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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Only by Moving Forward"
This poem is spillover from the May 7, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] curiosity. It also fills the "14 Balance" square in my 4-30-19 card for the Tarot Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Only by Moving Forward"

[Sunday, April 19, 2015]

Ansel went out to his grandparents' farm
on Sunday to help with the centaurs
who had arrived by truck on Saturday.

SPOON had sent a support team, too,
but Ansel had his own ace up his sleeve.

"Wow," Skippy said as he climbed out
of the car. "This is like ... everything
a farm is trying to be, all rolled up in one."

Ansel grinned. "I'm sure my grandparents
would be thrilled to hear you say that."

"Are those the centaurs?" Skippy said,
looking out at the pasture beyond the barns.

"Yes," Ansel said. "The golden-penny palomino
is Arun, their leader. The pinto is Lilita, a friend
of his and pretty fragile. The blood bay is Hobart,
who's a bit of a handful. The zebra is Kim Van,
a trafficking victim from Vietnam. The one with
wings is Ariel, who's on the delicate side."

It had taken some doing to get Lilita
into a truck, but her healing injuries
finally convinced her that riding would
be more comfortable than walking.

"They're staying in tents?" Skippy said.

"For now," Ansel said. "Portable barns
should start arriving tomorrow. We'll
use those until we know who wants
to stay here longer term, and what
kind of housing they require."

"That makes sense," Skippy said.
"Wait, who's the one with the white spot?"

"That must be the one centaur that SPOON
managed to find in a hurry," Ansel said.

She was so dark a bay that she looked
almost black except the white diamond
splashed on her right side and the socks on
her back feet. Black hair hung to her shoulders,
and she wore an olive tank top underneath
a black combat harness crammed with
all kinds of paramedic equipment.

"Hi, I'm Kite, the combat medic,"
she said as they approached.
One hand snapped a salute.
"You must be Officer Pink.
Who's your friend here?"

"This is my soup mentor,
Skippy," said Ansel.

"But he's younger than
you are?" Kite said.

"Chronologically, yes,"
Ansel said. "At the time
we met, however, Skippy had
two years of experience with
his superpowers and I had
just gotten mine. He's been
a huge help in adapting."

"Ohhh," Kite said, a long note
of understanding. "It's like
combat experience, then!
A younger person might have
way more than an older person,
and be the one to ask for advice."

"Yes, exactly," Ansel said. "I knew
SPOON had a hard time finding anyone
with relevant experience, Skippy knows
what it's like to have superpowers go
haywire, and he's been good to me."

Skippy blushed. "Aww, geez," he said.
"I just did what anybody would've done."

"Now you sound like a soldier,"
Kite said with a warm smile.

Ansel figured it would be
a fast five minutes until she
got attached to Conrad and Kedric.

Looking around, Ansel saw that
the SPOON team and the centaurs
had broken up into little clusters,
but the centaurs that he knew best
were hanging back a bit, apparently
waiting for him to get over to them.

"Shall we go over together?" Kite said.

"Sure, that's a good idea," Ansel agreed.
"That way we can offer them options."

When they arrived, he made
brief introductions, then said,
"You already know what I can do,
so I'll hand you to my soup mentor
and the only other centaur that
SPOON could get on short notice."

Kite threw back her head and
laughed. "That's me," she said.
"I'm in the army so I go wherever
I'm needed. I can teach you about
safety, self-defense, first aid, leadership,
feeling scared shitless and fighting it, or
how to be a centaur since I was born one."

"There are born centaurs?" Lilita said.
"I thought we were the only ones,
and someone made us like this."

"Someone probably made me too --
we have theories without any proof --
but I came out the hind end of a horse
this way," Kite said. "I'm a natural centaur,
not one created by splicing separate bodies."

Hobart gravitated to her immediately,
doubtless drawn by her military flair.

Arun hesitated, looking back and
forth between Kite and Skippy.

"Go on, man, I don't mind if you
talk with Kite first," Skippy said.
"You can always check with me later
if you want to learn something else."

"Okay, thank you," Arun said,
moving to stand with Kite.
"I need leadership skills.
People count on me."

"I want to learn fighting!"
Hobart said, frowning.

"We can work on both,"
Kite promised. "Let's
move over this way a bit."

"It looks like they're off
to a good start," Ansel said.

"So that leaves us," Skippy said.
"I can teach folks how to practice with
your superpowers and gain control,
along with practical tricks to make it
easier to live with them. Sound fun?"

"Not medical stuff?" Lilita said.
Her tail swished against her sides.

Ariel patted Lilita's shoulder,
giving what comfort she could.

"Nah, I've learned a lot about
patching up road rash, but you've
got experts for that," Skippy said.
"I'll stick to what they don't know."

"Like what?" Ariel wondered.
Her white wings fluttered nervously.

"Skippy showed me where to find
resources about my powers," Ansel said.

"Yes, and you may have noticed I dress
for maximum visibility," Skippy said
as he waved at hand at himself.

He wore a floppy yellow sun hat
with orange stripes bordering
a strip of reflective silver tape.
His orange t-shirt read, Not all
those who wander are lost,

around a compass rose.

Below that he had a pair of
orange and black utility shorts
with silver tape around the hems.
His tennis shoes were black with
curving yellow-and-orange stripes,
along with reflectors and lights that
turned on and off with each step.

The contrast was all the more dramatic
against a backdrop of green grass.

Lilita giggled. "Yes," she said.
"Why in the world do you do that?
You look like you fell in a paint kit!"

"Or got mugged by traffic cones,"
Skippy said, grinning. "Don't worry,
I've heard all the jokes. Fact is, I've
had my superpowers for three years
now, and I'm just getting to where I
can control them most of the time."

"On average it takes a year to learn
control, but sometimes it takes longer,"
Ansel said. "My friend Turq has taken
a lot of time to start getting a handle
on his abilities, and he came out of
the same compound as you centaurs."

"I thought it might help to have someone
who knows what it's like when superpowers
mess up your life," Skippy said. "It's not
always as glamorous as people think,
but you can learn to work around it."

"What powers?" Kim Van asked.
"You not look like us at all!"

"I'm not," Skippy said. "I'm
a teleporter. So far I've gotten
accidental teleporting down to
every other month or so, but it still
happens sometimes. I need people
to see me so they don't hit me and
they can find me when I stop skipping."

"Oh! Your name!" Kim Van exclaimed.

"Yeah, Skippy is my cape name,"
he said. "Ryker is my given name.
I like it fine, but --" He shrugged.
"Skippy is what I am now."

"You seem ... okay with it,"
Lilita said, tilting her head.

"I am, but that took me a while,"
Skippy said. "The whole first year,
I thought I could learn control and go
be a teleporter like everyone else, but
it didn't work out that way. Mine is just
too erratic. So I had to find other ways
to balance things and be a good soup."

"Sometimes balance is hard to find,"
Ariel said, twitching her wings. "I can't
always keep my wings still, and they
change the way my whole body moves."

"Balance is not something you find,
it's something you create," Skippy said.

"I don't understand," Ariel said.

"Think of it like riding a bicycle
or a skateboard," Ansel said.
"The way you lean is what
makes you balanced or not."

"Sometimes I'm afraid to move,"
Ariel admitted. "My body scares me."

"I realize that must pose a challenge
for you," Ansel said. "It's not good
if you just give up on it, though."

"See, here's the thing about balance,"
Skippy said. "It's a lot easier when
you're moving than when you're not.
So don't let yourself get stuck."

Ariel picked up one pearly hoof,
set it down, and said, "I'll try."

"Ansel's right, it really is a lot
like riding wheels," Skippy said.
"You maintain your balance,
poise, and sense of security
only by moving forward."

"It's not that hard," Lilita said.
"I may be a mess, but I can still
move around easily enough."

"That's good, but not everyone
is so lucky," Ansel pointed out.

Lilita and Kim Van were both
a lot more graceful than Ariel,
who was elegant of stance
but lacked their fluent agility.

"Let's try a few things," Skippy said.
"Spread your feet and feel if you're steady
or not. Move them closer and farther
to find out where it's comfortable."

The girls spraddled their legs and
then clamped them back together,
giggling over each other's antics.

"Okay, now lean side to side,"
Skippy said. "Feel for your center
of balance. Mine is right here."
He tucked a fist over his navel.

Ariel's wings flared out, huge
and white as those of a swan.

Embarrassed, she clamped them
to her sides again. "I'm sorry."

"It's fine," Ansel assured her.
"We have a whole farmyard
to move around in. You can
flap your wings if you want to."

"But they're useless," Ariel wailed.

"No they're not," Skippy said.
"You can use them for balance.
Have you ever seen an acrobat
walk a tightrope with a long pole?
That pole helps them to balance.
Your wings will do the same for you.
Go on, give it a try and feel it yourself."

Hesitantly, Ariel spread her wings
and tried leaning side to side again.
"It feels different," she admitted.

"That's good," Skippy said. "Go
with that. I spent the first day on
my skateboard just leaning back
and forth while clinging to a pole for
dear life. You'll get the hang of it."

"What about us?" Lilita said.
"We don't have balance problems."

"So try something more adventurous
now that you're outside," Skippy said.
"See how tight you can turn around
a post, or how close you can get
to a fence without bumping into it."

"Weave poles, hoops, teeter-totters,
or other agility equipment could be fun.
Barrel racing is a whole sport of its own,"
Ansel said. "We raise horses, so I'm sure
we've got that stuff around somewhere."

Lilita and Kim Van were both shy,
but they scampered around for a bit,
testing their agility in the pasture.

"What about when things go wrong?"
Ariel said. "Sometimes my wings
make my back hurt. All the others
have their own problems too."

"That's what CrapChat is for,"
Skippy said. He showed the girls
his smartphone. "See, you can
customize the explanations and
instructions on how people should
help you with your problems. If
you buy in, you can get access to
stock conditions and descriptions."

"So we could write up centaur stuff
once, instead of everybody having
to do it themselves," Lilita said.

"That's right," Ansel said. "It's
a great program. I've used it at work.
It can save a lot of time in a crisis."

"Yeah, we met because I was skipping
and I gave Ansel my phone," Skippy said.

"Someone told me ... phone translator?"
Kim Van said, edging toward them.

"Yes, there are translator apps for
smartphones," Ansel said. "You can
use that to learn English or look up
words that you don't know yet."

"You all need smartphones, or
at least vidwatches," Skippy said.
"That'll give you access to apps
for all kinds of emergency uses,
like if you get lost or need help."

"I don't want to be tracked,"
Lilita said, shaking her head.

"You can cloak your location,"
Ansel assured her. "That's
protected information, so they
have to make it safe for you."

"I'll think about it," Lilita said.

"That's all we ask," Ansel said.
"You can't learn everything all at
once. You need to take baby steps."

"Just remember that you can make
progress only by moving forward,"
Skippy said. "That's where you'll
find your balance, and your hope."

Ariel flared her swan-white wings.
"Yes," she said. "I want that."

* * *

Notes:

Skippy (Ryker Seinfeld) -- He has tawny-fair skin, green eyes, and dark blond hair that fades much lighter toward the ends as the sun bleaches it out. He wears it cut short in back, longer in front to cover the scars at his temples where his helmet dug in during an accident. He has a silver ring in his left eyebrow. His body is lean and graceful. Ryker is 17. Athletic and agile, he excels at street sports such as skateboarding, rollerskating, and biking.
His traumatic brain injury has mostly healed in the three years after his accident. Salient among the lingering effects are anxiety, speech impairment, and difficulty learning new things. His lack of control over his superpower contributes to his anxiety, which often makes him stammer, repeating words. Stress makes it all worse. Plus the skips make him ravenously hungry. Although frustrated by his challenges, Ryker refuses to let them keep him at home. He uses adaptive technology to make it safer for him to go out in public.
Origin: The Super-Immunity comes from the Aegis vaccine base. For his fourteenth birthday, Ryker got a new skateboard. When he took it for a spin, a truck driver ran a red light and hit him. It took months for him to recover, and the wreck left him with head trauma and superpowers. His teleport mentor Leapfrog is helping him learn about his abilities.
Uniform: Because of difficulties with his superpower, Skippy always wears clothes that make him easy to see. He likes bright neons combined with black, gray, or white and preferably reflective material. His shoes usually have either reflectors or lights on them. He chooses other possessions for high visibility when possible.
Qualities: Good (+2) Coping Skills, Good (+2) Earnest, Good (+2) Reading People, Good (+2) Soup Mentor, Good (+2) Street Sports, Good (+2) Smart
Poor (-2) Traumatic Brain Injury
Powers: Average (0) Super-Immunity, Average (0) Teleporting
Limitation: After three years of diligent practice, Skippy has moderate control over his superpower. He can use a locator in his smartphone as an anchor. Occasionally his superpower still activates at random or when he feels anxious, causing him to 'skip' wildly around the nearby area, although the serious episodes are down to every other month or so now. It doesn't even stay in two dimensions, and sometimes he gets stranded. His smartphone and vidwatch are synchronized to make it easier for people to find and help him. He can't take passengers yet.
Motivation: Just hang in there, baby.


Kite (Jane Smith) -- She has fair skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and wavy black hair to her shoulders. She is a centaur with the lower body of a black bay Kabardin mare. She has a prominent kite-shaped white spot on her right side, snowflakes scattered over both sides, and white socks on her back feet. Her human heritage includes Iraqi, Turkish, Pakistani, Russian, Chinese, and American. She speaks Arabic, Armenian, English, Farsi, Kurdish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish. Kite is 24 years old. She grew up on an American military base in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the soldiers treated her as a favorite mascot, and joined the Army officially as soon as she got old enough. She never bothered to visit America, although she loved hearing stories about it from the soldiers, until SPOON sent out a request for centaur mentors to help the survivors from the Umsetzung Compound.
Origin: Terramagne-America has a military base near Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan, an area of persistent unrest over the last several decades. As Kurdistan is mostly mountainous, the base maintains a small herd of horses to carry soldiers and equipment where vehicles cannot go. Drawn from local sources, these horses are basically Kabardins, a Russian breed from the Caucasus Mountains, heavily influenced by Middle Easten breeds such as the Turkoman and Arabian, mostly dark in color with occasional small white markings.
In 1991, one of the mares gave birth to a centaur filly. Everyone on the base was shocked; nobody knew how it had happened. Some people suggested that it could have come from spontaneous superpower manifestation or from mutation due to such things as depleted uranium. However, the leading theory is that a mad science lab somehow "misplaced" an experiment. Since she was born on an American base to a mare owned by the American Army, and genetic tests indicated American genes in her human parts, she was ruled an American citizen.
Uniform: Kite usually wears U.S. Army fatigues. Her tastes in civilian clothing are barely different: tough, practical clothes in drab colors.
Qualities: Good (+2) Combat Medic, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Loyalty, Good (+2) Tolerant, Good (+2) Won't Stay Down
Poor (-2) Minimal Exposure to Civilian Life
Powers: Good (+2) Centaur
From the Kabarda breed, Kite is Altitude-Resistant, Sure-Footed, and Tough.
Motivation: This We'll Defend.

Splashed white is one of several white-spotting patterns in horses. See some pictures.

Read about American military bases. The Dohuk Governate is in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Gulf War lasted roughly 2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991. It involved nuclear warfare in the form of depleted uranium munitions, doing permanent and catastrophic damage to the Iraqi genescape.

See a map of the Middle East.

This is Kite's combat harness, stocked similar to this professional kit.

* * *

"Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward."
-- Maxwell Maltz

"Too much of one thing can end up creating stress; this is something that no one needs in their life. But living a life in balance can provide harmony and peace."
-- Catherine Pulsifer

"Balance is not something you find, it's something you create."
-- Jana Kingsford

In Terramagne, superpowers rarely come with automatic knowledge of how to use them fluently, although many can be used instinctively. That means sometimes they work on accident. It's common at the beginning, but most people gain control over time. For this reason, SPOON tries to find mentors for new soups who can help them adjust to their superpowers.

CrapChat is a program for managing disabilities. The name comes not from low quality -- it's actually a brilliant program -- but from the fact that people tend to say "Oh, crap!" when things start to go wrong. Therefore the icon for activating it is a little cloud that reads Oh, Crap! The program is highly customizable, but if you pay for it, then you get access to stock content for over a hundred different conditions plus user-submitted material for solving specific challenges. The main screen includes introductory instructions so you can hand the phone to a stranger in case of emergency. Different options will take them to a summary of your problem, a list of step-by-step instructions for helping you, and a chat function in case you can text but not talk. The contact option can dial your emergency contact(s) automatically, or take someone to a list of your emergency numbers with instructions on when and how to reach each of them. CrapChat was invented by a supervillain gizmologist, so its default chat client connects with BlackSheep, but it can be set to others. It has since spread outside its original supervillain circle and is becoming very popular with people whose disabilities make public space difficult. A less fancy but already very promising version in local-America is Emergency Chat.

Acquired disability can shake foundations of identity. Adjusting to it requires developing effective coping techniques. In some cases, a superpower may cause a disability or other losses that people experience in similar ways, even if it's not a superdisempower that does no good at all. Carl Bernhardt's sloppy science left the centaurs with significant flaws that make it harder for them to adapt, on top of the trauma from mad science torture itself.

Helping people is an important life skill. Know how to do it well.

See Skippy's yellow reflective hat, orange compass rose T-shirt, orange utility shorts, and black-and-orange tennis shoes.

Equine agility uses equipment such as weave poles.

Barrel racing relies on running loops around barrels as fast as possible without knocking them over, with a few standard patterns. Gymkhana uses many more patterns.

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