"Atoms, Death, Aliens, Magic, Intellect"
[Saturday, July 24, 2015]
Calliope ambled into the Kyoto Room
of the Stillwater Community Center,
its open door cheerfully marked by
a bundle of balloons in shades of
black, gray, white, purple, and green.
So far the only other person present
was a slender blue-haired college student
wearing a black T-shirt with a Mondrian scarf
and industriously sketching the Japanese garden
from a snapshot displayed on a smartphone.
"Hi, I'm Dana Lane. My pronouns are
ey, em, eir," the student said. "I'm
demisensual, so I don't touch
until I get to know people."
"I'm Calliope, and I use
she, her, hers." Well, most
of the time, and beyond that
it got more complicated than she
wanted to share with strangers.
"I'm demiromantic demisexual.
You like doing artwork?"
"Yeah, I'm an art student
at the University of Kansas,"
ey said. "What about you?"
"Superhera," Calliope said, trying
not to blush. She didn't want
to sound like she was bragging.
"Oh, cool," Dana said with a grin.
"I've thought about that, but I'm
not sure it's for me, you know?"
"It's not for everyone," Calliope said.
Next to arrive was a bashful young man
wearing shorts and a white T-shirt that
read, Tree Hugging Whale Watcher.
"I'm Coleman Lauermann, and I'm
demisexual ... not sure about the rest
of it, since nobody has the patience
to help me find out," he said.
"Yeah, that can happen,"
Calliope said. "What about
the rest of your life? College,
trade school, or something else?"
"College," said Coleman. "I'm studying
Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
at Colorado State University. I want
to become a park ranger later on."
"You folks should swing by
Rocky Fellows Park while you're
in town," Calliope suggested.
"It has some beautiful scenery."
Both of them made a note.
Calliope actually knew
the next arrival, a woman
who introduced herself as
Dott Matrix and had skin
of flat white covered with
black spots in different sizes.
They had bumped into each other
at a class on de-escalation skills
in the Westbord SPOON base.
"It's good to see you again,"
Calliope said after a round of
introductions. "What brings you
out to this part of the world?"
"Summer travel," said Dott Matrix.
"I don't want to be the boring girl
who never does anything but school."
"Is this the demi meeting?" someone said.
"Sure is, come on in," Dana said,
beckoning to the newcomer.
This girl had fair skin with
a few faintly glossy patches,
and she wore a white tank top
over her ripped denim shorts.
"Hi, I'm Josie Lomica, otherwise
known as NeonFlux," she said.
"I work with people who need help
stabilizing their emotions. I'm
aroflux, and it's kind of complicated."
She was also shielded so tightly
that Calliope couldn't read anything
from her, which was unusual.
"I'm just an ordinary guy,"
said Coleman. "It doesn't make
for very exciting small talk, I'm
afraid. What's up on your end?"
Dana groaned. "I hate small talk,"
the artist said. "I wanna talk about
atoms, death, aliens, magic, intellect,
the meaning of life, faraway galaxies,
music that makes you feel different, food,
your favorite scent, what keeps you up
at night. I don't want to know what's up."
"Okay, well ... did you see the latest article
on the Plurreg in the news?" asked Coleman.
"Island Chain proposed giving them Titan,
since it resembles the world they lost."
"Wow," Dana said. "That would
make quite a landing gift. Are
you for or against the proposal?"
"Depends on whether Titan has
its own ecosystem already, and
we don't know that," Coleman said.
"If it's got one, then I wouldn't want
to trash what's already there."
"Yeah, I'm with Coleman on that,"
said Josie. "I bet we could ask
the Plurreg, though -- they could
find out faster than we could."
"If we can trust them," Calliope said.
"They did try to attack New York."
"You can't hold traumatized refugees
to a normal standard of behavior,"
Josie argued. "That's not fair."
"Or hold aliens to human standards,"
Dana added. "They're not like us."
"I think that 'don't blow shit up'
is a pretty basic standard,"
Calliope said. Then a sound
at the door made her look up.
It was Vagary, who hesitated
the moment he spotted her.
"Come on in, don't be shy!"
Dana called, beckoning.
Still Vagary waited until
Calliope pulled out a chair,
silently inviting him to join them.
"We're talking about aliens?"
he said. "I thought this was
supposed to be a demi meet?"
"That too, but Dana hates
small talk," said Coleman.
"Okay. I'm Vagary, and so far
the best description I've found is
arovague," he said. "I don't know
about the rest of it, but I'm guessing
demi is probably in there somewhere,
because if I had the on-switch that
most people seem to have, I think
I'd have a clearer idea what I am."
"Makes sense," Dana said.
"I'm demisensual, and people
hardly know what that is, so it
was difficult for me to discover.
It means I don't touch anyone
until I get to know them."
"I don't touch people much
because it spills their energy
on me, and that actually makes
my orientation slosh around,"
Josie said. "It's very confusing."
"Have you tried insulating fabric?"
Vagary asked. "There's some stuff
that's not on the open market and
helps buffer superpowers a bit."
"I can't stand being wrapped up
that much," Josie said. "It's okay,
though, I've got a farm so I don't
have to be with people all the time."
"That works," said Dott Matrix.
"Some folks just need more space."
"True," said Calliope. "Hey, I brought
a demisexuality erasure bingo card
if people want it for inspiration."
"Yeah, let's see it," Dana said.
Calliope put the card on the table.
She had already marked You're
just a special snowflake and
You're just picky. "Those are
sort of true, but not because
I'm demiromantic demisexual."
"You have your reasons,"
Vagary said, shaking his head.
"Someone ran the 'ideal and perfect'
line past me just this morning."
"Oh dear," Calliope said.
"Dare I ask what you did?"
"Laughed in his face,"
Vagary admitted. "When I
could breathe again, I told
him that I'm a supervillain."
"Good answer," Calliope said.
Dott Matrix squeaked. "Really?
You're actually a supervillain?"
"Yeah, but I'm not at work now,"
Vagary said. "In fact I don't work
in this town at all. The um, the ad
said this meeting was for all demis?"
"It is," Dana said firmly. "There
aren't enough of us to exclude
anyone. That's why we have
roving meets in the first place."
"Westbord has some regular ones,
but yeah, most places just don't have
enough demis for that," said Dott Matrix.
"I was in a smaller town when a reporter
claimed I was just looking for attention."
"Well, you are kind of eye-catching,"
Josie pointed out. "It looks cool, though."
"I actually got these for medical reasons,"
said Dott Matrix. "Still, I have to admit
that they're useful for cape work now."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Josie said.
"I didn't mean to be rude."
"It's all right, I'm not sensitive
about how I look," said Dott Matrix.
"Some other people might be."
"Nah, I got over mine too,"
said Josie. "It doesn't show
much in daylight unless I get
a really strong imprint, but it
sure is flashy with the lights out."
"Is that why you hang back from
people?" Dana asked. "I get
asked if I was sexually abused
at least two-three times a week."
"I get that all the time, too, but no,
I wasn't abused. I've just always been
kind of body-shy," Josie said. "I actually
got my superpowers from body paint
during a body image workshop."
"Really?" said Dana. "I got mine
from an art workshop where we
threw paint at each other. It was
this new color-changing stuff
that reacted to the chemistry
of paper, skin, or whatever."
"Zetetic colorants are among
the more common metagens for
crayon soups and other abilities
relating to color," Vagary said quietly.
"We keep telling people this, and
they just keep ignoring us."
"What for?" Dana said, staring.
Vagary grimaced. "Amazingly,
nobody wants to take lab safety
advice from supervillains."
"Can't say I blame them,"
Dott Matrix admitted. "But if
you guys know something we
don't, then us jumping on Johnny
isn't going to solve the problems."
"No shit," Vagary said. "Me, I get
a thrill out of playing lab rat -- but one,
I get paid handsomely for it, and two,
I have a nonstandard risk assessment.
Most people would really rather not."
"I don't know if I'd change it or not,"
Josie said. "It's given me opportunities
I probably wouldn't have had otherwise.
I like working with flickering kids and
refugees on the farm. I'm not sure if
I would've found that without this."
"Maybe not," Dana said. "I know
I get more attention looking like this
than I did before." One hand
ruffled through eir blue hair.
"I wouldn't," Calliope said.
"Then again, I got mine from
a tornado, not a paint pot, so
maybe it's not the same."
"I don't have any special powers,"
Coleman said. "I'm just a student
working to be a park ranger. Does
that mean I shouldn't be here?"
"No, if you're demi anything,
you belong," Calliope said.
"Sorry we got sidetracked."
"Intersectionality is distracting,"
Dana said. "Do you want to share
any of your demi experiences, Coleman?"
"I got 'That's just normal female sexuality'
in a group last week," Coleman said.
"But I thought you were a guy?"
Josie said. "Did I misread you?"
"I am a guy," Coleman said.
"They were ragging on a girl
about it and, I dunno, maybe
just forgot to switch the terms.
But they didn't apologize."
"That sucks," Dana said.
"I wish that we could do
something about this shit."
"We are," Vagary said.
"Just getting together helps.
We can share zippy comebacks
and possible solutions with each other."
Calliope chuckled. "Yeah, you've
given everyone a right to say that they
know a supervillain with better manners
than whatever bigot is bugging them."
Dana immediately whipped out
eir smartphone and started typing.
"I am so using that," ey said.
"This guy's been pestering me
on the student boards all week."
"I think you mean That Guy,"
Calliope said with a frown.
"Mmm," said Vagary as he
took out his own smartphone.
Calliope wondered if he was
going to set BlackSheep on
the perpetrator, and if so,
whether she should do
anything about that.
Oh well, she was in
a meeting. Surely that
counted as 'busy elsewhere.'
"Speaking of solutions, what
about enlisting the Healthy Touch
providers?" Calliope said. "They
work with actual abuse survivors,
so they must know about going slow."
"Honestly, I've had better luck with
yoga," said Vagary. "Flip chips are
your friends! I've found that yogis are
less likely to make wrong guesses
about why someone has boundaries
or other quirks in the places they do."
"It's probably the goal focus,"
Dana mused. "Caregivers want
to fix things. Yogis just want to chill."
"You are not wrong," Vagary said.
"Huh, maybe I should mention
some of this to my yoga group."
"Oh, you do yoga?" Dana said.
"I don't do it myself, but I love
drawing all the poses."
"Yeah, there's all kinds of
classes at a local clinic,"
Vagary said. "I'm into
Santosha yoga myself,
that's about contentment."
"Anything else good for
demis?" Dott Matrix wondered.
"Yoga's all over the West Coast."
"You might try Pratyahara for
turning inward, or Samadhi for
oneness with all living things,"
Vagary suggested. "I'm not
exactly an expert, though."
"I wonder if forest bathing
would make a good activity
for demi folks," said Coleman.
"I'm studying how people interact
with nature, and it's ... quieter
than the usual kind of date."
Calliope and Vagary shared a look.
"Just walking outdoors together
can help people relax and smooth
over their relationship difficulties,"
Calliope said. "It doesn't have
to be sexual or anything."
"I guess that makes sense,"
Coleman said, and made a note
to explore it further in class.
"Do you think any of that
might help me?" Josie asked.
"I keep trying to figure out what
I really am, but it keeps shifting."
"Maybe what you really are is
fluid," Vagary said. "But yeah,
any of the introspective yoga modes
can help with personal exploration."
"Thanks," Josie said. "I'll check
if there's anything near me.
That might actually be
worth taking a class for."
Just then the clock chimed,
alerting the group that they
had ten minutes left of
their allotted time for
the meeting room.
"Sounds like we should
wrap up," Calliope said.
It had been fun, though.
Dana turned to Vagary
and held out eir hand.
"I'm not ready for cuddles
or anything like that yet, but
I think I know you well enough
to shake hands now, and I'd
kinda like to say I touched
a supervillain," ey said.
"If that's not creepy?"
"Not the way you said it,"
Vagary assured her as he
shook her hand. "If you decide
that you're up for snuggling
some other time, though, then
ping me. I like cuddle piles."
Dana grinned. "I just might.
Cuddly supervillains, who knew?"
"You might be surprised,"
Vagary said. "Think about it.
Not many people want to touch us,
so we have to do for each other."
"Oh wow," Dana said, eyes widening.
"And primates go crazy if they don't
get enough contact comfort."
"Well, that explains a lot,"
Dott Matrix muttered.
"I've been surprised
how civil supervillains
can be when nobody is
pestering them," Calliope said.
"So noted," Dana said. "I'm
a psychology minor to go with
the art. I'll see what I can do
to encourage more cooperation."
"It's better than the alternative,"
Josie said, and Vagary nodded.
As Josie stood up, she tripped, and
Coleman caught her instinctively.
"Shit, I'm sorry!" he said. "I know
you don't like being touched."
When he lifted his hand away,
her skin underneath was branded
with his handprint in glowing orange,
like the coals from a campfire.
Coleman's hand, when he
turned it over, was neon green,
as if he'd been splashed with
wet paint, luminous even in
the well-lit meeting room.
His arm where he'd brushed
against her was smeared
with the same vivid color.
"What the hell?" Calliope said,
staring at the two of them.
"This happens," said Josie.
"It's how I got my cape name,
NeonFlux. When I use my power,
other people's energy shows up as
these colors on my skin. It's rare for
me to mark anyone else, though,
and it never glowed before --
I thought only mine did that."
"Is it permanent?" Coleman said,
staring at his spattered skin.
"Uh, no, it fades after a few hours,"
Josie said. "At least it has before."
"Maybe it's a clue," Vagary said.
"I've been studying bonds and
related superpowers. Sometimes
things like that can reveal compatibility."
"He's right," Calliope said, remembering
some things she had read. "Josie, what if
your aroflux isn't random slosh? What
if it means you could adapt to match
the orientation of anyone compatible?"
"Wow," Dana whispered.
"Best. Superpower. Ever!"
"I would like to explore
this possibility," Josie said.
"Coleman, shall we get lunch
and make a picnic somewhere?"
"Yeah, I'd like that," he said,
wiggling his green fingers.
Dott Matrix looked at Dana.
"Since you're not into small talk,
and I can take it or leave it, do you
want to go chat about atoms, music,
or something else meaningful?"
"Sure," said Dana. "There's
an art center in town, too."
"It's good," Calliope and
Vagary said at the same time.
"So is the picnic idea," Vagary added.
"We could swing by Rocky Fellows
and hit Arctic Gardens for lunch."
Calliope thought about that.
For all their rough beginning,
she was slowing starting
to warm up to Vagary.
"That's a plan," she said.
* * *
This poem runs long, so its notes appear separately.