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WARNING: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features gengineering, Stylet's discovery of the bug-eyed puppies, acute stress response, guilt, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
[Week 4, Day 1]
When the batch of gatorbirds
hatched out 71 live births, Stylet
announced his success to Abbs.
"Mine are well into the viable range,
which means you should get marginal,
and that's twice as good as before,"
Stylet said proudly, showing them off.
"Impressive," Abbs said, and walked away.
Stylet was a little disappointed until
he came back carrying a carton of donuts
and a six-pack of Jazz cokes. "Consider
this a tip," Abbs said with a grin.
"Gee, thanks!" Stylet said, diving in.
The carton held a dozen donuts: three each
of Chocolate Coconut Cake, Butternut,
Blueberry Crumb, and Apple Crumb.
He sacrificed one of the blueberries
to feed his remaining cache of berettaflies.
Then he sat down at his computer with
one hand full of Jazz and the other
full of chocolate coconut cake.
He'd worked hard on the gatorbirds;
he deserved to relax and indulge a little.
Stylet browsed his way through
his favorite webcomics including
Mannly Menn by Mitchell Menn.
He surfed BlackSheep and laughed
so hard at the Rabid City graffiti that he
spilled blueberry filling down his front.
Then he searched for news about berettaflies.
Stylet found it a little reassuring that most people
had figured out the necessary containment methods
and replaced butterfly plants with moth plants,
although one idiot store still had not covered
the plants in their outdoor nursery.
Even though he had never intended
the berettaflies for use in the wild, he was
impressed that some of them had survived and
were most efficacious against targets.
Humming happily, he took notes about
their effects on live specimens with one hand
while clicking page-forward with the other.
Then he grabbed a butternut and looked up.
The blog post from Popcorn Puggles
hit him like a punch in the gut,
making him drop his donut.
Stylet squeezed his eyes closed.
When he opened them, though,
the appalling picture was still there:
a litter of adorable puppies with
horrible bug eyes, below which
a scathing post eviscerated him
(and Bugeye and the Spectrum,
but Stylet didn't care about them).
Sickened, he pushed his Jazz away
and closed the half-full carton of donuts.
It was one thing to design lifeforms
to protect someone's secret lair, another
to see their effects on unsuspecting citizens,
but hurting innocent animals -- puppies! --
was something else altogether.
Stylet tried to brush it off, but
he couldn't; tried to convince himself
that it wasn't his fault, but of course it was.
He struggled with the dilemma for
over an hour before admitting that
he would have to turn himself in.
The sting of public justice was nothing
compared to the whip of his own remorse.
The truth hurt.
When he first told Abbs, the other villain
laughed at him. "I didn't take you for
a bleeding-heart animal lover," he said.
"Hey!" Stylet protested, stung by
the wounding remark. "I take
good care of my livestock."
"Whatever," Abbs said, waving
his toffee-colored hand. "If
you want to turn yourself in,
go ahead. It's your life."
"Yeah," Stylet said glumly.
"Thanks for everything, though."
"Always happy to do business,"
Abbs said. "Listen, if you change
your mind, or they get squirrely
with you ... the door's open."
"Thanks again," Stylet said, although
he didn't expect his mind to change
on its own if it hadn't with him
spurring it for all he was worth.
Then he hefted the black-and-red case
with its rustling cargo of berettaflies,
and walked away into the bayou.
* * *
Abbs Ortego -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes, and long black hair done in tiny braids that fall past his shoulders. A little scruff of mustache covers his upper lip. He has small scars on his chin and cheeks from fighting. Abbs is Creole, with ancestors primarily from Africa and Spain, along with a smattering of others. He has relatives and other contacts throughout the Gulf area.
Abbs spends much of his time smuggling humans into America from places like Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti. Several years ago, he commissioned Stylet to create the gatorbirds -- tiny voracious hybrids of alligator and parakeet that fly and bite everything in sight. The idea was to discourage immigration authorities from breaking into his compound, where he shelters his premium customers while setting them up in their new life. Abbs has no morals, and indeed, doesn't even understand what morals really are. He just tends to think in terms of contracts.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Human Smuggler, Good (+2) Resourceful, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Amoral
Stylet (Silas Manson) -- He has pale skin and light gray eyes. His hair is straight, so dark auburn that it looks almost black, but the bottom few inches brighten to crimson. When he uses his superpowers, the red part lights up. He wears it at shoulder length. As a small boy, Silas enjoyed pulling the wings off of flies. As an adult, he often puts wings on instead, or modifies insects in other ways. He is a skilled gengineer, but he often puts it to malicious use. He thinks of himself as a bench artist, making live sculptures.
Origin: He has always liked playing with insects, is not picky about where he gets them, and is not careful about handling them. Most likely he got stung by something metagenic, or some combination of ordinary things added up to similar effects.
Uniform: Usually lab clothes, and street clothes when off duty.
Qualities: Master (+6) Pain Tolerance, Expert (+4) Supervillain Contacts, Good (+2) Attention to Detail, Good (+2) Fearless, Good (+2) Toxin Resistance
Poor (-2) Safety Skills
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-gizmology: Gengineering, Average (0) Radiance
Motivation: Bugs are fun.
* * *
“There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse.”
Seneca quotes (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)
Terramagne has a wide range of modular units used for safety bunkers, secret lairs, and other purposes. See the lab pod and livestock pod.
Viability expresses the percentage of created organisms that survive. In early experiments, the success rate is often dismal; L-American cloning of sheep produced Dolly as the only survivor of 277 attempts.
Stylet uses this scale:
Nonviable -- no living births.
Unlikely -- less than 1% living births; most or all offspring have health problems and greatly shortened lifespan.
Potential -- 1-25% living births; many offspring have health problems and/or shortened lifespan.
Marginal -- 26-50% living births; some offspring have health problems or shortened lifespan, but the effects are not as bad.
Viable -- 51% or more living births; few if any offspring have health problems or slightly shortened lifespan, and those rare effects tend to be minor.
Jazz soda is a Terramagne-American brand vaguely similar to Jolt Cola in terms of extreme caffeine and sugar content. However, Jazz is electric blue and sweetened with emulsified corn syrup. In the South, "coke" is a generic term for soft drinks.
Among the unhealthiest donuts are Chocolate Coconut Cake, Butternut, Donut Blueberry Crumb, and Donut Apple Crumb.
Louisiana weather can be capricious and often violent.
Stylet's brettafly carrier is similar to a pet carrier. The generator for the protective forcefield fits in one side pocket, while the other holds supplies for maintaining the bugs.