Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Meraki"

This poem is spillover from the July 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It also fills the "special delivery" square in my 7-1-16 card for the Winter Fest in July Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Special delivery for you,"
Tolliver said to Shiv as
Mr. Vanburen unlocked
the craft room for them.

"What did you bring?"
Shiv asked, bouncing on
his toes. Tolliver always
brought amazing things.
"And where's Simon?"

"Simon is in the yellow room
running his peer therapy group,
so we won't see him until lunch,"
Tolliver said. He and the guard
brought out a box. "This is a set
of steel billets in assorted types."

"Dude, how'd you get bullets
into a prison?" Shiv asked.
"There's rules against weapons."

"Billets are small pieces of metal
used for smithcraft," Tolliver said,
like it didn't matter that Shiv was
an idiot for mistaking the word.

"Oh. Okay," Shiv said.
He tried feeling out the box,
but this one was made of metal,
so mostly he felt the case and
a dim sense of smaller bits inside.

"Since we had a little ... security issue
with your property here, I decided to take
some extra precautions," Tolliver said
as he opened the two stout locks
and lifted the lid of the case.

Inside, the lid was lined with black foam
shaped into points, while the bottom held
foam with slots cut into it to secure
rows of gleaming metal billets.

"Those look handsome," said Mr. Vanburen.

"These are pieces of ultra-premium steel,"
said Tolliver. He looked at Shiv. "Today
we're basically doing just one thing. I'm
going to introduce you to these billets, and
then you're going to make a knife blade.
Consider it practice for that commission
that Simon and I are hoping for."

"Okay," Shiv said. He couldn't take
his eyes off those billets. They just felt
so beautiful in his head, heavy with potential.

"Steel is typically described with five qualities,"
Tolliver said. "Hardness resists bending under
stress. Toughness avoids damage like chips.
Wear resistance stands up to friction or gunk.
Corrosion resistance prevents it from rusting.
Edge retention means how long it stays sharp."

"So you just max out all those, and that's
the best steel you can get?" Shiv said.

Tolliver shook his head. "No, there are
tradeoffs," he said. "The harder steel is,
the more brittle it is; hardness and toughness
are opposed. The more rust-proof steel is,
the less well the metal can hold an edge;
corrosion resistance and edge retention
are opposed. You have to choose which
is more important to the job at hand."

"Huh," Shiv said, lost in thought. Maybe
that had something to do with why knives
could feel so different to his superpower,
even if they looked similar on the surface.

"This is CPM-20CV," Tolliver said, pointing
to the first billet. "It has good wear resistance
and edge retention, plus high corrosion resistance."

"It's not bad," Shiv said. "It seems ... flimsy
some other way, though? I don't know how."

"Could be the chromium," Tolliver said.
"Next is Elmax, with very high wear and
corrosion resistance. It holds an edge,
but it's still pretty easy to sharpen."

"That one's better," Shiv said.

"ZDP-189 is one of the hardest steels,"
Tolliver said, indicating the middle billet.
"It has great edge retention but it's difficult
to sharpen, and it’s more prone to corrosion."

Shiv shook his head. "I don't like it."

"This one's a mirror steel, M390,"
said Tolliver. "It resists corrosion and
wears very well. The blade takes
and keeps a terrific edge, although
it's kind of a pain to sharpen."

"It's too shiny," Shiv complained.
"That looks like a toy, not a tool."

Tolliver smiled.

Mr. Vanburen smiled.

Shiv leaned away, wondering
what was going on. "What'd I say?"

"I'm just pleased you're thinking in terms
of a tool, not a weapon," Tolliver said.

"You told me that you wanted
a pocketknife," Shiv said. "That's
a tool, not a weapon. Only an idiot
would use a pocketknife in a fight.
If the lock breaks, you can cut
your damn fingers off!"

"That's very true," Tolliver said.
"The last billet is CPM S90V. This
has the best wear resistance and
edge retention, plus it stands up
to abrasion. It just takes forever
to sharpen in the first place."

"I want it," Shiv said. "It feels
so sturdy! I don't know why."

"Maybe it's the vanadium,"
Tolliver said. "This one has
the highest percentage of that --
it's a toughening agent in steel."

"Can I touch it?" Shiv asked,
his fingers tapping on the table.

"Pick it up, play with it, use your hands
or your superpower," Tolliver said. "Don't
hurt yourself or anyone else. Blade work
is careful work. Here, look at these."

He showed Shiv a page on his tablet
that listed five different knives, each
matched to its own type of steel
to illustrate the unique alloys.

"Nice knives," Shiv said.
They really were, too.

"I thought that you might like
some patterns for inspiration,"
Tolliver said. "These are all
simple, straight-edge blades.
Choose one and copy it."

"That one," Shiv said, touching
a knife with a thick point and
very little belly underneath.
It looked like something that
could stab through a car hood
or be used as a can opener.

"That's a reverse tanto blade,"
Tolliver said. "Now what I want you
to do is really concentrate on that billet.
Don't just grab it and yank it into shape
as fast as you can. You are building
something to last. Gather up everything
you've got and pour it into that blade.
The Greeks call that meraki."

Shiv glanced at him, then looked away.
"It'll wear me out," he admitted. That
was a handful of fantastic steel; it wasn't
going to bend for a lick and a promise
like cheap silverware would.

"That's why we're doing one project
today, not a bunch," Tolliver said.
"We'll go straight to lunch afterward."

It had been a while since Shiv had
a chance to throw his back into his work.
Ambrose, Dr. Bloch, and Dr. G had him
practicing finesse instead of power.

He picked up the CPM S90V,
turning it over in his hands.

"First, look at it with your eyes,"
Tolliver said. "Learn the color of it.
Watch for any imperfections. Those
can warn you of weaknesses in the steel."

"It's fine," Shiv said. It was probably
the finest piece of steel that
he'd ever even seen.

"Next, feel it with your hands,"
Tolliver said. "How light or heavy
is it? How smooth or textured?"

"It's smooth," Shiv said.
"It's got a good heft -- not
too clunky, but dense enough
that it won't fall apart either."

"Okay, now we're moving out
of where I can really help you,"
Tolliver said. "Touch the steel with
your superpower. What's it like?"

"I don't know," Shiv said.
"I mean, I can feel it, but
there aren't words to tell it."

"Well, does it remind you of
anything else?" Tolliver said.

"It feels the way that other people
say clay is supposed to feel," Shiv said.
"Pliable, supple, but strong. Clay doesn't
feel that way to me. I don't like it. Clay feels
like trying to make a snowball with slush."

Tolliver chuckled. "I'm glad you like
the steel," he said. "Go ahead now
and make the best blade you can."

"It'll take a while," Shiv warned.

"It's meant to," Tolliver said.
"Meraki, remember? Put yourself
into the steel. Shape it. Hone it.
Polish it. Love it, even."

"You still have most of an hour,"
Mr. Vanburen assured them.

So Shiv took the steel billet between
his hands and held it while it slowly
warmed from pressing against his skin.

He felt how thick and strong
it was, and yet flexible too, waiting
to flow into the shape that he gave it.

Instead of pulling at the metal,
Shiv pushed his superpower into it,
creating an impression of the shape
that he wanted the blade to take.

The steel pushed back against his power
a little, like leaning on a spring, which was
good -- it meant that the energy would
not burn through the metal and make it
brittle, like what happened sometimes
when Shiv put too much of himself
into material that was flimsy.

It was so beautiful, so bright inside,
silky and resilient under his touch.

The straight line of the blade began
to take shape, curving just a little bit,
and then the sharp angles of the point
emerged from the long rectangle.

When Shiv opened his hands,
a complete knife blank lay there.

"Now for the tricky part," Tolliver said,
pointing at the base of the blade.
"You need to cut a notch, here; and
punch a hole, here; to make the tang."

He showed more images to Shiv --
a plastic model kit of a pocketknife,
a picture dictionary page with labels
pointing to all the different parts, and
a diagram showing how to assemble
the various pieces of a folding knife.

It was like magic, the way everything
just snapped together in Shiv's head
so that he could see it even with his eyes
closed, feeling out the shape that the tang
would need to take to fit into the handle.

Actually making the shape was harder.
The metal fought him, didn't want to flow
in crisp lines, and it resisted being punched.

But then Shiv started thinking of the edges
around the spaces, so he simply made
the notch and the hole rough at first, then
sharpened them until the edges were crisp.

"That looks fantastic," Tolliver said.
"Go ahead and sharpen the blade."

Shiv thought about the knife and
what its shape made it good for.

He could put a razor edge on it
and make that stay, but it wasn't
really made for shaving or such.

The blade needed a wider angle,
like a good hunting knife had.

Shiv pinched the blade between
his fingers and followed the slight curve
all the way to the sturdy point, drawing
the edge sharp and sealing it that way.

The knife gleamed on the table,
its edge a white line against
the darker gray of the steel.

"Done," he declared.

All of a sudden Shiv realized
that he felt light-headed and
like he'd been running all day
and his belly was just about
gnawing on his backbone.

"Put your head down for a minute,"
Tolliver said, pushing gently
between his shoulders.

Shiv folded up like a pocketknife
all ready to be put away.

He was so sweaty that his hair
stuck to his face instead of
falling forward like it was
supposed to do to hide him.

"How do you feel?" Tolliver asked,
gently tucking wet hair behind Shiv's ear.
"Headache, stomachache, anything
else that might mean trouble?"

"Tired. Hungry," Shiv said. It was
too much work to shake off Tolliver's hand,
and it wasn't ... entirely awful, anyway.

"Well, you worked real hard,"
Tolliver said. "It stands to reason
you'd be tired and hungry. Here."

Something pattered onto the table.

Shiv pried his eyes open to find
a handful of brightly colored packets.
"Think I need more than ketchup,"
he grumbled, but took one anyhow.

Tolliver laughed. "That's energy gel,
which some people call flight food
because pilots and soups like it."

Shiv fumbled with the tough plastic
but couldn't get it open. He growled.

"You have a perfectly good knife
going to waste on the table,"
Mr. Vanburen pointed out.

Shiv used the blade to slit open
the packet. Goo leaked out
to smear his thumb. He
licked it clean. Sweet.

Now that he knew what it tasted like,
he slurped down the rest of the packet.
The flavor was fruity and artificial, with
a metallic tang that promised vitamins.

It was weirdly appealing, and he
wanted more of it right now.
Shiv grabbed another.

"Aren't you supposed to wait
twenty or thirty minutes between
those things?" the guard asked.

"For ordinary athletes, yes,"
said Tolliver. "But for soups?
I know speedsters who'll fill up
their water bottles with energy gel.
I swear, they're like hummingbirds."

"I'm not a bird," Shiv muttered.

"I just meant that some soups have
a faster metabolism," Tolliver said.
"So, may I check your work?"

"Sure," said Shiv, and pushed
the knife toward him, tang first.

Tolliver picked it up, and then
his eyes went wide. "This feels ...
almost alive," he said.

"You did tell Shiv to put himself
into it," said Mr. Vanburen.
"Can I see it too?"

Tolliver passed him the blade,
and Mr. Vanburen whistled.

"That is something else," he said.

It tickled inside, listening to them
talk about the knife, and Shiv
couldn't decide whether it
felt good or bad.

He took the blade back
and used it to cut open
the packets all the way so
he could lick the insides.

"It's about lunch time,"
Mr. Vanburen said.

"Can you walk?" Tolliver asked,
turning to Shiv. "Be careful."

"I can walk," Shiv snapped.

Tolliver held a hand behind him.
"I know, but you might need
to stand up slowly, so you don't
faceplant into the table and so I
don't get an earful from Dr. Bloch
and my brother both," he said.

When Shiv first stood up,
he felt a little woozy, but he
kept a hand on the table until
the room stopped wavering.

"I'm good to go," he said.

"I'll lock up the goods," Tolliver said.
"Do you want me to put your blade
in the case with the other billets,
or in the safe-deposit box?"

"It needs a handle," Shiv said,
feeling like he was trying
to think through molasses.

"Then I'll take it home and
put one on it," Tolliver said.

No, promised. Shiv was starting
to learn the tone of it from Dr. G.

Tolliver lifted the foam tray from
the metal case to reveal another,
smaller case just big enough to hold
a single folding knife. This one was
drilled out of some kind of stone.

"Adequate protection?" he asked,
looking at Mr. Vanburen. "It locks."

The guard examined it, popped
the blade inside, locked the case,
and then handed it back. "Fine."

"Can we please go eat?" Shiv said.
His stomach growled despite the gels.
He felt chilled and empty inside.

"Yes, of course," Tolliver said.
"Mr. Vanburen, the door if you would."

Shiv bolted for it the moment that
it opened, but Tolliver's hand on
his shoulder made him slow down.

"Don't run while you're this tired,
Shiv, you could trip," Tolliver said.
"You did well today; I'm impressed.
Let's try keep it that way, okay?"

"Okay," Shiv said, surprised
to realize that he agreed with it.

Tolliver's big hand stayed with him,
a warm comfort against the cold hunger,
all the way over to the cafeteria.

* * *


Meraki means doing something with passion, putting soul into it.

Billets are used to make knives and other things. They're usually made from a single type of metal, but Damascus billets are made by folding together different types of steel. Give Shiv time to grow into his talent, and he'll be able to make these things with his bare hands. Knife blanks have a blade and tang, but not a handle yet, and they aren't sharpened. You can buy these and other knife parts at a supply shop for knifemakers.

High-quality tools or materials may be transported in a secure container. This locking knife case has foam inserts to hold everything in place.

Knife steels come in many styles. That article explains hardness, toughness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. It also compares CPM S90V, M390, ZDP-189, Elmax, and CPM 20CV steels.

The argument over fixed vs. folding blades is perennial. Shiv happens to feel that the advantages of fixed blades outweigh folding blades for tactical purposes. Folding knives are more versatile and convenient tools for everyday carry, but the inherent weakness of the hinge can only be compensated so far by a brilliant lock. Nevertheless, some people still use folding knives for combat. One interesting thing about Terramagne-America is that the widespread use of knives as tools, and their narrower use as a loss leader in street violence, has maintained a much higher general knowledge of knives. Even Shiv, with his crappy education, has a pretty good grasp of knife use and safety.

See the Benchmade 940-1 Osborne-Plain Edge/Satin Finish CPM-S90V with the plain edge reverse tanto blade.

Knife blades come in many shapes. This is the reverse tanto, which has fantastic tip strength. It makes a good knife for everyday carry.

Knife making is a complex art. A good way to learn is with a pocket knife model kit in plastic, which T-American folks often give to children who are almost old enough for a real knife. This makes it easier to learn the terminology, parts, and assembly of a folding knife.

Sharpening knives requires an understanding of the angles. Learn about knife edge types, angles on different blades, and angles in comparison to each other. With superpowers, you can put an impossibly sharp edge on a blade and make it stay there, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea.

Material quality is a crucial factor in constructing important items. This appears in magical artifacts in games and Pagan artifacts for ritual. You can also see it in solid-state lasers, which require high-quality crystals. One reason is that pure, perfect materials allow energy to flow more freely, as in electrical resistivity and conductivity. Other factors are capacity (the amount of energy that can be stored) and durability (how long a charged item remains intact). Superpowers, like many other types of energy, tend to "burn through" low-quality materials quickly. That's because the impurities and disorganization of the material matrix cause the energy to bounce around inside, which reduces both the flow of the energy and the durability of the item. Poorly formed materials also have lower capacity because the energy doesn't fill in the space as evenly. I haven't found much written on this topic, but it seems to be commonly known among artifact crafters. Also anyone with high enough personal energy knows it, because the effects are obvious -- I've seen friends burn through a hematite bracelet or carnelian ring in a week, and those were pretty good materials. I've seen canvas degrade so much in a couple of weeks that I could tear it with my hands. So part of what Shiv can feel in the steel is how its quality interacts with his energy. He knows the good stuff as soon as he touches it, even if he doesn't understand why it feels better to him.

Damascus and other types of folded steel are made with a lot of work in the forge. Damascus blades are famous for feeling "alive" in your hands. Superpowers create even more lively blades.

Superpowers, like any other ability, are prone to unpleasant effects from overstrain. One reason is because they, like physical or mental exertion, tend to burn up the glucose in the bloodstream. The symptoms at lower levels are similar too, and include exhaustion, headache, and dizziness. Farther along, symptoms worsen into things like fainting and nosebleeds. Shiv isn't accustomed to exerting this much effort with his abilities; previously he's only used them for a few minutes at a time. It's good that he's learning his limits in a safe place with people who know what to watch for and how to fix any problems that pop up.

Energy gels come in various styles and flavors. Here's a look at the ingredients and performance of popular brands. Speedsters, who have some of the highest-burn superpowers, really will take a watery energy gel and fill a bottle with it to drink on the run. Some strongmen also like gels, more often the thicker ones; but others prefer protein. Fat seems equally popular between the two. Tolliver brought CarbBoom, which comes in many flavors and packs a lot of calories.

This is the stone knife box.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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