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Poem: "Form Follows Function" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Form Follows Function"
This poem fills the "telepathy" square in my 8-13-13 square for the [community profile] ladiesbingo fest and the "extrovert" square in my 12-8-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. It belongs to The Blueshift Troupers project.

"Form Follows Function"

Reilly loved Kalleidi,
a fairly cosmopolitan planet
toward the inner edge of the Laceum,
which housed the Academy for training
shapeshifters and other spacers.

Her current body had come
from a spaceborn template,
with white-gold skin, dark almond eyes,
and short shaggy hair of deep crimson.
Reilly fit in well with the jumble of people
who came to Kalleidi from far-flung places.

It was summer now,
the air warm and wet
and smelling of flowers.
Calliope bees flew past,
piping their pollination songs.

People spilled out
onto the irregular turf
known as the Tangle, between
the main quadrangle and smaller triangle
that defined separate blocks of buildings.

Their emotions followed them,
sweet and lazy in the heat,
like so many wisps of perfume.

Reilly joined them in climbing
the ramble of wide low trees,
not caring if the mossy limbs left
gray-green smears on her white clothes.

Someone else had brought out
a big set of free weights
for people to play with,
drawing a curious crowd about
two-thirds men and one-third women.

Feelings plucked at Reilly's mind,
a chord of confidence and doubt and hope,
mingled with tantalizing strands of affinity.

Letting intuition guide her,
Reilly hopped down from her tree.
She trotted over to the weight set
and tried her hand at it.

The weights felt heavier than they looked.
She could lift the smallest dumbbells
with a single hand, but needed both
for the larger ones, even though
they were supposed to be one-handed gear.
On such a short bar, it made the grip awkward.

Reilly switched to a light barbell
that was actually meant for two-handed use.
She managed to heave it up over her head --

then tottered on her feet, almost falling backwards --

only to be caught by a strong arm around her waist,
another lifting the barbell easily out of her grip,
and a scolding cluck in her ear.

"You need a spotter if
you're going to try these, tidbit,"
the other woman said,
setting the barbell on the turf.
Her wry amusement tingled
through Reilly's mind.

"All right, will you spot for me?
My name is Reilly. I'm a shapeshifter.
I'm curious about tools for
toning up a new body," she replied.

"Taylor," the burly woman said.
"I'm a shapeshifter too."
Her skin was a rich golden tan,
long blue-black hair hanging loose,
and her biceps were easily
the size of Reilly's calves.
"Here, try these instead."
She held out a set of four weightbands.

Reilly wrapped the bands
around her wrists and ankles.
They felt a little heavy, but not awkward,
and she could feel a pleasant resistance
when she swung her arms and legs.

Taylor kept her hands close,
one in front and one behind Reilly,
ready to catch her again if necessary.

"Are you studying security?"
Reilly wondered,
looking at the muscles.

Taylor snorted.
"No. I'm an engineer.
I'm into body-building so that
I can lift and hold heavy parts."

"Oh, that's clever!" Reilly exclaimed
as she moved through a careful exercise.
"You must be popular on the shop floor."

The engineer shrugged a massive shoulder.
"Sometimes," she said. "I am if they want
me to jack things up for a project.
If they want someone to look smart,
they pick one of the flimsy kids."

Reilly opened her talent a little farther.
Everyone felt different to her,
tumbled together like perfume and music.

Taylor stood out from the crowd,
her mind a sleek edifice of steel,
gleaming and elegant. Each piece
moved smoothly against the next one,
stamping out perceptions with such precision
that Reilly could catch actual thoughts
along with emotions:


and good enough

and try anyway.

"You're thinking out loud,"
Reilly murmured.
"Try what anyway?"

"There's a hiveship in orbit," Taylor said.
"They need a new engineer. Technically
I'm still a few credits short of qualifying --
I've been focused on spaceforce work --
but I applied for an interview anyway.
I'm sure they're looking for someone
with more experience. I could do it, though."

"You probably could," Reilly said.
She stretched and flexed,
sweat beading on her skin in the heat.
"I hear the interviews aren't going well."

Lane and Jess had argued about it for hours.
Lane had liked the first applicant,
Jess had liked the second,
but the Omphalos had hated both of them
so that was the end of that --
and nobody had liked any of the others.
Affinity could be a finicky thing.

Finally Lane had scattered the crew
across campus in hopes that one of them
might find a more promising applicant.

"And just where would you hear that?"
Taylor asked, her dark eyes narrowing a bit.

"From the other crew," Reilly said,
grinning at the larger woman.
"We're looking for someone our ship
won't boo off the stage in the first scene."

Listening to Taylor think it over was like listening
to the slow, potent clack-tak of a telescope
as it turned toward a target:


Reilly peeled off the weightbands
and put them back on the towel
from which Taylor had taken them.
"Come with me," Reilly said,
holding out a hand, and Taylor did.

Up on the Omphalos,
they found nobody waiting
in the little room where the crew
had been conducting interviews.
At least Taylor had not gotten
bounced off the ship at first docking
like that Tejaño fellow with the sweaty hands.

"It looks like half the team is still on their way back,"
Reilly said. "Well, you can meet the ship instead.
Come chat with Engine while we wait for them."

It seemed like a good idea
until they walked into an argument
in the engine room, with Jess and Zasha
arguing over the best way to remove stains
lingering from a repair job from a temp worker.

"Hurry up," whined Engine. "I itch."
"I'm not going to scratch for you,"
Zasha said, crossing his arms.
"That will just make it worse."

"Where do you itch?"
Taylor asked, ignoring the humans.

"We're working on the problem," Jess said
as she looked at two cartons in her hands.
"Remember that I'm a biotech,
please, not an engineer."

"I brought an engineer for an interview,"
Reilly said, hoping to stall the argument.
"Everyone, this is ---"

Taylor wasn't beside Reilly anymore.
A quick scramble around the room
revealed her ankles showing
where Taylor had upended herself
over a bank of equipment.

"-- no wonder you itch, Engine, you reek of soap.
Where's the proper washing-up powder?"
Taylor grumbled from behind the bank.

Engine directed her to the relevant cabinet.
Lacking the muscles for effective scrubbing,
the temp worker had resorted to liquid soap
to remove the grease stains after the repair.
Taylor vented her temper on his ancestry
and improbable erotic activities as she
loaded a brush with washing-up powder.

Jess had abandoned her cartons
to make a discreet call updating the crew.

Taylor bent over the equipment bank
to scrub the back of it from the top down.
Zasha smiled a little at the view
of her muscles rippling while she worked.

The sizzling emotions cooled down,
leaving Reilly much relieved.
She basked in the quiet hum
of Taylor's concentration on the work
and Engine's sensual pleasure
as the brush scrubbed away the itch.
Taylor's mind was an elegant example
of how form follows function,
structured and concise.

Then there came a mental
so clear that Reilly startled,
of something settling into place
like a key twisting in a lock
so that all the tumblers aligned perfectly.

Taylor thought,
one crisp idea echoing
through the gears of her mind,
only to be swept away by the mechanism
of reason and procedure a moment later.

When she emerged from the equipment bank
with her shirt rucked up under her breasts
and her blue-black hair hopelessly tangled,
Taylor turned around to say, "I'm ready for
that interview whenever you are --"

and found the entire crew lined up watching.

Lane surved the team with a silent gaze,
gathering nods, then he said,
"Crew in accord. Ship?"

Reilly felt the echoing chorus
as the other parts of Omphalos
tapped into Core to examine
Engine's memories of Taylor.

Yes-yes-yes ...

"Ship in accord,"
Engine said a moment later.

"Welcome aboard," Lane said,
holding out his hand.

Taylor hesitated. "I thought I was just
coming aboard for an interview," she said.

"We reviewed your records on the way up,"
Lane said. "Your school work looks good
and your engineering is excellent."

"Plus you just fixed a problem
for our ship," Avory added.
"That carries a lot of weight with us."

Reilly hooked a hand around Taylor's waist
just as Taylor had done for her earlier,
and gently tugged the larger woman
into reach of Lane's hand.
Finally Taylor shook off her daze
and clasped his fingers in a careful grasp.

"Thank you," Taylor said.
"I look forward to working with you all."

* * *


"Form follows function" is a famous engineering rule.

A calliope is a musical instrument. Calliope bees use sound to communicate about desirable sources of nectar or pollen.

Empathy and telepathy are mental powers that connect to other people. They can parse as any other sense, creating an effect of synaesthesia. Reilly is more empath than telepath but can sometimes pick up thoughts.

Spotting is a safety technique in weightlifting and other sports, in this case to make sure someone doesn't unbalance or overdo things.

Physical action such as weightlifting helps you get to know your body. Weighted clothing, like wrist and ankle bands, can improve the effect by increasing resistance. For shapeshifters, this makes it easier to learn a new body.

Soap can make skin itch, especially if not rinsed off. Hiveships may be more sensitive to some chemicals, but their skin is more durable on a purely physical level. Scrub, don't lather.

Washing-up powder is a gritty cleaner which is mild chemically but excellent for scrubbing a hiveship's skin as long as the crew member adds a respectable amount of elbow grease.  It's similar to Boraxo.  (Thanks to [personal profile] mdlbear for the product comparison.)

Hire skill, not credentials is a good rule for hiveships. Coworker relationships are more important than paperwork.

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8 comments or Leave a comment
From: siliconshaman Date: January 21st, 2014 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as someone who's done years of job interviews, and inevitably been turned away because I'm [on paper] under-qualified, or lately, too old... I wish that more [or any at all] employers interviewed like your crew !
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 21st, 2014 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)


I wish that too.

I feel that that it's abusive to require young people to spend thousands of dollars on what amounts to a job lottery ticket for the chance of maybe earning enough to live on; and it's downright vicious to expel older workers from the job market a decade or two before they have any other means of support.

So I write about other options.
siege From: siege Date: January 22nd, 2014 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely! This is the sort of team I'd be happy to work for.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 23rd, 2014 07:42 am (UTC) (Link)


That's good to hear. I wanted to build a team of folks that my audience would enjoy spending time with.
From: technoshaman Date: January 21st, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Job interview sort of reminds me of Kaylee... :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 21st, 2014 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)


It does a bit, although the concept of performative interviews also predates my introduction to Firefly.
bbwoof From: bbwoof Date: January 23rd, 2014 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I loved this.

"Hire skill, not credentials" is a good rule for **everybody**. The problem generally comes when lazy HR people use credentials as a first filter, thereby insuring that the folks who are *very good* at whatever-it-is, but not entirely paper-trained, never get the chance to become genuine assets to the organization.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 23rd, 2014 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I loved this. <<

I'm delighted to hear that. This is part of a new project I'm working on, so if you follow the links at the top of the page, you can find the other poems and background material for it.

>> "Hire skill, not credentials" is a good rule for **everybody**. <<

I agree. It's something I want to promote, hence examples like this.

>> The problem generally comes when lazy HR people use credentials as a first filter, thereby insuring that the folks who are *very good* at whatever-it-is, but not entirely paper-trained, never get the chance to become genuine assets to the organization. <<

Yes. It plays into the problem where young people are pressured to spend massive amounts of money they don't have to acquire a college degree on the chance of maybe getting the privilege of a job that pays enough to live on. Fewer and fewer good jobs like that even exist. This is not a healthy situation.
8 comments or Leave a comment