Warning: This poem contains some intense material. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features a mysterious note, delicate discussions between supervillains and police, explicit references to past trauma involving animal harm, traumatic stress, supervillains getting revenge by setting the cops on the Spectrum, courtship behavior in horses, discussion of conspecific but transsapient sexual activity, and other touchy stuff. However, the overall tone is positive, as folks are trying to work together in this case. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"A Confession of Pain"
[Week 2, Sunday, day 14]
Officer Darelle Ardoin looked up
as her boss placed a card on her desk.
She knew that Sergeant Mathieu Palmer
was about as calm as they came, so
there must be something going on
to account for his grave expression.
She examined the card,
its thick white paper bordered
with a narrow line of navy blue.
We accept your invitation
for people to speak about
injuries done by the Spectrum.
We will arrive in the courtyard
behind the police station at 1 PM.
An equestrian officer is preferred
for the purpose of this interview.
"We have no idea who sent this?"
Darelle asked, tilting the card.
"No, I just found it on my desk,
with no sign of how it got there,"
Mathieu said. "Your guess
is as good as mine, Darelle."
"This is weird," she said.
"Well, ordinary folks usually
call the tipline or just drop by here,"
said Mathieu. "Unsigned card like this
makes me suspect supervillains."
That made Darelle sit up straighter.
"Do you think that's safe?"
"It's not our job to stay safe,"
Mathieu said. "It's our job
to keep the peace. That's why
I'm assigning you to this interview.
You're tolerant and good at psychology,
so just try to keep things quiet."
"Yes, sir," said Darelle.
Five minutes before one o'clock,
she went outside to the courtyard
that connected the police station
to the stable for equine officers.
At precisely one -- which meant
that their mysterious guests must
have synchronized their vidwatches
to the station's clock -- Darelle heard
a loud whump of displaced air.
There in the courtyard stood
a tall black Friesian stallion clad
in black-and-silver tack, his mane
curling down his shoulder and
his tail nearly brushing the ground.
On his back sat a little girl with
faintly tinted skin, hazel eyes,
and long wavy hair of light brown.
She wore butterfly leggings and
a black t-shirt with a unicorn and
a purple butterfly, the caption of which
read, Never run from anything immortal.
Beside them stood a burly man
dressed entirely in black, who was
not holding the horse's halter but
instead had a hand on his shoulder.
"Welcome to the District 2 Police Station.
I'm Officer Darelle Ardoin, and I ride patrol
on Zigana," she said. "I gather that
you're the folks who sent a note."
"Lorry, dismount please,"
the girl said, looking at the man.
He cupped his hands into a stirrup,
and when she put her foot there,
carefully lowered her to the ground.
"Lorry's our teleporter," she continued.
"I'm Alicia. My friend is Judd." She
patted the horse on the leg. He was
so tall that she would barely need
to duck her head to walk under him.
"Hi," said the horse.
Darelle blinked in shock, then
gathered her manners enough
to reply, "Hi. Thanks for coming.
Would you like to tell me why
you've come here today?"
"Vengeance," said Judd.
His ears flattened.
"We heard your call for information
about the Spectrum," said Alicia.
"We have some serious history
with them and we want to share it."
Darelle finally put together the ideas
"little girl," "immortal," and "big black horse."
She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry.
"You're Dr. Infanta," she said,
"and he's the Undertaker."
"Sometimes," said the little girl,
who was a great deal older than
the seven years she appeared to be.
"Today we're just Alicia and Judd."
"Okay," Darelle said, trying
to go along with that concept.
"It's like when you go home
and take off your uniform,"
Alicia said, "if that helps."
"It does help, thank you,"
said Darelle. "What can you
tell me about the Spectrum?"
"Bad people," Judd said.
His muzzle pinched as if
he'd eaten something sour.
"Killed my herd."
"Everyone but you?" Darelle said,
taking notes on her smartphone.
"Killed me too," Judd corrected.
"You seem okay," Darelle said,
frowning at the big horse.
"Got better," Judd said.
"Herd still gone."
"How many other horses were
in your herd?" Darelle asked.
"He can't count very well,"
Alicia pointed out.
"Beauty, Tux, Blackjack,
Selma, Onyx, Shadow,
Mamba, Walnut, Midnight,"
said Judd. His head drooped.
"What else did you see
the Spectrum do?" Darelle said.
"Burned things. Broke things.
Hurt the white coats," Judd said.
"Killed our driver. Cadby
was good. Soft hands."
"What were you and Cadby
doing when you first saw
the Spectrum?" said Darelle.
"Judd pulling wagon.
Cadby driving," he replied.
One forehoof pawed the ground.
"Then what happened?"
Darelle asked, keeping
a close eye on Judd.
"Spectrum bad. Burned me.
Hit me. Not heroes," said Judd.
"How did you respond?" said Darelle.
"Kicked them back. Made them die.
Others with them. White coats too,
some bad ones," Judd said. "Broke rules,
but rules already not working."
"I arrived after most of
the fighting was done, but
the signs indicated that
the Spectrum attacked
noncombatants," Alicia said.
"Where did this happen?"
Darelle asked, taking more notes.
"Old home," said Judd.
His tail switched back and forth.
"It was a supervillain lab," Alicia said.
She filled in the address and other details.
"The Spectrum cracked it wide open,
just like they did here -- they didn't care
what happened. That place was making
chemicals, which spilled everywhere.
We think that's what changed Judd."
"Smelly barrels in wagon,"
said Judd. "Nasty work."
His nose drooped below
his knees as he spoke.
"Bad things happened."
Gently Darelle coaxed out
the rest of the story, trying not
to make the lengthy process
any more horrible than it had to be.
Alicia had an amazing amount of
information about what happened,
and Darelle was surprised by
how much she shared.
By the end of it, Judd
looked awful, his whole body
tense, especially his face, and
his eyes squinched closed.
Darelle shifted the topic slightly,
hoping that would take some
of the pressure off Judd.
"Do you know anything
about the other parties in
the berettaflies incident?"
she asked. "We'd like
to know about Stylet
and Mr. Pernicious too."
"Mr. Pernicious is
now persona non grata
pretty much everywhere,"
Alicia said, wrinkling her nose.
"I don't know where he is."
"Well, that's better than people
tolerating his behavior," said Darelle.
"Anything to add about Stylet?"
"He's not a bad kid," Alicia said.
"He just likes to make creepy things.
It pays well, and he's good at it --
very professional, too."
"And yet he worked at
an illegal zetetic lab inside
a big city," Darelle said.
"I doubt it was his idea," said Alicia.
"Most of the supervillain scientists
prefer to work in private. That way
if something goes wrong, they don't
get a lot of unwelcome attention."
"That makes sense," said Darelle.
"We wondered why they'd put
a lab inside the city."
"Can't help you there," Alicia said.
"I don't know exactly how they think."
Judd heaved a sigh.
It reminded Darelle that
vengeance was really
a confession of pain.
"You seem unhappy," she said.
"I bet that this discussion has
raised a bunch of bad memories."
"Yuh," Judd said, nodding.
The last thing they needed
was an unhappy superhorse
wreaking havoc in the city.
"Would you like to meet
my partner?" said Darelle.
"I could bring her out."
"Yes, please," Alicia said
as she and Judd both
turned toward the stable.
Darelle went inside to get
the gray-and-white mare.
"This is Zigana," she said,
"or Ziggy to her friends."
The two horses sniffed noses,
their ears swiveling with interest
as they got acquainted.
"Pretty mare," Judd said,
and her ears pricked forward.
Then he tried sniffing Ziggy's flank.
She gave him a warning squeal
and flattened her ears at him.
Judd lowered his head
and backed away.
"Oh dear," said Darelle.
"Ziggy must be going
into preheat already."
It was spring, and the mare
was bound to come into season
sooner or later. She wasn't
interested in a stallion yet,
but Judd was certainly
intrigued with her.
"You should probably
leave her alone," said Alicia.
"You don't want to get nipped."
"Ziggy is pretty patient
most of the time, but yeah,
if she's not in the mood then
she might get nippy," said Darelle.
"Okay," Judd said, backing away.
"Can wait. Pretty pretty mare."
Darelle stared at him.
Stallions didn't just back off
when they smelled a mare.
Well, ordinary ones didn't.
"Got manners," Judd said,
flicking his ears at Darelle.
"That did it for you," Alicia said.
"Something changed, I can
see it in your face. He didn't
act like you expected a horse
to act, so now you really
see him as a person."
"I suppose so," Darelle said.
"What was it for you?"
"Right when we met,"
Alicia said. "He was crying."
Darelle regretted that people
had treated Judd so badly.
No wonder he decided
to become a supervillain.
"I should put Ziggy back in
her stall before things get
too hectic," Darelle said.
Now that Judd wasn't crowding
her, Ziggy had gone back to sniffing
him and flipping her ears
every time he spoke.
"They seem to like each other,
but you're probably right," Alicia said.
So Darelle led Ziggy into the stable
and latched her securely in the stall
with her name on the brass plate.
When Darelle came back out,
she said, "Thank you for all of
your input. This will help us
deal with the offenders in
an appropriate way."
"You're welcome," said Alicia.
"We wanted to see the Spectrum
stopped before they do more harm."
"Then especially, thank you for
bringing this to us instead of just
handling it yourselves," said Darelle.
"They hurt too many people this time,"
said Alicia. "It wouldn't be fair for us
to kill them all by ourselves. Your kind
of justice is easier to share around. It's
okay if you want to let people know that."
"Huh," Judd said, but he
was drooping again.
"Hey, I have another idea for
cheering you up," Darelle told him.
"The fruit vendor outside the station
sells melons. Would you like
some watermelon rind?"
Judd's ears pricked so far forward
that the points almost touched, and
he tossed his head in a gesture
so equine it was barely a nod.
Darelle used her smartphone to ask
one of the Cops2 citizen volunteers
to fetch a cup of watermelon rind.
When it came, Judd was delighted
by the wet, crunchy treat.
Darelle marveled at how someone
so big and so powerful could take
bits of rind from her palm without
even touching her skin.
"Thank you for being so nice
to Judd," Alicia said. "Some people
don't want to treat him as a person."
"Some people are idiots," said Darelle.
The girl offered Darelle a business card
that read Alicia Martins inside a frame
of pink roses on blue background.
Darelle turned it over and found
a vdress handwritten on the back.
"What's this for?" she asked.
"Let us know if you need help
taking down the Spectrum,"
Alicia said. "Also, if you want
a foal out of Ziggy, get in touch
when she's in the mood."
"We do sometimes breed
our best mounts," Darelle said,
turning the card over in her hand.
"I'll think it over and get back to you."
"I know it's a little weird, but there
aren't any supermares that we know of,
so we're watching ordinary ones," Alicia said.
"I don't want Judd to get too lonely."
"You could do worse," Darelle said.
"Ziggy is a smart horse. She can
figure out how to untie knots."
Alicia laughed, and Judd
gave a rumbling chuckle.
"Then we'll hope to hear
from you later on."
It took Lorry making a stirrup
with his hands again for Alicia
to mount up so they could leave,
but that was just due to the difference
in their respective sizes; once up,
she had a perfect seat in the saddle.
Lorry's departure made the dust
swirl around the courtyard.
As Darelle walked back indoors,
she was already thinking about
how to frame the odd encounter
into a proper press release and
how much that could help.
* * *
Mathieu Palmer -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark blond hair with a mustache. He is mostly bald now. He wears wire-framed glasses. As a hobby, he enjoys collecting memorabilia. His collectibles include things related to police work, horses, New Orleans and Louisiana history. He works for the Easy City Police Department. He is the sergeant in charge of the District 2 mounted unit.
Qualities: Master (+6) Mountie Sergeant, Expert (+4) Body Language of Horses, Expert (+4) Citizen Outreach, Good (+2) Calm Under Pressure, Good (+2) Collector, Good (+2) Fit for His Age
Poor (-2) Nearsighted
Officer Darelle Ardoin -- She has mahogany skin, brown eyes, and straightened black hair to her shoulders. Her heritage is Creole including African, Houma, and French. She lives in Easy City. As a tween, Darelle bartered for horse riding lessons at a nearby stable. As a teen, she worked at a breeding farm to save money and put herself through the police academy. That's when she got the idea of combining her sense of civic duty and love of horses.
Darelle serves as a mountie in the New Orleans police department, most often assigned to the vicinity of Loyola University. Her partner is a dapple gray and white Gypsy Vanner mare named Zigana, or Ziggy for short. They have training in civil rights and often supervise demonstrations or other public events. While not stuffy on the job, Darelle maintains firm control, and has difficulty letting go of herself when it's time to relax.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Mountie, Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Psychology, Good (+2) Strong, Good (+2) Tolerant
Poor (-2) Loosening Up
Zigana or "Ziggy" for short -- She is a dapple gray pinto Gypsy Vanner mare. She is the partner of Officer Darelle Ardoin. They often supervise demonstrations and other public events. Ziggy is very clever and can do things like untie simple knots with her mouth. She loves water and hates fire. Hates it. Will not go near flambeaux or fireworks, will not stand for hot shoeing, etc. She doesn't buck, just balks and refuses to go any closer. She adores being bathed and playing in fire hydrant spray.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Police Horse, Expert (+4) Smart, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Hates Fire
Dr. Infanta -- Alicia Martins is a world-class supervillain who looks like a little girl about 7 years old, but is actually centuries old. She has hazel eyes, shoulder-length wavy hair of light brown, and slightly tinted skin. She has a heart-shaped face. She admires altruism and loyalty, hence the makeup of her minion contingent. She isn't malicious, just ruthless. She is effectively asexual, due to her biological age. In French she is called la Petite Mort ("the Little Death"); in Italian, la Angioletta ("the Little Angel").
Dr. Infanta is extremely well-protected by other super-villains and many wealthy naries because of her powers. She always travels with a "nanny" and bodyguards, masquerading as a rich young heiress. She can't be killed, has rarely been captured, and it never takes long for her to escape. She is that powerful and connected.
Dr. Infanta often uses her influence to quash legislation that could harm soups. She is a key reason for how little institutionalized oppression there is, given the amount of informal oppression. This makes even some superheroes secretly appreciate her, if they haven't personally had to fight her or watch her give their archenemy a new face.
Origin: Alicia was a peasant child purchased by a noblewoman for experiments to extend life. They worked. She killed her owner and ran away. When Alicia discovered what she could do with her powers, she soon gathered adult protectors and traded her skills for what she needed.
Uniform: street clothes, usually whatever is fashionable for children of her apparent age.
Qualities: Master (+6) Children's Folklore, Master (+6) Wealth, Expert (+4) Intelligence, Good (+2) Cute, Good (+2) Gunplay, Good (+2) Living History
Poor (-2) Pint-sized
Powers: Master (+6) Time Control (Signature Stunts: Erase Memories, Transfer Lifeyears; Spin-Off Stunts: Danger-sense, Precognition), Expert (+4) Healing (Signature Stunts: Plastic Surgery, Regenerate Lost Body Parts), Average (0) Immortality
Average (0) Minions: The Guardians are a set of 7 trusted grownups, in charge of the collective personnel. They protect Dr. Infanta and usher her through the adult world. They are all relatives of people whose lives she has saved, thus all sharing the Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Leader quality. In addition, each has a Good (+2) profession (usually Nanny or Bodyguard), another Good (usually social for Nanny, physical for Bodyguard), and one Average (0) superpower (often Teleportation, Invulnerability, Super-Gizmology, or Sorcery). They currently include Nanette, Cheval, Lorry, and Melissa.
Motivation: Survive and prosper.
The Undertaker (Judd) -- He is a big black Friesian stallion. He can speak English, but poorly; his voice is rough and difficult to understand. His favorite song is Michael Longcor's "Tribes of the Draft." Unlike most supervillains, he not only doesn't hide his identity, he actively advertises it. Even the undersoles of his shoes are stamped with his emblem, a horseshoe surrounding a spade.
As a horse, he has a good-sized brain; his Super-Intellect makes him as smart as a clever human. His Super-Strength is considerably more than a human's, plus his body is designed for draft work so the physics of certain motions (pulling, pushing, kicking, trampling, etc.) will be far more effective.
Origin: He used to work as a draft horse for a mad science facility, hauling the kind of super-gizmos and exotic chemicals that weren't compatible with conventional engines. One day a superhero team hit the facility, wrecked the cart he was hauling, and killed his beloved driver. None of the other horses in harness survived the chemical spill, but it gave him superpowers and he managed to phase himself to safety.
Uniform: Black leather tack with silver fittings, with his name on it.
Qualities: Master (+6) Draft & Dressage Skills, Expert (+4) Tough, Expert (+4) Endurance, Good (+2) Friends with Dr. Infanta, Good (+2) Patience
Poor (-2) Savage Temper
Powers: Average (0) Death Touch, Average (0) Immortality, Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Super-Intellect, Average (0) Super-Strength
Poor (-2) Human Speech
Motivation: Revenge. He targets mad scientists primarily, superheroes secondarily, and makes occasional detours for people who abuse animals.
Lorry (Hamish Turner) -- He has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He is physically fit without being overbuilt. Although his everyday teleporting ability is only average for mass and distance, he is particularly adept at stretching himself in an emergency; it just tends to flatten him afterwards. His heritage is British, but he has traveled around much of Europe.
Origin: He dove on top of a previous client, taking a super-gizmotronic bullet in the process. The bullet was meant to teleport vital organs out of the victim's body, but instead left him able to teleport himself. Later, Lorry was involved in an altercation where his partner was seriously wounded, saved only by Dr. Infanta's timely intervention.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bodyguard, Good (+2) Partnership, Good (+2) Pushing Limits, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Average (0) Teleportation
* * *
"Revenge is a confession of pain."
— Latin Proverb
This is the style of notecard sent to the police.
Mounted police are popular in some cities, including New Orleans. Gypsy Vanners are bred for intelligence, gentleness, strength, and gorgeous looks. Because they're usually some kind of pinto, they can mimic the classic black-and-white or blue-and-white coloration of some police cars. Zigana, or "Ziggy" for short, is one of these.
Dr. Infanta's T-shirt is a reference from The Last Unicorn. These are the butterfly leggings.
"Enter the Dark Horse" describes the events of the Spectrum cracking a lab and Judd becoming a superhorse.
Revenge is a natural but complicated desire. It may have practical benefits in discouraging misbehavior, but it is rarely as satisfying as people think it will be. There are many ways for people to get revenge, but also ways to release the desire for it.
Horse body language includes many aspects that you can learn to understand. This chart describes multiple body parts and their meanings. Body poses, ear outlines and ear photos, muzzle, and tail all communicate.
There are many names for black or dark horses. People often like a matched team of horses, or at least similar ones.
Horses in pain show it through tense expressions.
Horses breed seasonally, and managing mares in heat can be a challenge. In particular, a mare in preheat begins to smell "interesting" days before she actually wants to flirt with a stallion, and pestering her is a good way to get kicked or bit. That lifted lip is called a Flehmen response, most often seen as part of mating behavior, but horses may do it over any strong fascinating odor. Horse courtship can involve a lot of mutual sniffing, circling, and playing even when the mare is in the mood.
Watermelon rind is a favorite treat for some horses, and less bad for them than sugary things.
Dr. Infanta's business card is based on vintage calling cards.