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Poem: "Pinballs in a Broken Machine" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Pinballs in a Broken Machine"
This poem came out of the September 5, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] callibr8. It also fills the "code of honor" square in my 9-1-17 card for the Pirate Fest Bingo. This poem has been sponsored out of the general fund left over from the Holiday Poetry Sale. We didn't have an open epic, so I just picked the one closest to the available amount. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains a lot of misery. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features extremely negative experiences in foster care, a not-very-legal disruption of adoption, due to bribing a judge, forcible separation of already attachment-damaged preschoolers from their adoptive parents, ethical dilemmas, and a superhero becoming a supervillain for the sake of salvaging his family. It may be especially hard on readers with difficult experiences in foster care, adoption, or legal matters. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Pinballs in a Broken Machine"


Davide and Elonso had both
grown up in the foster system,
and hated it. Davide spent
most of his life there, while
Elonso was in and out, like
pinballs in a broken machine.

They both vowed to do better
for their own children, although
they agreed on adopting some
out of foster care -- provided
they were, in fact, adoptable.

Seamus and Scooter O'Boyle
had been presented just that way,
howling toddlers of two and one years old,
who had grown to four and three before
their type A-hole father had finally bribed
a judge to return their custody to him.

It had been a disaster, police
prying two hysterical preschoolers
off of their parents, neighbors staring
and cameras clicking and Davide
trying desperately not to cry.

It was all happening again, only
now it was Seamus and Scooter
who were pinballs in a broken machine.

Davide sat on his back porch,
twisting his white hat in his hands.

Normally he only wore it to work,
because if SPOON called him in then
he might need the krevel for protection.

He was one of the few teleporters willing
to jump into a hot zone, which made him popular,
but also vulnerable if he wasn't careful.

Footsteps crunched on the gravel,
finally making Davide look up.

A stranger stood there, looking
dangerous in a sharp Italian suit.
He had naturally tan skin and
green eyes, and Davide was
pretty sure that was a bolt gun
and not a zatzer under his coat.

"Who are you, and what do you want?"
Davide said. "I'm having a very bad day."

"Call me Piero," the man said. "I saw
the morning news. I thought that I'd
drop by and see how you're doing."

"I'm trying to talk myself out of
following the bastard who took
my kids and dropping him down
a volcano," Davide confessed.

"That sounds a bit extreme," Piero said.
"How about trying a different idea?"

Davide yanked on the zippers of his hat,
which he used to mark his distance,
finesse, and passenger capacity.

"If you have any, I'm all ears," he said.
"I exhausted all of mine long ago."

"Let someone else deal with
your child-thief," Piero suggested.
"I know a guy who can crack his computer
and release some very damning information."

"That doesn't get my sons out of his hands,
which is what I really care about," said Davide.

Piero shrugged. "You're a teleporter,"
he said. "That's not really an obstacle."

"I can't just ..." Davide said. A zipper
jammed, refusing to move. "I work
for SPOON. I'm a teleporter.
There's a code of honor."

"Is there really?" Piero said.
"I don't see anything honorable
about tearing children away
from their family, Davide."

"I have to --" his voice cracked.
"I have to stay trustworthy."

"I think you should be asking
whose trust really matters
to you," Piero said evenly.

"What do you care?" Davide said.

"Ah, let's say we're distantly related,"
Piero replied. "Some associates of mine
have taken a severe dislike to the man who
begat your sons. I can get your family
safely out of this country and settled
somewhere more supportive."

"What do you need me for?"
Davide said. "You sound connected."

"Quite. As it happens, we've been
working against him for some time, but
we can't do that with soft targets in reach,"
Piero said. "We just need an inside man,
as it were -- someone who can get in
and then get the children out, without
traumatizing them even further."

"I wish ..." Davide said, his voice
trailing away. He poked a finger into
the gap of his hat. "I wish I could."

"Only you can make this decision,"
Piero said. "Which do you love more,
Davide, your hat ... or your family?"

Davide looked at the white hat
in his hands. Then he threw it away.
"Let's go get my kids," he said.

He couldn't fix the machine, but
he could break the pinballs out of it.

* * *

Notes:

Transient (Davide Guerra) -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He is athletic with a wiry build. He grew up in foster care, and hated it. He is the husband of Elonso Guerra and foster father of Seamus and Scooter O'Boyle. Davide works for SPOON as a combat teleporter. Then the biofather of his two sons takes them away. Following the law wouldn't save his family; breaking it would; and so when a friendly supervillain offers to help, Transient hangs up his white hat.
Origin: His powers emerged at puberty. One day he was wishing, as usual, to be anywhere other than where he was; and then it actually happened.
Uniform: On duty, Transient wears a blue-and-white krevel jacket; blue krevel pants, boots, and half-finger gloves; a blue dexflan balaclava; and a white krevel hat with three zippers across the front. Off duty, he likes comfortable men's clothes, often in soft neutrals.
Qualities: Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Gay, Good (+2) Home Repairs, Good (+2) Hot Zone Responder, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence
Poor (-2) Detached Background
Powers: Expert (+4) Teleportation
Transient is a combat teleporter, comfortable with working in the hot zone. He is unusual in that his finesse, range, and passenger capacity are variable. He can push any one of them to Master (+6) by dropping another to Poor (-2) as a free action. After a few jumps, however, he gets tired and his baseline ability starts dropping. He can refresh it by spending Hero Points or by resting for at least an hour and consuming 2000+ calories. He can frontload and backload, so he always carries extra food.
Vulnerability: Davide is hypersensitive about threats to his family, and his response is erratic -- it can be fight, flight, or freeze.
Motivation: To keep his family safe.
He has a constant conflict between wanting to stay with the people he loves, and wanting to make sure that supervillains are stopped before they become too much of a threat.

Elonso Guerra -- He has naturally tan skin, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. He went in and out of foster care through the later part of his childhood, and hated it. That left him hypersensitive to abandonment, and a little shy about being gay. He is the husband of Davide Guerra and foster father of Seamus and Scooter O'Boyle. Elonso does most of the everyday tasks around the house and keeps the family running smoothly.
Qualities: Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Father, Good (+2) Healthy Cooking, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Secretary
Poor (-2) Abandonment Issues

Seamus O'Boyle -- He is four years old. He has fair skin, brown eyes, and light brown hair with just a little wave. He is the son of Davide and Elonso Guerra, and older brother of Scooter O'Boyle. Seamus is energetic and noisy. His dexterity is growing in faster than usual, and he can already tie his own shoes. As a result, he refuses any footwear that lacks laces -- even slippers. So Elonso sewed laces onto Seamus' slippers.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Exuberant,
Poor (-2) Loud

Scooter O'Boyle -- He is three years old. He has pale skin, brown eyes, and straight blond hair. He is the son of Davide and Elonso Guerra, and younger brother of Seamus O'Boyle. Scooter has already mastered the Bom Bom Bunny skills of keeping still, being quiet, and hiding. He is stuck on screaming, though. His past has left him with disrupted attachment; he has difficulty relating to adults, and clings to his older brother Seamus.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bunny Skills, Good (+2) Patient
Poor (-2) Disrupted Attachment

Bom Bom Bunny is a series of stories for preschool children that introduces basic safety skills like being quiet, staying still, watching, keeping out of the way, running away from danger, and screaming your head off. The main character is a rabbit who learns those skills to avoid predators. The tone is actually warm and positive, about how gaining new skills lets you explore exciting new places.


Piero (Brando Carlotti) -- He has naturally tan skin, green eyes, and dark hair with a short mustache and beard. He is a mobster from northern Italy, skilled at negotiation and talent scouting. Sometimes it makes him manipulative, though. To relax, he makes vast platters of fancy antipasti. This makes him very popular with other Marionettes.
Origin: Some enemies once tried to crush him under stones. It only made him harder to hurt.
Uniform: Sharp Italian suits.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Antipasti Cook, Good (+2) Mobster, Good (+2) Negotiator
Poor (-2) Manipulative
Powers: Good (+2) Armor
He can turn his skin to stone.
Motivation: To serve his Family.

* * *

(These links are harsh.)
Foster care can have very mixed results. When potential parents raise concerns, agencies often deceive them. Furthermore, the older children get, the less attractive adoption becomes to them and the lower the chance of success. Children need permanent homes in order to bond with adults -- or it just doesn't happen, with dismal results.

(So are these.)
Trust is an expectation of positive interaction, and the foundation of healthy relationships. Betrayal is expectancy violation, which can cause trauma. In this case, Davide and Elonso expected to adopt the boys; Seamus and Scooter came to expect that their fathers would take care of them; and all of them were betrayed. Follow the steps to build trust. Know how to deal with betrayal and rebuild trust afterwards. It may take extra work to heal trust issues too.

(These links are tense.)
Ethics and loyalty can create conflicts. Understand how to resolve ethical dilemmas and handle conflicts of loyalty. In extreme cases, people may quit over ethical issues. Here Davide didn't simply quit his job with SPOON -- he quit the white altogether in favor of the black offering better family support. That's a sharp reminder that if following the rules doesn't get people's needs met, they will cease to do so.

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