WARNING: This poem contains extreme imagery that many people would find disturbing. The warnings are spoilers and also creepy themselves. The first half of the poem concerns World War II and is frankly horror. It features one of the worst things Dr. Infanta has survived: losing all her Guardians when the Nazis tested a Sterbenfeld device that killed every living thing within its radius. So that's basically extremely ill-advised experimentation in mad science, weapons of mass destruction, mass casualties, child death, child resurrection, child abandonment, loss of home, minor despoiling of corpses, and emotional trauma. All hurt/no comfort in this part. The second half concerns contemporary time, and although it's not made explicit in the poem, the reason Dr. Infanta just grabbed all her people and bunkered down is because some whackjob serial killer is running around with a nuclear-powered weapon. Dr. Infanta very quickly heard about this, assessed the situation, decided that Ilyana Cherenkov is much better suited to handled it, and then helped by staying out of the way herself. But of course it still had repercussions because the kid has PTSD out the wazoo, hence the nightmares/intrusive memories, difficulty feeling safe even in one of the best bunkers on the planet, traumatic grief, clinginess, and other unpleasantness. However, she now has plenty of people to cuddle and reassure her, so this part is h/C. WARN ALL THE THINGS! Please consider your headspace and tastes carefully before deciding whether this is something you want to read.
Alicia does not remember
what happened seconds before.
She only remembers waking up
on the mountainside, a tuft of alp lilies
wilting in front of her face.
Everything around her is dead:
the wildflowers, the grass, even
the line of ants going into their hill
all turned with their legs to the sky.
Her Guardians, too, lie dead
in a small heap below the little cabin
where they have all been hiding,
their bodies still warm and pliant.
Alicia reaches for them with her powers
but there is nothing for her to revive,
not the way she can sometimes snatch
life from death in those last fragile moments;
something has severed them from themselves
so completely that there can be no returning.
For her it is different, and Alicia knows that
she herself was dead just a few breaths ago,
recalls the feeling of stillness in her body
before it restored itself because she
cannot die and stay dead.
She shakes her head at that.
So many people fear death.
It is nothing to fear.
What they should fear is surviving
when everyone you love lies dead.
She looks down the long slope of the mountain,
toward the patch of trees around the Allied encampment
and the tumbled stones where the Germans had been
doing something she'd never quite manage to suss out --
which they had evidently finished, to everyone's regret.
Alicia sits down and cries over what she has lost.
The sun creeps past overhead, but there
is no sound except for wind and tears.
Then she strips what she can carry from her dead family,
cuts free the gold coins from the women's hems,
takes pistols and ammunition from the men.
The cabin is no longer safe, so she leaves it behind,
hiking down to where the Germans lie sprawled
like tin soldiers spilled by a child's tantrum.
She kicks one of them in passing,
but it doesn't make her feel any better.
Swifly she rifles through the tents, finding
a dead man with the green-backed braid
of an Oberst sprawled over his papers.
Alicia takes the papers -- maybe they
can help explain what happened here --
if there is anyone left alive in the world to analyze them.
She's crying again, but silently this time,
and wipes the tears away with an absent hand.
Already she misses her Guardians.
They had told her to cheer up --
things could be worse, after all --
so she cheered up, and then
sure enough things got worse.
There is no one to cheer her up now.
Berlin, Alicia decides; she'll go toward Berlin
where so much of the trouble has been coming from
that she was trying and failing to stop.
It will be dangerous, of course,
if there are still Germans alive to hound her ...
but Alicia doesn't like the Germans anymore,
she has nobody left to lose now, no shelter,
and she is sick of pretending to be civilized.
She turns her face downward again, and begins to walk.
Alicia wakes, raw with the memory of a wound that
will never really heal, so much worse than
the torture that made her what she is,
hot tears all down her cheeks and
soaking into her pillowcase.
Nanette wakes with her, and
the gentle touch of the telepath's mind
helps Alicia return to the here-and-now.
Frantic, she reaches out with her healing power,
not to change but just to check, quickly
patting over heartbeat-breathing-brainwaves
just to reassure herself that her Guardians
are still alive and well, that she is not
the only one left in a dead world.
She knows it's rude,
but she can't stop doing it.
"We're here, love," Nanette whispers
into Alicia's hair. "We're safe. You're safe.
Nothing can hurt us here. Everything will be all right."
This casual-looking little house is a fortress, built over
an old missile base, its former command room
turned into a cozy private bunker, alongside
the deep silo that has become a staff bunker
and the newly installed barn bunker for Judd.
This far underground, they are
safe from the Sterbenfeld device,
which only operates on the surface
and can't reach far into the soil;
safe from the nuclear weapons
and the people-of-mass-destruction,
for even those can only penetrate so far;
safe as the best super-gizmotronic shielding
can make anyone or anything on Earth.
Alicia still doesn't feel safe.
Her mind knows it's nonsense,
that she shouldn't still be haunted
by the past, even the worst day of her life,
but to her heart, it was yesterday.
This, this is why she buys die Faltenlilien
from the veterans whenever she sees them on sale,
just like she buys the poppies, red and white reminders
of the two wars she could have prevented but
didn't dare because she knew that merging them
into one would have been even worse.
Somehow that doesn't help much.
"I want groats for breakfast," Alicia says,
because it's comfort food that takes time to cook
and doesn't have to be gobbled out of a packet.
"I'll go put some on the stove," says Nanette,
her flannel nightie swishing as she
climbs out of the big bed.
Alicia rolls over and cuddles into Melissa,
grateful for her house with its hidden bunkers
but unable to stop thinking of the long-ago cabin
with its quaint rag rugs, and all the other homes
that she's found and lost over the centuries.
Plus now she's cold on one side.
Cheval lumbers off the hide-a-bed couch, dragging
his French braid quilt, its soft blue chevrons dotted
with gold diamonds, warm from his body as he
crawls in beside her, pressing Alicia between
himself and the still-sleeping Melissa.
He grumbles over the wet pillow,
flings it over his shoulder to the floor, and
pulls down another from the overhead shelf
stocked with extra bedding and stuffed animals.
Flanked by her Guardians on both sides now,
Alicia finally manages to relax a little,
lulled by the cozy bed and the sound
of Nanette singing as she makes breakfast.
Nowhere is perfectly safe, but
this is close enough to count.
* * *
The alp lily is called die Faltenlilie in Germany, a common wildflower there and throughout much of alpine/northern Europe. In Germany culture, white lilies symbolize mourning and the bond with the departed.
Espionage played a major role in World War II, and in Terramagne already showed the seeds of discord regarding spies. The Nazis had some scary-ass secret weapons even in our world. That heliobeam is akin to Terramagne's Sonnekanone (sun cannon), used to shoot down Allied aircraft. Not far below it, the local-German Fliegerfaust is similar to the first Terramagne Sechspistole, which came into English as hex cannon. Farther down, the Sturmgewehr bears a distant relation to Terramagne's Sturmwaffe or cyclone gun, which fires a cloud of projectiles instead of a stream. The Sterbenfeld device is what the T-Nazis were pursuing while the Allies were cooking up the Manhattan Project. As in our world, the T-Nazis were limited not by their ability to create horrifying machines but their failure to mass-produce them. They never did get the Sterbenfeld as wide as they wanted, but frankly that thing is appalling at any size.
Oberst is a German army rank equivalent to Colonel.
Emotional trauma can lead to PTSD. After all the hell that Dr. Infanta has survived in her ~700 years, it's a wonder that she's still as functional as she is. There are tips for coping with grief, traumatic stress, and PTSD in the family. If you look closely, you can see how some of the different trauma incidents have left her with different types of reaction.
Dr. Infanta's superpowers include Healing, Regeneration, Resurrection, and Life/Death Manipulation. Like most healers, she can sense metabolism and state of health. In Terramagne it is considered very rude for a healer to reach into someone's body like that without asking. Even among intimate friends or family, it is customary to ask first, and most of the people who don't ask have exactly this kind of traumatic reason behind it. Dr. Infanta gropes her family to reassure herself that they are still alive; her people know why she does it, and they would rather she comfort herself than respect their body autonomy. But some other people find it intrusive and upsetting, so it has started some unpleasant fights.
Feeling safe can be difficult or impossible for people, especially traumatized children. There are tips on how to help yourself or children feel safer. I also wrote a Safety Tracker for folks who may have difficulty assessing whether it's currently safe or not. Dr. Infanta has used her considerable resources to create a useful shelter for herself and her family; things like this are a key reason she's not a lot richer. She tends to invest her money in hard assets rather than leaving it in some bank.
A nuclear blast creates massive damage that requires a specialized fallout shelter to survive safely. L-America has belatedly converted some old military establishments such as Atlas bases into shelters. T-America did this immediately after they were decommissioned so it was much less hassle there. They have a considerable network of such shelters now, most often used to house people after natural disasters such as wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc. but occasionally for superpower incidents. There are tips on surviving a nuclear attack.
In L-America there is Silohome near Saranac, New York which in T-America is Dr. Infanta's much more developed Alcazar Ark near Sarazen, NY. Her personal space is the old control room refurbished into living space right under the house. The deep silo shelters staff in six paired floors of living/gather space, an amenities floor, an extra storage floor, and a machinery floor. Judd's new addition is modeled after a different bunker home here, which includes a barn and parkscape.
Comfort food helps people withstand stress. Enjoy a recipe for buckwheat groats.
Cheval's French braid quilt resembles this one.
Both red and white poppies have been used as remembrance flowers for veterans. In Terramagne, the alp lily is symbolizes the Sterbenfeld device and World War II. That thing is as scary to them as the atomic bomb is here, even though both have been deployed in extreme rarity.
Dr. Infanta has a big bed with shelves all around it, because she likes to sleep between two of her Guardians. It's not rare for her to wake up crying after stressful events, so they've learned to keep comfort objects such as spare pillows, blankets, and cuddle toys within immediate reach. Bad enough to get woken up by a bawling supervillain, without having to traipse across half the house to remake the bed. The extra support that Dr. Infanta gets from her Guardians is much of what keeps her reasonably sane.