Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Few Steps Down the Road"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by discussions with DW user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "helping someone" square in my 8-1-15 card for the As You Like It Bingo fest.  It belongs to the Danso and Family thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, directly following "An Even Brighter Path."

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  Due to the half-price sale, the rate is $.25/line, so $5 will reveal 20 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: kestrels_nest, general fund

264 lines, Buy It Now = $66
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Amount remaining to fund fully = $33.75
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A Few Steps Down the Road

Saul ambled through the park,
thinking about the two superkids
he'd been sent to assess and
their vigilant new mother.

Lakia, the one with the tail,
was much younger than Kraken
typically liked to recruit, but she
had an obvious superpower and
was grossly failed by foster care.

He was pleased to confirm that not only
did Lakia have a good placement now,
she also had a prehensile  tail.

Hadyn was at the low end of
their preferred recruiting range and
a self-detonator who, thank the Prophet,
did not currently seem inclined to explode.

Since the original incident had done away with
her pig of a father, the only thing remaining now was
to make sure she had adequate resources for recovery.

The boy was ... an enigma, Saul admitted
in the privacy of his own mind. The alert had not
included the nature of his superpower, only
mentioned the disaster at SPOON which
led the Muffler to storm off in a huff
with her upset teen son in tow.

Danso was right at their favorite age,
but his body language made it clear that
he was fully bonded with his new family and
attempting to separate them would be ... unwise.

Yet he'd taken the card anyway: a hopeful sign.

They might have been good catches
if we'd made contact sooner,
Saul mused,
but I think it's better that they found
a family of their own instead

Saul used his Wristler to file a report,
the wearable computer more powerful
and secure than a conventional vidwatch,
also more discreet because at a glance it
looked like nothing but a simple bracelet.

Looking up, he noticed that the tweenbot
he'd seen earlier had bumbled its way
into the hollow of a storm drain,
unable to escape the trap.

Watching the awkward cardboard robot
from the safe vantage of a crabapple tree was
another boy, whose tan skin and nappy hair
revealed his black and Hispanic heritage.

Keon Delgado, age fourteen,
kicked out of home for telekinesis,

Saul remembered. Contact had proven
difficult owing to the boy's suspicious nature,
a common challenge in recruiting off the street.

"Good morning, Keon," said Saul.

"Morning," the teen muttered.

"How are you doing today?" Saul said.
"Do you like your presents?"

"The gymshoes are nice," Keon said,
wiggling feet clad in crisp white fabric.
"So's the shirt. I'm being careful."

"I can see that," Saul said.

The boy's jeans were still old,
the blue dye fading and the fabric
worn enough that it would soon give way.
They needed replacing, but Keon was
skittish and only allowed Saul to buy
one present at a time for him.

"So, you know, I'm doing fine,"
Keon said. "You don't have to keep
checking up on me all the time."

"It's no trouble," Saul said. "You seem
to be observing the tweenbot.
What do you think of it?"

Keon shrugged.
"Somebody's gonna steal it."

"They might," Saul said.
"Let's see what happens."

He picked up the dumpy toy
and set it on the sidewalk,
aimed toward the destination
of Peterson Park that he had
heard it voice earlier, and
carefully keeping its camera
turned away from him and Keon.

The tweenbot gave a happy bleat
and rolled away over the smooth concrete.

Saul held out a hand and said,
"Shall we follow along and watch?"

Keon jumped down on the far side of the tree.
He tended to shy away from physical contact
in ways that made Saul wonder who might be
responsible for it and how they would respond
to finding a leopard in their home some fine night.

"I still think tweenbots are dumb," said Keon.
"That thing's never gonna get anywhere."

"Would you care to make a little bet on that?"
Saul asked, giving him a sidelong glance.

"Like what?" Keon said.

"If the robot reaches the park safely,
I get to buy you some new jeans,"
Saul suggested, "If not, you get
next week's patrol schedule for
the cops in this neighborhood."

"Deal," Keon said, but he
didn't offer to shake on it.

"Deal," Saul agreed.

He had a suspicion that
the boy was working for
drugrunners, and not
very competent ones.

The telekinesis would be
incredibly useful for that, but
risky without the right protection
in case things went wrong.

Kraken had so much better backup,
but Keon didn't know that yet.
Building trust took time.

So Saul kept to his own half
of the sidewalk and let Keon
ramble around wherever he
felt comfortable as they trailed
the tweenbot toward its destination.
It was good practice anyway.

When they reached the intersection
of North Christiana Avenue and
West Thorndale Avenue, a woman
picked up the tweenbot.

"Hah! I told you that somebody
would steal it," Keon crowed.

"You did," Saul said. "What do you
think she'll do with it now that she has it?"

"I dunno," Keon said with a shrug.
"Keep it for a trophy? Junk it?
Can't be worth much from a fence."

"The components aren't expensive,
but they have their uses," Saul said.
That was especially true if you needed
electronics without paying for them, and
you know how to disable the tracker
and reprogram the computer.
"Let's see what she does."

The woman crossed Christiana,
heading west, and as soon as she
reached the far side of the street,
she put the robot back down.

"Huh," said Keon. "I guess
she didn't want it after all."

"She may have been helping it
across the road," Saul pointed out.

They followed the tweenbot on
its journey from Hollywood Park
along Thorndale to Peterson Park.

They watched a face painter put
butterflies on the tweenbot's cheeks.

They watched a balloon twister
give it a pink-and-green flower hat
with a business card stuck in a leaf.

They watched a toddler add
a row of sparkly star stickers.

The tweenbot trundled through
Peterson Park until it reached
the red wooden pirate ship.

There a group of Activity Scouts
burst into cheers at its approach,
boys and girls spilling off the ship
to swarm around their little robot.

"One hour and seventeen minutes,"
the troop leader announced as she
looked at her vidwatch. "Alpaca Team,
download your data. Bison Team,
decide on your destination."

A girl quickly synched her vidwatch
to the tweenbot and downloaded
all the photos and travel information,
then collected the flower as a souvenir.

"We want to send the tweenbot
to North Park Village Nature Center,"
a boy declared, pointing to a map.

"Approved," their leader said.

"Looks like you won the bet,"
Keon said to Saul as they
watched the cardboard robot
begin its new journey.

"Looks like it," Saul agreed.
"Today we're buying jeans.
Where do you want to go?"

"Anywhere?" Keon said. "Even if
I want to go to ZipFit or a thrift store?"

"You're picking, I'm paying,"
Saul confirmed.

They wound up at Levi's Store
on North Michigan Avenue, where
it took Keon a quick fifteen minutes
to choose a pair of pants he liked.

"Thanks," Keon said
as he accepted the bag.

"You're welcome," Saul said.
"Are you hungry? I'm hungry."

"You're fibbing," Keon said.

Saul's stomach growled.

"Okay, not fibbing,"
Keon said with a laugh.
"What do you want?"

"I could really go for some
kibbee and shish taouk," Saul said.
"We passed a food cart with it."

"You mean shish kebab?" Keon asked.

"That's usually lamb, and this is chicken,
but it's cooked the same way -- meat on a stick,
grilled over a fire," Saul said. "I'm buying
lunch, if you want to try some."

Keon fingered the paper bag that
held his new jeans. "Yeah, okay,"
he said. "Why do you keep
doing stuff for me?"

"I like helping people," Saul said,
which was true, if not complete.

"Could just be a foster parent,"
Keon said. "It's easier."

"That system comes with restrictions
that don't really suit me," Saul said.
Like they weren't too fond of soups or
immigrants or anyone brown, let alone
actual supervillains, and they frowned on
taking revenge against child abusers.

Keon chuckled. "Same here.
It's why I stayed on the street after
my folks kicked me out. I'd seen what
happened to some friends, you know?
Street's no safer, but at least out here
it's my say when I come or go."

"Freedom is precious," Saul said.
"I can see why you'd make that choice."
The boy needed more validation if he was
ever going to trust his own judgment.

"Wow, that smells good," Keon said
as they came to the food cart laden with
several different types of kibbee,
the promised shish taouk, and
spicy-hot kebab halabi.

"That's a good sign," said Saul
as he picked out a little of everything.
He was hungry, and Keon needed
all the extra food he could get.

The only sodas in the vendor's minifridge
were that cheap Squeedles stuff, but
the RosySo was drinkable and Keon
seemed happy with the YelloSo.

They found a park bench to sit on, and Saul
listened while Keon, finally relaxing, chattered
about the tweenbot, his former family, drugrunning,
how people treated him on the street, and why he didn't
trust the foster system or much of anything else.

If there was one thing Saul had learned
about recruiting vulnerable youth, it was that
the most important part was listening to them.
Everything else, from gifts to the food to praise,
was really just to loosen them up enough that
they would stop avoiding him and start talking.

Only then could he figure out what they wanted,
and whether that was something Kraken could
provide in exchange for their services.

It wasn't always ideal,
but it usually sufficed to get them
a few steps down the road.

* * *


Saul Omar -- He has light brown skin, sherry-brown eyes, and ginger hair with blond roots although his facial and body hair is darker brown.  His heritage includes Israeli, Palestinian, Arabic, and American.  He speaks Arabic, English, and Hebrew.  He is Sunni Muslim.  Saul favors gizmotronic or super-gizmotronic weapons; his favorite is a freeze ray.  He likes musical games such as Moosiqar.
Origin: When his superpower manifested at puberty, that made him a target in Palestine.  Kraken won him over simply by offering to get him out of the country, which is one of the bottom-ten for soups.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuit is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment.  It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors.  The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spy, Expert (+4) Hand-to-Hand Combat, Good (+2) Gizmology, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Musical Games, Good (+2) Palestinian Folk Music, Good (+2) Politics, Good (+2) Teacher
Powers: Good (+2) Shapeshifting
Motivation: To make the world safer for soups -- by any means necessary.

Keon Delgado -- He has tan skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair.  At fifteen, he is average height for his age and starting to put on muscle.  His heritage is black and Hispanic.  Keon is homeless, currently living in Onion City.  As a result of his negative experiences with other people, he tends to suspect the worst of everyone, whether it is true or not.  That bias sometimes costs him opportunities that could help.
Origin: He got the Super-Immunity from the Aegis vaccine base before running away from home.  He used to play basketball in junior high.  When his diligent practice led to Telekinesis, however, the team dropped him and his family kicked him out.
Uniform: Street clothes.  Originally whatever he could find on the street, but more recently Saul Omar from Kraken has been replacing Keon's clothes one piece at a time.  Keon also has a ring from his old girlfriend that he wears on his right pinky.
Qualities: Good (+2) Basketball Player, Good (+2) Fortitude, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Suspicious
Powers: Average (0) Super-Immunity, Average (0) Telekinesis
Motivation: To avoid getting hurt further.

* * *

"I've learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom - how great is that?"
-- Soledad O'Brien

This is a typical North Park neighborhood in Onion City.

Hollywood Park is part of a thriving neighborhood in Onion City.

Peterson Park belongs to a district in Onion City too.

See a map of Chicago communities and a shifting income discussion of affluent (green) and poor (purple) areas.

Terramagne's Wristler is a bracelet computer somewhat similar to the Cicret, which you can see in this video.  While the Cicret is just a fancy peripheral for a smartphone, the Wristler is a complete gizmo unto itself.

Tweenbots are social robots.  You can build your own and even customize them.  L-American versions typically communicate via flags.  T-American versions usually have a voicebox so they can talk.

This is related to the HitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot from L-Canada that sadly lasted only two weeks in L-America before being brutally destroyed in Philadelphia.  That made some ugly observations about the state of society.

There are many options for making robots, including robot kits, recycled robots, find-and-make robots, trash robots, and cardboard robots.  Here are some general instructions for building your own robot.

Teen abandonment is a serious risk, especially for gay or otherwise atypical teens, and it causes a lot of harm.  The outcomes for foster children are particularly grim.

Grooming is a set of behaviors used to prepare victims for child sexual abuse, cult indoctrination, or other exploitation.  Know how to recognize it.  The core feature of grooming is the use of appealing techniques to lower boundaries with malicious intent.

Influence, persuasion, manipulation, and coercion define a spectrum of getting people to do what you want.  The use of force is a short-term solution which precludes the development of long-term influence.  It is possible to build influence quickly even under dire circumstances. Parenting is another situation that requires setting limits without using force.  Understand how to get people on the same side.

Trust building uses many of the same techniques as grooming.  It's all about building connections and lowering barriers.  The difference lies in the intent: a trustworthy person has real benefits to offer and does not intend to harm the other person.  Yes, Kraken is a criminal organization and many of their members break laws routinely; but they are intensely loyal to each other, do not allow harassment inside the group, and provide an excellent benefits package.  It is, quite frankly, a better job offer than many soups are likely to get from the legal side. Here are some steps for building trust.

The Arabian leopard is among the large animals of Palestine.  Saul is a shapeshifter, and that's one of the forms he knows.

Face painting is among the many forms of street art found in Chicago.  Learn how to paint faces.

Balloon twisting is another street art. Explore balloon twists, including this flower.

Here is the pirate ship at Peterson Park.

ZipFit uses algorithms to make a precise fit.  Levi is more typical of jeans in Chicago.

Palestinian food includes kibbee, shish taouk, and kebab halabi. Food carts, like food trucks, comprise part of the street food system.  The cards are just smaller.  T-America uses these methods to improve diversity and access to food.

Communicating with teens can be challenging, but it helps to know what they want.  Understand how to listen to teens.

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