Warning: This poem contains some touchy material. Highlight to read the detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. It mentions uncontrolled use of a superpower, physical stress deriving from superpower overstrain, having to depend on a total stranger for help, nonsexual intimacy during a minor crisis, aftereffects of past head trauma, graphic description of disability coping skills, a close look at how superpowers can screw up your life, teen angst, and other sensitive material. But mostly it's a very positive look at Ansel being awesome again. If these are concerns for you, please consider your headspace before reading onward.
"Hearing What Isn't Said"
Ansel loved Cerulean Recreational Park
because it offered so many options
in a concise space, rain or shine.
In fair weather, he favored
the gold perimeter trail which
lapped around the whole facility.
Just as he jogged past the skatepark,
someone crashed into him,
spinning Ansel around.
"Hey! Watch where you're going!"
he barked, glaring at the wiry teen
in garish black-and-yellow track clothes.
"Please take this," the boy panted,
pushing a smartphone at Ansel.
And then he was gone.
Bewildered, Ansel looked around,
turning in a slow circle to survey
the skatepark and the track.
It was late enough in the afternoon
that most people had gone home,
not dark yet, but that first soft edge
of twilight that brought out mosquitoes.
The phone vibrated in his hand.
Ansel glanced down and saw
a message on the screen.
Hi, my name is Skippy. Obviously.
If you are reading this, then I
probably just disappeared or
am skipping all over the place.
Or maybe I just finished doing that
and am now too tired and hungry
to move or talk much. Please help.
I need you to keep track of me
until I stop skipping around. Use
the phone to text my vidwatch.
Under the message, a little button
shaped like a cloud read Chat.
The top of the screen had tabs
for Skipping, Help Me, and Crisis #.
Ansel checked the first, which held
a summary of teleporting issues.
The second offered simple instructions
for taking care of Skippy during an episode.
The last contained his emergency contacts
including his parents, his teleport mentor,
and a SPOON number for member support.
Ansel tabbed back to the instructions.
1) Try to find me. I am probably
moving around a lot right now.
2) Be alert! I tend to bump
into people. Sorry about that.
A flare of light caught his attention,
and he realized that the boy's clothes
held some kind of reflective material.
It disappeared as soon as it appeared.
Ansel pushed the Chat button.
The top cloud said, Hi, I'm Skippy.
Will you please help me?
Hi, I'm Ansel. I'm a cop and
I work with kids a lot, he typed.
How can I help you?
hi hElp taB,
said the reply.
He must be teleporting
so hard that it's hard to type,
Ansel realized. Poor kid.
I read your instructions,
he replied. I've only seen you
once since you bumped me.
THANK YOU, said the phone.
You're welcome, Ansel said.
It's no trouble to help. What
else can I do for you?
sKippig bad waiT, came the reply.
I'm waiting, Ansel typed.
While he waited, he scanned
the grass and the trees, but
saw only blurs and shadows
that he couldn't identify.
aquat, the phone said, and then
a few seconds later, centr.
Ansel skimmed the first tab again,
hoping for more helpful details.
It said that Skippy had anxiety and
Teleporting, a dicey combination
that made each other worse.
Sometimes he skipped at random,
other times in response to stress.
Still no sign of Skippy, so Ansel
returned to the instructions.
3) Sometimes I scrape myself.
Check if I am OK, or ask in text.
Are you injured? Ansel wrote.
I know basic first aid.
Not yet, Skippy said.
Ansel puzzled over the last bit,
then realized that Skippy probably
meant skating equipment -- most kids
wore helmets, knee and elbow pads,
maybe gloves in the skatepark.
Protective gear is great stuff,
Ansel wrote. Did you have
anything else with you?
Orange backpack in
skatep, said Skippy.
Ansel scanned the skatepark but
couldn't see the backpack from here.
Then Skippy blinked into view
farther ahead, near Pavilion B.
I see you at the pavilion,
Ansel sent, then started
jogging toward him.
Just as Ansel came close,
Skippy disappeared again.
Playground, said the phone.
Ansel hurried to the playground
but didn't see Skippy anywhere.
He flipped back to the instructions.
4) I usually slow down after a little bit.
Try looking for me with sideways sweeps.
Casting around, Ansel still couldn't
find any sign of the teen.
He glanced back down at the instructions.
5) If you can't find me in ten minutes
and I'm not texting, then it's time
to start calling my crisis numbers.
I like jogging, hiking, and
lots of other outdoor stuff,
Ansel typed. Maybe that
would help keep Skippy calm.
WAT, said Skippy.
Ansel wasn't sure whether
that meant what or wait,
so he simply replied,
I'm at the playground.
I thought you might like
to know more about the guy
who's got your phone.
Don't steal it, came the reply.
Guy did that last month. Please.
Ansel resisted the urge
to track down the thief and
strangle him. Instead he wrote,
I'm a good cop. I don't steal.
You and your phone are safe.
Thought so, Skippy said. Pink.
Ansel realized that Skippy must have
aimed for him, recognizing the pink hair
as sign of someone else with superpowers.
Ansel was learning that soups tended
to stick together pretty well.
Yes, my hair color is new, said Ansel.
I'm meeting some cool people.
I roller skate board, said Skippy.
Then he blipped past Ansel again,
seeming to go slower this time.
Where are you now? Ansel asked.
Stuck tree. Look up, said Skippy.
Ansel looked up. There were trees
scattered along the edge of the playground
and acres of forest around the recreational complex.
Which tree? Ansel typed. Leaves or needles?
Leaves. These, came the reply.
A picture appeared on the screen,
showing blurry, lobed leaves.
Think I'm stopped now.
Ansel searched the oak trees
and soon spotted a flash of yellow fabric,
the streetlight reflecting vividly
along the luminary lines.
Found you! Wait,
he typed, then hurried
to stand under the tree.
The teen clung to a crotch about
twelve feet up the trunk, panting and
shaking and looking generally miserable.
"Hi Skippy, I'm pleased to meet you
in person," said Ansel. "Can you
teleport down from there?"
"Can't. Might slip again," the boy said.
"Okay," said Ansel. "Hang tight.
I'm going to climb up and help you down."
This close, Skippy was impossible to miss.
His helmet was black with red and yellow stripes,
matching the set of black-and-red pads that he wore.
His jacket was neon yellow with black panels, his pants
black with curving lines of yellow reflector trim.
Under the helmet, he had floppy blond hair
and green eyes wide with anxiety.
Quickly Ansel pocketed the smartphone
and scrambled up to where Skippy sat.
The shakes and the pale, sweaty skin
made Ansel suspect an adrenaline crash
or a sugar crash, or both. Or worse.
"Do you feel sick or anything?" he asked.
"No. Tired. Hungry," said Skippy.
"Right, your instructions said that,"
Ansel recalled, nodding.
"You really read 'em,"
"A stranger bumped into me,
then disappeared, and I had a phone
with instructions in it," said Ansel.
"You bet I read them! That is a
really clever way to handle this."
He took hold of Skippy's wrists.
The pulse raced so fast that Ansel
couldn't even separate the beats.
"Slide out of the crotch and
feel with your feet," said Ansel.
"There's another good branch
about a yard below you."
Skippy wriggled downward,
then said, "Got it."
"Good job," said Ansel.
"Hold on while I move."
Shifting one and then the other,
they managed to get low enough
that Ansel could help Skippy
slide down the last few feet.
As soon as Skippy hit ground,
his knees buckled, but Ansel
had been expecting that and
managed to catch him.
He slung the boy's arm
over his shoulders and said,
"Hang onto me. Let's get you
something to eat now."
"I've got food," Skippy said,
"in my, my backpack."
said Ansel. "We'll pick up
your backpack later, if that's okay."
"Wallet's in my pack too," said Skippy.
"Not a problem, I'm buying," said Ansel
as he steered them toward the row of
vending machines at the playground.
"Meanwhile I've got Honey Crumbs --"
"Gimme," said Skippy.
Ansel wrestled the package out
of his pocket and handed it to him.
Skippy ripped it open with his teeth,
crunching his way quickly through the snack.
He finished it by the time they reached
the playground's concession area.
Ansel had to set Skippy down for a moment
in order to swipe his police ID through the slot.
The snack machine buttons all went green.
"Okay, we're good. What do you want?"
"Food. Sugar, sugar first. Then protein,"
Skippy mumbled into his knees.
Well, at least he wasn't panting anymore.
"What about a beverage?" Ansel asked
as he punched buttons for Honey Crumbs
and Screamin' Squirrel Treats.
"Forgot. Sport drink," said Skippy.
Then he tore into the packets.
Ansel selected two different bottles of Floa,
a clear one and a lavender one. "Here."
"Thanks," Skippy said, and chugged the first.
"More food, please. Keep it, keep it coming."
Ansel pushed buttons and passed packages
until the raging hunger finally subsided.
Then he sat down beside Skippy and
opened a carton of crackers for himself.
"So you're a teleporter," Ansel said.
"That must be pretty exciting."
"Mostly just, just frustrating," said Skippy.
He leaned back against the vending machine,
helmet clacking on its plastic front.
"Does this sort of thing happen
to you often?" Ansel asked gently.
"Once, twice a month, this bad,"
Skippy admitted. "Little blinks,
more like once a week."
"It can take time to settle," Ansel said.
"It's been two, two years and this still happens,
no matter how much I practice, " Skippy said.
"My mentor Leapfrog says that it's not, not
dangerous. It's just really, really annoying."
"That does sound frustrating," Ansel said.
"I stayed, stayed home that first year,"
Skippy said. "Thought I could learn better,
but it didn't work. I don't, don't want
to live my whole life in a box."
"So you looked for solutions," Ansel said.
"Yeah, I dress so people can see me,"
Skippy said, plucking at his neon jacket.
"The skate gear helps, helps too if I'm
wearing it when I start to lose control.
A whiz friend helped me synch, synch
my smartphone with my vidwatch."
"It worked," Ansel said. "You should
be proud of yourself for figuring out
such an effective set of coping methods."
"Thanks," Skippy said, looking at him
and then looking away again.
Ansel remembered the boy's anxiety,
and his own experiences as a teenager.
Few things were as mortifying as
losing any kind of control in public.
Ansel couldn't do anything about that,
but he could at least help get Skippy
back in charge of what happened to him.
"So, what's the next step?" Ansel asked.
"You're the expert on this. I'm just a crayon soup."
He ruffled a casual hand through his pink hair.
"I need, need to get home," said Skippy.
"Okay, how did you get here?" Ansel said.
"I rode my bike," said Skippy.
He wobbled a bit, as if considering
whether to try and stand up.
Ansel put a gentle hand on his knee.
"I like biking too," he said. "I've got
a rack on my car. Would you rather
call someone to pick you up here,
or catch a ride home from me?"
He showed Skippy the ID card that
he'd used on the vending machine.
"Did I bug you off duty?" Skippy said
in a small voice, his shoulders hunching.
"I didn't know, know you were a cop, I just felt
my control slipping and you seemed ... safe ..."
"Yes, I am off duty, and no, you are not a bother,"
Ansel said firmly. "I'm glad you asked me to help.
I enjoy meeting other soups. Besides, even if
I'm not at work, I still protect and serve."
"I guess," said Skippy. He turned
toward the distant skatepark,
then back to Ansel. "I need
to find, find my backpack."
"Okay," Ansel said as he
climbed to his feet, then
held out a hand. "I'd like
to help with that too."
"Yeah," Skippy said, and
let Ansel haul him up.
Ansel could feel how much
the boy's pulse had slowed down.
The shaking had lessened a lot too,
no more than a faint tremor now, but
Skippy still wasn't steady on his feet.
Ansel draped a casual arm over
his shoulders and waited to see
if the teen would shrug him off.
Skippy leaned in, just a little.
Together they walked back to the skatepark,
the shadows gathering around the bushes
between pools of light cast by the streetlamps.
"Hey dude, you forgot your backpack,"
said the last girl in the skatepark
as she clattered down the steps.
"Thanks, I know," said Skippy as he
picked up the black-and-orange bag.
"Do you want your phone back
now or later?" Ansel asked.
"I should call, call my folks and tell them
we're on the way," said Skippy, but he
made no move to reach for his phone.
"Would you like me to do it?" Ansel offered.
He watched the boy weigh the choices,
torn between wanting to be self-sufficient
and not wanting to deal with worried parents.
In the end Skippy said, "Yes, please."
Ansel paged through to the contact list,
made the call, and listened to the ring.
When a woman answered, he said briskly,
"Hello, this is Officer Nicholson and I'm
with your son Skippy. He's perfectly okay,
just had the kind of excitement that led to
him handing me his smartphone. I've
offered to drive him and his bike home."
It took a few minutes to reassure
Skippy's mother that yes, he really was
fine and yes, it was no trouble to take him home.
Skippy wound up having to talk to her anyway,
but soon enough they were ready to go.
"Thanks for the loan," Ansel said
as Skippy put his phone away.
"Welcome," Skippy said,
leading the way to the parking lot.
His ride was a handsome city bike with
a sleek gray-green finish. It seemed
a little tame compared to his other gear,
but when he unlocked it and rolled it toward
Ansel's car, the streetlamp caught it and
suddenly the whole frame flared with
a brilliant silvery-white reflection.
"Wow, that's impressive!"
Ansel said with a low whistle.
"Thanks," Skippy said. "I needed
something, you know, easy to see."
"My car is pretty boring in comparison,"
said Ansel. "I have a dirt bike at home, though."
On the way to Skippy's house, they chatted about
sports and equipment and their favorite parts
of Cerulean Recreational Park, without
ever mentioning Skippy's teleporting
or Ansel's hot pink hair.
When Ansel pulled into the driveway
and parked the car, he handed Skippy
a business card and said, "Here, you
can add me to your contacts if you want --
just in case you ever get lost and need help."
Skippy flickered a smile at him.
"I really appreciate all this,"
he said softly.
"I appreciate having a new friend
and an exciting adventure," Ansel said
as he unlatched Skippy's bike from the car.
Then Ansel had to wait while Skippy
burrowed into his parents' embrace,
before making introductions.
"Thank you for bringing him home to us,"
they said, shaking Ansel's hand.
"Any time," he said, and he meant it.
There was more, of course, whole snatches
of conversation that hung in the air between them,
some voiced and others unvoiced, but at least
they had made a good start by the time
Ansel backed his car away.
If there's one thing Ansel has learned, it's this:
Sometimes the most important part
of being a good listener lies in
hearing what isn't said.
* * *
Skippy (Ryker Seinfeld) -- He has tawny-fair skin, green eyes, and dark blond hair that fades much lighter toward the ends as the sun bleaches it out. He wears it cut short in back, longer in front to cover the scars at his temples where his helmet dug in during an accident. He has a silver ring in his left eyebrow. His body is lean and graceful. Ryker is 16. Athletic and agile, he excels at street sports such as skateboarding, rollerskating, and biking.
His traumatic brain injury has mostly healed in the two years after his accident. Salient among the lingering effects are anxiety, speech impairment, and difficulty learning new things. His lack of control over his superpower contributes to his anxiety, which often makes him stammer, repeating words. Stress makes it all worse. Plus the skips make him ravenously hungry. Although frustrated by his challenges, Ryker refuses to let them keep him at home. He uses adaptive technology to make it safer for him to go out in public.
Origin: The Super-Immunity comes from the Aegis vaccine base. For his fourteenth birthday, Ryker got a new skateboard. When he took it for a spin, a truck driver ran a red light and hit him. It took months for him to recover, and the wreck left him with head trauma and superpowers. His teleport mentor Leapfrog is helping him learn about his abilities.
Uniform: Because of difficulties with his superpower, Skippy always wears clothes that make him easy to see. He likes bright neons combined with black, gray, or white and preferably reflective material. His shoes usually have either reflectors or lights on them. He chooses other possessions for high visibility when possible.
Qualities: Good (+2) Coping Skills, Good (+2) Earnest, Good (+2) Reading People, Good (+2) Street Sports, Good (+2) Smart
Poor (-2) Traumatic Brain Injury
Powers: Average (0) Super-Immunity, Average (0) Teleporting
Limitation: Even after two years of diligent practice, Skippy has minimal control over his superpower. The most he's managed is using a locator in his smartphone as an anchor. Sometimes his superpower activates at random or when he feels anxious, causing him to 'skip' wildly around the nearby area. It doesn't even stay in two dimensions, and sometimes he gets stranded. His smartphone and vidwatch are synchronized to make it easier for people to find and help him. He can't take passengers yet and is unwilling even to try until his control improves.
Motivation: Just hang in there, baby.
* * *
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."
-- Peter Drucker
Cerulean Recreation Park in Bluehill is based on Branson, Missouri RecPlex. The skatepark is in the white space just south of the RecPlex building on the map, and is based on the Skate Park adjacent to Stockstill Park. Here is a layout and a photo of the skatepark. See a map. The cloverleaf contains four ball fields. The park is known for its walking trails, as seen here. The gold trail goes around the recreational complex; the red trail circles the cloverleaf of ball fields. The silver trail extends from the southeast corner of the gold trail alongside the road, and connects with another section of the park with a small pond. Soggy spots in the park have been converted to rain gardens. This one is inspired by Wilshire Park in Liberty, Missouri.
In Terramagne, superpowers rarely come with automatic knowledge of how to use them fluently, although many can be used instinctively. That means sometimes they work on accident. It's common at the beginning, but most people gain control over time.
CrapChat is a program for managing disabilities. The name comes not from low quality -- it's actually a brilliant program -- but from the fact that people tend to say "Oh, crap!" when things start to go wrong. Therefore the icon for activating it is a little cloud that reads Oh, Crap! The program is highly customizable, but if you pay for it, then you get access to stock content for over a hundred different conditions plus user-submitted material for solving specific challenges. The main screen includes introductory instructions so you can hand the phone to a stranger in case of emergency. Different options will take them to a summary of your problem, a list of step-by-step instructions for helping you, and a chat function in case you can text but not talk. The contact option can dial your emergency contact(s) automatically, or take someone to a list of your emergency numbers with instructions on when and how to reach each of them. CrapChat was invented by a supervillain gizmologist, so its default chat client connects with BlackSheep, but it can be set to others. It has since spread outside its original supervillain circle and is becoming very popular with people whose disabilities make public space difficult. A less fancy but already very promising version in local-America is Emergency Chat.
Helping people is an important life skill. Know how to do it well.
Skippy dresses to be seen. Today he's wearing a yellow jacket with black panels, black pants with yellow lines, and black-red-yellow protective gear. He also has a black-and-orange backpack. All of it has reflective material.
Tree climbing may be done for recreation or rescue. There are some similarities to rescuing a person or a cat.
The body releases adrenaline to cope with challenging situations. Know how to control an adrenaline rush and cope with the aftermath. Most first responders in T-America are familiar with this. Sugar crash, known in sports as "the bonk," happens when the body uses up all its immediately available energy. There are ways to prevent it or recover from it.
Superpower problems can overlap with physical limits, and similar to psychic issues, with overstrain causing such symptoms as shakiness, headache, nausea, or nosebleed. Know how to cope with overstrain. Mostly it comes down to stopping the activity, refueling, and resting. Blue chamomile helps if you have it, but it's not something you can get at a gas station like aspirin.
T-American vending machines often have a slot for reading cash, credit, membership, or ID cards. First responder ID cards can access them for use of supplies in an emergency. Usage gets billed back to the institution and appropriate requisition forms are sent to the person's desk. It's a very effective way of heading off minor problems before they become major problems, and the paperwork discourages abuse.
Backloading is when soups experience a high demand for calories, structural nutrients, or other fuel immediately after using their superpowers. Not all superpowers place a high metabolic burden on the body, but some do.
Honey Crumbs is a popular T-American "flight food" that is mostly sugar and rice starch, melts in your mouth, but doesn't get sticky. It's a go-to choice for instant energy, especially for people with superpowers.
Screamin' Squirrel is a character used both to market healthy snacks and fitness. The commercials feature Screamin' Squirrel in various sporty activities, with a moral or safety technique or technique demonstrated, and a snack type appropriate to it. They are funny enough that people enjoy watching them. Screamin' Squirrel treats are peanut shaped protein snacks, similar to small protein bars.
Floa is a T-American brand of sport drink that uses natural ingredients.
Emotional first aid focuses on minimizing the psychological impact of small or large disasters. Learn the basics and finer points. Ansel uses EFA techniques to help put Skippy back in control, which is the most crucial step when someone's body/mind/life is going haywire, and positive parenting methods to keep him on track with safe choices.
Acquired disability can shake foundations of identity. Adjusting to it requires developing effective coping techniques.
A crayon soup is a person whose superpower consists of exotic hair, eye, and/or skin color. This usually means static coloration rather than the malleable Chameleon Skin power, but they are related in terms of being superpowers that don't really "do" anything the way things like Super-Strength or Laser Eyes do. Exotic coloration is among the more common superpowers and can occur with or without other abilities. If the hair is affected, sometimes it changes texture as well as color.
Skippy rides a Lumen bicycle. The entire frame has a coating that looks gray-green in daylight but flares white when hit by headlights at night. This is a typical style of city bike in T-America for folks who want a cruiser rather than a cargo bike.
Ideally, it helps to follow up on EFA after an incident, hence the usefulness of contact information.
Listening tops the list of people skills, and breaks down to subskills of its own.