Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Desperate Measures"

This poem is spillover from the January 2, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] siliconshaman and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "against all odds" square in my 1-3-18 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest, and the "phobias" square in my 4-3-17 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and immediately follows the poem "Bitter Ice," so read that one first or this will make no sense.

Warning: This poem contains some intense material. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes temporal displacement, references to World War I, fatalities, secret societies, minor medical details, a female-bodied person presenting as male among the crew of a German U-boat, extreme stress and confusion, jerry-rigging a super-weapon into a suspended animation device, panic, phobia of death, traumatic stress, self-recrimination, references to historic discrimination and questionable attitudes, difficult conversations, suicide of several crew members during World War I, rebellion, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Desperate Measures"

Dr. Eabha Doran looked around the ward room,
where her team of nurses had diligently removed
as much of the equipment as possible to limit
the chance of overwhelming her patients.

Isolde O'Breen had pulled a total of
twenty-two sailors out of the ice.

One of them had been dead on arrival,
and a few more in questionable condition,
but against all odds, most of the survivors
seemed surprisingly well for men who
had spent almost a century on ice.

Well, twenty men and one woman.
That had been a surprise.

The engineer was both
fragile in health and one of
the more lively survivors,
having been thawed out
on the U-boat instead
of on the Yemaya.

"Doctor, the sailors are
starting to come around,"
Nurse Jey reported.

They had been stirring and
mumbling for a while -- enough
to reveal that a surprising number
of them spoke English, probably
responding to hearing the nurses.

One of them not only didn't seem
to speak it, but became violent
on hearing it; he had to be
moved to a single room.

Dr. Doran really didn't like that,
preferring to keep the crew together
after their ordeal, but there was no choice.

Hopefully the others would fare better.

She moved to the engineer, who had
been among the most determined
to claw his way to consciousness;
he'd been drifting in and out already.

Oskar Esser, his nametag read,
although some of the others
had faded into illegibility.

When his eyes fluttered open,
Dr. Doran said, "You're safe here.
You and your crew are on board
the hospital ship Yemaya."

"Woman," he said. "Redhead."

"Yes, I'm Dr. Eabha Doran, and
I've been taking care of you," she said.

A tiny headshake. "Before ... woman."

"Oh! You mean Isolde O'Breen,"
said Dr. Doran. "She and her people
pulled you out of the ice. She's fine too,
just sleeping off a bad case of overstrain."

"Thank," the engineer whispered.

"I'll pass along your thanks,"
Dr. Doran assured him.

"Crew," Oskar said.
"How many ... alive?"

"The rescue crew removed
a total of twenty-two people
from the ice," Dr. Doran said.
"One of those was already dead.
The rest of them are still alive,
some in better shape than others.
The crew outside of the ice ...
I'm sorry for your losses."

"Their idea," Oskar said. "Mine ..."
A smile flickered. "Better."

"Yours was very impressive,"
Dr. Doran said. "Can you explain
how you did that? It might help me
take better care of the survivors."

"Trapped, doomed," Oskar said.
"Desperate measures. Eislanze.
Ice ... weapon? Yes. I changed
focus." He cupped his hand.
"We were held. Safe."

"Thank you, that does help,"
Dr. Doran said, patting his hand.
"Can you tell me more about how
it works, so I know what to look for?"

"Cold crystal, makes Übereis ...
special ice," Oskar said, his hands
mimicking the shape. "They called it
Ymir's staff. Don't know if it's true."

"We'll do what we can to identify it,
then, and that may tell me more about
what you need," Dr. Doran said.

Now she would have to run through
the protocols for deweaponized devices.
Sometimes those things could still
have weaponlike side effects.

She knew that the Nazis had gone
looking for esoteric artifacts, back in
World War II, so if Germany's interest
ran earlier too, then they might have
turned up something genuinely powerful.

Oskar staring over her shoulder
and suddenly stiffened. "How ..."

"It's okay," Dr. Doran said. "Whatever
is bothering you, it's not a threat, Oskar.
I promise. Things may look unfamiliar,
but we will take good care of you."

He looked half lost and half excited.
"How long?" he said. "Woman doctor.
Square lights. Quiet ship." He twitched
his wrist, moving the bracelet on it. "This."

"This is called plastic," Dr. Doran said,
touching the bracelet. "It tells us
which of the survivors you are."

"How long," Oskar insisted.
"Eislanze ... I made it to preserve.
To wait for rescue, as long as needful."

"A long time," Dr. Doran said gently.
"Your plan worked, though; it kept you
and your crewmates alive until help came.

"Can you tell me --" Oskar began.

"Please, let's wait until your crewmates
are awake too," Dr. Doran said. "Then we
can tell you all at once. We think it will be
better if you have each other for support."

Oskar nodded, slumping back onto
the hospital bed, but his fingers found
the bracelet, turning it. "Years."

"Yes, you've been asleep for
some years," Dr. Doran said.
"Try not to worry too much.
You're going to be all right."

She hadn't counted on anyone
making such a leap of logic so fast,
but then again, if they had a super-gizmo
on board the U-boat, it stood to reason
that they'd have someone capable of
maintaining it -- and that meant either
a Super-Intellect or a Super-Gizmologist.

"Doctor?" said Nurse Jey. "We need you
over here, if you can possibly come.
Another patient is very agitated."

"Go," Oskar said, weakly pushing her
away from him. "Take care ... crew."

"All right," said Dr. Doran. "I'll be
right over there if you need me.
Here, if you need any help, then
just squeeze this thing." She
showed him the call button.

"Understood," Oskar said,
shooing Dr. Doran away again.

She hurried toward Nurse Jey.

"Gregor Baasch, First Watch Officer,"
said Nurse Jey, waving a hand at
the man in the bed, who was clearly
trying not to hyperventilate. "He speaks
English, but everything I say just seems
to make him feel even worse."

She sat down on a rolling stool
to put herself on a level with patient.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Doran," she said.
"I'm a healer as well as a doctor,
which means I can help your body in
more direct ways than you're used to.
May I lower that fear you're feeling?"

Gregor hesitated, then gave
a shaky nod. "Yes. Please."

"I need to touch you briefly.
It won't hurt," Dr. Doran explained.

She touched first his hand, then
his shoulder, then the side of his neck.
That gave him a few seconds to adjust
to the contact before she slipped under
to cup the back of his neck in her palm.

"What I'm doing is telling your brain and
your body that it's safe here, and you don't
need to be in panic mode," Dr. Doran said.

She shut off the flow of adrenaline and
other stress chemicals, gently nudging
his body to flush them out faster, then
soothed heartbeat and respiration
back toward the resting range.

Gregor went limp under her hands.
"Better ... thank you," he said.

"You're welcome," said Dr. Doran.
"Can you tell me what upset you so much?"

"Waking up," Gregor said, closing his eyes.
"I expected to die. Not afraid, then."

"You chose to try Oskar's plan,
even though you weren't sure that
it would work," Dr. Doran said.
"That was very brave of you.
And now that it has worked ...?"

"I survived ... the thought of
death terrifies me," Gregor said.
He shrank into himself. "Coward."

"You survived a stressful ordeal,
so of course that scares you,"
Dr. Doran said. "It doesn't
make you a coward; it just
makes you human."

He gave a bitter laugh.
"You mean Kriegsneurose."

"It's much too early for
that diagnosis," she said.
"After an upsetting experience,
most people feel distressed for days,
but then they recover. If you don't
feel any better after a month or so,
then you might have a lasting problem."

"And the fear of death?" he whispered.
"It haunts me ... I won't sleep."

"Perfectly natural after someone
almost dies," Dr. Doran assured him.
"We have people who can help you
with that, too -- Emotional First Aides,
counselors, we can even find you
a mindhealer if you need one."

"This peace," Gregor said,
waving two fingers at himself,
"how long will it last?"

"A few minutes if you try
to pick it loose, longer if you
leave it alone," Dr. Doran said.
"If you want to work with it, then
Nurse Jey can teach you some things
to make the relaxation last longer."

"Don't overextend yourself, Doctor,"
Nurse Jey murmured. "I know that
these men need your help, but you are
the only healer we have on board,
and my Luck goes just so far."

"I'm being careful," Dr. Doran said,
then explained to Gregor, "What I do
takes energy. With so many patients
needing care, I have to ration it."

Gregor promptly pushed her away.
"My men," he said, voice firm
even under the rasp note of
disuse and shaky health.

Dr. Doran chuckled. "You know,
your engineer just did the same thing?
He'll be all right too," she said. "I'll go
walk around the room and check on
the rest of your crewmates."

Behind her she could hear
Nurse Jey talking Gregor through
the first exercise. "Take a deep breath,
in through your nose, down into your belly,
then blow it out your mouth, slow. Feel
your body let go the tension with the air."

Dr. Doran strolled through the ward room,
checking on each patient briefly before
moving on to the next in the row.

One man with light brown skin and
curly black hair was trying to soothe
a younger, slightly paler fellow who had
a triangular face with an anxious look.

"Push their beds closer, and let them
help each other," Dr. Doran said
to the nearest pair of nurses,
and they hurried to obey.

There was a sweaty redhead --
the only one in the crew --
who needed clean sheets.

Dr. Doran hadn't gotten very far
when another man managed
to fall out of his bed onto the floor.

"Are you all right?" she exclaimed
as she helped him to sit up. This was
one of the men whose nametag they
couldn't make out. "Who are you?"

"Hunfried Sachs, Funkmaat,"
he said, wobbling in her grasp.
"Fine. I need to check ..."

"Oh, are you their medic?"
Dr. Doran said. "It's okay. You're
all on the hospital ship Yemaya.
You don't need to worry about
your crewmates. I'm a doctor;
my nurses and I will take care of
all the survivors from your ship."

"Survivors," Hunfried echoed,
looking around. "How many?"

"Twenty-one," said Dr. Doran.
"We pulled twenty-two out of the ice,
but one was already dead. I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault," Hunfried said.
"Oskar told us this was risky. It was
still better than certain death."

"Yes, it was," Dr. Doran said.
"He saved a lot of lives with it."

Hunfried looked at her.
"You are truly a doctor,
and not just a nurse?"

"I am a doctor," she said.
"There are still more men
than women in the field, but
it's getting more balanced."

"Good," Hunfried said. "I know
a nurse -- her name is Marie --
who wants to become a doctor.
There are so few women doctors.
She would be good at it, but it's
so hard; schools don't want girls."

"You've been asleep for some time,"
Dr. Doran said. "Things are changing."

"Good," Hunfried said again. Then
he sighed. "Help me back into bed?
I think I am in no shape for rounds."

"Of course," Dr. Doran said, taking
most of his weight as he stood up
just long enough to reach the bed.
"You should get better soon. Then
you can help us with your crewmates.
They'll appreciate a familiar face."

"I wish I could help now, though,"
Hunfried said as he lay down. "I
feel like I'm disappointing them."

Dr. Doran thought about that,
then said, "You're a radioman,
right? Good with technology?"

"I'm no Oskar, but yes, I know
my gear," Hunfried replied.

"I have an idea," Dr. Doran said.
She fetched one of new call pads.
"Here, this model has two buttons.
If you need help for yourself, push
the left one; for a crewmate, the right."

Hunfried smiled as he brushed
his fingertips over the buttons.
"Thank you," he said. "It helps."

Fussing from the next bed
attracted their attention --
the occupant was trying
to push away a nurse.

"That Kasper," Hunfried said,
shaking his head. "He is a devil
on the table. No matter how I say
that I will not hurt him, he fights me.
I wish you luck dealing with him."

"Well, there are reasons why people
act that way," Dr. Doran said. "Some of
them have been hurt by doctors before,
some prefer to care for themselves,
others are very modest, and so on."

Most likely, it was because Kasper
had a female body under the uniform,
but Dr. Doran wasn't about to say that.

"I have wondered," Hunfried said.
"He will be difficult in any case."

"I'd better get over there before
anyone gets hurt," Dr. Doran said.
She patted Hunfried's shoulder
and hurried to the next bed.

Dr. Doran shooed away the nurse
currently wrestling with Kasper and
called for Nurse Jey instead.

"Close the curtains, please,"
she said. "Kasper and I could
use a little more privacy."

Kasper was clutching
the blankets desperately.
"You don't touch me!"

"I won't touch you without
your consent," Dr. Doran said.

The curtains closed around them,
and she put her finger to her lips.

"What do you want?" Kasper said.

Dr. Doran leaned down to whisper,
"Nobody but me and a few of the nurses
knows about the shape of your body.
We will not tell anyone else about it
unless you want them to know."

"The men ... don't know?"
Kasper said, looking at
the closed curtains.

"They have not learned it
from us," Dr. Doran said.
"I have no idea if any of
them may have known or
suspected it before we met."

"Then I'm safe," Kasper said,
slumping in the narrow bed.

"You are safe," Dr. Doran said.
"This is the hospital ship Yemaya.
We're taking care of you and
your crewmates. If you want
to continue living as a man,
that's perfectly acceptable."

Kasper nodded. "Ja, bitte."
Then he added, "Yes, please."

Dr. Doran had noticed that
some of the survivors spoke
much better English than others --
so far Hunfried was the best -- and
they were improving with time, too,
as they revived more fully.

"Of course," she said. Then
she showed Kasper the call pad.
"If you need a change of clothes,
or intimate care, push this button
and ask for me or Nurse Jey. We
already know about your body, and
we will protect your privacy."

"Thank you," Kasper said.

"What were you and the nurse
arguing about earlier?" Dr. Doran said.

"I wet my shirt, drinking," Kasper muttered,
plucking at the thin cotton hospital gown.

"Do you want a fresh one?" Dr. Doran said.

"No, it will dry soon enough," Kasper said.
He pulled the blanket higher again.

"That's fine," Dr. Doran said. "If you
change your mind, just call me."

She slipped through the curtains
and moved on down the row
of the hospital beds.

Nurse Thompson was
hovering over a man who
had not yet begun to wake up.

"How is he doing?" Dr. Doran said
as she looked at the patient's chart.

"Still guarded," Nurse Thompson said,
his dark hands smoothing the white sheet.
"His condition has stabilized for now, but
he's not waking up like the others."

Wilmer Landau, the chart read.
He had no injuries, and unlike
the belligerent patient, he had not
been drinking. Yet he lay pale
and still in the hospital bed.

Waking him up by force, whether
medicinal or superpowered, would
likely do more harm than good.

Dr. Doran looked around
the ward room. Everyone else
seemed to be increasingly alert,
and the noise level was rising as
other patients asked questions.

They were running out of time
to get ahead of the confusion
with a collective announcement.

"What do you think?" she said.
"You have been monitoring
his progress for some time now."

"Go on without him," the nurse said,
shaking his head. "I know you wanted
to tell them all together, but Wilmer here
shows no sign of waking up soon."

Dr. Doran nodded, then walked
to the front of the ward room.
She clapped her hands softly.

"Gentlemen, may I have your attention,"
she said. "You have gotten some news
from your nurses, but I would like to make
the important announcements to all of you
at the same time. Please try to hold
your questions so that I can get through
as much of the material as possible."

That sparked a murmur of conversation, but
at a sharp word from their First Watch Officer,
all of the agitated sailors fell silent again.

"Thank you, Mr. Baasch," said Dr. Doran.
"I'd like to welcome everyone here to
the hospital ship Yemaya. My name is
Eabha Doran; I am a doctor and a healer.
We are currently moored in Pendulum Cove
within Deception Island in Bransfield Strait,
not far from the Antarctic Peninsula."

"Deception Island?!" Kasper exclaimed.
"You mean you brought us home?
Back to the home base?"

"Our organization does indeed
maintain a small base here, and
there have been various others
before us," Dr. Doran said. "If you
can furnish the coordinates of yours,
then that will help us identify it."

"That's classified," the men chorused.

At least Kasper had provided confirmation
that the U-boat pen had been located
somewhere on Deception Island.

"Not my concern, then," Dr. Doran said,
waving a hand. "I'm responsible for
your medical care, that's all. We will
do the best we can for you. I'm pleased
to report that, of the twenty-two crewmen
rescued from the ice in your ship, all but one
are alive. I'm sorry to say Ruprecht Abeln
was pronounced dead on arrival."

Oskar was visibly upset by that,
and probably blamed himself
for the death. He would need
emotional first aid -- they all would.

"We'll post a complete list of survivors
and fatalities as soon as we have it,"
Dr. Doran said. "Meanwhile, we regret
to report Captain Deitz Kneller dead by
his own hand. I believe that leaves
First Watch Officer Gregor Baasch
in command of the remaining crew."

"Yes, ma'am," he confirmed.

"As you can see, we have tried
to keep everyone together as much
as possible," Dr. Doran said. "However,
Fritz Emmelmann had to be moved to
a single room for safety. We will be
transferring Wilmer Landau soon,
since he hasn't woken up yet."

"Will he wake up?" asked Hunfried.

"We hope so," Dr. Doran said.
"Most of the rest are recovering
as well as can be expected, or better,
after your removal from the ice. We can
thank Leading Engineer Oskar Esser for
that technological miracle. Please try
to be gentle with him, as he had to be
thawed on your ship, which has left him
a little more delicate than other survivors."

Sympathetic whispers rustled through
the ward room, and she gave the men
a minute to express their thanks to Oskar.

"You knew going into the ice that rescue
could take a while to reach you," said Dr. Doran.
"While you were sleeping, the Great War ended.
Germany lost. I'm sorry for your disappointment."

The response this time was more mixed, and
not nearly as negative as she had expected.
Evidently not all of them supported Germany
wholeheartedly. That might make this easier.

"That brings us to the most momentous news,"
Dr. Doran said. "As best we can tell, you went
into the ice during the exceptional winter of
1917-1918. Today is November 20, 2014.
You've been asleep for almost a century.
That means most of what you knew is gone.
My condolences on your losses. We have
people to help you adjust to this, including
a specialist whom we hope will arrive soon."

The room burst into chaos, of course,
but this time she had expected that.

After a minute to let the worst of
the noise pass, she said, "Please turn
to your nurses for comfort or questions
about minor details. We can't answer
specific questions about your families yet,
but we are searching for living kin and will
let you know as we find any. I will try
to catch the major issues myself."

Hunfried promptly put his hand up.

Dr. Doran went over to him.
"Let me guess, you have
a medical question for me."

"You mentioned a specialist,"
Hunfried said. "What kind?"

"She is a doctor, a healer, and
an expert in temporal issues,"
Dr. Doran said. "We think she can
clear up any lingering complications
from the ice, and help you to adjust
to jumping over a century. She's
also ... unique, and we hope that
you will treat her with respect."

"Ma'am, any lady strong enough
to become a doctor already has
my complete respect," Hunfried said.

Dr. Doran smiled at him, warmed by
the confirmation that even though history
had been intolerant at times, some people
in each of those times disagreed with it.

"Thank you," she said. "I'm counting
on you to set a good example for
your crewmates in this regard. I'll
write you a report to summarize
the experts we want to bring in."

By then, Gregor had his hand up
as well, so Dr. Doran went to him.
"What do you need?" she asked.

"Who are you people, really?"
he said, sounding urgent.

"Well, that depends," she said
with caution. "You were rescued
by a ship from Euryale Excursions.
You are currently recuperating on
one from Anahita Hospital Ships."

Though widespread, Kraken itself
was secretive, and preferred to operate
though an array of subsidiary corporations.

"Euryale. Anahita. We are moored in
Deception Island," Gregor said tightly.
"My ship is officially the ÜS-3, short for
Überschaft Drei, but we call her Skadi."

"The lost cousins," Dr. Doran whispered
through numb lips. "You're the lost cousins."

"What do you mean by that?" Gregor said.

"Our unifying organization is Kraken. If anyone
has a right to know that, it's you," said Dr. Doran.
"On August 14, 1918, the German U-boat UB-57 or
Njörun and the U.S. submarine R-7 or Apotamkin
clashed off the coast of Normandy, in a massive battle
of which they were the only survivors. They beached
in a smuggling cove among the Chausey Islands,
where they made peace and founded Kraken."

"Survivors?" Gregor said. "I have ... had ...
a few friends on board the Njörun."

"Both ships sustained casualties. I can
get you a list," Dr. Doran said. "Understand
that public records for the losses of both vessels
have been falsified for security reasons, so don't
rely on anything you find outside our sources."

"We were rebels, some of us. One of
many reasons a man might get assigned
to a U-boat," Gregor said, his mouth twisting.
"A short lifespan, you understand. We knew of
other crews who did not ... sympathize fully
with the war effort. But what could we do?
We tried to get by, tried to find others."
He shrugged. "It does not matter now."

"It does matter," Dr. Doran insisted.
"Now I realize why so many of you
speak English as well as German.
You've been part of our organization
from the very beginning, so you'll get
to see how it has unfolded since."

"And we see why your people are
the same, with both languages,"
Gregor said with a nod. "I had
wondered about that. It is unusual."

"We encourage people to learn
multiple languages so they can talk
with others from different backgrounds,"
Dr. Doran said. "In honor of our roots,
the two most common are English and
German, but Esperanto has a following
and so do the other nautical languages
such as Dutch, Italian, and Spanish."

Gregor chuckled. "Hunfried will be
delighted," he said. "He is always
writing letters to Herr Zamenhof."

"Wow," Dr. Doran breathed. "Oh wow.
I speak Esperanto too. This is amazing!"

If she was this excited over getting to meet
people of living history, the actual historians
would be over the moon at the opportunity.

"It is good to hear that some things
have continued," Gregor said. "When
the war got bad, we wondered ..."

"Yes, Germany survived, and so did
Esperanto. Your movement has grown into
something quite interesting," Dr. Doran said.
"We knew that there were other sympathizers,
but not all of that information got recorded. We
do have the story of the lost cousins, who were
stationed around Antarctica but dropped out of
contact abruptly. Your ship was considered lost.
It's not even listed in the public records."

Gregor shook his head. "None of the
Überschaft would have been," he said.
"They were very secret. I know of two others
before ours, but not if any came after us."

"You're here now," Dr. Doran said.
"That's what matters the most."

Gregor looked around the ward room
at the remnants of his crew,
battered but still alive.

"Yes," he said. "It is."

* * *


The notes for this poem appear separately.  Read the character notes, location notes, and content notes.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, history, nature, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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