Warning: This poem contains intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features loneliness, a planned hit on human traffickers, except the "empty" truck turns out to be full, so Cuoio decides to strike immediately rather than leave the captives at risk by waiting for backup, canon-typical violence ensues, graphic depictions of human bondage including minors, poorly aimed berserking, indifferent treatment of enemy casualties, excessive force, because supervillains, voluntary tolerance of violence (which isn't actually doing any harm), worrying about the aftermath, upset mobsters, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Any Fight Worth Fighting"
"I have a mission for you,
my boy," Ruggiero said.
"Yes, boss," said Cuoio.
"I will do my best."
His mentor had been
giving him assignments
for several weeks now,
small things leading slowly
to more important ones.
"You're ready to lead
a team," Ruggiero said.
"I don't have a team,"
Cuoio whispered. "I want
one, yes, but it's just me now."
"I know," said Ruggiero, waving
his hand so that the green ring
flashed. "I have hand-picked
a team for you, all unattached,
so if you like anyone, feel free
to make them an offer."
Cuoio caught his breath.
"Thank you, boss," he said.
"What's the assignment?"
Ruggiero's eyes narrowed.
"We have identified a ring of
human traffickers," he said. "We
know some delivery points and
routes. Your job is to intercept
this empty truck and capture
the crew alive. Others will
take over from there."
He slid a photograph
across the coffee table.
"Ambrogio," read Cuoio,
looking at the side of the truck.
"That's a shipping company."
"Correct," said Ruggiero.
"There should be two men
in the cab, and there might
also be another one or two in
the sleeping area behind it."
Two to four captives would
give an excellent chance of
learning whatever information
the bosses wanted from them.
"I'm on it," Cuoio promised.
That was how he came to be
perched on his belly inside
another truck, peeking out
through its upper window
with a pair of binoculars.
Beside him lay Duraturo,
an enforcer with Invulnerability,
who kept Cuoio entertained
by regaling him with tales of
hiking over live volcanoes.
"There it is," Cuoio said
as the target came in view.
"The crew will be in the cab,
and trailer is empty right now."
"No it's not," Duraturo said.
Chills spilled down Cuoio's back
like a cup filled with ice cubes.
"What makes you say that?"
"Look how low it's riding,
and it's not bouncing at all,"
Duraturo said. "See the bars
and chains on the back end?
If the trailer is empty, then why
is it locked up tight as a bank?"
"Madonna santa!" Cuoio said.
Then he grabbed his phone from
his pocket and called Ruggiero.
His boss listened to the report,
then said, "Your assignment has
changed from capture to extraction.
Your top priority is to secure any victims
and protect them from further harm. Don't
worry if the traffickers get damaged --
there are plenty more of those."
"Yes sir," Cuoio said crisply.
"We will send reinforcements as
soon as possible. That will take
at least a few minutes to assemble.
It's up to you whether to attack now,
or wait for backup," Ruggiero said.
"I trust your judgment."
After the call ended,
Cuoio panted for breath,
his previous calm crushed
by the unexpected weight
of new responsibilities.
"It's all right, boss,"
Duraturo said, clasping
his shoulder. "You got this."
"I hear you," Cuoio said
as he watched their target.
They had timed the interception
for the midpoint between two towns,
minimize the chance of witnesses --
or if things went bad, collateral damage.
Waiting would make it safer for his team,
but riskier for the victims, who were
now supposed to be his priority.
Some things, even supervillains
were unwilling to tolerate.
"What do you say, boss?"
Duraturo asked, looking at
Cuoio. "We have enough
personnel for the original job,
but extraction is harder -- we
could take a real beating here."
Cuoio stared at the truck
and imagined what it must
be like for victims stuffed
into a shipping container.
"Any fight worth fighting is
worth taking a few hits over,"
the boss said, lifting his chin.
"Take them down, boys."
A sharp report sounded as
Acciaio blew out the tires in
an alternating pattern intended
to stop the truck without tipping it.
Brakes squealed and black rubber
painted the road as the target slowed.
Their own truck moved to intercept.
Cuoio rolled out of the overhead bunk,
with Duraturo following effortlessly.
With silent gestures, Cuoio sent
most of his team toward the cab,
while he and Duraturo headed
for the back of the truck.
Cuoio stood back to cover him
while Duraturo used boltcutters
to break open the rear doors.
As soon as the locks gave way,
the doors burst outward, and
a burly girl tackled Duraturo.
Trusting the enforcer to handle her,
Cuoio turned his attention to the interior.
The shipping container held dozens
of captives, mostly young women and
girls plus a few boys, their naked bodies
chained to coarse wooden benches.
One guard lay half-stunned on
the floor, bleeding profusely
from a large head wound.
Cuoio grabbed the man
by one ankle, yanked him
out of the truck and dumped
him on the side of the road.
Then he picked up the boltcutters
that Duraturo had dropped and
started cutting the girls free.
Soon Acciaio came back
to report they'd taken the cab of
the truck and the eight men inside it,
with only minor injuries to their own.
Acciaio's steely eyes glinted like
the edge of a blade when he
saw the hapless passengers.
"What do we do with them, boss?"
he asked, looking at Cuoio.
"Cover them up," Cuoio said
as he peeled off his suitcoat.
"Jackets and shirts on the girls,
and trousers on the boys. Strip
the traffickers and throw them
in the ditch, the kids don't need
to see any more of them."
Acciaio went back to
the cab in order to procure
more clothes from the traffickers.
Cuoio opened his suitcoat
and held it out to the nearest girl,
murmuring reassurances in Italian.
She was darker than a Moor,
though, nearly pitch black, so
she might not understand him.
Hesitantly, she took the coat.
The others were all colors, including
some in shades of light or dark blue,
and hair streaked in rainbow tones.
Several with the ears and tails
of cats actually hissed at him.
Another bunch resembled rabbits,
while two had the broad noses
and enormous bosoms of cows.
Pastorales, that was the word.
Cuoio tried to ignore the odd features,
other than helping one of the cow-girls
into his shirt because her hooves
could not fasten the buttons.
Only one of them had clothes
of her own, a middle-aged woman
who scared the younger victims
and made Cuoio suspicious.
He left her under the watchful eye
of Acciaio when the enforcer
returned with more garments.
Cuoio finished clothing the victims as
best he could, then turned and realized
that Duraturo was still fighting the girl
who had charged him from the doors.
Or rather, he was standing there
and letting her pound on him.
Cuoio started toward them.
Duraturo held up a hand.
"It's okay, boss," he said.
"She can't hurt me. She just
needs something safe to hit."
Cuoio hesitated. He didn't like
watching one of his men get
punched, but Duraturo was
Invulnerable and Cuoio
knew the importance of
trusting his people.
"All right, I'll let you
handle her," he said.
Just then, the girl stumbled.
Duraturo caught her before
she could fall, then she sagged
against him, sobbing weakly.
"Boss, could you come
prop her up while I get my coat
around her?" Duraturo said.
"Of course," Cuoio said.
As he headed toward them,
the guard from the back of the truck
tried to get up, groaning in pain.
Cuoio gave him a swift kick
in the head to put him down again,
then a few more in the crotch
just for good measure.
"Give him one for me,"
With one last kick,
Cuoio stepped over
the fallen trafficker.
"Come here," Cuoio said
as he coaxed the dazed girl
to lean on him while Duraturo
quickly shucked his suitcoat
and draped it over her.
"There, that's better."
Even half-conscious, she
clung to them both so tightly
that they didn't dare pry her loose
for fear of hurting her somehow.
Instead, they sat down on the grass,
cradling the girl between them.
Suddenly the reinforcements
arrived, pouring out of something
like a tunnel made of thin air.
Enforcers swarmed over the guards,
binding them further and hauling
them back through the tunnel.
Medics came to collect the victims,
urging them tenderly toward safety.
Cuoio caught a glimpse of Ruggiero
dragging the truck into the tunnel
with one hand hooked casually
underneath its back bumper.
Liborio knelt beside them.
"What happened here?"
"I think she went berserk,"
Duraturo said. "When I opened
the doors, she charged at me.
I let her whack on me a while,
and then she collapsed."
"That sounds like a berserker,"
Liborio said with a nod, his hands
deft and gentle as he checked
the girl. "It looks as though
she latched onto you."
"We can't keep her,"
Cuoio squawked, and
Duraturo nodded. "I don't
even have my life in order,
I can't take on a teenager!"
"You won't have to," Liborio said.
"We'll take her over to the compound,
and return her to her parents if possible.
I just want you two available if she needs
someone to help her feel safe again."
"Oh, that we can do," Cuoio said.
In truth, he felt a little protective of
the fierce girl huddled against him.
Eventually they got everyone
back to the compound, washed
and dressed in fresh clothes, and
Cuoio made his report to Ruggiero.
"Good job calling for help as soon
as you realized that something wasn't
right," the boss said, patting Cuoio on
the back. "Most young men don't like
to do that because they think it will
make people think less of them.
Quite the contrary, my boy."
That warmed the cold knot in
Cuoio's belly that had been there
ever since he realized the truck
was full of victims needing rescue.
"Thanks, boss," he replied.
"It was hard work, but we
got through it all right."
"So you did," Ruggiero said.
"Did you meet anyone whom
you might like to keep around
to become part of your new team?"
Cuoio's gaze went right to Duraturo.
"Well then, go ask him before he
gets away," Ruggiero said, giving
Cuoio a gentle push in that direction.
Only when Cuoio got close did
he notice that Duraturo's cheeks
were wet, his shoulders shaking.
"Duraturo?" said Cuoio.
"Are you all right?"
"I will be," Duraturo said,
wiping a hand over his face.
"This is not what I signed up for
when I accepted this mission,
but I'll deal with it somehow."
It wasn't what Cuoio had
signed up for either -- he
knew that extraction required
far more skills than he had yet --
but he wouldn't have traded
this experience for the world.
"Any fight worth fighting is
worth taking a few hits over,"
Cuoio repeated as he offered
Duraturo his handkerchief.
"Anyone willing to take
those hits is someone
I'd like to keep with me."
"Well in that case,"
Duraturo said, clasping
his hand, "I accept ... Boss."
Cuoio smiled, his right-hand man
fitting perfectly into his life with
a warm sense of accomplishment.
* * *
Duraturo (Bitto Dalmasso) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair. Because of his Invulnerability, he has difficulty cutting his hair and can never get a really close shave. He comes from the city of Asti in the Piedmont region, and some of his relatives are vintners. He learned boxing in school, and stuck with that as a fighting style. He enjoys extreme hiking where his superpower allows him to go that other people cannot, such as volcanic craters.
After developing superpowers, Duraturo worked his way south and came into the Marionettes through some distant family connections. He is a very capable enforcer but not so interested in climbing the ladder. He is much better at shoring up a leader he likes, and makes an excellent right-hand man. His easygoing nature means that he doesn't go looking for serious fights, although he enjoys sparring, and that makes him less attractive to some bosses. Duraturo makes a comfortable fit with Cuoio.
Origin: As a teenager, he worked for relatives making wine. An accident while prepping new barrels doused him with boiling water -- and he was completely uninjured.
Uniform: He tends to dress casually, often in black jeans or trousers with a t-shirt or henley. He favors leather jackets.
Qualities: Master (+6) Reliable, Expert (+4) Enforcer, Expert (+4) Followship, Good (+2) Boxing, Good (+2) Easygoing, Good (+2) Extreme Hiking, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Winemaking
Poor (-2) Unpopular with Many Bosses
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability
Motivation: To go the distance.
Acciaio (Saverio Ricci) -- He has tinted skin, steely eyes, and short curly brown hair with sideburns. He works for the Marionettes as an enforcer. Most often, Acciaio uses his Energy Bolt ability for quick takedowns. Good-looking and graceful, he turns heads wherever he goes. He is proquuromantic, only attracted to others perceived as masculine; he isn't picky about the package underneath. He's no good at budgeting, though.
Origin: His powers grew in during puberty.
Uniform: He likes a "bad boy" outfit of dark jeans and a leather jacket.
Qualities: Good (+2) Aim, Good (+2) Brave, Good (+2) Enforcer, Good (+2) Handsome, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence
Poor (-2) Spends Money Like Water
Powers: Good (+2) Energy Bolt
He can shoot energy bolts from his eyes. They have about as much force as a handgun, capable of causing minor to moderate wounds or making holes in objects such as walls or tires.
Motivation: To make a point.
Proquuromantic - Is someone masculine who only experiences romantic attractions to those perceived as also being masculine.
Cof Abubakar -- She has dark skin, brown eyes, and short nappy brown hair. She comes from Nigeria. She speaks English and Hausa well, Italian badly. Cof works as a madam in a human trafficking ring. She monitors the cargo and manages the sales or rentals of a shipment.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Survivor, Good (+2) Cunning, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Madam
Poor (-2) Compassion
Arrighetto Casalesi -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair with a beard. He is going bald. Arrighetto works as a human trafficker in Italy, based in Castel Volturno. He has a cool head for business and excellent fighting skills. He likes to sample the cargo, but has enough greed to avoid reducing the value of the virgins. Arrighetto is a shitty excuse for a human being.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cold-Hearted, Good (+2) Hand-to-Hand Combat, Good (+2) Intimidation, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Human Being
Boarskin (Chriselda Eberhardt) -- She has tawny-fair skin, blue eyes, and wavy blonde hair that falls just past her shoulders. Her torso is slim, with flat breasts and narrow hips, but her thighs are thicker and her arms are enormous. She is 17 years old. Chriselda has a deep sense of family loyalty, is devastated by losing the connection with her birth family, and yearns for a replacement. She feels protective of people she cares about. For hunting, she uses various weapons including an Abosolute German compound bow.
Her superpowers relate to her temper. When berserk, she has Super-Strength, Toughness, Regeneration, and Enhanced Senses at Expert level. The muscles of her arms and legs expand. Chriselda can sustain a berserk rage for just over ten minutes, after which she collapses in exhaustion. Otherwise, her powers are only Average. After joining the Marionettes, she studies judo.
Origin: Chriselda and her father hunted wild boar to keep the animals from becoming a nuisance. They got separated, and she was savaged by a radioactive boar. She nearly died from the wounds before Blitzen found her. Then Chriselda thought she was safe, but her muscles began to develop more. About a month later, an argument turned violent and her superpowers manifested. Because she injured her father, Chriselda's mother sold her to human traffickers willing to deal in soups.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Huntress, Good (+2) Reading People, Good (+2) Traveler
Poor (-2) Volatile Temper
Powers: Expert (+4) Berserker
Zauna Bolaji -- She has dark brown skin, brown eyes, and long nappy black hair worn in cornrows. She is Nigerian. She speaks English and Igbo. Zauna is currently 15 years old. Captured by human traffickers, she was rescued by the Marionettes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beautiful, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Goat Herder
Poor (-2) Orphan
Mirosawa Maślanka -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and straight brown hair to her chin. She also has the ears, nose, hooves, and tail of a cow. She is Polish. She speaks German and Polish. Mirosawa is currently 16 years old. The Marionettes rescued her from a truck driven by human traffickers.
Origin: She was kidnapped and sold into prostitution as a teen. Her pimp drugged her with Hopp-R, and she developed cow traits.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Follower, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Patient
Poor (-2) Slow Thinker
Powers: Good (+2) Cow Traits
Cow abilities include Fertility and Nurturing. They are strong, though not necessarily with Super-Strength.
Limitation: Due to her hooves, she has Poor (-2) Dexterity.
Motivation: To endure.
* * *
"Any fight worth fighting is worth taking a few hits over."
– Tony Kirwan
This is the exterior of the Ambrogio truck, and this is the interior behind the cab. In addition to the driver and copilot in front, there were four guards seated on the benches and two more sleeping over the cab. Besides the crew in the cab, the trailer held another armed guard and the madam.
Human trafficking is a serious problem in Terramagne, more in some countries than others, and especially for young soups who have less ability to defend themselves. It also impairs access to care. Among the ways that victims enter the system is when parents sell their own children. There are even lists of prices. Know how to help stop human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a huge problem in Italy, as some branches of the Mafia participate.
• Madonna santa! - Good God! (lit. saint Madonna)
-- Italian Swear Words
When a tire blows out on one side of a truck, it compromises steering by causing the truck to swerve. Popping tires on both sides of the truck minimizes this tendency while bringing it to a quick halt. Braking can make it harder to control the vehicle. (In other words, the driver is an idiot.) Know how to handle a blowout safely.
Boltcutters are helpful as forcible entry tools. Understand how to use them to gain entry to spaces in an emergency.
Head wounds are notorious for bleeding a lot. They also mean you should check for concussion and keep an eye on followup. However, Cuoio's new mission made the victims his priority, so he's following those orders instead of standard triage parameters, in which a dazed or unconscious head injury casualty warrants immediate attention.
Blue People -- A supervillain set off a bomb at a nudist colony in Britannia on July 11, 2013. Over 3,200 people were permanently turned various shades of green to blue including jade, teal, aquamarine, royal blue, midnight blue, and periwinkle. They came to be called the Blue People.
Hopp-R is a zetetic street drug intended to cause intense sexual arousal, which works on both sexes. Unfortunately, it has a variety of dangerous side effects, such as allergic and autoimmune reactions. It can damage the heart, sexual organs, and several important glands. It also causes some people to manifest animal traits. The vast majority of those come from domestic animals used to create the drug such as rabbits, sheep, and cows. However, some others such as cats, dogs, and wild animals have been reported. Most manifestations happen to the user, but it also raises the chance of giving birth to an infant with animal traits. Hopp-R was invented by Carl Bernhardt.
Primal is a term preferred by some people with animal traits. It is sometimes shortened to "prime," which is also polite.
Pastorale is a polite, even sophisticated Italian term for people with the traits of any domestic animal. It comes from the same root as "pasture" and carries rural connotations.
English translation of 'pastorale'
1. (gen) pastoral
1. (religion, lettera del vescovo) pastoral (letter)
2. (music) pastoral(e)
1. (religion, bastone) crook, crosier
pas•to•rale (pas′tə räl′, -ral′, -rä′lē, pä′stə-;päs′tô rä′le), n., pl. -rales, -ra•li (-rä′lē, -ral′ē;-rä′lē). [Music.]
1. Music and Dancean opera, cantata, or the like, with a pastoral subject.
2. Music and Dancea piece of music suggestive of pastoral life.
• Italian, noun, nominal use of pastorale pastoral
pastorale /ˌpæstəˈrɑːl/n ( pl -rales)
1. a composition evocative of rural life, characterized by moderate compound duple or quadruple time and sometimes a droning accompaniment
2. a musical play based on a rustic story, popular during the 16th century
The spectrum of force moves from nonviolent through violent to lethal methods. Ideally, one should aim for the probable logical control mode: just enough to meet the goal. Putting down an opponent who is trying to get up is appropriate force. Kicking him several more times after he goes down is excessive force. Cuoio may be a nice guy to his friends, but he is still a mobster. They tend to express their displeasure in very physical terms.
Superpowers add a whole new level of complexity to use of force and the continuum of appropriate force. Most superheroes -- and even some supervillains -- adhere to the principle of using the least force necessary to reach a goal. Using unrestrained superpowers against an ordinary opponent typically constitutes excessive force, unless the nary has a gun or other equalizer. Here's an excellent discussion of appropriate force for superheroes with regards to Batman.