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Poem: "Under the Table" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Under the Table"
This poem came out of the December 2, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user Wyld_dandelyon. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Under the Table"


The five of them were holed up
in a dilapidated shack in Algeria --

the Fennec, a shapeshifter with
long black hair and vivid green eyes,
her body impervious to the desert's threats

Rampart, formerly an American soldier who now
used his Invulnerability to protect his partners,
the combat healer Patches and their teleporter Buraq

and the package they'd all gone in to save,
an Italian fellow called Bruno the Brewer,
who still had the muscles of his previous job
as an enforcer even though his current specialty
was turning skills into consumables.

Bruno was asleep on the one real mattress
in the shack, bloody but intact thanks to
the hard work of Patches, who was busy
eating his way through their rations
as fast as he could shovel food in his mouth.

The Fennec yawned enormously
and pushed another date brick at Patches.
"What do you think is in the briefcase?"
she asked as she opened it.

"Are you nuts?" Patches exclaimed.
"That could have been trapped."

"Wasn't," she said blithely.
"Little bottles of ... what?"

"This says Croatian," said Rampart,
peering at the label on one.
"Looks like brandy though.
God, I need a drink." He drank it.

"Govorim hrvatski," he said.
"Now I speak Croatian."

"German," the Fennec read on the next.

"Oh, I already speak that one,"
Rampart said. "You have it."

The Fennec drained the bottle.
"Ich spreche Deutsch," she said.
"Also that was excellent beer."

They grinned at each other,
grabbing for fresh bottles.
The drinking contest was on.

Half an hour later, Rampart mumbled,
"Ich am très meisce," and slid slowly under the table.

"Kazanırım," the Fennec said, waving an empty bottle.
Then she passed out on top of the table.

Patches rolled his eyes at their antics,
checked to make sure they were both breathing,
and dragged them onto their bedrolls.
"I'm not touching those hangovers," he said.

Then he looked in the briefcase. "Hey, Buraq,
there's two left -- you want to speak Spanish?
I think I'll take the Algerian for myself."

"Won't we get in trouble for drinking up the goods?"
Buraq asked, eyes wide. "Or get sick like they did?"

"Here's the goods we were really sent for," Patches said,
patting the unconscious Bruno. "And those idiots
aren't sick, they're just hungover. One won't hurt."

So they polished off the last two bottles between them,
and spent the rest of the afternoon translating
every raunchy joke they could think of.

* * *

Notes:

The Fennec (Kahina Fazil) -- She has green eyes, straight dark hair, and tinted skin. Her mother is Algerian and her father is Arabian. Kahina speaks Arabic, Berber, German, French, and Turkish. She is Sunni Muslim, but also interested in the old pagan religions of Algeria. She travels around taking jobs as a teacher, historian, translator, seller of cultural artifacts, environmental consultant, or whatever else she can find. Although keenly interested in family life, she's having difficulty finding a Muslim man comfortable with her wild side.
The Fennec uses her travels to scope out the desert habitat wherever she goes, then solve problems as she find them. Sometimes this annoys people. True to her fennec nature, she is notoriously difficult to capture, and there are several hilarious videos of police trying and failing to do so, along with one epic chase by Haboob through the souks of Riyadh.
Origin: Kahina has always enjoyed studying the languages and history of her peoples. Her investigations into ancient Algerian manuscripts led to her accidentally contacting the lifeforce of the Sahara Desert, which bestowed her powers and an obligation to protect desert environments.
The Fennec became a nemesis of Haboob when she thwarted one of his terrorist attacks with a scorpion swarm. He survived, but swore revenge. Together they represent the life and death aspects of desert powers.
Uniform: Off duty, Kahina tends to dress modestly but enjoys bright shades of yellow, green, and blue often adorned with gold embroidery and gold jewelry. At home she dresses more casually. On duty, she usually shapeshifts into a fennec and thus goes nude. Other times she wears a veil as a disguise.
Qualities: Good (+2) Historian, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Muslim, Good (+2) Nimble, Good (+2) Traveler
Poor (-2) Unlucky in Love
Powers: Expert (+4) Fennec Powers, Good (+2) Control Desert Life
Her meta-power includes the ability to shapeshift into a fennec, exceptional hearing, and affinity for the desert environment. She is resistant to natural and empowered desiccation, heat, and poison.
Motivation: To protect the life of the deserts.

Rampart (Titus Truello) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair. He speaks Arabic, Croatian, Dari (Persian), English, Esperanto, French, German, Irish, Japanese, Pashto, and Turkish. He has a large family back in the states and keeps in casual contact with them.
Rampart is the one who networks to find jobs and negotiate payment. In the field, he also leads the strategic planning. He and Buraq are responsible for getting Patches to the casualty, and then they provide support for his greater medical experience. A persistent challenge is that Rampart is Invulnerable but his clothing is not. He dislikes dexflan and capery, preferring conventional materials, and like his partners he prefers a version of his old military uniform. So he winds up showing a lot of skin sometimes, to the periodic amusement of people who admire fit male bodies.
Origin: While serving in Iraq, Truello got trapped under a pile of rubble, which activated his superpower. He was rescued by Patches and Buraq. The stress of the manifestation kept him unconscious for hours, although he recovered just fine. Afterward he formed a team with the other two soups so they could rescue other people.
Uniform: In the field, he still dresses in surplus fatigues, minus the old insignia and with a red cross armband to mark his first aid skill -- and he goes through them like kleenex. Otherwise he wears street clothes, but still favors the drab earth tones like tan, brown, and olive green.
Qualities: Expert (+4) First Aid, Expert (+4) Soldier, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Loyalty, Good (+2) Making Contacts, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Partners with Patches and Buraq, Good (+2) Strategy, Good (+2) Video Gamer
Poor (-2) Can't Keep His Clothes On
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability
Motivation: To stick by his partners.

Buraq (Akram Zaidi) -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He is slim and quick. Akram speaks Arabic, English, and Spanish currently learning French from his partners Patches and Rampart. He enjoys reading and writing Arabic poetry. He is a Muslim, originally from Iraq. He finds political conversations stressful and prefers to avoid them, because he's seen how much damage is done over political disagreements.
Buraq currently works as part of a punch team, meant to cut through any obstacles or hazards to reach a designated casualty. He specializes in getting through defenses meant to block teleporters, and in memorizing coordinates for many hospitals and other safe zones. He has also learned enough first aid to help Patches with casualties.
Origin: Before joining the military, Akram made his Hajj to Mecca. His flight home was canceled, leaving him stranded and about to be late reporting for duty. He wished fiercely that he was at his base -- and suddenly, there he was. Over time, he learned how to acquire jump references from other people's minds as well as his own experience, although his telepathy is iffy for anything else. Akram considers his superpowers to be gifts from God, hence his nickname: the buraq was a legendary creature who carried the prophets.
Later in Iraq, Akram was wounded in combat with the American military. A Marine field medic named Patches found him and provided first aid, but there was no path out of the hot zone. Akram offered to teleport them out. The medic refused to leave his first casualty behind, and Akram said that he could carry two; he was able to teleport them all to a field hospital. The three of them later formed a team.
Uniform: He still wears an Iraqi-style uniform in the field, but without the old insignia, with red cross armbands to mark his first aid skill.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Soldier, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) First Aid, Good (+2) Partners with Patches and Rampart, Good (+2) Poet
Poor (-2) Hates Politics
Powers: Expert (+4) Teleportation, Average (0) Telepathy
Motivation: To carry on.

Patches (Montgomery Hammond) -- He has milk chocolate skin, brown eyes, and short nappy brown hair. He speaks English, French, Arabic, and Algerian. He is nonmonogamous, preferring to have fun without commitment. He has also fathered four children for ladies who wanted a baby without the hassle of either a husband or a sperm bank. His impoverished background makes it difficult for him to handle money fluently, so he usually leaves that to Rampart. Hammond was a Navy corpsman trained as a Marine field medic. His nickname came not from his superpower -- although it matches perfectly -- but from the state of his clothes when he first enlisted.
Currently he works with two other soups, Buraq (a teleporter) and Rampart (an invulnerable soldier). They're a punch team, meant to cut through any obstacles or hazards to reach a designated casualty. They are unusual in working for anyone who needs them and can afford them -- ordinary, superhero, or supervillain -- and almost everyone respects their medical neutrality. They don't charge anywhere near what they're worth, and most of that goes into operating expenses, although it still isn't cheap.
Origin: Originally serving in the Navy as a corpsman, Hammond was on deck when a fuel container exploded, injuring several sailors. His Healing talent manifested, allowing him to save them. After that, he sought training as a Marine field medic.
Later in Iraq, Hammond was working under heavy fire when he found an American soldier trapped under rubble, unconscious but with no visible injures. He managed to free the soldier, but then heard moans that led him to an Iraqi soldier who was seriously wounded. There was no path out of the hot zone, but the Iraqi man said he could get them out. Hammond refused to leave his first casualty behind, and the Iraqi said that he could carry two; he was able to teleport them all to a field hospital. The three of them later formed a team.
Uniform: He still wears a surplus Marine uniform in the field, minus the old insignia and with a lot of red cross markings to indicate him as a field medic.
Qualities: Master (+6) Marine, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Comic Book Fan, Good (+2) Deduction, Good (+2) Fearless, Good (+2) Ladies' Man, Good (+2) Partners with Buraq and Rampart, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Impoverished Background
Powers: Expert (+4) Healing
Motivation: To patch up whatever he can.

Bruno the Brewer (Bruno Di Caprio) -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He has numerous small tattoos scattered across his body, souvenirs from various experiences drawn by different artists. He likes to collect them one at a time, rather than making a large contiguous illustration. Handsome and well built, Bruno never had a hard time getting a date, but now feels so awkward that he flounders around women.
Residual nerve damage from a previous fight has left him with a droop along the left side of his face, and he walks with a limp because his left leg doesn't respond smoothly anymore. He has since retired from working as an enforcer and instead is developing his superpower, which allows him to bottle qualities in consumable form. Bruno feels self-conscious about his handicap and is determined to find new ways of pulling his own weight now that he can't really serve as muscle anymore. He hasn't quite got the hang of it yet.
Origin: Bruno was captured on a job and subjected to mad science torture. They weren't trying to get information out of him; they just wanted a human guinea pig. The lab was overtaken and he was rescued, but the experience left him with nerve damage and superpowers.
Uniform: Fashionable men's clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Enforcer, Good (+2) Life of the Party, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Wine Connoisseur
Poor (-2) Nerve Damage
Powers: Expert (+2) If You Could Bottle That
Motivation: To be of use.

* * *

Dates are a traditional travel food in the desert, easy to preserve even in hot weather, and high in nutrients.

Patches is the only one with anything approaching a normal standard of risk assessment. The Fennec has a fox's curiosity. Rampart is more like a gamer. Yes, I know people like this in real life.

Plum brandy is one type of Croatian liquor.

Govorim hrvatski.
I speak Croatian.
-- How to Say...

Ich spreche Deutsch.
I speak German.
-- How to Say...

très -- French for "very."
-- French-English Dictionary

PHRASE: Ta me are meisce
PRONOUNCED: taw/may/air/mesh-keh
MEANING: I am very drunk
-- Irish Phrases

Codeswitching means changing between different languages rapidly, often within the same sentence. It happens when a polyglot has trouble thinking of all the right words in one language -- especially if they're tired or drunk. In a chugging contest like this, when people are trying to cram in a lot more new information than is really prudent, it's a sign that the speaker is about to faceplant. As with ordinary alcohol, people usually pass out before they do permanent damage. That doesn't make it any more of a good idea, but imagine this as a slightly souped-up version of a college party.

kazanırım --Turkish for "I win."
-- Turkish Language

There are tips for taking care of a drunk person. It's a good start for how to treat a super-gizmological bender, too.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: December 8th, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it would be really nifty to be able to acquire language that way, but I also think you're right; overdoing it would lead to a hell of a hangover-equivalent.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 8th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

It is nifty, but too much of a good thing quickly becomes troublesome. It's not just the hangover, which will wear off in a few days. It's the cognitive dissonance caused by dumping in that much cultural information and thought patterning from different sources all at once. The Fennec has an advantage because her personality is whimsical and flighty to begin with. Rampart is a lot more solid and practical, thus has less flexibility to deal with that kind of challenge.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: December 25th, 2014 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Love the concept of getting "drunk" on languages!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 25th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I had fun with it. Basically the effect comes from a temporary overload in neurochemistry. It's kind of like buffer overflow in a computer, where things can slow down and start skipping.
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