Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "A Prickly Problem"

This poem is spillover from the June 7, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "It's Okay" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by LJ user Daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series. Regarding the backstory, some of that rests on things which have been written but not yet published by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, the gist of which is that Mercedes, California has a fork problem making life hard on the Finn family due to their connection with superpowers.


"A Prickly Problem"


Halley and Edison were the ones closest
to the door when the doorbell rang, but
Leo was only a few steps behind them.

Even though things in town had
settled down some, Leo and Olivia
kept dropping by periodically
to make sure things were okay.

The Asian woman on the porch said,
"I'm Gearhead in Blue, looking for
Bog Standard. These are my friends
Lily Bay and Prickly Pete."

The cheerful college girl in
a Wildlife Rescue t-shirt held a leash
attached to a roly-poly critter.

"I'm Bog Standard," said Halley.
"It's nice to see you in meatspace.
This is my friend Leo and
my brother Edison."

"Is that a porcupine?" Leo said,
then as he leaned closer,
"with metal quills?"

"Yes and yes," said Lily Bay.
"Don't worry, he's got a forcefield
on his harness so that he
doesn't stab anything."

"It's okay, Leo, I know
Gearhead in Blue and
these folks are her friends,"
Halley said, then turned around.
"Leo's good people too, he's ...
just kind of ... protective."

"It's my job," Leo muttered.

"How'd he get metal quills?" Edison said,
watching Pete explore the porch.

"Some drunken losers hit him
with their truck, but he survived,"
said Lily Bay. "After he recovered,
his quills just grew in that way."

"It gave us some ideas for worksheets
about adaptation," Gearhead said.
"They're proving quite popular."

"Yeah, Pete is so friendly that
he has become our show soup
for the wildlife rescue center,"
said Lily Bay. "We're trying to raise
awareness of animal soups so people
will recognize them if they see any."

"Is that why you're here?" Halley asked.

"No, but it's a good excuse,"
Gearhead said. "Actually, it's
because I know you've had
a prickly problem here, and I
wanted to drop by and see
if everything's okay."

Leo rumbled.

Having him around was a lot like
having a guard dog on two feet
with a serious taste for pizza.

"So you decided to show up
with a dangerous animal in tow?"
Leo said, lounging in the doorway.

"Pete is only dangerous if you
try to drive a truck over him,"
Lily Bay said. She leaned down
to pet the porcupine, who wriggled
in glee and made weird purry sounds.
"I'm pretty sure a truck would lose now."

"Come on, Leo, be nice," Halley said.
"Gearhead helps me with my projects
when we're hanging out on BlackSheep."

"You expect me to believe that you
met your cop friend on BlackSheep?"
Leo drawled. "I wasn't born yesterday."

"Baa," said Gearhead in Blue. "Technically,
I'm not a cop, I'm a crime lab technician, and
we did meet on BlackSheep. But if you don't
believe us, feel free to ask Capricorn."

Leo's eyebrows disappeared into
his hairline. "You know Capricorn?"
he said, his whole demeanor shifting.

"Why does everyone do that
whenever we mention Capricorn?"
asked Halley. "The guy's a pussycat,
as long as you're not trying
to start a flamewar."

"Let's say that Capricorn is ...
very well connected," Leo replied.

"Well yeah, he knows everyone,"
Halley pointed out. "That's what
the chat moderators are for."

"Of course," Leo said,
rubbing a hand over his mouth.

"I'm telling Da there's a metal porcupine
on the porch," Edison said, darting away.

"Why a porcupine?" Halley wondered.
"I could understand you bringing
a therapy dog or something, if
you're that worried about me ..."

The porcupine's goofy gait
was entertaining, though.

"Maybe I just wanted you
to meet another soup who's
perfectly affectionate unless
attacked," Gearhead said quietly.

"Oh," Halley said, thinking about
everything that had gone wrong
here in Mercedes this year.

Pete put his paws on Lily Bay
and leaned against her.
He really was lovable --
but the sunlight still
glinted on his quills.

Maybe it wouldn't hurt to have
the neighbors see Gearhead
hanging out at their house along
with a souped-up porcupine.

"Thanks," Halley said.
"That's a good idea, and
Pete is really cute."

"That's why we can't return him
to the wild, he's a total clown and
he loves people," Lily Bay said.

"I can see why," said Da's voice,
and Halley turned to hug him.
Da's eyes had smile-crinkles
at the corners as he watched
Pete chase his own tail.

"He's popular," Lily Bay said.

"Now I'm wondering if we could
get Prickly Pete to come visit
our Activity Scout troop," said Da.
"We've been wanting to do a program
about superpower awareness there,
but everyone already knows
the Soup to Nuts routine, so
we hoped for something new."

"Right in our wheelhouse,"
Lily Bay said, and they sat down
to discuss schedules and ideas.

That left Halley and Edison
with Gearhead in Blue.

Leo finally sat down too,
instead of looming over everyone
like he did when he got worried.

So Halley got to talk about gizmology,
and pet a ridiculously friendly porcupine,
and hang out with fun people.

You couldn't make the bullies
just disappear, no, but you
sure could outclass them.

* * *

Notes:

Gearhead in Blue -- She has golden-fair skin, almond-shaped cognac-brown eyes, and long straight black hair usually braided up under her cap. Her heritage is mixed Asian. Gearhead is the oldest of four siblings, with one sister close to her age and two brothers who are several years younger, and she is close with her parents. Her visits with family are stilted and rather obligatory when they're all together, but she gets on well if she's only interacting with one family member at a time. She has no religious affinity. All of her ID says "Gearhead." She put her legal name under a judge's seal when she turned eighteen. As she puts it, she loves her parents and having them threatened is not on her bucket list.
Gearhead works on the night shift as a crime lab technician for the police department in Toronto, Canada. Given her background and abilities, she often feels out of place. She deals with that by teaching tolerance and trying to make the world a more welcoming place for everyone. She spends a lot of time on BlackSheep -- which is primarily a supervillain site -- and she gets along with people despite the varied cape politics. Gearhead is a friend of Halley Finn, and one of the first people thon connected with on BlackSheep. She loves shōnen manga and anime about giant robots and other gizmos, although she has no interest in the shōjo styles. She uses a motorbike for errands and a customized motor home for the long travel.
Qualities: Master (+6) Teaching Tolerance, Expert (+4) Crime Lab Technician, Expert (+4) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Mecha Fan, Good (+2) Motorcycle Rider
Poor (-2) Feeling Different

Introduced in "Private Chat" by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer

Lily Bay Abalo -- She has fair skin that tans easily, blue eyes, and dark blonde hair. She works as a wildlife rescuer in Westbord. Her favorite is a porcupine named Prickly Pete who has metallic quills.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fearless, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Soup-Friendly, Good (+2) Tough, Good (+2) Wildlife Rescuer
Poor (-2) Hard Time Saying No to Anyone

Prickly Pete -- He is a porcupine with superpowers. Despite his wild origins, he adores people and constantly seeks affection. His keeper Lily Bay Abalo uses protective gear to stay safe while cuddling him.
Origin: Drunken college students tried to kill him by driving a truck over him. He survived, and wound up at a wildlife rescue facility. After the collision, his lost quills grew in metallic.
Uniform: He wears a krevel harness with a forcefield generator to keep him from stabbing things.
Qualities: Master (+6) Tough, Expert (+4) Affectionate, Good (+2) Porcupine
Poor (-2) Unsuited to Life in the Wild
Powers: Good (+2) Metallic Quills
Motivation: Hug me! Pet me! Love me!

* * *

Bullying and bigotry are serious social problems. In Terramagne, people often dislike and discriminate against soups, although this happens more in some places than others. Mercedes, California has been having problems with hostility toward soups. There are ways to stop bullying in community and stop being bullied. You can also fight bigotry. Most such guidelines only discuss "permissible" options. The sad fact is, bullies and bigots get what they want inside or outside the rules, and rules are damn near useless for protecting victims. The most effective tactic -- filing a lawsuit -- is only available to adults and has a dismal 16% success rate. In other words, none of that advice works very well. You can see why some people choose to hit back, or resort to backup from supervillain friends. In a healthy society, people start at the nonviolent, rational end of problem-solving and then continue along that spectrum until the problem is solved. The real way to discourage these things is when society so consistently disapproves that attempts keep getting interrupted and just can't get very far. T-America does that most of the time, but it's not perfect.

There are adaptation worksheets about porcupines and humans. Consider the idea of superpowers as adaptations.

A show soup is a person or animal with a visible superpower who gives presentations about soup issues. Crayon soups with unusual coloration often work in this area.

BlackSheep is a social network for supervillains, similar to Twitter. The posts are called "bleats." Halley has an account there under the username Bog Standard. The service is hosted and monitored by Kraken, although that connection is not widely known. Capricorn is the username of Captain Left.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, wildlife, writing
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