Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Inheritor of Our Fear"

This poem is spillover from the March 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from DW user Stardreamer.  It also fills the "accused of losing control of powers" square in my Superhero Bingo card.  This poem belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.25/line, so $5 will reveal 20 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: kestrels_nest ($30), janetmiles ($9), lone_cat ($5), gift to janetmiles ($15) and gift to DW user Stardreamer ($15)

Note: This poem began funding during the half-price sale, so it's locked at $.25/line instead of the usual $.50/line.  It is very easy for me to get lost in math when it involves several steps (like going from line number to full price to half price) and doing something different from the usual, so please help me keep track.

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WARNING: This poem features intense topics.  The detailed warnings include spoilers; highlight to read.  There are protesters outside a women's clinic, also a gay couple quietly advertising they want to be parents and getting picked on by the protesters, unwelcome prayers, pregnancy-related angst about the future, a minor car accident requiring the use of superpower to avert disaster, Heron being homesick for a functional household, a fork stalking and then attacking Mallory, defensive use of superpowers, pregnancy-related mood swings and vomiting, angst over possible exposure of superpowers, fallout from prejudice, and a lot of hurt/comfort. If these are sensitive issues for you, consider your headspace before deciding if this is something you want to read right now.


"The Inheritor of Our Fear"


Mallory caught a bus to
the Sanger Women's Center
in time for the baby class
offered for college mothers.

She liked the place because it was
student-friendly but not part of campus,
and thus less traceable.

On a bench just outside the front door,
two men held hands and a sign
emblazoned, Wrong delivery?
with a confused-looking stork.
Under that it read, We want
to be parents. If you don't,
let's have a chat. Medical and
adoption expenses covered
.

One of them had his chin on his hand,
the other trying to comfort him by draping
a cream sweater over his shoulders.

"Hey, Professor Bonneville,
are you okay?" Mallory asked.

"Not really," he said with a wan smile.

"It's that guy again," said his partner
Mr. Cummings, tilting his head toward
the protestors across the street.
"He was harassing people, until
the cops made him back off."

A slim young man with shifty eyes
held a large sign that said,
We are praying for you.

"Every cause has its kooks,"
Mallory muttered. "Don't give up
hope. I'm sure you two will make
great dads. Someone's bound to
notice that sooner or later."

She went indoors and found a seat
in the classroom. The current topic was
work-life balance, and Mallory had to suppress
a mad giggle at the thought of balancing
motherhood with her supervillain 'work.'

Beside her, Keander was taking notes
on a page that she had divided into
three distinct columns: Attending School,
New Baby, and Teaching School.

Mallory didn't make a Supervillain column,
but she did start sorting her ideas
into loosely related clusters.

She and Keander were still talking
when the class concluded, so they
headed for the bus station together.

A car lost control and skidded toward them.

Mallory flung out a hand, bending probability
so that the car crashed into a pole instead.

The driver got out, already swearing
into his vidwatch, so the two girls
scurried away rather than get involved
when they had no relevant skills.

From across the street,
the creepy protestor stared
at Mallory, making her skin crawl.

When she got back home,
she found Heron leaning over
the organizer in the living room.

"Um, why are you ... petting
the chore board?" she asked.

"I'm just kind of basking," he said.
One corner of his mouth curled.
"It feels familiar here -- a fair
division of labor, things put away,
washed dishes that are actually clean."

Heron had been spending more and more time
here as his own living situation deteriorated,
and she couldn't blame him for it.

"Yeah, I like it here too," Mallory said
as she hung up her jacket. "The house
is nice and quiet, safer than most places."

Heron let go of the chore board and
turned to face her. "Did something
happen to make you feel less safe today?"

"There was this guy ..." Mallory said,
then shrugged. "I don't know, maybe
it's just dumb. He hassled some people
at the women's center. Then a car almost
hit me and I stopped it with my power.
I think he might have seen me do it,
because he really glared at me after."

"Credible threat," Heron said quietly
as he ushered her onto the comfy couch.
"People who are intolerant about one group
are often intolerant about others too.
No wonder you're so rattled."

"Yeah, I'm not looking forward
to going back now," Mallory said.

"You shouldn't have to put up with that.
The baby class seems to be helping you,"
Heron said. "Does the women's center have
an escort service, or is there someone else
you could walk with? I would be happy
to keep you company if you'd like that."

"Sometimes I go with this Home Ec student,
Keander, but our schedules don't always match,"
Mallory said. She hated depending on people,
but it was better than the thought of trying
to deal with That Guy all by herself.
"Yeah, company might be good."

True to his word, Heron stuck by her
for the next few days, even recruiting
Maisie to cover the times he couldn't.

"Are you sure you don't mind?"
Mallory asked as Maisie walked
with her from Sanger to the bus stop.
"Heron kind of volunteered you."

"No, he asked if I'd be willing
to guard you and I agreed."
That had to be Ham.

Their relationship was still touch-and-go,
but Mallory thought she liked Ham
better as a friend than an enemy.

They saw That Guy two days out of three, but
he never approached as long as Mallory
had someone with her, just eyeballed
her from a safe distance.

That changed one evening when they stopped
to read a big hexagonal bulletin board, and
Heron was hidden on another side of it.

Mallory's first clue of trouble was
an arm wrapped around her throat
and someone spitting in her ear,
"Can't even control your own powers,
how do you expect to control a child?
Last thing the world needs is more of you."

Mallory demonstrated her control
by hexing him so hard that he
tripped over thin air and
let go of her.

Then she saw the knife, cold steel edge
glittering under the streetlights.

Heron reached around the bulletin board
and feathered two fingers over the man's throat,
just under his jaw ahead of his ear.

The attacker dropped to the ground,
his whole body wracked with tremors.

Well, that was disturbing.

There were reasons why
supervillains warned each other
not to fuck with the healers, and it wasn't
just about the terms of engagement.

"Are you injured?" Heron asked
as he pulled her farther away.

"No, I don't think -- what did you
just do to him?" she said.

"Remember when I warned Maisie about
the vagus nerve? Well, I bruised his for him,"
Heron said, his voice cooling. "Don't worry,
he'll be fine ... in a week or few."

"But what if someone finds out?"
Mallory said, fidgeting. The fear
left her stomach kneading uneasily
at the base of her throat, as if it
wanted to climb into her mouth.

"It will look like a neural bruise,
because that's what it is," Heron said.
"I just didn't use brute force to make it.
A power surge is more controllable, safer."

Mallory was far more concerned
about Heron's safety than her attacker's.

She might not be completely certain about
what to do regarding the baby, but she
was certain that she didn't want
anyone else deciding for her.

Heron used his phone to call Emergency Services,
requesting both police and an ambulance.

"I don't need an ambulance," Mallory whispered.

"He does," Heron said, keeping a dispassionate eye on
the still-twitching assailant as his fingers keyed in
the number of the National Hate Crimes Office.
He reported the attack, carefully connecting it
with previous offenses at the women's center.

"Why call it a hate crime?" Mallory asked.
It wasn't as if getting jumped by some jerk
was out of the ordinary for her.

Heron gave a very unhappy sigh. "There are ...
several documented cases of people disguising themselves
as anti-choice protestors but who are actually forks wanting
to stop soups from having kids, or bigots after other groups,"
he explained. "It's easier to identify pregnant women,
so they're the preferred targets. That gets ugly fast."

Mallory shuddered. "There's so much hate and fear
in the world already, it seems wrong to direct that
at people who aren't even here yet. Why does
the unborn have to be the inheritor of our fear?"

"Because some people refuse to deal with
their own problems, so they project everything
onto others instead," Heron said.

"Yeah, he seems like the type,"
Mallory said, remembering how That Guy
had picked on Professor Bonneville.

"Is it okay if I call SPOON next?" Heron asked,
fingering his vidwatch again. "I won't if you really
hate the idea, but they need to know about incidents
like this so they can step up the protections. There are
some teleporters who volunteer as special escorts, taking
passengers directly into clinics for a few weeks afterward,
especially soups who might be targeted by the forks."

"Can you ... maybe not mention me right now?"
Mallory said. Her eyes were watering for
no particular reason. "I'm not sure if
I could deal with much more."

"Of course," Heron said. "If you change
your mind, you can always contact them later
about teleport escorts. By the way, when the police
get here, let me do most of the talking. I will tell them
that you're not feeling well, which is true and doesn't require
any more detail. Then you can just give them your own
perspective real quick and we should be good to go."

Mallory could already hear the sirens nearing.
"Thanks," she said. The nausea was getting worse,
but she didn't want to bother Heron while he was busy.

As promised, he kept everyone's attention on him,
calmly directing the paramedics to the man
lying on the sidewalk and warning them
about his violent tendencies.

The knife still lay where it had fallen,
starkly visible on the pavement.

The policeman scooped it into an evidence bag
while the paramedics put the culprit onto a stretcher.
That Guy groaned and flailed at them, but he
was too uncoordinated to hit anyone.

"Well look who's here," the policewoman drawled
in a tone of utter disgust. "Hello, Gage,
I look forward to booking you again
when you're out of the hospital."

They were more sympathetic to Mallory, though,
getting the main story from Heron and only
asking for her summary as confirmation.

It felt weird to have the cops on her side for once.

That was a good thing, because Mallory's stomach
chose that moment to make a break for freedom,
leaving her to retch behind the bushes that
had recently concealed her assailant.

Heron followed her with a bottle of water and
a packet of peppermints, which helped.

When Mallory slunk away from the bushes,
a paramedic leaned out of the ambulance and said,
"Hey, we've got a new material for emergency blankets.
Care to help me test it? I've got cream or peach."
He held out an enticing armful of fabric.

Startled, Mallory realized that the sun had gone down
and the spring air was cooling against her skin.
"I like peach," she admitted.

The blanket felt warm, almost alive,
and Mallory couldn't resist petting it after
she wrapped it around her shoulders.

"There's a tag on there if you want to fill out
a feedback form later," said the paramedic.
"That blanket is made out of Microfyne, which is
supposed to be hypoallergenic and thermotaxic."

"Thanks, I will," Mallory said sincerely.
Free hypoallergenic anything was a welcome gift.

After she confirmed that she didn't need a ride
to the hospital, the ambulance pulled away.
She and Heron did accept a lift home
from the nice police officers though.

Back at Maisie's place, Heron quickly updated
the household so everyone knew That Guy
had gotten himself hauled away.

Then he tucked Mallory onto her futon with
her blanket and a cup of starry chicken soup,
settling down alongside her.

"How are you feeling?" Heron asked gently.

"Better now," Mallory said, sipping her soup.
It warmed her all the way through. "I'm glad
he finally did enough to get taken in, but ...
that was still scary. Thanks for saving me.
Are you positive neither of us will get in trouble?"

"I'm positive," Heron said with a firm nod. "I'll call
Soup to Nuts tonight, though, just to make sure;
we have legal services for stuff like this."

Mallory rubbed a hand over her still-flat tummy.
"I hate that people want to hurt me and my baby
just because we exist," she said. "It's not fair."

"It's really not," Heron agreed. "Listen, if you ...
need to talk with another woman about superpowers
and pregnancy, I could put you in touch with my mom.
She doesn't have any special powers of her own,
but well, there's me. She'll understand."

Mallory hesitated, torn between
desperate interest and reluctance
to talk about her problems with anyone.

"I'll think about it," she said. "Maybe later,
when I have a little more energy."

"Of course," Heron said, and stayed
beside her, keeping watch, so that
eventually Mallory's jangled instincts
relaxed enough for her to fall asleep.

* * *

Notes:

Professor Nigel Bonneville -- He has fair skin, deep blue eyes, and short straight black hair. His heritage is British and French. He works at Urbanburg University where he teaches Medieval Literature, Middle English, Contemporary UK Literature, and Queer Literature. He started out studying Medieval Literature and Middle English, but when he discovered his homosexuality in college, he added a minor in Gender Studies with attention to queer writers. Nigel has good aim and enjoys a variety of racket sports including tennis, raquetball, and badminton. He is easily upset by things that other people say or do.
Nigel is engaged to his boyfriend, Theodore Cummings. They want to become parents. For weeks they have been sitting outside the Sanger Women's Center in Urbanburg, hoping to connect with a mother intent on adoption. Both of them enjoy attending cultural events at the university including theatre and music.
Qualities: Master (+6) Teacher, Expert (+4) Literature, Expert (+4) Queer Studies, Good (+2) Friends in Academia, Good (+2) Loves Children, Good (+2) Racket Sports, Good (+2) Wisdom

Theodore Cummings -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair with a little wave. He works as a librarian at Urbanburg University. He gets cold easily and he collects sweaters, although he's quick to loan or even give them away when somebody needs one. He feels agitated when things are out of place, though.
Theodore is engaged to his boyfriend, Nigel Bonneville. They want to become parents. For weeks they have been sitting outside the Sanger Women's Center in Urbanburg, hoping to connect with a mother intent on adoption. Both of them enjoy attending cultural events at the university including theatre and music.
Qualities: Master (+6) Smart, Expert (+4) Librarian, Expert (+4) Organized, Good (+2) Cuddly, Good (+2) Household Skills, Good (+2) Jogger
Poor (-2) Tolerating Disorder

Gage Deckard -- He has fair skin, amber eyes, and short brown hair. His favorite color is maroon. He lives in Urbanburg, where he works at the restaurant Cornfed Kitchen in the Trackside neighborhood. Gage has been involved with a variety of hate groups, most recently FORK.
Qualities: Expert (+2) Iron Will, Good (+2) Fork Contacts, Good (+2) Kitchen Worker, Good (+2) Urban Fighter
Poor (-2) Intolerance

Keander Ahn -- She has light brown skin, tilted brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. She is slender and graceful. Her heritage is African-American and Korean. Although she had a happy childhood, her mother is single and she has no other close family, thus very little of a support network. Keander is studying to become a home economics teacher.
Several months ago, Keander was having sex with her boyfriend when the condom broke. She got pregnant. He to help pay for an abortion but she refused. She meets Mallory at a baby class for college mothers. Later Keander becomes the new roommate for Damask that Mallory brings home. Keander's daughter is named Serendipity.
Qualities: Good (+2) College Student, Good (+2) Equanimity, Good (+2) Home Economics, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) T'ai Chi
Poor (-2) Support Network

* * *

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply... For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."
-- Alan Paton

The Sanger Women's Center in Urbanburg provides female health care, family planning (information, birth control, abortion, basic fertility assistance), family support (classes and support groups for pregnancy, parenting, etc.), educational support, and counseling (for survivors of sexual violence, and related to all the other services). Terramagne has a prevailing tendency to teach people skills and then trust that citizens know what they're doing. You can get completion certificates for a ton of things, but rules and laws are more often framed as disqualify-out (removing permissions after a violation) rather than qualify-in (requiring expensive certification to do something).

Unplanned pregnancy is stressful and requires a decision between abortion, adoption, or parenting.  Assisting women in making the right decision for them is helpful; trying to force them toward any specific decision is harmful.

In local-America, women's clinics need buffer zones because even peaceful protesters are causing problems, sometimes even driving women to suicide.  This can constitute stalkingUnwelcome prayers can be offensive too. Using clinic protesters for fundraising is one tactic for deterring them. Anti-choice women will even get an abortion and then go right back to picketing.  In comparison, the Sanger Women's Center is more tolerant of people who aren't bothering anyone, while the ones who are more pesky get shooed farther away.  That's pretty typical of protest dynamics in Terramagne-America .

However, nonviolent resistance is an effective route to social change, with many tactics.  T-America is aware that quashing nonviolent protest often leads to violent protest. Consequently, they work on ways of addressing problems as soon as possible, which means that lower-level protests are more effective.  So you see a lot more things like this, people standing around silently with signs -- a popular Quaker tactic, and a clue that they're more active in Terramagne.  There are tips on making protests safe, legal, and effective.

There are many reasons why a pregnant person might choose abortion, but about 75% of the time their main reason is money.  Consequently offering to cover expenses can make it feasible for women to make a different choice.

"That Guy" is a stock character for negative traits.  There is a campaign against sexual violence based on this meme.  Oh look, here's Mallory at the New Year party.  There are tips on how not to be That Guy.

Work-life balance is an important part of family dynamics.  Understand how to find balance while pregnant.

A basic tenet of emergency preparedness is that you can help by staying calm and staying out of the way, even if you're not up to addressing the crisis yourself.  It's okay to walk away if you don't have relevant skills and official assistance has already been called.

Psychological and emotional abuse employ many tactics.  This has severe consequences.  Yelling, name-calling, using violent images, restricting free travel, and withholding or blocking needful services are all types of abuse -- and things that clinic protesters do.  In T-America that can get them in trouble, because free expression does not make it okay to abuse people.  They are particularly protective of a similar premise as used in sexual harassment, that of unwelcome advances, so once people tell the protesters they don't want to talk, further contact is harassment and not allowed.  Know how to overcome emotional abuse.

Assessing safety can be challenging for trauma survivors with hypervigilance.  They may have trouble identifying practical and psychological safety.  I made a safety tracker to help with that.  It is important for people to feel safe as well as be safe.

Many women's clinics provide escort service to support their clients.  It's not just for protection from abusive protesters, although that's a common reason; it also provides comfort and guidance for people seeking a wide range of services.  This is especially true for emotionally stressful appointments or ones where somebody shouldn't drive afterward, and that's a lot more than just abortions.  Learn more about how to become a clinic escort and other ways of supporting patients and clinics.

Making friends with your enemies is an effective way of reducing conflict in your life.  Here are some tips for doing that.  Mallory and Ham have made a good start.

Here is an example of a hexagonal bulletin board, which allows posting of different information on each side.

Terms of engagement stipulate that medical personnel must be protected.  Terramagne is much more serious and consistent about this rule than L-Earth is.  With regard to superpowers, healers are neutral; even if they're hired by one side, almost all of them are reliable about treating anyone who needs help.  Teleporters are close; some of them take sides, but a majority of them still won't leave someone stranded in a dangerous situation.  They're protected because without them, it would be hard for superheroes and supervillains to get together for a fight, and they like  fighting.  Soups who use a typically-nonviolent power offensively count as combatants, like Barf-o-Whirl.  While actual combat healers are rare and precious, people remain aware that anyone who can directly influence the human body is just not safe to piss off.

The vagus nerve controls a great deal of the body and is extremely vulnerable to attack. Nerve injuries that bruise but do not sever the nerve can cause impaired function for days or weeks, as nerve tissue is slow and fussy to heal.

Psychological projection is an unhealthy way of coping with negative emotions. Blaming is one example of this.  Understand how to accept responsibility and stop taking the bait of projection.

Mallory's new blanket is an improved version of a microfiber emergency blanket.

Microfyne is a relatively new "very smart" material with unique thermal retention properties, in that it stores heat as well as insulating against heat loss, while responding to changes in body temperature to prevent overheating. It is thermotaxic, buffering toward standard human body temperature, so that it fluffs in response to lower temperatures and flattens at higher ones. Microfyne also provides a subtle yet definite boost to emotional state, higher than that from other materials used in comfort objects. Not many people have noticed yet, but it's resistant to many superpowers; some may get through the holes, but the material itself usually can't be affected. Microfyne retains the hypoallergenic nature of the original gizmology but is cheaper to produce, so has recently been released to emergency services for shock blankets.

First responders in T-America often have a cover fund which pays for damages caused by hostile clients. Companies typically have insurance or other policies to handle injuries or property loss; the cover fund addresses emotional injury, stress, and compensatory coping techniques outside of workplace options. More appreciative recipients of care often make a donation to this fund as a practical expression of gratitude. It is generally understood that hurt people have impaired decision-making and impulse control, so are more prone to lash out purposely or reflexively. T-American folks prefer to address this outside the legal system, and only file a police report in case of serious crimes such as armed assault or attempted murder. Overall the rate of mindful violence against first responders is much lower throughout most of Terramagne.  There are tips for managing violent patients.

T-American emergency workers often carry packets of peppermints or ginger candy to help with nausea or low blood sugar.  Many superheroes do the same, and emergency candy appears in many first aid kits too.

Starry Chicken Soup is customarily made with the chicken and vegetables diced down to the size of the stelline pasta. However, some people like to coin the carrots and then stamp out more stars from them.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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  • Birdfeeding

    Today is hot and muggy. I fed the birds. I've seen house finches and doves.

  • Birdfeeding

    Today is warm and muggy. I fed the birds. I've seen house finches, doves, and a cardinal.

  • Birdfeeding

    Today is warm and muggy. I fed the birds. I've seen a large flock of house finches, a few doves, and a squirrel. While we were out driving, I saw a…