Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Whether You Deserve It or Not"

This is the free epic for the June Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal, as selected in an audience poll. It is spillover from the May 7, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl and extends into the May [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alexseanchai and [personal profile] lone_cat. It also fills the "Seven of Bows - Clearance" square in my 4-30-19 card for the Tarot Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, in the raid arc.

WARNING: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the police asking Turq to meet with an employee of the Umsetzung Complex, emotional distress, English as a second language, abuse of a foreign employee, theft of identification papers, human trafficking, brief crotch sniffing in caney form, leads on a supervillain absent during the raid, self-blame, feeling dirty, discussion of how to relieve misplaced guilt, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Whether You Deserve It or Not"

[Friday, April 17, 2015]

Ansel frowned over the message.
"Turq, do you feel up to meeting
one of the captives?" he asked.

"Why?" Turq said, hunching.

"She claims that she didn't know
anything about illegal activity here,"
Ansel said. "The other officers
wondered if you'd recognize her,
and I know that sometimes
you can sniff out lies."

"Yeah, I can, especially in
caney form," Turq said. He
rubbed a hand over his neck.
"She might be telling the truth.
They kept the lab spaces locked
tight, and we didn't often see
different people around. They
didn't want to risk any leaks."

"You don't have to do this,
but it could help," Ansel said.
"If she's lying, we'll know to look
for more proof. If not, we don't want
to terrorize an innocent bystander.
BASH teams look pretty scary."

"I think I better check her out,"
Turq said. "Lead the way."

Ansel took them to a small tent,
its sides draped with packing felt that
had cushioned delicate equipment,
now repurposed for soundproofing.

They had captured so many suspects
that the trucks couldn't take everyone
to the police station at the same time,
so the less-dangerous ones had been
secured inside tents with guards.

The Hispanic woman within was
young, probably in her late teens,
with black eyes in a pinched face,
long black hair, and fair skin.
She had clearly been crying.

She wore a pale gray uniform,
and a big sticker with the number 44
clung to the front of her dress.

A policewoman stood watch,
still clad in her full combat gear,
her almond eyes tracking everything.

"Bo Lai de Beaucannon, call me Bo,"
the officer said, holding out a hand.

"I'm Officer Nicholson, and this
is my consultant Turq," he said,
waving a hand at each in turn.

Turq was smiling a little at
the Chinese-American officer,
but his whispered, "Nĭ hăo,"
made her shake her head.

"Sorry, I don't speak Chinese,"
Bo said. "I learned French,
my grandfather's language.
He still speaks it at home."

"No, no, I shouldn't have
presumed, sorry," Turq said
as he ducked his head.

Bo waved off the apology.
"Happens all the time," she said.
"You're here to talk with the suspect?"

"Yes," Ansel said, turning to the girl.
"We want to ask you some questions.
You can refuse, but answering might clear
your name. Do you understand?"

She gave a hesitant nod.
"I'm Ercilia Torres, Erci.
I don't do anything wrong."

Her voice had a strong accent,
Mexican probably. "Don't we have
anyone who speaks Spanish?"
he asked the policewoman.

"Yeah, but everyone's busy,"
Bo replied. "We put in a request
for someone rated for translation,
but we're still waiting. Erci knows
enough English to get by, and we'll
just put a note in the records that
someone should double-check
the earlier English conversations."

"Erci, do you want to wait for
a translator?" Ansel said.

She shook her head fiercely.
"I can English," she insisted.
"I pass test for work. We talk,
you believe me, let me go?"

"We'll see about that," Ansel said.
"Turq, do you recognize her?"

"No, but look at her -- she's
younger than I am," Turq said.
"She can't have been working here
for very long. It's after my time."

"Okay, then I'll follow your lead,"
Ansel said. "Ask her whatever you
want about the crime scene, her work,
that sort of thing, but don't pry into
personal territory. There are things
we can't legally ask; I'll stop you
if you stumble into any of those."

"I can work with that," Turq said
as he studied the Hispanic girl.

"Ask me," Erci said desperately.

"What did you do when you
worked here?" Turq asked.

"Please, I just clean," Erci said.
"I don't know they hurt anyone!"

"Why did you choose this place
to work?" Turq asked her.

"I need job," she said.
"They pay good money for
mop floor, clean toilet."

Turq sat up straighter.
"How much did they
pay you for that work?"

"Twenty dollar," she said.

"Twenty dollars ... a day?
An hour?" Turq asked.

"Twenty hour," she said, then
counted laboriously on her fingers
to add, "One hundred sixty day."

"So you never thought about
leaving, because you couldn't
afford to," Turq guessed.

Erci shook her head. "I can't,"
she said. "They take my ..."
She shaped a rectangle with
her thumbs and forefingers.

"Your papers?" Turq said.

"Your green card or passport?"
Ansel said, leaning forward. "You're
not an American citizen, then?

"Yes, papers," Erci said, wiping
a hand across her wet face.
"No papers, no work --
please don't arrest me!"

"I'm not going to arrest you,"
Ansel said. "I will happily arrest
the people who stole your papers."

"That's illegal, right?" Turq said.

Ansel nodded in grim satisfaction.
"We've got them on human trafficking
from another angle. If they're coercing
some of the workers, that's a crime."

"I don't recognize her. She's scared,
instead of nasty like the other suspects.
Her body language isn't threatening,"
Turq said. "I don't think she's really
one of them, just a cleaning lady."

"But ...?" Ansel said gently,
tugging at the thread of doubt.

"But I can't smell for sure,
not in this form," Turq admitted.

"Could the caney smell enough
to be more confident?" Ansel said.

"Yes," Turq said. "I'm sure of that."

"Then it's up to you whether you
want to bring him in," Ansel said,
letting the phrase suggest a K9 unit
in case Turq didn't want to out himself.

"I'm up for it," Turq said, then turned
to Erci. "So um ... I'm a shapeshifter.
They did that to me here. I can turn
into a caney, he looks kind of like
a blue dog, but he's really not. He
can smell all kinds of things on people.
Would it scare you worse if I change?"

"No," Erci whispered. "I like dogs."

"Okay then," Turq said. "Um, he'll
want to sniff you all over, maybe places
where humans don't usually go. Just
push his face away if it bothers you
too much. I can't always control what
he does, I think too differently then."

Erci nodded again, and Ansel said,
"If he gets too nosy, I can pull him off.
He'll mind me if I do that, right Turq?"

"Yeah, he just gets ... curious, fixated,"
Turq said. "He wouldn't snap at you."

"Go ahead, then," Ansel said.

Turq took a moment to focus,
slowing his breathing for calm,
before he made the shift.

The caney looked at Erci,
then swept his plumed tail.

Erci smiled a little through
her tears, then patted her knee
as if inviting a dog to come.

The caney trotted forward,
sniffed her feet, then worked
his way carefully up her legs.

He did sniff her crotch, but he
didn't linger over it and Erci
made no complaint.

Turq smelled her hands,
too, and even her hair.

Then he jumped up and
licked her face, washing
the tears away and
making Erci giggle.

"I think that's enough,"
Ansel said, gently tugging
the caney off Erci's lap.

Turq switched back to human.

"Your clothes!" Erci exclaimed.
"You dressed, then naked, now
you got all clothes on again."

"Yeah, it's to do with my powers,
the way I change," Turq said.
"It's kind of like magic."

For some reason, that
made Erci shiver and
look away from him.

"What did you find out?"
Ansel asked Turq.

"I didn't smell any fear
but her own. No centaurs,
nothing but other humans.
Cleaning chemicals, mostly on
her hands and feet," Turq said.

"Would those chemicals cover up
other scents?" Ansel asked.

"For me, some," said Turq.
"Not for the caney, though.
He sniffed her good, then
he got worried about her.
I think she's telling the truth."

"I agree," Ansel said. "That
matches my observations.
Erci, can you tell us anything
that might help us to catch
more of the bad guys?"

Erci nibbled her lip.
"Creepy man isn't here
today," she said. "He combs
his hair --" She mimed a part.
"Nose and ears like a goat,
but no fur. So nasty!"

"Is there anything about
him other than how he looks
that makes you uncomfortable?"
Ansel said. "Did he hurt you,
or hurt someone else instead?"

"No, but ..." She fished a cross
out of her dress and fingered it.
"Every time creepy man walks
by me, my skin crawls. I think
evil, evil! Como un diablo."

"I remember," Turq whispered.
His hands rubbed frantically
over his arms. "His energy
felt like ants crawling on me."

"Yes, yes," Erci said. "Like ants,
tickle, tickle, tickle -- then bite!"
She shuddered, handcuffs clinking.

"It's okay, Erci, he's not here,"
the guard said, patting her on
the shoulder. "You're safe."

"Do you have any idea where
the creepy man is?" Ansel said.

"I don't empty his trash yet,"
Erci said. "Check his office.
You look there, maybe find
something to catch him."

"Can you show me on a map
where his office is?" Ansel said,
offering her his tactical computer
with an image of the compound.

Erci pointed to what had been
the STEMZ Building. "There.
Second floor, office 201. Look
under his desk. He always tapes
his passwords there. Pendejo."

"Thank you very much, Erci, that
will be a big help," Ansel said.

He sent the information
to the team in charge of
tracking down suspects
who weren't at work today.

"I hope you catch him,"
Erci said. "He's so creepy."

Ansel turned to the policewoman.
"Do we have anything on Erci
other than being at the scene?"

"Nope," she said. "Erci was pushing
a custodial cart when BASH broke down
the door. She dropped to the floor and
covered her head with her hands. A search
of the name she gave turned up a green card
with no crime reports. I don't see any point
charging her; we've got plenty of fish to fry."

"Okay, I'll log my recommendation
that we let her go, and Turq can
cosign it," Ansel declared. "Erci,
thank you for your time. I'm sorry
for the ruckus today, and I hope
that you'll be okay soon."

Erci burst into tears.

In a flash, the caney was
back in her lap, urgently trying
to soothe her panicky sobs.

"But I'm bad," Erci wailed.
"I work for bad people."

"That doesn't make you
a bad person," Ansel said.
"Unless you did bad things too?"

"No," Erci sniffled. "But
now I -- I feel so dirty."

"You feel guilty, even though
you did nothing wrong yourself,"
Ansel said. "Guilt by association
is a real feeling, but not a legal case."

The caney backed off and shifted.

"Guilt isn't always a rational thing,"
Turq said. "Guilt is a weight that will
crush you whether you deserve it or not."

"Good point," Ansel said. "Turq, you're
in the best position to speak for the victims.
Do you have any ideas about this?"

"I don't know," Turq said. "I mean,
I still don't think Erci did anything bad.
I'm worried because she's so upset.
But if I just wave it off, is that fair
to the other victims? The centaurs,
their injuries are all still fresh."

"There's a tension between
justice and mercy," Ansel said.
"You have to learn to balance them."

Turq looked at Erci. "Maybe what
we need is a little of both," he said.
"Erci, would you feel better if you
did something for clearance, maybe
helped the centaurs in some way?"

"Assisting with the investigation,
or volunteering for the victims,
could help your citizenship
too," Bo pointed out.

"You give me work, I work,"
Erci said, lifting her chin.

"You're not obligated,"
Ansel said. "I don't think
you've broken any laws. But
if you feel bad about what
happened, then giving back
might relieve the guilt."

"It helped me," Turq said.
"I did some bad things, but
the police adjudicator told me
they didn't really count. That didn't
make me feel any better, so we
worked out community service,
and that helped me a lot."

"Police uh ... uh-joo--"
Erci said, floundering.

"Police adjudicator,"
Ansel said. "Someone
who sets penalties for
crimes or misbehavior
when the accused wants
to make amends for it."

"Can I have one?" Erci said.
"That sounds good, I think."

"I'll put in a request for one
who speaks Spanish," Ansel said.
"They'll help you figure out if you really
did anything wrong, or if you just feel
bad because you worked in a place
where other people did bad things.
Then you'll work out a plan together
so you don't feel guilty anymore."

"Thank you," Erci said, sniffling again.
"I don't deserve all of your help."

"That's the thing about mercy,"
Ansel said. "You just get it,
whether you deserve it or not."

* * *


Ercilia "Erci" Torres -- She has fair skin, black eyes, and long straight black hair. She is 18 years old at the time of the raid. She came to America from Mexico two years ago. Erci lives in an affordable housing unit in Ava, Missouri. She works at the Umsetzung Compound as a cleaning lady.
Qualities: Good (+2) Honest, Good (+2) Intrapersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Stamina, Good (+2) Work Ethic
Poor (-2) Desperate for Work

Bo Lai "Bo" de Beaucannon -- She has golden-fair skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and short brown hair. Her heritage is Chinese, French, and American. She speaks English and French. This makes it difficult for her to fit in anywhere. Bo lives in Springfield, Missouri where she serves on the BASH team under Callen La Salle. She directs the BASH branch in the raid on the Umsetzung Complex. She is nominally Buddhist, but obviously not a pacifist.
Qualities: Good (+2) Aim, Good (+2) BASH Officer, Good (+2) Calm in a Crisis, Good (+2) Missouri History, Good (+2) Observant
Poor (-2) Fitting In

Ammon (Leonard Schmidt) -- He has pale skin, black eyes, and short hair so bright a red that it's almost orange. He has long narrow ears and a divided nose, like a goat. He used to have horns, but those were removed to make it easier for him to disguise himself among humans. Usually he combs his hair over the stumps. As a mad scientist, Leonard works well in a hierarchy, equally comfortable giving or taking orders. He hates working alone, though. He has sophisticated tastes and fussy mannerisms.
Origin: Leonard's parents performed nefarious rituals in hopes of gaining supernatural powers. They didn't, but their son did. (Put demonology on the list of things not to do while pregnant.)
Uniform: In the lab, Ammon wears a white lab coat. In ritual, he wears robes suited to the occasion. Off duty, he wears sophisticated men's clothes, usually a suit of white or pale gray, but occasionally red.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexibility, Good (+2) Hierarchy, Good (+2) Mad Scientist, Good (+2) Psychopath, Good (+2) Sophisticated
Poor (-2) Working Alone
Powers: Good (+2) Demonic Sorcery
Limitation: His demonic energy tends to leak out around him, giving him a creepy aura. This makes it difficult to conceal his true nature. It is easier when he uses his abilities regularly, thus lowering the amount of energy carried in his body. When he doesn't practice for a while, it builds up, becoming increasingly difficult to conceal even from ordinary people.
Vulnerability: He takes double damage from Angelic Powers or other goodly energies.
Motivation: To strengthen the grip of Evil on human souls.

* * *

“Guilt isn't always a rational thing, Clio realized. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not.”
Maureen Johnson, Girl at Sea

Packing felt is often made from recycled mattresses. It is useful for padding large fragile items, and also serves as insulation or soundproofing.

nĭ hăo! (Hello/Hi!)
-- Chinese Greetings and Goodbyes

Interrogation can be done ethically or unethically. Local-America practices torture, which does not work for producing accurate information. Psychological manipulation has similar drawbacks. Terramagne-America considers manipulative interrogation to be a type of abusive grooming. Notice the similarity to trustbuilding techniques. The difference lies primarily in the intent and outcome -- whether the person is honestly trying to help, or dishonestly trying to take advantage. T-America forbids manipulative techniques not only because they undermine justice and morality, but to avoid giving the impression that such behavior is acceptable. Police are expected to demonstrate laudable behavior for citizens to emulate, and "might makes right" is not a principle that T-America wishes to promote. There are better approaches to interrogation. By using honesty and forming rapport, the authorities have a better chance of gaining accurate information, minimizing harm to innocent parties, and coaxing culprits to quit misbehaving.

(These links are harsh.)
Moral injury occurs when someone transgresses their own and/or society's expectations of decent behavior. Although often mentioned in regard to military service, it can happen in a wide range of areas. Sometimes spiritual communities can help with moral repair. Read about the clinical indications and mental treatment. There are actually two paths for recovery from moral injury: adjust your moral framework (if you have gained greater understanding that enlightens useful changes) or adjust your behavior (if you fell short of parameters you wish to keep). Erci is distraught not only because BASH teams are scary but also because she just found out that she was working for mad scientists who hurt people. I could not find instructions on self-care for healing moral injuries. However, the basics overlap strongly with advice for becoming a moral, ethical, or generally good person. It may help to develop a personal code of ethics, or if you already have one, revisit it and update if necessary.

Mexican immigrants face many barriers in L-America. The situation is somewhat better in T-America, but immigration is rarely easy.

A passport and a green card are two forms of essential identification for foreigners in America. Note that Ansel expected a Mexican-born cleaning lady might have a green card. Unlike L-America, T-America recognizes the heavy role that immigrants play in unskilled labor, supporting that by offering a path to citizenship.

Employers’ confiscating of workers’ identity documents allows employers to control workers’ freedom of movement and prevent them from leaving the employment. This is also identified as forced labour if workers are unable to
access their documents on-demand and if they feel they cannot leave the job without risking their loss
-- Fees and IDs

Como un diablo.
Spanish: "Like a devil."

2. (vulgar) (fool)
a. idiot
El pendejo se estacionó en el lugar para personas discapacitadas. That idiot parked in the spot for people with disabilities.
b. dumbass (colloquial) (United States)
A ver, pendejo, ¿qué es lo que no entendiste? Ok, dumbass, what is it that you didn't understand?

Alternative justice aims to keep people out of court and/or jail, instead resolving problems in other ways. It spans such forms as community justice, restorative justice, traditional justice, and mediation. Alternatives to jail may include things like restitution or community service, which more directly repair the harm done to people and relationships. Local-America uses this almost exclusively for civil violations and minor crimes. Terramagne-America also uses it for more serious crimes when the offender surrenders and wishes to make amends. They tend to view court as something for people who don't recognize their mistakes, resist making amends, and/or cannot reach an agreement. The advantages of police adjudication for serious crimes include acknowledging that the offender is now doing what society wants, rewarding surrender with better treatment and terms, which encourages other offenders to surrender instead of resisting, keeping offenders out of prison where they might get worse, repairing the harm done to victims, and mending the relationship between offender and society. This is particularly useful in handling supervillains, many of whom could easily break out out of jail and who are often in a better position to repair the damage they've done.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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