Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "When We Stay in Our Chambers"

This poem is spillover from the June 2, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: The inside of Shiv's head is still a mess, but not quite as bad in this episode. There are confusing social interactions, minor medical details, trust issues, masochistic tendencies, rude dialog, and other angst. But it's fairly upbeat compared to the rest of Shiv's life. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before clicking through.

"When We Stay in Our Chambers"

The first day that Dr. Bloch
allowed him out of bed for more
than the minimum necessities, Shiv
asked for and got a set of free weights.

Wacker sent lighter ones than Shiv
had been using, some kind of dense plastic
that he could barely get his gift into, and they came
with a set of candy-ass exercise suggestions from
Dr. Bloch, but at least Shiv had something more to do.

A closer look showed that the exercises
came in batches of easy, medium, and hard --
which helped gauge the healing process.

Shiv stayed in his cell until
he was fully healed, not wanting
to go back out there still injured
just in case a fight broke out
and he had to defend himself.

Then he went to the cafeteria for breakfast.

To his surprise, a guard handed him
a chit for the specialty cook.

"I didn't sign for this," Shiv said.

"Dr. Bloch set it up for you,"
the guard said. "No point cost."

Fine then. I'm not turning down
a freebie,
Shiv thought. He got into
the much shorter specialty line.

The cook had a whole bar of
eggs, cheese, milk, butter, flour,
sausage, ham, bacon, fake meat,
tomatoes, onions, mushrooms,
and a rainbow of peppers
laid out beside the griddle.

"What'll it be?" the cook asked.

"Omelet stuffed with tomatoes,
onions, mushrooms, and peppers,"
Shiv said. He might not like salad,
but he loved juicy omelets. "Plus
a side of bacon, cooked crispy."

It only took five minutes to make,
and then he headed for a table.
The other inmates gave him
nods and smiles of respect.

Then the head honchos waved him
over to their table, and even pushed
the box of LaMar's donuts toward him.

How did they even get these?
Shiv wondered. They're fresh!

Gingerly he sat on the end of the bench
and took one of the two-tone knots of
chocolate and vanilla to go with his omelet.

Just getting back to the cafeteria felt like
an accomplishment after days of
staring at the ceiling or viewscreen.
He savored the light, fresh taste of
the omelet, the salt-sharp bacon,
and the sweet tender donut.

Some of the guys who worked in
the organic garden run by the penitentiary
had also gotten into a literature class
that focused on outdoorsy things.

Shiv listened to their soft Hispanic accent
chattering all about fields and farms,
a forest and a lake, from some
bit of writing called "Solitude"
that they were reading together.

"I never found the companion that was
so companionable as solitude. We are
for the most part more lonely when we
go abroad among men than when we
stay in our chambers," one quoted.

After breakfast, Shiv looked it up and
found himself surprisingly sucked into
the diary of some old guy named Henry
who liked to wander off in the woods instead
of trying deal with other people all day.

Shiv began to wonder if he could
make that sort of thing work for him,
somehow, though he was a city boy
and hadn't much exposure with only
his own company until recently --
Juvenile Hall had a forty-eight hour
limit on solitary confinement.

When he got to the end of the chapter,
his tablet popped up a set of tabs:
a self-check quiz, discussion questions,
a literary forum for inmates outside class,
thumbnails of classes featuring this work,
and exercises for practicing solitude.

Shiv worked his way through them,
racking up points like stacking firewood.

Then the viewscreen chimed,
showing a caller picture and message,
Dr. Bloch would like to speak with you,
with a little (5) in the upper right corner

What the hell, I get five points just for answering,
I might as well find out what he wants,
Shiv thought.
He keyed in his acceptance of the call.

"Good morning, Shiv," said Dr. Bloch.
"Would you mind joining me in the infirmary?"

Shiv's eyes narrowed. "So that's why
you sent the breakfast chit this morning --
you're buttering me up for something.
Which is it, some bad news or you want me
to play guinea pig for you? Because I won't."

"It's actually an opportunity," Dr. Bloch said.
"I'll make the trip worth your while,
whether you say yes or no."

Now what's going on? Shiv wondered.

He thought it over. He knew better
than to take a trip to Guinea, really he did,
but he couldn't help remembering
the doctor's seemingly endless supply
of goodies that Shiv had never even
heard of. "Fine, I'll come," he agreed.

A guard came to walk Shiv to the infirmary
through the echoing halls of the penitentiary.
The solitary wing didn't have many inmates; most
people who wound up there tried to earn their way back
into the general population as soon as they could.
Only a few chose to stay by themselves.

"Come in and sit down," Dr. Bloch said
when Shiv arrived, waving at an exam bed.

Shiv perched on the edge of it.
"All right, I'm here. What do you want?"

"When I did the blood work after
your kidney injury, I noticed some
interesting things," the doctor said as he
scrolled through something on his tablet.
"First, your vaccinations are current but
you've never had one with the Aegis base."

"It's not required," Shiv said. "I just
stuck with the kind I got growing up;
as far as I know, that works fine."

"But you don't have a particular
objection to the Aegis?" said Dr. Bloch.

"Guess not," Shiv said with a shrug.

"Another thing is how fast and well
you heal," Dr. Bloch said, picking up
Shiv's hand to trace one pale, faint line
that trailed up the forearm. "That bruise
on your kidney could've been worse, but I'm
still surprised at how quickly you recovered."

Shiv pulled away. "Yeah, so?"

"So, the Aegis base has a small possibility
of manifesting Super-Immunity in its users,"
said Dr. Bloch. "If you've got the potential,
it turns active. I'm working with some other
physicians trying to pin down predictive factors
for who grabs the gold ring on that ride.
I think you've got a good chance."

A chance for a whole new superpower,
Shiv realized, goosebumps racing over his skin.
He remembered conversations with the folks back
in the Ebonies & Ivories. If you could, would you?
What gift would you want, if you could have
any of them? But what if it went wrong?

"Thought you said I'm up to date on
everything," he hedged.

"I just received the first shipment
of the new flu vaccine for next season,"
said Dr. Bloch. "It comes out in summer
to get ahead of the fall rush."

Shiv scoffed. "Even I know that's
a gamble, doc," he said. "There's no way
to know for sure what kind will spread,
so they're just guessing and hoping."

"It used to be more of a gamble,"
Dr. Bloch agreed. "Then two years ago,
the CDC hired a virologist with Foresight,
straight out of medical school. Her first
prediction improved the accuracy, last year's
was almost perfect, and I'm betting this year's
will be a clean sweep of the hottest strains.
Of course you could still catch something
that's not on the short list, but you won't
get whatever everybody is catching."

That's one way to put it to good use,
Shiv thought. He wondered what his life
might have been like if only there were
more legit jobs for a guy who liked
to cut people with his superpower.

That left one burning question, though.
"But why are you offering this to me?"
Shiv said, baffled. "I'm a supervillain!"

"That's not my problem," Dr. Bloch said,
shrugging. "I'm a doctor, not a prison guard.
My job is to take care of your health, and
this does that. If you choose to piss it away by
picking avoidable fights, well, that's your problem."

Shiv snickered. "Like you said, I heal good."

"So about the Aegis: take it or leave it?"
the doctor asked him.

Shiv thought about it. He didn't get sick
very often, but a couple years ago
he'd been down with a few cracked ribs
and caught the flu, then spent most of
the next two weeks worshipping the toilet.
Avoiding a repetition of that would be nice.

There was really no downside in sight, and
a chance to gain another superpower --
well, he'd be an idiot to pass it up.
Besides, he liked sharp things.

"I'll take it," he agreed.

"Roll your sleeve while I load up,"
Dr. Bloch instructed.

Shiv obeyed, letting his talent spill
through the room to seek out the metal
and glass and other hard things. He could
feel the points and blades in the cabinets,
along with the screws in Dr. Bloch's eyeglasses.

"Be patient and don't grope my gear,"
Dr. Bloch said, like he'd somehow noticed.

This guy is creepy alert, Shiv thought.

"Sharp touch," the doctor warned.

Shiv felt the cold stroke of the swab
and then the sting of the needle,
just enough pain to let the worries
and stress leak out of him.

He sighed, melting a little
under the doctor's gentle hands.
Another quick stroke taped over
the puncture, and then deft fingers
rolled down the sleeve for him.

"All done," Dr. Bloch said,
and handed him a sucker.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me,"
Shiv groaned. "What am I, five?"

"Read the label," Dr. Bloch said,
flicking the wide green-and-white paper.

Shiv squinted at it, but he could
barely make out the ℞ symbol
and the name Menthol Cumhaill.
"This is gibberish to me."

"Sorry about that," the doctor said,
and if he was teasing then Shiv
couldn't make it out in the tone.
"This company makes nicotine suckers,
originally for people who want to quit smoking -- "

Shiv scoffed. "So not happening."

"-- but later used as a safer delivery method
for soups who find that nicotine helps them
enhance or control their superpowers
better," Dr. Bloch finished smoothly.

Shiv couldn't get the wrapper off fast enough.
"Thanks, doc," he said, stuffing the sucker
into his mouth. Menthol rolled over his tongue.

"Just don't eat it all at once," Dr. Bloch said.
"That thing has about five doses, so put it
back in the wrapper once you've got a buzz."

Shiv looked at the wrapper. Sure enough,
it had come off in one piece and had
a shiny liner. "Okay," he said.

He was already calculating,
Five doses is five cigarettes,
so ten to fifteen scoots' worth.

He could make it last, and unlike
actual scoots, didn't have to worry
about the guards taking it away.

"I doubt you'll have a bad reaction, but
if anything unusual happens, please
let me know," Dr. Bloch said, patting
him on the back. "And kid? Good luck."

Shiv wasn't sure what to make of
a prison doctor wishing a supervillain
luck in gaining a new power, so he
didn't say anything, just hopped off
the exam bed and went to the door
where a guard waited to walk him back.

When Shiv returned to his room,
it was quiet and peaceful inside.

He lay on his bunk and practiced
his aim, tossing balls one by one
at the target stuck to his wall.

After he tired of that, Shiv played
video games -- once he'd admitted
that throwing things helped him with
pain control, Dr. Bloch had found
some carnival games that used aim.
None of them featured guns, of course,
but there was a new fish bowl toss
that Shiv found challenging to play.

He stayed in his room for lunch,
letting a guard bring him a tray of
chili and rolls with an apple on the side.

Later Shiv noticed that playing fun video games
had run his points down lower than he liked --
he preferred to stay liquid -- so he went
looking for some easy scores.

Ambrose had sent him a whole stack
of stuff about trauma and acute stress
and how that could turn into PTSD.

Shiv snorted. I've seen worse.

He looked at the materials, though,
because he got points for opening them
as long as he took enough time to pretend
that he was reading the contents.

There were worksheets on triggers and coping,
moods and actions, intrusive thoughts, and
nightmares. That last might come in handy,
but if so then he'd do it in his head. Shiv
did not need people knowing his nightmares.

He flipped to a file of emotional worksheets,
which had a lot of less-personal things like
guessing emotions based on a picture or
using vocabulary in a sentence. Shiv was fine
with writing about other people's feelings, so
he did that to boost his points back up again.

Supper came and went, making Shiv glad that
he'd stayed in, because this way his lasagna came
in a personal pan instead of glopped out of
a big sheet, and he liked the crispy edges.

He fiddled away the evening by lifting weights
in his room until he felt tired enough to fall asleep,
curling around his pillow and cocooned in his blanket
and trying not to feel like a pussy for liking them so much.

Shiv woke in the middle of the night, feeling
hot and sticky and moderately awful. He
pushed off the blanket, palms sliding over
the slick surface, and flipped his pillow in
search of the cooler side. He wondered if
maybe he should get up and go to the infirmary,
but fell back asleep before he could decide.

The next morning, Shiv felt fine, but he
remembered how overheated he'd been
the night before. He dithered over it for
a while, then figured that he owed Dr. Bloch
for the opportunity, so he made the call.

"You said to let you know if anything odd
happened, and last night I got so hot
that it woke me up," Shiv reported.

"You may be running a fever," said Dr. Bloch.
"I'll send a guard for you shortly."

"But I haven't had breakfast yet," Shiv whined.

"Give me a few minutes to check your
health, and I'll give you another chit for
the specialty cook," the doctor offered.

"Deal," Shiv said, fondly recalling
the buffet of omelet stuffings.

When he got to the infirmary,
it didn't actually take long for Dr. Bloch
to run through the basic check and say,
"Well, if you had a fever last night,
there's no sign of it now. Everything
is right on your baseline. I wish that you'd
called then, so we'd have evidence."

Then something occurred to Shiv.
"Wait a minute," he said. "I can prove it.
I was all wrapped up in my blanket, then I
kicked it off. I remember that it felt smooth
instead of fuzzy. You know, how it flats out
when it gets warmer, and fluffs when it's cold?
Just call up the security feed from my cell."

"That is a brilliant idea, young man,"
said Dr. Bloch, picking up his tablet.
A few quick taps let him skim through
the film of Shiv sleeping, until he found
when Shiv rejected the covers. More
tapping zoomed in on the blanket.

"Is it good enough to see?" Shiv asked.

"You were right. It does show up,"
said Dr. Bloch. "All I need to do is
test the temperature ranges that
the Microfyne responds to, and we'll
have a low-resolution thermometer."

Shiv was amazed that the man actually
listened to what he said and checked it.
"So that's a good thing, yeah?
For your study?" he said.

"Very helpful, yes," said Dr. Bloch.
"Want to see the points on offer for
filling out a questionnaire? There's
a short one or a long one."
He held out the tablet.

Even the short one was worth 50, and
it was only ten questions about how Shiv
was feeling and whether he had noticed
anything out of the ordinary. "Sure," he said,
grabbing the tablet to fill out the form.

"I want to thank you for calling my attention
to the blanket, Shiv," said Dr. Bloch. "This could
help a lot of inmates who get sick in the middle
of the night. It'll make quite a tidy stack of
points for you once I log the contribution."

Shiv hated the idea of giving up the goodies,
but he didn't dare risk getting outed for anything
that might draw more attention to the other inmates.
"I uh ... would rather you didn't do that," he muttered
as he handed the tablet back to the doctor.

"Something else you'd prefer instead?" Dr. Bloch said.
"It's a good idea, Shiv, you deserve something for it."

Shiv thought about that. Weapons were right out,
along with anything remotely similar. He felt
pretty sure that Dr. Bloch wouldn't handle
the fun kind of drugs. But that got Shiv
thinking about what the doctor did have.

"What about soda?" he asked. "Doesn't
have to be prescription, just you know,
something better than the Squeedles
in the cafeteria. I'm getting sick of
nothing but YelloSo and KolaSo."

"I think I know just the thing," said Dr. Bloch.
"I'll send a carton of wintergreen soda to
the gym fridge with your name on it."

That sounded tasty. Shiv liked mint --
there had been a strawberry-mint soda
which none of the other kids liked so
he wound up getting most of it.
Maybe this would be similar, and
if not, he could always trade it.

"There's another thing too -- I got so sweaty,
my skin is sticking to my clothes," Shiv said,
trying to peel the cloth away from himself.

"I'll write a prescription for an extra shower, then send
someone to replace your sheets and your sleep clothes,
and wash and return both of your Microfyne items,"
said Dr. Bloch as he scribbled on a slip of paper.

So Shiv got a carton of soda, another omelet,
and a shower out of his trip to the infirmary,
which made it altogether worthwhile even
if he did have to leave his room for it.

* * *


Shiv (Egon Harrison) -- He has fair skin and silver eyes. His streaky blond hair is straight and silky, worn long on top so that it that flops over his face. His head is a long triangle ending in a narrow chin. He has a lot of small scars from fights, but he heals well, having survived several injuries that could easily have proven fatal. Egon is currently 19 years old.
His superpower is a narrow form of telekinesis. It lets him create knives out of almost any nearby material, or take control of small bladed weapons from anyone else. He can't manage anything larger than a machete, though.
Origin: While in Juvenile Hall, he was stabbed by another inmate. Shortly thereafter, Egon developed his superpower. He believes that there was something on the knife -- or in the material itself -- which caused this to happen.
Uniform: Street clothes, but with several bandoliers of throwing knives.
Qualities: Good (+2) Ambidexterity, Good (+2) Hoodlum, Good (+2) Recovering from Injuries, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Fast
Poor (-2) Can't Keep His Mouth Shut
Powers: Good (+2) Knife Control, Average (0) Super-Immunity
Motivation: Puncture ALL the egos!

I couldn't find a link to my original picture of Shiv, but these are close: street clothes and leather jacket.

Dr. Niles Bloch -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair starting to turn silver. He works at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. His roommate during premed was studying to be an herbalist; they've kept in touch, and Dr. Bloch has developed excellent connections in alternative medicine. Mostly he uses things like prescription herbal sodas or suckers as bribes to entice wary patients. It works. Dr. Bloch enjoys exploring the boundaries of medicine, looking for new information or creative ways to use current resources. One of his recent projects involves trying to figure out who is likely to develop Super-Immunity from using the Aegis vaccine base. He's comfortable working with prison inmates, even supervillains, and balances gentleness with firmness.
However, his observational acuity makes it difficult for him to get close to people, because he knows so much about them, and everyone has dark parts.
Qualities: Master (+6) Doctor, Master (+6) Observant, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Expert (+4) Contacts in Alternative Medicine, Expert (+4) Influencing People, Good (+2) Fearless, Good (+2) Innovative Medicine, Good (+2) Gentle, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Soup Friends, Good (+2) Stern, Good (+2) Video Gamer
Poor (-2) Things He Can't Unsee

* * *

"I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers."
-- Quote Garden, Henry David Thoreau, "Solitude," Walden, 1854

Bruised kidneys benefit from bed rest and are fairly common sport injuries. As long as there aren't any big rips, however, they heal in a week or few just like any other bruise.

Vegetable stuffed omelets are tasty -- and one of the few healthy foods that Shiv really likes.

LaMar's Donuts is in Nebraska. These are the chocolate-and-vanilla knots.

Solitude can have positive effects, especially for introverts. It is possible to transform loneliness into solitude. Spending time with yourself has many benefits, particularly in nature. There are tips on finding and enjoying solitude.

Menthol is a popular tobacco ingredient. Menthol Kool is a type of cigarette. Fionn mac Cumhaill is a legendary Irish hero, and the surname Cumhaill or McCool is still around.

Nicotine is available in alternatives such as lollipops and gum.

Carnival games include the popular fish bowl toss. I couldn't find a video version in our world, but there probably is one. Shiv likes almost anything that requires good aim.

Emotional trauma is easier to cope with if you have support and you know what PTSD is, how it develops, how to prevent it, and the effectiveness of various treatments. Here's a flow chart for mapping traumatic stress. Worth noting is that extreme reactions need treatment immediately, which Terramagne is equipped to handle and our world usually isn't -- not just blind panic, violence, or physical crash but also the far more common case of someone who's simply too wiped to take care of themselves. There are worksheets for triggers, situational responses, intrusive ideation, tracking intrusions, and nightmares.

This page has a whole bunch of materials for emotions and social skills. This is stuff that Shiv does not totally suck at, once he gets the hang of it.

It sucks when people don't listen to you and don't believe you. This is especially true with child abuse, and it quickly solidifies into an expectation that people will never believe you, so you might as well not bother talking to them. There are ways to deal with people who don't listen and to make people believe you.

Here's an example of wintergreen soda, which can be made similar to root beer. Strawberry-mint is another rare flavor that can be made at home. Yes, Shiv has weird taste in soda.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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