Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Fate Misnamed"

This poem is spillover from the January 6, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "accidental mating for life" square in my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calvin/Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem features some touchy topics. Highlight to read further warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is canon-typical supervillain activity, a superpower mishap resulting in a mental link, nonconsensual drug use, a whole heap of boundary violations and other consent issues, really awkward interactions, a supervillain trying to do at least some of the right things and getting smacked down rather hard, and other angst. There are some hopeful notes, but folks are by no means out of the woods yet. If these are sensitive issues for you, consider your headspace before clicking through.


"Fate Misnamed"


Calliope had several encounters
with the supervillain organization
known as Kraken, or at least,
with an assortment of spies, thieves,
and agitators who seemed
to be vaguely connected.

One of them had so obviously
been a Super-Intellect that
neither Calliope nor the police ever
got within a hundred yards of her
or figured out quite what she
was doing in the Capitol.

One was a fellow shapeshifter
who politely gave her some
tips on mass management,
chatted her up about whether
her identity issues (how did he
even know about that?) meant
she wanted to join them (she didn't),
and then rudely shot her with a freeze ray.

Another fellow started out shy
but eventually gave his name as Vagary
after the fourth time she caught him
ghosting around Oklahoma City.
Her empathy told her that he was
up to no good, but couldn't pin down what.

The fifth time, however, Calliope caught him
slipping his hand into a senator's pocket,
and she chased Vagary for six blocks
before finally cornering him in an alley.

Things got somewhat fuzzy after that.

Calliope woke up in a hotel room
with a raging headache,
a nebulous gap in her memory,
and Vagary pacing in circles.

"How'd I get here?" she mumbled.

"I, I brought you," said Vagary.
"I shot you with my Confusticator
just as you started to phase, which
made you stumble so I tried to catch you
and then we sort of ... went through each other."

Anxiety poured off him like rainwater,
stained with guilt and bewilderment
and ... was that affection?

Calliope enunciated her next words with care:
"Go. The fuck. Away."

Vagary flinched as if she'd slapped him.
"I can't," he said miserably. "When you went down,
I realized there's some kind of tie between us.
It didn't wear off after a couple minutes,
so then I drugged you and --"

"Jesus fuck, you can't just do things like that,"
Calliope said. "You had no right."

"I only did it to buy some time!" he protested.
"I hoped that the link would fade out eventually,
and look, it's getting weaker, I can go
a lot farther than I could at first."

Vagary demonstrated by walking
toward the door, but he stopped just short
and turned to look at her. "Do you feel it too?"

There was a pang like pulling on fresh stitches,
separate from the headache and
getting rapidly worse.

"Yes," Calliope admitted.

"Can I come back now?" he said.

She gave a brusque flip of her hand,
and he returned to the foot of the bed.

"Have you ever done this before?"
Calliope demanded, glaring at him.

"Not like this," Vagary said.
"I've phased through people
a few times, but I try to avoid that,
because it makes me uncomfortable."

"That makes two of us," Calliope grumbled.
"You shouldn't fool around with your powers
like that, I don't care if you are a supervillain,
things can go incredibly wrong!"

Something twinged, an unpleasant echo
of his upset rebounding back on her.

"Yeah, I hear you," said Vagary.

"What do you plan to do if this
doesn't go away?" Calliope asked.

"I don't know," he said. "We could ...
try to work it out, maybe?" A wistful
note of hope crept into his aura.

Calliope stomped on it.
"I don't think so."

"Is there anything I could do?"
Vagary asked, wavering toward her.

"Learn some boundaries," she snapped.

He jerked back. "Okay," he said.
"I can work on that. Somehow."

Much to Calliope's surprise,
he did just that.

Vagary kept his distance until
the tangled threads of their energy
loosened enough that they could
part company with no worse penalty
than a faint sense of unease.

Calliope prodded at the remains of the bond,
hoping it would vanish altogether,
but it did not.

Two weeks later, she found
a certificate of completion from
a Personal Boundaries workshop
slipped under her door.

The next day in the park, Calliope
crossed paths with Vagary again.

"I know my social skills suck,"
he said, "but I'm trying. Could you
maybe give me a chance before
throwing me off a cliff?"

Calliope sighed. "You're a supervillain,"
she said as she ticked points on her fingers.
"You messed with a senator, shot me,
somehow tangled the two of us together,
then drugged me and took me to your hotel room.
This does not mean you get to be my evil boyfriend."

"Oh! No no no," Vagary said, waving his hands.
"I don't know that I'd even want to do that."

Unpleasant prickles ran under her skin
as Calliope realized that he must have
figured out her gendershifting somehow.

"It's not because of that!" he said.
Vagary looked away, rubbing his arms.
"I guess you haven't picked up as much
about me as I have about you. Well,
I got kicked out of my house for being
sexually confused, and that's how
Kraken took me in. I never did figure out
whether I'm even ... into people that way."

"I'm sorry," Calliope said. "I didn't know.
I'm not entirely sure about my interests
either; I'm still learning about myself.
But I do know it takes me a while
to tell if I want to be around someone."

"I guess that makes sense," he said.

The park was quiet except for a few birds,
as if the world offered them space for thought.

"Even if there's some stupid bond
because of a super accident,
that doesn't mean we're actually
meant for each other or can
get along without fighting,"
Calliope pointed out. "We're on
opposite sides of the cape, here,
and love doesn't conquer everything."

"Love," Vagary said dubiously.
He paused to pick up a bit of litter.

"Or whatever this is," Calliope said,
poking at the tender spot in her feelings.
"I don't know what to do about it."

"You could give me another assignment?"
Vagary suggested. "I may suck at
social things, but I'm smart and I'm patient.
I think that I learned some stuff
from the boundaries class."

"Why would you bother?" Calliope said.
"I'm not sure it's even possible to level-grind
your way through social skills like that."

"I'd like to be ... not enemies,
at least," he replied.

"Do you actually have any friends?"
Calliope wondered.

"I have a mentor, occasional teammates,
and some people I enjoy playing games with,"
said Vagary. "I like the territory games,
and those take several people to play.
Friendship is more complicated, though."

"Then I guess that should be
your next assignment," she said
as they came to the edge of the park.
"It just seems like a lot of work
to go through for what amounts
to a souped-up accident."

It was the first time she'd seen him smile,
a quick flash like a firefly's tail
on a summer evening.

"There's no such thing as an accident,"
said Vagary, "only fate misnamed."

* * *

Notes:

Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American. Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond. Cal is demiromantic demisexual.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers. Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly. Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope. As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Motivation: Self-discovery.

Vagary (Abelardo Bennett) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark hair with a short beard and moustache. His very mixed heritage includes Jewish, Spanish, German, and Italian. He enjoys taking tours at museums, art galleries, caves, parks, monuments, anywhere he can be part of a group without people expecting him to be charming. He also loves strategy games, with a particular taste for area-control ones.
Vagary currently works for the supervillain organization Kraken. He is a competent spy, adept at both planting and stealing small items as well as eavesdropping. He specializes in fishing for information by hanging around places of power in semi-public or taking tours, and skimming for valuable thoughts. Kraken has considered him for officer training, held back primarily by his shyness and poor social skills; so far he has only taken the lead in a few small teams.
Origin: Abelardo was kicked out of his rather conservative home for "sexual confusion." A Kraken officer recruited him by providing acceptance of whatever he turned out to be. Abelardo never has really nailed down his sexual orientation or identity, but unlike his family, Kraken doesn't care. The organization offered him the gamble of taking a potent metagen; he accepted, and developed superpowers.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools, along with a holster for the Confusticator zap gun which causes disorientation and short-term memory loss. Off-duty, Abelardo favors business casual, most often trousers and a polo shirt.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Gamer, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Spy, Good (+2) Touring
Poor (-2) Social Skills
Powers: Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telepathy
Limitation: His Telepathy is usually restricted to skimming strong signals from the ambient pitch pool, rather than reading another person directly. If he phases through someone, it functions at Good level and he can read them directly, but he feels very uncomfortable doing that.
Motivation: To explore while unobserved.

Phrenica (Patrice Allard) -- She has fair skin, lavender eyes, and long straight hair of dark brown which is usually pinned up in a bun with hairsticks. Her heritage is French. She speaks English, French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish fluently. Patrice works on the more sophisticated projects for Kraken, such as political manipulation.
Origin: Her superpower grew in gradually. Kraken appealed to a smart, pretty, lonely teenager and offered her a place where she could use her wits without people trying to grope her all the time.
Uniform: Most of the time, she wears women's fashions, often a business suit. She also has a Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools. Her hairsticks contain tiny knives.
Qualities: Master (+6) Political Intrigue, Expert (+4) Deductive Reasoning, Expert (+4) Hairsticks, Good (+2) Beautiful, Good (+2) Fashion Sense, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Logic Games, Good (+2) Reading People, Good (+2) Subtle
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect
Motivation: To outthink her opponents.

Saul Omar -- He has light brown skin, sherry-brown eyes, and ginger hair with blond roots although his facial and body hair is darker brown. His heritage includes Israeli, Palestinian, Arabic, and American. He speaks Arabic, English, and Hebrew. Saul favors gizmotronic or super-gizmotronic weapons; his favorite is a freeze ray. He likes musical games such as Moosiqar.
Origin: When his superpower manifested at puberty, that made him a target in Palestine. Kraken won him over simply by offering to get him out of the country, which is one of the bottom-ten for soups.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spy, Expert (+4) Hand-to-Hand Combat, Good (+2) Gizmology, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Musical Games, Good (+2) Palestinian Folk Music, Good (+2) Politics, Good (+2) Teacher
Powers: Good (+2) Shapeshifting
Motivation: To make the world safer for soups -- by any means necessary.

* * *

"There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed."
-- Napoleon Bonaparte

Supervillain organizations are ubiquitous in comics. The ones in Terramagne do better on average. Kraken looks for vulnerable young people, although they'll take members of almost any age. Many of the older Kraken members are very attuned to signs of unhappiness and isolation which can give them an opening. They use some of the same tactics as cults and other predators. They get people involved in illegal and often dangerous activities. However, they care about their members, and thus provide secure employment, a nice benefits package, and acceptance of whatever quirks made people feel outcast in the first place.

Phasing allows passage through solid objects, and like teleporting is one of the superpowers prone to mishaps if people aren't careful. Vagary also has Telepathy, and the accidental link adds some degree of Empathy just between the two of them, but he's picking up a lot more from Calliope than she is from him. The result is very uncomfortable. When superpowers go wrong, it's often played for laughs, but in practice it can be miserable. What happens here is similar to TeleFrag accidents -- essentially the intimate contact between two people with the same power created enough resonance to stick them together mentally.

Soul and mind links can be tricky. They are often sexualized and usually permanent, sometimes creating awkward entanglements. In this case, there's no telling yet whether it's "really" permanent, but it's not going away on its own and trying to remove it might do more harm than good. The connection is there, but how these two characters handle it is up to them. Vagary is trying to make it less awful, but he's clumsy about it. He feels warmly toward Calliope now that he's got a good sense of her, which is kind of like a Villainous Crush except that he can't tell whether it's sexual or not.

Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship. Know how to establish them. Vagary doesn't have a good sense of boundaries, so he's doing a bunch of villainous things -- and Calliope doesn't think it's cute or sexy, it just pisses her off. However, Vagary is unusually determined at trying to fix his fuckups. Boundary violations make people uncomfortable and often angry, and can be difficult to respond to effectively.

Consent is a complex issue, most often discussed in the contexts of sexuality or health and human research. However, the same principles apply to any intimate and important activity. A big problem here is simply that it started out with an accident, and even though they wound up spilling into each other's minds, neither of them meant for that to happen. So they're kind of both victims, except that Calliope blames Vagary because ... he's a supervillain and none of it would have happened if he hadn't been out making trouble. Dubcon and noncon are widespread fannish tropes, extending beyond the usual sexy stuff into areas like this where Terramagne folks are very sensitive about body and mental autonomy. In some ways, what happened is similar to mind rape, except for being involuntary on both parts. Regrettable the results are similar: Calliope feels violated, which makes her lash out, and Vagary is unable to defend himself against her negative emotions.

Giving someone a chance is a wonderful thing, but Calliope has sound reasons not to. There are tips for doing it safely if you're going to try it.

Transfolk often find dating a challenge. Disclosure is particularly difficult because coming out can be risky but many people don't want to date transfolk. It's an easy mistake for Calliope to assume that's the problem here, when it's not. She's still trying to get a handle on her new identity, and this situation is so not helping.

Calliope seems likely to be demisexual and/or demiromantic. Vagary may be too, or may turn out to be asexual and/or aromantic. Some people are sexually confused, because sexuality can be confusing! That's okay. Picking on someone because they're confused is not okay. A more polite (and less scary) term is "questioning."

Level grinding is a gaming term for going through a tedious stack of tasks in order to improve your character. Will it work in social skills? Vagary is determined to find out if he can make himself a better person, because right now he grates on Calliope and that's hurting both of them.

Making friends with an enemy is an effective way to stop having enemies, but you really need to know how to make friends first.

The power of love is a popular trope, and people like to think that love conquers all, but it doesn't. What it can do is provide the motivation to work on solving problems, or tolerate difficulties that can't be changed.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, romance, weblit, writing
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