Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Only If It Is Embraced"

This poem is spillover from the June 6, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Tanna. It also fills the "pain" square in my 3-1-17 card for the Disability Bingo Fest.  This poem belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

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"Only If It Is Embraced"

Monday, July 21, 2014


"You want me to do what?!"
I exclaim, staring at Savoir Faire.
"And why do you want Farce?"

"We're assembling a special team,"
says Savoir Faire. "We need people
who can handle a high level of pain.
Medical and combat skills will also
be helpful. You've stood up to
Subwoofer and Mindflare, and
she has luck on her side."

"You do know I'm pregnant,
right?" says Farce, pointing
her round belly at him.

"Yes, and we don't want you
involved in the actual combat,"
Savoir Faire assures her. "We
would like you to stand back and
manipulate probability, if you're willing.
Several previous attempts have failed,
so we're adding new strategies."

"So what's the gig?" Farce asks.

"We're trying to rescue a man known
as the Scream," says Savoir Faire.

"Isn't he a supervillain?" Farce says.

"No he is not," Savoir Faire says firmly.
"The Scream is officially a victim. Some of us
have been following his case for over a year now.
Unprincipled supervillains have been kidnapping him,
triggering him, and setting off his Blast of Grief as
a distraction. We want to put a stop to that."

"What's his damage?" Farce says.

Savoir Faire looks down. "Word is that
he used to be a stay-at-home father, with
a wife and a young son. After Deflagration
killed them both, he went mad with grief."

"Some people are giving supervillains
a bad name," Farce mutters, kicking
one foot against her chair.

"We agree, and in fact, there are
other supervillains backing this mission
for that exact reason," says Savoir Faire.
"That's how we got the tip in the first place,
from a gang out in Motor City."

"Who else is in on this?" I ask,
trying to get back on track.

"More than are working openly,"
says Savoir Faire. "Canada is sending
a police officer and his social worker partner
from the Scream's probable home. We expect
the next incident to happen in Onion City,
most likely Milwaukee, so they're adding a pair
of cops. There will be a team of paramedics
to take him to a secure care facility as soon as
we manage to capture him. I hope it's enough."

"Who's handling whatever nutjob you think
is setting up the Scream?" asks Farce.

Savoir Faire waves a hand. "That's up to
another team, a joint effort between BASH
and SPOON," he says. "Don't worry about it.
Our job is strictly to rescue the victim."

Farce cups her hands over her tummy,
giving the request more consideration
than I would have expected from her.

I turn my attention inward. Keane?
Clement? Ham?
I say. You guys are
apparently the ones who would be
doing all the work on this case.

I can channel the pain if it comes
to that,
says Keane. I don't know
if I'd be much good for anything else

Well, that's the truth.

I can do basic healing, Clement says.
If Farce decides to come, I can also
keep an eye on her and the baby. I don't
want to get involved in any fighting, though

Don't worry about that, Ham says.
If it comes to a fight, I'll handle it.

So is that a yes? I ask.

We're a superhera, Ham says.
This is what we do. Go do it.

"Okay," I tell Savoir Faire. "I'm in."

"Well if you're going, then I'm going,"
Farce says. "Somebody has to be there
to save you if you flake during the fight."

"Gee, thanks," I say sourly,
but she just laughs at me.



This mission is
a pain in the ass.

We're supposed to work
with a mixed team of cops,
superheroes, and supervillains.

Ay maron'  but how was this
ever going to have been a good idea?

Savoir Faire keeps staring
at the body's boobs.

Farce is bitching that
her super suit doesn't fit
(obviously) over her fat belly.

She's had to split it down the front
and add new capery held on with
B&B Capery Tape. It looks hilarious,
but she hexes me for laughing,
and so I try to hold it in.

Fortunately there is already
a staging area set up near where
they expect someone to dump the Scream.

The "team" is already arguing when
the teleporter drops us off there.

The fat cop immediately leans into
my space, and I lean in to say,
"Hai qualche problema?"

Savoir Faire interrupts the squabble
to make introductions, as if
that's going to help.

"I'm Savoir Faire on combat
and organization," he says, then
points to me. "Damask: pain control,
combat skills, backup medic." He shifts
his finger. "Farce: probability manipulation."

A Hispanic-looking cop smiles and
nods at us, which is interesting, while
the guy with pewter hair is frankly staring.

"Phillip Gagnon: Canadian police and
his partner Holly Leitner: social worker,"
says Savoir Faire. "They're on mental issues."

Ironically it's the social worker who looks
ready to smack anyone who acts up, while
the cop seems relaxed and easygoing.

"Artie Reichel and Christobal Zubizarreta:
Milwaukee police and our local contacts,"
Savoir Faire says as he points out
the fat cop and his Hispanic partner.

It's always good to have someone
on the job who knows the area.

"Pain's Gray: combat medic and
pain control," Savoir Faire says,
indicating the pewter-haired guy.

There are more cops and
paramedics and stuff, but I
can't keep track of everyone.

"I still don't see why we have to work
with supervillains," Artie complains.
"They're just going to stab us in the back
and help the suspect to escape."

"Bad cop. No donut,"
Pain's Gray says mildly, but
the look in his steely eyes
promises trouble if Artie
doesn't shut his mouth.

"This is a joint effort, mes amis,
let us try to keep it cordial,"
Savoir Faire pleads.

Who does he think he's fooling?

He's got a nice staging tent set up,
though, and leads everyone there.

There is coffee, which is not terrible,
and a coffeecake that people dig into.

Then Pain's Gray puts three boxes
on the table and says, "I brought
French crullers with honey glaze,
beignets stuffed with apples,
chocolate glazed donuts,
black-and-whites, and also
gluten-free apple cider donuts."

I help myself to a black-and-white
while Farce grabs a glazed one.

"Oh my god," she moans. "Did you
make this with clinical-grade chocolate?"

"Indeed I did," says Pain's Gray.
"The lady has a discerning palate."

I can't even talk because
my mouth is full of heaven.
These things are amazing.

Then Artie reaches for one,
and Pain's Gray grabs his wrist.
"Not you," the supervillain says,
and then lets go of him.

"But they're on the table,"
Artie whines, trying again.

This time Pain's Gray
flicks a finger at him.

Artie screeches and jerks away.

"I said," Pain's Gray repeats,
"Bad cop: no donut."

"He attacked me with
his superpower! You all
saw it!" Artie shouts.

Pain's Gray rolls his eyes.
"You were stealing. I swatted you
with a spoon. Don't be such a wuss."

"You did not, you used powers.
That's assault!" Artie says.

"Power which mimicked hitting
someone with a wooden spoon,"
Pain's Gray says. He shrugs. "I live
with supervillains. They snitch. If I
didn't swat them, the frosting would
never make it onto the pastries."

The incredibly excellent pastries
that everyone else is devouring
with great appreciation.

"Show me," Christobal says,
holding out a hand.

Pain's Gray raises his eyebrows,
but reaches out to touch a fingertip
to the back of the policeman's hand.

"Ow!" Christobal yelps, but then
he laughs. "Mi abuela would have
thought you had the best superpower
in the world. I never would have
gotten a cookie I didn't deserve!"

Pain's Gray bows from the shoulders.
"Thank you," he says. Then he turns
to Farce and hands her a honey cruller.
"Here, you can have Artie's donut,
since you're eating for two."

"If you put things on the table,
you have to share with everyone,"
Artie says, turning red.

"No I don't," Pain's Gray says.
"That's a kindergarten rule. I am
a supervillain by profession, and
cooking is my hobby. I brought these
as a friendly gesture, and they're mine
until I give them away. You're acting like
an ass, so you don't get any donuts."

"That's fair," Phillip says. "Artie,
if you want donuts, go buy your own
from the shop across the street."

Checkerbox makes shitty donuts,
but that is Artie's problem.

Farce chooses that moment
to stuff her cruller into her mouth,
then whimpers in pleasure. "Mmm,
these are yummy," she says
as she licks her fingers.

"Thank you," says Pain's Gray.
"I brought enough for everybody
to have one, plus extras -- you might
want to save a few for after the fight.
I already stashed my backup supply."

"That's a wise plan," says Phillip,
and boxes the remaining donuts.

Holly steps up and says, "All right,
the core problem is that the Scream is in
severe emotional pain which he can't handle.
The bad guy is going to trigger him and then
throw him at us, like a human grenade."

"Hey," Farce protests. "I've met
Mr. Grenade. He's a nice guy."

"My apologies to Mr. Grenade, then,"
Holly says smoothly, which is a surprise.
"Phillip and I can handle negotiation if it comes
to that, or give EFA if anyone else gets hurt."

"The idea is to pounce on the Scream as soon
as he appears, and try to keep him from screaming,"
says Savoir Faire. "That hasn't worked before,
but it's still a best-case scenario. If he screams,
we need folks to damp it down as best they can.
Try to get control of him before he teleports."

"I can handle pain if it hits me,
I can hurt other people, but I can't
shield anyone else," Pain's Gray says.

"I can do it," I say, although it's Keane
who will handle the actual doing if it comes
to tapping off the Scream's energy. He's
right behind me on this. "Do you have
any idea where this is going down?"

Savoir Faire unrolls a map and
looks at Christobal, who says,
"Our intel indicates Polka Dot Park.
It's a good place to stage a spectacle,
and it's right across from Lake Bounty Bank."

"Nice place for a cape fight," Farce approves.
"That gives us plenty of room to move around."

Clement squalls behind me, and I say,
"You  aren't getting anywhere near there.
You are here strictly as backup."

Farce smirks at us and spreads her hands.
"I'm just saying that it won't be so hard on
the infrastructure if you can keep it in the green."

Well, that's true. I take a moment to admire
Milwaukee's foresight in providing a place
for soups to fight without breaking buildings.
If we rip up the grass, it'll grow right back.

"You may stay in the command van, if you can
cover the scene from there," says Savoir Faire.
"It's basically like an office inside, but it's
heavily armored and has several guards."

"I can give it a try," Farce says.

"We need to get Damask and Pain's Gray
on top of the Scream as fast as possible,"
Savoir Faire says. The rest of us are here
to create that opportunity for them."

"What about the supervillain behind
the Scream?" Artie asks around
a mouthful of cheap donut.

"Secondary target," says Savoir Faire.
"If you have a shot that will clear
our primary target, take it, but
don't let that distract you."

Phillip leans forward to display
an image of a muscular man
who looks like a gold statue.

"This is Gildenstern," he says.
"We think he's planning to hit the bank
because he has the ability to vaporize gold
and then condense it onto his skin, and
that facility has a large jewelry vault.
Once in custody, we throw him to OSHA."

"Why OSHA?" I ask, baffled. "Why not
the National Hate Crimes Office?"

"Criminal law will pursue the case
for harming a mentally vulnerable person,
on top of other things like superpower assault,"
Phillip explains. "Then OSHA will nail him
for failing to provide a safe workplace and
mental care for an employee -- and unlike
NHCO, OSHA actually has teeth."

"Okay, that's clever," I admit.

From strategy, we move into tactics,
hoping that we actually have time
to plan this before the show starts.

We lean over the map, talking about
probable landing zones, angles of attack,
and how to keep the fight centered
in the open parts of the park.

Keane keeps pushing at me,
trying to get out, but he's got
no head for strategy and would
just get in the way right now.

Wait your turn, I mutter.
You can come out if the patz'
starts hurting people.

Keane is still sulking
over that when the meeting
breaks up and people drift apart.
Now it's just a waiting game.

I head for a bench, stub my toe,
and then Keane is shoving past me.


The supervillain comes over
to me. "Hi, I'm Pain's Gray.
Who are you?" he says.

"Damask. We just met when
Savoir Faire introduced
everyone," I remind him.

"Did anyone happen to mention
how my power works?" he says.

"Some kind of pain ray,
if I remember right," I say.

"I can sense nerves and then
light them up," Pain's Gray says.

"Okay, so what's up with that?" I say.

"Most people, their brains are sparkly,
little bits of light but all one network," he says.

"I've seen pictures like that," I say.

"With you, it's like watching a storm cloud."
His hands mime flashes. "It lights up in
different places, and little flickers around
them. When we first met, the light
was there, now it's over here."

"Different brain areas do different things,
I hedge, starting to worry now.

"Also your body language was dominant
when you arrived, but submissive now,"
says Pain's Gray. "So I'm wondering if
I'm talking to a different person now."

We are so busted.

Well, there's no point in trying
to hide if he already knows.

"I um, I'm Keane. I channel pain,"
I say. "The first you met, that's
Ham, and he's our fighter."

I can feel Ham yanking at me,
trying to pull me out of Front, so I
kick my foot hard against the ground,
using the pain as an anchor.

"Hey, be careful," says Pain's Gray.

"Oh, not you too," I snap,
glaring at him. I get enough
of this shit from my headmates.

"Whoa, I don't know what landmine
I just stepped on, but I didn't mean it,"
says Pain's Gray, spreading his hands.
"If you like or need pain, that's fine. But
hitting little bones is not a very safe way
to get it. You could break something."

"Yeah, I know," I say with a sigh.
"I just need the pain to hold onto
Front, otherwise I lose my grip
or the others drag me back."

"If you need pain, I can give you that,
without the injury," Pain's Gray offers.

He reminds me of Shadowplay
and how good that felt, even though
my headmates threw a fit over that too.

"Yes, please," I say.

"Look at me," he says, and I do.

And then it hurts.

The pain is bright and pure,
cleaner than anything that I've
ever felt, and it's just so good.

Ham tries to tug me away,
but pain is my power, and this
is filling me up deliciously.

My eyes flutter shut in pleasure.

The sensation fades, and
Pain's Gray says, "Eyes on me.
If you close your eyes, it reduces
what I can do for you -- or we
can switch to skin contact,
that heightens the effect too."

"I'm smooth with that," I say.

When he reaches for me, though,
Ham pulls away, enough that it shows.

"Problem?" Pain's Gray says.

"Ham won't leave me alone,"
I grumble. "They hate that I need
the pain, but they never want
to deal with any of it themselves.
They gripe about everything I do,
and I am really getting sick of it."

"That doesn't sound very fair,"
says Pain's Gray. "Ham, I'm talking
with Keane right now. Wait your turn,
and I'll talk with you later if you want."

Instead Ham takes that as an invitation
to pick a fight for real, yanking hard.

"Ham, you have five seconds
to let go of Keane, before I make you
let him go," Pain's Gray warns.

Ham responds to that by yanking
so hard that I lose my senses for
a moment. When I come back,
I hear, "... two, one."


It feels so exactly
like a punch in the face,
I lift my hand to check,
but there's no blood.

"Shh, you're okay, I didn't
actually hit you," Pain's Gray says.
"I just knocked Ham off you, or at least,
that's what I was trying to do."

"Yeah," I say, my voice a bit shaky.
"I think you knocked him right on his butt."

"Well, good," says Pain's Gray. "They
should not be picking on you just for
being kinky. You like what you like.
It's part of your power. They need
to learn how to deal with that."

"Clement sort of has a point about
hurting the body, because that affects
whoever fronts after me," I say. "But
when I got a tattoo, or hired a mistress,
they hated those too. It wasn't really
about the safety, just ... they don't like me."

"Safety is important, but if you do something
safer and they keep complaining, then that's
not okay," says Pain's Gray. "Normally I'd
negotiate more, but if you need pain right now,
would you like for me to hurt you again?"

I nod eagerly. "Yeah, that was great."

"Okay, then just tell me when you've
had enough, or pull away," he says.

Pain's Gray cups a hand over
my cheek, and the pain pours
through me, rich and intimate.

We let it build for a few minutes,
until finally I say, "That should
do it for now," and he lets go.

I'm positively fizzing  with energy,
which is great going into a cape fight.

"You're handsome when you're
hurting," says Pain's Gray.

Shadowplay had thought the same,
and it felt so good just to have
someone appreciate that.
"Thanks for helping," I say.

"Any time," says Pain's Gray.

I wish desperately that he
lived closer to Urbanburg
so that would be real.

"I think that is what's wrong
with the Scream," I say. "Pain can
be endured and overcome only if it
is embraced. If you try to pull away
from it, then it just grows worse."

"Absolutely true," says Pain's Gray.
"I learned that when I got my powers."

"Really?" I say. "How did that happen?"

"A rival gang kidnapped me and then
tortured me, trying to get information
about my boss," says Pain's Gray. "When
I wouldn't give it up to them, they went nuts.
But then my superpower manifested and
it lashed out at them, flattened them."

"Wow," I say. "Traumatic manifestation
for you too, huh? Mine was different, but
also a bad time. Mindflare captured Maisie --
this body was just hers back then. When he
used his superpower on her, though, pieces
broke off and turned into us. We didn't know
that for a while, though, so it's been rough."

"That does sound rough," says Pain's Gray.
"I'm glad that you survived and made it here."

"Me too," I say, leaning toward him.
He drapes an arm over my shoulders and
it feels so good to be touched like that.

"If you need a power boost during the
mission, just put your hand up, open
and close it. I can throw pain from
a distance, as long as I can see you,"
says Pain's Gray. "I'll keep watch."

"Okay, thanks," I say.

He keeps me company while
we wait, and for a supervillain,
he is surprisingly sweet.

Maybe I've just gotten used
to having Farce around, or
maybe supervillains aren't all
as violent as the media
makes them out to be.

It's not long after that
when the action starts.

The air parts with
a moaning, tearing sound
and two men stumble through it.

One of them rides the other,
almost piggyback, muscled arms
thrown around his captive's neck.
His skin shimmers faintly gold.

The second man looks awful,
thinner than he should be, his hair
buzzed short and his eyebrows
pinched together. He wears
a white t-shirt and stained jeans.

That must be Gildenstern
holding on to the Scream.

The way they're tangled together,
there's no clear access to either of them,
which makes me hesitate to move.

Even Ham pauses, although I'm
not sure whether that's because
he doesn't know what to do or
he's afraid that Pain's Gray
will smack him again.

Suddenly the Scream
stumbles, his foot landing
wrong on something I can't see.

That must be Farce acting
from the command van.

As they twist in place,
two gunshots ring out, and
Gildenstern drops off.

"Secondary target down,"
Artie says crisply.

"Beta Team, come extract
your package if you can,"
Savoir Faire says over
the communication band.

As the Scream picks himself up,
he notices the blood spilling
from Gildenstern's thigh.

His face crumples in horror
as he screams, "NOOOOO!"

The cry rips through the air
like a knife, carving a serrated line
of pain between my ears.

I grab hold of it and pull,
drawing all the pain into myself,
and it's more than I can handle
so it hurts something awful, but
this is what I was born  to do.

The Scream starts to wobble.

I keep my concentration on him,
and I know there's something else
we're supposed to be doing, but I can't
think of that and this at the same time.

"Come on," Pain's Gray says as he
grabs my arm and hustles me forward.
"We need to contain him as quick as we can."

I try to follow him, and he keeps me upright
although the grass is uneven underfoot.

Beta Team hasn't picked up their guy yet,
and as I look around, I can see that they're
tangled up with minions or possibly mercenaries
along with Savoir Faire and others from our team.

"Secure the Scream first," says Pain's Gray,
and I'm trying, but he's stronger than he looks;
even with the earlier boost it takes a lot of power
to keep him from taking out everyone else.

Let me front, Clement says. I can
put him to sleep and stop the fight

If I let you front, I can't block him
anymore, so he'll scream again
and knock you flat,
I point out.

"You look like you're arguing
with yourselves," says Pain's Gray.
"What's going on? Can I help?"

"Clement wants to put him to sleep,
which would be a great idea, except
that if I let go of the Scream so Clement
can come through, that power shout
will flatten everyone," I explain.

"You can't work together?" he says.

"Not really," I say, but then I remember
that we sort of, almost, did something
like that with Macavity once before.
"Maybe? But I have no idea how."

"Let me try something," says Pain's Gray.
"I think if I feed you just a little energy,
it may help you do what you need. I can
see both of you, just one is dimmer.
We only need to nudge it a little."

He frees one hand from pinning
the Scream to the ground, and
I take it, and the pain sweeps
through me, light and sweet.

Clement struggles with it,
but I can buffer him a little,
and it doesn't hurt that much.

A moment later, he's wedged
into Front alongside me, and
gets a hand on the Scream.

The tormented man goes limp.

I heave a sigh of relief, and
realize that Gildenstern is still
writhing and moaning beside us,
but he's not really a priority.

I can't hold him for long,
Clement warns me. Even
like this, he's pretty strong

I repeat the warning to
Pain's Gray, who looks
concerned. "Do the best
you can, and we'll cope."

Fortunately that's when
the paramedics arrive.

They check the Scream
to make sure that he's still
breathing and everything,
then slip a needle into his arm
to start some kind of IV medication.
"Okay, we've got him," one says.
"You can let go now. This should
keep him comfortable until we can
get him to a secure care facility."

"Are you sure?" I say, looking down
at the limp man. He smells like
he hasn't washed in a while.

"We're sure, but thanks for asking,"
the paramedic says. "Milwaukee has
a mental hospital with a few rooms
customized for people with superpowers.
A mindhealer is already waiting for him."

"That's good," I say, sitting back.
Clement lets go of the Scream too,
and retreats to his own room.

It had been nice, though,
working together for a bit.

They scoop the Scream onto
a gurney and hurry him toward
the waiting ambulance.

"What about me?"
whines Gildenstern.
"I'll fuckin' bleed to death!"

I notice that he has red stains on
one shoulder, too, not just the leg.

"Not from that," says Pain's Gray.
"You're losing blood steadily, which
means the bullet hit a vein, not an artery."
He gives the blood coating the ground
an appraising gaze. "You're down by almost
a pint. Let me see what I can do for you, though.
Damask, come give me a hand with this."

"Okay," I say, but I don't really want to.
I put the body in park and bang on
Clement's door. Medic!  I call.


I dash toward Front,
trying to ignore the exhaustion
from holding down the Scream.

Keane pushes power at me,
and that helps a little bit.

At least he's finally good for something.

Gildenstern is a mess, but he
is not in any immediate danger.

One bullet smashed his right shoulder,
which is now completely disabled
but only bleeding sluggishly.

The wound through the meaty part
of his left thigh is leaking briskly,
but the bullet missed the bone.

"Sleep," I say, touching a hand
to Gildenstern's forehead, and
he stills underneath my touch.

"How bad is it?" asks Pain's Gray.
"I have first aid training, and I can
see what his nerves are doing, but
I can't sense his whole body."

"His shoulder joint is splintered,
and the bullet through his thigh nicked
the deep femoral vein where it wraps
around the femur," I explain. "I can't
do much for the shoulder, but I can
close the hole in the vein."

"Do that, and I'll take care of
the shoulder," Pain's Gray says
as he opens his first aid kit.
"Joint injuries are finicky, but
I can at least immobilize it until
the other paramedics finally arrive."

I glance up to see the hired thugs
diminishing but still too fractious for
anyone to get through from the far side,
and of course our ambulance team has
already evacuated with the Scream,
according to the mission plan.

"Okay," I say, then turn
my attention to the bullet wound.

The vein is all there, just has
a fingertip-sized hole in its wall.

I press my power around the gap,
pulling the edges together. It's not
as hard as healing an artery, but still
tricky because of the blood pressure.

Once I heal that, though, the bleeding
slacks off to vigorous oozing. I raid
the first aid kit to give the wound
a quick rinse with antiseptic, then
cover it with a thick layer of gauze.

The muscle is so torn up, I don't want
to monkey with it, but I can seal off
some of the smaller leaks. I'm still
doing that when the paramedics finally
make it through the scuffle to us.

Pain's Gray gives them a summary
of the injuries and our first aid,
then we sit back to let them
move Gildenstern onto a gurney.

Of course that's when someone
throws a knife at me.


I dive forward to slap
the knife out of the way.

Then I grab the extended wrist
of the attacker and use it
to throw him down.

Practice with Tolli and
Simon is really paying off.

I dance back to see if the mook
will try to get up again.

He gets his hands under himself,
and I lean forward, ready to strike.

Pain's Gray gets to him first,
and the man drops to the ground,
shrieking and thrashing.

Then it stops.

"Stay down and wait for
the police to pick you up,"
Pain's Gray advices. "If you
try to get up, I'll zap you again."

The mook presses himself
as flat to the ground as he can go.

Then Christobal makes it through
to put him under arrest.

I look around, and it seems
like the fighting has wound down,
the other bad guys in custody.

"Come on, let's get back to
the staging tent," says Pain's Gray.
Then he lowers his voice, introduces
himself again, and asks my name.

It's weird to be with someone who
can see what we are, but I must admit
that it's tempting to be myself instead of
passing as Damask or even Maisie.

"I'm Ham," I say, "and I think
that I owe you a punch in the face,
some time when we're not in public."

Pain's Gray snorts at me. "Then does
Keane get a free shot at you for the way
you manhandled him earlier?"

"That's different," I protest
as we walk toward the tent.

"I don't think so," he says.
"I see you picking on your -- friend?
partner? What do you call each other?"

"Headmate," I tell him. "But we can't
just let Keane do whatever he wants,
it keeps causing problems."

"And how many of those are because
you bitch about everything he does?"
Pain's Gray says, glaring at me.

My stomach gives a queasy twist.
That's a little too close to some of
the things Dr. G has said to us
when discussing this issue.

"He keeps doing shit without
telling us, and it messes up
everyone else's time," I say.
One hand rubs the thigh where
the tattoo lies under the pants.

"Clearly you people have
some communication difficulties,"
says Pain's Gray. "I can give Keane
some safe pain -- and so could
his mistress if she's any good --
but that won't fix your attitude."

"The mistress is expensive," I say.
"That wrecked our whole budget."

"You have to work out how to spend
whatever you have so that everyone gets
what they need," says Pain's Gray. "Also,
you might try appreciating Keane for once."

"But all he does is make trouble!"
I say, throwing my hands in the air.

"Like today, when he blocked the pain
so we could reach the Scream?" he retorts.

I don't really have anything to say to that.
I remember the blinding sweep of pain
before Keane got it mostly under control.
Not even I could have fought through it.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," says Pain's Gray.
"I think you guys all owe him an apology."

"Maybe," I mutter, looking away.

Let Maze handle it, social shit
is her responsibility, not mine.

Pain's Gray gives me an irritated flick
of his finger, and that stings, like
getting hit with a rubber band.

I've seen what he can do,
so I flinch away from him.


"You stuck up for me," I say
as I slip back into Front.

"Somebody has to," says Pain's Gray.
"You're doing a lot for your headmates,
but they don't seem to appreciate you."

"I can get by," I say. "It's not unbearable."

"That's your standard for family?"
he says. "Not unbearable?"

"Well, when you put it that way ..."

Then we're back at the staging tent,
and Savoir Faire wants our report.

He has one arm in a sling, but
he doesn't act like it's serious,
and he nods along as we describe
what happened during the fight.

"Congratulations on accomplishing
the mission," Savoir Faire says.

"Over here," Pain's Gray suggests,
and I follow him to where Holly has
set up a table under an EFA sign.
Beside her, Phillip is doing paperwork
probably related to capturing the Scream.

"Emergency or emotional check-up?"
Holly asks as she leans forward.

"Check-up for me, and I think
for Damask too," says Pain's Gray.

"Uh, yeah, check-up," I say.

I have only fragments from
Maisie's memory of this stuff,
plus some awkward encounters
that various of us have had at
the Student Health Center.

Talking with Dr. G is different,
but it has been helping.

"How are you feeling after
the mission?" Holly asks.

I grope around inside myself.
"Tired, shaky, relieved that
we got the job done," I report.

"Okay, those are all natural reactions
after events like this," she says. "Does
anything hurt like it might be injured?"

"I don't think so," I say. "What happened
was rough, but it wasn't as bad as it could
have been." I can feel things shifting inside,
though, so I add, "Some other stuff has me
feeling a bit weird, but it's personal, not
directly related to this mission. I have
someone to talk with about that."

"A mission can shake loose realizations
about things that you've been facing in
your personal life," says Holly. "Do you
feel like you can handle this by using
your usual coping skills, or do you feel
overwhelmed like you might lose your grip?"

I shift just far enough to feel Pain's Gray
warm and solid beside me. "I think I can
deal with it," I say. "I feel a bit wobbly,
but I expect that after all this excitement."

"That's a healthy outlook," Holly says.
"It sounds like you're doing fine for now.
If you start feeling bad, let me know and
I'll prop you up until you can get back
to your support network at home."

"Thanks," I say, then step aside
so she can do the whole thing again
with Pain's Gray, who is also fine and
apparently has his own support
back among his gangmates.

There is a first aid station for
physical check-ups too, but that's
mobbed after everyone rolling around
in the park with a bunch of thugs.

"Do you really want to get in line
for that?" asks Pain's Gray. "I think
I would've noticed if you were hurt,
but I don't want to overlook anything."

"Just scrapes and bruises," I say.
The body has come out worse after
some of Ham's classes. "You?"

"The same," says Pain's Gray.
"Let's just take care of each other
and minimize the clog over there."

This sounds like a great idea,
so we get out of the crowd and
I let him pat gently over my body
in search of hidden injuries.

Pain's Gray finds a few gouges
along the edge of my left hand.

"It looks like you hit something
rough when you went to ground
next to the Scream," he says.
"Let me clean these, and then
I'll cover them with Gatorskin.
You'll want something tougher
than just a spray bandage there."

He rinses the bloody marks with
something that makes them go numb,
so I can't feel it when he uses the tweezers
to pick out some tiny bits of gravel. Then
he takes a syringe full of mossy green gel
and carefully squeezes it over the area.

"You know, I wasn't joking about
getting together for fun some time,"
says Pain's Gray. "Motor City and
Onion City are not that far apart."

"Yeah, but I don't live in Onion City,"
I explain. "I'm down in Urbanburg."

"I see," he says. "Well, that's what
teleporters are for. I know a guy --
I'm sure that Boogaloo would be happy
to hop me down to your area in exchange for
a plate of pastries. He's got a sweet tooth."

I really want a chance to explore his superpower
when we're not in the middle of a cape fight.
"It's tempting, but my headmates wouldn't like it."

"Why don't you leave that to me?" he purrs
as he cleans up a few stray scrapes.

"Good luck with that," I say,
turning to give him better access.

"My turn?" he says when he finishes.

"Did you hurt yourself?" I ask, frowning.
He hasn't said anything before this.

"I banged my right knee," says Pain's Gray.
"You can just skim the rest if you want."

Then he pulls up his pantleg
to reveal a wide, raw scrape.

"Shit," I say as I reach for it.
I cup a hand over the wound and
gently tease the pain out of it.

He sighs and relaxes.
"Oh, that's lovely."

Maybe so, but I don't know
what else to do for him -- well,
I know how to clean a scraped knee,
but not how to tell if it's something
we should be taking to the first aid booth.

Considering my gift, this is probably
not a good gap to have, but Maisie
was the balanced one. The rest
of us lost a lot in the split.

I wonder whether I can fake it,
the way Maze fakes being Maisie.
If this were a little scrape, sure,
it's not all that hard to figure out.
But it looks big, and kind of messy.


Let me through, and I'll
take care of this,
I say as
I gently coax Keane out of the way.

The scrape is wide but not deep,
so I measure it against my hand.

"This is almost 1% of your body surface,
and it covers the whole front of your knee,"
I say. "Do you want the paramedics,
or shall I just heal it for you?"

"If you're offering real healing
rather than just first aid, I will
happily owe you a favor," says Pain's Gray.

I startle at that. I know that
some of the others are looking into
favor-trading, but I just do my thing.
"You don't owe me anything," I say.

"Okay, then," says Pain's Gray.

Keane's touch is already fading, so
I spread a hand over the scrape and
block the pain. Then I coax new cells
to fill in the broad span of raw skin.
It turns pink under my touch, and
soon fades to a normal pale tone.

"All done," I say, patting the side
of his leg. I check for other injuries,
but nothing else needs more than
a quick swipe of antiseptic.

Pain's Gray packs up his kit
and then ambles back to where
he has stashed his donuts. He has
one of all five varieties in the box.

"Normally I'd eat four of these,
but I'm thinking you should take two,"
he says, offering me the batch.

I can see why; his blood sugar is low.
It's not connected to any other problem
that I can sense, so maybe it's related
to his superpower, or just how his body works.
In any case, I'm not inclined to argue.

I take the apple-stuffed beignet and
the chocolate-glazed donut. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," says Pain's Gray.
"You've been very gentle with me, and
I appreciate that. It makes me wonder
why you treat Keane so harshly."

"Because he makes a lot of extra work
for me, and I'm afraid one of these times
he'll do more damage than I can fix!" I snap.

Why does everyone take his side these days?

"I think you'll find that the chance of
serious harm is higher if you don't let him
meet his masochistic needs in a safe venue
than if you do," says Pain's Gray. "I'm
willing to help, but I'd rather not have
to fight the rest of you to do it."

"I don't want to be cleaning up
after you too," I grumble.

He gives me an utterly offended look.
"I assure you, I never leave a submissive
in want of care," he says in a frosty tone.

"Fine," I say. I'm tired and I don't
want to get into an argument. Besides,
he convinced Keane to quit kicking things
earlier, which is more than I've managed.
"If you promise to take care of the body,
then ... I'll be busy elsewhere."

He doesn't look much happier at that,
but at least he doesn't complain.

That's when Farce waddles up to us
and says, "Good job, everybody."

"Thanks," I say. "You helped a lot."

She hugs me and whispers in my ear,
"Check the baby for me?"

"Pain's Gray can see us, so
you don't have to hide who I really am,"
I whisper back. I spread my fingers
over the round ball of her belly, then smile.
"The little salamander is fine, just wound up
by all this excitement. Expect some tap-dancing
for a while, followed by an abrupt nap."

"Thanks, Clement," she says, but
she's watching Pain's Gray as she does.

"Clement and I have met," he says smoothly.
"Also Keane and Ham. We're hoping to reconnect
under quieter conditions some time."

"Awesome," says Farce. "You should
meet Heron. He cooks too, but he
doesn't bake any breadstuffs --
claims they come out as bricks."

"Boyfriend?" asks Pain's Gray.

"No," Farce says, then nibbles her lip.
"Well, sort of. It's complicated. We're
together but not fucking around."

"I'm smooth with it," he assures her.
"I have some nonstandard relationships myself."

I remember what Keane said about how
pain can be overcome only if it is embraced.
Maybe I should try to be more tolerant
of the complicated things in our life.

Farce laughs, wild and free. "We're
supervillains. Is anything about
our lives ever standard?"

"Not that I've noticed,"
I say, kissing her cheek.

* * *


Savoir Faire (Savvy) -- Renaud Cœur is a handsome Frenchman with fair skin, shoulder-length straight brown hair, and blue eyes. He is a professional dancer with a lean fit body, not very tall. His soup friends often call him Savvy.
Origin: Act of derring-do: When a theatre caught fire during a performance, Renaud leaped into action to save members of the audience, swinging on ropes and jumping over flames. The ghost of the theatre's founder then appeared to him and bestowed superpowers.
Uniform: All black, close-fitting clothes with a dapper black coat; floppy black hat with a blue, a white, and a red ostrich plume pinned on by a gold fleur-de-lys. Standard weapons are rapier, dagger, and pistol. Savvy paints his face with stylized makeup instead of wearing a mask.
Qualities: Master (+6) Dancer, Expert (+4) Jack-of-All-Trades, Good (+2) Confidence, Good (+2) Romance.
Poor (-2) Oh, Him Again (people are often dazzled by him at first, but the more they know him, the less they like him)
Powers: Good (+2) Swashbuckling, Good (+2) Wits, Average (0) Agility, Average (0) Speed.
Vulnerability: Average (0) Sacre Bleu, Can't You See I'm French?! (avid Francophone, avid countryman; but the French flag's colors are the same as America's so that confuses people, which really pisses him off)
Motivation: Rush in to save the day.

* * *

"Pain can be endured and defeated only if it is embraced. Denied or feared, it grows."
-- Dean Koontz, Velocity

Traumatic grief is a condition in which the process of mourning gets "stuck.Traumatic loss is among the complications of bereavement that often contribute to this issue.  Here is an archive of resources on coping with it.  Caregivers need to understand how traumatic grief may affect treatment needs.  Know how to deal with a loss and how to help a survivor heal.

Trauma-informed care recognizes and treats the effects that terrible experiences have on people when they interact with organizations such as legal or health care systems.  Terramagne-America has a much wider base in this awareness, and higher standards for best practices.  In this case, that includes classifying the Scream as a victim rather than a supervillain, warning the whole team of known trauma in his past, and including mental and physical caregivers on the team for his support.

B&B Capery Tape is a special tape made for use on people with superpowers. The B&B stands for Bandage and Bondage. The backing material is capery, to withstand superpowers, and the glue is designed to hold securely without damaging the skin. It is available from Brooklyn Superhero Supply.

maron’! – damnit (madonna) [maa-ROAN]
-- American Italian

Hai qualche problema? -- You have got a problem?
-- Having an Argument in Italian

mes amis -- my friends
-- "A Lesson on Describing Friends"

The staging tent is pitched in what they expect to be the warm zone. Crew in this area may wear body armor or have other means of protecting themselves. If things go well, it provides a meeting area with quick access to the combat area while managing risk. If things go badly, it is cheap and can be abandoned easily while people fall back to the command van.  See the exterior and the interior of the staging tent.

Read about the most popular donut flavors (glazed, chocolate glazed, Boston creme, chocolate with sprinkles, maple, cinnamon, jelly-filled, powdered, double chocolate, custard filled) and see a comparison of different types.  Beignets are French donuts often glazed or dusted with sugar, in this case Cinnamon Apple Beignets.  French Crullers are ragged rings of choux pastry; Pain's Gray has made French Honey CrullersBlack & White Glazed Donuts are half chocolate and half vanilla cake, popular with cops and gray capes.  Chocolate Glazed Donuts are plain yeast donuts with chocolate frosting.  Pain's Gray made the glaze with clinical-grade dark chocolate, similar to NibMore Extreme Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs.  Just in case of unknown dietary needs, he also brought Gluten-Free Cider Donuts.  Browse some tips on choosing the perfect dozen donuts.

mi abuela -- my grandmother
-- Spanish Dictionary

This is the crap that Artie finds across the street. Checkerbox Donuts is a chain that sells cheap breakfast pastries. Yes, the bottom middle one has bacon on top. Yes, the top right is coated in Crazy Sugar Crumbs. I think the top middle is supposed to be a thin blue line donut. The top left looks like chocolate. The outside ones on the bottom just have different spices. The shop only has three types of dough -- plain raised, white cake, and chocolate cake -- which are then dressed up with different toppings to make the selection seem wider. They also sell coffeecakes and moderately awful coffee.

See a site plan of Polka Dot Park in Milwaukee, Onion City, Wisconsin.  Most of the park consists of open lawn with a Y-shaped arrangement of large shade trees and several clusters of small fruit trees. Most of the activity clusters in the small strip of amenities at the top. The upper left has open pavement. Then comes a large area of pavement painted with polka dot uniquities and playground games such as shuffleboard. The small dark rectangle near the left edge of the uniquities is a showerhouse with a men's side, women's side, and family/accessible dotties in between. The triangular area in the middle holds clusters of equipment for children 2-5 and 5-12. Toward the right is a triangular pool with a fountain, and just beyond that is a cobblestone sprayground with sprinklers to play in. You step on them, and some stones will trigger a nozzle; the arrangement can be changed from a programmable kiosk. Park benches are scattered around the play areas, with picnic tables under the fruit trees. Some of the tables have boards for playing checkers or chess. The big building across the street on the left side is Lake Bounty Bank. The Legler Children's Library is above the park, sharing that paved space. The lower right has a large restaurant, then a strip mall of small restaurants, toy stores, and other things. On the bottom near the middle is a Family Services Center.

Many urban designers in T-America account for the possibility of cape fights by including large open spaces. Grassy lawns double as recreational space and paved plazas can hold assemblies, so they don't go unused, and they greatly reduce the expense of superpowered combat. Supervillains and superheroes often grativate to open areas like this because they're convenient to fight in -- and they're often right next to the kind of big targets like banks or museums that supervillains like to hit.

The command van is parked in the cold zone. It has armor to protect vulnerable crew members just in case things get more violent than anticipated; not all emergency workers are willing or able to enter the warm or hot zones, and it would be a mistake to force them. This provides a fall back option if the tent gets overrun.  See the exterior and the interior of the command van.

OSHA requires that employers provide a safe and healthful work environment, including some psychological factors. T-America requires parity between mental and physical health care, along with minimum standards for each. OSHA also offers guidelines on mental health programs at work, including wellness promotion and illness/injury prevention. Criminal law allows higher penalties for crimes against vulnerable victims, and hate crimes against mentally ill people are common. In T-America, the National Hate Crimes Office excels at tracking crimes and facilitating lawsuits, but has little direct power. OSHA has teeth, and turning to that organization to deal with a supervillain is very astute.

oobatz’ / patz’ – crazy person (un pazzo/u’ pazzu) [oo-BAATZ]
-- American Italian

Kink spans a wide range of activities.  Follow these links in order for a good introduction to the community.  Kink-shaming causes a lot of harm.  Kinky people need acceptance from self and others.
Among my favorites is "Your kink is okay; you are okay." Here are some other positive affirmations for people ashamed of their kink.

stuppiau – very dimwitted (stupido) [stoo-pee-YAOW]
-- American Italian

Shooting to wound is much scorned in local-America.  They'd rather empty dozens of bullets into a victim to make sure he's really dead.  This speaks of slovenly aim.  Martial arts training notes that while muscle injuries impede use, broken bones or joints completely disable a limb -- now that's effective stopping power.  You don't have to kill someone to make him cease bothering you.  Snipers have enough accuracy that they take only one or occasionally two bullets to kill a target; but they can also shoot to wound, so as to attract more enemies into the field of fire.  Similarly, soldiers covering civil unrest have orders to shoot to wound, not to kill.  Police argue about the pros and cons of less-than-lethal shooting of all kinds.  The plain fact is, L-American police don't value civilian lives very much.  Shooting to kill is simpler and easier than trying to ensure that everyone gets out alive.  T-America expects more and better of its police.  That requires more training, and thus more funding for practice ammunition, but they get what they pay for: fewer dead civilians.

The major blood vessels run along the inside of the legs. This way, the long bones protect them from blows coming from the outside. However, part of the deep femoral vein wraps around the outside of the femur, and its smaller branches retrieve blood from the outward part of the thigh. This leaves it vulnerable to penetrating injuries from the outer edge. While such wounds are rarely life-threatening, the victim can lose a significant amount of blood if not treated. Wounds to the inner thigh are much more serious and can kill.

mook -- originally an Italian-American male, later a synonym for thug.

A counselor can provide an emotional checkup.  Useful tools include a worksheet to name emotions and this mental-physical-emotional set.  It's possible to automate this process with Google forms.  Here is a brief mental health checkup for adults.

Gatorskin is a product from Jackson & Jason designed to protect broken skin against further friction. It is a moss green gel, usually dispensed from a syringe, which quickly dries to a tough leathery texture. It's good for treating all kinds of scrapes and blisters, but many people don't like it due to the garish color when contrasted with the near-transparent or skin-tone options of other less-durable liquid skin products. The company markets it with a cartoon alligator called Skater Gator who is always getting into accidents.

Abrasions are minor injuries that scrape away the surface layer of skin.  First aid involves cleaning them, applying first aid cream, and if the scrape is messy or in a high-use area then it needs a bandage.  Generally you want to start considering medical care if an abrasion is larger than your hand or covers a sensitive area like your face. Scrapes over a significant portion of a joint may also raise concern.  To judge severity of abrasions based on size and location, borrow the diagnostics from burns.

[To be continued ...]
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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