"All the Difference"
A blare of noise yanked Lawrence
out of a sound sleep, making him flail
for his phone to shut it off.
The phone wailed again.
Lawrence finally realized that it was Stan
calling with the urgent signal they'd established.
"I'm here. What do you need?" Lawrence said
as he answered the phone.
"I need you to meet me at Glenn Cunningham Lake,"
Stan replied. "Get dressed for a hike, and hurry."
"Whah ...?" Lawrence grumbled, rolling over
to look at his clock. "It's not even six o'clock
on a Saturday morning, Stan, what the fuck?"
"Remember when I mentioned volunteering
for the local search-and-rescue roster,
and you said you'd come with me?" Stan said.
"Well, we've got a lost kid at the campground
and we need to hustle because of the rain."
Oh. Right. That hero thing.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Then Lawrence's sleep-lagged brain
caught up with what Stan had said.
"It hasn't rained here in a week," he replied.
"Not here, but farther north of us it has," Stan said.
"If the Little Papillion rises -- or worse, a flash flood comes --
then that's a problem. Lost kids tend to head for water.
Are you in or out, Lawrence? I need to know."
The intensity of Stan's voice drove him out of bed.
"All right, I'm coming," Lawrence said, hopping
on one foot as he tried to pull on his pants
without letting go of the phone.
Stan rattled off directions, while Lawrence dressed
and scribbled a note to stick on his mother's door.
She'd already signed the volunteer permission slip
so he didn't need to worry about that.
Another look at the clock told Lawrence that
he could make the 6:15 bus if he skipped breakfast
and jogged all the way to the bus stop.
So he hustled, and he caught the bus.
"Where's the fire, kid?" the bus driver asked,
raising his eyebrows. The only other people
on the bus were two old ladies probably headed
for some kind of special church service.
Lawrence shook his head. "Not a fire,
I'm volunteering for search-and-rescue."
The driver shut the doors and said,
"You want some coffee? I got a thermos
under my seat if you'd like a cup."
"Yes, please," Lawrence said, startled by the offer.
The driver passed it back to him, one of those
lid-cups full of hot black liquid strong enough
to scald some of the fuzz off Lawrence's brain.
The bus ride to the edge of the city
gave Lawrence too much time to think
about what he was doing.
Here he was trying to be a hero --
was he even cut out for that?
He certainly hadn't made
a very effective supervillain.
This saving people stuff was
really, really important to Stan.
What if Lawrence messed it up
and Stan didn't want him anymore?
Besides, Stan had stuck with Angelica
for a couple of years at the least.
What was Lawrence even doing,
trying to match that kind of record
with nowhere near the experience?
Lawrence leaned his cheek
against the cool window of the bus
and watched the landscape swish by,
city slowly giving way to parkland.
"Glenn Cunningham Lake," the driver announced
as the bus pulled to a stop in a parking lot
filled with a few dozen other people.
"Good luck, kid, and thanks for pitching in."
Lawrence mumbled a reply as he
handed back the lid-cup and
scrambled down the steps.
Stan was already there,
his face brightening as he saw
Lawrence emerge from the bus.
"Glad you could make it," he said,
clapping Lawrence on the shoulder.
A broad brown woman who turned out
to be the chief of police addressed the crowd.
"One of the mayor's cousins came to visit,
and their little girl got lost in the campground,"
she explained. "Carly Keller is six years old
with fair skin, blue eyes, and strawberry blonde hair.
Synch your gear to see the picture we have ..."
Lawrence cued his vidwatch and looked at
the cute snapshot while the introduction went on.
When it concluded, Chief Kedzierski strolled through
the crowd to pick out a couple of people whom
Lawrence recognized from the Activity Scouts.
Tyke stood beside a tall, thin man carrying a case.
"Tyke, Professor, it's good to see you,"
said the chief. "Did you bring your scope?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Tyke.
"We'll need you on the high ground," she said.
Then she turned to Hefty, who was wearing
his battlesuit. "Hefty, get the searchers
organized and move out as soon as possible."
"All right, everyone with three or fewer missions,
raise your hand," Hefty said.
Lawrence put his hand up, and Hefty
pasted him with a sticker of a yellow duckling.
Stan's was a mallard, flaring green in places.
"New folks, you're ducklings. Find a mama
or papa duck and stick with them," said Hefty.
"Ducks, log your ducklings."
Stan leaned over with a pen to scribble
Lawrence's name, date, and M1 on the sticker.
Then he keyed the same information into his smartphone.
"These are silly," Lawrence muttered.
He felt ridiculously out of place.
"It helps to have a visual marker for
people's experience," Stan said.
"We get all kinds of volunteers, and
the numbers really speed things up, but
the less experienced ones need guidance."
Hefty came over to them, his mechanical suit
whirring softly. "We need you two to anchor
one end of the line," he said. "Lawrence,
I know this is your first mission but I also know
you're not exactly a civilian volunteer. Just stay
with Stan and he'll show you what to do.
Fiddlesticks and I will anchor the far end."
"We're lucky to have four of us
this time," Stan said quietly.
"Yes we are," Hefty agreed. "Stan,
you're our backup communication
in case anything happens to the gear,
so keep your ears open."
Stan touched his shirt where the fetish
made a small lump under the cloth.
"Yes, sir," he said.
Soon they set off through the parkland,
a jumble of trees and meadows
crossed with roads and parking lots,
little campgrounds tucked in between
with clusters of tents like colorful mushrooms.
They moved at a brisk pace through
the open areas, slowing as they passed
through places where a child might hide.
Stan kept his eyes mostly on the ground,
looking up and around just enough to stay
in position -- tracking, Lawrence realized,
using his Activity Scout experience to read
the footprints of people and animals in the dirt.
Lawrence watched the flow of traffic
and the branches of the bushes
for signs of disturbance, feeling around
with his power for anything out of place.
They found hints, but nothing solid.
Stan took snapshots of toe prints
and heel scuffs that might or
might not be from the right girl,
sending them to the team database
so everything could be compiled and
compared in hopes of learning more.
Lawrence spotted a yellow thread
fluttering on a dogwood twig.
Stan photographed it and bagged it
while hardly slowing down.
"There," Stan said sharply, "this way!"
He pointed to a small, skidding footprint
at the top of a slope and hurried downward
through weeds and thickets.
They found the girl at the bottom of the slope
where a round concrete pipe fed down
into the drainage system for the park.
Part of the iron grill had given way
to let her fall through the hole.
The straight sides of the pipe made it
impossible to climb out, and the water
covered the sound of her voice.
Carly peered up at them,
scuffed and muddy and desperate.
"Get me out of here!" she yelled.
"Okay, we'll get you right out,"
Stan promised. "Just give us
a minute to think of the best way."
He called in the girl's location.
"Like what?" Lawrence asked.
"That pipe's a real obstacle."
"The water's getting deeper!"
Carly said, jumping up and down.
"Crud," said Stan. "Now it's urgent, and
I don't have a rope because only adults
with the citizen responder certification
are allow to carry the whole kit and --"
Stan really didn't do well in situations
that left him unprepared, Lawrence realized.
"Well, fortunately we have other options,"
Lawrence said under his breath.
"Can you lift her out with your superpowers?"
Stan asked, surveying the obstacle.
Lawrence shook his head. "She's just a kid,
and she doesn't know us. I'd rather not
use my powers directly on her."
"Good point," Stan muttered. "What else?"
"Just use me as the rope," Lawrence suggested.
"I can hold onto her while you lift us both up."
"Okay, that should work," Stan said.
So Stan held onto Lawrence's ankles
and lowered him into the pipe.
"Hi, Carly," said Lawrence.
"Did you ever dream about being
an acrobat on a trapeze?"
"Yeah," she said, looking up.
"Well, we're going to do a trick
like that," said Lawrence. "You
hold onto my arms, and I'll hold
onto yours, and Stan will pull
both of us out of the drain."
Carly had quite a strong grip
for a little girl, and Lawrence had
no trouble hanging onto her
as Stan lifted them up.
Unfortunately two linked bodies
made enough length to sway,
and Lawrence's chest scraped
unpleasantly over the grill
on the way out of the pipe.
By the time they had Carly
back on solid ground, Hefty
and Fiddlesticks had arrived.
Fiddlesticks picked up Carly and
ran back toward the base camp
set up for the search party.
Hefty stayed with Stan and
Lawrence to get their report.
Stan turned to Lawrence and said,
"I am so sorry for dragging you
against the side like that.
How badly are you hurt?"
"I'm not hurt," Lawrence said.
"I can smell the blood," Stan said.
Lawrence frowned. Stan didn't have
Super-Senses but he did have a lot of
first aid training, and he noticed everything.
It was annoying. Lawrence looked down.
Sure enough, spots of blood were
starting to seep through his shirt.
"Take that off," Hefty said firmly.
"I have first aid equipment in my suit."
Lawrence dragged his shirt and
undershirt out of the way, revealing
a set of shallow but nasty gouges that
ran from his navel nearly to his collarbones.
Just looking at them made them hurt more.
Lawrence closed his eyes and tried
to concentrate on repairing the damage.
He definitely did not want to wear it home.
"Hold still," Hefty warned, and then
some freezing fluid sprayed over
Lawrence's chest in careful strokes.
"Fuck that's cold!" Lawrence hissed.
"Sorry about that," Hefty said.
"You should go numb pretty soon.
The antiseptic should take care
of these -- they're messy, but not
deep -- although if you want a ride
to the clinic, I can take you there."
The gouges already felt better,
but half of that was because
Lawrence could speed-heal
things if he paid attention.
"No thanks, it's fine," he said.
"You are not fine, and it's my fault,"
Stan said with those sad-puppy eyes.
"It is not your fault. It is the chief's fault
for not letting you carry a damn rope,"
Lawrence said. "I don't want you
volunteering for stuff like this if
they can't equip you properly."
Stan would be kicking himself
over this for weeks, and it was
Lawrence who'd have to clean up
the mess, and it was stupid.
"We can talk about that later,"
Hefty said. "For now, let's just
fill out the paperwork for the injury
and then we can all go home."
Stan looked even worse.
"This is the first time I've ever
gotten one of my ducklings hurt,"
he said. "Maybe I should just quit."
"What injury?" Lawrence asked quietly.
The last thing he needed was any kind
of official record of what he could do, and
by now his chest was mostly healed.
Hefty produced a handful of gauze
from somewhere and carefully cleaned
Lawrence's chest, revealing nothing but
a set of long pink marks, already fading.
"I don't like leaving anything out of
my reports," he said unhappily, "but
you've got a point about the rope and
now there's no way to document
those scrapes anyway."
"Thanks," Lawrence said as he
put his undershirt and shirt back
in order. Hopefully no one would
notice a few spots on the front.
It was Stan who stooped down
to scoop up a bit of clay from the trail.
"Here, cover up with this," he said.
Lawrence's eyebrows went up,
but he accepted the offering and
dabbed over the small red stains.
It made him wonder how often
Stan had hidden blood under mud,
before he became Invulnerable.
They walked back to the base camp,
where other searchers were regrouping.
People called congratulations to them,
which Stan and Hefty acknowledged
with waves and handshakes.
Lawrence kept his head down and
tried not to feel too out of place, but
even after finding Carly, he still
didn't feel like much of a hero.
"You get used to it," Stan said.
"What?" Lawrence asked,
turning to lean against him.
The coffee was wearing off,
and he was unpleasantly aware
of having skipped breakfast.
"The weird feeling goes away
after a while," Stan said. "You know,
like wanting to look around and see
who they're really making a fuss over?
So don't worry about it, you'll be fine."
Lawrence had felt more fine
back when he was still trying
to science the scrapes off his front.
"Sure," he said, not wanting
Stan to guilt-trip himself anymore.
"Good," Stan said. "We can go
get some food, but first ..."
He fished in his pocket.
"What?" Lawrence asked.
"Here, I was hoping I'd have
a chance to give you this," Stan said,
and opened his hand to reveal
an intriguing glint of silver.
"What is it?" Lawrence asked.
"It's a charm bracelet chain," Stan said.
"I just wanted to have something
to commemorate the occasion
of our first mission together,
if you ever ..." He trailed off.
If Lawrence ever decided to give
the superhero thing a try, and if not,
Stan probably would have carried
that thing around forever, hoping.
Lawrence hesitated, suddenly
caught at a mental crossroads.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference,"
he murmured, looking at Stan.
"What?" Stan said, frowning.
"Put it on me," Lawrence said,
not wanting to elaborate further.
He offered Stan his arm.
Stan wrapped the thick chain
around Lawrence's wrist and
fastened the snap-clasp. It was
a handsome piece of jewelry,
heavy enough to look masculine,
and yet elegant enough to match
the rest of Lawrence's style.
"Do you like it?" Stan asked.
Lawrence flicked his hand,
trying to get accustomed to
the new weight at his wrist.
He liked the way the bracelet
hugged his skin, glimmering in
the sun, and the potential for
adding charms to it later, which
he was sure Stan would want.
"Yes," he said. "I think I do."
* * *
Carly Keller -- She has pinkish-fair skin, blue eyes, and long wavy strawberry blonde hair. Her father is a cousin of the mayor of Omaha. Her family came for a visit and she got lost at the campground.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fan of Carnival Rides, Good (+2) Sweet
Poor (-2) Sense of Direction
* * *
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost
Search and Rescue is a first response effort to find lost people. People can volunteer for it, and there's a scouting badge too. Search methods include some, such as containment, that can be done by anyone regardless of experience or fitness level. Terramagne-America capitalizes on its high civic activity by accepting a wide range of volunteers and placing people where they can do the most good. It's not perfect, but it's pretty effective. Here are some patterns used in SAR efforts. It's important to consider the behavior of lost people when planning a search. For example, they often move toward water.
The Little Papillion feeds into Glenn Cunningham Lake with an Omaha park. Both belong to the Papillion Creek watershed, which is large and notorious for flooding.
Observational skills are crucial for scientists, snipers, police, and other people. In Terramagne, superheroes (and some blue plates) qualify as first responders, so this is an important skill for them too. Learn how to improve your observation.
Drainage ditches and culverts offer ways to carry away unwanted water, but they create a serious drowning hazard. Understand how to reduce the risk of drowning. One rather subtle difference between T-America and L-America is that people in T-America have put more effort into catching and using water, such as the increasing use of rain gardens. This has the side effect of reducing runoff and its subsequent problems of flooding, erosion, etc. But the old systems remain in many places.
The trapeze grip involves two people each holding onto each other's forearms. There are even beginner classes in the flying trapeze. It's all about trust, which can make it a very useful exercise.
See Lawrence's charm bracelet.