Warning: This poem contains disturbing topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the aftermath of armed conflict, torture, disruption of a vacation-life, gore, extreme soul injuries from leaning over a torture victim when he manifested as a saint, communication challenges, ethnic and religious conflicts, emotional distress, vomiting, leaving a well-liked organization due to irreconcilable differences, and other mayhem. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether you want to read it. This is not closely connected with ongoing storylines.
"A Time of Tension and Trouble"
Saul Omar led his small unit
through the smouldering ruins
of the secret Zadran base.
When they reached
the torture chamber,
though, the latest victim
was already sitting up on
the table and two men
were on the floor.
Saul looked closer.
He didn't recognize
the victim, but the old man
lying either dead or unconscious
was Barialay Durrani, the local warlord.
The younger soldier rocking in a corner
had the same look, possibly a relative
and probably the assigned torturer.
The victim had serious burns on his hands,
doubtless from the long, smoking grill meant for
making shish kebabs. Blood streamed down
his face from the assorted head wounds,
but he wasn't screaming or crying.
He looked ... miffed.
The expression was
so utterly out of context
that Saul asked, "What is
going on here?" instead of,
"How badly are you hurt?"
Neither Arabic nor English
got a reply, but the man
muttered something in
what might be Pashto.
Saul waved to Fleetwood,
their combat medic, who
came from the borderland
between India and Pakistan.
Fleetwood spoke to the victim,
then spread his hands and said,
"He claims he wasn't notified that
his vacation was at an end, and when
this lifetime's over he's filing a complaint."
Saul blinked. "O ... kay," he said slowly.
"Do what you can for his injuries, and
try to find out what happened in here.
I'll check on his presumed attackers."
Barialay turned out to be alive
but largely unresponsive.
The younger soldier did not
seem injured -- the blood on
his hands was not his own --
but he cringed and whimpered
and huddled in the corner, so
Saul stopped pressing him.
Cornering people could be
dangerous, especially if they
turned out to have superpowers.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood had cleaned up
the victim and wrapped the injuries.
"He seems stable, physically, but I'm
not sure about mentally," the medic said.
"His name is Azizullah Niazai. He says that
Barialay and Toryal Durrani were questioning
him about people in his village, and after
he refused to answer, that's when they
started torturing him. And then, um ...
God called him back to service early?"
Saul's eyebrows went up.
Azizullah shook his head sharply,
then winced and put a hand to
his forehead, and winced again.
He said something in Pashto.
"He follows God, not a religion,"
Fleetwood said, sounding
increasingly shaken. "He
thinks divisions are ludicrous,
because God is beyond
"Well, he's not all wrong,"
Saul admitted. He himself
was Muslim, but he didn't
think that made him able
to understand Allah.
"Anyway, Azizullah reports
that those men were leaning over
him when he ... 'went off ' ... he
makes it sound like lighting
a weapon," Fleetwood said.
"And it ruined his vacation."
Azizullah waved his hands as if
miming an explosion, or possibly an aura.
Looking at the hapless Zadrans, Saul
thought the two possibilities might
not be dissimilar in their effects.
Clearly, looming over a torture victim
when he gained a high-voltage connection
to Allah was hazardous to one's health.
"Tell him I'm sorry about his vacation,
but happy for his help incapacitating
those men," Saul said. "The longing
to get away from it all is great as in
a time of tension and trouble. We want
something to lift us out of the mess into
which much of life seems to have fallen."
Fleetwood translated that, and
Azizullah gave them a wry smile.
Saul ordered some of the other men
to collect the two Zadrans and see if
anything could be done for them,
since prisoners were entitled
to medical attention.
He wasn't hopeful of
their outcome, though.
Azizullah was able to walk
with his arms draped over
the shoulders of two men.
A dusty breeze riffled past
Saul as Fleetwood exited
the base at Super-Speed.
When Saul caught up to him,
Fleetwood was draped over
a broken wall, throwing up.
"Hey, it's okay," Saul said,
patting him on the shoulder.
"You're still new at this.
You'll get better."
"I don't want to,"
"This is NOT what
I signed up for!"
"What did you think
you were signing up for?"
Saul asked gently.
"I thought -- I thought,
you know, accidents, or
maybe people fighting,"
"Not -- not torture."
"Torture is hard for
everyone to deal with,"
Saul said with a nod.
"I don't think I want
to do this anymore,"
Fleetwood said miserably.
"I know that I owe you for
saving me, but -- it's awful."
"We owed you for saving one
of our men, and getting you out of
that village was a good way to pay
the debt," Saul corrected. "Don't worry
about that part. Now, do you mean
'this' as in visiting Afghanistan, or
as in emergency medicine?"
Fleetwood wiped his face
with the back of his forearm,
smearing dust and tears.
Saul dug into his backpack
for a wet wipe, and then
handed it to Fleetwood.
"I guess ... I want out
of the organization,"
Fleetwood said. "I
just hope you don't
shoot me for that."
"Definitely not," Saul said.
"Do you have any idea what
you might like to do instead?
We can help set you up."
"Really?" Fleetwood said.
"Yes, really," said Saul. "We
learn things about ourselves
in a time of tension and trouble.
Not everyone is cut out to be
a supervillain, and forcing people
is dangerous. We'll help you
find some other work."
"I do like emergency medicine,
and I like the wilderness,"
"Then we'll ask around
for jobs that combine those,"
Saul said. "You have Super-Speed
and paramedic training. I'm sure that
someone will be thrilled to have you."
Fleetwood gave him a watery smile.
"Thanks," he said. "I guess you
saved me again. Funny world,
isn't it, when supervillains do that?"
"Well, sometimes," Saul said,
thinking of how Kraken had pulled
him out of Palestine, "it takes
a black hat to save the day."
* * *
Saul Omar -- He has light brown skin, sherry-brown eyes, and ginger hair with blond roots although his facial and body hair is darker brown. His heritage includes Israeli, Palestinian, Arabic, and American. He speaks Arabic, English, and Hebrew. He is Sunni Muslim. Saul favors gizmotronic or super-gizmotronic weapons; his favorite is a freeze ray. He likes musical games such as Moosiqar.
Origin: When his superpower manifested at puberty, that made him a target in Palestine. Kraken won him over simply by offering to get him out of the country, which is one of the bottom-ten for soups.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spy, Expert (+4) Hand-to-Hand Combat, Good (+2) Gizmology, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Musical Games, Good (+2) Palestinian Folk Music, Good (+2) Politics, Good (+2) Teacher
Poor (-2) Born in a Bottom-Ten Country
Powers: Good (+2) Shapeshifting
Motivation: To make the world safer for soups -- by any means necessary.
Azizullah Niazai -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair with a beard and mustache. Burn scars cover both hands from torture. He has smaller scars on his head and face from beatings, and a long curved one just above his collar bones where someone tried to slit his throat earlier. He speaks primarily Pashto with a little English and Punjabi. His father is Muslim, his mother Christian, and Azizullah thinks that drawing distinctions about God is ridiculous.
Origin: While being tortured by Afghani warlords, Azizullah manifested as a saint.
Uniform: Afghani men's clothes, usually a shirt over loose trousers.
Qualities: Master (+6) Nondenominational Faith, Expert (+4) Existential Intelligence, Expert (+4) Constitution, Good (+2) Shepherd, Good (+2) Tabla Player, Good (+2) Trustworthy
Powers: Good (+2) Saint
Motivation: To serve God.
Barialay Durrani -- He has caramel skin, brown eyes, and black hair with a bushy gray beard and mustache. He is a warlord of the Zadran tribe in eastern Afghanistan. Although powerful in local society, he is better at tactics than at strategy and sometimes he picks on the wrong people. Ordering the torture of Azizullah Niazai has done considerable damage to Barialay when Azizullah manifested as a saint.
Qualities: Master (+6) Zadran Warlord, Expert (+4) Intimidation, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Tactics
Poor (-2) Victim Selection
Toryal Durrani -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair with a bushy beard and mustache. As the nephew of the Zadran warlord Barialay Durrani, Toryal enjoys a place of honor in the warband. However, his loyalty to his uncle sometimes gets him in trouble, and Toryal is not good at assessing the risks. Torturing of Azizullah Niazai has done considerable damage to Barialay when Azizullah manifested as a saint.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dutiful, Good (+2) Passionate, Good (+2) Swordsman
Poor (-2) Risk Assessment
Fleetwood (Sayeshan Datta) -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He speaks English, Hindu, Pashto, and Punjabi. Kraken rescued him from a poor village near the border of India and Pakistan, after he provided first aid to one of their members. They set him up for school and paramedic training. However, Fleetwood realized that combat medicine is not for him, and left the organization in search of other opportunities as a paramedic.
Origin: Uncertain, but contamination from munitions is suspected. The whole area along the border between India and Pakistan has been fought over so much that it's a mess.
Uniform: On duty, a paramedic uniform. Off duty, casual men's wear.
Qualities: Good (+2) Compassion, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Paramedic, Good (+2) Rock Guitarist, Good (+2) Wilderness Skills
Poor (-2) Combat Medic
Powers: Average (0) Super-Speed
Motivation: To help others.
* * *
"The longing to get away from it all never was so great as in our present time of tension and trouble. We want something to lift us out of the mess into which much of life seems to have fallen."
-- Glenn Stewart
This map of Asia shows Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
A shish kebab grill is long and narrow.
(These links are heinous.)
Torture is the deliberate infliction of suffering, whether for information or just gratification. There are ways to resist it. This can have lasting health effects. Rehabilitation offers challenges for clinicians. Sometimes energy work helps, such as qigong or t'ai chi. Caregivers can help survivors of torture, and there are self-care steps for survivors too.
(So are these.)
Torture can also do terrible damage to the torturer. Moral injury is most often considered a military issue, but can occur in civilian life also. There are ways to cope with and treat moral injury.
Not all martyrs are saints, and not all saints are martyrs, but the overlap is very high. Torture is a common way of becoming a saint.
(These are intense.)
Traumatic stress can lead to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or prolonged duress stress disorder. There are ways to cope with traumatic stress or live with someone who has it.
These signs suggest that you are in the wrong career. Know what to do if that happens, and how to recover from it.