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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Bravest and Most Lucid Thing"
This poem is spillover from the July 16, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chanter1944. It also fills the "Surrender" square in my 2-1-19 Platonic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Berettaflies thread of the Polychrome Heroics series; it follows "Shattered by the Truth," so read that first or this won't make much sense.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features crushing self-blame, a life in ruins, and humane treatment of a supervillain by the police department. This may be difficult to read for people who have been on either side of L-America's broken legal system. It also includes the aftermath of a beating, rejection, verbal aggression, sleep disturbances, painful past, making amends, arrest, perpwalk (with protection), emotional numbness, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Bravest and Most Lucid Thing"

[Friday, May 2, 2014]

Limestrike trudged along
the picturesque boardwalk,
unmoved by its charms.

He felt awful about
what had happened
with the berettaflies, and
that was getting worse
over time, not better.

Breaking up with
the Spectrum hadn't
fixed it like he hoped.

So now he would have
to try something different.

Under an ornate lamppost,
the boardwalk branched,
and Limestrike turned off
where a small sign read 9.

Lifting his chin, he knocked on
the front door of the white cabin.

The woman who opened the door
had auburn hair and stormy eyes
that made Limestrike look away
from their piercing gaze.

"Ah," she said. "I wondered
if any of you would show up."
She beckoned. "Come in."

Inside, the dining room was
decorated with hardwood furniture,
and beyond that the kitchen had
white cabinets and a marble counter
surrounding a white ceramic sink.

The living room was done in linens,
from the long crinkled curtains to
the cushioned easy chairs, with
a steamer trunk for the coffee table.

"I'm Valor's Widow, as you may know,
so what brings you here, Limestrike?"
she said. "And what of your teammates?"

He shook his head. "They are not
my teammates anymore," he said.
"I broke up with them, but it didn't help,
so I have come here to turn myself in.
I was hoping you could help me with it."

"All right, I can work with that," she said.
"Take a seat and let's get started on --"

Then a man came into the living room
from the back of the house, eating
Cocoa Cabana out of the box. He had
pale skin, light gray eyes, and dark hair
that sparked crimson at the ends.

Also someone had punched him
in the face several days ago, probably
with brass knuckles from the look of
the cuts below his lip, now swollen
and mottled with purple bruises.

So that was the infamous Stylet.
Limestrike had not gotten
a clear look in the fight.

Stylet took one look at him
and said, "Get. The fthuck. Out."

Yeah, still puffy enough to slur a little,
but he must've sounded worse yesterday.

Limestrike spread his hands. "I'm not
here to pick a fight, I'm here to surrender,"
he said. "I quit the Spectrum already."

"I don't care," Stylet snarled. "Get out."

Limestrike looked at Valor's Widow
for direction, not wanting to get
accused of trying to escape.

"Let's go sit outside," she said.
"It's a nice day, and we can wait
for the police on the boardwalk."

"Oh, so now I hadda share you too?"
Stylet said, glaring at both of them.

"I do have other responsibilities
besides helping you, Stylet,"
said Valor's Widow.

"Is there a problem?"
said a slim brunette,
coming up behind Stylet.
"My name is Carissa
and I'm an advocate."

"He is," Stylet said,
pointing at Limestrike.

"Limestrike came here
to surrender, and Stylet
doesn't feel comfortable with
him around," Valor's Widow said.
"Don't worry, Stylet, we won't
leave you alone. Who do
you want to stay with you?"

Stylet sighed. "Carissa,"
he said. "You're right, you
havth other pfeople to think'a,
not just 'e and 'y shit."

That was surprisingly thoughtful
for a supervillain, even if he
was still glaring at Limestrike.

"Thank you," said Valor's Widow.
"Come on, Limestrike, let's get
some lawn chairs and go outside."

There were several of those
on the screened porch, and
Limestrike carried them while
Valor's Widow called the police.

Then she sat down with him
and said, "So how are you doing?"

"Not very well," Limestrike admitted.
He pushed the heels of his hands
against his eyes. "Can't sleep much."

"That's no good," said Valor's Widow.
"I'll make sure the police understand
that you're not fully functional. Are
you hungry or thirsty now?"

"Yeah," he said. "I was
too nervous for breakfast."

"Here," Valor's Widow said,
handing him a snack bar
marked Chocolate Sea Salt.
Then she offered a bottle of
water and two Hydra packets.
"Which flavor do you want,
Blue River or Greenland Sea?"

"Greenland Sea, please,"
Limestrike said as he opened
the bottle. She passed him
the packet and he dumped it in,
watching the rich color unfurl
like the fronds of a fern.

The refreshing drink and
a little food helped him
feel slightly less awful.

It didn't take very long for
the police to arrive, striding
along the boardwalk.

Limestrike's shoulders
tightened in response.

"Don't worry, I'm here,"
Valor's Widow murmured.
"I'll keep things calm."

It was no wonder that
even supervillains gave
her complete respect.

"Good morning, gentlemen,"
she said. "Thank you for coming.
Limestrike has decided to surrender
and asked for my help managing that."

The younger man stepped forward.
"I'm Officer Guy-Henri Grant. You can
call me Guy-Henri, I'm not formal," he said.
"With me is police adjudicator Alden Guidry.
Mr. Guidry is handling the berettafly cases."

"Hello, Limestrike," said Mr. Guidry.
"I was hoping I'd see one of you."

Limestrike flinched. "You'll have
to settle for me. The others are ...
not on the same page with me."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Mr. Guidry.
"Could you tell me more about it?"

"Let me get a couple more chairs
if we're going to do the preliminaries
out here," said Valor's Widow. "I'll
be right inside the screened porch."

It only took her a couple of minutes
to return with the extra chairs.

"Thank you," the men said
as they both sat down.

"Growing up, I got sick a lot,"
Limestrike said. "Ever since
my superpowers manifested and
I got better, I wanted to join
a real superhero group."

"And how did that work out
for you?" Mr. Guidry asked.

"Not very well," Limestrike said.
"Some creepy people tried
to recruit me, and I managed
to avoid them but I just wasn't
great at working all by myself.
Then I met the Spectrum."

"What kind of work did you
do for them?" Mr. Guidry asked.

"I shoot a stun beam," Limestrike said.
"So I hang back while my teammates
set up a shot for me ... or I did. It's not
strong enough to do lasting harm. People
come around after a few minutes or hours."

"That's useful to know. It may limit
your personal share of guilt if you're
not the one who cracked open the lab,"
said Mr. Guidry. "What made you
decide to leave the Spectrum?"

The bottle shook in Limestrike's hand.
He clenched it between his knees.

"I've never been very comfortable
with the collateral damage that they
tend to do, but I thought that they did
more good than harm," he said.
"I don't think that anymore."

"No argument there,"
Guy-Henri said. "Easy City
is pretty pissed with you people."

Limestrike cringed. "Yeah.
I'm trying to fix it, though."

"Let's stay focused on that,"
Valor's Widow said. "Limestrike,
what are you offering here?"

"I don't know ... myself?"
he said miserably. "I thought
if I turned myself in that you
would take care of the details."

"This would have gone easier if
you'd come in several weeks ago,"
Mr. Guidry pointed out. "Now
it's going to be a lot harder."

"Yeah, I know," Limestrike said.
"It's just ... they were my friends,
you know? Leaving was hard too."

"Well, you're not the first kid
to fall in with bad friends and then
get in trouble," said Guy-Henri.
"There are ways to make amends."

"Like what?" Limestrike said.

"You don't have to answer this,
but does that stun beam work
on anything, or just humans?"
Mr. Guidry asked him.

"Any animal, but I get
more energy from humans,"
Limestrike said. "Most animals
just give me dribbles, unless
they're soups. Then I can get
more before they go down."

"So for instance, you could
swat berettaflies with it, and
not kill them or put yourself
in danger?" Mr. Guidry said.

"Sure, I tagged a couple of them
during the fight," Limestrike said.
"I'd rather not do it again, because
their energy is kind of ... scratchy."

"Did it harm you?" Valor's Widow said,
leaning forward. "That matters."

"No, it just felt like ... you know
those awful burlap bags some stores
use when they're too cheap to buy
canvas ones?" Limestrike said.
"Unpleasant, not dangerous."

"Then that puts you ahead of
most other people who could
deal with them, aside from Stylet
who has immunity," Mr. Guidry said.
"I'll account for the discomfort in
weighing it against your offenses
if you decide it's a form of amends
that you'd be willing to make."

"I get choices?" Limestrike said,
sitting back in shock. "I thought
someone would just tell me it."

"That's for a court trial,"
said Mr. Guidry. "If you and I
can work out alternative justice,
that may not be necessary."

Guy-Henri shook his head.
"They're never gonna pass on
this one," this said. "Citizens want
somebody on trial for this shit, Stylet
turned himself in just early enough
for adjudication to work out, and
Mr. Pernicious is still in the wind."

"Probably true," said Valor's Widow.
"We can still make an effort toward
negotiation. It's a show of remorse,
if nothing else, which will make a trial
much quicker and cleaner later on.
Remember we'll have to review it all
later due to his sleep disturbances,
to make sure the agreement holds up."

"Good point," said Mr. Guidry. "We
can focus on remorse as a goal.
People should appreciate that."

"It's only fair," Limestrike said.
"I mean, somebody has to stand up
for what happened. I'm not much
of a superhero, but nobody else
is going to do it, so I guess
it'll just have to be me."

"On the contrary, surrender
is deeply misunderstood as an act
of weakness," Mr. Guidry said.
"Surrender is the bravest and
most lucid thing a human ever does,
and that’s why it’s so precious."

"See, there's something heroic
in you after all," Valor's Widow added.
"You're here, and the others aren't."

The world blurred. Limestrike
blinked hard, and it came back
into focus, but his eyes still stung.

"If you say so," he whispered.

"All right then, let's move along to
preliminary paperwork," Guy-Henri said.
"I can arrest you here and then record
whatever level of parole you want
to promise. Mr. Guidry will log
a statement of remorse."

"Okay," Limestrike said.

They talked him through
the options, after which he
basically agreed to mind
the police officers and not
make trouble or misuse
any of his superpowers.

When he finished signing all of
the lines on the tablet computer,
Limestrike held out his hands.

"Do you need the cuffs to keep
your control?" Guy-Henri said.
"You signed the parole form,
so they're not actually required."

Limestrike considered that.
"I think that maybe other people
need to see this," he said quietly.
"They deserve ... justice."

Valor's Widow cleared
her throat. "Security."

"Oh yeah," said Guy-Henri.
"If we're going to make
a public parade out of this,
we need a lot more backup."

He got on his phone and
requested two more cars.

"I'm not going to escape,"
Limestrike protested,
his voice cracking.

"We're not calling in
extra backup to contain
you," Mr. Guidry explained.
"We're doing it to protect you."

"I don't understand," Limestrike said.

"Did you see Stylet's face earlier?"
Valor's Widow asked him.

"Yeah, that was kind of hard
to miss," Limestrike said. "Who
punched him in the face?"

"One of the survivors,"
Valor's Widow said,
"at his invitation."

"Not to mention the time he
got hit with a horse-apple during
a public apology," Mr. Guidry said.
"You can see our concerns here."

Limestrike shivered. "Is this ...
safe?" he asked Valor's Widow.

"Yes. We will keep you safe,"
she promised. "That's why
Guy-Henri called for backup."

"Okay, I've made arrangements,"
the policeman said. "We'll walk to
the parking lot together and meet
our backup there. The department has
contacted a couple of respectable reporters
to cover your arrival at the station. Word
spreads, but it won't have long to do so,
which should keep the crowd small."

"I expect this to stay civil, Limestrike,
but just in case it gets out of hand, you
are allowed to use your superpowers
in self-defense or defense of others,"
Mr. Guidry said. "The parole applies
only to misuse of your abilities."

"Once we get to the police station,
we'll need to file the paperwork and do a
few other things, but after that you can
lie down in a private cell and hopefully
get some sleep," Guy-Henri said.

"Okay," Limestrike replied.
"Can we get this over with?"

Guy-Henri read his rights
again and then cuffed
his hands behind his back.

Limestrike walked to the lot
in the midst of a protective cluster,
with Guy-Henri in front, Mr. Guidry
beside him, and Valor's Widow
very obviously on tailguard.

He might have screwed the pooch
but they weren't going to let
anybody mess with him.

That was ... almost comforting.

When they tucked him into
the police car, Limestrike was
surprised to find a viewscreen
imbedded behind the headrest.

"Just tell me if you want to watch
anything," Guy-Henri said. "It gets
most of the Happy Hearts channels."

"Soothing Sounds," Limestrike said,
grateful to have something relaxing
to watch instead of mess of tension
that filled his head right now.

Soft music and nature scenes
filled the viewscreen in front of him.

"I'll ride with you," Valor's Widow said,
taking the seat beside him. "The guys
are up front, and I don't want to split
our team across two vehicles."

She was pretty serious
about keeping him safe.

Limestrike let himself lean
against her on the drive.

He couldn't see much,
because Guy-Henri had
tinted the smart windows
to keep anyone from seeing
him inside the police car.

They warned him before they
pulled into the station, though.

There wasn't a big crowd, but
the two reporters had cameras.

Limestrike kept his head up
despite the crisp click of shutters
as he walked into the station.

The crowd rumbled a little,
but nobody screamed at him or
threw things, and he thought he
might've heard somebody
murmur, "Good job."

Limestrike felt a little numb
as Guy-Henri took him through
the booking process, but it
could have been worse.

At least Valor's Widow
was there to keep him safe,
and Mr. Guidry made sure
everyone knew that he
had turned himself in.

Afterwards, Guy-Henri
took him to the door, and
then closed it behind him.

The holding cell had
a bed, a toilet-sink with
a mirror, and a wall desk.

Limestrike stretched out on
the bed and realized that he had
camped out in worse places than this.

Maybe he could finally get some sleep.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.

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