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Poem: "Wiser Than the Sons of Men" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Wiser Than the Sons of Men"
This poem is spillover from the September 2, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from ng_moonmoth.  It also fills the "WILD CARD: broken bones" square in my 6-10-14 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.  This poem has been selected for funding in an audience poll.  It belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the series Polychrome Heroics.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses. So far sponsors include: general fund, ng_moonmoth

FULLY FUNDED
204 lines, Buy It Now = $102
Amount donated = $53
Verses posted = 32 of 60

Amount remaining to fund fully = $49
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1.50


WARNING: This poem goes into territory that some readers may find touchy. Highlight to read the warnings, which include spoilers. It contains harm to a sentient horse, a few gross medical details, and the not-so-great state of health care for folks who aren't standard humans.  But things turn out okay in the end.


Wiser Than the Sons of Men



Dr. Althea Melas was on duty
in Large Animal Care Room 1
when two men, a little girl,
and a draft horse teleported in.

The smaller man promptly
sagged against the wall,
but the horse was the one
bleeding on the floor, so
Dr. Melas focused on him.

The big Friesian stallion was
shivering but not fighting, and
she managed to get some gauze
over the gaping wound on his left foreleg.
She could feel bones shifting underneath.

"Can somebody tell me what happened?"
Dr. Melas asked, looking over her shoulder.

"We hit a gengineering lab and it went badly,"
said the man who was holding the little girl.
He looked like a very capable bodyguard,
broad and brown and bulging with muscles.
"Then Judd there stepped in what looked like
a bear trap, and Alicia here lost her temper,
and well -- you came highly recommended."

Dr. Melas had to take a minute to process
the fact that the most powerful supervillain
in the world was in her clinic, with a horse
who had  to be the infamous Undertaker.

"I heard you had Healing," said Dr. Melas.
"Is this beyond your skill, or is there
something else I should know about?"

"Too tired," said Alicia. "Tomorrow, I can.
Tonight we need the injury stabilized."

"Why are you here instead of in bed?"
Dr. Melas asked.

"I'm blocking the pain for him," Alicia said.

Well, that explained the lack of screaming
and the ears airplaned off to the sides.

"So basically you want me to set the bones,
close the cuts, keep him comfortable overnight,
then unwrap it all in the morning?"
Dr. Melas said, checking the injury again.
The bleeding was slowing down a lot.

"Yes, please," Alicia said.

"And if he hauls off and kills me while I'm working?"
Dr. Melas asked. She'd heard about the Undertaker.

"Then your family will be generously compensated,"
said the bodyguard. "We have an excellent program.
Hopefully Judd will mind his manners, and we'll
just pay you twice your going rate as hazard pay."

Dr. Melas could certainly use the money
to help pay off her student debt.
Most of the staff could -- it was a key reason
why All Creatures Great and Small was
so willing to help soups who had animal traits
or actually were sentient animals, even though
they weren't technically licensed to treat people.

The other reason was plain compassion;
everyone needed health care sometimes,
even supervillains, even people whose bodies
were so different they couldn't go to a regular hospital.

"Okay then," Dr. Melas said. "You three,
get back over there and stay out of my way.
This is going to be unpleasant to watch."
It wasn't ideal, but with healing available later,
neither was it as risky as it could have been.
She suspected Alicia couldn't go far from Judd,
and the bodyguards wouldn't leave her.

Then she turned her attention to the horse.
"Hi, Judd. I'm Dr. Melas," she said softly.
"I'll be taking care of you tonight, if that's okay."

His huge nostrils flared a little, but his ears
were so disconnected that they didn't react.

"Judd is too out of it to respond, but it's
nice of you to treat him as a person,"
the bodyguard said. "He'll notice tomorrow."

"He's not my first sentient, nonhuman client,"
Dr. Melas said as she started setting up
what she'd need for the complicated repairs.

It took two hours to get Judd properly medicated,
put his fractured foreleg back together, and
leave him drowsing peacefully in the horse sling.
Dr. Melas cleaned up the room, then
turned her attention to the humans.

Alicia was barely awake in her bodyguard's grasp.
The other fellow was asleep in a chair.
"Is anyone else hurt?" Dr. Melas asked.

"Not really," the bodyguard said.
"Lorry there just wore himself out
carrying all of us in one jump."

Considering that most teleporters
could carry two people, rarely more,
it was no wonder he fell asleep.

"You can nap in the staff lounge,"
Dr. Melas said. "There's only one couch,
but I can grab you a few things from
the supermarket across the street."
It wouldn't do to have Dr. Infanta
crashing on the couch without
so much as a blanket.

"That's very kind of you,"
the bodyguard said.

"Cheval, I don't want to nap," Alicia whined.

"You're exhausted, and you need to recharge
if you want to be any use in the morning,"
Dr. Melas pointed out.

"I'll have nightmares."

Oh. That made sense.

"Your friends can wake you up if you do,"
Dr. Melas said as she tucked them into the lounge.

Then she logged herself out at the front desk,
and went shopping. She bought snacks,
beverages, sleeping bags, and a teddy bear.

"I hope this will help," Dr. Melas said,
handing the bags to the bodyguard.
Alicia was already asleep on the couch.
"We really need a spare lounge for this."

"I'll make sure to recommend it,"
Cheval said seriously.

Dr. Melas realized that while treating
average soups might make for great tips,
looking after Dr. Infanta's party
had far more potential.

The rest of her shift proved uneventful,
and she made a point of waiting until
her special guests were up and about.
Even Lorry the teleporter was mobile again.

The actual healing was anticlimactic,
nothing more than Alicia running her hands
over Judd's leg and telling him to stop
getting horse snot in her hair.

"He's scared, he misses you, and
it probably stinks in here for him,"
Dr. Melas pointed out.
Black ears swiveled in her direction.
"Good morning, Judd."

He stopped snuffling Alicia's hair
and nosed at Dr. Melas instead.
"T'ank," he said.

"You can talk?" Dr. Melas exclaimed,
then added, "You're welcome."

"He's trying. It's hard for him,"
Alicia explained. "I'm pretty sure
he understands more than he can say."

Dr. Melas nodded. "That's normal
for anyone learning a foreign language."

"Not a lot of people know that,"
Alicia said, giving her a sharp look.
"Anyway, I'm done knitting the bone.
You'll need to pick out the stitches."

That took a while, because there were a lot.
"I hope you got the bastards that did this,"
Dr. Melas grumbled as she worked.

"They won't be bothering anyone again,"
came the cool reply, a shivery reminder
that Alicia was far older and more powerful
than she looked with bed hair and rumpled clothes.

"Okay, all done," Dr. Melas said at last,
patting the broad black shoulder.
"Try to stay out of trouble, Judd,
you're too pretty to die."

"You're better than I expected,"
Alicia said. "Highly recommended,
yes, but people tend to tell me
what they think I want to hear,
not necessarily the truth."

"That must be aggravating,"
Dr. Melas said.

"Very much so," Alicia said.
"Thank you for the teddy bear.
Most people forget that I'm ...
old and young all together,
the way they forget that
Judd isn't an ordinary horse."

"I like people who are different,"
Dr. Melas said. "I like animals,
including the intelligent ones;
they're wiser than the sons of men.
I do my best to take care of everyone."

Judd nosed her again,
touching just with his whiskers,
careful in the way some draft horses were.
"Good job," he said in his rough voice.

Dr. Melas scratched under his jaw.
"Thank you," she said.

The bodyguard held out an envelope.
"We'll pay at the front desk," he said.
"This is just the tip."

Dr. Melas waited until after they left
to count the sheaf of bills inside.
Then she counted them again,
and a third time, just to make sure.

There was enough cash there
to cover her loan payments for a year.

If you did dangerous work
and had special needs,
there were only so many people
you could turn to for help,
so it made sense to pay them well.

For all the subterfuge required
to keep the clinic accessible to
soups who required exotic care,
Dr. Melas didn't regret it.

Everyone needed a helping hand
now and then; that's what she was here for.

* * *

Notes:

Dr. Althea Melas -- She has olive skin, brown eyes, and straight brown hair usually pinned up.  She is third generation Greek-American.  Dr. Melas works at All Creatures Great and Small, a large veterinary clinic in Westbord that surreptitiously serves soups with animal features.
Qualities: Master (+6) Veterinarian, Expert (+4) Constitution, Expert (+4) Intelligence, Expert (+4) Neutral, Good (+2) Athlete, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Cook, Good (+2) Mother, Good (+2) Schmaltzy Music, Good (+2) Scrapbooking, Good (+2) Soup Contacts, Good (+2) Soup Research
Poor (-2) Student Debt

Cheval (Seydou Armistead) -- He has brown skin, black eyes, and short nappy black hair.  His body is big and broad with prominent muscles.  He is from Senegal.  He speaks French and English fluently, and is learning some other languages.  Although strong in body, he actually has a gentle personality and excels at stopping fights before they really get started.
Origin: He received his strength from a risky mystical ritual.  He met Dr. Infanta when she came to Senegal to assassinate a corrupt government official.  Dr. Infanta knew that Seydou's sister was dying, and offered to give her the lifeyears taken from the assassination target, if Seydou would arrange access.  The assassination worked perfectly, Seydou's sister was saved, and he agreed to serve Dr. Infanta.
Qualities: Good (+2) Big and Tall, Good (+2) Bodyguard, Good (+2) De-escalation Skills, Good (+2) Family Ties
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Average (0) Super-Strength

Lorry (Hamish Turner) -- He has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair.  He is physically fit without being overbuilt.  Although his everyday teleporting ability is only average for mass and distance, he is particularly adept at stretching himself in an emergency; it just tends to flatten him afterwards.  His heritage is British, but he has traveled around much of Europe.
Origin: He dove on top of a previous client, taking a super-gizmotronic bullet in the process.  The bullet was meant to teleport vital organs out of the victim's body, but instead left him able to teleport himself.  Later, Lorry was involved in an altercation where his partner was seriously wounded, saved only by Dr. Infanta's timely intervention.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bodyguard, Good (+2) Partnership, Good (+2) Pushing Limits, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Average (0) Teleportation

* * *

"Animals, in their generation, are wiser than the sons of men; but their wisdom is confined to a few particulars, and lies in a very narrow compass."
-- Joseph Addison

All Creatures Great and Small is a large veterinary clinic in Westbord which quietly treats soups on the side.  They will patch up humans but are more often a refuge for soups who have animal features, shapeshifting, or are sapient animals.  They and their clients adhere to the same rule of neutrality that human-oriented medics do. The title reference is from James Herriot.

Gengineering is short for genetic engineering.  It's a type of biotechnology that can enhance physiology.  In Terramagne it's a popular branch of Gizmology and Super-Gizmology.  Dr. Infanta and the Undertaker really dislike mad scientists.

Horses communicate primarily through body language, especially their earsAirplane ears flop out to the sides, and indicate that the horse's ears are disconnected from his brain, which can happen to horses who are asleep, bored, or drugged.

Survivor benefits and hazard pay are two ways to compensate people for taking extreme risks.  Some of the more savvy supervillains acknowledge that just being around them is risky -- you never know when some upstart will pick a fight -- so they pay people handsomely in order to keep folks willing to work for them.

Fractures are difficult to treat in horses, but a sling helps.  This is an example of specialized equipment that might be needed by people with superpowers, and why they can't always go to an ordinary hospital.  It's not just horses; some human or humanoid people with Super-Strength have it because they're just massive, like Stonewall.

Emergency teddy bears are used by many first responders to soothe children in stressful situations.  It works.  Adults may prefer a fuzzy blanket, but primates in general are hardwired to take comfort from soft cuddly things.

With any language, comprehension is easier than production.  Second language acquisition goes through stages, much like the language development stages in toddlers.  So Judd goes from breathy half-words to single words or short phrases.  Eventually he'll be able to string together slightly longer expressions, but probably not fluent sentences because human speech is just really hard for him to produce.  It saves energy to leave out the fancy bits and just say the content words most of the time.

"Too pretty to die" is, of course, a Firefly  reference.

Draft horses have a well-deserved reputation as gentle giants. Gentleness is controlled strength, not weakness, and it is a deliberate choice.

A true friend or good ally will tell you the truth.   Sycophants will tell you only what they think you want to hear.  The more powerful you are, the harder it gets to find honesty.

A horse's nose and mouth are exquisitely sensitive.  The hairs are actually whiskers, which the horse uses to touch things before lipping them.  Some people shave a horse's nose, which is as cruel and destructive as cutting off a cat's whiskers.  Then you get a horse who shoves things because he has less capacity to touch gently.

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18 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: technoshaman Date: September 10th, 2014 05:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Awwwww. You story-checked James Herriot! I didn't read the series but they're among Mummy's favourites.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2014 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Some of the logistical descriptions have contributed to how I approach nonhuman health care -- vets are trained to deal with different species' physiology in ways that ordinary physicians just aren't. They'll understand many superpowers, such as wings or resilient adaptation, much easier. And they have more diverse equipment, and a better understanding that drugs which could help one patient could very easily kill another.

Thanks for reminding me to add the title reference for that series.
From: technoshaman Date: September 10th, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Welcome!

We were just talking about stories with no person-to-person conflict the other day.... here you've told a good story that's just about healing... there is tension between the characters, but at the end of the day, they end up helping each other a lot... as I understand it about horses, she saved Judd's life... and Dr. Infanta was not an ungrateful customer. Good karma all around.

(I can't say I disagree with Alicia's choice of targets, either, if they're anything like the Manpower, Inc., found in Dave Weber's books... )
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 11th, 2014 05:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>> We were just talking about stories with no person-to-person conflict the other day.... here you've told a good story that's just about healing... there is tension between the characters, but at the end of the day, they end up helping each other a lot... <<

The tension is primarily circumstantial at this point. People are agitated, but they're not working against each other toward opposing goals, just jostling around a bit trying to figure out how to work the problem. It's kind of ... man vs. cleaning up someone else's mess.

>> as I understand it about horses, she saved Judd's life... <<

With a healer at hand and available the next morning, it's not a life-threatening injury. Mainly they just need to get the bleeding stopped. Catch is, Dr. Infanta can't recharge and manage an injury at the same time, so Judd would've been miserable all night without additional help.

Without a healer, the situation is a lot more serious. Getting a fracture to knit properly on a horse is never easy, and there aren't a lot of experts who can make it work. Plus the heavier the horse is, the harder it is. So in a general sense, yes, that's lifesaving care.

>> and Dr. Infanta was not an ungrateful customer. Good karma all around. <<

Sooth. She takes good care of her people, and she's generous with others who help them.

>> (I can't say I disagree with Alicia's choice of targets, either, if they're anything like the Manpower, Inc., found in Dave Weber's books... ) <<

Gengineers in Terramagne vary. Some are into uplifting animals. Some are into modifying humans. Some do plants instead. Some are splicers. And almost none of the ones working under the table have what we might consider even minimum standards of safety and ethics. This is a problem. Ordinary police trying to shut them down tend to fare not-so-well, and armies hardly better plus it's hard on the countryside. A surgical strike by soups is usually the best bet, and that is first-come-first-served. Dr. Infanta detests mad scientists, the Undertaker resents people who mistreat animals, and they wind up with plenty of common ground.

Besides, an immortal supervillain riding on a draft horse who can kill with a touch ... pretty damn intimidating. There is something to be said for bashing down the front door when it's going to send the bad guys running out the back rather than standing their ground. The drawback is that hitting a compound designed to contain enhanced animals means that, once in a while, somebody's foot winds up in a bear trap.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 12th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Oops, thnidu here.

I like this one, for the reasons already mentioned. Q, though: are there any GOOD mad scientists?

• He stopped snuffled Alicia's hair
-> snuffling
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 12th, 2014 03:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> I like this one, for the reasons already mentioned. <<

Yay!

>> Q, though: are there any GOOD mad scientists? <<

I tend to call the good ones "scientists" instead of "mad scientists." When I say "mad scientist" I usually mean "more interested in playing with the lab than following exact scientific method or fussing over ethics." That can lead to wild successes or horrific disasters, with probability heavily favoring the latter. However, some mad scientists are far more troublesome than others. In "Marketing Concerns in Mad Science," Safemode and Gopher are pretty great, but Joystick is a more representative example. Safemode is kind of like the scientific equivalent of the Puppetmaster: interested in getting the job done and willing to go around the official rules to do it.

>> • He stopped snuffled Alicia's hair
-> snuffling <<

Fixed, thanks.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 12th, 2014 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Minor typo: "yes, but people tend to tell me
what they think I want to near"
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 14th, 2014 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Fixed!

Thanks.
tigerbright From: tigerbright Date: April 27th, 2015 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
This doctor is wonderful.

I'm not a good rider, but I love being around my friend's Icelandic ponies. They have the same vibe as a large friendly dog, except you actually *can* ride on them, but you can't have them curl up with you on (or as) a couch.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 27th, 2015 02:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> This doctor is wonderful. <<

I'm glad you like her. She doesn't know it yet, but she's one of the best in the world for treating nonhuman soups or ones with some nonhuman features. There just aren't many people who have both the tolerance and the diagnostic aptitude to handle that level of challenge.

>> I'm not a good rider, but I love being around my friend's Icelandic ponies. They have the same vibe as a large friendly dog, except you actually *can* ride on them, but you can't have them curl up with you on (or as) a couch. <<

:D They sound lovely.
cflute From: cflute Date: September 24th, 2016 09:14 am (UTC) (Link)

new character squee

>> She doesn't know it yet, but she's one of the best in the world for treating nonhuman soups or ones with some nonhuman features. There just aren't many people who have both the tolerance and the diagnostic aptitude to handle that level of challenge. <<

So, a supernary?

Absolutely *loved* this one, btw. You have such a deft touch when conveying the essentials of Bad Stuff, and such awesome ability to "keep it real".
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 24th, 2016 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: new character squee

>>So, a supernary?<<

In essence, yes, and I think I statted her up that way.

>>Absolutely *loved* this one, btw. You have such a deft touch when conveying the essentials of Bad Stuff, and such awesome ability to "keep it real".<<

Thank you! I'm glad that worked for you.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 13th, 2016 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

*sigh*

is it bad to say I wish I could move to T-America and meet Judd...because I WANT A JUDD!

:(
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 14th, 2016 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: *sigh*

Aww! :D

>> is it bad to say I wish I could move to T-America <<

It is not bad. Lots of my fans want to move to T-America.

>> and meet Judd...because I WANT A JUDD! <<

He is a very sweet horse with a big heart and a soft mouth. But he has zero patience left for people who are cruel to animals or other soups. Can't say I blame him. He quite likes humans who are horse-friends though. Hence the pony club.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: January 1st, 2017 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 1st, 2017 02:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: November 30th, 2017 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah that is a good point about comprehension versus production. My character Dalia can understand Navajo well thanks to Nizoni, but can't speak much of it. ASL on the other hand, she's fluent in.

"Dr. Infanta and the Undertaker really dislike mad scientists."

All mad scientists? Lyria Spellspinner and Belladonna Ravenstone are mad scientists. Kinda. More like sane mad scientists. They both have ethics, I mean, and don't experiment on the innocent. Lyria builds new lifeforms with her magic from DNA, and manipulated the souls of insects for some of her sentient creations, but if she needs to experiment on an already sentient being, she prefers to self experiment, or use a volunteer otherwise. Or use a murderer or a rapist. Especially if the victim was a child.

I don't have Belladonna Ravenstone fleshed out much, yet. But she mostly works with things that were dead already, animals mostly. Sometimes she engages in a kind of magic called Flesh Bending, I.E. causing an animal to grow a certain way using magic, but she's careful not to hurt them, and mostly starts from embryos, so if the form might hurt, she can prevent the brain from forming so it feels no pain. Not much call for that kind of thing for her, though.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 1st, 2017 01:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Yeah that is a good point about comprehension versus production. My character Dalia can understand Navajo well thanks to Nizoni, but can't speak much of it. ASL on the other hand, she's fluent in. <<

It's a standard feature that comprehension outweighs production in languages, most dramatically in foreign ones.

>> "Dr. Infanta and the Undertaker really dislike mad scientists."

All mad scientists? <<

Not necessarily all scientists coloring outside the lines, but all the ones working on unwilling victims.
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