Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Building Your Wings on the Way Down"

This poem is from the November 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "comforting touch" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest, the "encouraging" square in my 8-31-15 card for the Tones Bingo fest, and the "wingfic" square in my 10-1-15 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

"Building Your Wings on the Way Down"

The hardest thing, Kennedy decided, was not
getting sucked out of a company plane during
a Kraken attack, nearly ripping her arm off
on the way out, getting carried to their camp
by a guy with vulture wings, or giving up on
the job she'd probably already been fired from.

The Vanguardian might be a superhero,
but he was a monster as a boss and
everyone knew it, so Kennedy didn't
regret burning those bridges.

The hardest thing was figuring out
what to do with herself now.

Pinion caught her staring into
the undergrowth again, and sat down
beside her, his big black wings rustling.
"So what's on the Jungle Channel today?"
he asked in a light tone.

Kennedy shrugged. "I'm not really
watching anything, just, you know ..."

"... navel-gazing up Mother Nature's skirt?"
he suggested with a wry look.

Kennedy gave an outraged giggle.
Nobody at her old job had a sense of humor
like his. In fact, most people at her old job
had no sense of humor, full stop.

"Come on, it's not good for a gizmologist
to sit around doing nothing," said Pinion.
"Let's go find out what Benchdog is up to."

He coaxed her across the muddy camp cut into
the Brazilian jungle to where Benchdog had
jacked up the decrepit old logging truck
that they used to haul firewood.

"Hey, Benchdog, what's up?" said Pinion.

Benchdog woofed and wormed his way
out from under the yellow, rusting hood.
From the neck down, he had the black hair
and light brown skin common to the area,
but from the neck up he had the head
of a black-and-tan dog with floppy ears.

"Olá," he said in his gravelly voice, then
switched to Libras, his hands fluttering.

"Oh, I was just wondering if you had anything
for Kennedy to play with," said Pinion.
"She's bored, and that's no good."

Kennedy caught the signs for "fiddle"
and possibly "pieces" but couldn't
really follow the conversation.

Finally Benchdog took her by the shoulders,
pointed her at another truck, and pushed.

"He says there are several boxes of
fiddle bits in there that you can try,"
Pinion translated. "Let's go see."

The 'fiddle bits' turned out to be
a random collection of spare parts
and scraps, along with a flat carton of
what looked like feathers but turned out
to be made from painted capery instead.
"What are these?" Kennedy wondered.

Pinion grimaced. "They're meant to be
replacements in case I break feathers
during a flight," he said. "I'd look awful
wearing hawk-patterned ones, though,
and I don't know if dye would stick."

Kennedy pulled one of the stiff vanes
through her fingers. "Could I maybe ...
have some of them?" she asked.

There had been parts of a rocket in
one of the boxes, and some leather or
possibly krevel straps in another.

She couldn't help thinking about
her old dream of flying, and
now with her improved skills,
it might become possible.

"Take as many as you want,
I already asked for black ones,"
Pinion said with a wave of his hand.
"And yes, I'll help you carry things.
You have that look on your face."

"What look?" Kennedy said,
trying not to look like anything at all.

"Gizmologist in a junkyard,"
he said cheerfully. "It means
come help you carry stuff."

He lofted one of the big boxes
onto each of his shoulders,
muscles rippling, which left
Kennedy to carry the flat one.

Pinion found her an empty bench
and a spare box of tools. Then
he waved for her to start working.

Kennedy began by dumping out
the parts and sorting them into piles
of necessary, possibly useful,
and probably junk.

She swept the junk back into a box,
then started laying out a rough framework
for wings and a jetpack. The rocket was
pretty wrecked, but she thought that she
could salvage the thrusters, which
was all she really needed.

She took notes on a scrap of paper
with a pencil stub she'd found in
the bottom of a carton. She
would need hyperlight wires
and struts to frame the wings,
in addition to the stuff that
she'd already found.

To her surprise, Pinion disappeared
and then came back with an armload
of supplies that he'd gotten off her list,
without being asked (not that she
would have asked) to do so.

It was nothing like working
in the computer labs back at
the Vanguardian's office building,
which had been clean and white
and not very inspiring -- not that it
mattered, since they were always
given precise instructions.

The jungle was hot and damp
and smelly; mud squelched under
her boots and insects whirred
around her head like ideas.

Kennedy tinkered and twiddled
until she had a basic framework built,
at which point Pinion hauled her off to
the mess tent, insisting that gizmologists
also needed to eat something.

After lunch he let her go back, though,
and she put together a harness for
the thrusters before bed.

They spent the whole next day
coiling sockets for the feathers out of
salvaged wire, so that each feather could
move with the air currents as needed.

A surprising number of other people
drifted over to offer their help
peeling wire and winding coils,
although Kennedy did all of
the socketing herself.

It made her a little nervous,
after some of what had happened
back in the Vanguardian's crew --
envious coworkers could get mean.

"Why are they all hanging around
like this?" she whispered to Pinion.

"They're curious," he said.
"They want to find out about
your project and get to know you
a little better. Didn't you ever do
Sankofa or anything as a kid?"

"I did computer camp," said Kennedy.
"That's sort of the same, right?"

"... not really."

So Kennedy tried to focus
on her own task and not worry
too much about why everyone else
wanted to come do extra work.

Remembering the company plane,
she thought that a moment of terror
and a few scars were a small price
to pay for finding a place where, with
a little effort, she might eventually fit in.

Besides, the new wings were
coming along beautifully.

They would not be agile enough
to flap and fly, but she had the thrusters
to provide a push, and the wings were
cambered to provide lift once aloft.

She would be able to fly with her thrusters,
steer and glide with her wings, and
that was good enough for her.

On that note, they went to bed.

The next morning after breakfast,
Kennedy turned on the engines and
they roared to life, feathers fluttering.

"What are you waiting for?"
Pinion said as he watched.
"Strap in and go for a test flight!"

"What if they don't work?" Kennedy said,
picking at a stray dab of glue.

"Then I'll catch you again," he promised
as he gave her an encouraging squeeze.

Buoyed by his confidence, Kennedy
fastened the harness around herself
and carefully tested the wing controls.

Then she fired the thrusters.

As she swooshed into the sky,
she could hear the loud snap-clap
of Pinion's enormous wings beating
against the air as he rose beside her.

Kennedy banked and turned in
a careful set of maneuvers meant
to test the equipment's performance.

So what if she whooped her way
through them as if she were
riding on a roller-coaster?

Then at the top of a tight spiral,
one engine coughed and died.

Hastily she shut off the other
so it wouldn't throw her off balance,
but now she had no power.

"Glide!" Pinion shouted as he
grabbed the back of her harness.
"Lock your wings and glide!"

Kennedy scrambled to obey,
and soon as her wings snapped
into the gliding position, Pinion let go,
although he kept close in case
she needed him again.

Far below, the camp made
a pale brown dot against
the green carpet of trees.

It reminded her of Benchdog
and his recalcitrant truck -- and
just like that, Kennedy had an idea.

She fished out a tool from her thigh pocket
and then squirmed around until she could
reach over her shoulder, groping for
the hose that was the most likely
culprit for the sudden failure.

When Kennedy thought that she
might have fixed the issue,
she tried the thrusters --
and they worked.

She whooped again,
unlocking her wings and
twirling in celebration.

Pinion gave her a broad thumbs-up,
and then pointed down at the ground.

Kennedy didn't want to come down yet --
didn't want to come down ever really -- but
she was coming to trust his judgment,
so she angled back toward the camp.

She landed in a stumbling run,
with Pinion a few paces behind her.

Applause spattered around them
as the crowd welcomed them home.

"It's a good thing you cambered
those wings so you could glide
if you lost power," he said.

"Yeah," she agreed, still breathless.

"Have you thought about a cape name?"
he asked, flicking a wing at the sky.
"If ever you're going to earn one,
this would be the time for it."

She'd been toying with something
of the sort, if the wings worked.
"I was thinking maybe Camberhawk."

"I like it," said Pinion.

"But I almost had a heart attack when
the thrusters died on me up there,"
Kennedy admitted. "I was just starting
to believe that I might get my future back,
and then bam! Critical power failure."

"That's life as a supervillain," Pinion said, patting her
on the shoulder. "Sometimes survival means
building your wings on the way down."

"Or having a good partner to catch you,"
Kennedy said softly, leaning against him.

Pinion folded his big black wing around her.
"Yeah," he said, "that works too."

* * *


Camberhawk (Kennedy O'Clere) -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. She is an only child raised by decent but workaholic parents. Kennedy speaks English, Japanese, and Spanish fluently; she is trying to learn Brazilian Portuguese. She is susceptible to authority and has a hard time standing up for herself.
Origin: Kennedy used to work for the Vanguardian, until Kraken operatives attacked the company plane she was in. Sucked out through a hole in the fuselage, she almost died, but was caught by a hawkman. Kennedy decided not to return, and eventually built herself a set of gizmotronic wings.
Uniform: Dark brown dexflan flight suit with brown-and-white gizmotronic wings.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Gizmology, Expert (+4) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Birdwatching, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Suggestible
Powers: None. She has a set of Expert (+4) Gizmotronic Wings. The harness includes thrusters for lift. She can glide and steer with the wings, but not flap them enough for actual flying with the wings alone.
Motivation: To be pleasing.

Pinion (Owen Hines) -- He has pale brown skin, brown eyes, and dark brown nappy hair worn in many long braids. He also has an enormous set of glossy black wings similar to those of a vulture. After his mother's death in childbirth due to the wings, Owen's father raised him. Owen speaks English, Esperanto, Portuguese, German, and Libras (Brazilian Sign Language).
At eleven, Owen was kidnapped by human traffickers and used variously for slave labor and freak shows, but never stopped fighting for his freedom. When he was fourteen, a Kraken team hit the camp where Owen was being held, and he took the opportunity to escape -- nearly killing one of the Kraken rescuers in the process. They finally managed to catch him and calm him down, and he agreed to go with them. They never found his father, although they're still looking. Currently he works for Kraken as a field operative. Pinion is friends with Benchdog who was rescued in the same raid.
Uniform: Black dexflan flight suit with a black krevel breastplate and matching black bracers on his forearms.
Origin: He was born with wings, and his mother died from the resulting complications.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spatial Intelligence, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) First Aid, Good (+2) Supervillain Henchman, Good (+2) Teamwork, Good (+2) Three-Dimensional Games
Poor (-2) Dislikes Small, Tight Spaces
Powers: Expert (+4) Winged Flight
Motivation: Freedom.

I couldn't find a perfect faceclaim photo for Pinion. The first shows the approximate size and shape of his wings: more than twice his own height, and the bases extend almost all the way down to his ankles. The facial features match too. The second picture shows the color and texture of the wings: hard sleek feathers with an iridescent sheen of blue and green. You can also see the muscle definition much better here, and the forearm bracers.

The Vanguardian (Dietrich Ostermann) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. His voice is loud and deep. He's starting to get a little paunchy in middle age. Dietrich has a string of marriages, all of which ended in divorce after a few years, each with one or two children. None of those family fragments get along with each other.
The Vanguardian is one of those poorly adjusted touch-dominant people who makes everyone think, "What an asshole." As a boss he is professionally demanding and verbally abusive. Despite his obnoxious behavior, however, he provides his employees with the best equipment. The Vanguardian excels at tracking down secret labs belonging to supervillains, or other zetetic problems, and putting an end to them. He prefers infiltration and hacking to physical violence, so his casualty count is famously low. His predictions about developments in new technology, and how that could affect society, are accurate more often than not.
Origin: His superpowers grew in gradually.
Uniform: Business suit in the office, lab wear in the science department.
Qualities: Master (+6) Organized, Expert (+4) Investigator, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Generous with Equipment, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Boss from Hell
Powers: Good (+2) Minions, Good (+2) Super-Gizmology.
The Avant-Garde have nine named managers and hundreds of nameless workers. The managers typically have an Average superpower, Expert Manager, Good Zetetics, and another Good quality; plus Poor (-2) Disgruntled Employee. Each has a super-gizmotronic computer tablet and sunglasses, plus one other personalized super-gizmo.
Motivation: Make people stop playing with the goddamn matches before they burn the goddamn building down.

Benchdog -- He has tinted skin and black body hair. His head is that of a black-and-tan dog with floppy ears. He is effectively asexual because neither human nor canine females smell quite right to him; this makes him a very popular snuggle buddy. His heritage is Brazilian. He understands Brazilian Portuguese and English, but finds it very difficult to speak aloud. He usually uses Libras (Brazilian Sign Language) to communicate instead. Benchdog is friends with Pinion who was rescued in the same raid. He enjoys playing percussion instruments such as pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine), chocalho (shaker), and ilu (wooden folk drum).
Origin: He was born this way, and promptly abandoned. He grew up on the streets of Brazil. He was captured by human traffickers, first for freak shows, and then when his mechanical aptitude began to show, as a skilled slave. He was rescued by Kraken and joined them as a mechanic.
Uniform: Garage jumpsuit, usually smudged with grease and dirt.
Qualities: Master (+4) Cuddly, Expert (+4) Loyalty, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Percussionist
Poor (-2) Speech Impediment
Powers: Good (+2) Dog Head, Good (+2) Super-Gizmology
His dog head gives him canine-quality hearing and smell, but greatly impairs his ability to speak.
Motivation: To belong.

Bench dogs are rectangular wooden pegs that fit into holes in a woodworking bench as an aid to holding work firmly.

* * *

"Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down."
-- Ray Bradbury

Bad bosses come in several flavors and use many tactics to mistreat their employees. There are ways to deal with a bullying boss and other workplace bullies. Kennedy's method of "leave and get a better job" is by far the leading outcome.

See the old logging truck.

olá -- hello
-- Brazilian Greetings

Imping is a way to repair broken feathers by splicing in new ones. Super wings typically have much stronger feathers that may carry some of the owner's mystical energy. For this reason, imping with ordinary feathers rarely works, so people substitute artificial ones made from capery and other materials that respond to superpowers.

Mechanical wings offer a flight option for people not born with superpowers. The original prompt included a video of pneumatic wings in action.

Feathers for regalia are customarily mounted with a leather wrap which allows them to move in near-natural motion. In jewelry you occasionally see feathers mounted on springs, which can accomplish a similar effect and works better in a mechanical context.

Sankofa is an African concept meaning "go back and get it," in reference to drawing inspiration from the past. Among the Adinkra symbols for it are a curled heart and a bird reaching backward. In Terramagne-America, the Sankofa club arose out of the civil rights movement to celebrate African culture, and from there evolved into a multicultural club where kids bring in crafts, foods, and other fun stuff from their ancestral culture(s) to share with friends. It's very popular, and many schools have one for after-class activity, in addition to freestanding clubs.

camber -- The curve of an airfoil.
-- Aeronautics Glossary
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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