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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Bending Forks"
This poem was written outside the prompt calls, based on discussion with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "enlightenment" square in my 9-29-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo  fest.  It has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles.  This poem belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series, and is a direct sequel to "Sanitation Engineers."

"Bending Forks"


Remedios Garza sat at a little wire table
not far from the freshly repaired Tastee Shack,
so that she could keep an eye on the gear
in case anything malfunctioned again.

It was the first day the mall was open
after the soup fight that had trashed the place,
and Malaya was behind the counter,
so the crowd got pretty thick.

Remedios was almost through her jalapeño pretzel
when a particularly surly customer reached
the head of the line -- and stopped being surly.

The man swayed on his feet, looking baffled,
then shook his head as if to clear water from his ears.

"It's a field effect.  It doesn't turn off.
It won't hurt you," Malaya murmured
with a quick, nervous smile.  "All it does
is make a bad day not be bad anymore."

She was doing her bending forks trick again,
Remedios realized.  Malaya's gift was
subtle enough that most people didn't notice it
as anything more than a cheerful greeting
followed by a feeling of relief, but for someone
set against superpowers it could be unsettling.

Remedios hastily finished the last of her snack
and slipped out of her chair.  As she headed
toward the counter, she could just sense
Malaya's talent, warm and bright as sunshine.

"Excuse me, sir," said Remedios
as she came alongside the customer.
"Would you like me to walk you
to the first aid station?  Our staff
is trained in emotional first aid
as well as the physical kind."

"I-I think ... maybe that's a
good idea," the man mumbled.

"Here's your lunch," Malaya said,
handing him a Philly cheese pretzel,
which was a good thing because
low blood sugar made people cranky
and food was soothing in general.
"Have a nice day."

"I'm Remedios.  I fix the mall when it breaks,"
the repairwoman said as they walked.  "You?"

"Chester.  I'm a mechanic too, thought I'd
try my luck at TruckMart, but it didn't go so well,"
he said, clutching his lunch with white knuckles.

"Sorry to hear that," Remedios said as they
passed the Information booth.  She opened the door
marked with a red cross.  "Maybe it'll get better."

Amber Chakrabarti was the Emotional First Aide on duty,
a psychology student working part-time at the mall
to cover things like lost children and messy breakups.
"What can I do for you?" she asked as they came in.

"Chester here's had a bad day and he got a bit
overloaded at the Tastee Shack," said Remedios.
"He could use a quiet place to eat lunch, and
maybe a sympathetic ear after that."

That was enough to tip Amber to what happened,
allowing the repairwoman to return to her own job.

Remedios smiled.  She liked  fixing things.

* * *


Malaya Lin Sato -- She has toasty brown skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and curly black dreadlocks that reach about to her shoulders.  Her heritage is mixed race, including an African-American mother and a Japanese-American father.  (Her middle name is pronounced "rin" instead of "lin" as it's spelled -- or if she's saying it, "rin-with-an-L.")  Malaya has a thriving spiritual life with interest in Mother Mary, Kuan Yin, and Yemaya.  She has a Lourdes rosary for Mary, a jade pendant for Kuan Yin, and a cowrie-shell choker necklace for Yemaya. 
 Malaya's superpower is a room-sized field effect that she can't turn off, which is strongest right next to her.  It's primarily an empathic function that removes the emotional effects of having a bad day, with a bit of luck-shifting to make the rest of the day stop sucking.  At 19, Malaya is working at Tastee Shack because she hasn't decided what to do with her life yet.  She wants to help people, doesn't want to be a superhero, and isn't sure what kind of work would give her the best opportunity to apply her gift.
Origin: Her superpower grew in gradually.
Uniform: Tastee Shack uniform of beige slacks and blouse.
Qualities: Expert (+2) Customer Service, Good (+2) Singer, Good (+2) Spirituality, Good (+2) Sunny Personality
Powers: Average (0) Have a Nice Day
Motivation: Has no clue yet.

Amber Chakrabarti -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and wavy brown hair.  She is first-generation American; her parents immigrated from India.  She plays both American folk music (on guitar) and Indian classical music (on sitar) as a hobby.  At 20, Amber is studying psychology in college.  She works part-time at a local mall as an Emotional First Aide for college credit and pocket money.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Psychology Student, Good (+2) Emotional First Aid, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Musician

* * *

Prejudice is belief without evidence.  This may work in the short term, but consistently undermines success in the long term because bigots do not learn and adapt well to changing circumstances.  Know how to overcome prejudice in yourself and the world around you.  There are also wider strategies to fight prejudice in general.  In Terramagne, prejudice against people with superpowers resembles that against homosexuals or people of color.

There are many tactics for dealing with a prejudiced person.  You can avoid or disapprove of them, which spares you their crap and discourages them from spreading it; this is likely why Chester didn't get a job at TruckMart.  Alternatively you can engage with them, which is more work but has a higher chance of improving their behavior.

Terramagne teaches emotional first aid, a set of techniques for dealing with psychological shock, about as much as our world teaches physical first aid.  That means when something goes wrong, there's a pretty good chance that someone in the vicinity will know how to make it better instead of worse.  An Emotional First Aide is someone trained in those techniques, often available at a first aid or information desk at institutions or events; the ones who ride in ambulances have higher training.  Understand how to offer emotional support and help an upset person calm down.  There are also tips for treating yourself.

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8 comments or Leave a comment
From: siliconshaman Date: October 24th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Could do with a little of that myself somedays... Don't think I've mentioned to you before but I really like this universe of yours.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 24th, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Could do with a little of that myself somedays... <<

Yeah, me too. I've gotten a taste of it a few times. It's like if coffee made you feel as good as it smells.

>> Don't think I've mentioned to you before but I really like this universe of yours. <<

Yay! That's what I'm aiming for, eutopia. Not too perfect to exist, but full of people you'd love to go out to lunch with ... and even awesome places like Tastee Shack and Frisky Critters to do it at.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: October 25th, 2014 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

• eutopia
> 8-D

Edited at 2014-10-25 04:00 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 25th, 2014 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

It's part of a set:

Utopia (too good to be true)
Eutopia (good enough to exist, but not perfect)
Pseudotopia (pretends to be utopic but has dystopic features)
Dystopia (really awful)

From my notes for a panel I'd really like to run one day: "Those Who Set Fire to Omelas."
thnidu From: thnidu Date: October 25th, 2014 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Nice. The first and fourth, of course, being well established terms; and the specific meanings, except for "dystopia", are not strictly deducible from the etymologies.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 25th, 2014 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Utopia literally means "no place," and began with a story. That one, you have to know that it's supposed to be a place that's too good to really exist.

"Eu-" means "good," so "eutopia" is "good place."

"Pseudo-" means "false," and oh hey the entry says "in appearance only," that's even better. "False place," which pretends to be better than it is, seems reasonably straightforward to figure out.

"Dys-" means "bad," so "bad place."

And "-topia" comes from "topos" for "place."
thnidu From: thnidu Date: October 25th, 2014 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Oh yes, I know all that. St. John's College, 1965-1967. In English pronunciation, "eu-" and "u-" are indistinguishable, which has led to much misunderstanding. ... Oh! And what's more, More knew it and played with it.WP
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 26th, 2014 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I noticed the wordplay, yes.
8 comments or Leave a comment