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Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features unfounded accusations, unhappiness, reluctance to interact with people, worried supervillains, references to a recent house fire, unusual attractions, awkward interactions, momentary misapprehensions, verbal abuse, thinly veiled threats, epic snubs, vulgar language, and other challenges. However, the level of support makes the overall tone more positive. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
The day after the Tulls' house burned down,
everyone was talking about it, and so far
three of them had wondered whether
Jules had somehow started it.
So when someone knocked
on the door, he seriously thought
about ignoring it -- but it could be
someone wanting to talk about what
they were doing to help the Tulls.
Jules opened the door to see
an unfamiliar young man with
wild black hair tufted with gold, and
more piercings than Jules could
count at a glance. His eyes were
completely hidden behind a pair of
peacock-colored wraparound glasses.
"Hi," said the man. "I'm looking
for a friend, Dog_the_Kicked?"
"I don't know you," Jules said
without giving a direct answer.
"I think you do," said the man,
lounging against the doorframe.
"We've been out to pasture together?"
All those nifty piercings ...
"MultiplePunctures?" asked Jules.
"That's me," came the reply.
"In meatspace, I go by Pips."
Jules slipped out of the house.
"Let's go for a walk," he said.
"Yeah, I'm Dog_the_Kicked, or
Jules in person. Why are you here?"
"The house fire has people worried,
okay, Mercedes was already worrying
and this just made it worse," Pips said.
"So I dropped by to see how you are."
"Me?" Jules said, leading the way
to the sidewalk. "I'm fine, nothing
happened to me. I bet that G and
his dad are a mess, though."
"People aren't sympathetic?"
Pips said, turning to look at Jules.
"The neighbors are, yeah, but
the fire chief is a jerk," said Jules.
"I heard that Shana and Anthony
caused the fire by accident while
screwing around on the couch ..."
"... but you're not sure it was
really an accident?" Pips said,
a hint of steel in his voice.
"I don't know, maybe, they're
dumb enough to do that," Jules said.
"It's just, nobody really trusts the chief
to do a good job, you know? And that sucks."
"So I've heard," Pips said. "Officer Tull,
now, there is a man with competence."
At the wistful shift in tone, Jules said,
"You sound like you're hot for him,
and I don't think he swings that way."
Pips laughed. "No -- well, yes, but
not for sex. As a boss. I kind of
collect them, remember?"
Jules remembered that Pips
had worked for all kinds of
the really scary ones.
"They're marked on some
of your jewelry, right?" he said.
"Yes," Pips said, his fingers
dancing from one to another.
"The skull is for the Mandible,
the power tie for the Vanguardian.
The metronome is for Contretemps --
he's kind of a jerk, but brilliant in bed --
the red motherboard is Captain Kelvin, and
the checkerboard is for the Chessmistress."
"And Capricorn?" Jules guessed, looking
at the tiny constellation capping a stud.
Pips twitched. "Uh yeah, but most people
don't recognize that when I wear the one
that doesn't have a label underneath it."
"I hang out with all the geeks," Jules said.
"I pick up all kinds of random stuff. So
you've got eyes for Officer Tull as a boss?"
"Maybe," Pips said, then got a dreamy look.
"Have you seen how he moves? He's just
so collected, always ready, but not like
he's got a chip on his shoulder. I've been
to town a few times and seen him around
then. I'd love to get under him."
"I get that," Jules said. "Just maybe
don't tell G that you're squishing on
his dad. He's got enough to deal with."
"Yeah, I know," Pips said with a sigh.
"Nobody sees people like I do.
I can keep it to myself."
"Hey, no, it's not like that,"
Jules said, touching his shoulder.
"You don't have to hide. You can
gush about it to me all you want.
All I'm saying is be a little discreet with
G right now, because new hormones
make everything harder for a while."
"I don't even know if Officer Tull
would be interested," Pips said.
"So ask," Jules said as he turned
a corner, angling toward a park.
"I'm not sure," Pips said. "He's not
the kind of boss I usually go for, and he's
seen me, so I can't slip in unnoticed."
"He doesn't bite," Jules said gently.
"If he's not interested, the worst he'll do
is say no thanks. But I think he and G
could use an assistant right about now,
to help with all the hassles after the fire."
"I could do that," Pips said instantly.
"I helped Captain Kelvin clean up after
a lab fire once, and that's way worse."
Jules couldn't think of many things
worse than cleaning up a supervillain lab.
He'd seen the news from Easy City.
"You might mention that you've done
fire cleanup before, then," Jules said.
"We're doing what we can for G and
his dad, but we're not experts, so we're
just gathering supplies and stuff like that."
"Did they register anywhere?" Pips asked.
"What?" Jules said. "Oh, for the fire.
No, not formally. Dr. G just made a list for
everyone to pass around and pick what we
have to share or want to go shopping for."
"Has anyone picked men's essential jewelry
yet?" asked Pips. "Cufflinks, tie tack or bar,
maybe a money clip? Because I could
chip in some fetchers with no problem."
"I don't think anyone's on that, and
G didn't have those to begin with,"
Jules said. "What's a fetcher?"
"Oh, you've never seen one,"
Pips said. "Here, it's easier
to show you than tell you.
Try to pick my pocket."
"I'm not a thief!" Jules snapped.
"Yeah, I know, it's just a demo,"
Pips said. "It won't hurt you, promise."
Jules fumbled around in his friend's pocket
until he found the money clip and pulled
it out. Sleek silver gleamed in the sun,
surmounted by a dark amethyst framed
by a thick, raised disc. "Now what?"
"Just take a few steps back," Pips said.
"Then it should do its trick for you."
Jules backed slowly away --
and suddenly the clip disappeared.
He gave a sharp yip of surprise.
Pips laughed. "That's why we call it
a fetcher," he said, flashing the clip in
his hand. "If you forget your stuff, it'll
jump to you, or jump back if it's stolen."
"That is awesome," Jules said.
"It sounds really expensive, though."
"Not when I know the super-gizmologist
who makes these," Pips assured him. "I can
spare a couple of sets. Besides, she'll think
it's hilarious that I gave one to a cop."
"Maybe I could get them something
to match," Jules mused. "There's
a Mister Spiff not too far from here."
"What I give them will look like this,"
Pips said, showing him the money clip.
"It matches these cuff links, and you can
set how far you want them to get before
they snap back together again."
"So I could get a tie tack or bar
to go with those," Jules said.
"Yeah, let's do that."
It didn't take long to walk
the few blocks to Mister Spiff.
They browsed the cases and
soon found a plain silver tie bar.
Then Jules spied one made
from a sliver of amethyst geode.
"I love this one, but it's expensive
and conspicuous," he said.
"Not their style?" Pips said.
"Too bad, it's a nice piece."
"I think Officer Tull would love it
for special occasions, but not
for everyday wear," Jules said.
"I'm less sure about G, since
his tastes are still developing."
"Why don't you buy one of
the plain silver, it's only $20 on sale,"
said Pips. "Then you can send a picture
of it and the amethyst one to your friends
who are shopping for the Tulls, so that
someone else can buy the others."
"Yeah, and then G can get it
monogrammed with whatever
his new initials turn out to be,"
Jules said. "That works for me."
"I can include a gift certificate
for the engraving at a future date,"
the shopkeeper said helpfully.
"Thanks," Jules said. He paid
for the silver clip and accepted
the elegant paper bag. Then he
turned back to Pips. "You hungry?
I was heading for Pho Real when
we got sidetracked with this."
"I could go for a snack," Pips said.
So they walked to the food truck park,
Jules with the paper bag tapping
gently against the side of his leg,
and Pips nibbling on the balls
of his lower lip piercings.
Pho Real had six parking spaces
for food trucks, a central bar, and
assorted food carts scattered around.
Beside the parking lot stood the bungalow
that had been remodeled as a boarding house
for some of the folks who worked the food trucks
or took care of the grounds in the park.
Among the rectangular picnic tables
were square ones topped with boards
for Korean chess or for checkers.
The Frigid Chicks truck had been
replaced by Bingo Sue's, an ice cream cart
selling frozen desserts, mostly from Korea
and some other Asian countries.
Jules headed toward Bingo Sue's,
and then stopped so abruptly that
Pips put a hand on his shoulder
to avoid bumping into him.
"What's wrong?" Pips said.
"The -- the fire chief's here,"
Jules stammered. "I'm not
hungry anymore. Let's
just walk back home."
It was too late, though,
because Mr. Smithers had
already spotted Jules.
"Well, if it isn't the delinquent,"
he said, scowling at Jules.
Suddenly there was
a supervillain in front of him,
instead of a friend behind him.
Pips was tiny, no more than
five feet tall, but right now he
radiated a level of menace that
made him seem much larger.
"What seems to be the problem
here ... chief?" he purred. The title
was clearly an insult in his mouth.
"I knew Jules was in a gang,"
Mr. Smithers said. "Knew it."
Pips laughed in his face.
"Oh, you really have no idea."
Jules was starting to worry that
Pips would do some supervillain thing
right here in the food truck park.
Rescue came in the form of
Sandy and Danys hurrying over
from the Taiwan On truck.
"Hey chief, a word in your ear,"
Sandy said as she dragged him away.
"Sorry about that," Danys said
to Jules. "The union investigation is
underway, so I can't say much. But if
he doesn't leave, Sandy and I are quitting --
and we estimate that at least half of
the crew will come with us."
"Well, I wouldn't work for him,"
Pips drawled, loud enough to carry.
He looked at Mr. Smithers the way
that he would look at something
stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
"But -- but you've worked for --"
Jules stuttered, not wanting
to name the supervillains.
"-- the Vanguardian?" said Pips.
"Yes I have, and he's a real dick. He's
so insecure, he wears his power tie
at totally inappropriate times."
It was rude to ask, but Jules
couldn't resist the burning curiosity.
"Why work for the Vanguardian,
but not Mr. Smithers?"
"Because for all his flaws,
the Vanguardian gets the job done,"
Pips said. "I can admire that. The chief
is easily misled, so he winds up getting
in his own way. I really wouldn't want
to be stuck cleaning up after that."
"But you've cleaned up after
bad fires before," Jules said.
"Oh, really?" Danys said,
eyeing Pips with new interest.
"I don't suppose you're available
for a temporary job? I know someone
whose house just burned down, and
could sure use a hand with that."
This time Jules could see
the petal-pink blush that spread
across Pips' cheekbones.
"If you mean Officer Tull,
the topic has come up and
I'm ... considering it," Pips said.
Mr. Smithers finally pulled away
from Sandy and headed back
towards them, but Pips and Danys
closed ranks in front of Jules
so he couldn't see much.
Jules could hear the chief
muttering something about
a promotion, though.
"Just remember," Pips said,
"the higher a monkey climbs,
the more you see of his ass."
That was so funny that
Jules almost choked trying
to hold back his giggles.
Just then a tiny old woman came
storming out of the boarding house,
yelling at Mr. Smithers in some language
that Jules didn't recognize and waving
arms clad in bright floral-painted silk.
From the way Pips winced, he must have
understood at least some of the tirade,
and it was as impolite as it sounded.
"That woman has an impressive vocabulary,"
he said. "I bet she runs a tight park."
Jules was amazed that Pips
had figured out she was in charge
of the boarding house without being told.
"You'd think he would worry
more about the brats who actually
started a fire," Sandy grumbled
as she rejoined them.
"Do tell," Pips said.
"I can't go into any details,"
she said, shaking her head.
"Let's just say that the chief has
overlooked real troublemakers
while chasing wild geese."
The tips of Pips' mouth curled,
but Jules wouldn't call it a smile.
"People used to hear geese honking
and say it was the barking of the Cwn Annwn,
the Wild Hunt," said Pips. "Best know what you're
chasing, or you might be the one in trouble."
Sandy clucked her tongue at him.
"Don't be silly, Jules wouldn't hurt
a fly, never mind what my idiot boss
says about him," she replied.
The old lady came back then,
having shooed away the fire chief.
"Very sorry for trouble," she said,
handing tokens to Jules and Pips.
"You eat free today, any place
in whole park. Go pick."
So they handed their tokens
to the young woman at Bingo Sue's.
Pips ordered bingsu with kimchi.
"That's disgusting," Jules teased.
"You know that's disgusting, right?"
Pips just snickered. "I like the spice,"
he said. "It makes me feel alive."
Jules got his own bingsu topped
with much more sensible mochi bits,
pine nuts, and green plum syrup.
It was delicious, milky and sweet,
and he savored it slowly so that
he wouldn't have to talk.
Eventually, though, Sandy
coaxed him into explaining
what he'd been up to before
the chief so rudely interrupted.
Pips didn't seem inclined
to rescue him from that talk,
so Jules showed Sandy and Danys
the tie bar that he'd bought for G,
and a picture of the amethyst one.
That led to Pips showing them
the money clip and cuff links that
would match the tie bar, although he
did not mention their special properties.
"What do you think?" Danys said,
looking at Sandy. "Each of us could buy
one of the amethyst tie bars, and leave
the other silver for one of the kids."
"Good plan," Sandy agreed,
taking out her smartphone.
"Let's pass around the pictures."
Jules chased the last piece of mochi
around his bowl with the spoon
as he listened to them.
You couldn't remove all of
the asshats and idiots from
the world, but acts of kindness
could buffer their effects somewhat.
* * *
In this picture, Jules is on the left, Mariset in the middle. Here he is with his hair dyed. Jules is one of the characters created by Dialecticdreamer.
Pips (Alfred Blythewood) -- He has pale skin, dark peacock eyes with a distinct sheen, and shaggy black hair with a few wisps of metallic white-gold. He's short, only five feet tall. Alfred comes from a traditional service family in Britain, but his heritage is actually Pictish. He hates being called "pixie." He speaks at least American Sign Language, English, Esperanto, French, and Korean. He goes by MultiplePunctures on BlackSheep.
Alfred's regular service lies with Kraken, but he makes a habit of serving infamous supervillains long enough to earn recognition for it, then bails out, and later on goes looking for the next one. His cape name comes from the Kraken custom of indicating former masters with insignia so that people can know the background by looking at the collar pips. He has the metronome for Contretemps, the power tie for the Vanguardian, and even the little green skull for the Mandible. Pips is probably the only person to come out of the Mandible's service without serious damage -- he's a resilient little thing -- but even he only lasted a month there. And he doesn't just wear them on his uniform, he has them copied over into body jewelry.
Origin: Alfred was born with some bad eye problems. When he was thirteen, a new treatment to correct those left him with Enhanced Vision instead.
Uniform: On duty he wears the Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery, with multiple pips on the collar indicating former masters, plus the body jewelry. The jumpsuits are sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. They provide Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turn garish neon colors. Off duty, he wears a lot of emo things -- black clothes, leather bands with studs, that sort of stuff. He needs wraparound sunglasses most of the time, though.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Masochist, Expert (+4) Observant, Good (+2) Deduction, Good (+2) Supervillain Servant, Good (+2) Resilient
Poor (-2) Don't Call Me Pixie!
Powers: Good (+2) Enhanced Vision
Vulnerability: He can see ultraviolet and polarized light, and he sees especially well in dim light. But that makes bright light painful, so he stays indoors a lot. He prefers going out at night, or if he has to go out in daylight, he needs wraparound sunglasses.
Motivation: "It's all about the pain, the jewelry and ink are just souvenirs."
* * *
"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
-- Gen. Joe Stillwell
Even in local-America, sunglasses have gotten pretty sophisticated, and Terramagne-America has even better ones. Due to his enhanced vision, Pips wears sunglasses to protect his sensitive eyes from bright light and assist contrast so he can concentrate on important things more easily. The wraparound style prevents light from leaking in around the lenses. Controls for the advanced features are located on the sidepieces.
Among the boss emblems that Pips wears are: a metronome for Contretemps, a checkerboard for the Chessmistress, a red motherboard for Captain Kelvin, a power tie for the Vanguardian, and a skull for the Mandible. The constellation for Capricorn can be labeled or unlabeled.
Among the ways to help after a house fire are making a list of what the family needs and setting up a gift registry for them. Here are more ideas on helping fire survivors.
See the amethyst money clip and cufflinks that Pips has.
This is the amethyst tie bar that Jules finds, and this is the plain silver one.
Mister Spiff is a store that sells men's accessories such as ties and pocket squares, tie tacks and bars, cuff links, hats, watches, and so forth. They carry a range from affordable basics to sophisticated luxuries, although not the most expensive name-brand fashions.
See a site map of the Pho Real Food Truck Park. It's inspired by pho, a Vietnamese street food.
The house is a bungalow remodeled as a boarding house. There are eight bedrooms, each with two twin-size beds, for a total of sixteen beds. The areas flanking the front door are reading nooks. Many of the people living here work in food trucks, a few groundskeepers, and others outside the Pho Real Food Truck Park.
At this time, Frigid Chicks has been replaced by Bingo Sue's, an ice cream cart selling mostly Korean and some other Asian frozen desserts.
Bingsu is Korean milk ice sorbet.
Kimchi is a spicy, fermented dish made mostly from cabbage. You can make it with a specific recipe or mix and match. It is not ordinarily put on bingsu, but people do put other spicy things on ice cream.
Green Plum Syrup really is made from unripe plums.
Mochi Rice Cakes can be made in various flavors.
Pine nuts make an interesting topping for desserts.
Pho Real has Korean chess tables and chess-checkers tables.
Amethyst offers protection against theft.
Korean dress includes this floral chiffon jeogori and Korean silk chima.
The tokens used the park are actually Korean 50 won coins representing a bundle of rice plants.