Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "More Anxious to Agree"

This poem is from the April 7, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "conflicting obligations / oaths" square in my 3-16-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Dr. Infanta and Antimatter/Stalwart Stan threads of the series Polychrome Heroics.

Warning: This poem contains flangst and canon-typical rough stuff. Further details contain spoilers; highlight to read. There is criminal activity, crisis negotiation, gunrunners and a BASH team with actual firearms, intentional and unintentional injuries, a few messy medical bits, angsting over whose fault it was, and so forth. On the whole, however, the tone is upbeat and the outcomes pretty good -- particularly considering the amount of physical and metaphysical firepower in play. Think about what you're in the mood for before clicking through.

"More Anxious to Agree"

Hefty and Fiddlesticks sidled down
a quiet street, heading toward
the warehouse district.

On foot, Hefty's battlesuit made
a low whir and clink with every step,
while Fiddlesticks moved beside him,
shadow-soft and dark enough to hide
against the flat brown paint of the buildings.

An increase in gun activity throughout
the Omaha area had left the authorities
more anxious to agree to proposals for
ambushing as many of the culpable crooks
as could be identified and located.

Now they had a chance to corner
a particularly troublesome gunrunner
called Crosshairs whose Laser Eyes
were more use for aim than for injury,
but who gleefully supplied firearms and
zap guns to anyone who wanted some.

Several tips suggested that Crosshairs
worked out of this general area, so
if they could just get his twenty,
they could call for backup and
pounce on the perp.

Half-a-dozen teams had gone out
looking for him in different sections of
the warehouse district, but Hefty thought
that he and Fiddlesticks had gotten
the best spot -- already he'd spotted
several spent shells and pockmarks
on the walls, all carefully recorded
through his headcam for later study.

And then he saw the girl.

Quickly he raised a fist, stopping
Fiddlesticks in his tracks, and
both partners stared at the interloper.

She looked about seven years old,
dressed in close-fitting dark clothes
with a tan cap over long brown hair,
on closer inspection probably not
near enough to overhear them.

She was aiming a longarm at the windows
of a nearby warehouse, but as they watched,
she shook her head and lowered it.

"Is that a sniper rifle?" Fiddlesticks asked.

"Beam rifle," Hefty said, "but with a pink stock,
I'm not sure what it would be firing. Pink's
usually for the nonlethal stuff, though."
A suspicion sprouted and grew rapidly.

He felt torn between conflicting obligations,
wanting to follow the letter of the law that
he had sworn to uphold, but also desperate
to get a gunrunner off the streets of his city
as expeditiously and safely as possible.

"Shit," said Fiddlesticks. "That's Dr. Infanta.
Appearance fits, and what other kid
would have a beam rifle?"

"That's what I thought," Hefty said
as he started to move forward.

Fiddlesticks grabbed his elbow.
"Are you nuts? That's Dr. Infanta!
Do not engage."

"I have this screwball idea,"
Hefty said. "Humor me?"

His partner looked at him,
took a long slow breath,
and then nodded. "Okay,"
Fiddlesticks said. "I trust you."

Hefty pulled out his white handkerchief
and waved it, attracting the little girl's attention.

She nodded, waving back at them with
a white hanky of her own. Then she
did something to her gun -- hopefully
putting the safety on -- and wrapped
the hanky around it, covering the trigger.

Hefty did the same with his zatzer.

"What are you doing?" Fiddlesticks asked.

"Playing follow the leader," Hefty said,
jerking his chin at Dr. Infanta. "I figure
she's got more experience with
this kind of negotiation than I do."

Between his shoulderblades, he could feel
droplets of sweat trickling down his skin until
the wicking of the undersuit soaked it up.

Hefty really hoped that he wasn't
about to get both of them killed.

The little girl came to meet them,
strolling casually with both of her hands
in plain sight and her gun stowed securely
over her back with a sturdy pink-and-black strap.

"Excuse me, Miss Martins?" Hefty said.
Could I have a word with you, please?"

"Well, this is new," she drawled.
"That doesn't happen to me very often
anymore. This I have to hear."

So much for his hope that
the seven-hundred-year-old supervillain
had more relevant experience in this.

"I was wondering if you might consider a handoff,
since your current job seems to be in our jurisdiction,"
Hefty said. "I think that we --" he waved a hand
between Fiddlesticks and himself "-- and you
may have been working the same case."

"Hmm," she said, the tip of her tongue
poking out the corner of her mouth. "What case?"

"Let me get you a picture," Hefty said.
Moving slowly, he activated the screen
on the left forearm of his battlesuit
and tilted it to show her their quarry,
a man with light brown skin and
dark brown hair whose murky eyes
showed just a glint of red, holding a gun.

"Alias Christopher Smith, birth name unknown
at this time, cape name Crosshairs,"
she recited briskly. "He's longsighted,
so his aim gets worse as the range closes.
He sells guns, has a lot of allies, but is
making enemies faster than friends now."

"Longsighted," Fiddlesticks echoed, and
Hefty made a note. They hadn't known that
about Crosshairs. "Thanks for the tip."

"Since you're here, I gather that your intel
matches ours and puts Crosshairs
in this area," Hefty said.

"He's in that warehouse, toward the north wall,"
she said. "I could feel him there with five
other men, when I was close enough, but I
couldn't get a clear line of fire. Considering
his fondness for guns, I was hoping to drop him
from a distance, and at that range this has
more precise aim than I do barehanded."
She patted her beam rifle.

Hefty knew that they had no chance
of overpowering Dr. Infanta, and their badges
probably meant nothing to her, but she had
a reputation for minimizing collateral damage.
If he could appeal to that, it might work ...

"We'd be much obliged if you would
let us arrest Crosshairs, instead of you
assassinating him," Hefty said.
"Less messy that way."

Dr. Infanta tilted her head.
"I don't need the money," she said,
"but we'll have to make it look good for
the field cameras, or I'll have a hard time
finding work as an assassin again."

"Agreed," Hefty said. "We know
the guy is dirty as sin, but we're
having trouble pinning him down."

"Oh. That I can fix," Dr. Infanta said.
She snapped her fingers once.
A stocky man appeared beside her,
handed over a manila folder,
and disappeared again.

Hefty leafed through a stack of
incriminating evidence and whistled.
"Yeah, that ought to do it," he said.
"This won't be admissible in court, but
it'll tell our guys right where to look
for stuff that is. Thank you."

"Can you bring in a BASH team?"
Dr. Infanta asked. "You're going
to need one, if I pull my people out."

Hefty scanned the area, but
neither he nor his battlesuit
could pick up any trace of
whomever she had stationed
or waiting for her summons.

"Yes, Omaha has one and they're
on call for this assignment,"
Fiddlesticks said.

"It will have to be you chasing me,
of course," Dr. Infanta said to him.
"Your Super-Speed is enough
to make me work for my supper."

Hefty caught his breath at the thought of
his partner tangling with the most powerful
soup in the world. "That was not what
I had in mind," he protested.

"Sparring rules apply?" Fiddlesticks hedged.

"Pinky-swear," Dr. Infanta said solemnly,
holding out a tiny hand to him.

Without hesitation, Fiddlesticks
linked fingers with her.

"I like you," she declared.
"I'll try not to hurt you too much."

Then she smacked him on the hip and ran away.

Fiddlesticks darted after her, no more
than a blur against the buildings.

Hefty called in the location of their target and
received confirmation that the BASH team on standby
would arrive in just under three minutes.
He spared a moment's gratitude
for their zoom wagon.

Hefty closed on the warehouse but
did not try opening the doors,
waiting for backup to arrive.

Meanwhile he could see his partner
and Dr. Infanta playing what looked like
a superpowered game of tag among
the warehouses and dumpsters.

Hefty had no idea how the little imp
was managing to stay ahead of Fiddlesticks --
something she did made the air blur around her,
but other times he'd blink and she would just
be somewhere else, although he didn't
think it was actual teleporting.

When the BASH team arrived,
Hefty gave them a quick update
on the situation, then concluded,
"My suit is combat rated, but
optimized for search-and-rescue.
Where do you want me?"

Cristine Round sized him up and said,
"You've got better armor than we do,
so you take point. I'll put my two best
sharpshooters on your flanks, and
I'll take tailguard. We've got enough
people to cover the other doors too."

"Yes ma'am," Hefty said, content
to let the expert sort out her
available manpower resources.

When the scouts sent to check the site
reported that the warehouse held
only six gunrunners and a lot of guns --
with no innocent bystanders in sight --
Captain Round signaled the attack.

As soon as they burst through the door,
the sharpshooters fired with a quick
crack-crack! and two of the crooks
dropped to the floor, bleeding heavily
from the shoulders, their guns falling
from suddenly nerveless fingers.

Behind them, Captain Round
barked orders to everyone.

Hefty found himself facing Crosshairs
and staring down the distinctive
funnel-shaped barrel of a cyclone gun.

The man's eyes glinted red, and
smoky lines licked across Hefty's armor.

Mindful of Dr. Infanta's tip, Hefty
charged forward, closing the distance
so fast that Crosshairs had no real time
to aim and most of the projectiles
whanged uselessly off the battlesuit.

And then the idiot tried to club him with the gun.

Hefty swatted him with one armored hand,
discharging the zatzer field in his suit,
and caught the collapsing criminal
all in the same motion.

Quickly he cuffed the unconscious body
and laid it safely to one side.

By then the fight was mostly over.

The front of Hefty's battlesuit was
dented all to hell from the close fire;
it would be out of commission
for days at the least, in the shop.

BASH officers knelt over -- or on --
various gunrunners to secure them.

Captain Round was calling in
Tactical and Medical Support
for the pair of shoulder injuries.

Another officer had one hand
clenched over his bloody forearm.

"Let me through, I've got some
good first-aid gear in this rig,"
Hefty said as he moved forward.

"Think I got winged by that cyclone,"
the man said, lifting his hand to reveal
a long gouge from wrist to elbow.
His nametag said Nicholas Chen.

"Nasty things, cyclones," Hefty agreed.
The wound it left was ugly, and unpleasant
even with the spray-on anesthetic to help.
Talking would provide a comforting distraction
while Hefty cleaned and wrapped the injury.

"Sweet suit," Chen muttered as he
watched the delicate parts tending his arm.
His free hand stroked Hefty's armored knee.
"Love to get my hands in it."

"Oh yeah?" Hefty said, recognizing
the wistful tone of a gizmologist.
"After you get out of the hospital,
drop by the shop. It'll probably
still be on the rack getting repaired."

"Ambulances are here," Captain Round announced.
"Hefty, get Chen outside. Good job, both of you."

Officer Chen could walk just fine, although
Hefty kept an arm around him in case
shock made him wobbly on his feet.
Soon Hefty passed him to the paramedics
so that he could go find his own partner.

Hefty activated the tracking function
in his suit, which picked up
the encrypted signal from the pip
that Fiddlesticks wore on his uniform.

It was moving, but slowly.
With Fiddlesticks, that meant trouble.

Hefty hurried to meet him, and
found Fiddlesticks limping along
one of the warehouses -- no,
not limping, but hobbling with
his hand on the wall and one foot
held completely clear of the ground.

"What happened?" Hefty asked.

"Blew out my knee -- and don't
take it out on the kid, wasn't her fault,
I don't think she realized what could happen,"
said Fiddlesticks. "She just pointed at me, and
the next thing I knew, one foot stopped
while the rest of me kept on going."

"We got Crosshairs and five of his men,
plus a shipment of guns," Hefty reported.
"Two serious shoulder injuries on their side,
one probably just a flesh wound on ours."

"That's a good day's work," Fiddlesticks said,
transferring his grip from the wall to his partner.
"Would you believe I actually got in a couple
of good whacks on Dr. Infanta with my sticks?
She gave me the slip after a few rounds, though."

Hefty frowned over the suit's red-lit warnings
about the probable state of his knee.

"I'm picking you up," he warned,
then curled one arm under his partner
and activated the 'saddle' function
of the suit to lock that arm in place,
providing a secure seat for Fiddlesticks.

"Yeah, I could use a lift," he said as
he wrapped an arm over Hefty's shoulders.

"This is all my fault," Hefty said,
feeling again the pinch of conflicted loyalties.
"If I hadn't flagged down Dr. Infanta
and tried to make a deal --"

"Can you imagine how much worse
we would both have gotten hurt
if we'd messed up her case?"
Fiddlesticks said.

Hefty shuddered.

He didn't have to imagine, really --
he'd seen pictures from some
of the incidents involving her,
in the Do Not Engage lecture.

He'd probably get a different lecture from
Chief Kedzierski when she found out
the crazy risks he'd taken, with penalities, and
it might take some delicate negotiations
to keep from getting suspended ...
but then again, it had worked,
except for his partner getting injured.

The perps were in custody,
the guns were off the streets,
and they had survived an encounter
with the world's top supervillain.

Hefty decided to call it a win after all.

* * *


Crosshairs (Christopher Smith) -- He has light brown skin and short wavy hair of dark brown. His superpower gives him a murky, indistinct eye color with occasional glints of red. Crosshairs is known for selling guns -- everything from conventional firearms through retro-engineered cyclones and zatzters to zap guns. His taste for unnecessary violence has made him increasingly unpopular even in the underworld. So far, though, his connections have made it difficult for law enforcement to contain him.
Origin: In his early teens, Christopher started out as a spotter for gunrunners. One day, a firefight broke out which involved super-gizmotronic weapons. Christopher was caught in the crossfire, and when he recovered from his injuries, he had superpowers.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Gunrunner, Good (+2) Criminal Contacts, Good (+2) Math, Good (+2) Stillness
Poor (-2) Impulse Control
Powers: Average (0) Laser Eyes
Limitation: Longsighted. His aim is actually less effective at very close range, twenty feet or less.
Motivation: Death. He just really likes killing.

Cristine Round -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and curly brown hair. Her heritage includes Hispanic, African-American, and European. Cristine leads the BASH team in Omaha, Nebraska. She makes a great battering ram but a terrible screwdriver, with a blunt personality and a direct approach. Her family loves and supports her, but they worry about her a lot. Cristine likes jazz music and frequents several bars that play it. As a hobby, she enjoys making piñatas for friends.
Qualities: Master (+6) Insightful, Master (+6) Tough, Expert (+4) BASH Captain, Expert (+4) Criminal Psychology, Expert (+4) Intimidating, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Honorable, Good (+2) Jazz Fan, Good (+2) Piñata Crafter, Good (+2) Strong
Poor (-2) Blunt

Nicholas Chen -- He has golden skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He is touch-dominant, which has its pros (tactile precision) and cons (poor boundaries about personal property). Nicholas serves on the BASH team in Omaha, Nebraska. Currently his specialty is sharpshooting, but he is studying explosives with an eye toward certification for bomb disposal. He is left-handed, customarily paired with a right-handed sharpshooter so that they can both fire around the pointman from their dominant side. He adores his boss, Captain Cristine Round, because she says everything straight out and never expects anyone to play guessing games about what she wants from them.
Qualities: Master (+6) Sense of Touch, Expert (+4) Family Loyalty, Expert (+4) Sharpshooter, Good (+2) BASH Officer, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Go Player, Good (+2) Obedient
Poor (-2) Touches Other People's Stuff

This is how Dr. Infanta appears in the current poem.

* * *

"Negotiation in the classic diplomatic sense assumes parties more anxious to agree than to disagree."
-- Dean Acheson

Gunrunning involves the illegal transport and sale of weapons. Omaha has a history of trouble with arms trafficking among gangs.

A headcam or helmet camera is one form of body worn video recording. They have pros and cons for police use, and local-America is doing a shabby job of ethics. Terramagne-America is doing much better, and aside from the standard uses known here, also uses headcam footage for analytical and training purposes. Local hardware is good enough to be useful; T-American headcams are tiny little buttons with negligible weight.

Longarm is a general category of lengthy gun meant to be held against the shoulder and fired with both hands. While slower to deploy than a handgun, it is more powerful and accurate. These factors hold true with beam rifles and gizmotronic guns as well as ordinary firearms.

Tactical signs enable people to communicate under challenging conditions as substitute or supplement to speaking aloud. Meanings can vary a bit. Holding up a fist may indicate "attention" or "freeze." I found an extensive video guide to tacsigns which is similar to the sophisticated and expressive set used by BASH teams. Watch the intro, basics, and people episode. The actions episode has the raised fist meaning "stop" as I've used it in the above poem. Note that, like Plains Indian Sign and other auxiliaries but unlike most conversational sign languages, this is almost entirely representational with very little abstract content. Somatic languages in general are more concrete than spoken languages which tend to be almost entirely abstract. That means even someone who doesn't already know the signs can often intuit the meaning, which improves comprehension, especially under adverse conditions for which auxiliary sign languages are typically designed.

Conflicting obligations lead to moral dilemmas. In this case, technical law recommends things like "don't let people get away with crimes" and departmental orders include "do not engage." But following either of those would lower the chance of success and raise the chance of widespread harm. Their chance of using force or authority to make Dr. Infanta do what they want is effectively zero. So Hefty makes a call based on his understanding of Dr. Infanta's reputation and behavior, using what negotiation training he has, and it works. This is a good example of how Terramagne runs a much higher average position on the moral development spectrum. As a cop, Hefty spends most of the his time in Stage 4, but can shift up to 5 or 6 if 4 won't do the job. A crucial point in his own ethical status is that he's willing to pay the penalty for his decision, if he can't talk his chief out of benching him. Understand how to work your way through an ethical issue.

Negotiation is a valuable skill for resolving disputes. It is possible, and sometimes justified, to deal with principled criminals in this manner. L-American SWAT and T-American BASH teams, along with their support personnel, have basic to advanced training in crisis negotiation depending on each person's specialty. In this case, Hefty has the basic training and is betting on Dr. Infanta's age to add more. She actually has plenty to bring to the table, since she has done lots of combat negotiation. The "new" part is that this is the first time a police officer has flagged her down, on purpose, with the intent of coordinating efforts. Terramagne is still trying to figure out how to handle superpowers and keeping the peace; these folks are on the front-line of that problem-solving effort in different ways.

The white flag has a long history of signaling peaceful interactions under potentially hostile circumstances. Peacebonding refers to a symbolic or practical rendering of a weapon temporarily unusable. Hefty is relying both on Dr. Infanta's personal reputation and Terramagne's general respect of flagged negotiations. Violating the white flag is high on the list of things that can get someone a Go Home Charlie.

Underarmor is essential for preventing moderate to heavy armor from causing friction or impact injuries. It often constitutes light armor unto itself. Hefty's is designed to maintain optimum body function and is flexible but almost impenetrable.

Admissible and inadmissible evidence are cornerstones of justice, along with the argument of how to balance the related ethical issues. One solution common in T-America is that inadmissible evidence may not be presented in court, but may be used as a tip to find admissable evidence through standard procedures. It is most often used for information handed in from outside law enforcement where proof of provenence is unavailable to show that it was legally obtained, but which is valuable for getting dangerous criminals off the streets. Police are usually held to professional standards.

SWAT teams have their pros and cons. In L-America today, they are often overused in ways corrosive to a healthy society. T-America has BASH teams who are specially trained to carry firearms all the time; they are used in high-risk ordinary situations, or superpower incidents which are always considered high-risk. Otherwise, police officers customarily carry zatzers instead of firearms, although they may be issued firearms on special occasions. As a soup team, Fiddlesticks and Hefty are trained as BASH support. BASH also has Tactical and Medical Support, or TaMS, to provide immediate field care for casualties, under fire if necessary. Unlike the L-American Tactical Emergency Medical Services, TaMS delivers care in triage order, and only if there are multiple casualties needing the same level of care do they switch to their social priority order, which is typically innocent civilian, first responder, criminal. First responder may take precedence on practical grounds if that person is still semi-functional and urgently needed to continue doing their job for everyone's safety. Notice that Hefty actually overlaps combat and medical roles.

Sparring means fighting for practice or sport, not with intent to injure. Customary rules account for safety and educational aspects. Minor injuries such as scrapes and bruises are routine; significant injuries happen, but usually because someone screwed up. In this case it was plain ignorance of soup dynamics that just isn't common knowledge.

Pinky swear is a type of oath widespread through children's folklore.

Battlesuit is a general term for powered armor, which our world is exploring too. Hefty's is optimized for search-and-rescue rather than combat, so the defensive features outweigh the offensive ones. The zatzer field protects the suit rather than needing to be aimed from a gun; it has automatic, semi-automatic, and manual discharge modes.

Patrol positions have different responsibilities, and in a BASH raid, the positions are similar. Usually the leader takes point, but in this case, they have a tank man in Hefty who can provide much greater cover for their sharpshooters. The other typical position for the leader is tailguard. The rest of the team fits in wherever they can.

In America, police are explicitly trained to shoot to kill. This is easier to do; center mass is a fairly large fatal target. However, people question whether police should shoot to kill, and in some countries, police aim for nonlethal targets such as the shoulders. In terms of stopping power, the shoulders and hips are still quite effective, only a little harder to hit, and less likely to kill although permanent damage is common. The farther out from center mass, the smaller and more mobile the target, thus the harder to hit. BASH teams train extensively, and their sharpshooters have exceptional aim, so they can do things based on that advanced skill which a casual shooter could not. There are even numerous ways to disarm someone who has a handgun at grappling range.

It comes down to the value of human life., which is both inherent and instrumental. A problem in L-America is that police tend to place no value, or even negative value, on the lives of criminals and those they suspect might be criminals. The result is a lot of people dead outside of due process, which is abhorrent. T-America retains much higher respect for human life and dignity, even those with offensive behavior. This is partly moral and partly practical, because some superpowers (extant or newly manifesting) will go off under life-threatening circumstances. The higher the stress, the higher the chance of that, which sometimes has a sizable blast radius. They want to avoid that. A police department's values should codify these concepts, although they vary in how well they live up to their own ideals.

Ballistic trauma results from gunshot wounds and other causes. This is especially true for the high-force cyclone gun, which has turned what would've been a shallow graze from an ordinary bullet into a nasty lateral laceration. Know the first aid for gunshots.

Tracking devices come in many variations, some sold for private use. In T-America people have learned the hard way to be careful about privacy. Trackers are typically shielded and encrypted to discourage hostile access, and one established use is for trusted parties to find each other when separated.

Knee injuries range from minor to major, and first aid often suffices. If the leg won't bear weight or is too painful to walk on at all, that definitely requires medical attention.
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