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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Going Down into the Abyss"
Based on an audience poll, this is the free epic for the August 6, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl meetings its $200 goal. This poem is spillover from the July 16, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek, [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron, [personal profile] curiosity, and [personal profile] inky_magpie. It also fills the "asking for help" square in my 6-18-19 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Aquariana thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. Its sequel is "Not a Drug on Earth." 

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features smuggling, drug distribution, untreated medical issues, extreme pain, being ignored, endometriosis, sexism, racism, male uterine issues, malpractice, discrimination, vulgar language, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Going Down into the Abyss"

[Tuesday, September 2, 2015]

Ras el Hanout was working in
his front office when a sudden storm
blew in off the ocean, wind flinging
raindrops to patter against the glass.

It would probably blow over
in half an hour or so, and
leave a sunny evening.

Ras liked his new lair
here in the Maldives.

He had chosen a villa
in Kurumba Village on
Vihamanaafushi Island,
with a front facing the street
for business along with a back
facing the ocean for privacy.

The island was convenient
both to the capital city Malé and
the Velana International Airport
with its growing teleport hub
over on Hulhulé Island.

His vidwatch vibrated with
a discreet signal that he was
needed in the reception room.

Ras blanked his computer screens
and carefully locked the system.

Then he went out to the front
to see what was going on.

The picture windows here, too,
showed curtains of gray rain, but
the room itself was warm ivory
with mahogany doors and desk.
Large tropical plants bracketed
the couches and chairs.

A woman with caramel skin
and long coily black hair lay
curled up on one of the couches,
arms wrapped around her lower belly.

In the next chair over sat a man
with tinted skin and a short scruff of
brown hair, his long face looking
even longer under stress.

Both were in considerable pain.

"I am Ras el Hanout," he said.
Who are you, and what seems
to be the problem?" He wasn't
a doctor or a healer, but he knew
where to find some and he stocked
assorted supplies for first aid.

"I'm Calpurnia," the woman said.
"I have a condition, and I have
a feeling that you can help."

Ras turned to the man.
"And you? Are you together?"

"Not exactly," the fellow said,
shaking his head. "I'm Hamon. I
have a similar issue, and when I heard
her talking about it, I just followed her."

"It's fine. He hasn't bothered me."
Calpurnia said with a grimace.
"Not much else bothers me."

"Let's take this somewhere
more private," Ras said.
"Can you both walk?"

"I can manage,"
Calpurnia said,
and Hamon was
already getting up.

Ras led them back to
the consultation room.

It had several soft chairs
and ottomans for people,
and a row of small windows
near the ceiling to let the fans
circulate air among the rooms.

His guests sat down gingerly,
and Ras claimed a seat of his own.

"All right, I'm listening," he said.

"Finally," they chorused, then
Hamon said to Calpurnia, "Yeah,
you were right about coming here."

Ras played a hunch and let
his telempathy curl around them,
just enough for them to feel it
brushing against their minds.

"The more you can tell me,
the better I can figure out
what to do next," he said.
"I'll know it's the truth."

They were smiling through
the pain when Calpurnia said,
"I have endometriosis. It's like ...
like this thing inside me, trying
to tear my body apart. But nobody
cares about women's pain, and
especially women of color."

Ras listened as she poured out
the whole sordid story of doctors
and drugs and other things that
didn't do a damn bit of good.

"I know about Aunt Flo's Flushies,
and I heard that you know how
to find anything," Calpurnia said.
"I thought maybe you could help."

Ever since Aunt Flo had moved to
the Maldives and more-or-less gone legit,
Ras had been getting more cases like this.

"Fortunately Aunt Flo is currently doing
studies to explore the use of flushies as
treatment for endometriosis," said Ras.
"If you want in, I can refer you there, though
I'll send you to the local hospital first, in case
you need immediate care or even a healer."

Calpurnia shook her head. "I can scrape up
enough to pay for some flushies, but I
definitely can't afford a healer."

"Don't worry about that now,"
Ras said with a soothing flutter
of his hand. "I have connections.
We'll get you the help you need."

"And what will that cost me?"
she said. "I was just looking
to buy some drugs, sir."

Ras smiled, watching
daydreams of travel drift
leisurely around her head,
as faint as soap bubbles.

"Only a bit of your time, while
you're learning how to become
a travel agent ... Cumin," said Ras.

"Oh," she said softly. "That
would be wonderful."

"Indeed," said Ras,
then turned to Hamon.
"You have a similar issue?"

"Yes, really," said Hamon,
the sting of disbelief lingering
around him. "I have a uterus,
but nobody seems to believe me,
and sometimes it flares up like this."

"That sounds miserable," Ras said.

"Yeah, there's stuff that can fix it, but
some isn't meant to be used if you're
pregnant," Hamon said. "My wife has
a penis. We use protection, but that's
still a risk for us. So every flare, I need
a pregnancy test before I can treat it, and
the over-the-counter ones aren't as reliable
for men since they're not designed for us."

"Which you have trouble getting because
doctors don't listen to you," Ras guessed.

"Exactly!" Hamon said, throwing his hands
in the air. "How much fuckin' work does it
take to run the test? Or I don't know, whip out
an ultrasound and look for my goddamn uterus!"

"It sounds like you've had more malpractice
than decent care," Ras said. "I can work with that."

Hamon sighed. "I'm not looking for a job or
anything like that. I just want to go home
to my wife and be able to function."

"Understood," Ras said. "I'm in
the business of giving people
what they desire, after all."

"I'm staring into that abyss,"
Calpurnia said, "and I'm tempted,
but I'm also a little ... scared."

"It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life,"
Ras said gently, patting her hand. "Where
you stumble, there lies your treasure."

"Okay," Calpurnia said. She lifted
her chin. "Okay. We can do this."

"Yeah. He's a good listener,"
Hamon said with a firm nod.

"Very well then," Ras said. "Take
my hands, and I will teleport us to
the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital."

They reached out and took his hands.

* * *

Notes:

Ras el Hanout (Hamza Harraki) -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes, and dark hair going gray. He is short and thin, with wiry muscles. He is Moroccan, with a spice shop based in Marrakesh, although he has traveled around the world. His ancestry includes Arabian, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. He speaks Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Berber, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Hindustani, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian. He practices the West African martial arts of Dambe (boxing) and Kokawa (wrestling), which are separate for tournament purposes but still taught together in T-Morocco for self-defense.
Ras el Hanout is one of the world's greatest smugglers, and as a result, wanted by governments around the world. Nobody can catch or hold him for long, though; he's too wealthy and well connected. He has a reputation for cutting canny deals, but once a contract is made, he always honors it. He is gracious to customers, especially his regulars. He simply doesn't believe that governments have any right to tell people what they can buy and sell with their own money. Ras el Hanout runs a thriving trade in things which are highly desired but banned -- primarily herbs, spices, and pharmaceuticals. He makes a point of carrying things of use to people with superpowers, and is a leading supplier of things like blue chamomile where soup supplies have been restricted. He also helps distribute materials invented by gizmologists and super-gizmologists outside the reach of national regulations.
Ras el Hanout takes in the lost, the nameless, and the broken. He sweeps people away from their ruined lives, renames them after precious spices, and helps them build a new life. The Souk is full of people who know what it's like to lose everything, and somehow not die of it, but be reborn. They're smugglers. But they're not just smugglers. They all know what to watch for, and if they see someone in that kind of pain, they make an offer.
Origin: Hamza grew up working in a spice shop belonging to his uncle Mohamed in Marrakesh, where Hamza showed a talent for judging spices from an early age. One day he and his cousin Ayesha sampled a blend brought by a mysterious stranger. She died almost immediately, and Mohamed quickly killed the man responsible. Hamza was sick and delirious for months, recovering slowly. After that, he began to sense the thoughts and feelings of others, especially their desires. Sometimes he would disappear from one place only to reappear in another. It took him years to learn control. He learned smuggling a great deal faster.
Uniform: Traditional Moroccan clothes. Hamza dislikes European style clothes, but will dress to fit in wherever he travels.
Qualities: Master (+6) Languages, Expert (+4) Observant, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Courtesy, Good (+2) Dambe-Kokawa, Good (+2) Storyteller
Poor (-2) Wanted by World Governments
Powers: Master (+6) Smuggler, Average (0) Telempath, Average (0) Teleporter
Smuggler includes minions spread throughout a world-class organization, the Souk.
Motivation: Compete, don't envy.

Calpurnia Pierce -- She has caramel skin, brown eyes, and long nappy black hair. She is short and curvy wtih a beautiful face. Calpurnia likes people and helps when she can. Her love of virtual travel has given her an awareness of geography around the world. She wishes that she could become a travel agent or tour guide, but her poor health has prevented that. Endometriosis leaves her uncomfortable and mildly to moderately impaired most of the time, then downright crippled for one to two weeks a month during the worst part of the cycle. She has trouble getting good health care because doctors often don't care about women's pain, especially women of color.
Origin: Her powers grew in at puberty.
Uniform: Soft, comfortable clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Beautiful, Good (+2) Geography, Good (+2) Helpful, Good (+2) Interpersonal Intelligence
Poor (-2) Endometriosis
Powers: Good (+2) Intuition
Motivation: Pain relief.

Hamon Derricks -- He has tinted skin, blue eyes, and curly brown hair cut very short. He is tall and slim with wiry muscles. He also has a uterus, which causes problems with endometriosis. Hamon is married and his wife Carroll has a penis. They take precautions, but pregnancy is still a risk. He has trouble getting good health care because doctors tend to disbelieve him about his body. Hamon presents educational and entertaining programs at public parks. He enjoys birdwatching too.
Origin: His superpowers were discovered at puberty, but may have been present from birth.
Uniform: Comfortable men's clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Birdwatching, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Nurturing, Good (+2) Park Presenter, Good (+2) Tall
Poor (-2) Endometriosis
Powers: Average (0) Male Pregnancy
Motivation: To be heard.

There are various treatments for endometriosis, which work for some people but not others.

* * *

"It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."
-- Joseph Campbell

See a map of the Malé area. This is a legible map of the Kurumba Village. This one is smaller but with more labels.

The back side of Ras el Hanout's villa lair opens onto the ocean with sliding glass walls. The public side of the villa faces the street, and the front door opens into the reception room. It has several couches, chairs, and coffee tables for guests in front of the reception desk. The guest bathroom includes a sink, bathtub with shower, and toilet. A portable shower seat makes wudu convenient. The consultation room provides space for private meetings. The office includes a wall desk with storage cabinets, a freestanding desk, and several upholstered chairs. Picture windows look out on the street. The back part of the villa opens onto the ocean with sliding glass walls. This is the spare bedroom. The living room includes a couch, chairs, and end tables. It looks out over the deck, and beyond that, the beach and ocean. The dining room has small tables and chairs, which can be moved outside onto the deck in nice weather. The kitchen behind the dining room features a large refrigerator-freezer, a stove, a sink, and a microwave oven. A worktable provides extra space, and six chairs line the bar. The bedroom has a king-size bed with a desk and chair behind it, end tables, a dressing bench, and a large wardrobe. A sliding glass wall overlooks the deck and ocean. The master bathroom includes a double sink, bathtub with shower, and toilet. Sliding glass walls open to the beach and ocean.

In the Maldives, the rainy season runs from early May through mid-December.

Malé is the capital and the largest city in the Maldives. Hulhulé is an island nearby where the Velana International Airport is located.

Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital is the biggest government hospital in local-Malé. In Terramagne-Maldives, they are scaling up their health care system for people with superpowers. Not all the hospitals have a bang room for emergency teleportation or at least one room for soup care, but that's the goal.

This is 275-bed hospital is an acute tertiary care public referral hospital. Reception includes a large waiting room. The bang room for teleporters has a qibla and a prayer rug to mark the landing zone. A tropical lounge offers a place to relax.

The Urgent Care Department has 10 treatment chairs and 10 treatment tables. Half of them have curtains as shown in the picture. The other half have glass cubicles as shown in the Emergency Department, and are equipped for patients with superpowers.

Recently renovated with superpowered people in mind, the Emergency Department now includes flowglass enclosures for privacy and safety. There are 20 treatment cubicles in this section, 10 of them equipped for superpowered patients. There are 5 consultation cubicles, 2 of them equipped for superpowered patients.

Flowglass is a quasicrystalline material that seems solid but is actually a thick fluid. It can deform and spring back under stress, instead of shattering. This gizmotronic stuff is used as safety glass in windows where something rigid like dymondine could simply tear out of its frame. Flowglass can be clear or frosted. A fancy setup can include something like a wave machine in the frame to make ripples which allow light but not images to pass through, such as used for bathroom windows or other privacy screens.

The triage room has 20 beds, with 10 on each side of the center aisle. Incoming patients are first placed here for assessment, then sent the appropriate location for treatment.

There are 5 trauma rooms for treating serious injuries, 2 of them equipped for superpowered patients and 1 of those with some gizmotronic and super-gizmotronic gear.

There are 2 scanning rooms, each with multiple types of equipment for assessing patient conditions.

The admission transit area has a wide hallway with beds for patients being admitted into the hospital.

The break room is entirely halal.

Hallways connect the sections of the hospital.

There is 1 fully gizmotronic operating room, suitable for superpowered patients. It can be manned, or for some operations, run entirely by remote. There are 4 standard operating rooms, 1 of which is equipped for superpowered patients.

In the Intensive Care Department, there are 5 private rooms on each side of the hall, each of which can be sealed to minimize risk of infection. One side of the hall has rooms equipped for superpowered patients. At the end of the hall is a ward room with 5 more beds, customarily used for surgical recovery.

The Palliative Care Ward has multiple beds in an open room.

Standard patient rooms include single and double options.

The ablution room is next to the prayer room.  It has facilities for making wudu, a type of ritual cleaning; and often one or more shower stalls for the more elaborate ghusl.  The Friendship Room is a relatively new addition, providing a place for people of other faiths to wait while their Muslim friends pray. It includes sacred texts from many different religions.

The quiet rooms are lined with acoustic panels to muffle sound, covered with a variety of nature images.

The reproductive health room provides space for family consultations.

A café feeds staff and visitors.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: rhodielady_47 Date: August 18th, 2019 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I am in awe of the background work you habitually put into your writing...
It's as much fun to read it as it is the piece your wrote. Thank you for including it.
:^)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 18th, 2019 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm glad you enjoy it so much.

Looking up background information helps me ground phantasmagoric ideas in reality, represent a wider range of people, and keep details straight over time.
From: rhodielady_47 Date: August 18th, 2019 06:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

I hope you're going to write more about Ras el Hanout. He's an excellent character.
:^)

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 18th, 2019 06:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

I already have a sequel to this poem, as listed in the header. I also have another scene in mind where he crosses into the Berettaflies storyline. Feel free to prompt for more of Ras if you like him! :D
From: rhodielady_47 Date: August 18th, 2019 06:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

Can Ras "walk the worlds" since he is a smuggler?
:^}
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 18th, 2019 06:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

I don't know. So far he just seems to teleport within one world. But if anyone's going to pick up things brought in from elsewhere -- which occasionally happens -- it's him.
6 comments or Leave a comment