Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Something Opens Our Wings"

This poem came out of the December 1, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] peoriapeoriawhereart, [personal profile] ellenmillion, and Anthony Barrette. It also fills the "comforting" square in my 12-1-15 card for the Defining Character Bingo fest, and the "impaired consent" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics, and it is a sequel to "Building Your Wings on the Way Down."

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is creepy zetetic fog, aerial combat, dysfunctional past relationships rising from the dead to disturb the living, close combat with hands and knives, combat-related injuries, emergency parachute use, wing injuries, asking for help and getting it, messy medical details, extreme anxiety due to PDSD, impaired consent, assisted decision-making, dizziness, and other difficulties. Current environment is supportive, though; Kennedy and Pinion are very good for each other. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Something Opens Our Wings"


Kennedy stared out the window at
the darkness her teammates had
nicknamed "demonic charcoal fog."

It lacked the pale color of normal fog
and there were no halos around
the camp lanterns. It was as if
the fog simply ate the light.

"Word from the science team is that
this is some kind of particulate cloud
that attracts water," said Pinion.
"They think it's a cloaking field
for a dirgecraft. Somewhere."

"Visibility is what, ten-twelve feet
in any direction?" Kennedy said.
"How are we supposed to find
a dirgecraft in this slop?"

The radar and other scanners
were useless, unable to penetrate
the fog for reasons their crew
could not yet explain.

Whatever psycho gizmologist
had whipped up this shit
did a good job of it.

"We wing it," Pinion told her.
"Get aloft and the shifting currents
of air may give away their position."

Kennedy looked around at the weathered faces
of the Krakenguard who had the hard, dirty job
of making sure that psychos didn't rise too high
in the hidden hierarchy of supervillains.

She and Pinion were the only ones
on this team who could fly, and thus
had a chance of locating the enemy.

So Kennedy strapped on her gizmotronic wings
and fired up the thrusters. Beside her, she
could hear Pinion thrashing the air
with his black feathers.

It took an hour of flying
in a slowly expanding spiral
before Pinion said, "Do you
hear that, Camberhawk?"

The cape name gave her
a little thrill of delight, although
she still wasn't used to it.

She tilted her head and listened hard,
barely able to make out a low thrum.
"Yeah, I think so," she replied.

"Start climbing," said Pinion.
"We'll probably need to make contact
in order to disable the dirgecraft safely."

They had weapons, of course, because
Kraken was generous with those -- but
dirgecraft were called that for a reason,
not just because they were big dirigibles
flown mostly by supervillains.

Dirgecraft sacrificed safety equipment
and armor for engine power and arsenal.
They weren't fast and agile like ziplins,
but they could haul a lot of cargo
and also carpetbomb the sky.

The thing was so big that they could see it
as a darker blob amidst the demonic charcoal fog
even from yards away. It bristled with guns.
It also had two ominous horns belching
black clouds of particulate matter.

And then they heard the airplane.

"Shit! That's an Avant-Garde engine,"
Kennedy said. "They must still be pursuing
the leads that brought me down here."

"Can you call them off?" asked Pinion.

"I can try," said Kennedy.

It only took her a moment to hack into
their communications. "Veer off!" she said.
"You are approaching a heavily armed dirgecraft
loaded with unknown zetetic material, and attacking
it could create catastrophic damage."

"O'Clere, you fucking traitor!"
a voice barked back. "If I see you,
I swear I'll shoot you myself!"

Kennedy killed the connection.
"That's Suze Shannon," she told Pinion.
"Forget using reason. She's a mean bitch
and she's not picky about collateral damage."

"Your fair-weather friends are a pain
in the tail," Pinion grumbled.

"Not arguing," said Kennedy.

"We'll have to split up, then," said Pinion.
"I'll disable her plane enough to force a landing.
You'll have to handle the dirgecraft."

"Roger that," said Kennedy, wondering how
it was harder and more dangerous and
more rewarding to work with supervillains
than it had been with the Vanguardian who
was fighting for the white side of the cape.

Still she managed to sneak inside the dirgecraft,
elude the first round of guards, incapacitate
the second -- which set the clock ticking until
someone discovered the breach -- and then
slipped into the auxiliary bridge.

From there Kennedy shut off
the demonic charcoal fog machine,
which should reduce the scope of
any zetetic mayhem that might
result from whatever it was.

Then she hacked into the autopilot and
set it to land. They were over the jungle, but
the nearest river was wide enough for a safe landing.
Sort of. If you didn't plan on relaunching the thing.

Quickly she twisted the knobs off the autopilot
and pocketed them to prevent anyone
from undoing the commands.

The sound of zatzer fire alerted her
that someone else had gotten on board.

It couldn't be the Krakenguard,
they had much better weapons.
That left more of the Avant-Garde
or some superhero joining the show.

The shooter turned out to be
some Avant-Garde guy that
Kennedy didn't recognize, so she
warned him about the descent and
advised him to use the parachute
strapped to his back.

"Fuck you, traitor!" he screamed.
"They had to hire me to clean up your mess!"

If only he knew.

Then he lunged at her with a knife,
scoring a shallow slice along the back
of her hand as she blocked the blow
and drew her own blade.

An ominous CLANG resounded
through the hull of the dirgecraft.

"Oh shit we're all gonna die!"
yelled the Avant-Garde, and
bailed out of the hatch.

Well, someone could pick him up
along with that bitch Suze, and
hopefully keep them out of
any more trouble.

Looking out a porthole,
Kennedy saw Suze's plane
sliding along the hull as Pinion
rolled along the wing.

By the time she got outside,
the plane was smoldering through
the gloom of fog, Suze's parachute was
a yellow smear in the distance, and
Pinion was flailing to stay aloft.

Kennedy got above him and
grabbed hold of his belt, grateful
for the quality of Kraken equipment
because the sturdy webbing was
actually strong enough to hold.

"Crazy bitch rammed me,"
Pinion complained.

"Stop flapping and lock your wings,"
she said. "I'll steer us down."

Fortunately they had personal trackers
that could follow their route and let her
find their way back to base camp
even in the near-total darkness.

They landed in a stumbling run,
separating as Kennedy let go of
Pinion and staggered to a stop.

"How badly are you hurt?"
he asked. "You've got blood
all over your sleeve again."

"Me? You're the one who
bounced off an airplane!"
Kennedy exclaimed. "A few
stitches and I'll be fine."

Pinion was still favoring
his left wing, and he wasn't
too steady on his left leg either.
"Don't worry about me," he said.

"Fine, be a macho idiot if you want,
but I'm getting this fixed," she said,
waving her bloody hand at him.

When she went to the medical tent,
Rafael frowned over her hand. "Carefully,
move your fingers for me," he said.

Kennedy moved her fingers.
It hurt more than she remembered,
and the middle two felt wrong.

"You've nicked the tendons," said Rafael.
"Let me throw a few sutures for support,
and then I can glue the skin closed.
I'll put a light brace on it -- don't
take that off until I say you can."

"You're the doc," she agreed.
Frankly he was better than
the company quack she'd
had before she quit.

Fast as he was, it only took
a few minutes to patch up
her hand and strap a brace
underneath to protect it.

Not being able to bend
her fingers all the way was
annoying, but she could cope.

Rafael sent Kennedy away
to rest and eat, which she was
also more than willing to do.

The cook always kept
a giant pot of soup going
so that people could eat
whenever they needed to
or had time for it, and
today's flavor was coconut
with butternut squash.

It was delicious.

Before Kennedy had time
to do more than sample hers,
though, she heard a commotion from
the medical tent, and Benchdog
came trotting over to her.

Do you know what happened to
Pinion up there?
Benchdog signed.
He's freaking out, and as usual, he doesn't
want anyone touching his wings, but
Rafael thinks something is wrong.


"Pinion hit a plane and fucked up
most of his left side," said Kennedy.
"I didn't see any bones sticking out
or blood pouring, so I didn't argue
when he skipped the tent. What's
this about his wings, though? He
wraps them around me all the time."

And thank God for that, signed Benchdog.
You know he and I were slaves for a while,
right?
The clasped-wrist sign for 'slave'
was nearly universal, but he added
a touch of his furry head to indicate
slavery pertaining to superpowers.

"Yeah, I heard about that," said Kennedy.

Pinion was tortured. They hurt his wings.
For a long time he wouldn't let anyone
near them, and it's still easier for him
if he's the one who does the touching,

Benchdog signed. Rafael thinks you
can help Pinion stay calm long enough
to repair whatever injuries he has.


"I'll help," Kennedy said, then
tilted the bowl to chug her soup.

By the time she got back to the medical tent,
Rafael had coaxed Pinion onto an exam table
with his wings supported by a pair of gurneys,
but Pinion was still arguing loudly and Rafael
was stroking the air as if that might soothe him.

"I know, I know, you don't want to be awake
for this, but general anaesthesia is always
a little bit risky, so it's for major injuries only,"
said Rafael, his weathered face tight with
concern. "I don't want to lose you, Pinion."

"You promised," Pinion whimpered.

"I did promise, and I won't touch your wings
without your consent," said Rafael. "If you
insist, I'll just tack up the cuts on your thigh.
If you don't let me imp those missing feathers,
though, you'll be grounded until your next moult.
I don't think that's what you really want."

"What's the problem?" Kennedy asked,
feeling like more of an intruder than if
she'd walked into the wrong bedroom.

Rafael sighed. "Pinion's missing a few feathers.
I can replace them, if he'll let me, but he has ...
some issues with impaired consent due to
his unfortunate past," the medic said.
"Unless we can build up to a yes, he
won't be flying for quite a while.
I thought you might help us."

"Okay, what can I do?" she said.

"I need a distraction," Pinion said.
He was clutching the edge of the bed
so hard that his light brown skin turned
white at the knuckles. "And just do the thigh.
Leave my wings the fuck alone."

Kennedy had learned a lot about negotiation
from her asshole boss, some of it dreadful
and some of it ... more flexible. Rafael
had said impaired consent, not refusal,
and Pinion hadn't limped out of the tent,
which he was perfectly able to do.

"Then let's work on getting you calmed down,
and start with the parts we agree on,"
she suggested. "How's that?"

"Fine," said Pinion.

Rafael heaved a sigh of relief and
started cleaning the gouges on
the outside of Pinion's leg.

Kennedy hooked a stool with her foot
and dragged it to the front of the exam table.
She sat down in front of Pinion and gathered
his tense hands in her own, careful to keep
her injured one on top for safety's sake.

"When we first met, I was terrified and furious,"
she said. "You wrecked my plane and cost me
my job. I would've died if you hadn't scooped
me out of the air. You patched up my shoulder
and then carried me back to base camp."

"It was my fault the plane blew like that,"
Pinion muttered. "It wasn't supposed to happen."

"But it did happen, and Pinion, I'm not sorry,"
said Kennedy. "That got me out of a bad situation
that I wasn't able to see my way free of on my own.
Sometimes we just need a helping hand."

"Yeah, maybe," he said. One thumb
snuck out of her grasp to stroke along
the back of her uninjured hand.

"So you brought me here and told me that
Rafael could fix my shoulder, that I could
trust him even though I didn't know him,
and I was still mad and scared, but I was
willing to take the chance because you'd
saved my life and you trusted him,"
Kennedy said. "And you were right."

"He does fine work," Pinion whispered,
his muscles slowly relaxing under her touch.
"I knew he'd take good care of you."

"Well, he did," said Kennedy. "I'm
not saying the whole thing didn't suck,
because it did, but you got me through it.
Now it's time for me to return the favor."

"Why are you even here?" Pinion said.

The easy answer was that Benchdog
had asked her to come, but that wouldn't
do Pinion any good, so she gave him
the harder answer instead.

"Something changes in us when we
start to care, whether it's making new friends
or falling in love," Kennedy said to Pinion.
"Something opens our wings and shows us
how to hold the sky. I never believed
I could fly until you taught me how."

"How to fly?" Pinion said.

"How to believe in myself,"
Kennedy replied.

Pinion's head dropped onto
his forearms, the long narrow braids
falling forward into his face.
"I am a terrible role model."

Kennedy reached up and
gently tucked them out of the way.
"I disagree," she said softly.

Just then Rafael announced,
"I'm done with your thigh, Pinion.
Yes or no on the wing repair?"

Before the argument could revive,
Kennedy intervened. "Just give it
five minutes, both of you," she said.
"That'll be long enough to find out
if Pinion can tolerate Rafael fixing
the wing under a local anaesthetic,
and if not, switch to the general."

"Why five minutes?" Pinion asked.

In five minutes, Rafael would have
the wing numbed and the job mostly done.
He was just that fast at work.

"Because I know that you can get through
anything for five minutes, and then you'll
have current information, not bad memories,
to make a good decision," said Kennedy,
which was also true, if not the whole reason.

"Okay," Pinion said through his teeth,
"but you set a fucking timer for it."

"I don't know ..." the medic said.

"Let me put it this way: if he flips out on us
and starts flailing around, it really will be
an emergency," Kennedy pointed out.

Rafael winced. "I concede the point,"
he said. "We'll try five minutes."
He found a timer and set it.

"Have I ever told you why I love wings?"
Kennedy said, determined to find a distraction
that would keep Pinion's mind off of
the unpleasant necessities.

"No," said Pinion. The first touch
of Rafael's hand on his feathers sent
a flinch shuddering through his whole body,
making the metal supports rattle under him.
"Now'saverygoodtimeforastoryplease."

"My college roommate inherited a parrot,"
Kennedy said. "Noah was older than both of us
put together, and he was getting kind of stiff so he
couldn't take care of his own feathers anymore."

Pinion gave a pained laugh. "I am imagining
a gray parrot with a cane and a fogey hat."

"Noah was a green parrot," said Kennedy.
"We used to preen him twice a day with a toothbrush.
Once a week we'd give him a dust bath and then
brush him off, and once a month he got a shower.
God, how he loved that toothbrush! He'd start
rocking and cooing whenever he saw it.
That bird was a total cuddle slut."

"It sounds like you enjoyed that
as much as he did," Pinion said,
finally starting to relax again.

"I really did," said Kennedy.
"After my roommate graduated,
I started volunteering at a pet rescue.
Then I got the big job, and well, I just
didn't have time for it anymore. I miss it."

"You just added yourself to my assistant list,"
Rafael said happily. "This is a hot zone for
the exotic pet trade, a very popular source of
illegal income for the kind of supervillains we do
not want climbing up the ladder. Sometimes
when we hit their lairs, the rescued animals
aren't in very good shape. I could sure use
another pair of experienced hands on birds."

"Yay!" said Kennedy, then hastened to add,
"I mean, yay that I get to work with birds again,
not yay that some asshats are hurting them."

"I'll be happy to have you," said Rafael.

The timer chimed, making Pinion
tense all over again. "I'm out of here."

"If you can hold still for a few more seconds,
I'll be finished," Rafael said quietly. "The imping
is already done. There's a cut between the shafts
that I couldn't see until I got a closer look.
One more stitch and it's closed."

"Hey, maybe you and I could
go hunt poachers together,"
Kennedy said to Pinion.

He snorted. "Somehow I doubt
you're the kind to play sky catch."

"Jesus, Pinion, try not to scare her off,"
said Rafael. "I just got my new helper,
I don't want to lose her already."

"Can't be worse than my last boss," she said.
"I think I like my foul-weather friends
better. What is sky catch?"

"Throwing or dropping a walker
between two fliers," Pinion explained.

She stared at him. "Seriously?"

"We are supervillains," he said,
giving her a nervous look.

"I can't think of a better way
to punish people who abuse birds,"
Kennedy said with a firm nod.

"I guess you're a better fit here
than I realized," said Pinion.

"All done," Rafael said.
"You can get up now, but --"

Pinion all but teleported off the table --
and then almost fell. Kennedy caught him.

"-- you should move slowly,
because you might be dizzy,"
Rafael finished in a dry voice.
"Low blood sugar and high stress
can have that kind of effect."

"Should probably eat something,"
Pinion mumbled, striving for the door.

"I have a bar of clinical-grade dark chocolate
in my trunk," said Kennedy. "I'm sure the cook
will let me have a saucepan and some cream.
Let's go drown our crappy day in a cup of
medicinal cocoa. What do you say?"

When they stepped outside, they could
see that the demonic charcoal fog
had given away to ordinary fog,
making silver halos around the lights.

"Lead the way," Pinion replied
as he leaned heavily on Kennedy.

After a moment, his uninjured wing
fluttered open just enough to cover her back.

* * *

Notes:

Suze Shannon -- She has pale skin, brown eyes, and brown hair to her shoulders. She works for the Vanguardian. Suze has a particular dislike for Kennedy O'Clere as a deserter.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Hacker, Expert (+4) Pilot, Good (+2) Endurance
Poor (-2) Mean Bitch

Rafael Barbosa -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and curly brown hair past his ears. He has a weathered face from spending so much time outdoors. He does not have any close family connections left.
Rafael works as a field medic for Kraken, and also contributes to their handbook The Care and Feeding of Supervillains. He can fix most medical problems that don't require a whole hospital. Some years ago, he performed an illegal abortion to save the life of a politician's daughter, and now he has a price on his head because her father hates him.
Qualities: Master (+6) Field Medic, Master (+6) Ingenuity, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Expert (+4) Fast, Expert (+4) Influencing People, Good (+2) Care and Feeding of Supervillains, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Soothing, Good (+2) Surfing, Good (+2) Writer
Poor (-2) Price on His Head

* * *

"Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness."
-- Rumi

"Demonic charcoal fog" is my description of a phenomenon I witnessed. The Terramagne version is using particles to generate fog, which works as a cloak; and the particulate cores inside the water droplets interfere with various types of scanning equipment, similar to chaff.

A dirgecraft is a large, powerful lighter-than-air craft. This is retro-engineered tech similar to a zeppelin, favored by some supervillains and evil organizations. Although related to the ziplins, dirgecraft sacrifice some safety features in exchange for greater weaponry and the ability to self-destruct violently. Terramagne has various types of dirigible in more common use, although they're making a comeback even here.

Carpetbomb means lay down enough firepower to hit everything of potential interest in an area. It takes a lot more ammunition to do that in three dimensions than in two.

Spiral is one of the standard search patterns.

Fair-weather friends hang around when things go well, but disappear at the first sign of trouble. Know how to identify them. Foul-weather friends loan your their umbrella when it's pouring, and help you get through the hard times. Kennedy and Pinion are just particularly good at shoring each other up.
Wings are delicate and subject to damage, especially in combat. Pinion is especially sensitive about his due to past trauma. But they're also a good example of how dark is not evil.

Backtrackers are GPS devices that let you get back to somewhere you've been.  They are showing up in our world now, and they tend to trade off storage against other features. So for instance, this one stores 50 locations, while this one holds 25 plus time, temperature, and altitude. Kraken has much more sophisticated ones.

Ignoring injuries is a common adventure or macho trope. But it's also indicative of how abuse survivors learn not to ask for help because people have been unwilling or unable to help them in the past. Pinion knows logically that his current teammates are supportive, but it's still hard for him to overcome the past.

Conversely Kennedy is happy to get better care than her previous employer furnished. Here's another example of Terramagne's support technology: plastic that can be shaped into a custom-fitting brace. An underhand brace like that prevents the hand from closing all the way, thus reduces strain on the damaged tendons at the back of her hand. It runs from partway down her forearm across the wrist and palm to the middle knuckles, leaving the fingertips free.

See a recipe for Coconut and Butternut Squash Soup. Supervillain teams often keep something available to eat all the time, just because of how fast people burn through the fuel.

The sign for "slave" that I've seen is the one Benchdog uses, clasping one wrist with the other hand to indicate shackles. The crossed-wrists version in ASL is another common one. Somatic languages tend to be much more representational than vocal languages, so some concepts have very similar signs around the world.

Consent is most often discussed in sexual contents, and impairment in terms of drugs. But if you look at that standard, you can see that in medical contexts free consent is rare and people are prevailingly pressured or forced into doing things by someone with undue influence. Also there are many more types of impaired consent than just substances; some mental disabilities or illnesses can have the same effect. In Pinion's case it's a mental injury from past abuse, which creates a specific pattern of impaired consent. That's a major ethical dilemma in medical care, because leaving problems untreated is not okay; but doing thing to people against their will is not okay and can make matters very much worse. Here's a good discussion about different types of impaired consent and the spectrum of consent. Pinion's issues stem from past abuse so they focus on similar things, and in fact are getting better, but violating his boundaries now would make things worse instead of better. So his teammates are using assisted decision-making and coping skills to shore up what's left of his consent in order to get it high enough they can get over the threshold and patch him up without doing more harm than good. It's a lot of extra effort, but it works.

Feathers indicate the health of the bird (or soup). They're tougher than they look, but they can still be broken or cut, and it's hard on birds if they can't fly. Imping is a way to fix damaged feathers. It doesn't hurt but can be stressful for other reasons.

Influence, persuasion, manipulation, and coercion exist on a spectrum. Manipulative negotiation tactics can do a lot of harm, but they can also inspire more helpful applications. When women play hard to get, men may concentrate on "working a no into a yes" in some very unsavory ways. Compare those to the kinds of high-pressure tactics that bad doctors use to make people do what they want, instead of following the rule of informed consent. Now look at some more positive business practices, and techniques that EMTs use to engage with patients. The differences in action aren't all that big. It's the differences of intent that make the change so dramatic. Persuasion is about working together toward a mutually beneficial goal; manipulation is about doing something to another person because you want to, even if it's "for their own good." There are basic and more detailed steps for building rapport. In essence, Kennedy is spinning an emotional rope so she can pull Pinion high enough to get over the threshold where he can tolerate getting his wing fixed.

Several species of green parrots are popular as pets, with a lifespan of 50-75 years if you take good care of them. Dust baths and water baths help keep them clean, although guidelines and personal tastes vary as to frequency. A toothbrush is useful both for removing crud and for smoothing mussed feathers. Something Kennedy knows that Pinion doesn't is that social grooming is a big thing for birds. Pet birds will preen humans they consider part of their flock. So far Pinion has no positive experiences with people touching his feathers, thus nothing to counterbalance the torture. That's fixable, but it'll take work.

Dizziness can stem from many causes, including several applicable here. Treatment includes rest, fluids, and refueling. Also never just bail off a treatment table like that, no matter how much you want to. Sit up slowly. Then keep your hands on the surface while standing slowly. After you're stable, then let go.

Medicinal cocoa may be made with chocolate and herbs. Here is a recipe made with dark chocolate and cinnamon, both good for soothing a variety of physical and mental complaints.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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