Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Matter of Opportunity"

This poem is spillover from the May 2, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by an anonymous prompt. It also fills the "physical" square in my 2-1-17 Love Songs card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"A Matter of Opportunity"

Dr. Bloch was ladling chili into
his cup when he heard Hatrack
groaning, "Oh, not again."

Glancing over his shoulder,
Dr. Bloch saw Everett Howard
heading out the door of the breakroom,
laughing with some of his friends.

"What seems to be the problem?"
Dr. Bloch asked Hatrack. He took
a corn muffin from the tray, picked up
a bottle of mineral water, and then
sat down at the little round table.

"It's those stupid conferences
that do it," Hatrack said.

"Well, it's Monday," said Dr. Bloch.
"Everett likes to attend conferences for
continuing education on the weekends.
At least he never comes back to work
hung over, which is more than I can
say for some people around here."

Fewer now under Warden Lincoln
than under Warden Daley, but still,
Dr. Bloch was the one expected
to clean up the damn mess when
his coworkers overindulged.

"It wouldn't be so bad except
for the sniffles," Hatrack said.

"Everett doesn't call in sick,"
Dr. Bloch pointed out as he
dug into his chili. It was good.

"No, he just comes back with
a touch of whatever is going around,"
Hatrack said. "Tuesday, Wednesday,
he'll be fine, but a dozen other guys
will be out sick for a week."

"Hmm," said Dr. Bloch.
He took a bite of cornbread,
which made a nice complement
to the chili. "That sounds familiar."

"It should be," Hatrack said.
"Everett is apparently very good at
picking up germs and fighting them off.
It's like the worst superpower ever."

Dr. Bloch took a sip of mineral water.
Then he brought out his smartphone and
looked up the statistics for sick days
among the prison personnel.

"You may be onto something,"
Dr. Bloch told Hatrack. "I'll
have a word with Everett."

He finished his snack,
then took out his dessert:
a square of Aztec chocolate.

He had originally bought the stuff
for Shiv, who was no longer in prison --
Dr. Bloch rather missed him -- but sampling
the goods before sharing them had found him
some new favorites of his own, like this one.

The dark, spicy flavor rolled over his tongue.
Dr. Bloch had no idea how anyone could
eat whole bars of this; two bites was
about the most he could handle.

When he returned to the infirmary,
Dr. Bloch brought up his research and
what medical records he had access to.

His interest in physical superpowers
was growing, the more he studied them.
It was amazing what the human body
could do when given a little boost.

Poring over the data, Dr. Bloch
realized that the pattern held true.

"Let's see what Everett thinks
of this," he said, and sent a note.

A little over an hour later,
Everett came to the infirmary.
"You wanted to see me?" he said.
"I have thirty minutes to my next class."

"This shouldn't take long either way,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Hatrack noticed that
you came back from your convention
with a case of the sniffles again."

"Is that all? Really?" Everett said,
shaking his head. "I know everyone
worries about con crud, but it's nothing.
I'll be fine by tomorrow, I always am."

"That's rather the problem," said Dr. Bloch.
"You'll be fine; your colleagues won't."

"That's just a rumor," Everett protested.

"It's really not." Dr. Bloch showed him
the data tracking screen on the computer.

"Well, shit," said Everett. "I don't know
what to do about this now. I don't want
to give up conferences, I learn things."

"I'm not asking you to do that,"
Dr. Bloch said. "I do wonder if you
have ever used an Aegis vaccine, though."

"I don't think so," Everett said. "I grew up
going to a community clinic and just never
quit. They tend to stick with cheap old stuff
whenever they can, to save the budget."

"You know I've been studying superpowers,
right? Aegis and its effect on Super-Immunity
among those?" Dr. Bloch asked him.

"Yes," said Everett, "but what does that
have to do with me? I'm no soup."

"Funny you should say that,"
Dr. Bloch said, changing the page
on his computer screen. Then he
turned it around so Everett could see.

"What's this?" the teacher asked.

"One of my colleagues hypothesizes
that a clue for latent potential appears
in the form of easily brushing off illnesses
that hit other people harder," said Dr. Bloch.
"It's basically sub-clinical Super-Immunity."

"Wow," Everett said softly. "You really
think I've got a chance at souping up?"

"If you have the potential, it's not a chance,
it's a guarantee," Dr. Bloch said. "Not a lot of
people do, but the sign's there. It's a good bet."

"Okay, so ... what do we do now?"
Everett asked. "If I want to try for it?"

"Pick anything with the Aegis base,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Have you had
this season's flu shot yet?"

Everett shook his head. "I haven't
had time, please don't nag me."

"I'm not nagging you," Dr. Bloch said.
"I'm offering to do it now. With the Aegis."

"It's tempting," Everett said. "I don't know,
though, it seems kind of ... greedy. What
I have now is already pretty good."

"For you, yes; for your coworkers,
not so much," Dr. Bloch reminded him.
"Ricocheting germs onto other people
is not what I would call optimum."

"So it's less like a sub-clinical superpower,
and more like a superdisempower,"
Everett said, shoulders slumping.

"Technically, no, because it gives you
a benefit," said Dr. Bloch. "It's the people
around you reaping the whirlwind."

"Yeah, I guess," Everett said. "I just
thought it was no big deal if I caught
a bit of something, because I'm
so fast at healing from it."

"Healing is a matter of time,
but it is sometimes also a matter
of opportunity," Dr. Bloch said.
"What do you say about the Aegis?"

"Let's do it," Everett said.

The vaccination took
only a few minutes, and
then Dr. Bloch said, "I know
of one person who ran up
a pretty high fever after this,
so if you're miserable enough
to worry, don't hesitate to call me."

"Okay, I'll let you know if anything
unusual happens," Everett said.

Dr. Bloch let the teacher out
of the infirmary, moved on to
his next task, and that was that.

The next day one of the guards,
Craig Raybourne, cornered Dr. Bloch
in the breakroom and demanded,
"The hell did you do to Everett, man?"

"What do you mean?" Dr. Bloch asked
as he stirred a fruit cup into his bowl of
Greek yogurt and topped it with nuts.

"Hatrack said you asked Everett
into your office yesterday, and today
Everett called in sick. He never
calls in sick!" Craig said.

"In this case, it may actually
be a good sign," Dr. Bloch said,
recalling Shiv's feverish reaction.

Everett's mumbled call this morning
seemed quite promising in comparison,
despite his sweaty, uncomfortable night.
Dr. Bloch had advised him to take
the day off and pamper himself;
nice to know Everett listened.

"I don't suppose that you would
care to explain that," Craig said,
crossing his thick dark arms.

"I'm afraid I can't say more due to
patient confidentiality," Dr. Bloch said
as he tasted his yogurt. The berries
were sweet. "Perhaps if this pans out,
Everett will see fit to share the details."

"That doesn't do us much good
right now," Craig grumbled.

"I sympathize. It's hard to be
patient," Dr. Bloch said. "Meanwhile,
if you're concerned about your friend,
I suggest you call Cindy Soup. Everett
loves her Soothing Chicken Soup and
the Spicy Garden Vegetable Stew."

"Okay," Craig said, patting his pockets
until he found his little notebook. He
jotted down the names, and Dr. Bloch
helpfully recited the Cindy Soup number.
"One for lunch, one for supper?"

"That's very thoughtful of you,"
Dr. Bloch said. Tell Cindy that,
and she can take the supper carton
out of cold storage -- it's a bit cheaper."

Craig wrote that down, too. "Thanks,"
he said. "Sorry I snapped at you."

"Forgiven," Dr. Bloch said with a wave.

After that, Craig left him to eat in peace.
The yogurt bowl really was delicious,
nutty and fruity with a hint of vanilla.

Dr. Bloch wondered if Everett
really would develop Super-Immunity,
which made him think about Shiv
and how the boy might be doing.

Ambrose had gotten a postcard from
Shiv, but Dr. Bloch had heard very little.

It got him thinking about Super-Immunity
and how, if they could just learn enough
about it, they might be able to extend
that protection to people not born
with the innate potential for it.

Of course, that would remove
a large amount of business for
the entire medical industry, which
might make some people unhappy.

Dr. Bloch didn't care a whit.
He would be all too happy if he
could put himself out of work.

It was just a matter of opportunity.

* * *


Dr. Niles Bloch -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair starting to turn silver. He is tall and sturdy, with a notable presence. His hands possess fine manual dexterity, though, allowing him to do very delicate tasks. His roommate during premed, Donovan O'Dearg, was studying to be an herbalist; they've kept in touch, and Dr. Bloch has developed excellent connections in alternative medicine. Mostly he uses things like prescription herbal sodas or suckers as bribes to entice wary patients. It works. It also makes him popular as well as effective.
Dr. Bloch works at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He enjoys exploring the boundaries of medicine, looking for new information or creative ways to use current resources. One of his recent projects involves trying to figure out who is likely to develop Super-Immunity from using the Aegis vaccine base. He's comfortable working with prison inmates, even supervillains, and balances gentleness with firmness. However, his observational acuity makes it difficult for him to get close to people, because he knows so much about them, and everyone has dark parts.
Qualities: Master (+6) Doctor, Master (+6) Observant, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Expert (+4) Contacts in Alternative Medicine, Expert (+4) Influencing People, Good (+2) Fearless, Good (+2) Innovative Medicine, Good (+2) Gentle, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Soup Friends, Good (+2) Stern, Good (+2) Video Gamer
Poor (-2) Things He Can't Unsee


Matthew Hatrack -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. He is 6'6" tall and slender. A drawback of his height is that it makes everything cost more -- he doesn't fit most standard sizes of clothing or furniture. Hatrack serves as a security guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Instead of relying on brute force, he uses the physics of reach and leverage to maintain control in a conflict -- and his psychological tactics follow similar lines. He practices mixed martial arts, drawing on Taekwondo for kicks that capitalize on his long legs, plus Aikido and Jiu-Jitsu for leverage techniques. He's always happy to lend a hand, and it's difficult to provoke him.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tall, Good (+2) Helpful, Good (+2) Mixed Martial Arts, Good (+2) Physics, Good (+2) Security Guard
Poor (-2) Shopping Tall Costs More

Everett Howard -- He has toffee skin, black eyes, and short nappy black hair with a beard and mustache. His heritage is primarily African-American with a dab of Chinese and one Oglala ancestor. Everett gets cold easily, and prefers to dress in layers. He lives in a modest suburban house with his wife and their four children. They participate in a lot of community activities together.
Everett teaches at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. His classes include Reading, Writing (nonfiction, fiction, and poetry), Literature, and Theatre. He also helps the inmates to analyze their academic strengths and weaknesses, then develop a plan to meet their educational goals. He uses primarily black and Hispanic authors, matching the ethnic mix of this prison, to show his students that people like them can make great literature and it can deal with topics relevant to their own experiences. Everett loves literature, loves his job, and often fails to remember that not everyone else is necessarily excited about the same things he is. As a result, he tends to get along poorly with introverts.
Qualities: Master (+6) Linguistic Intelligence, Expert (+4) Optimist, Expert (+4) Prison Teacher, Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Roleplaying, Good (+2) Tireless
Poor (-2) Excitable

Craig Raybourne -- He has brown skin, brown eyes, and black body hair. He is bald. He has tribal tattoos sleeving both arms from wrist to shoulder. The one on the right combines Maori designs and Celtic knotwork, which he got on a trip to New Zealand just after graduating from college. He serves as a security guard at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. While he excels at bringing people together, he is also easily swayed by his peers.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Influencing People, Good (+2) Prison Guard, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Prone to Groupthink

Cindy Soup (Cynthia Neumiller) -- She has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and straight black hair cut in a sassy chin-length bob. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska where she runs a business cooking and delivering soup. She advertises not just to locals, but to long distance friends and relatives of people in Lincoln who might want to send someone a hot treat. Cindy only charges double the going rate for delivered soup, which is actually a bargain, because she makes fantastic soup and delivers it at Super-Speed. Her ability allows her to work very efficiently, though, so she turns a healthy profit -- even accounting for the fact that she needs four times the normal calories. She doesn't carry a water bottle on her bike, she carries a thermos of high-calorie soup.
Origin: In high school, Cindy belonged to a competitive bicycle team. Just before a big race, the captain secretly dosed the whole team with gizmotronic speed-enhancers. Most of the other girls just got sick, but Cindy developed superpowers -- and a serious aversion to competitive sports.
Uniform: On duty, she wears a red jacket, shorts, and gloves of krevel over a white hooded bodysuit of dexflan with black biking shoes of krevel. Off duty, she likes flashy women's clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Soup Cook, Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Hates Competitive Sports
Powers: Average (0) Super-Speed
Motivation: To take care of people.

Among her most popular items are high-calorie soups such as Maple Cream Sweet Potato Soup and Slow Cooker Potato Soup.

* * *

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
-- Hippocrates

The breakroom for prison staff includes a phone, water fountains, and assorted furniture in the lounge area. It is decorated primarily in soft shades of blue, purple, and gray. Not visible, a shelf holds an assortment of books, magazines, and games. The lounge is adjacent to the guards' locker room, bathroom, and shower facility through the black-framed door to the right. The wooden door to the left lets out into the prison's central hub.

Niches hold the kitchenette equipment, at the back of the room opposite the water fountains. The refrigerator/freezer is actually crammed into another niche to the right of this one, alongside several vending machines. The staff vote on what things they want -- usually one machine holds beverages, one holds real food like fresh sandwiches, and one holds sweets and other junk foods. Certain things are routinely stocked like a fruit bowl, bread, peanut butter, hot dogs, instant noodles, etc. Hot beverage supplies cover coffee, tea, and cocoa. There is always a crockpot of something simmering, such as chili or soup.

Enjoy recipes for Thick and Hearty Chili and Cornbread Muffins. Dr. Bloch's dessert is Dark Spicy Aztec Chocolate. Mineral water is healthier than soda, especially if you pick one like San Pellegrino which is high in calcium.

Portioning is one way to keep snacks healthy, typically about 150-300 calories. Mini-meals run around 300-400 calories. Dr. Bloch tends to eat a slightly larger meal in the cafeteria and mini-meals or snacks in the breakroom or infirmary. He prefers smaller meals to gorging, although the sizes and timing are flexible depending on what's available where. 1/2 cup of chili with meat and beans is typically 132 calories. A corn muffin is 101. A square of Dark Spicy Aztec Chocolate is 60. That's a total of 293 calories, for a large snack or small mini-meal that'll really stick to the ribs.

In local-America, doctors, employers, and politicians all nag people to eat better -- sometimes to the point of abuse. Studies show that nagging tends to backfire, especially in regard to eating habits. What does work? Modeling better behavior yourself. Yet all the references I could find on modeling healthy eating were aimed at parents for children. God forbid doctors should sit their ass down and eat a healthy meal in front of other people. At least, in local-America. In Terramagne, it's viewed rather like expecting police to follow laws and set a good example of civil behavior. Sure, there are a few doctors who eat junk, but Dr. Bloch is pretty typical over there.

"Con crud" is a generic term for germs picked up at a large event. Here are some sensible precautions for avoiding that.

Vanilla Yogurt with Fruit and Nuts runs about 292 calories.

Healing soups often include herbs that reduce fever, boost immunity, or have other benefits. Here are recipes for Spiced Garden Vegetable Stew and Yemenite Chicken Soup.

Cindy Soup has built a business that, among other things, caters to customers with long-distance relationships. There are plenty of ways to help a distant friend, maintain long-distance friendships, and help a sick person feel better. One of those ways involves sending stuff such as comfort food. It works just as well for local friends who aren't good at cooking or nurturing. After a sweaty, semi-sleepless night Everett definitely does not feel like cooking for himself and will be thrilled to have delicious soup delivered. \o/
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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