Warning: Take another trip through Shiv's messed-up head. Highlight to read more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. This poem features cognitive distortions, inaccurate but terrifying interpretation of perfectly reasonable events, implications of supervillain subcultures, attempting to assess the safety of a wary and grudging client, severe communication difficulties, rude gossip, food concerns, awkward interpersonal dynamics, body image, passing reference to poor previous care, concealing vulnerabilities that might be treatable, social restraint of superpowers, reference to past violence, resistance to help, self-condemnation, confusion, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before clicking through.
"The Goals Are Simple"
It was a different kind of meeting
than the ones Shiv was used to, where
he got hauled out to the visiting rooms
to talk with someone through a glass wall
or, more rarely, across a plain table.
Rosie had carefully explained
that because the chayne incident
put the prison at fault for failing
to provide proper safety for inmates,
an outside observer was coming
to make sure Shiv and Ragno
were genuinely all right now.
Since the meeting wasn't Shiv's idea,
it wouldn't cost him anything, which meant
if he took care with his hoard of points,
he might gain access to the craft room
without having to sacrifice the gym.
That is, if he could make it
through the meeting without
getting himself in trouble again.
Shiv sat on his bed and fidgeted
as he waited for Rosie to bring
the visitor around to his cell.
Keys rattled at the door as
the guard announced their arrival.
The man who followed Rosie
into the cell had rounded edges
without quite seeming soft, and
floppy blond hair that fell in his face.
He wore a sweater with sharp triangles
in shades of black and gray and white.
"Shiv, this is Dr. Graham Finn,"
said Rosie. "Graham, this is Shiv.
Try not to kill each other in here,
I shudder to think of the paperwork."
"Tolliver said you'd look alike," Shiv blurted.
"You don't look anything alike. I mean yeah,
your basic coloring is the same, but
you hold your faces all different."
The stranger gave him a warm, bright smile.
"Oh, now you've done it," muttered Rosie.
"Shiv, most people can't distinguish between
identical twins that easily. The ones who can ..."
"Tend to become very precious friends, but
I promise not to crowd you," said the other man.
"We try to avoid 'Dr. Finn' since there are two of us
in the family with medical degrees, so you can call
me 'Graham' or 'Dr. G' whichever you prefer."
Shiv froze, icy dread slushing over him.
This was the Dr. G that he'd heard about
in occasional whispers from other soups?
Now that he thought about it, yeah,
the descriptions matched up, but
he hadn't known about it before.
Dr. G wasn't actually connected --
or hadn't been, last Shiv heard --
but he'd made himself fond to
any number of people who could
mash Shiv to paste if they wanted.
That meant Shiv couldn't defend himself
if he really needed to, the way he could in
a regular fight -- he was nobody's easy meat --
but he hated the idea of letting the guy
just do whatever he wanted.
Maybe he wouldn't want, with Rosie there,
or maybe Rosie would keep it down
to something halfway bearable.
Shiv dug his fingers into his blanket
and reminded himself that he'd survived
a lot, and he could survive this too.
"Are you all right?" Dr. G asked, looking worried.
"Fine," Shiv said through his teeth.
He would be. He always was.
"I wanted to meet here so I could
see that you had a decent space,
and to give you home court advantage,
but something's making you unhappy,"
said Dr. G. "If you'd feel better doing this
in a visiting room or somewhere else,
we can move -- or even switch to video,
although I'd prefer face to face."
Shiv blinked, suddenly thrown off
his train of thought. The meeting had
worried him from the beginning, because
there weren't a lot of reasons for someone
to meet in a room with a bed in it, whatever
they claimed it was about. But if the point
of this had been to get a few licks in, then
why offer the video as an option?
Maybe that wasn't what Dr. G
had in mind after all. Shiv hadn't
heard of him roughing up anyone,
so maybe it was just his own mind
playing paranoid tricks on him.
Shiv licked his lips. "What do you want?"
"The goals are simple. I'm here to find out
how secure you feel and whether people are
treating you fairly, after the unfortunate incident
with the chayne," said Dr. G. "I can make
observations on my own, but it'll go quicker
if you're willing to answer questions. What
can I do to help you feel more comfortable?"
"Stop looming over me," Shiv said.
Neither of his 'guests' had sat down,
just leaned against the walls
like Rosie usually did.
"I haven't been offered a seat,"
said Dr. G, fingers tapping at
his thigh, "and I'm not in the habit
of using other people's things
without their permission."
Shiv rolled his eyes, then grabbed
the chair from his desk and swung it
toward the front of the cell.
"Have a seat," he said with
an ironic flourish of his hand.
"Sorry, Rosie, I only have one --
unless you want to sit on the can."
"Are you offering?" Rosie said,
without moving from the wall.
"What, you'd seriously sit on my can
through the whole meeting?" Shiv said.
Rosie shrugged. "It's a place to park."
"Fine, go ahead," Shiv said,
waving at him. At least
the banter was familiar.
Rosie picked up the folding screen
and carefully leaned it against the wall.
Then he sat down in the tiny bathroom alcove
and leaned his elbows on the half-wall.
"Thank you, Shiv, it's very thoughtful
of you to share your space with us."
It made him wonder if this was
why Rosie usually didn't sit down.
Shiv had no idea why -- the guards
who came in for inspections would
just plunk their butts on his bed
whenever they wanted to.
Dr. G put down a silvery briefcase,
touched a button, and suddenly the cell
was wrapped in the cushiony hum
of a high-quality privacy field.
"This conversation is protected by
medical privacy, which is higher than
a chaplain's but includes him as long as
I'm here, so you can say whatever you want,"
Dr. G declared as he tapped the edge of
the device. "In case you're wondering,
this is what took most of the negotiation."
Shiv didn't have much sense of
things with his superpower, other than
stuff he could make weapons out of,
but this he could feel, something
warm and soft like his blanket.
Whatever it was, it was working.
"Somebody wants Ragno dead, and
they won't stop until he is," Shiv said.
Might as well try warning them, even if
nobody listened to him as usual. "I'd
rather not see him dead, and I definitely
don't want to get in the way again.
Next time they might just decide
to blow the whole place."
"Credible threat," Dr. G agreed.
Well that was different.
Shiv peered at him closer,
and realized that the fidgeting
wasn't aimless after all, it was
one of the little finger-codes that
Ragno had showed him -- the one
they used to signal all clear
when exchanging scoots.
Shiv shook himself and
leaned back in his bed,
crossing his ankles.
He could just test things out
and see how serious Dr. G
really was about all this.
"So Martinez is cheating on his girl,"
Shiv said. "Everybody knows it, even though
I haven't heard who with, and it makes him
twitchy at work, wondering if he'll get caught."
"I could see that making life difficult,"
Dr. G said blandly. "Anything else?"
Shiv amused himself by rattling off
all the petty flaws and infractions that
he knew about the prison guards.
He didn't mind talking about other people,
and the more time he could waste on that,
the less time Dr. G would have to grill him
about more personal matters.
Except the guy didn't seem to mind,
just nodded and made agreeable noises
instead of trying to drag Shiv back on topic
or pry into his intimate emotions.
Shiv hated talking about his feelings.
When he got to the end of the ramble,
Dr. G said, "It sounds like the usual run
of human failings in here, nothing too bad.
You're relaxed enough to pick up on details
of ordinary mischief, but let's make sure.
Nobody has been threatening you or
hassling you for what you did?"
"I guess people know better than
to mess with me," Shiv said, "except for
the whackjobs slinging super-weapons around."
He shivered at the memory.
"Whackjobs scare everyone," Dr. G said.
"I had a few arguments with my family
over coming here, because of that."
"Why?" Shiv wondered.
"In case they attacked again
while I was here," said Dr. G.
Rosie gave a quiet little cough.
"We have, ah, stepped up security
as much as possible after that."
"Which brings me to my next question,"
Dr. G said seriously. "Shiv, do you feel
safe enough here, or would you rather go
somewhere else if you could? Do you
think the prison is doing a decent job
of protecting you and Ragno?"
Shiv shrugged, an indifferent twitch
of his shoulder against the mattress.
"Got nowhere better to be, until they
cut me loose. Rosie said they might
early, because of what I did for Ragno."
He didn't relish the idea of starting over
at another prison. At least here, he knew
the thrash coach and the doctor and even
one counselor who wasn't unbearable.
That didn't mean he had to go into detail, though.
"How's the food here? At least edible?
Enough that you don't go hungry?" asked Dr. G.
"It's food," Shiv said.
"We have a specialty cook for
anyone with dietary requirements
or extra points to spend," Rosie added.
"Yeah, that doesn't suck, Dr. Bloch
sends me free chits for it sometimes,"
Shiv said, then shook his head. "It's like
he thinks I'm a hamster, if he feeds me
enough treats, he'll have me eating
out of his hand. So not happening."
"Presumably he knows that soups
often need more calories than naries do,
and he wants to make sure that the cafeteria
isn't shorting you," said Dr. G. "That's good,
because not everyone knows that."
"I'm not a strongman," Shiv said.
"Super-Strength and Super-Speed
have some of the highest demand, yes,
but other abilities can run up the metabolism
almost as much -- or just a little, which may
leave people hungry all the time without
ever knowing why," said Dr. G.
Huh. That explained a few things.
But Shiv still wasn't going to quit being
himself over a few bottles of funny soda
and an extra omelet in the mornings.
"Whatever," Shiv said. "I'm not picky."
"Mmm," said Dr. G. "So no complaints
about the quality of the medical care either?
Your face seems to be healing well."
Suddenly self-conscious, Shiv
covered his cheek with his hand.
It hadn't needed the spray-on skin
after the first week or so, but it was
still the bright pink of healing flesh.
Dr. Bloch kept fussing over it with
some kind of fancy facial cream,
down to once a day from three.
"I guess," Shiv said. "Dr. Bloch
thinks it might not even scar.
The hell you know about it?"
"The place I work, Soup to Nuts,
fields an ambulance with a full team
of paramedics, so I know a bit about
how injuries heal -- enough to tell
that you're lucky and have gotten
pretty good care," said Dr. G.
"That doesn't tell me anything
about your satisfaction though."
Shiv shrugged again. "I ain't
dead yet. That's satisfying."
Fucking Turtledove. Anything
would be better than that.
"Something bothering you?"
Dr. G asked, leaning forward.
Shiv sneered at him. "Nice try."
"Play nice, you two," Rosie said.
"Don't make me break out
the chanting and incense."
Shiv just snorted at him,
but it made Dr. G laugh.
"Wizard or cleric?"
Dr. G asked Rosie.
"Usually cleric," said Rosie.
"What about you?"
"Wizard, sometimes paladin,"
said Dr. G. "Teen-me had aspirations."
As Shiv listened in amazement,
the two men went off on a long detour
yammering about some game that
they used to play, as if they had
forgotten all about him.
Fine then. Less prying.
Except that Dr. G kept staring at
Shiv's wall for some reason.
"Looking for a good place to dig
an escape tunnel?" Shiv snapped.
"Because that's an inside wall."
"Actually I was admiring your game,"
said Dr. G. "May I ask where you got it?
I know someone who likes well-made games."
"It's from Sport FX," Shiv said. "The guards --
after what happened -- well. They brought it."
He still didn't like thinking about that.
"It was an apology for the Jump Up Johnny,"
said Rosie. "They're still working through it."
"It's a good step," Dr. G said.
With a huff of annoyance, Shiv sat up
to peel the target off the wall and
throw it at Dr. G, balls and all.
"Nice aim," said Dr. G.
Shiv looked away. "Uh huh."
Dr. G frowned, then looked at Rosie,
who gave him an eyebrow-shrug,
a whole conversation carried
on in perfect silence.
It was annoying. Shiv
wished they'd just go away.
"This is remarkable," said Dr. G
as he unrolled the target, sticking
the balls on and lifting them off.
"Fuzzy all over, not just strips.
I bet the balance is better.
Would you recommend it?"
"I've played with worse," Shiv said,
starting to wonder if he was ever
going to get his game back, or
if Dr. G meant to confiscate it.
"Care for a game?" Dr. G offered.
Shiv smirked at him. "You hankering
to lose at targetball for some reason?"
"I am a terrific loser at target games
of most kinds," said Dr. G. "If I want
to win, I have to pick up a sword."
That startled Shiv into a laugh.
"You with a sword, no way."
"I can prove it," said Dr. G.
"Here, I'll show you on my phone."
He reached into his pocket, slowly enough
for Shiv to follow the motion and identify
the shape of the phone through the fabric,
then pulled it out and turned it on.
There on the screen was a snapshot of
Dr. G. dressed in ridiculous fake armor,
whacking someone with a blunted sword --
-- and apparently winning.
Shiv clicked his mouth closed
so's he wouldn't catch flies. "Huh."
He was half-temped to take the offer
and play a few rounds, but it wasn't like
his aim was anything to brag about anymore,
and the last thing he needed was someone
as sharp as Dr. G maybe noticing that.
"Don't feel like beating me today, hmm?"
Dr. G said, rolling up the target board around
the set of balls. He handed it back.
Shiv smoothed the board onto his wall
and lined up the little balls on one edge.
"Reckon I'm not much for company manners."
"Manners take practice, Shiv, just like
it takes time to hone the edge
of a knife," said Dr. G.
That was so weird that Shiv
turned back around to stare at him.
"People don't like it very much
when I talk about knives."
Dr. G narrowed his eyes at Ambrose.
"Is that so?" he said. "Well,
that's not good to hear."
Ambrose spread his hands.
"Don't look at me," he said.
"I've done my best to communicate
that Shiv's superpower isn't the problem,
just what he sometimes does with it.
I don't know if all the guards have
necessarily been that careful."
"Shiv, who doesn't like you
even talking about knives?"
said Dr. G. "The guards here?
Or did you mean someone else?"
"Guards, cops, foster parents,"
Shiv said with a flick of his hand.
"You know -- everyone."
Dr. G had a look on his face.
There'd been a stray dog
used to hang around Shiv's street
that never really snarled at anyone,
but its face would sort of ... set like
that and then you just knew it was
fixing to bite some dumbass.
Shiv inched a little farther back
on his mattress. He might not be
free to fight back, but he could
sure as hell still dodge.
"This? This is what I meant when
I said that incidents have antecedents,"
Dr. G said with a crisp jab of his finger,
although he was pointing at the floor
instead of at Shiv or Rosie.
"Understood," Rosie said.
"I will be sending some literature about
superpowers and reasonable accommodations
to the prison staff," Dr. G said to Rosie in
a perfectly calm voice. "I expect at least
the ones interacting with Shiv and Ragno
to read it and sign off after doing so."
Rosie raised his hand like he was in
class and trying to get the teacher's attention.
"Does it have anything on incident prevention?"
he said. "We don't get a lot of supervillains here,
but Shiv isn't our first. Even though we're doing
okay by them, I think we could do better."
"I'll send you what we have on that," said Dr. G.
"It isn't much yet, but maybe it will help. The goals
are simple; it's the execution that proves challenging.
I am primarily concerned with avoiding discrimination
so that people don't actively make matters worse."
"They uh ... kind of saw me chop
someone's arm off," Shiv said. "It's
no wonder that they don't want me
using my power or talking about it."
"And how does that help you learn
how to control your gift or use it
responsibly?" asked Dr. G.
"My control is fine!" Shiv snapped.
"I don't need anyone's fuckin' help."
"But you do need opportunities to practice,"
Dr. G insisted. "Your power is part of you,
it's not always safe to ignore things like that."
"I get by," Shiv said.
They didn't need to know that
he could stay in practice just by
peeling slivers from the insides of
the metal pipes on his bedframe.
"There's a proposal for some practical work
in the craft room, making a safety tool that
includes a knife edge," said Rosie. "I'm
willing to supervise, if Shiv is interested
and can afford the points for craft access."
"They'll never go for it," Shiv said,
shaking his head. "What if this,
what about that, too dangerous
the other damn thing. You know."
Nobody ever gave him a bit of slack,
was half the reason he got in trouble
so much, the other half being that
he liked stirring things up.
"I'm familiar with bureaucracy,"
Dr. G said dryly. "I'll put in a word
about giving you some opportunities
to use your power in constructive ways."
"They'll smile and nod, and then
blow us off like usual," Shiv said.
Dr. G sighed. "Shiv, it's not right for them
to forbid you to use your gift ever, as long
as you're not hurting anyone with it," he said.
"That's restraint -- it's just as bad as if they had
chained you to a bed. There are restrictions
on that sort of thing because it can cause
problems if it goes on for too long."
Shiv hadn't known any of that.
He couldn't remember ever getting
useful information out of a shrink before.
This. This was why people way higher up
the food chain than Shiv were so impressed
with a rumpled guy who liked artsy-fartsy sweaters.
Maybe Shiv should try being a little less
of a dick to him. It might shake loose
something else worth having.
"Yeah, so ... if you can talk them into it,
I can squeak out the points for
the craft room," he said.
"That's wonderful," Dr. G said with
a wide grin. "You must have worked hard
to build up that much in your account. Let's
end this meeting on that bright note,
shall we?" He held out a hand.
"You don't want to grill me
some more?" Shiv said.
"Not today," Dr. G said,
waggling his fingers a bit.
"I'd be happy to meet again,
though, if you don't mind me
checking up on you later."
Shiv felt torn between inviting
the man to go fuck himself, which was
how he usually responded to requests
like that, or trying to suck up in hopes
of getting more useful information.
"... I'll think about it," he said,
reaching out to shake hands.
In this, at least, the brothers
were alike: Dr. G's grasp felt
just like Tolliver's, warm and firm
without ever squeezing too hard
or jerking away like Shiv had
something nasty on his hand.
"Then before I go, do you want
to tell me what trigger I stepped on
when we first started, so I don't
hit it again?" asked Dr. G.
Like Shiv would paint that kind of
target on himself. He wasn't stupid.
And besides, he was a fuckup.
Shiv shrugged. "Wasn't you,
just my head's a mess."
"All right, then. This is for you,
but it has to go through Ambrose
first," said Dr. G as he handed over
a t-mem strip. "I'll tell you what it is,
though -- a game called Dead Ringers.
I heard you liked carnival games."
"What's it do?" Shiv asked,
curious in spite of himself.
"It's a basic ring toss, except
on some levels you can change
the size of the rings, on others
the size of the targets, and each
has a perfectly proportioned match
where the ring will just barely fit over
the target so you get extra points for
using that pairing," said Dr. G.
That sounded ... interesting.
Shiv eyed the strip in Rosie's hand.
"I'll run this past Security," said Rosie.
"Assuming it's a nonviolent ring toss
as advertised, you should have it
on your tablet by tomorrow."
"Thank you, Ambrose, that's
very helpful," said Dr. G. "Shiv, I
appreciate you taking the time to talk
with me. I couldn't have met my goals
without your assistance."
He made it sound like they'd been
visiting ... like he'd enjoyed it.
"I'll walk you out," Shiv drawled,
which is what people always said
to him when they were shuffling
him around the compound.
Dr. G and Rosie just went along
with it, and the guard outside
didn't bat an eye when Shiv
opened the door for them.
Afterwards, Shiv unfolded
the screen and put it back
around the bathroom where
it belonged, grateful as always
for that little shred of privacy.
Then he stretched out on his bed
and wondered why his head felt
like he'd thrown it into the dryer
along with a load of laundry.
* * *
"At the end of the day, the goals are simple: safety and security."
-- Jodi Rell
Prison parameters vary widely; this set is pretty good. In general, you get what you expect; treating people like animals just encourages them to behave that way, while giving them opportunities to do better can facilitate improvements. Compare this to Scandinavian models. T-America generally reserves prison for people who have a hard time not hurting others around them, and the emphasis is on finding some way for inmates to kick that bad habit.
See Graham's sweater.
Identical twins start with the same DNA but their life choices can create divergences in bearing and appearance. Learn how to tell them apart. While Shiv isn't very good at understanding emotions or other social nuances, he is adept at threat assessment -- and a soldier reads very differently than a counselor.
Dysfunctional families tend to cause a predictable pattern of damage. Shiv's birth family was a disaster. His foster families ranged from okay to crummy, but none managed to fix the problems he carried from his first home, and more problems accrued over time. Take steps to overcome a dysfunctional background.
Cognitive distortions occur when someone's perception of reality is out of tune with the facts, and there are ways to fix that. Typically what happens is that enough negative experiences build up for someone to predict that future occasions will have similarly bad outcomes -- which is a useful survival tool as long as it's accurate, but causes trouble when the situation changes but the prediction does not adapt. Shiv panics not because Dr. G is actually a threat, but because people have threatened him before. By challenging cognitive distortions, you can create a more positive outlook.
Healthy communication in open and honest ways is the basis of relationships. Psychological barriers and other factors can impair communication. Shiv has trouble partly because people have abused him, and partly because he has little idea what healthy interaction even looks like. Learn more about effective communication skills.
Personal boundaries include various types, which may be healthy or unhealthy. Abuse and neglect impair the victim's ability to set appropriate boundaries. Shiv's problem started with people violating his boundaries, and got worse because he just plain likes hurting people. When somebody doesn't violate his boundaries, he finds it confusing and suspicious. Know how to maintain boundaries with difficult people and how to respect other people's boundaries.
Respect is another essential aspect of friendship and other relationships. This includes respecting personal space and territory -- the person's body, clothes, adaptive equipment, possessions, and private locations. Obviously disrespecting someone makes it difficult for him to learn how to respect other people. Here is a lesson on respect.
There aren't many good resources on dealing with skittish people, so I looked up references for dealing with skittish cats; many of the same techniques carry over. Abused or neglected cats are susceptible to emotional overload which makes it difficult and tedious to socialize them. There are ways to tame a stray or feral cat. Shiv is a lot like this because his experiences with other people have been patchy at best and miserable at worst.
Traumatized youth need a lot of extra support. Know the warning signs and ways to help youth at risk. Reaching troubled teens often requires working together in order to teach them responsibility.
Credibility helps define the parameters of a credible threat. Other aspects of belief come into play because testing people can sabotage relationships -- but a certain amount of it is necessary for trust. Shiv testing people may be annoying, but it's actually a good sign, because it means he hasn't given up on the idea that some good might come out of an interaction. People who have completely given up hope don't test anymore; they just assume everything will be bad.
Patient satisfaction matters tremendously in health care because it influences outcomes and communication. Mistreating patients makes them less likely to communicate openly, to follow directions, and to seek help the next time they have a problem; all of which can lead to poorer health results. Unsatisfactory caregivers also tend to deliver shabby care in the first place; ignoring patient input can cause direct harm as well as offense. Then it causes problems for everyone else when the next caregiver -- no matter how good -- has to deal with a belligerent, wary patient more focused on self-defense than on help-seeking.
Jump Up Johnny is Terramagne slang for when someone does a good deed and gets criticized or attacked for it; this usually, though not always, refers to superpowers. It is frowned upon because it can shift people toward the supervillain side of the spectrum.
Manners cover a wide range of interactions, ideally aimed at making it easier for people to get along. They can also teach people that lying is normal and necessary for social interaction while honesty is not tolerated. This can make it difficult to find the balance between politeness and honesty -- especially for people who struggle with social skills in the first place.
Control freaks can create serious identity issues in their victims. This is true whether they are abusive parents or other authorities. It is especially dangerous to suppress any core traits such as sexual orientation or gender expression -- and in Terramagne, superpowers -- or ostracize someone for their nature. There are ways to recover from this.
Ideally, the use of restraint and seclusion should be minimized when trying to manage troubled children, seniors with disabilities, prison inmates, and others with behavioral issues. In addition to serious risks of physical or psychological harm, restraints necessarily undermine the core skill of self-regulation. Just as long-term bondage can cause muscle atrophy, never using a superpower tends to wreck control, which is why some crickets have problems. It is better to teach responsibility, hence SPOON's famous tagline, "Powers are for helping, not for hurting."
Reasonable accommodations include things like adaptive equipment, extra space, and more time to complete activities. A gifted student might need more advanced materials, some religions need special facilities for washing or praying, and soups need materials in a safe place to practice.
Mistreatment causes misbehavior in everything from child abuse to employment. This is because hurting people hurt other people. Understand how to protect yourself while helping them.
Handshakes offer important insight into personality and intent. Know how to give a good one.
Working with troubled youth is a lot like hugging porcupines. Realize what you're in for and prepare accordingly.