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Poem: "Retreading a New Trail" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Retreading a New Trail"
This poem is spillover from the November 7, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] ravan. It also fills the "Fork in the Road" square in my 7-1-16 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Retreading a New Trail"


Every traumatic manifestation
brings its own challenges.

It is a boulder in the path,
a fork in the road, and
there is no way forward
except to go around.

For Rhonda Tittensor,
being locked in an oubliette
all weekend means going from
being a student to being a supervillain,
struggling to master a powerful voice.

Ferdinand Hirsch is a rising star in
the Olympics when he's struck by lightning,
giving him Lightning Powers and Super-Speed
which disqualifies him from professional sports.

After that, he goes into rescue work instead.

Wardell Dewan is proud to be a marine,
and not afraid to raid a supervillain lab,
but exposure to unknown zetetics almost
kills him before he gains superpowers.

He makes the best of it, becoming
an armored truck driver whom
not even supervillains can stop.

David Yellow Dirt starts out working
whatever menial jobs he can get, but
after sneaking into a toxic waste dump
on a dare, he develops skink traits.

He works as a supervillain bodyguard
because no one else will hire him --
until the cops learn that he can
heal amputations, and get him
a job in a local hospital.

It's still hard catching up to folks
who actually went to medical school.

Chuck Collins has had his life
turned upside-down twice:

once when a mysterious attack
with a blowgun pellet gives him
Super-Speed and he changes from
linguistics to driving a zoomwagon;

and once when a drunk driver
T-bones the ambulance, leaving
Chuck paralyzed, after which
he becomes a dispatcher instead.

It's always different and
it's always the same.

When an accident or
other incident renders
the previous occupation
untenable, then they have
to take up a fresh career field,
retreading a new trail.

It's hard, especially for
the first soup in any job, since
they have to teach themselves
how to do it -- there are no classes
in job skills for soups like there are
for naries, and the techniques between
those two groups aren't always the same.

Breaking in is difficult when they must
compete against younger coworkers
who are naturals in the fields.

It's hard, but it's changing,
however slowly it may be.

They're writing the books
as they go along, and they're
mentoring the ones who come after.

Each retread blazes a new length of trail.

* * *

Notes:

Cacophony (Rhonda Tittensor) -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and long wavy chestnut hair. She came from a conservative religious family but no longer has any contact with them due to childhood mistreatment. As a mercenary, Cacophony does far more than fighting; she also does sabotage, distraction, manipulation, and other supervillain tasks. She is quite popular at supervillain events as an announcer, because she can pitch her voice to be heard without needing to shout.
Origin: Her school was stuffy and conservative, with teachers who rarely called on girls. Her parents expected her to be seen and not heard. When Rhonda was thirteen, the school locked her in an oubliette for making too much noise. And then forgot about her over the weekend. Midmorning Monday, her superpowers manifested. She blasted the oubliette open, pulverized the office and everyone in it, wrecked about a quarter of the school building, and caused numerous other injuries. Dozens of people were left with permanent hearing damage. Devastated by the scene, she ran away.
Months later, Kraken found Rhonda and took her in. When they realized what had triggered her traumatic manifestation, they went back and leveled the rest of the school (while it was empty), broke the arms and legs of the teacher who locked her up, and set family services on her parents. But it took years for her to overcome the experience well enough to build a new life.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuit 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: Good (+2) Assertive, Good (+2) Debate, Good (+2) Feminist, Good (+2) Mercenary, Good (+2) Tall
Poor (-2) Keeping Quiet
Powers: Master (+6) Supernatural Voice
Her metapower can be used for Deafening Shout, Fearful Scream, Heartbreaking Song, Hypnotic Speech, Infrasonic Sound, Joyful Noise, Mimicry, Penetrating Voice, Siren Song, Sonic Blast, Soporific Lullaby, Ultrasonic Sound, Ventriloquism, and various other effects.
Limitation: Many of the applications require the listener to be able to hear, so only those with purely physical effects such as Sonic Blast are effective against deaf people. Impaired hearing means the power works at a downshift on that person. Ordinary soundproofing cannot stop her voice, and gizmotronic soundproofing operates at a downshift. Super-gizmotronic soundproofing functions normally and may be resolved by a conflict roll.
Motivation: To be heard.

Blitzen -- Ferdinand Hirsch is a German superhero. Like many runners, he has a very thin and wiry build. He is 5'5" and weighs 125 lbs. He has dark blond hair, hazel eyes, and fair skin. He began as a rising star in the Olympics. After he gained superpowers, he retired from competition to serve as a first responder for crimes and accidents.
Origin: During a field event, Ferdinand was struck by lightning. His speed increased to super level, and he gained electrical powers.
Uniform: Nike Pro Turbospeed track uniform, primarily black with red and gold accents, the colors of the German flag. A large red chevron over the chest has "Germany" written in gold across it.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Marathon Runner, Good (+2) First Responder, Good (+2) Knowledge of European Politics, Good (+2) Sports Endorsements
Poor (-2) Can't Swim
Powers: Expert (+4) Speed (Spin-Off Stunts: Run on Water, Speed Reading), Good (+2) Lighting Powers (Signature Stunt: Lightning Bolt, Spin-Off Stunt: Control Electricity)
Motivation: Get there in time to save the day.
Model: Khalid Khannouchi, marathon, 5'5" 125 lbs.

Hard Knox (Wardell Dewan) -- He has butterscotch skin, brown eyes, and short nappy black hair. He is mixed race with heritage including African, Irish, Cherokee, and Pakistani. He carries his broad, tall body with confidence. Wardell practices mixed martial arts with an interest in kenpo (for ending fights efficiently), jujitsu (for pins, locks, and throws), and karate (for kicks and punches). His work as an armored car driver commands a handsome salary, so he lives in an exclusive subdivision with his wife and their six children. The older four were born before he gained superpowers, and the younger two afterward; the youngest is already flickering. He loves children's books, and as a hobby he reads them in voices, often volunteering at a local library for storytime.
Hard Knox works for Knoxville Armored Transport in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has never lost a shipment. His bosses proudly describe him as "unfuckwithable." His skills as an armored car driver include bonded messenger credentials, cargo management, basic vehicle handling, combat driving, and navigation. Hard Knox subscribes to Soupçon and otherwise follows news about people with superpowers to keep current on potential problems or opportunities, such as supervillains who might target him.
Origin: Wardell was exposed to unknown zetetic materials in a well-planned raid on a supervillain lab, in which the marines provided heavy ground support for SPOON's aerial assault team. The mission was a success in terms of capturing the supervillains and stopping production of zetetic weapons. However, one culprit triggered a self-destruct sequence that blew up the lab, causing a number of casualties. As a result of his injuries, Wardell was hospitalized for months and given a medical discharge. His new superpowers grew in slowly over the next year. When he realized his potential, he made a thoughtful survey of possible careers, and decided to become a driver because of all the reports about supervillains attacking armored cars.
Uniform: On duty, Hard Knox wears a long-sleeved gray shirt and pants under a bulletproof vest. Off duty, he wears understated men's clothes most of the time, but he also harbors a fondness for t-shirts with characters from children's books.
Qualities: Master (+6) Armored Car Driver, Expert (+4) Mixed Martial Arts, Good (+2) Soup News, Good (+2) Marine Veteran, Good (+2) Big and Tall, Good (+2) Children's Literature, Good (+2) Confident
Powers: Good (+2) Armor, Good (+2) Invulnerability, Good (+2) Iron Will
Motivation: "We deliver. Guaranteed."

Skink (David Yellow Dirt) -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. He is handsome but has a very long face. His heritage is mestizo including Yaqui, Apache, Mexican, and Spanish ancestors. He grew up on the Lost Notch Reservation with no electricity, no running water, and a mother with Average (0) Earth Powers. He never has quite gotten the hang of things like faucets or clocks, let alone fancier technology like cars or computers, although he tries hard.
Skink used to work as a bodyguard for supervillains, because his scaled skin serves as a kind of Armor and he can Regenerate even severed limbs. He can also Hibernate if the temperature drops too low. After losing a limb, his body exudes a thick sticky gel which quickly seals the wound and causes it to regenerate within a day. Skink requires a warmer environment (80-85ºF) and a rich diet with extra calcium to do this. He discovered by accident that this ability can be transmitted to other people if he rubs the gel on a fresh stump. It takes about a week to regrow severed digits, a month for a hand or foot, six months for half a limb, and a year for a whole limb. Multiple limb amputations have to be regrown one at a time. A drawback is that the ability is pain-triggered, so any kind of anaesthetic effect would disable it.
As a healer, Skink works with a partner who has a slicing ability to remove one of his hands and then remove the end of a patient's stump. A lot of people are willing to endure a few minutes of intense pain for the sake of having full functionality restored. Due to the metabolic burden, he can only treat one injury per day, and he only works on weekdays to give himself a chance to rest over the weekend. He eats crickets like candy because something about the nutrients in them helps him recharge faster. He's fond of other insects as well.
At one point when Skink was arrested, it happened after a bad fight that left a lot of police injured, including one officer who lost a leg. The police negotiated a plea bargain such that if Skink would restore the lost leg for her, and treat a number of other policevets with amputations, they would release him subject to the condition that he not go back into a life of crime. Since he was a criminal by circumstance rather than preference, all they really needed to do was secure him a job elsewhere -- and someone on the force had contacts with a local hospital which was thrilled to take Skink on staff and train him as a specalist for healing amputations. He still gets a lot of patients referred by the police or the military, although he treats civilian casualties too.
Origin: As a young man, some friends dared him to sneak into a toxic waste dump and steal one of the shiny rocks. He did so, to much acclaim, but after that he fell sick for several weeks. When he got better, he noticed that his skin was becoming dry and flaky. Over the next few months, this developed into a true coat of smooth, tough scales with a subtle pattern of light and dark stripes plus a bright blue patch on his butt. Nobody wanted to give him a job in the ordinary world after that, so he started working for criminals, and worked his way up to guarding supervillains.
Uniform: He usually wears Western style men's clothes, often deep blue or green. On special occasions he dresses up in tribal regalia -- for any of his tribes -- and he's also done both contemporary Mexican and Spanish Californian outfits. When working in the hospital, he wears scrubs, preferably with southwestern prints.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intertribal Culture, Good (+2) Bodyguard, Good (+2) Medical Training, Good (+2) Friends with the Iron Horses, Good (+2) Pain Tolerance
Poor (-2) Awkward with Modern Conveniences
Powers: Master (+6) Skink Traits (Spin-off Stunts: Regenerate Other)
Vulnerability: Skink is sensitive to cold, becoming uncomfortable below room temperature (70-75ºF) and worse below that. He starts taking failure ranks below 60ºF, and below about 40ºF he drops into hibernation.
Motivation: To fix what he can.

Regeneration is a species gift for some reptiles such as skinks. They may drop and regenerate their tail as a defensive measure. Read about caring for skinks as pets. Super-gizmotronic treatments can even enable humans to regenerate.

On this map, Nevada reservations appear in salmon pink. Terramagne-Nevada includes the tiny Lost Notch Reservation between the Nevada Test Site and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. It is a crappy piece of land that borders a toxic waste dump on the Nevada Test Site side. The government begrudges every penny spent on the reservation, so it has even fewer resources than average. This is where Skink grew up with his mother. It is home to people descended from the scattered remnants of several Apache bands, and actually started out as a prison camp.

Most Apache reservations are in Arizona or New Mexico.

Cheersquad -- Chuck Collins has short sandy hair, green eyes, and tawny skin. His body is crumpled and mostly paralyzed from an accident, so he uses an electric wheelchair to get around. He has very limited use of his left thumb and forefinger, not much else. Given his current job as a counselor, he knows many other people with superpowers and/or handicaps. Most people pronounce his code name as "Cheer Squad." If you listen closely, however, you can hear that he says "Cheers Quad." If asked which it is, he smirks and says, "That's a state secret." (It's the Hellspark joke.) Chuck is popular as a charity auctioneer, one of the few ways he can still use his super-speed.
Origin: Chuck started out as an ordinary college student studying linguistics. While on a field trip in Guatemala, he was struck by a mysterious clay pellet from a blowgun that left him shivering and delirious for weeks. Chuck emerged from the ordeal with super-speed and a new interest in emergency medicine. So he got his Class Z license and drove a zoom ambulance, sometimes also serving as a translator. His girlfriend Jocelyn, a cheerleader at the local college, threw a fit but stuck with him.
Then a drunk driver T-boned the ambulance at an intersection, killing everyone but Chuck. He broke his neck and a bunch of other bones, leaving him mostly paralyzed. At this time Jocelyn finally dumped him. Chuck fell into a depression, but eventually started to claw his way out. A local charity contacted him, intending to put him on their list of recipients. Instead, he proved such an engaging conversationalist that they hired him and trained him as a counselor. Now he works primarily over the phone, helping people deal with personal trauma, especially things related to superpowers. He has subsequently begun working at the Eastbord SPOON Base as well.
Uniform: Light blue jumpsuit with a red cross on each lapel, modeled after his old ambulance uniform. His electric wheelchair is a bright metallic blue with the same emblem on both sides and the back.
Qualities: Master (+6) Cheerful, Expert (+4) Ambulance Driver, Expert (+4) Constitution, Expert (+4) Counselor, Expert (+4) Contacts in Soup/Disabled Circles, Good (+2) Games, Good (+2) Linguist, Good (+2) Science Fiction Fan, Good (+2) Trivia
Poor (-2) Mobility
As a linguist, Chuck is fluent in 9 foreign languages: Esperanto, French, German, Japanese, Láadan, Latin, Nahuatl, Russian, and Spanish.
Powers: Average (0) Super-speed (Spin-off stunts: Auctioneering, Speed-reading)
Motivation: Keep your chin up and do your part.

* * *

Traumatic manifestation -- the development of superpowers during or after a crisis. In many cases, the energy emerges in a way that offers protection from the specific threat(s) encountered. Superpowers gained in this manner may seem "panicky" in response to perceived threats that aren't actually dangerous. Sometimes they are much harder to control than powers which arrive in safer ways. Occasionally, though, the crisis causes them to manifest fully developed, control and all.

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