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Poem: "Blue Smoke and Mirrors" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Blue Smoke and Mirrors"
This poem is spillover from the January 2, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It also fills the AI square in my 1-1-18 card for the Apocalypse Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth and [personal profile] janetmiles.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Blue Smoke and Mirrors"


Canute Staalsmed has always
been a bit long on ingenuity
and short on common sense.

He gets through school
by being too smart to fail
even though he is also
too lazy to study much.

He works as a repairman
at many different jobs, from
shops to offices to factories.

Over time, Canute gets better
and better at fixing things --
except that nobody else could
ever follow up on his repairs.

"You let the blue smoke out,"
he scolds as he fixes things again,
but it's not until he watches someone
accidentally crack a housing that
he realizes this is literally true.

It shouldn't be, with no heat in
the system at the time to light
anything on fire, but there it is:
blue smoke and malfunction.

"Soup stuff," someone whispers,
and Canute realizes that he
can kiss this job goodbye.

So he quits working as
a repairman and just starts
tinkering with various things,
crashing with his friends when
he gets tired enough to sleep.

He rarely bothers with protective gear,
sometimes he works while stoned, and
he is accident-prone to begin with.

So what? It's not like CrossMart
is going to run out of bandaids.

Eventually Canute learns how
to store superpowers in devices:
mirrors work well to contain them.

He can peel off a layer of ability
from someone and put it into a box
for later use -- although reusable ones
require an outside power source.

It turns out that he's been using
his own Super-Gizmology for repairs.

No wonder nobody could duplicate them.

Canute loves making things, and he
has no shortage of ideas to try out.

Sometimes they're actual machines,
but other times they're really just
fancy containers for blue smoke.

Some of them have controls
such as a gauge or tuner,
like the extremely popular
Singer's Dream Stomp Box:
Turn Down Guitar Player,
Slow Down Drummer,
Sober Up Bass Player.

That one earned him
six months of couch space
and all the beer he could drink.

He drinks a lot of beer, and
invents one thing after another.

Often, however, it's just
a box with an on/off switch
and the name of the service,
such as Canned Health, which is
a white box with a red cross button
that activates a healing superpower,
plugged into an ordinary 440 outlet.

After that, people start calling him
the Canner, and he doesn't object.

He's working with a sorceress
(both of them high on one of
her magic potions) when he
accidentally cleaves off
part of her superpower.

She'll recover, of course,
they always do -- but this isn't
his usual kind of creation.

It's a wisp of magic with
a mind of its own, and it
wastes no time indicating
it is actually feminine and
wants a body to inhabit.

So the Canner builds a body
out of princess-pink parts
to avoid gender confusion.

It has four legs, a torso, and
a head that looks vaguely doglike
or perhaps monkeylike. It can
move on two legs or four.

The wisp settles in, and
Canute names her Proto.

He has to keep explaining that
she is not a robot, even though
she looks a lot like a robopet and
acts like an artificial intelligence.

She is a magical construct,
which is quite a different beast,
and she makes a better assistant
than any human he has had.

The Canner feels proud of her,
although he knows that he
probably couldn't duplicate
what he did if he tried.

Still, he can make plenty
of other super-gizmos.

The money comes and goes,
sometimes he's at loose ends
for a while, but he doesn't mind.

It always turns around eventually.

The Canner builds things, and it's fun,
and it's lucrative enough to keep him going.

When people ask how he does it, he just
laughs and says, "Blue smoke and mirrors."

* * *

Notes:

The Canner (Canute Staalsmed) -- He has tawny skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair. His chest is a rug, and he often forgets to shave. He is average height and size, more scruffy than handsome. His lack of common sense manifests in erratic life decisions, occasional homelessness, and poor money handling so that he's usually broke even when earning stupendous amounts of cash. Sometimes he works while stoned, and he's accident-prone to begin with. Frankly the Canner needs a nanny.
Some of his creations are mechanical, others more magical, and he's made more than a few that operate on the legendary "blue smoke." When making single-use super-gizmos, he can copy a person's superpower without depleting it. When making reusable super-gizmos, the power transference drains the ability so that it cannot be used for a number of days equal to the rank modifier of the device. A Master super-gizmo depletes the user's ability for six days, after which it typically recovers at a rate of one rank per day. Reusable super-gizmos require an energy source. The devices sometimes have controls such as a gauge or tuner, but often it's just a box with an on/off switch and the name of the superpower.
Origin: He worked as a repairman at many different factories. Over time, he got better and better at fixing things -- except that nobody else could follow up on his repairs. He quit working as a repairman and just started tinkering with things, crashing with friends. Eventually he learned how to store superpowers in mechanical form.
Uniform: Blue jumpsuit with lots of pockets and a heavy toolbelt, plus a yellow hardhat and steel-toed boots. But he is just as likely to be working in a white tank top, blue jeans, and sandals because he is an idiot when it comes to safety.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intelligence, Good (+2) Curious, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Friends in Industry
Poor (-2) Common Sense
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-Gizmology, Good (+2) Power Transference
Expert (+4) Canned Health. Just a white box with a red cross button that activates a healing superpower, plugged into a 440 outlet.
Expert (+4) Construct: Proto (Average Mechanical Knowledge, Average Super-Speed, Average Super-Strength, Average Repair Waldos). Note that Proto is not a robot even though she (and she is princess pink to indicate her preferred gender) looks like one. She is a magical construct created when the Canner accidentally cleaved off part of a sorceress' power, after which he had to build a body for her. She looks a bit like a robopet, and can function in bipedal or quadrupedal mode.
Expert (+4) Clue Machine. A plain gray box with a button and a dispenser slot. It powers itself by peeling off a rank of a Quality (for ordinary people) or Power (for soups) which regenerates the next day. It dispenses accurate, actionable insights or advice about the user's most salient issue.
Motivation: A tug-of-war between wanting to make stuff because it's cool, and wanting to make enough money to live on.

* * *

"Blue smoke" is a legendary substance that makes technology work.

CrossMart is a T-American drugstore chain that sells a lot of first aid supplies and other health items. In some places it's just a hole-in-the-wall, but the larger stores often have a telemedicine booth too.

Artificial intelligence is a created system that can perceive input and make some decisions. This has pros and cons. Robopets are small machines programmed to behave similar to companion animals.
 

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