"Catch a Rising Tide"
[Wednesday, July 9, 2014]
Mallory was surprised that Heron
encouraged her to come with him
to the big meeting at SPOON.
She was, technically, a supervillain
but he didn't seem to think that mattered.
"It's an open meeting," he said with a shrug.
"You won't be the only supervillain there,
although most of them probably won't be
advertising their actual politics."
Mallory didn't plan on mentioning
her politics either, so that was fine.
When they arrived, though,
there was a horse in the door.
"Come on, Judd, back up,"
said the little girl with him.
"You're going to get stuck."
Grumbling, the black stallion
backed into the parking lot,
his ears pinned to his neck
"Go around to the back,"
said Granny Whammy.
"The service door's bigger."
"Jesus Christ, Helen, you
did not just tell my black friend
to come in through the back door!"
the little girl snapped in return.
"What do you expect me to do, Alicia?"
Granny Whammy threw up her hands.
"It's the only one that he'll fit!" she said.
"And here we were trying to be polite
by not teleporting in," the little girl said,
jerking a thumb at her bodyguard.
Heron cleared his throat. "Why don't
we all go in through the back door
for now," he said, beckoning.
"Sure," Mallory said, and followed.
A shiver crept down her spine as she
finally connected "big black horse" and
"little girl" to realize they must be
Dr. Infanta and the Undertaker.
Hooves clopped on the pavement
behind her, and smaller shoes.
"After you, ladies and gentlemen,"
Heron said, opening the big door.
The black stallion fit just fine.
Alicia was still arguing with
Granny Whammy, though.
"You know, Judd here is not
the only person of exceptional size,"
Heron said. "Some humanoid giants
would have the same problem."
"They could turn sideways,"
Granny Whammy pointed out.
"I know some for whom that
would work, and others who
still wouldn't fit," Heron said.
"Do you have a better idea?"
Granny Whammy said,
narrowing her eyes.
"In the future, RSVP forms
for SPOON events could provide
a line for special needs, including
size requirements," Heron said.
"Once you know who's coming,
you can choose a venue to suit."
Which was something that
supervillains did for things like
the Anything Goes games, but
Mallory wasn't about to say that.
Instead she said, "I've seen that
work for other organizations of folks
with mixed sizes and shapes."
"Oh, that's a good idea," Alicia said,
and began tapping on her vidwatch.
Inside, the meeting area was already
half-full of soups, most of them in costume,
seated or just milling around the room.
One wall was lined with buffet tables
laden with cheese and crackers, fruit,
sandwiches, desserts, and other tidbits.
Judd headed right for the fruit table.
Alicia grabbed a handful of mane,
but he wouldn't stop, and she
skidded along the floor.
"If you eat all that, you will
get so sick!" she scolded.
"Hungry," Judd rumbled.
Alicia darted ahead of him and
grabbed a slice of watermelon.
"Here, nibble on this," she said.
"Oh, for the love of God,"
said Savoir Faire. He took out
his wallet and removed several bills.
Then he scribbled a note and handed
everything to a man with peacock hair.
"Here, Junket. First, buy a hay net. Then
go to this farm in the Jura Mountains of
France. Pay whatever it takes for enough
fodder from their pasture to fill the net."
"Oh, this ought to get interesting,"
Heron murmured, almost smiling.
"What makes you say that?" Mallory said.
"That's where they make Comté cheese,"
Heron said. "They have great pastures."
"Cool," Mallory said, and ambled over to
the buffet tables to load her own plate with
bananas, mangoes, and an egg-salad sandwich.
By the time she was halfway through the plate,
Junket came back with a webbed hay net
stuffed with not just grass, but all kinds
of wildflowers poking out the holes.
"Are those orchids?" Mallory said.
"They look like wild orchids," Heron said.
"France has a lot of different kinds."
Meanwhile, Junket had hung
the hay net from a rope and then
spread a checkered tablecloth
on the floor underneath it.
"Bon appétit," Savoir Faire said
to Judd, beckoning him forward.
Judd lost no time in lipping eagerly
at the hay net, yanking out mouthfuls
of grass, clover, and wildflowers.
"T'ank," he said, nosing Savoir Faire.
"You are most welcome," the man said.
"Everyone should be able to eat."
"Consider adding dietary needs
to the RSVP list," Heron said to
Granny Whammy. "You know, like
how wedding invitations ask whether
you want the meat or vegetarian meal?"
"Huh," Judd said, nodding his head.
"That would certainly avoid repeating
today's problem," said Savoir Faire.
"The more special needs you have,
the more important it becomes
to keep track of them at events,"
Heron said. "Soups don't just
need more food than naries,
some need different foods --
or different table settings."
Mallory watched Judd nosing
his hay net in the air. "No shit."
Granny Whammy made a note,
then backed away as a black woman
and her teenaged son approached.
"Hello, Judd," the woman said. "I'm
Hannah Patterson, also known as
the Muffler. I couldn't help hearing
how you speak, and I'm wondering
if you've tried speech therapy."
Judd let go of his hay net
and swiveled his ears in
opposite directions. "Wha?"
"No, he hasn't," said Alicia.
"There's nothing wrong with him.
He sounds like that because he's
a horse. It makes talking hard."
"Of course," Hannah said. "I didn't
mean to imply anything like that, just
he's having a hard time with enunciation,
and speech therapists can help with
all kinds of different issues."
Alicia sighed. "We wouldn't know
where to start. Do you know of
anyone working with animal soups?"
"No, but I know who would know,"
Hannah said. "If nobody's doing it yet,
then we'll figure out who to invite
as part of a new start-up effort.
Let me call some friends."
While Hannah pulled out
her phone, Alicia turned to Judd
and asked, "Would you like to learn
more about talking? Meet someone
who might teach you better ways?"
"Yuh," Judd said, bobbing his head.
"You know, speech therapy isn't
the only way," Mallory said. "There's
alternative communication too. You can
already hit things with your nose, so
a symbol board should work for you.
I've seen those things online."
She had also helped to program
a few alternative programs for
soups with unusual needs, but
there was no need to mention that.
Alicia sidled over to Mallory, then,
and let the eddies in the crowd
wash them farther into the corner
so nobody else would hear much.
"I noticed that you're eating for two,"
Alicia said, waving at Mallory's belly.
At 27 weeks, she had a good-sized melon
going under a white T-shirt with a pair of
tragic and comics masks and the line,
I do all my own theater stunts.
"Well, duh," Mallory said.
"So, do you want to know?"
Alicia said, bouncing on her toes.
Mallory narrowed her eyes.
"Know what?" she asked.
"Boy or girl, soup or nary?"
Alicia said, wiggling her fingers.
"I'm a healer, I can tell you."
Heron was a healer too.
For that matter, Mallory
could have looked at
the results that came
from her doctor visits.
She hadn't, yet.
But this was different,
and a sudden whim
struck her, so she
"You don't usually --
are you sure, Mallory?"
Heron asked her.
"Good as it's gonna get,"
she said with a shrug.
Small hands feathered
over the swell of her belly.
"Girl, healthy," Alicia said.
"She's a soup, yeah, but she
doesn't know what she is yet.
Anything else you want to know?"
Mallory swallowed hard.
"Is it ... is it human?"
Alicia's eyebrows went up.
"That's a concern?" she said.
"But yeah, she's human."
Mallory let out a breath
that she hadn't even realized
she was holding. "Thank fuck."
Hannah came back then,
with several names on a card.
"The first two are speech pathologists
who specialize in identifying odd issues.
The other two are speech therapists
who have worked with soups before."
"T'ank," Judd said, nosing her.
"You're wobbling," Heron said
to Mallory. "Let's go sit down."
"Fine," Mallory said, and
let him lead her over
to the bank of chairs.
As they sat down together,
Heron said, "While I'm happy
to know those details, I'm also
surprised that you agreed. You
haven't shown much interest in
engaging with the baby before."
"Oh, well ... this is different,"
Mallory said. "This isn't someone
that I'll have to see week after week.
I can just turn around and walk away."
"I guess that makes sense," Heron said.
By then, most people who wanted food
and gotten it, and more of them
drifted toward the chairs.
It was an odd crowd;
Judd wasn't the only one
with an unusual body shape.
There were a few people with
animal ears or tails, some winged,
and several with extra arms.
The crayon soups came
in all colors of the rainbow.
The crowd milled around,
staying somewhat but not
entirely sorted by politics.
The weirdest thing
was seeing Dr. Infanta
curled up like a kitten
on the Rescuer's lap.
It was adorable,
in the way that a tiger cub
was adorable before you
remembered that it would
grow up into something
that could eat your face.
"I like you," Dr. Infanta said,
patting him on the cheek.
"You make me feel safe."
"I can't believe you're actually
cuddling with that," Jack Union said.
The Rescuer gave him an unfriendly look.
"Be nice," he admonished. "Alicia is
welcome to snuggle as long as she
behaves herself. How are people
supposed to act right if nobody ever
shows them how or encourages
them when they try to be good?"
That was a point. Mallory had
fucked up more of her life just
by not knowing what to do than
she had by making bad choices.
"What are they even doing here?"
Jack Union grumbled. "They're
supervillains, not superheroes."
"I invited them," Granny Whammy said.
"I have also invited Junket to represent
the blue-plate specials --" The man with
the peacock hair tipped his chauffeur hat.
"-- and Valor's Widow for the supernaries."
An older redhead waved her hand.
"That's just begging for a tempest
in a teacup," Jack Union said.
"Well, the Republic of the Maldives
concerns all of us," Granny Whammy said.
"We can't afford to let politics get in the way
of communication on a matter that is
affecting soups all over the world."
"They're sucking all the talent
out of everywhere else,"
Jack Union complained.
"If you treated your soups better,
you wouldn't be hemorrhaging talent,"
said a pale blue woman wrapped
in a wet blanket of Microfyne.
That must be Aquariana,
Mallory realized, having seen
pictures of her on television.
"That's one reason why I called
this meeting," Granny Whammy said.
"Even the top-ten countries have lost
some people to the Maldives, and below that,
the less welcoming ones are losing even more.
Refugees from the bottom-ten countries have
always escaped as best they could, but now
more of them are aiming for the Maldives."
"We have the highest proportion of soups
in our population, as far as we know,"
Aquariana said. "Not all countries
count theirs, though, so it's impossible
to be sure. Immigration is still raising
that number, so we're climbing to the top.
We're also one of the happiest nations."
"That's another key reason why I set
the meeting today," Granny Whammy said.
"I've been thinking about it for a while, but
when the Maldives passed America on
the Gross National Happiness scale,
I figured it was time to speak up."
"Moving there certainly improved
my happiness," Aquariana said.
Mallory wondered if it was really
that easy to find happiness by
going on a quest for it.
Then again, she had
literally tripped over hers.
"Who else has visited the Maldives?"
Granny Whammy said. "Raise your hands."
Heron and various other people did so.
"Please share your experiences
if you feel comfortable doing so,
and drop your hands if you don't,"
Granny Whammy said. About half
the hands went down, and she
called on Heron to go first.
"My family visited the Maldives
recently, and for the most part,
we liked it," Heron said. "They
did a good job of solving problems
and were very welcoming -- maybe
a little too welcoming, in some ways."
That had been an anxious time for
Mallory, especially when Heron had
called home to warn her that he was
getting a bodyguard and not to freak out.
"Please explain that," said Granny Whammy.
"They're actively seeking soup immigrants,"
Heron said. "That means if they know you
have powers, someone's likely to ask you to stay.
We found it uncomfortable that they hustled
the superpowered members of our family,
but not the ordinary ones. Nobody likes
to be wanted only for what they can do."
No shit, Mallory thought.
"Hear, hear!" Junket said. "So do they
have a higher risk of helicopter problems?"
"Not as much as it could be," Heron said.
"They backed off and apologized when we
groused at them. I think they're just looking
for mutually beneficial relationships, and
sometimes that makes them over-eager.
Which is a nice change from forks."
"Yeah, we don't need another Rabid City,"
said someone with copper skin and black hair.
"We only saw a little friction," Heron said.
"I think some locals feel threatened by soups,
but the vast majority appreciate our skills."
Mallory wondered what it would be like
to visit a place that open, that safe.
"The original reason for the program
to encourage soup immigration was about
climate change," Aquariana said. "At first,
the Maldives solicited folks with Water Powers,
Earth Powers, Weather Control, or other things
directly relevant to keeping their nose above water.
The highest natural point is only a few meters
above sea level, so that's a big concern."
"What about now?" Granny Whammy said.
"The program has evolved a lot over time,"
Aquariana said. "It started out offering soups
citizenship, a government seat, a private island,
and generous pay. I was one of the first folks who
didn't want an island. So they gave me a houseboat,
which is now a standard option and quite popular."
"That makes sense," Heron said. "When we
visited the Maldives, almost nobody had a car,
but many people had boats -- about as many
as own a car here. There were water taxis
everywhere, both boats and seaplanes."
That sounded weird to Mallory,
but then, so did Venice, and
everyone else seemed to think
that gondolas were romantic.
Then again, most people probably
hadn't been dumped out of a canoe on
a kindergarten trip because the teacher
was too stupid to remember not
to stand up in the damn boat.
"Yeah, it turns out, most people don't
want to live far away from everyone else,"
Aquariana said. "Over 40% of the population
is urban, and more than half of those people
live in Malé alone -- that's the capital."
"How is that affecting immigration,
or is it?" Granny Whammy asked.
"The private island is no longer
a standard option, but still available
for some soups who want or need it,"
Aquariana said. "Most people prefer
an apartment in one of the main cities,
and most of the rest take a villa in
what used to be a resort -- we have
two of those devoted to the sciences,
and several others with different themes."
Valor's Widow laughed. "I got an invitation
to Red Island. Is that even for real?"
Aquariana rolled her eyes. "Oh, it's real,
all right," she said. "Redbeard came up through
Sea Shepherd, you know, environmental piracy.
He retired with his wives, the Ginger Twins."
"He's retired?" Jack Union said. "Well,
that will make life a lot easier."
"Yes," said Aquariana. "They have
an island that used to be a resort and is
now a refuge for people with red hair. They
want to get redheads recognized as soups,
at least crayon soups, which is crazy."
Heron shook his head. "Not necessarily,"
he said. "The MC1R mutation is rare, and
it does correlate with several superpowers,
including Second Sight, Fire Powers,
Eidetic Memory, and the Bardic Gift."
Mallory thought about Edison
with his strawberry-blond hair
and wondered if that was true.
"All right, so private islands and
former resorts are accessible, but
most people want an apartment or
a houseboat," Granny Whammy said.
"What about the rest of the package?"
"It looks like they're aiming for integration,"
Heron said. "They already have a lot
of soups in positions of power."
"Most of the obvious ones are filled
by now," Aquariana said. "Except medicine,
because none of the healers we have would
agree to take a seat in the government."
Dr. Infanta perked up. "I've helped
set up medical fields before," she said.
"Oh, are you immigrating?" Aquariana said.
"I'm seriously considering a move myself,"
said Dr. Infanta. "It's a good offer."
Jack Union snorted and said,
"They're going to get themselves
bombed back to the stone age."
"No they won't,"
Dr. Infanta said coolly.
Then she kissed him
on the cheek.
"Thank you, though."
"For what?" he said.
"You just helped me
to make up my mind,"
said Dr. Infanta.
"What's their position
on blue-plate specials?"
Junket asked next.
"We saw more of
them in the Maldives
than anywhere else,"
Heron said. "I think it's
part of integration -- they
want soups to become
part of the whole society."
"And nobody bothered
them about charging money
for superpowers?" Junket pressed.
Heron's mouth quirked faintly in
what Mallory knew would be a smirk on
anyone else. "No, it's a service economy.
Lots of people make money doing things for
each other, including quite fancy ones," he said.
"Did you know there are college classes on
the fine art of folding towels and napkins?"
Junket laughed. "I've heard of that."
"What about supervillains?"
Mallory asked, because apparently
nobody else was going to bring up
the elephant in the room. "Or gray hats?
Some people might want to make a change,
but not know if it's really an option for them."
"It is," Aquariana said. "The rule is, don't
break Maldivian laws on Maldivian soil. So
anyone wanting to turn their cape should start
by checking if the laws seem tolerable."
"How would someone do that?"
Mallory said. "Most countries
have a whole ton of laws."
"Just visit the tourism sites;
they link to the laws that tourists
most often trip over," Aquariana said.
"Like what?" Mallory asked.
"Alcohol and sex," said Aquariana.
"I can tell you that alcohol is only banned
in some places now, and so are nude beaches.
A lot of laws go by island rather than nation. Also,
converting to Islam is no longer required. Part
of the deal for other people helping them is that
the Maldives is becoming more cosmopolitan."
"So housing, jobs, and a government that
isn't psycho," Mallory said. "Lots of people will
want to catch a rising tide, from all sides."
She thought, privately, that if she had
heard of the Maldives sooner, she
might have considered it herself.
Then she looked at Heron.
Might still consider it, especially
if she could tag along the next time
they went back there. The way Aida
talked, there would definitely be
more trips to the Maldives.
"That's what we're all here
to discuss," Granny Whammy said.
The conversation rambled on as
more people pitched in with questions
and answers about the Maldives and
what it all meant for the soup community,
but Mallory already understood.
It meant sanctuary.
It meant that nobody
had to put up with forks
ruining their life, if they
could somehow get there.
And that was changing the world.
* * *
This poem runs long, so its notes will appear in separate posts. See the character notes, location notes, and content notes.