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Poem: "The Oldest Associations" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Oldest Associations"
This poem is spillover from the October 4, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by Anthony Barrette. It also fills the "WILD CARD: earthquakes" square in my 6-16-15 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest and the "North America (continent)" square in my 9-4-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Big One, and Granny Whammy and SPOON threads of the Polychrome Heroics series. It happens on Saturday, May 28, 2016 (Memorial Day weekend).

WARNING: This poem contains intense material that may upset many readers. Highlight to read the warnings, many of which are spoilers. I highly recommend reading them, unless spoilers completely ruin literature for you. The poem features challenges of culture and idealogy, complicated relationships, bickering on a renovation project, earthquake, which is actually a moderately bad one on the San Andreas fault under San Bernardino triggered by a much worse one in the Cascadia Subduction Zone echoing around the Ring of Fire, psychospatial disorientation of a teleporter during an earthquake, emergency response, severe building damage, evacuation, acts of heroism, injuries, mass casualty incident, messy medical details, news of massive cataclysmic event, superpower overstrain, people parts, aftershocks, building collapse, inadvertent self-injury during rescue efforts, MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH, watching someone die, major psychological injury, traumatic guilt, extreme stress, emotional meltdown, voluntary protective bondage connecting two people together in case of reflexive teleportation, lots of crying, distressed breathing, light sensitivity, dissociative symptoms due to exertion and trauma, asking for help and getting it, emergency travel, and other mayhem. HANKIE WARNING! Anyone who has issues with earthquakes or other disasters, losing people in a rescue effort, and/or complicated grief may want to think twice about whether or when to read this. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It's a major plot point, though, so skipping it would leave a big gap.


"The Oldest Associations"


When SPOON bought
a historic brick building in
San Bernardino to set up
a second base in Westbord,
they held work days so folks
could come help to refurbish it.

Junket wasn't much for volunteerism,
but he heard that they were installing
a dedicated teleport room, so that
piqued his interest enough to pitch in.

Granny Whammy beamed at him
and passed him a paper plate of
peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
from the table filled with refreshments.

Junket hated to give her false impressions,
but he couldn't resist the cookies. Besides,
he adored her despite all their disagreements;
she was like every soup's favorite grandmother.

"I didn't expect to see you show up here
to play superhero," Stilts teased,
poking Junket with his crutch.

"Don't you 'superhero' me,
I work for a living!" Junket retorted.

"Play nice, boys," Granny Whammy warned.

Junket had to admit that the building was
worth the extra care, with its red brick accented
by paler frames around doors and windows.
It was a handsome home for one of
the oldest associations of people
with extraordinary abilities.

So Junket helped ferry furniture,
building supplies, and workers
wherever the Analyst directed as
she consulted her tablet computer.

Anxiety Girl organized the stocking of
safety equipment and emergency supplies,
and freaked out every few minutes
over some possible problem.

"No, you can't just patch the new lines
into the old breaker panel," she said to
the hapless fellow with his hands full of
rainbow-colored wires. "It would create
a fire hazard! Rewiring the building for
modern electronics requires installing
a bigger control panel to handle the load."

Since it was actually her job
to anticipate and prevent mishaps,
Junket just stepped aside and let her work.

Muscle Girl carried bundles of rebar
for Bipass to Phase into the brick walls
in his feat of preternatural basketweaving.

Stilts, once he quit jerking Junket's chain,
sat down at a desk where he could use
his Super-Speed to make subassemblies
for some kind of electrical project upstairs
that involved dozens of volunteers
directed by a pink-haired girl.

In the basement, another team focused
on the modifications for what would become
the archives and the shielded workroom.

Junket got so used to the knocking and banging
that he almost missed the first ominous shiver,
except that all of a sudden the coordinates
were giving way underneath his feet
as the ground began to shudder.

"Brace!" yelled Muscle Girl, and
the Analyst shouted, "Earthquake!"

Junket dove under the nearest desk,
which was reinforced for soup use
and thus resistant to earthquakes,
bullets, or other ordinary damage.

The world shook, and shook, making
unsecured supplies bounce all around.
Only his ability to Phase saved Bipass
from getting impaled by the rebar.

It seemed to last forever, but when
it finally stopped, the Analyst declared,
"One minute and two seconds, that means
high sevens on the moment scale. It's bad,
people, let's get our crisis plans in gear."

"I've got the emergency response station,"
Muscle Girl said, grabbing the trauma kit
in one hand and the incident kit in the other.
"Somebody grab the ship buckets."

Junket pushed himself to his feet and
groped for the shelter-in-place supplies.

The ground heaved again, giving
him a queasy sense of being in
several places at the same time.

"Powder," Bipass said in a horrified tone,
staring at the white coating of dust on
his hands. "The mortar's gone."

"This building is about to collapse!
I'll hold it up for as long as I can,"
Granny Whammy shouted as she
wedged herself in the doorframe.
"Junket, evacuate the second floor,
and Bipass, get everyone out of
the basement. The rest of you,
crawl under me. Move, move!"

They moved, scrambling to squeeze
out of the building between her ankles.

Junket popped upstairs and started
teleporting the people to safety.

He placed the uninjured ones outside,
where Muscle Girl was already
setting up the triage area.

The casualties he jumped to
the SPOON base in the Heights,
because he didn't know how far
the damage zone might extend.

From there, they could be treated
in the infirmary or shifted to a hospital
depending on the severity of their injuries.

Some out-of-state people wanted
to go home, so Junket ferried them
wherever they'd come from, spreading
word of the disaster as they went.

He started hearing snippets of news about
the carnage up and down the coast, tremors
all the way from the south end of Westbord
up beyond Rain City, worries about a tsunami
in the north and aftershocks everywhere, which
made him hurry back to San Bernardino.

The building held -- Granny Whammy
held it with all her might -- but Junket
knew that wouldn't last forever. He
could see the sweat slicking her skin.

"Let me teleport you to the Heights,
so you can direct operations from
a safe place," Junket said, although
his own superpower ached from overuse.

He wasn't used to making so many jumps,
so close together, some of them long-distance,
and it still felt like he wasn't working fast enough.

"You can do that after you've cleared everyone
off the second floor," Granny Whammy said.

"Fine," Junket said. He picked up
the next two casualties upstairs
and teleported them to the base,
then returned as quickly as he could.

Every time the ground twitched underfoot
and the coordinates shifted, Junket flinched.

Naturally Stilts had to argue with him too,
when Junket pointed out his leg was broken.

"So what else is new?" Stilts snapped. "They can
splint it outside and I'll be as functional as I ever am!
Just get Anxiety Girl out of here, she hit her head."

Junket gathered the sobbing Anxiety Girl
and transported her to the Heights. All of
the dust was making his eyes run, too.

Then he moved Stilts outside to triage
where the SPOON staff had been joined
by citizen responders in task vests and
a handful of Emotional First Aides from
the Red Cross clinic down the street.

The colored tarps were already filling up
with injured bodies, and in some cases,
pieces of bodies laid on the ground
alongside the numbered spaces.

Junket looked away, glad that this part
wasn't his job: he had first-aid training, but
did more good as a human ambulance.

Underfoot, the ground shuddered again.
As Junket turned back toward the building,
its bricks came apart like a zipper opening
and suddenly the whole thing collapsed
into a pile of rubble and choking dust.

"No no no," he chanted, rushing forward.

Bipass drifted out of the wreckage.
One hand gripped a nary plumber, while
the other held a man with lizard skin.

"Last two from the basement,"
Bipass said. "Second floor?"

"Three left upstairs, a couple of
nary electricians pinned but uninjured
last I saw them with some crayon soup
I don't know digging them out," Junket said,
"and Granny Whammy in the door."

"I can Phase in to check for survivors,"
Bipass said. "The rest of you, start digging
through the ruins as best you can."

Muscle Girl lifted the biggest pieces
out of the way, while Junket dug in with
his bare hands to toss individual bricks.

He ripped off a fingernail but kept going,
the physical pain negligible beside his worry.

Bipass resurfaced with the pink-haired girl
draped over his shoulder, her silver catsuit
splotched with red. "Both naries are dead,"
he said as he handed her to Junket.
"Razzle needs medevac now."

Junket concentrated on a smooth ride
and jumped to Colorado University Hospital,
one of the few that had any experience
in soup care because they coordinated
with the SPOON base in the Heights.

When he got back, he landed badly
on loose debris that shifted underfoot,
sending twinges of pain up his legs.

Junket limped over to Muscle Girl
and resumed digging anyway.

Bipass rose up from the rubble
like a ghost rising from the grave,
his whole body white with mortar dust.

He cradled the limp form of Granny Whammy.

"I found her," Bipass said as he laid her down
on a bare patch in front of Muscle Girl,
"but I don't think she's breathing."

As Muscle Girl began her triage routine,
Junket scrambled over to them and
waited for someone to tell him where
he should transport Granny Whammy.

"She's gone," Muscle Girl said hoarsely.
"I think that the building collapsed
because her heart gave out."

Junket felt the ground go
out from under him again.

They had just lost one of
the oldest associations
with superpowers.

"I was -- I was looking
right at her when it happened,"
Junket said numbly. "I could have
saved her, she wouldn't let me
jump her out, I tried --"

His voice gave out into
coughing sobs, wrecked
by the dust and the grief.

"Oh, shit," Muscle girl said as she
scooped him up. "You are done today."

She carried him over to triage
and put him down beside
an Emotional First Aide.

"Your job is to take care of Junket
until further notice," Muscle Girl said
to the aide. "He's a teleporter, so
take appropriate precautions."

Then she went to help someone
who was yelling for a lever.

"Hi, I'm Kay Vargas with
the Red Cross," the aide said to
Junket. "You're damp and shivering.
Would you like to have a blanket?"

Junket looked down at himself,
and sure enough, his coating of dust
had turned to pinkish mud. He must've
jumped somewhere it was raining.

"Blanket, sure," he mumbled.

Kay unfolded a white fleece blanket
dotted with red crosses and gently
wrapped it around his shoulders.

The comforting embrace made
him want to cry all over again, but
he pushed the tears down. "Thanks."

"Your friend told me that you're a teleporter,"
Kay said. "I'd like to put you in a hand-harness,
so if anything spooks you into jumping, then
I'll come along for the ride. Would that be
okay, or would it make matters worse?"

"It's fine," Junket said, holding out
his left hand. "I can tandem-jump even
when I'm upset, I'm a chauffeur."

"That's great," Kay said as she wrapped
the brace around his hand, smoothing
the vrip strap carefully over his wrist.

She put the matching brace onto herself,
then clipped them together with a short cord.
"This has panic snaps on both ends and
a bungee in the middle," she explained,
"so there's little risk of striationary marks
even if you make a rough transit."

Junket wanted to tell her how he
prided himself on riding like a Rolls,
but he couldn't get the words out
past the lump in his throat.

The soft weight of her fingertips on
his forearm wrung the tears out of him.

"It's all right to cry when horrible things
happen," Kay said. "I'll listen if you need
to talk, or help you find resources, or
we can just sit here quietly."

Junket sniffled. "Okay."

Kay took out a packet of tissues
stamped with the Red Cross emblem
and stuffed them into a holder made
from red-and-white gingham,
which she passed to him.

"Here, you can keep this,"
she said, and Junket clutched
the small gift in his shaking hands.

He needed it. Waterproof mascara
wasn't, and he could tell from the way
his eyes burned that his must be
running like clown makeup.

"I don't know why I'm such a wreck,"
he said, blotting at his face.

"A bad earthquake at once destroys
the oldest associations: the world,
the very emblem of all that is solid,
has moved beneath our feet like
a crust over a fluid," said Kay.

That broke the dam for real.

Kay listened while Junket sobbed out
the story of the evacuation and how
Granny Whammy had ordered him
to save everyone else ahead of her,
and he had obeyed her for once
instead of just yanking her to safety
the way he should have done.

He cried into the kleenex and
tried not to feel like a total failure.

Kay made soothing sounds, patted him
on the shoulder, and shooed away
anyone who tried to bother him.

When Junket cried so hard that he
started gasping for breath, Kay rubbed
his back and said, "Slow down as much
as you can. Take some deep breaths.
Breathe from your belly, not your chest."

It helped a little. He didn't feel
much better, but at least he
could breathe again.

A sudden flare of light made
Junket flinch away from it.

"It's okay, that's just a floodlamp,"
Kay said, moving the blanket so that
it shielded them from the light.

Junket hadn't even realized
that it had gotten dark.

His tissue holder was empty too,
and his hands were black-and-blue
from rubbing them over his face.

Kay refilled the cloth envelope
with more kleenex and then
handed it back to Junket.

"You seem to be winding down,"
she said. "Do you have a safe place
you can go, outside the West Coast and
preferably somewhere with people who
can take care of you for a while?"

His brain stuttered and stalled
before lurching back to life again
with a flash of Walter's house.

"Yeah, Walter Robinson in
Tulsa, Oklahoma," Junket said
as he fumbled with his vidwatch --
a gift from the same client -- to key in
the emergency code that would alert
the security system to his arrival.

The banker had been the first person
to put Junket on retainer for regular work,
and the oldest associations held firm
even under the stress of a crisis.

"Now for the big question," Kay said.
"Can you teleport us there safely, or
do we need to find another ride?"

"I can do it," Junket said.
"I've had emergency training,
I can always jump as long
as I'm still conscious."

"All right," Kay said. "Let me
log us out, and then we can go."

Bemused, Junket watched as she
signed off the duty roster and then
scanned the triage tag that had
somehow gotten onto his shirt.

As he stared at it, he could
just make out MAJ PSYCH INJ
written on one line in red marker.

"Do you want the records saved
to your vidwatch?" Kay asked.

"Yeah," Junket said. She waved
the scanner over his vidwatch, and
both devices chimed confirmation.

"Okay, we can leave whenever
you're ready," Kay said, holding out
the hand already in harness.

"Ready," Junket said, clasping
her wrist. He gathered up
the frayed ends of his focus
and made the jump.

* * *

Notes:

The character, location, and content notes will appear in separate posts.

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