Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Conscious of the Injustice"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "surrender" square in my 1-31-18 card for the Valentines Bingo Fest. It has been sponsored by EdorFaus. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. In most regards, Terramagne fares better than here -- but when it goes badly, superpowers can make matters a great deal worse. This is one of those worse examples: the Willie Lynch letter is a set of instructions for reverse-engineered mindrape left by a rogue telepath, to mimic the actual hackwork he did on his own enslaved victims. The poem involves a teen runaway, gang involvement, family problems, racial issues, reference to past rape begetting one of the characters, mental damage from long-past telepathic tampering, psychological scar tissue to the point of contractures, trauma handed down from slavery days, repugnant historic documents, asking for help and getting it, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Conscious of the Injustice"

"Hey boss, got someone
for you to see," Shiv said.
"This here's Liberty Smith,
found her at the bus station."

Boss White looked up.

The scrawny girl half-hiding
behind Shiv had toffee skin and
a mop of curly black hair cut
just above her shoulders.

She wasn't dressed well for
Omaha's raw spring weather,
with a tank top under a hoodie
that was too big for her and
falling off her narrow frame.

"Liberty, this is Boss White,"
said Shiv. "He runs Omaha, so
put on your company manners."

"Hi," said Liberty. "I'm looking
for a place. Shiv said that
you're taking people."

The Ebonies & Ivories
were always taking people,
in a way, which kept up numbers
as people got arrested, or killed,
or just plain outgrew gang life.

Boss White liked to put some of
his people at the bus station and
other places where runaways would
wash up if they didn't make a beeline for
the city shelters and other official refuges.

It was better to catch them quick,
before they got into worse trouble.

"Welcome to my city," Boss White said
to Liberty. "How'd you get here?"

"Hitched a ride across the Missouri on
a houseboat," she said. "Then I caught
another up Heartland of America Lake.
I got on a bus at the Gene Leahy Mall --
that neighborhood's too nice for me,
I needed somewhere more familiar."

"Well, you found it," Boss White said.
"Now that you have, what can you do?"

"I can wash dishes and mop floors,"
said Liberty. "Cook if you're not too picky.
Run errands, pick pockets, keep a lookout, or
whatever. No whoring, and no dirty dancing."
She jerked her sharp chin at Shiv. "He told me
that you don't hold with those things here."

"He told you right," Boss White said.
"There's plenty other places around town
where girls can find that kind of work if they
want it. Blues Moon is a family-friendly club."

He let his superpower uncurl just enough
to get a taste of the girl, what she was
pouring out into the open air.

He found fear and frustration,
defiance and grit. She was tired
of something, too, but Boss White
couldn't tell what without digging.

"Girl your age got any particular reason
to run away from home?" he asked.

She wasn't showing any bruises,
but then, some troubles didn't leave any.

Liberty rolled her eyes. "My mama tells me
to work hard and 'smile at de white folks' --
but if she says that one more time,
I'm going to bust her face!"

"You don't get along with
your mother?" said Boss White.

"She's not a bad person, but
just look at her!" Liberty said.
"She still works at the same hotel
where she got raped by a guest,
and that's how she got me."

"That does not sound good,"
Boss White said, keeping an eye
on Shiv in case this conversation
went past what he'd put up with.

Shiv just snorted and said,
"You're not the only one with
shitty parents. Oughta fit right in."

"I been reading down at the library,
black history and all that jazz," Liberty said.
"I like swimming, and going to the parks where
I can get a ride on somebody's boat if I clean it
for him. I catch concerts when I can. I want
something more out of life than Mama does!"

Boss White raised his eyebrows at
the hint of music curling through her.
"You like concerts. You play?"

"Jugs," said Liberty. "I haven't
had lessons, but I can do like
jazz and blues and hip-hop."

"We don't have a jug player
right now," Boss White mused.

"What's it sound like?"
Shiv asked, turning to
Liberty. "I play sax."

"There's a buzzy way, like
a trombone, if you blow with
your lips closed," said Liberty.
"Open them, and it's like a flute
or a shorter hoot-hop sound."

"All's I can play is a drone so far,
at least that's worth putting on stage,"
Shiv said. "So you're ahead of me."

"Yeah well, practicing music is better than
kissing ass for some cracker," Liberty said.

Boss White cleared his throat sharply.
"While I understand the temptation,
racism is not something we practice
here," he said. "Polite terms include
Caucasian or white person."

There was something odd
about this girl, odd and yet
almost ... familiar. Boss White
couldn't quite pin it down, though.
That attitude sure clashed with
the classy side of her, for one thing.

Liberty looked at Shiv. "He serious?"

"Oh yeah," Shiv said with a smirk.
"Run your mouth the wrong way
and you'll be mopping all right!"

"I don't mind hard work, but I don't
want to end up like Mama," said Liberty,
shaking her head. "I won't surrender.
I want some folks to be with, but I
won't be dependent on anyone!"

"I run a mixed gang here,"
Boss White said. "Is that
gonna be a problem for you?"

"No, boss," said Liberty.

She was wrong -- not lying
to him on purpose, just wrong.

"Did Shiv tell you what we are?"
Boss White asked, leaning forward.

Liberty lifted her chin. "Supervillains,"
she said. "I don't have any powers, but
I don't mind working with people who do.
It's not like I never been in trouble."

"Mmm," said Boss White, savoring
the spark of rebellion. "Happens I can
read minds. Come here and let me
get a taste of you, if you want to stay."

Liberty looked at Shiv again.

"Go on, close enough that he
can touch you," Shiv said, making
a shooing motion with his hand.

She wasn't a coward, at least.

Liberty stepped right up to
the edge of the ebony desk and
held out a hand to Boss White.

He wrapped her small fingers
in his own much larger ones.

"I will not hurt you, and I will not
go where I am not welcome,"
he said. "Open your mind a little,
and show me who you are."

Energy swirled like water,
murky at first and then clearing,
as Liberty tried to obey him.

Boss White could hear the sound
of her playing the jugs -- she really was
quite good -- and the shush of the Missouri
flowing by as she fished from its bank.

She thought of the library next,
and the infinite possibility of books
that held her interest far better than
the dull textbooks in her school.

There was something else, though,
something deeply wrong with her mind.

He could sense the shape of her self,
and it wasn't what it ought to be. Something
had changed her, crimped her thoughts
back on themselves, creating conflict.

Boss White touched it lightly, gently,
because he had promised not to hurt her,
running his mental fingers over the lines.

There was a pattern to it, he realized,
and it reminded him of the twisted mess
that he'd seen in a lot of black folks.

The design was the same, but
the manifestation wasn't. This had
been cut in with almost surgical precision.

And it was older than Liberty herself.

Impossible, yet there was no mistaking it,
the lines were so deep and weathered.

He could feel how she pulled against it,
only to be brought up short like a dog
yanking against a chain that wouldn't give.

Boss White jerked his hand away
and shook it sharply several times.

"Problem, boss?" said Shiv.

"Not that you need to worry about
right now," Boss White replied.
"Take Liberty to the lunch room and
get her a sandwich or something.
I need to make a phone call."

"Yes, boss," said Shiv, then
turned to Liberty. "Come on,
we got some leftover roast beef,
and there's egg salad too. Food
here is good, and you can have
as much of it as you want to."

They headed for the door,
Liberty's thoughts already
turning toward the free eats.

But Shiv looked over his shoulder.

Careful to keep his queasiness
to himself, Boss White brushed
a mental hand over Shiv and added,
Shush now, you did your job well.
She's a fine girl. Just keep her calm
for me while I get ahold of Dr. G, and
we'll deal with the rest of this later

Shiv nodded a bit, then turned
back to Liberty and led her out.

As soon as the door closed
behind him, Boss White took out
his phone and touched a shortcut.

"I need your help," he said
as soon as the line opened.
"I got a girl with her head
messed up and I don't know
what the hell to do about it."

"All right, you called me and
I'll help," said Dr. G. "Is she
physically okay, or injured?"

"She's not hurt anywhere that
I can see," Boss White said.
"She's walking and talking too,
doesn't seem to notice a problem,
but I caught a hint of it early on.
When I touched her mind --"
He shuddered. "-- well, then
I knew I needed your help."

"So how did you meet
this girl?" Dr. G wondered.

"Shiv brought her in,"
Boss White said. "He
found her at a bus station."

"Ffffff ..." said Dr. G.

"Ayup, that's what
I didn't say either."

"Where are they now?"
Dr. G asked. "Listening?"

"No, I told Shiv to take Liberty
over to the lunch room and get
something to eat," Boss White said.

"That's good, food is grounding,"
said Dr. G. "Can you describe
what you perceived as wrong?"

"She got these marks inside
her mind -- if it was in skin, I'd
say scars," Boss White said.

"The mind can scar, too,
much like skin," said Dr. G.

"I know that," Boss White said.
"I've seen people tore up plenty inside,
some fresh and some older. But this
is different, doc. It's deliberate."

"Tell me more," said Dr. G.

"It's like ... the lines of it cut her off
from herself," Boss White said, groping
for an explanation. "There's one between
her and other folks, and another that goes
between her and her own body. She wants
to be with people but can't trust them much.
She don't feel at home in her own skin."

"You're right, that doesn't sound
very good," Dr. G said. "I'm glad
that you told me about this. Can
you compare it to anything else?"

Boss White swallowed hard,
his mouth suddenly dry.

"Yeah," he said. "You know
how racism twists people up?"

"I do indeed," Dr. G said.

"This is like that, like a dog
bent around to chew her own tail,"
Boss White said. "Thing is, Liberty
doesn't lean that way, not naturally.
It doesn't fit who she is. But there it is."

"Do you think someone could have
done this to her?" Dr. G asked.
"That's a serious crime."

"That's the hell of it, doc,"
said Boss White. "Them marks,
they're older than she is, by a long shot."

"How is that possible?" said Dr. G.
"How can you even tell they are?"

"You know how scars go?"
said Boss White. "At first they're
all red and raised up. Over time,
they fade and flatten out. So once
you've seen that, you can sort of
guess how old a scar is."

"That's true," Dr. G said.

"Well, this is like that,"
said Boss White. "They're
clear, but they're old, faded down
where they don't show much, but
they still pull her up short."

"Like contractures," Dr. G said.
"Sometimes scar tissue tightens
so the body can't move properly."

"I've seen that too," Boss White said,
trying not to think about Shiv's back
and whether it was as "fine" as
that boy always claimed.

"So what we have here is a girl
with mental injuries that you,
as an experienced telepath,
estimate to be older than her,
twisting her mind," Dr. G said.

"Ayup, that's about the shape of it,"
Boss White said, drumming his fingers.
"It's a lot like things I've seen before
in other people, some fainter than others.
But this is so much stronger -- almost
as if I'd been seeing carbon copies,
and this one is the original."

Dr. G caught his breath.
"I just had a terrible thought."

"What?" Boss White said.
"Spit it out, doc, you're startin'
to scare me some here."

"What if it's exactly what it
looks like?" Dr. G asked.
"Have you ever heard of
the Willie Lynch Letter?"

"I surely have," said Boss White.
"Most black folks have seen it."

"I didn't want to assume one way
or the other," Dr. G said. "I only
came across it in college. It is
the ugliest thing I've read, outside
of some Nazi war materials."

"That it is," Boss White said.
"My grandfather had a museum copy
on his wall, and he'd want it dusted.
I always wound up washing my hands
after I had to touch that thing."

"I would too," said Dr. G. "Anyway,
I'm thinking that the pattern you
described sounds a lot like that."

Boss White's belly flipped over again.
"I do not like the sound of that."

"Neither do I, but so far this is
the best hypothesis I have," Dr. G said.

"Go on then," Boss White said.

"We know that slavery left marks on
the African-American people. It's called
generational trauma," Dr. G said.

"I've heard of that too,"
Boss White said. "It's awful,
but what's a man to do about it?"

"I'm getting to that," Dr. G said.
"Some of the effects are mental,
but others are physical -- epigenetics,
parts of the genome that can change,
or be changed, during a lifetime."

"So I could be seeing some of that?"
Boss White said. "I didn't realize
it might show up in telepathy."

"I didn't either, and it could be
something else entirely, but you may
be onto something big here," said Dr. G.
"Suppose that, a few hundred years back,
a rogue telepath learned how to cut his slaves
into a desired mold. Then he devised a way for
ordinary people to do something similar with words
and actions. You'd see the same pattern, but only
descendants of Lynch's slaves would show cuts."

"That is ... it sounds like what I saw,"
Boss White said. He dragged a hand
over his face. It came away wet.

"Then let's see what we can
do to fix it," Dr. G said.

"I ain't a mindhealer!"
Boss White snapped.
"I can see the problem,
but I don't know what to do."

"That's all right," Dr. G said.
"You called me, and I do know
how to handle mental issues."

"Like what?" Boss White said.

"If we're conscious of the injustice
done in the past, then we should
be able to work on repairing it,"
Dr. G said. "If you can see what
the problem is, it will be easier than
working blind like I usually do."

"You think you can fix this with
talk therapy?" said Boss White.

"Well, I could make some progress,"
Dr. G said. "I'd like to get a mindhealer,
though. It could help a lot more."

"You know a black one?"
Boss White said. "Because
this is a real powder keg."

"I'm sorry, not off the top of
my head," Dr. G said. "I can
ask around later, but I think that
we need to address this immediately.
I do know some Americans, and we
definitely need that. Unfortunately
the best one I know of is foreign."

"Farther away they are, the less
they'll understand," Boss White said.
"Even a telepath wouldn't have
background for this shit."

"I agree," said Dr. G. "How
are you holding up? This must
be incredibly stressful for you."

Boss White huffed softly.
"I'm holdin' on, but it ain't easy."

"I hear you," Dr. G said. "Give me
a few minutes to make arrangements
and find a teleporter. Then I'll be right there
to take care of you and your people. Will
I be able to get in, without someone
waiting to meet me at the door?"

"You've been on the anytime list
for months, doc. Just tell 'em that
it's an emergency, and they'll wave you
through without the usual," said Boss White.

"Will do, and I'll see you very soon,"
said Dr. G. "Take care of yourself."

"Okay," Boss White said. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," said Dr. G.
"I hope that I can help."

After the call ended,
Boss White put his head
in his arms for a minute.

He longed to surrender himself to
someone else's care for a little while.

Sometimes, it just got so heavy,
holding up a whole city
on his shoulders.

But help was coming now.

* * *


Liberty Smith -- She has toffee skin, black eyes, and a mop of curly black hair that falls almost to her shoulders. She is slender with very little development of breasts or hips yet. She is currently 15 years old. Liberty has no superpowers but does have strong latent potential inherited from both parents. Her mother Precious is a maid who works at a hotel, where she was raped and impregnated by a hotel guest. As a single mother, Precious has raised Liberty to be hardworking and to take care of herself, but defer to the white folks. Liberty doesn't like that. She's been reading about black history and wants something better for herself. But she's not comfortable with higher levels of society, and she has a serious problem with instilled attitudes of racial conflict that clash with her efforts toward social awareness.
Frustrated by her family situation, Liberty ran away from home and snuck into Omaha, where Shiv found her and brought her to Boss White. A telepathic scan revealed old mental scars -- older than Liberty herself by a long shot -- with a methodical pattern and almost surgical precision. Boss White then reached out to Dr. G, who helped figure out the background. A rogue telepath in the past, believed to be Willie Lynch, evidently performed neuropsychic surgery on the minds of captive Africans, creating a self-perpetuating paradigm similar to that of generational trauma. But on close telepathic inspection, the pattern is clearly artificial.
Independent and streetwise, Liberty is capable of getting by on her own but would prefer to have a gang for support. She enjoys watersports including boats, fishing, and swimming. She loves jazz, blues, and other African-American music. She plays the jugs quite well for her age, both in the blowing and the buzzing style, and can tune them by changing the water level.
Qualities: Good (+2) Black History, Good (+2) Independence, Good (+2) Playing Jugs, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Watersports
Poor (-2) Generational Racism

(This link is monstrous.)
The Willie Lynch letter "Let's Make a Slave" is of debatable historic founding in our world. The techniques, however, are brutally accurate. In Terramagne, the situation is monumentally worse: Willie Lynch was a rogue telepath who misused his ability to control his slaves.

Neuropsychic surgery or psychic operation is an application of telepathy which can be quite helpful. When used offensively, however, it's a form of mindrape.

Jugs can be played as a musical instrument. The louder version involves buzzing the lips as for a trumpet, while the quieter method blows across the mouth of the jug and sounds more like a flute. Listen to examples of buzzing jugs and blowing jugs.

* * *

(The link goes to a horrible document. The quote appears near the middle of it.)
"Conscious of the injustice and wrong they were every hour perpetrating and knowing what they themselves would do were they victims of such wrongs, they were constantly looking for the first signs of dread retribution. They watched, therefore, with skilled and practiced eyes, and learned to read, with great accuracy, the state of mind and heart of the slave, through his sable face. Unusual sobriety, apparent abstraction, sullenness, and indifference – indeed, any mood out of the common way afforded ground for suspicion and inquiry."
-- Frederick Douglas

This map of Omaha shows the waterways. The judgmental map lays out population clusters and social traits.

The basement of Blues Moon contains the working part of the lair. The largest office below the lunch room belongs to Boss White. The one across from it is the guest room. The accounts/manager and board room offices are shared space. The big corner office in the upper right is the patch room. They actually don't have an exercise room in their own lair; instead they have a group membership at a nearby gym.

Just inside the door, Boss White's secretary Dymin Jefferson sits at a white wooden desk, its front and side panels invisibly lined with ballistic panels. This is the general sitting area near Dymin's desk at the front of the office. This is another part of the sitting area with some musical art on the wall.

Boss White has a big ebony executive desk and library bookcase, again reinforced with ballistic panels, alongside a small sitting area with a black leather chair and couch flanking an ebony coffee table. What looks like a corner window is actually a bank of sixteen viewscreens, often tuned to display a city view. On the wall not covered by the library bookcase hangs a large painting of a jazz band and their singer in a crimson dress.

The lunch room gives people a place to eat downstairs, and includes its own kitchen. The art on the walls is printed onto acoustic panels to reduce noise. You can buy premade art panels, attach art to blank ones, or make your own.

Teen runaways leave home for various reasons. Gangs, pimps, and aid workers often stake out bus stations and other places frequented by teens to watch for new runaways. In this case, the Ebonies & Ivories are looking for kids who would fit well with their gang -- not too hostile to get along with, but open to street life in a way that makes them unlikely to seek help at a shelter or other official aid source. Here's a handbook for runaway prevention. Sometimes, however, running away is the least-worst option, so know how to do it effectively. There are ways to help runaway teens.

Collective trauma refers to any devastating event that affects a large group of people, including those not directly involved in it. Historical trauma refers to major distresses of the past, sometimes the very distant past. Generational trauma refers to consequences passed down to the descendants of those who survived a calamity, through epigenetic or other aspects of transmission. All of these factors can play into post-traumatic slave syndrome, a problem affecting many African-American people and sometimes spilling over to their close associates of other races. Similar techniques for self-care and survivor support apply to all of these. Survivors also offer advice for therapists regarding their needs.

Epigenetics is the study of the malleable part of the genome, which affects how genes are expressed but not what they are. Trauma can cause changes in epigenetics which influence a person's development and mindset, and which can be passed down to their descendants. On the bright side, because these gene features are basically like flipper switches, they can often be reset by careful nurturing and an enriched environment. Epigenetics give the organism ways of adapting to extreme challenges, so changing the environment enough can prompt the body to reconfigure itself in response to that new situation. It just takes an extra nudge because trauma has a tendency to weld things in place.

Scars form during the healing process. Burns, deep cuts, and massive soft-tissue damage can cause contractures, in which the tissue shrinks and stiffens so much that it impairs function. Mental scar tissue behaves in similar ways to physical scars, and when severe enough, it makes many activities uncomfortable or impossible.

Asking for help is an essential life skill. Some people find it more complicated than others. Know how to ask for help. In bosses, this is called delegation, an important leadership skill. Learn how to delegate effectively. This is one of Boss White's best abilities as a leader -- he excels at finding the right people and deploying them efficiently. You can see that Shiv has complete faith in Boss White's ability to handle things.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, history, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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