Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "When We Get the Rough Times"

This poem is spillover from the August 4, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek and [personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "reflection" square in my 8-1-15 card for the As You Like It Bingo fest, and the "minor injury or illness" square in my 6-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy content. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. After his supervillain encounter, Ansel wakes up in the hospital feeling crummy. There minor medical details, some interpersonal stress, a lot of embarrassment and insecurity, job-related issues including suspension and assigned retraining, discussion of awful things that have probably happened to assorted supervillains, and other challenges. For the most part, though, people are supportive. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"When We Get the Rough Times"

Ansel woke to find himself
stretched out in a hospital bed
with Chief De Soto sitting beside him
reading a children's magazine.

He felt worse than that time when he had
accidentally gotten shot with a zatzer in training.
His whole body felt half-numb and prickly,
like a foot that had fallen asleep and was
just beginning to wake up and complain.

A sharper burn drew his attention
down along his right forearm,
where a pinkish-brown handprint
circled the skin just above the wrist,
glossy with a coat of some bluish gel
that had dried to a protective film.

"Ah, you're awake," said the chief.

"What are you doing here?"
Ansel said, struggling to think
through the headache.

"Waiting for you to come around,"
said the chief. "I ran off Janie
after the first four hours.
Your soup mentor also
took a shift, and then --"

"How long was I out?" Ansel groaned.

The Chief looked at his vidwatch.
"Over twelve hours," he said quietly.
"People have been worried about you.
The nurses said that you shifted into
natural sleep after the first few hours,
but you didn't wake up, so ..."

"Oh, that," said Ansel. "I'm a heavy sleeper.
"Once I'm out, it's hard to rouse me.
Didn't Janie tell anyone?"

"She did, but the staff wrote it off
as wishful thinking," said the chief.

Ansel shook his head, annoyed. "They
should've checked with my regular doctor,"
he said. "It's in my file, has been since
high school, precisely so people don't
overreact if I get a concussion and take
longer than usual to wake up. It's not
dangerous, it's just how my body works."

"I'll corroborate that story with the nurse,"
Chief De Soto promised as he stood up.
"They wanted to know when you woke."

Ansel tried to be patient with the flurry of nurses
who arrived to make sure that he was still alive
and more-or-less functional, but really, they
didn't need to make that much of a fuss.

On the bright side, they assured him that
the nerve-burn should fade in a week or two,
much like a bad sunburn, and painted over it
with more of what turned out to be aloe vera gel
liberally laced with lidocaine and blue chamomile.

They also offered him a rainbow assortment of
painkillers, which took care of the other complaints,
then finally left Ansel with admonishments to rest.

"I just woke up," he grumbled to his chief.

"Which is good, because I called Janie,
who was working in the yard and is now
rushing through a shower so she can come
visit you; and Skippy, who will probably
beat her here," said Chief De Soto.

"He's supposed to be in school," Ansel said.

"Well, you two went and registered
the mentorship at SPOON, which Skippy
is taking very seriously while you're injured,
so that qualifies him for leave to visit you.
Be polite when he gets here," said the chief.

"I will," Ansel said. "I wasn't
expecting all this attention, though."

"You should have," the chief said.
"When we get the rough times,
we have to stick together. A lot
of people care about you, Ansel."

"Yeah," he said. "I guess that doesn't
give us much time for a preliminary report."

"We'll make do," said the chief.
"What can you tell me for starters?"

Ansel summarized the events that had
led up to his injury, then concluded,
"So we're not dealing with lab animals
or a supervillain with Animal Control,
but rather a shapeshifter."

"We'll have to cross-reference reports
of blue animals to make sure that they
haven't been seen in different places
at the same time, but so far I think
you're right," the chief agreed.

"Check the pin map on my computer
at work," Ansel said, dotting one forefinger
against the bed in illustration. "I marked
dates and places for the sightings."

"That helps," the chief said. "A shapeshifter
is going to make containment a lot harder.
I doubt we have a cell that could hold one."

"I don't think we can bring him in safely,"
Ansel said. "Turq has a lot of past damage.
He freaked out the first time I mentioned
bringing him in. I managed to calm him down,
but when I mentioned alternative justice, well ..."
He lifted his right arm to show the handprint.
"That's when this happened."

"He attacked you to avoid capture?"
said the chief. "This is getting beyond
just property crimes now."

"Yes and no," Ansel said. "If I'd stuck with
de-escalation, I don't think he would've done it,
and it wasn't a violent attack." Another memory
floated up, misty and dim. "He apologized, too."

"Hm. That fits," said the chief. "When Bert
found you, someone had tucked you into
the recovery position -- it's what kept him
from panicking and thinking you were dead.
The ambulance crew said you seemed fine,
just out cold and with a shiny new handprint.
Bringing you to the hospital was mostly
precaution, but when you didn't wake up
as expected, then people got antsy."

"I wondered how I got here," Ansel said.
"Tell Bert thanks for finding me. I know that
Turq and I wound up pretty far into the park
because nobody stumbled over us while
he was coughing his lungs up."

"I'll tell him for you," said the chief.
"Does that shifter have any backup?"

"Turq said not," Ansel reported. "He's
a mess, and I don't think anybody else knows
what bad shape he's in -- he doesn't have anyone
he can trust. I understand that you need to know
about this stuff, but I'd rather you not spread it
around any farther than absolutely necessary."

Chief De Soto nodded. "Privacy
matters, not least because spooking
a supervillain is risky for everyone.
Besides, you can't teach them about
healthy boundaries by trampling theirs."

"What does that do to our orders
regarding this case?" Ansel asked.

"I'll make a note discouraging officers
from trying to apprehend Turq by force,"
said the chief. "I can't do any more than
that unless we can get a doctor or a healer
to sign off on an official trigger hazard."

"It's a start," Ansel said. "I know
a healer, Ethan Wheeler, but getting
Turq to talk through as much as necessary
for that kind of paperwork ... does not
seem likely in the foreseeable future."

"Do you think he's a danger to himself
or anyone else?" the chief asked. He
leaned forward, resting his hands
on his knees. "It's important."

Ansel thought about it, then said,
"No -- well, yes, but not like taking
a knife to himself or attacking people,
more like running into traffic because
somebody spooked him, or snapping
if they tried to grab him instead."

"So only a little worse than average
for a supervillain," said the chief.

"I'm kind of worried about him,"
Ansel confessed. "Turq may be
a thieving brat, but nobody deserves
that kind of misery. It surprised me
how much he fell apart on me, not just
the coughing, but that flashback he had too."

"Well ... supervillains are tough in a fight,
but they can also be oddly fragile," said the chief.
He gave Ansel a considering look. "Usually they
don't get the Emotional First Aid they need."

"You sound like you know more about this
than I do," Ansel said. "I thought that
I was your high card in this game."

Chief De Soto smiled. "I wasn't always
the chief of police, and I've had some ...
interesting encounters in my time," he said.
"Now I'm content to man a desk, and that means
finding people I can trust to walk the beat. People who
won't turn a minor crime into a major disaster, because
if the supervillains had that kind of self-control, well,
they wouldn't be raising Cain in the first place."

Ansel brushed a hand over his blanket,
remembering how thin and shaky Turq
had been. "Bad stuff happens to them,
they don't have resources to fix it, so it
messes up their life and pretty soon
they're in trouble with the law."

"It will take a while to add up all of
the potential charges, but it's not
a short list," said Chief De Soto.
"From your notes alone, Turq may be
connected with over a dozen thefts and
a smattering of other crimes, mostly petty --
not to mention stunning you to escape, then
breaking into your squad car to steal
your go-bag on the way out."

"Cross the last two off the list,"
Ansel said, shaking his head.

"Now I know you didn't let him
into that car --" the chief began.

"No, but I told him where the clothes
were and I offered him the shirt," Ansel said.
"Just count that as permission, please. I'd
rather Turq have something clean to wear,
because he had blood all down his front.
He didn't damage the car, did he?"

"Actually, no," the chief admitted.

"Then it's just personal property,
and he's welcome to it," Ansel said.
"I doubt that he has legitimate sources
for most of his basic needs; at least
that's one of them I can fix."

"What about the superpowered assault?"
the chief asked. "You've got a choice
whether or not to press charges for that.
The department has an interest, too, but I'm
inclined to trust your judgment regarding what
would make this situation better or worse.
How do you want to handle it?"

"Turq thought of that as self-defense,"
Ansel said. "He didn't just grab ahold of
a random bystander, didn't even try to cosh
me with a rock and there were plenty of those
lying around." Ansel rubbed a hand over the back
of his head, grimly remembering the ordinary bigot
who had hit him with a bottle. "I'd say log the event,
but hold the charges for now. If Turq attacks
anyone else, then we can make it official,
but I hope this doesn't come to that."

"You know we can't simply ignore this,"
said the chief. "That young man is trouble."

"I know, I know," said Ansel. "I don't want
to ignore it. I want to find some solution that
doesn't put more people in the hospital, or worse.
I just can't think of anything I could have done
differently that would have worked better.
I'm in over my head here, Chief,
like I told you before."

Chief De Soto heaved a sigh.
"You did tell me, and I should have
paid more attention," he admitted.
"I put you out in the field without
enough training for the assignment,
and that could have ended a lot worse
than it did -- we got lucky this time.
I'm sorry for my part in this mess."

"How much trouble am I in, at work?"
Ansel asked in a small voice. "I know
letting a fugitive escape is bad. I had him,
but he was so sick I was afraid any restraint
would compromise his breathing even more,
and with my equipment fried, I couldn't call for
any kind of backup. Plus I just muffed
our safety record for the month."

"Nobody died or got seriously injured, and
nothing major got destroyed," said the chief.
"When dealing with supervillains, those
are some important accomplishments.
You've got good instincts, Ansel."

"Yeah, I guess," he said quietly.
It was hard to believe, right now.
His fingers fidgeted with the blanket.
"Just give me the bad news."

"Two weeks of unpaid suspension
for allowing a suspect to escape,"
said the chief. "During that time,
there's a five-day training course in
how to handle cape fights that I want
you to attend, out in Richmond, California --
that's a department expense. Then pick
a useful workshop from SPOON to take
whenever it'll fit around the other class --
that one's on you, if it has a fee."

"Understood, sir," Ansel agreed.
That would take a huge bite out of
his monthly budget, but he deserved it.

"Of course, half the fault is mine for not
making sure you had adequate preparation
before I pushed you into this," said the chief.
"It's not enough to justify suspending myself,
but I did write off my Christmas bonus."

"Send the money to SPOON,"
Ansel suggested. "They need it,
and we're drawing on their resources."

"That's fair," said the chief.
"I'll make it happen." He sighed.
"I just feel like I let you down."

"Well, if you feel that bad, you
could always tag the card
something like For failure
to provide training before
deployment into a cape fight,"

Ansel said with a weak laugh.

"I'll do that," said the chief.
"We didn't get the shooter either,
the one firing plasma bolts -- he
managed to get a knife into Justin."

Ansel winced in sympathy. "How bad?"

"Just six stitches' worth on his left shoulder,
so Justin is already back to work,"
the chief assured him.

That was a lot less damage than
getting hit with a plasma bolt could do.
Ansel spared a moment's gratitude for
the popularity of knives in street fights.

"Did anyone get a picture of the shooter,
or at least a good description?" Ansel asked.

"Oh yes, Justin spent some time with
a sketch artist and they produced a portrait,"
said the chief. "We're looking for a black boy
with short black hair, probably around fifteen,
who can shoot pink plasma bolts from
both his face and his hands."

"That's flexible," said Ansel.
"Most soups have only limited
firing options, unless they have
a more general ability to control
whatever kind of energy they throw."

"I'll make a note of that," said the chief,
tapping something into his smartphone.
"If the boy can freely manipulate plasma
or electricity, he'll be harder to stop."

"Something fried my gear," Ansel recalled.
"At the time I thought the EMP came from
a gizmo, but what if it was the same soup?
Turn the energy a different way, and zap!
No police radios, no backup to worry about."

"That's plausible," said the chief. "I'll have
our technicians look into it. That suggests
a more coordinated effort, though."

"It looks like someone is organizing this racket,
and I don't think it's those kids," Ansel said.

"What makes you think that?" asked the chief.

"We spotted the pattern of them using
the blue animals as a distraction," Ansel said,
"but when we hit both the distraction and
the primary crime with separate teams --"

"The plasma shooter was waiting for you
to go after the blue dog," finished the chief.
"Clever arrangement to draw attention and
to take advantage if you showed up."

"It's a good thing we had a team," Ansel said.

"Yes, I don't think that Bert and Justin
would have done nearly as well
without you," the chief said.

"What do we do now?" Ansel asked.
"I swear, I tried everything I could think of
that seemed like it would do more good
than harm, and look where that got us."

"I'll reach out to some folks in alternative justice,"
said the chief. "Maybe they'll have some ideas
on how to handle this. Teleporters, self-detonators,
your boy isn't the first supervillain who couldn't or
shouldn't be restrained. Somebody has to be
developing techniques for legal resolutions
that use more creative methods."

"Good idea," Ansel said. "What about me?"

"Go over your notes," the chief said. Fingers
drummed on the arm of his chair. "If Turq got hurt
earlier, that's some other crime we need to watch
for clues, and see if we can track down the culprit.
Anyone picking on soups is someone we need
to put out of business soonest, because
that just makes trouble all around."

"Turq didn't tell me much -- couldn't, before
he started flashbacking or something," said Ansel.

"How much can you extrapolate
from that?" the chief asked him.

"I think someone either tied him up,
or locked him up, but I don't know if that
was the police or another supervillain or
something else altogether," Ansel said.
"I have no real details to speak of yet. I'll
piece together what I can, once I get home."

"They'll probably let you out later today,"
said the chief. "You're coherent, and
the physical damage was minor. It's
Friday now, so take the weekend
to recover. After that it's up to you
whether you want to do paperwork
while you're on suspension."

Ansel's gaze flicked down to
the handprint circling his forearm.
He'd had sunburns worse than this,
and he should be fine by tomorrow ...
then again, it would likely take the rest
of Sunday to convince Janie and
Skippy to let him do anything.

"Yes, sir," he said. "I'll see
how far I get at home, and then
catch up when I come back to work."

A soft knock at the door made
both of them look up.

"Ansel, it's Skippy, can I come in?"
a voice called from outside.

"Sure, come on in," Ansel invited.

Skippy brought with him a miniature bouquet
of blue-and-white balloons, each one
no bigger than his fist, anchored by
a tiny plastic skateboard.

"It's a jump drive," he said,
popping the skateboard in half.

"Cute," Ansel said, smiling.

"I loaded it up with current issues
of sports and outdoors magazines,
some puzzle books -- I figured that
you needed something to do, or
you'd go stir-crazy pretty quick,"
Skippy said. "I know I would."

"My hero," Ansel said, reaching for it.
"There should be a tablet around here ..."
One of the nurses had said so, but
he hadn't felt like looking earlier.

"It's in the drawer," said Chief De Soto.

Skippy put a hand on his shoulder.
"Tag, you're out," he said. "I'll get it."

Ansel raised an eyebrow, curious
to see how the chief would respond.

"All right, I'm going," the older man said,
standing up. "Skippy, thanks for looking after
my guy. Ansel, you feel better soon."
He let himself out of the room.

"Whew," Skippy said. "He did
exactly the same thing to me earlier,
but I wasn't sure it'd work on the rebound."

"Well played," Ansel said.

The drawer clicked open
and then closed again.
"Here's the tablet."

Ansel closed his hand over Skippy's.
"You didn't have to leave school
for this, you know," he said.

"Yes, I did," Skippy said,
narrowing his eyes at Ansel.
"I have a job to do, and I'm doing it.
Page past the entertainment."

Ansel obeyed -- and found himself
looking at a handful of forms from SPOON
about injuries relating to superpowers,
articles on dealing with supervillains, and
tips for supervillains about damage control.

"Wow," he said softly. "When did you
have time to compile all this? It must
have taken a lot of work."

"Last night, while I was watching you sleep,"
said Skippy. "You are my soup protégé and
I know we kind of fell into it sideways, but I want
to do this right. Besides, I was worried about you,
so I started looking up stuff, and then I thought you
might find the same things useful after you woke up."

Ansel remembered what Chief De Soto had said
about Skippy, and realized that the boy was
trying to fit himself into a position of authority
that usually came with a lot more seniority.
He probably found it awkward enough already.

"Thanks," said Ansel. "This
looks like it will be a big help.
When we get the rough times,
it's our friends who get us through."

He might be totally out of his depth
and treading soup for all he was worth,
but at least he didn't have to do it alone.

* * *


Janie Newcastle
-- She has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and wavy blonde hair to her chin. She is average height, with a heart-shaped face and softly curving body. She enjoys biking, jogging, tennis, and other athletic activities.
Janie is the girlfriend of Ansel Nicholson (Officer Pink). The youngest of three girls, she grew up as a bubbly, gregarious child in a quiet, reserved family and just never really fit in at home. Her parents always worried that she'd hurt herself romping in the woods with friends or trying to fix things around the house. Her sisters thought she'd never find a job or a boyfriend spending half her time looking like a tomboy and the other half like a cheerleader. Janie doesn't dislike her relatives, just doesn't have much in common with them, so they don't speak often. Instead she has focused on finding family of choice.
During the week, Janie hires out doing repairs and minor renovations in house and yard. She has an apartment in the Honeyman's Hardware building, in Cambridge Commons, the heart of Bluehill. She and Ansel are trying to decide where they'd rather live, both of them torn between the downtown convenience of her place and his quiet, spacious yard.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Handywoman, Good (+2) Activity Scout Leader, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Warm-hearted Woman
Poor (-2) Family Background

* * *

"We all have life storms, and when we get the rough times and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there's always something beautiful that you can find."
-- Mattie Stepanek

There are multiple types of burn. Some superpowers can leave a nerve burn, in essence overloading the nerves and adjacent tissue to short them out. It usually heals, but at high intensity can do permanent or even fatal damage. Aloe vera, menthol, and chamomile are among the herbs used for treating minor to moderate burns. Among the best products I've found use an aloe vera base with additional soothers.

Concussions and more serious traumatic brain injuries are associated with unconsciousness of various lengths. Actual classification varies widely, but in general if someone doesn't wake up after half an hour, people really worry. Superpowers can cause unconsciousness with little or no physical trauma, and minimal if any aftereffects. But when someone's vital signs shift to what seems like normal sleep, and he still won't wake up, that gets scarier. In this case it's largely due to Ansel's well-established "heavy sleeper" weakness. Read the instruction manual for your superheroes!

Recovery can be supported through an appropriate balance of rest and activity, and support from friends or family. Ansel had someone sitting with him until he woke up because people tend to view superpowered injuries as significant. Even if the physical damage turns out to be minor, you really do not want someone waking up alone with no idea if they're in a safe place after that.

Mentoring conveys a variety of benefits. There are helpful tips on how to be a good mentor. You should also know how to get the most out of a mentor.

A pin map uses pins, often color-coded ones, to mark meaningful locations. Here is an online version.

Transformative and alternative justice offer problem-solving techniques other than conventional court and prison. These often aim to protect vulnerable groups such as veterans or addicts, focusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment. In the case of troubled youth, the experience of surviving violence often leads to doing violence, because it starts to seem normal for people to hurt each other.

Personal boundaries may be healthy or unhealthy. There are ways to establish good boundaries, respect other people's boundaries, and teach someone about boundaries. It's been a long time since anyone respected Turq's boundaries, so he is understandably patchy on this topic. However, he had some good experiences that have helped him retain a little sanity, and you can see glimmers of that in his behavior even now.

Privacy matters for many reasons, and it is essential to human relationships and civilization. Respecting privacy in public interests and personal relationships is what allows us to overlook the fact that nobody is perfect and everyone has some ugly traits or actions. This also applies to health care and other official contexts. Without privacy, people tend to become suspicious and solitary, just as people whose sexual boundaries are violated may become increasingly resistant to any touch. This is ruinous to individual sanity and the social fabric.

Trauma triggers reactivate memories of bad things that happened to someone, throwing the person into survival mode. Trauma-informed care offers best practices for supporting people with various types of post-traumatic stress. It is very, very important not to trigger traumatized supervillains! Ansel and his chief both understand this, although their skill level isn't yet up to what they're trying to accomplish.

In Local-America, police corruption is running rampant and causing many problems, and some other countries are also having problems. Police unions work to keep abusive cops on the streets. Here's an example of some police crimes and responses. Terramagne-America takes a much more serious approach to removing bad cops from service so they don't hurt anyone else. The police union is there to make sure that nobody gets mistreated or fired without due cause, not to protect dirty cops. There's also a distinction between things that are against department rules and things that get people hurt, the latter being more serious. Things that happen within the department are handled by Internal Affairs; things that involve civilians are handled by External Affairs. A typical chain of disciplinary action includes warnings, administrative leave, suspension with pay, suspension without pay, demotion, firing, revocation of license, and arrest. Revocation of license means that the offender can't work at another police department in the same state, or in grave cases, anywhere in the country. In essence, T-America treats police like other high-trust professions such as lawyers and doctors who are expected to maintain excellent professional standards. But they also feel that legal proceedings are primarily for people who refuse to admit their mistakes, or who can't reach a mutually agreeable way of making amends. Notice that Ansel got more of a penalty than some L-American cops have for murdering people, and he considers that reasonable. Chief De Soto picked a different penalty for himself to avoid disrupting the whole department.

It has to be okay to make mistakes, because everyone makes mistakes and that's how we learn. Create an environment that is resilient about mistakes. This encourages people to deal with them and learn from them instead of hiding them and making matters worse. There's even a game for learning this. In one of my online classes I assigned students to try a project at the edge of their current skill level, which pretty much guarantees something will go a bit pear-shaped. In this case, Ansel and his chief are analyzing the incident to see what went wrong and identify steps they can take to prevent a recurrence.

Plasma Manipulation is a subset of Electromagnetic Manipulation. Possible Plasma Attacks include EMP and plasma blasts. Useful to note: ordinary EMP can only take out ordinary devices, and maybe weaker gizmos. Super EMP can take out those plus the stronger gizmos and even super-gizmos. In a game we'd be rolling dice for this.

See the skateboard jump drive.

Skippy faces some unusual challenges because he is chronologically younger than Ansel, but far more experienced in soup matters. This is what makes them a good match, because Skippy knows the stuff that Ansel needs to learn, and Ansel is both familiar with teens and interested in their perspectives. But it's still difficult to manage people older than yourself, and to earn respect at a young age. Skippy has found a good approach by observing older leaders and adopting some of their techniques.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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