's not like he was
going ^ pull his head out of his ass.
→ going to pull

Edited at 2013-10-07 01:28 am (UTC)
From: technoshaman Date: October 7th, 2013 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Backup smiled.
He still had brothers
to watch out for him.

*smile* and I still have older sisters to watch out for me. Even though every one of them is chronologically younger than me, the eldest by a mere six days. I wouldn't care to cross any of them. :D

I will come back to this; the links need reading. Also sharing...
boleniana From: boleniana Date: September 1st, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm reading the link you gave about verbal self-defense (the "attack patterns" one, except I'm starting from the first "lesson), and it seems like real good advice (and I can immediately relate to it because I had a fight with Mom yesterday)... except it says stuff like about paying attention to people's non-word cues, like tone of voice and body language. It's hard enough for me to do that stuff at the best of times, without tuning out what's being talked about; but in a heated situation, where I have to try and keep myself from lashing out, and remember to apply the stuff I've read, and consider the issue at hand... the chance I can do all that AND pay attention to someone's non-word cues isn't quite zero, but you'd need a microscope to see the difference.

I don't suppose by any chance you've come across something on verbal self-defense for people on the autism spectrum? There's stuff on each part individually, but I have no idea how to synthesize it in a practical manner. It's like... I can read (very well), and I can sing (not so well but it's something I do), but I can only sing while reading something unrelated if it's a song I know very well and can sing on autopilot, except that the only "song" I know well enough is striking back at someone. If that made any sense.

But like, if you can find a resource that manages to blend those two things together, and express it, and says something other than "well you're screwed, sucks to be you", and it's helpful, I will find a way to get an entire month's comics budget into your hands, because that would be worth it.

~Pom Rania
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 23rd, 2016 05:36 am (UTC) (Link)


Yes. This. Someone needs to write Verbal Self-Defense for the Autism Spectrum. And it's going to have to be one (or several) of us weird people. Because a one size fits all is not going to work.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 23rd, 2016 05:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agreed

Okay, check out the parts where it talks about Satir Modes. Two of those -- Computing and Leveling -- are apt for autistic folks. Computing is abstract and impersonal. Leveling is bluntly honest. One of the safety tips is that if you don't know what to do, go into Computer Mode and stay there. It may not solve the problem, but will prevent you from digging a deeper hole.

Some techniques work very well for autistics. Memorizing and repeating platitudes is one of these.

Some techniques work with modification. The Boring Baroque Response is unusable as-is because autistics have a low boredom threshold. However, most autistics have a topic they can ramble about forever. Do that. Find any vague connection and launch into your favorite topic. Ordinary people usually hate listening to that kind of monologue, which is the point of a BBR defense -- you want to bore them into leaving you alone. Just substitute esoteric trivia instead of social blather.

I agree, however, that it would be handy to have a handbook on this angle. Gods, I wish Suzette were still here. If you'd said that to her she probably would've written it. That's how she got the variations on GAVSD and Try to Feel It My Way. She was fascinated by how people communicate and all the different ways of it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 11th, 2017 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Feeling much sympathy for Backup. Very glad that he *had* a silent alarm and enough presence of mind to use it. Loved Case's F.U. response to the General!

Backup is really much, much better off at 3D3N than he would be in *any* location controlled by the General or his ilk. >_<

- Callibr8

PS ... who says the universe doesn't have a sense of humor? The "captcha" for this post is the same word twice, and that word is CALLE. LOL!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 11th, 2017 01:10 pm (UTC) (Link)


>> Feeling much sympathy for Backup. Very glad that he *had* a silent alarm and enough presence of mind to use it.<<

Well, they're soldiers of a sort. There are protocols for that sort of thing. Not so much on posts with just one or two people, but theirs was always meant to have several.

>> Loved Case's F.U. response to the General! <<

:D The charm of fiction is that sometimes, the characters get to say what everyone else wishes they could.

>> Backup is really much, much better off at 3D3N than he would be in *any* location controlled by the General or his ilk. >_<

So very true.

>> PS ... who says the universe doesn't have a sense of humor? The "captcha" for this post is the same word twice, and that word is CALLE. LOL! <<

The Universe does love synchronicity.
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