Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Scars on the Mind"

This poem is spillover from the September 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, and discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "respect limits" square in my 9-1-18 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest, and the "mind" square in my 6-4-18 Dark Fantasy card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.  It is the first in a triptych with "The Worst Word in the Dictionary" and "The So-Called Truths."

Warning: This poem contains controversial and touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv is minding his own business when Dr. Infanta tracks him down wanting a favor. He is not at all pleased by this. There is cultural tension, awkward negotiation, stress, rude language, hurt feelings, medical references, arguments over the state of Shiv's body, and the inside of his head is a mess too, defensive hostility, Shiv has issues with information access, discussion of trade in black market materials, anticipated memory loss, Shiv has learned way more from therapy than he realizes, don't go in the basement, Shiv's horrible past, brain damage and other sequelae from child abuse, anxiety, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The Scars on the Mind"

[Saturday, April 4, 2015]

Shiv loved the North Omaha Transit Center,
the new one just finished last year when
he was still in prison. That had been
a great thing to come home to.

It had a weather canopy, stretched
like long wings over the sidewalks and
the benches beside the bus lanes. Where
they met was a big glass bus shelter.

There was a train station too,
with its own weather canopy over
the sidewalks and the train tracks.

Underneath the transit center was
a bike garage, and beside the buildings
lay a little bike park with dirt paths. It was fun
to watch people hotdogging it over the trails
even though Shiv couldn't ride himself.

Today he sat on a bench, happily
kicking his heels as he used his phone
to scroll through Saturday movie listings and
compare those with the notes in his datebook.

The first movie mentioned, The Woman in Gold,
sounded downright depressing to Shiv. It
was left over from last week anyway.

Two movies, Furious 7 and Superfast,
came highly recommended by Faster Blaster.
Both were of those were car flicks,
because he was a car nut.

Furious 7 sounded boring, but
the description for Superfast was
hilarious -- a bunch of speedsters
into drag racing, double-crossing,
and stealing all kinds of stuff.

Then there was Titan IC,
a science fiction student film
about six astronauts going to
Titan and trying to keep germs
from eating all their gear.

Shiv waffled over that one,
but decided it would probably be
more fun to watch with the Finns,
who could explain the science shit.

Of those, only three of them --
The Woman in Gold, Superfast,
and Titan IC -- were now playing at
the Strand Theater in North Omaha.
The other two movies there were
old ones he didn't care about.

If he wanted more choices,
he could go to the Omaha 16
and pay about twice as much, or go
clear over to the 20 Grand Theater in
Northwest Omaha and really get fleeced.

Shiv was drawing the movie poster
for Superfast in his datebook
when a little girl plopped on
the bench beside him.

"Beat it, kid, I'm busy,"
he said without looking up.

Her laugh tinkled like broken glass.
"I can make it worth your while."

Shiv really looked at her then.

She was slim, almost bony,
with a riot of brown hair ... and
enough power pouring off her
to light up the whole of Omaha.

There was a sharp edge to her, too,
something that he couldn't name but
definitely did not want to fuck with.

So this was Dr. Infanta, then.
Shiv had seen pictures on TV.

She was way scarier in person.

"I'm not here to mess with you," she said,
holding out a tiny hand. "Pinky swear."

Shiv never had believed in that shit, but
Boss White had drilled into him that
the more serious supervillains did,
and you'd respect it or else.

Warily, Shiv held out his hand.

Dr. Infanta hooked their small fingers
together and said, "See? I'm not a nutjob."

"Yeah well ... why are you here?"
Shiv said. "What do you want with me?"

He was pretty sure that it couldn't
be anything good. Dr. Infanta could
afford way better muscle than him.

"I want to hire you," she said.
"I'm willing to pay handsomely."

"For what?" Shiv said.

She opened her other hand,
revealing a #10 scalpel blade.

It was his. He knew it was his.
It was steel, not dymondine, but
Shiv always knew his own work.

"No," he snapped. "Hell no.
I may be a supervillain, but
I'm not a goddamn assassin,
and I'm not arming one either."

"It's not for me, and it's not
a weapon," she said quietly.

Shiv had blown way too much time
on those stupid exercises, because
when he looked at her now, all
he could think was sad face.

"Then what?" he said, although he
was pretty sure he didn't want to know.

"Blades you've made can cut through
Invulnerability," said Dr. Infanta. "I have
people who need that sometimes, for
medical reasons. We need your help."

"These ain't shivs," he said. "I don't
hand these out to just anybody."

"Of course not," she said.
"Medical personnel only."

"Yeah, right," Shiv said,
and reached for the blade.

Dr. Infanta curled her hand
around it. "Sorry, I promised
I'd give this back to its owner."

Shiv could take it from her,
of course, but not without
cutting her in the process.

He wasn't dumb enough to try it.

This was exactly the reason why he
didn't want to become widely known
for some of what he could do. Shiv
wracked his brain trying to figure out
how Dr. Infanta had even found him.

There had been the shivs in prison,
but those weren't much better than
what some other people could do.

There was the set of dymondine scalpels
that he'd made for Dr. Bloch as a way of
saying thanks for the Super-Immunity.

There was Molly's paramedic knife,
which was a work of art, but she would
never let that out of her hands unless
she had to throw it to save her life.

He'd made her promise, before he'd
ever let her have it, and nevermind
the contract with Tolli and Simon.
He couldn't risk something of his
getting her killed, and there were
people who'd kill to get such things.

Shiv was sitting beside one of them.

Dr. Infanta hadn't killed him, though,
and hadn't even threatened him,
other than being goddamn creepy
just sitting there being herself.

"I don't like this," Shiv grumbled.
"You shoulda gone through channels."

He didn't really want her bothering
his Boss, but still, there were rules.
Pouncing Shiv like this was rude to
Boss White because it went around him.

"If I'd done that, you would've blown me off,
not returned the message," she replied.

Well, that was certainly true.

"That's 'cause I don't want
to do this," Shiv said, glaring.

"I can make it worth your while,"
she repeated. "Ask me anything
you want -- I can probably get it, or
find someone who can do it."

Shiv's head swam with
a million ideas, every dream
he'd ever had and pushed down
when he realized he'd never
get any of them, but nothing
came clear enough to say.

"Yeah, that's what I thought,"
Dr. Infanta said. "So how about
we just go with my opening bid?
I can fix your eyes for you."

"My eyes are fine!" Shiv protested.

She blew a raspberry at him.
"Don't bother trying to lie to a healer."

Then she pulled out a card wallet and
fanned out a set of certs. At that size,
Shiv couldn't see much more than colors.

"Bart's in London, Montpellier in France,
University of Vienna in Austria, and
Complutense University in Spain,"
said Dr. Infanta. "These are
my first four medical degrees.
Here's a temporary card for
the Maldives, I'm updating
my medical education there."

"Huh," Shiv said. He peered
at the cards more seriously.

He had seen enough from
the Doctors Finn to have
some idea what to look for, but
the print was just too damn small.
He could make out some headlines,
but nothing farther down than that.

"This is what I mean," she said quietly.
"You're squinting and straining to see them.
Keep it up, you'll give yourself a headache."

"I'm fine!" Shiv barked. "Leave me alone.
Nobody asked you to butt in here."

But she'd set the hook too well. He
couldn't get it out of his head now.

He hated the vulnerability that
his fuzzy vision caused, and he
remembered how awesome it was
when Dr. Bloch's dietary changes had
boosted his night vision. Shiv had thought
that it was actually a superpower until
Dr. Bloch told him it was normal.

Shiv sighed. "What do you want."

"I want a set of six assorted scalpels,"
Dr. Infanta said. "Straight trade, that
for fixing your eyes, but I'll provide
the dymondine for them myself."

"I get to keep the scraps,"
Shiv said immediately.

"Of course," said Dr. Infanta.
"You want more? I have a source."

She knew way too much about him,
but that offer was so damn tempting,
especially given his current work.

"I'll think about it," Shiv said, picking
at a loose thread on his pants.
"You'll have to tell me more."

"You really want to talk about
this stuff out in public?" she said.

"No, but you picked the place,"
Shiv said. "Got a better idea?"

"Come with me," Dr. Infanta offered.
"My place is completely secure and
comfortable to work in. You'll get
a free ride home when we're done."

Shiv looked at his vidwatch. There
wasn't much longer until the lunch rush,
and he definitely did not want to be sitting
in the North Omaha Transit Center with
Dr. Infanta when that happened.

"Fine," he huffed. "Your place it is."

She snapped her fingers, and
two people appeared instantly.

Shiv yipped in surprise. He knew
more teleporters now, but they still
startled him popping in like that.

One of the two was a beefy man
who looked like a bodyguard -- Shiv
stifled a pang of envy -- and the other
was a long-faced woman whose mind
had the crisp edges of a telepath.

She didn't have the same kind of
mentally fastidious feeling that
most of them did, though.

Her touch was brisk and
professional as she scooped
his idsig out of the air and
left her own in its place.

Shiv felt himself grinning.
Nobody'd ever done that before,
and he never could resist a telepath.

"These are two of my Guardians,
Nanette and Lorry," said Dr. Infanta.
"Don't worry about overloading Lorry --
he can carry Judd, who is a horse."

Shiv had seen pictures of Dr. Infanta
with a black stallion about twice the size
of Simon and Tolli's rescue horses.

Well, at least he'd had enough practice
by now to hitch a ride without tripping.

Shiv held out a hand to Lorry,
breathed in, felt the touch,
closed his eyes, breathed out.

His ears popped. He blinked.
They were somewhere else.

Curious, Shiv looked around.

They were standing in a big room
with a funnel-shaped column in it and
a whole apartment wrapped around
that -- kitchen, bed, hide-a-bed couch,
a mess of office stuff, and so on.

"Come on, sit on something
that won't bruise your butt like
a bus stop," Dr. Infanta said,
plopping herself on the bed.

The frame was black metal pipe,
and the mattress was made of
sleek red foam with white pillows
tossed against the headboard.

Shiv poked at it, and his hand
sank in. It felt like pushing
on a cool, smooth cloud.

"This is really neat," he said
as he climbed onto the bed.

"I'm glad you like it," she said.
"Now let's talk trade, Shiv."

He looked the other two.
"With an audience?"

"We'll need them later,"
Dr. Infanta said. "For now --
go find something to do, please."

Lorry went to the office and
sat down at the angled desk,
fingers tapping on a keyboard.

Nanette went into the kitchen,
brought out a big box of fudge
which she placed on the bed,
and then disappeared again.

Dr. Infanta lifted out the top tray
and said, "This is mine. I'm going
to start frontloading in hopes that
you will agree to work for me.
You can have the other half."

That was at least a pound
of homemade-looking fudge.

Shiv took a tentative bite.

Incredibly good fudge, too,
dark chocolate thick with walnuts.
He shoveled in a few more bites,
then slowed down to savor it.

"Thanks," Shiv said, and meant it.
He might be pissed with her, and
scared of her, but that didn't mean
he wouldn't eat her delicious food.

"So this is where we talk trade,"
Dr. Infanta said. "Ideally, I'd like
to make this an ongoing arrangement.
I need some exceptional stuff that
you can make. I have loads of cash,
my Healing, and other goodies."

"Yeah well, the first part of my price is
I wanna know who ratted me out," Shiv said.
"You tell me that, or we're through here."

"Nobody," Dr. Infanta said, then lifted a hand
at his snort. "It's not for lack of trying. They
just wouldn't talk. I had to cheat to find you."

"Cheat how?" Shiv said, narrowing his eyes.
"I swear to fuckin' hell, if one more person
got in my goddamn Family Services files --"

"I asked an oracle," Dr. Infanta said.

"Oh." All the air went out of Shiv.
There was no guarding against that.

"I really don't mean you any harm,"
Dr. Infanta said earnestly. "I just need
to hire you. If you're upset about
the intrusion, I'll pay damages."

"Just start with fifty thousand,
sweetie, it'll go faster," Nanette said
from the kitchen. "Or the honeyband.
Remember that Aunt Flo's Flushies
are heading for public access."

That made Shiv perk up. He knew
about honeyband -- it was similar to
hydrocolloid bandages, but it had
slightly different healing properties.

"I wouldn't say no to the honeyband,"
he said, "or other back-shelf stuff."

"No problem, you can pick whatever
you like," Dr. Infanta said, waving a hand.

"Thing is, I don't wanna be known as
the guy who makes super-scalpels," Shiv said.
"Knives, okay, I do that. But I'm a supervillain,
not a medical supply catalog, not an artist."

"Nobody has to know where the goods
came from," Dr. Infanta assured him.
"Use a different touchmark on them,
if you like. I can even get you
a fake ID to go with it."

That made Shiv sit right up.
"You could make it look like
somebody else has my powers,"
he breathed. "Maybe somebody
like a failed healer, who stayed in
the same field doing different work.
Nobody would suspect me if they
had a cover guy to look for."

"Exactly," said Dr. Infanta.
"That's a good cover story, and
it makes up for me bugging you.
Do you want to go with that?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "Let's do it.
We can make this a gig if I
don't have to worry about
people hassling me for work
I don't want to do all the time."

"Nanette, make it happen,"
Dr. Infanta said, and Nanette
took out her smartphone. "Now,
today's negotiation is for one set
of assorted dymondine scalpels
We'll dicker over other stuff later."

"Okay," Shiv said. "That's fair."

"So, do you want me to fix
your eyes?" Dr. Infanta asked.

"Can you?" Shiv said. "I've heard
that it's ... not so simple to do."

Heron had 'casually' worked that
into a conversation, which left Shiv
wondering what else the healer
knew about his beat-up body.

"I can, because I do things
differently than most healers,"
Dr. Infanta said. "I can roll back
time, make it like you never got
injured. That has its pros and cons,
but a lot more pros than cons."

"And the cons?" Shiv said,
bracing himself for bad news.

"You'll lose some memory,"
Dr. Infanta said. "At minimum,
several minutes around the time when
the injury happened. More often, it's
a few hours. No longer than a day."

"Shit," muttered Shiv. "It's not like
I want those memories, but ... losing
them could get pretty confusing."

"There's a way to work around it,"
Dr. Infanta said. "If you let Nanette
copy the memories first, she can give
them back to you afterwards. It'll feel
more like you saw it in a movie rather
than lived it, but you'll know the plot."

"Okay, that works for me," Shiv said.

Dr. Infanta laughed. "Usually
people argue way more over it."

He shrugged. "I like telepaths,
have ever since I met the first one.
I just like the way they feel to me."

Nanette came over to sit beside them
on the cozy bed. "Will you show me
your memories of the injury? Just
imagine them folded up on a shelf,
so you can take down only the ones
that you want me to hold for you.
I promise to take good care of them."

"Oh, we're doing the linen closet thing,"
Shiv said. "Gimme a minute, I jammed
the latch again last week." He called
up the image in his mind, repaired
the louvered door, and opened it. He
remembered stabbing Stalwart Stan,
then Antimatter knocking him back.
"Here's the stack that you want."

Nanette was staring at him.
"What is in that basement?"

"Don't go in the basement, stay
on the main floor of the house,"
Shiv said seriously. "I'm sure
you're a total badass telepath,
but that place is dangerous."

"I hear something gurgling
down there," Nanette said.

Shiv cocked his head. "Eh,
laundry sink's clogged again,"
he realized. "Happens when I
try to dump too much down it
at once. I suck at therapy.
Can we not talk about this?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry,
it's just ... very conspicuous,"
Nanette said. Then her voice
sharpened. "Are they all dead?"

"What?" Shiv said. "Oh, you mean
all the assholes from my past. No.
But if you want a piece of them --"
He gave a ragged laugh. "-- well,
that line wraps about the block
now. Dicked if I know why."

"Most people don't like
child abusers," Dr. Infanta said
in a graveyard tone. "Including us."

"Like I said, there's a line,"
Shiv replied. "Don't mess it up."

"In any case, I have the memories
from that day," Nanette said. "I'll
give them back to you later."

"Shiv, will you let me take
a closer look?" Dr. Infanta said.
"I have a general idea of the damage,
but it's easier to read details with --"

He dropped his hand in her lap.
He was still twedgy with healers, but
hesitating wouldn't make this feel
any better, just longer. "Sure."

Dr. Infanta curled her fingers
around his wrist for a minute,
then slid up his arm to cup
the base of his skull.

"Holy crap, what a mess,"
she said. "As long as I'm in
here, do you want me to heal
the rest of the brain damage too?"

"What rest of it?!" Shiv yelped.

"You have layers upon layers of it,
along with some minor problems in
your eyes themselves I can fix easily,"
Dr. Infanta said. "Shall I show you?"

"Yes," Shiv said through his teeth.
"I need to know how fucked I am."

"Relax, you're not going to run out
of things I want, and I can repair
all the damage I've found," she said.

Her power flowed through him,
a strange tickling sensation, and
he could see something in his head
like heat lightning inside a cloud.

"Ah, you're a visual thinker,
I can work with that," she said.

Suddenly there were clouds of
different colors, and Shiv could
see red blotches in front and back.

"Here's the injury that happened
right before you went to prison,"
Dr. Infanta said. "That's freshest."

"Why two?" Shiv said. "I fell back into
a stack of bricks, not forward. Or did
someone hit me again while I was out?"

"It's called a coup-countrecoup injury,"
Dr. Infanta explained. "You hit the bricks
with the back of your head, and then
your brain bounced forward, hitting
the inside front of your skull. So
one blow made two injuries."

Her fingers traced over the spots,
making the red lightning flare up.
"That's making your vision worse,
and probably your self-control too."

"What self-control," Shiv muttered.

"Anyway, you've got patches of damage
scattered all over and built up for years,
affecting different parts of your mind,"
Dr. Infanta said, stroking her fingers
all around Shiv's head. "See?"

Smaller patches of light lit up
here and there in different colors,
some brighter, some dimmer.

Shiv shook himself. "Yeah, so?"

"So I can fix that too, if you want,"
Dr. Infanta offered. "It's no trouble."

"How much would that cost?"
Shiv said. "I ain't made of money."

"We're not talking about money,
we're talking about trade," she said.
"Throw in a few #10s? Those are
the most versatile scalpel blades,
we can always use them."

"Okay," Shiv said. "What about
the memories of those other things?
Will I lose them the same way?"

"Not as much as the recent one,
but probably some," Dr. Infanta said.
"Memory isn't one little piece. It spreads
out through your mind. The more time
has passed, the more it tends to do that.
So older memories are often fuzzier,
but they're harder to get rid of."

"Besides, you were so young for
some of those, you probably don't
remember them clearly to begin with,"
Nanette said. "They go all the way back --
I could tell that much just from a glimpse."

"Lady, I can't remember most of
my childhood, and that's not
a bad thing," Shiv said.

"Do you want me to copy
what I can?" Nanette asked.

She stroked his mind again,
making Shiv's eyes flutter shut
with anticipation. "Yeah, sure."

The touch went a little deeper,
now that she knew the way in and
where he kept things. Shiv just
sighed and let her rummage around.

"All right, I've done the best that
I can," Nanette said. "I'm sorry
you've had such a difficult past."

"Story of my life," Shiv said.
"I get knocked around a lot."

"It is not the bruises on the body
that hurt," Dr. Infanta said quietly.
"It is the wounds of the heart
and the scars on the mind."

Shiv thought about how
a car backfiring on a bad day
could still send Simon or Tolli
diving for the closest cover.

"Yeah, that's true," Shiv said.
"One of many reasons why
I'm such a fucked-up mess."

"Well, we're here to fix at least
some of that," Dr. Infanta said.
"I'm ready to start if you are."

Shiv hesitated, then said,
"How much will this hurt?"

Some of what Boss White had
done for him was pretty unpleasant,
even though it helped him a lot.

"It won't," Dr. Infanta said.
"This will be easier on both
of us if you just sleep through it."

Well, if she wanted him dead,
she could've just killed him outright.

"Fine," Shiv said. "Get it over with."

And then his muscles melted,
everything turning soft and warm.

"Lie back," Dr. Infanta said as she
lowered him onto the bed, and
Nanette scooped up his ankles.
"This won't take too long."

Her power wrapped around him,
not Microfyne but wool, the texture
so familiar he could smell the lanolin.

Shiv fell asleep smiling.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.

Tags: #10, #10s, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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