Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Indispensable to Each Other"

This poem came out of the May 15, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] daisiesrockalot, [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron, and LJ user My_partner_doug. It also fills the "Police Officer" square in my 5-1-18 Roles card for the Pro Wrestling Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calliope and Officer Pink threads of the Polychrome Heroics series. This poem spans several days; Presidents' Day is on Monday, February 16, 2015 and Mixed-Cape Emergency Response runs February 14-16, 2015.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics and controversial issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features ongoing bond issues between Calliope and Vagary, trustbuilding activities, rude language, trust issues, cape issues, personal strengths and weaknesses, forgiving and unforgiving, small servings of food are hard on soups, maniacal laughter, discomfort with trustbuilding exercises, because demi* people can be slow to warm up, someone getting pulled out the room for inappropriate behavior, superpower acceptance and rejection, Boris the Brawn is a badass in his wheelchair, puckish behavior, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Indispensable to Each Other"

Vagary was gone.

He had been gone for
quite some time now,
and so Calliope was
enjoying the respite.

Without him in her hair,
maybe she could catch up
on her professional training.

So she browsed online until
she found a listing for classes
in disaster preparedness.

Calliope scrolled through
all the tornado prep that she
already knew well enough
to teach if she had to.

She wasn't interested
in strictly medical stuff, or
other isolated information.

Advanced Incident Management
looked interesting, but that one
conflicted with her schedule.

Then Calliope saw a listing for
Mixed-Cape Emergency Response
in Tulsa on the three-day weekend
that included Presidents' Day.

That would be perfect.

She signed up for the event,
using her superhera code so that
SPOON would pick up half the cost.

When Calliope arrived at the hotel,
she discovered that superheroes got
the gorgeous corner rooms as a perk for
interfacing with ordinary first responders.

Most of the attendees were police,
paramedics, firefighters, and so forth
who had to (or expected they might)
deal with supervillain volunteers
during a major emergency scene.

Calliope didn't know if any supervillains
were attending. She hoped not.

Saturday focused on trustbuilding.

First they had a mixer that used
surveys to pair up participants
so that instead of trying to meet
a whole roomful of new people, they
could focus on making one good friend.

Calliope loved that idea, and she liked
the cute cop with the bright pink hair
that she wound up with as a partner.

"Hi, I'm Calliope," she said.
"Pleased to meet you."

"I'm Ansel, also known as
Officer Pink," he replied.
"What brings you here?"

"I'm taking the weekend class
since my supervillain ball-and-chain
is off on some other adventure,"
Calliope said. "What about you?"

"Oh, that's too bad," Ansel said.
"My supervillain partner couldn't
come either. He can't do crowds."

Calliope blinked at him. It had
never occurred to her that anyone
might actually miss a supervillain.

She was grateful for the silly icebreakers
that moved conversation to lighter topics
so that she had time to get to know the guy
she would be spending a weekend with.

"If you could be any animal in the world,
what animal would you choose to be?"
Calliope read from the card. "I think
I'd be a bird, and find out how flying
feels with wings instead of wind."

"You're a flyer? Cool," Ansel said.
"I'd be a caney, like Turq, so I could
run with him and keep up ... it's kind of
a wolf-fox-dog. He's a shapeshifter."

So was Calliope, sort of, but she
sure didn't want to share that.

The conversation rambled on until
the organizers called them to class.

In the first presentation, they studied
the elements of trust and then broke
into small groups to discuss those.

"That's the problem about working
with supervillains," Calliope said.
"They're not very trustworthy."

"Do you have problems with that?"
Ansel asked. "Turq and I had
some earlier, but we've worked
through most of that now."

"Yeah, I never know when
Vagary will be around or what
he'll do," she said. "When we're
chasing storms, though, he's solid."

"So he's able but not honest,"
Ansel said. "That's uncomfortable."

"What about yours?" Calliope said.

"Turq is as reliable as he can be
under the circumstances, and we have
great rapport, but --" Ansel grimaced.
"-- his past limits what he can do now."

"I get it," Calliope said. "Vagary is
trying -- sometimes very trying --
but I have to give him credit for
level-grinding through social skills."

"And how does that compare with
superheroes or ordinary responders
that you've worked with?" Ansel said.

Calliope winced, then straightened up.

"Well, this one time a squall line came
tearing through Tornado Alley, so I asked
Vagary to help because our powers heterodyne,"
she explained. "I called SPOON for a teleport, and
the dispatcher balked over my temporary sidekick.
I had to take Vagary's offer of a teleport through
his organization. Talk about embarrassing!"

Ansel shook his head. "That's awful.
A bad dispatcher gets people hurt."

"Yeah, I complained about it," she said.

They also worked on a trust action plan,
intended to shore up their weaker areas.

"I really need to work on my Able area,"
said Ansel. "I feel like I don't know enough
about cape issues for even basic competence,
which definitely has gotten people hurt.
It's why I'm taking this course."

"For me it's the Connected part,"
Calliope said. "I'm a good listener
and yet not great at communication,
plus I'm slow to form rapport."

They jotted down ideas
and decided to watch for
workshops in those areas.

The next presentation talked about
recognizing the signs of trustworthy
or untrustworthy people, and
how to repair broken trust.

"You look even unhappier now
than before," Ansel said. "What's up?"

Calliope sighed. "The way that
Vagary and I met isn't really
something I can forgive."

"Ouch," Ansel said.
"Forgiveness can be hard."

"What would you know
about it?" Calliope muttered,
already feeling frazzled.

Ansel unbuttoned his sleeve
to show a faint outline of a hand.

"That's a weird tattoo," Calliope said.
"I've never seen one quite like it."

"It's not a tattoo," Ansel said.
"This is what's left of a nerve burn.
Turq gave me this the day we met.
I pushed him too far, and he snapped."

"Wow," Calliope said. "Um, sorry.
I guess I wasn't really thinking.
So he zapped you, and you're
still friends somehow?"

"We are now, but that took
months to develop," Ansel said.
"Have you tried counseling?"

"Yeah, couples counseling,"
Calliope said, looking away.
"Vagary suggested that after
I made a pretty big mistake."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that,"
Ansel said. "I was thinking of
private counseling. I wonder if
couples counseling would help
me and Turq -- or maybe group,
there are some other folks involved."

"It's helping some, at least for us,"
Calliope said. "It's worth a try."

After that, they went to lunch
in the Warren Duck Club.

A few minutes later, Ansel
stared down at a plate full of
fussy little finger sandwiches and
a few sweet potato waffle chips.
"Seriously?" he groaned.

"The salad bar is good,"
Calliope said. She had
one plate heaped with fruit,
another with greens and meat.

"Now I know what to order tomorrow,"
Ansel said as he scarfed down his lunch.
"At least I can always get dessert."

Soon the waiter brought a plate
with a small brownie square,
several cubes of spongecake,
and an orange impaled with
a stray sprig of rosemary.

"They are actually trying
to starve us to death,"
Ansel whimpered.

"Don't panic, Ansel, I saw
a Healthy Human vending village
in the foyer," Calliope said.

She knew that some soups
needed a lot more calories
than most people did -- after
using her powers, she often
felt downright ravenous.

What was the restaurant thinking?

"Someone's going to faceplant,
eating like this," Ansel said.

Then again, maybe that
wasn't common knowledge.

"Credible threat," Calliope said.
"We should alert the organizers
so they can boost the menu."

"On it," Ansel said, stuffing
the last of his pathetic dessert
into his mouth. He sent a message
on his vidwatch. "Okay, done."

After that, Calliope led Ansel
to the vending village in the foyer.

They had just started browsing
the offerings in the machines when
a deep, familiar voice said, "Calliope!"

She whirled to see Boris the Brawn
from the Arcadia East apartment mall.
"Wow, you're a long way from home."

"Yeah, I caught a ride with Prism," said Boris.
"She's a fragmentary teleporter who wants
to learn how to avoid freaking out the cops
and the other ordinary first responders.
She's great in a crisis, you know, but
it does look kind of alarming."

"Ansel, this is Boris the Brawn
from Eastbord," said Calliope.
"Boris, this is Ansel, also
known as Officer Pink."

Boris turned his wheelchair
around to shake hands with Ansel.
He had a lap full of Hippie Chips and
Boom Chicka Pop, topped by a packet
of Hot Fries from Super Human Snacks.

Just then the HotHuman machine beeped
and dispensed a steaming plate of
stewed meat over brown rice.

Ansel swallowed hard.

"Sheesh, eat something before
you fall over," Boris said, and
passed him the plate. "I'll
order another for myself."

"Thank you," Ansel said,
and devoured the meaty rice
as if he'd had no lunch at all.

"The restaurant gets rave reviews,
but I bet they're all from naries,"
Boris grumbled as he refreshed
his order. "I had to talk to the cook."

"Is the cook still walking?"
Calliope wondered.

"Hah," said Boris. "Yes.
He needs his legs in order
to make more food!"

"So what are you here for?"
Ansel asked. "I want to learn
more about supervillains."

"Building incident management,"
Boris said. "I run the security for
Arcadia East, so I want to be able
to interface with nary authorities
in the event of an emergency."

"Oh hey," Ansel said happily.
"I'm a party monitor, myself.
I used to make time with
campus security in college.
The better dorms had
their own staff, not just
the people on a beat."

Calliope listened to them
chatting as she went to get
herself an ice cream. Ansel had
a knack for connecting with people.

Just as the machine was dispensing
chocolate protein ice cream into
her bowl, the other one beeped
again for Boris' rice plate.

He took it and rolled over
to one of the dining tables.
Calliope noticed that it had a gap
in the benches for a wheelchair user.

"Isn't this place great?" Boris said.
"I love the handicap features here.
My assigned partner's a paramedic and
she's been raving about them. Did you
notice they made all the dotties accessible?"

"No, I haven't had time to explore
the whole facility," Calliope said.
"I'm just glad they have dotties."

"Check out the fitness complex with
the accessible unisex shower rooms,"
Boris said. "They have a pool and
an exercise room, and a jogging path
that loops the grounds outside.
That path is accessible too."

"It sounds lovely," said Ansel.
"I wish I could've brought my bike."

"There's probably a rental place
somewhere in Tulsa," said Calliope
as she devoured her ice cream.

"Meanwhile, come down to
the fitness complex," Boris said.
"I'll kick your ass for you." Then
he threw back his head and
gave a maniacal laugh.

Calliope rolled her eyes.
Supervillains. They were
like thirteen-year-old boys
with mystical blowtorches.

"I may take you up on that,"
Ansel said with a gleam in his eye.

Maybe superheroes weren't much better.

"We should get back to class," she said.
"Our lunch break is almost over."

The next session wasn't a presentation
but rather a trustbuilding period when
people could choose different activities.

"I hate this shit," Calliope muttered.
"I can't trust someone I just met!"

"I feel what you mean," Ansel said
with a vigorous nod. "I can do it, but
it's not really comfortable. I guess
that simulates an emergency, though."

Calliope glared at the signs around
the ballroom for activities like Human Knot,
People Pinball, and the infamous Trust Fall.
"It would have to be some emergency."

"Not having fun?" said a perky voice.
One of the activity supervisors came over,
a cheerful brunette whose burgundy shirt
read, Real queens fix each other's crowns.
"I'm Lavinia Queen. Maybe I can help."

"I'm not sure," Ansel said. "My partner
and I agree that we don't like trust exercises
because it takes time for us to build trust."

"I'd rather avoid getting groped by
a bunch of strangers," Calliope added.

"Okay, first of all, trust exercises should be
done in stages. See the station markers?"
Lavinia said, pointing around the room.
"Only experienced folks are jumping ahead.
You can start with no-contact activities.
Do you know anyone else here?"

"Oh yeah," Ansel said. "Calliope,
why don't we try teaming up with
your friend Boris? I doubt that he
wants people pawing him either."

Calliope giggled at the image of
the burly Boris putting up with that.

So they tracked down Boris and
his partner Noria, a blonde woman
with a cheerful yet practical air.

"Do you folks want to hook up
with us?" Calliope invited.

"Sure," Noria said, smiling.
"Let's see what there is to play."

Calliope realized that one station
had tabletop games for teamwork.
"Colorblind Communication," she read
on one package. "I scored low on
communication, and this looks fun."

"Blindfolds?" Boris said dubiously.

"If you're not comfortable with that,
one of us could stand guard while
others play," Ansel said. "I volunteer
to guard first, since it was my idea."

So the others put on blindfolds and
groped through the weird shapes,
trying to describe them well enough
to assemble a complete set.

Then Boris swapped out so Ansel
could try, except the supervillain made up
crazy game rules where they had to find
pieces of the right color, when only he could
see the colors and the rest of them had
to remember what he said counted or not.

After that, Boris declared that it was
Ansel's turn to pick something, since
he had the good idea to stand guard.

Ansel rummaged through the games.
"Hey, we can play Blink with these!"
he exclaimed, holding up a card deck.
They didn't have suits, only pictures.

"What's Blink?" Calliope asked.

So Ansel showed them how to play
a game that involved looking at pictures
very briefly, then trying to remember details
like which book a man was holding or
what all of the street signs said.

"It's a good way to demonstrate
competence," he explained.
"Lots of first responders play it
for that as well as honing
their observation skills."

Unsurprisingly, Ansel won, but
Noria came in a close second.

Then a shrill whistle sounded.

Calliope jerked upright to see
Lavinia towing someone away
from the Windsor quadrant for
the moderately physical activities.

"You need to come with me,"
the organizer said. "We
have a separate session in
Remington Hall for people who
aren't ready for this level yet."

"Shit, there went Prism's partner,"
Boris said, pointing out the teleporter
who stood with her arms crossed.

"That sucks," Calliope said.
"Let's invite her to join us."

"She likes the more physical stuff,"
Boris said. "You up for that?"

"I'm smooth with moving to
Geneva for physical interaction,"
Calliope said, "if she's willing
to step down a notch for now."

Prism was willing, and led
the search for a new exercise.
"Look, they have Pipe Dream!"
she said, holding up a half-pipe and
a ball. "Well, part of it, anyway."

Boris chuckled. "I think that's
the complete nary version," he said.

"With no corners or intersections?"
Prism said. "Eh, it's a start."

"This game works on competence
and communication," Ansel read
from the page of instructions.
"There's a more advanced set,
but someone else must have it."

Calliope found the beginner set
quite challenging enough, because
they had to line up and employ
the half-pipes to route a ball
from a starting point to a goal.

It was a lot harder than it
looked, especially since Boris
was so much shorter than the others,
even with Noria crouching beside him.

"Can we use our superpowers?"
Prism said. "Mine would help a lot,
but it's ... kind of creepy to watch."

"Let me get you a folding screen,"
Lavinia said, and came back with
two long blue ones that bent
into a discreet little roomlet.

Inside that space, Prism
could teleport safely without
disturbing the other attendees.

It was bizarre to watch her body
and the air around her crackle into
facets, then shatter and reform, but
Calliope learned to deal with it.

"That's not so bad," she said
after they got the ball in the cup
for the third time in a row.

"Minority of one," Prism muttered.

"Two," said Noria. "I think it's pretty."

"Three," said Ansel. "Your control
is impeccable. The other teleporters
I know have a real hard time with theirs."

Boris shrugged. "You already
know what I think of your talent."

"I just wish other first responders
could see it that way," said Prism.

Calliope got an idea, and took out
her smartphone to run a quick search.
Then she placed an order.

Ansel seemed to be doing
something similar himself.

"Shake it off, Prism," said Noria.
"In an emergency, you won't have
time to mope and other responders
won't have time to freak over your gift.
Let's step it up and move to Windsor."

"Everyone okay with that?" Ansel said,
looking around at their little team.

Calliope thought about that.

She had met Boris before,
and Noria was a paramedic.

For some reason, she
found herself trusting
Ansel sooner than usual.

Prism wasn't as scary as
some people Calliope had
dealt with in the past, either.

"I'm smooth with it," she said.
Boris and Prism both nodded.

Windsor was the quadrant where
you had to move your bodies
together more closely, but not
as much as in Buckingham.

One table held piles of ropes,
stretchy bands of fabric,
and wooden boards.

"This says People Puzzle,"
Calliope mused, holding up
a pair of looped ropes.

Boris shook his head.
"It's fun, but I already know
the solution to that one."

"Me too," said Ansel,
so Calliope put it back.

"Team Skis!" Noria said,
pulling out two long boards.
Then she looked at Boris.
"Oh wait, that won't work
for everyone in the group."

Boris did his villain laugh again.
"You'll have to try harder than that
to cut me out of the loop!" he said.
"Now you just have to decide whether
you want to walk blindfolded with me
calling directions, or if you actually
want to try carrying me on those skis."

Noria gave him a considering look.
"You can't be that heavy," she said.

"Wait, safety first," Ansel said.
"Let's make sure we can walk
with the team skis before we
add complicating factors."

He and Noria had both
done it before, so that made
the learning curve go faster.

Calliope still found it challenging,
but she did her best to keep up.
"What's this supposed to teach,
other than what we look like
falling on our asses?"

"Communication and
responsiveness," Ansel said.

"I need more work on responsiveness,
but it's not going to help me much,"
Boris said, shaking his head.

"It will if I'm carrying you,"
Noria said. "Your body
needs to work with mine
if you're conscious."

"Try the blindfolds first,"
Ansel said, still careful
about the safety.

It was nice to have
someone watching that.

Boris turned out to be
quite adept at giving them
directions as they tried
to walk in a square with
their eyes covered.

"Ready to give me a lift?"
he challenged, looking at Noria.

"Mount up," she said, crouching
in front of his wheelchair. "I can
hold you on my hips or over
my shoulders, take your pick."

"Over both shoulders will be
more balanced," Boris said.

"Okay," she said. "Tighten
your belt, because I'll be
holding onto your pants. You
don't have enough leg left for
a good grip." She turned to
the others. "Remember, folks,
in an emergency: be frank."

Calliope was impressed
with how gracefully Boris
dove onto Noria's shoulders.

Of course, then they had to get
everyone on the team skis and
moving in the right direction.

Even seeing where they were
going, it was harder than before.

They made it, though.

At the end of the session,
they were all hungry again.

"I'm really not looking forward
to that restaurant again, even if
it's already paid for," Ansel said.
"The food's good, but there
is just not enough of it."

"Screw that," Boris said. "I'm
ordering a leaning tower of pizza.
Who wants what on theirs?"

Calliope was all for Hawaiian,
Noria wanted vegetarian, and
the others went for everything.

It was surprising how agreeable
the company of supervillains
could be when one of them
was paying for pizza.

That night, Calliope
found herself recalling
her trip to Arcadia East,
which had gone pretty well.

She thought about Ansel, too,
who was a pretty cool dude,
and whose outrageous pink hair
kept making her smile at him.

Noria was solid, and Prism --
well, it always helped to have
friends who could teleport.

If nothing else, Calliope would
come away from this weekend
with useful new contacts.

The next morning was
devoted to leadership.

They started with surveys
to identify their strengths
and their weaknesses.

Then they scattered
to choose from modules
set up around the ballroom.

Calliope bumped into Ansel
again at the human behavior booth.

"Vagary and I did something like this
in couples therapy," she said, going
down the lists of needs. "Ours
were pretty different, though."

"Did it help you figure out
how to cooperate better?"
Ansel asked, working on his.

"Maybe a little," Calliope said.
"Mostly it just helped us understand
why we feel and act so differently."

"Okay, that's useful too," Ansel said.
"Turq and I may want to try that."

Calliope gave him the information
about the longer worksheets that
they had done in therapy.

After that, she went to
the communication area.
It had a fantastic selection
of information and exercises.

There Calliope crossed paths
with Noria. "I want to study
barriers," she said. "Listening
isn't enough, I need to connect,
but sometimes I feel as though
something gets in the way."

"Oh, I hear you," Noria said.
"I have to connect with people
really fast at work, and that's hard.
Would you mind talking about
superpowers as a barrier?"

"Gladly," Calliope said.
"Often it helps -- especially
during a storm -- but other times,
people look at me and see a soup
instead of a person. I think I have
difficulty with cape politics, too; I see
a supervillain rather than someone
who might be willing and able to help."

"Uniforms can do that too," Noria said.
"Sometimes people see what I'm wearing
and just freak, especially if they've had
bad experiences with people in uniform --
even a totally different one, like the police."

Calliope chuckled. "That's actually
one reason why my superhera costume
is pink, blue, lavender, and cream," she said.
"There's no mistaking it for anything official,
and it's hard to be scared of anyone
who'd dressed like cotton candy."

"Does it really work?" Noria said.
Captivated, she leaned forward.

"Most of the time," Calliope said.
"Some people don't take superheroes
very seriously because most of us wear
cape costumes, so that can be a barrier.
It does more good than harm, though."

For her own part, she identified
culture and stress as key barriers,
but superpowers really belonged
in a category all their own.

She made a note of that idea
for the organizers, too.

Everyone she knew came to
the section on diversity.

Ansel and Boris were talking
about the ways that tattoos and
other bodymods could affect
interactions between people.

"I think we need more folks
in positions of authority who have
visible differences," Ansel said.
"Otherwise, a lot of people won't
feel like they have anyone on
their side, who understands them."

"Nothing about us without us,"
Boris said with a firm nod. "That's
an issue for people with disabilities,
but also with social issues like
a criminal background."

"See, that's why we need
the Way Back Program,"
Noria said, diving into
the conversation. "I know
several paramedics who
got into it because they
wanted to carry Narcan,
and then just kept going."

"Exactly," Ansel said.
"They need a way to earn
better opportunities, or else
they'll just get in trouble again."

"But how do you know that
you can really trust them?"
Calliope said. "I wouldn't."

"We know," Boris snapped.
Then he waved a hand. "Sorry.
That's a sore spot for me."

"For a lot of people," Prism said.
"I run into that all the time, just
because of how my power looks."

"I didn't mean to disrespect
anyone here," Calliope said.

Boris just shrugged and said,
"We're used to it," which made
Calliope feel even worse.

They all stuck together
and trooped over to the
area reserved for change.

"Right now, the world is
changing very fast," Ansel said.
"We need to adapt to that or
we will fall off in a ditch."

"You're a country boy,"
Calliope guessed.

"Yep," Ansel said. "I
spent a lot of time on
my grandparents' farm
when I was growing up.
I learned a lot that way."

"Superpowers are changing,"
Boris said quietly. "They are
getting stronger -- some superkids
can lift more than Granny Whammy."

"I've heard about that," said Calliope.
"We need to account for the changes,
and some of it's kind of obscure, like
knowing how much to feed people."

"I think we need more blue plates,
not just superheroes and supervillains,
or even gray capes," Prism said.

"Hear, hear," Ansel said. "I'm
the only soup in my department,
and sometimes that's hard."

"I'd be happy if we could just get
people into good jobs," said Noria.
"Every time I see a speedster robbing
banks, it frustrates me, because they
could be driving a zoomwagon."

"That would make me happy, too,"
Boris said. "Not everyone is cut out
to be a troublemaker, and when people
get stuck as supervillains -- or minions --
because they have no other option,
that tends to end badly for all."

Suddenly Calliope wondered if
Vagary would have been happier
as a tour guide leading people
through hard-to-reach places.

Beside her, Ansel had taken out
his smartphone to make notes.

"I'm happy as a gray cape now, but
if I'd had more opportunities earlier,
then things might have turned out
differently for me," Prism said.

"All right, we've all got a dog
in this fight," Boris said. "Let's
brainstorm what we could change
to help more people with superpowers
become blue plate specials instead of
getting caught up in cape politics."

Calliope was all for that, because
cape politics had made a mess
of her life in so many ways.

"We are really learning a lot,"
she said. "That's a good thing."

"Leadership and learning are
indispensable to each other,"
Ansel said with a smile.

"Maybe that's the real key,"
Calliope said, remembering
the squall line. "We're supposed
to be thinking about how we can
handle disasters across cape lines.
I think it just comes down to ... making
ourselves indispensable to each other."

"Well said," Ansel confirmed, and
patted Calliope on the back.

After that, it was time for lunch.

They found the restaurant
much improved from before,
with some items just bigger,
some from the dinner menu,
and others entirely new.

The five of them started out
by sharing an appetizer plate
of garlic crostini with cheese
and crimini mushrooms.

Ansel found a platter of
beef, chicken, and shrimp
more attractive today than
yesterday's plan of a salad bar.

Calliope got the ahi tuna and
Prism ordered pork shanks,
both with side salads.

Noria chose basil pasta
topped with serrano shrimp
wrapped in bacon strips.

Boris requested something
that Calliope didn't recognize,
and then there came a platter
piled high with tentacles.

Calliope kept her eyes
firmly on her own plate
for a while after that.

The desserts were
bigger and better, too.

Ansel picked out
a piece of chocolate torte
with sliced strawberries
and pastry cream.

Prism selected
a tower made from
fresh fruit, pastry discs,
and more pastry cream.

Boris ate bread pudding
covered with rum sauce.

Calliope's apple cobbler
came with three small scoops
of vanilla ice cream on top
and caramel sauce drooling
down the sides of the bowl.

It was incredibly delicious.

Beside her, Ansel pushed
his plate away, leaving
a few spoonfuls of cream.
"I can't eat another bite."

Keeping a wary eye on
Ansel, Boris scooped up
the last of the pastry cream.

Ansel didn't complain, though,
just said, "You're welcome to it."

After lunch, his phone chirped
a message, and a minute later,
Calliope's did the same.

"Package for you, Prism,"
Ansel said with a grin,
waving to the messenger.

Hesitantly, Prism opened
the package and unfolded
a white t-shirt with red letters
on the front that read, In case
of emergency, break glass

"I figured that this would help
people realize that you're ready
to help in a crisis, and give them
a clue about your travel mode,"
Ansel said. "I hope it works."

Calliope laughed. "You found
a more classic one than I did.
My contribution is a lot sassier."

Prism slit open the next envelope
and pulled out a dark pink t-shirt that
read, In case of emergency
break glass ceiling.

She held the t-shirts
up to her front one at
a time, then smiled.

"I don't know if these will
help or not, but thank you
for trying," she said. "Usually
nobody considers it a real problem
when folks treat me differently
because of my superpower."

The afternoon session was on
dealing with difficult people.

"Well, supervillains are
pretty much difficult by
definition," Calliope said.

"I resemble that remark,"
Boris said, and laughed --
maniacally, of course.

"Turq is difficult, but I
wouldn't trade him for
anything," Ansel said.

"Vagary is ... a hardship,
but I'm probably as much
a pain in his ass as he is
in mine," Calliope admitted.

They talked about the traits
that made someone nettlesome,
the kinds of difficult people, and
how to cope with those.

Calliope remembered
the needs module and
the therapy worksheets
comparing people's needs.

Maybe being difficult was
just a matter of perspective.

By the time class let out
for the evening, they were
all ready for something
a little more active.

So they changed into
athletic clothes and then
competed against each other.

They started with arm wrestling
(Boris won) and weightlifting
(Boris won that round too.)

They threw shotput (Ansel won)
and ran some races (Noria won,
but Boris made her work for it;
the supervillain was hell on wheels).

They went swimming (Calliope won)
and Prism could do more pull-ups
than anyone else on the team,
which was a surprise.

Calliope was trying
(and failing) to beat Ansel
at box-jumping when she
noticed Boris flicking his hand
in a deliberate manner.

Then he waved, and
a teen boy trotted over.

"Folks, this is Pushka Radloff,"
said Boris. "He's an EMT and
a budding gizmologist." Then
Boris went around the group
rattling off everyone's names.

"I overheard Prism say that she
wants to learn how to work in
hot zones," said Pushka. "I want
to do that too, but my partner
had to go home early."

"Do you want to pair up?"
Prism said at once. "We get
extra credit if we can find
a replacement after
losing a partner."

"Sounds great,"
Pushka replied.
"Are you into
fitness games?"

"Oh hell yes,"
Prism said, and
everyone agreed.

"Do they have
beach balls here?"
Pushka said. "We
could play tap ball."

"Those are in with
the swimming gear,"
Calliope said. "I'm game."

They took the beach ball
outside to the Center Green,
a long expanse of grass with
a few scattered trees.

The weather was cold but
not windy or snowy, so that
made a perfect playing field.

"Okay, the goal is to hit the ball
twenty times without dropping it,"
Pushka said. "After you hit it,
you have to do an exercise
before you can hit it again."

The paramedics had an edge
in speed, so their exercise was
running around the nearest tree.

Everyone else decided on
pushups except for Boris,
who did wheelchair spins.

They only made it halfway
the first time before dropping
the ball -- it took teamwork, and
they didn't know each other well yet.

After a few rounds, though, they
learned a rhythm and got to twenty.

"Woohoo!" Pushka said. "Go us!
Who wants to pick the next game?"

"Anyone ever play exercise I spy?"
Ansel said. "It's popular with cops
because we need observation skills.
It's just like the regular game, except
you pay for the first question with
one exercise, the second with two,
and so on until you win or wear out."

"Sounds like fun," Boris said.

"We can divide in two teams,
each spying an item, and then
trade questions," Ansel said.

They split into threes with
Ansel, Calliope, and Prism set
against Boris, Noria, and Pushka.

A whispered conversation led
to Calliope picking a bottlecap
that flashed silver in the sun.

It took them fifteen questions
to identify the storm drain.

"What the hell is yours?"
Boris said. "I got nothin'."

Calliope laughed and then
pointed to the tiny bottlecap.

"You're evil," Prism said,
shaking her head. "I think
I hate you a little right now."

Ansel's stomach growled.
"Can we stop and eat?"
he said. "I'm starving."

"Good plan," said Boris.

"I asked my teleporter friends
for the best Chinese food in Tulsa,
so I planned to get takeout from
the Golden Gate," said Prism,
looking at Boris. "You buy, I fly?"

"Deal," he said, reaching for his wallet.

"Works for me," Ansel said, and
pulled out his. "I like sweet things."

"One order of orange chicken,
coming up," said Prism, making
a note on her smartphone.

"Why are you paying?"
Boris said, glaring at Ansel.
"I already told you I would."

"Oh, sorry, is it different for
supervillains?" Ansel said.
"White hat custom for groups
is usually everyone chips in,
but the driver doesn't have to --
or teleporter, in this case."

"Eh, works for me," Boris said.

Calliope chipped in. "I like
all kinds of seafood," she said.

"How about Hawaiian shrimp?"
Prism said. "I'm already getting
crab rangoons and egg rolls --
those came highly recommended."

"Sounds great," Calliope said,
handing over several bills.

Prism called in the order,
then everyone went to shower
and change before supper.

She came back loaded
with fragrant, steaming bags.

Two big paper buckets held
the egg rolls and crab rangoons.

Many smaller cartons dispensed
egg foo young with pork, kung pao beef,
vegetable lo mein, and house special stir fry.

Calliope grabbed chopsticks and started
on the Hawaiian chicken but tried
all the other items as well.

Pushka favored the egg foo young
while Noria devoured vegetable lo mein.

Nobody tried to get at the orange chicken
until Ansel was done with it and then
moved on to try something else.

At last, too stuffed for more than
a fortune cookie, Calliope stuck
her chopsticks in the rice
and said, "I'm done."

Ansel took them out and
laid them across her plate.
"This is the polite way in
Asian cultures," he said.

Prism's eyebrows went up.
"How'd you know that?"
Most white people don't."

"I just learned it recently,"
Ansel said. "My friend Turq
is Chinese-American."

That supper made for
a satisfying conclusion to
a challenging but productive day.

Back in her room, Calliope was
surprised by how well she had
gotten along with Boris and friends.
Maybe not all supervillains were
as habitually annoying as Vagary.

Or maybe even Vagary had
a less-annoying side that
Calliope simply hadn't seen.

On Monday morning, they
studied disaster preparedness
and emergency response.

First the instructors went over
all of the basic information with
attention to how superpowers
could change things like fire safety,
first aid, or search and rescue.

Organization and disaster psychology
were complicated by the cross-cape politics,
and terrorism could get a whole lot worse with
persons of mass destruction or super-gizmos.

Then they got to the fun part: simulations.
The instructors led everyone outside.

Calliope was grateful; she'd been feeling
restless for no reason she could name.

"Okay, folks," said Lavinia. "This session
is a competition and there will be prizes!
Those are in pairs, so stick to your partner.
We've seen some bigger teams forming up,
and that's fine too. Everyone imagine
a disaster and invent an exercise that
would help you prepare for it. Watch
your neighbors! The team that inspires
the most copycats wins first place."

Calliope and Ansel looked at each other,
nodded, and searched for their new friends.

It wasn't hard to find Boris and Noria,
Prism and Pushka, who were all
looking for the two of them in return.

"Any scenario we pick, we have
two people for evac," Calliope said,
waving at herself and Prism.

"We also have two people
who want to learn more about
working in hot zones," Ansel said,
pointing out Prism and Pushka.

"Would you mind playing
the victim again?" Noria said,
turning to Boris. "I've got an idea."

"We need a scenario," Ansel said.
"That's part of the assignment."

"Almost anything will work for
what I have in mind," Noria said.
"Let's say there's a cape fight,
to fit the theme of this workshop.
Our goal is to move a victim from
the hot zone, through the warm zone,
and into the cold zone for medevac."

"Oh, this sounds like fun," said Calliope.
"Prism and I will take the last part."

"That puts Pushka in the middle.
We can give Prism a chance at it too,
and Noria if she's not simulating
medical treatment," said Boris.
"What about the hot zone? I
used to work it, but I'm the vic."

Ansel raised his hand. "I belong
to a BASH team," he said.
"I'll take the hot zone."

"Okay, how do you want
to pick me up?" said Boris.

"Get out of that rig and
I'll show you a cool way,"
Ansel said with a grin.

"So let's pretend that I've
dumped myself like a noob,"
Boris said, and tumbled
out of his wheelchair.

Prism snorted. "Yeah, right."

Ansel dove over Boris and
came up with the supervillain
draped neatly over his shoulders.

"Daaaamn," Pushka said, awed.
"How did you do that?"

"It's called a ranger roll, and
I learned it at the police academy
from a retired SEAL," said Ansel.
"It uses momentum to create lift,
because hoisting a limp body
is incredibly hard to do."

He took time to show them
not only how to do that, but
also how to stand back-to-back
and transfer a passenger, which
they'd need to do for the relay race.

Then Calliope went to Lavinia
and said, "We need a way to mark
hot, warm, and cold zones," she said.
"What equipment do you have?"

"We have traffic cones in all colors,"
Lavinia said. "I'll get you some."

So they used a pair of red cones
to mark the start of the hot zone,
yellow for the warm zone, and
finally blue for the cold zone.

Looking around, Calliope
saw that the other groups had
all kinds of sport equipment in play,
although some teams weren't using
anything but their own bodies.

The evacuation relay race
started when Boris dumped
himself out of his wheelchair.

Ansel scooped him up and
then ran to the orange cones,
where Pushka took the transfer
and hustled Boris to the cold zone.

Prism took Boris and teleported
back to the hot zone to start over.

This time when Pushka was running
through the warm zone, Prism started
lobbing random things at him -- footballs,
bouncy balls, frisbees, anything in reach.

Pushka dodged as best he could
without dropping Boris (who had
decided to imitate a civilian by
screaming his head off) and
made it over to Calliope.

She grabbed Boris and
flew him over to Noria.

"I hate you so much,"
Pushka panted, glaring at
Prism. "I'm gonna kill you ...
when I can breathe again."

"You can't get even if I'm dead,
dumbass," said Prism. "I want
a turn through the warm zone."

So Calliope got to do the lifting
in the next round as well.

Then Lavinia blew a whistle,
and it was time to try a new game.

"Check out the firefighters making
a human ladder to climb trees,"
Calliope said. "Let's do that."

"What about Boris?" Ansel said.

"Screw you," Boris said. "You
make the ladder, I'll climb it."

So they made a ladder with
Ansel and Noria on the bottom,
while everyone else climbed up.

Boris, damn him, fastened his lap belt
while nobody was watching and
took his wheelchair with him.

"I have skid marks on my new t-shirt,"
Prism bitched. "You are such an asshole."

"Supervillain," he said with a shrug.

"I want to try what they're doing,"
Ansel said next, pointing to
a mixed group with tires.

"Reload water!" a man yelled,
and someone ran for a blue tire
that they passed up the line.

"Reload first aid!" a woman yelled,
and along came a red tire.

"Sure, that looks useful,"
Calliope said. "Hey, Lavinia,
are there more colored tires?"

"We have plenty," Lavinia said,
pointing to a rack. "Get your own."

They soon found out why.

"Oof, this is heavy!"
Pushka said, frowning.

Ansel rolled a tire, which
made a soft slithering sound.
"They're filled with sand."

Boris stacked a couple on
each arm. "Nice heft," he said.
"Feels like about fifty pounds. I
oughta get some of these for
Arcadia East, they're good."

"Goddamn military medics,"
Prism muttered, but she
picked up one on each arm,
and Ansel did the same thing.

Everyone else contented
themselves with one tire.

They set up two piles and
two fetchers; the rest of them
made up the relay line.

Calliope discovered that
it was a lot of work hefting
the tires down the line, but
even with Boris in the middle
they still managed to keep
the passing height steady.

Lavinia blew the whistle again.
"First place, victim relay race!"

Calliope and her whole team cheered.

"We only have one set of first place prizes,
so you'll have to decide who gets these,"
Lavinia said, passing them two clear balls.
"They're super-gizmos. Squeeze and they'll
glow until you squeeze again. Throw one
up in the air and it will follow you."

The team traded glances.

"I don't need it for my work,"
Boris said, shaking his head.
"Me neither," Prism said, and
Calliope bowed out too.

Ansel hesitated, then said,
"Better not have something
moving around a BASH team.
Let the paramedics have them."

"Okay, good job settling that,"
Lavinia said. "The rest of you can
choose from auxiliary prizes."

That bin had some awesome stuff
in it, too. Ansel found a briefcase that
held a portable privacy field generator,
which was retro-engineered tech
but incredibly convenient.

"Holy shit, someone put
Aunt Flo's Flushies in here,"
Prism hissed, grabbing the box.

"What are those?" Noria said.

Prism whispered an explanation,
ending with, "Technically, they're
not legal, so nobody freak, okay?
But these are the hottest item for
barter with female supervillains."

Noria looked over her shoulder,
but everyone else was watching
the lower-place announcements.
"Are there any more in there?"

"No, but here, have a strip,"
Prism said, passing her some.
"Calliope, do you want in?"

She shook her head. "Nah, I
shouldn't tamper with my hormones."

Besides, if she got awful PMS or
cramps, she could just switch to
Calvin until the problem went away.

Boris chose a set of miniweights
made with heavy elements wrapped
in lead and then in rubber, which weighed
much more than their size suggested.

Calliope found a GPS unit with
a gross of drop dots that would be
very useful for marking locations.

"Well, that was a great success,"
Ansel said happily. "Go team!"

"Go team," Calliope agreed,
holding out a hand, and everyone
swiftly slapped theirs on top of it.

She looked around at the others
and realized that she had actually
gotten to know them a lot faster
than usual. As training events went,
this one ranked among her favorites.

She had a new cop friend, met
two paramedics, you could never
know too many teleporters, and
even Boris was okay if you
overlooked his jerk moments.

They had learned a lot about
leadership, cape dynamics, and
emergency response this weekend.

It made her think about Vagary again.
Calliope wondered what he was doing,
and whether he might be willing to try
some of the teambuilding exercises.

It couldn't be worse than the dancing,
after all, and it might help them
work together a little better.

Calliope wouldn't say that they
were indispensable to each other

... at least, not yet.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.  Read the character, location, and content notes.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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