Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "What I Choose to Become"

This poem is spillover from the May 7, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] erulisse. It also fills the "Six of Arrows - Transition" 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.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features the aftermath of mad science torture, discussion of what to do with the facilities, traumatic stress, social anxiety, difficulty talking about the past and making decisions for the future, accessibility issues, resistance to studying superpowers, overload, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"What I Choose to Become"

[Tuesday, May 26, 2015]

Turq was chatting with his mother
when the conversation drifted around
to the Umsetzung Complex. She
kept calling to check up on him and
make sure that he was okay, or
at least, as close as he got.

"Do you know if anyone
has plans for what to do with
the facility after it's no longer
needed as a crime scene?"
Mingxia asked him.

"I don't know," Turq said.
"They made a county park
out of what used to be the front
of the college. I guess it might get
rolled into that somehow. I haven't
heard any active plans, though. Why?"

"Someone approached me with ideas
about what to do with it, but they want
to talk with some of the survivors before
pursuing anything," Mingxia explained.

"What ideas?" Turq wondered. "And who?"

"Antoinette Vuillaume -- you may remember
her from the Futurity Chamber Orchestra,"
said Mingxia. "We met her at the afterparty."

"Fair skin, long dark hair, she played
the weird pointy thing?" Turq guessed.

"It's a piezoelectric violin, yes," said Mingxia.
"Antoinette and some other graduates from
the Technical College of New Jutland want
to avoid the buildings getting abandoned or
otherwise destroyed. Do you think that
you might be up to meeting with them?"

"I can probably manage, if we're
not stuck indoors, or better yet it's
a place I already know," Turq said.

"We could meet in the back yard of
our house," Mingxia offered. "Antoinette
asked me to make whatever arrangements
would help you feel comfortable. Do you
think one of the centaurs might want to come,
or would they rather just get a report from you?"

Turq paced back and forth, mulling it over.
"Most of them have more than they can
handle already," he said. "Charli tried
to go to the mall, and couldn't even get in,
so she wound up at a supermarket and
barely handled that. I could ask Arun,
though -- he's the leader, and he's
pretty steady most of the time."

"I'd love to meet Arun," said Mingxia.
"You've told me so much about him.
He sounds like a fine young man."

"Yeah, he helps everyone else
cope with what happened," Turq said.
"If anyone can handle talking about
the compound, it'll be him -- and if
we reach a decision, then the others
should stick to whatever he decides."

"That sounds hopeful," Mingxia said.
"It will be interesting to see what kind
of ideas people come up with."

"People ... how many people?"
Turq said. "Just Antoinette?"

"We don't know for sure yet,"
Mingxia said. "She's talking with
other graduates, and it would depend
on who's available whenever we meet.
Probably not Greta Picard, though --
she's way out in Hollywood."

"Too bad, I love her movies,"
Turq said. "Didn't she play one of
the aliens in Tumbleworld, where
the gravity kept changing because
they lived in an irregular asteroid?"

"Yes, we took the kids to see that,"
Mingxia said. "Anyway, I warned
Antoinette that too many people
could be overwhelming, so she'll
try to keep it to a modest number.
You can set a limit if you want, or
make other reasonable stipulations."

"Can I bring Officer Pink?" asked Turq.
"He can help us stay calm, and he might
know what's going on with the facility."

"You can bring anyone or anything
you need for support," Mingxia said.

"I think you, me, Officer Pink, and Arun
should be plenty," Turq said. "Keep it simple."

"Okay," Mingxia said. "When shall we meet?"

Turq checked his calendar, where he kept
notes about appointments and meetings.
There was a lot more going on now than
there used to be, and he couldn't keep it
in his head without forgetting stuff.

"How about Saturday?" he said.
"That would give folks a few days
to make the arrangements."

"Saturday works for me,"
Mingxia said. "I'll check with
Antoinette and let you know."

"Thanks, Mom," Turq said.
"I really appreciate you helping
with this stuff. You don't have to.
I know it's an incredible mess ..."

"I'm your mother," said Mingxia.
"Helping with messes is my job."

[Saturday, May 30, 2015]

On Saturday, Ansel drove
Turq and Arun to River City.

The Liáng family lived in
a big Victorian house with
tan siding and white trim
under a brown shingled roof.

Flowers, bushes, trees, and
other landscaping surrounded it,
with brick patios for outdoor living.

"Welcome home," Mingxia said,
squashing Turq in a familiar hug.
"Dao took all the kids out to visit
parks and museums, so we don't
need to worry about interruptions."

"It's good to see you again," Ansel said,
then made the new introductions.

Arun seemed charmed by Mingxia.

Turq could guess why. Mingxia was
an experienced foster mother, adept
at forming rapport with new people --
even badly damaged teenagers.

"Where should we go?" Arun said,
his tail swishing. "I'm not sure if I'll fit
in the house, or if it'll support my weight."

"No problem," Mingxia assured him.
"Come around the side of the house."

She led them along a brick path
that opened up into a whole patio.
Raised beds and decorative urns
held a variety of flowers, along with
the dooryard garden of kitchen herbs.

"We have garden chairs for bipeds,
and also a backless bench if you want
to sit down, Arun," said Mingxia. "Take
your pick of the cushions if you like."

Turq eyed his caney bed with a wistful sigh.
It had been modified from a sturdy rolling table,
now with partial sides and a comfy mattress
resting on what had been the storage shelf.

He wouldn't be much use to the discussion
if he switched to his caney form, though.

"Turq, if you need to shift, then do it,"
Mingxia said. "Don't wait until you're
about to melt down before you start
paying attention to your self-care."

"Really, we can make do without
your verbal input," Ansel said.

Turq ducked his chin. "I'll try."

Mingxia opened two sets
of French doors side by side,
their glass set in white frames,
beyond which lay the dining room.

"This way, some people can sit
outside, and anyone who wants
more shade can sit inside, but
we can all still talk," she said.

Arun looked at Turq. "Your mother
is very accommodating," he said.

"Yeah, she's the best," Turq said.
"If you need anything, just ask.
She'll either have it, or figure it out."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence,"
Mingxia said, smiling at Turq.

The doorbell sounded, bianzhong
making familiar chimes in the garden.

"It sounds like our other guests
have arrived," Mingxia said,
heading for the front door.

The rest of them followed,
Arun placing his hooves
carefully on the brick path.

Antoinette Vuillaume was in
the lead, slender and graceful.

Just behind her came Linnea Newell,
a game designer from River City,
her blonde hair streaked with pink.
"Hey, we're two of a kind!" she said,
grinning at Officer Pink's hair.

"Three if you count Turq, or
four if you count Arun," said Ansel.
"It depends on whether you focus on
superpowers in general, or specifics."

"I'm flexible," Linnea said. "It's just
nice having someone a little like me."

"Yeah, that matters," Turq said.
"My cohort still has connections,
even though our shift forms differ."

"The centaurs stick together too,"
Arun said. "It helps us cope."

"Oh my," Ansel murmured, looking
at the next woman. "Jaida Moore?"

"In the flesh," she said. "You
sound like a fan of my work."

"I love Four-Star Planet,"
Ansel said. "I think you did
a great job of describing it."

Jaida laughed. "Astronomers
did the hard work. I just built
on what they laid out for me."

The lone man in the group was
Albert Spurlock, a filmmaker
who lived in Ava, not far from
the Umsetzung Complex.

The artist Frida Morisot
had come even farther,
all the way from Springfield.

Introductions complete, they
followed Mingxia to the patio
where everyone took seats.

Antoinette, Jaida, and Linnea
sat just inside the dining room.

Arun carefully settled on the bench.
Turq tossed a seat cushion on top
of his caney bed and sat there.

Everyone else scattered around
the various chairs and benches
on the patio among the plants.

"I know I reached out first, because I
met Turq and Mingxia after a concert, but
the idea really began with Jaida," said Antoinette.

"Well, when I heard about the raid, I knew I had
to try something," Jaida said. "What they did
with our old campus was monstrous. But some
of us still have fond memories of that place,
and we would rather not see it destroyed."

"We don't want to hurt anyone, though, so we
need to talk with survivors and see if we can
find a solution that works for everyone,"
Antoinette said. "That's our goal."

"Does everyone agree that finding
a mutually acceptable resolution for
the facility is a good goal for today?"
Ansel asked, looking around at them.
"We can worry about feasibility
and implementation later on."

Everyone nodded agreement.

"Okay, participatory decision-making
it is," Ansel said, rubbing his hands together.
"So here is a basic spectrum of agreement:
endorse, agree, mixed feelings, disagree, veto."

"The one I learned has more steps," Jaida said,
and several other people chimed in similarly.

"That's fine, use what you know," Ansel said.
"This way, you can express reservations without
stopping things cold. If numbers or words don't
work for you, just draw a line and mark on it.
Turq, you can do this even if you shift shape."

"How?" Turq said, tilting his head.

"Spread your forepaws apart, and
point with your nose," Ansel said.
"Or you could borrow my phone,
it has the FaciliTater app on it."

He turned on the app and showed
Turq how to access the spectrum bar
or scroll through individual pages.

"If anyone needs it, I also have
a big speechboard in the house,"
Mingxia offered. "It can run apps
as well as proprietary software."

"Great," said Ansel. "We'll have
no trouble communicating with
everyone. Who's taking notes?"

"I will," Jaida said, pulling out a phone.

"Wait, Antoinette says this is your project,"
Ansel pointed out. "Can you lead a talk
and take notes at the same time?"

"I can take notes," Linnea said as
she turned on her tablet computer.
"I can crunch numbers in my head!"

"Fair enough," Jaida said.

"So ... what kind of things do
you have in mind?" Turq said.

Jaida took a deep breath and said,
"We want to reopen the college."

"That's our Plan A," said Albert.
"We have some other ideas if people
hate that one, but they all involve some sort
of education or other public benefit. Some
could be combined with each other, too."

"Does anyone hate the college idea?"
Ansel asked, looking around.

"Wait, I want to hear the other ones,"
Arun said. "I don't like snap decisions."

"Okay, I was just going for a show of
feelings, not closure," Ansel assured him.
"Albert, Jaida, what are the other options?"

"Well, I thought the facility could make
an interesting film center, because it has
some big auditorium spaces already,"
Albert said. "The closest place that
shows a lot of foreign films is River City.
Even Springfield rarely goes past French."

"Artist colony," said Frida. "It has two dorms,
a lot of community space and classrooms --
we could use some as workshops, galleries,
all kinds of things for fine arts and crafts."

"Greta's not here, but she suggested
a disability center," Jaida added. "That
would require more modification, though."

"The campus has enough to start," Linnea said.
"Ethelwynn Beverton was already a mermaid
when she went there. The accommodations
may be out of date, but they have basic access."

"Petey Carolla suggested making it a media hub,"
said Jaida. "That would mesh with disability --
he's doing radio broadcasts for blind people."

"Oh yeah, The Sargon Symphony is awesome,"
Turq said. "I love how the alien voices are
all instrumental. Sometimes I turn it on
when I'm too fried to follow a plot."

"Point to Petey!" Albert crowed,
throwing his hands in the air.
"He cited that as a secondary use
in his original pitch paper, but
the teacher didn't believe him."

"Don't rehire that one," Turq said.

"Discommendation noted," Linnea said.
"One last idea, several of us thought of
making it a museum for soup issues,
mad science, or other topics."

"It's big," Arun said slowly.
"We didn't realize how big until
we climbed out of it. You could put
a different museum in each building,
like Washington, D.C. does."

"Or combine a museum with
some other project," Mingxia said.
"I agree that many of these ideas
would mix and match with each other.
That gives us a lot of hope for finding
something we can all agree on -- and
even backup plans if the first fails out."

"Any other ideas?" Ansel said. There weren't.
"All right, then let's take a show of feelings.
That way we can concentrate on the favorites,
and rule out anything that's too unpopular."

Naturally the college rose to the top,
but most people liked most of the ideas.

Turq and Arun were ambivalent
about everything, though.

"Could you explain more
about your feelings?"
Ansel asked them.

"The whole thing is ...
hard to talk about,"
Turq said. "Take
the museum idea,
I don't know if any of
us could handle that."

"Miriam could," Arun said.
"She's been all over history,
connecting what happened
to us with her people's past."

"Oh yeah," Turq said. "I forgot
about that. She's the only one
doing as many interviews as
she can, and pictures too."

"She poses?" Frida said,
leaning forward. "I'm always
looking for soup models."

"So far it's been for the news,
but yeah, she does," Turq said.
"I did a spot for the local news, and
a few photos for The Blue Place,
but that was mostly so I could tell
people not to pester the centaurs."

"I've noted Miriam as the person
to ask about a museum," Linnea said.
"How can I get in touch with her?"

Turq and Arun looked at each other,
shuffling in place. "Um ..." Turq said.

"The survivors aren't giving out much
of their contact information," Ansel said.
"Write out a summary of the museum idea,
include contact information for people in
the project, and we'll pass that to Miriam."

"That works," Linnea said happily,
typing away at her tablet computer.

"If Miriam is looking for education,
or a job, after her immediate recovery
from the captivity, then historian or
museum curator could be worth
considering," Mingxia said.

"Adding that," Linnea said.

"That brings us to barriers and
how to lower them," Jaida said.
"We anticipated that survivors might
have issues with reopening the college,
or anything other than demolition. So
we wanted to ask what things could
make it more bearable to salvage."

"When I pitched the film center,
I suggested that all survivors get
free access to everything in case
anyone wanted to erase imprints,"
Albert said. "The rest of the team
loved that idea, so we expanded it
to all the other project proposals."

"Free entertainment, free housing,
free education, and so on?" Mingxia said.
"That would be a huge help if anyone
felt able to revisit the location."

"I think Miriam would go for it,"
Arun said. "Anyone else ..."
His skin shivered as if shedding
a swarm of flies. "I doubt it."

"I made it back for the raid, but
that place made my skin crawl,"
Turq admitted. "I'm not sure
if I could do that again."

"I figured we could do things
to change the appearance,"
Frida said. "Quash the triggers."

"Changing details can help a lot,"
Mingxia said. "What were you thinking?"

"Paint murals on the walls to start,"
Frida said. "That meshes with every idea,
because all we'd need to change would be
the content. It's a lot faster and cheaper
to paint a building than tear down old ones
or build whole new structures instead."

"Ethelwynn suggested native landscaping,"
Linnea said. "The college used to have some,
especially study fields for the biology students.
If we changed it inside the campus, then
the grounds would look different, fast."

Turq nodded. "It's all formal gardens,"
he said. "I studied pictures when we were
trying to pin down some details for the raid.
Wildlife gardens would change a lot."

"Could we get pictures of how it looks now?"
Linnea asked. "I mean, more than news clips?
That would help Ethelwynn sketch out ideas."

"Maybe," Ansel said. "I can put in a request
with the police. We do have lots of photos,
it's just a question of citizen access. You
might have to wait a while on those."

"It's not an urgent need," Linnea said.
"Even just a site map of buildings and
green space would help, though."

"Oh, that you can probably have,"
Ansel said. "There are plenty of
old architectural images, and not
much has changed since then."

"We like open space," Arun said.
"If you want a centaur-friendly campus,
keep plenty of fields. Make forest trails
wide enough for us to travel easily."

"Access question," Mingxia said.
"Will you build or adapt things for
centaur parameters? Or other soups?"

The graduates all fell silent and
looked around at each other.

"We didn't think of that," Jaida said.
"We had no idea of details like weight
or height. But we always intended
to include any survivors who wanted it,
so I believe that we have to make
those accommodations."

"Most schools, most places
of any kind aren't set up for
soups with atypical bodies,"
Ansel said. "A while back, there
was a big meeting at SPOON ...
and one person couldn't even
fit through the front door. It
was quite an embarrassment."

"Remember, some of my cohort
aren't even comfortable indoors,"
Turq pointed out. "I still sleep
in a gazebo more often than not."

"Some of us really like the tents,"
Arun said. "No walls, no locking doors."

"Okay, how about planning outdoor spaces
for whatever theme we wind up choosing?"
Mingxia said. "Those have many perks."

"The campus already has some of those,"
Ansel said. "There's the pavilion --"

"Nope, that used to be part of campus
but now it's a county park," Jaida said.

"Yes, the Samuel Clemens County Park,"
Albert said. "I bet we could make a deal
with the county to use that space, though --
especially if we pay for it. Parks can
always use extra money for something."

"How are we paying for this?"
Ansel said. "Do you have plans?"

Linnea laughed. "Money will be
the least of our problems," she said.
"The college may have been a ripoff
for a lot of students -- that's why it got
shut down -- but those of us who actually
graduated got a great education. Some
of us are famous enough to be making
serious money, and we'll chip in."

"Carl Bernhardt bought the campus
in a short sale for $.10 on the dollar,
for $7,645,900," said Jaida. "We
shouldn't have to pay more than that,
and we could raise that much just with
the people already involved. It doesn't
account for upgrades, but it's a start."

"You're not accounting for cleanup, either,
and that's a SPAZMAT-level expense,"
Ansel pointed out. "Budget thoughtfully."

"Nope, not the buyer's responsibility,"
Jaida said. "I looked it up back when
we first started exploring the idea of
reopening the college. Regulations say
it has to be in a usable condition when
sold, so if there's zetetic goo in the labs,
the government has to pay for cleanup
because right now it's under their control."

"Okay, I'll trust your research," Ansel said.
"Real estate evidence is not my field."

"They can probably bill the current owner
for messes he created, though," Mingxia said.
"I know that rule applies to corporations."

"There's a lot of open space already,"
Turq mused. "I mean, we let out
the centaurs into one so they could
run without hurting themselves. Most
of the buildings have a quad space."

"Working from an old campus map,
there are about seven quads in the core,
depending how you count, as well as
the waterfront strip," Jaida said.

"That is a lot of opportunity
for redesigned landscaping,"
Turq said, turning to his mother.

"I would be thrilled to help with that,
if the project goes forward," Mingxia said.
"Furthermore, I can almost guarantee
abundant funding if you want to prioritize
native landscaping. There are all kinds
of grants incentivizing that -- including
free seeds, plants, tree seedlings,
expert advice, and labor assistance."

"Wow," Jaida said. "I had no idea!"

"Didn't Ethelwynn mention
something like that?" Linnea said.

"She might have," Jaida said.
"I confess, I tend to fixate on
the college part of the plan."

"No matter what you do with
the campus, fixing its appearance
should help the survivors feel safer,
even if they never go there," Mingxia said.
"So account for that in any plans you make."

"Noted," Linnea said. "Like murals or
other art, we can match it to the theme."

"Soup-friendly design, public art, and
native landscaping with a wilder look,"
Ansel said, ticking off the points on
his fingers. "How much do those help?"

Turq and Arun looked at each other.
"Dunno about you, but I and my cohort
would feel a lot better about a place that
looked different, less institutional," Turq said.

"Yeah, I'm on board with less institutional!"
Frida jumped in. "Artists lean toward
more bohemian standards, you know?"

"Most of my herd are going rustic,
just because barns are better suited
to our bodies," Arun said. "We haven't
worked out all the details, though."

"That's okay," Ansel said. "The campus
has plenty of space to put in a barn,
temporary or permanent, if any of
you decide it appeals to you."

"Check sizes and prices of barns,"
Linnea said. "Okay, it's on the list."

"I'll pass your contact information to
my grandfather," Ansel said. "He's
hosting the centaurs, and working out
what accommodations they need."

"If we're seriously considering
the college option, let's explore
more of that," Mingxia said.
"What else would it need?"

"A new name," Turq said.
"If I never hear 'Jutland'
again, it'll be too soon."

"We brainstormed some ideas,"
Jaida said. "So far, we're favoring
the Technical College of New Journeys."

"I like it," Arun said firmly, and Turq added,
"Yeah, that's a good one. Pencil it in."

"Name approved by both survivors,"
Linnea said. "That's fantastic."

"Okay, what about education?"
Mingxia said. "Class options?"

"For the college, we considered
three different areas of expansion:
add more technical subjects, upgrade
non-technical subjects to full departments
with majors, and add whole new fields
of study," Antoinette replied.

"I'm all for expanding the tech side,"
Linnea said. "We already have everything
we need for a lot more things, like adding
Health Care, which is always in demand.
My pie-in-the-sky is Nanotechnology."

Arun winced. "Maybe not tiny doombots."

"I don't know," Turq said. "Nanotech can
fix some problems nothing else will."

"If you guys disagree on this, that's
okay, but log your responses," Ansel said.
"I gave you a simple scale earlier, but
I know the extended one, and it has
a point for serious reservations."

"Yes, please," Arun said, and
Ansel showed him how to use
the FaciliTater app for that.
Then Turq took a turn.

"I think the simplest option
is upgrading nontechnical topics,"
Jaida said. "Communication,
Social Sciences, Humanities,
Fine Arts, and General Education
could all become full majors."

"That makes sense," Turq said.
"People need practical jobs, and
it'll be an easier sell than tech stuff
when you're talking to other survivors."

"Noted," Linnea said. "We just want
the college restored. We can be
pretty flexible about its content."

"Some people might find it
therapeutic to pitch in with
renovations," Mingxia said.
"I've had foster kids who felt
that way about their old rooms,
if they moved back home."

Turq shuddered, but Arun said,
"Some of the girls have really
gotten excited about decorating
their stalls. You should see what
Kim Van did with hers -- it's all
done in Vietnamese imports."

"Oooh, I'd love to see that!"
Frida said. "Are there pictures?"

"Family photos only," Ansel said.
"I'll ask if she's willing to share, though."

"As for practical jobs, I hope to expand
the certificate options," Jaida said. "That
would make gainful employment affordable
for more students. We used to have things
like Lab Animal Management, Cybersecurity,
and Tax Preparation on the tech side. Then
nontech had Sign Language Interpretation,
Peer Counseling, Office Skills, and so on."

"I support job training," Mingxia said.
"What new certificates would you add?"

"Depends on the departments we get,"
Jaida said. "I thought of stuff such as
Industrial and Manufacturing Crafts
or Chemical Operator in tech."

"If you add Health Care, consider
Emergency Medical Technician,
Practical Nursing, Addiction Care,
or Medical Office Clerk," said Mingxia.

"Those sound good," Jaida agreed.
"For nontech, Retail Management or
Child and Family Studies could work."

"Family Studies is a whole major,"
Mingxia said. "Trust me on this."

"If we can get a department for it,
sure," Jaida said. "Not everyone
wants to devote most of college to it,
but most people will have a family, so
a minor or certificate would suit them."

"Fair point," Mingxia conceded.

"I want a Live Modeling certificate
for students who wish to pose for
artists or photographers, as well as
fashion and commercial models,"
Frida said. "This would make
a good career for people with
some visible superpowers."

Arun shuffled uncomfortably,
but Turq said, "Yeah, I've heard
that some places are advertising
that they want visible soups
to expand their inclusivity."

"I don't like it," Arun said.
"We don't need people after us."

"Would you like it better if it
got you clothes?" Turq said.

"Touché," Arun said. "Okay,
I won't argue against that, if
other people like the idea."

"Don't forget, a lot more girls
than guys fantasize about
becoming models," Frida said.
"We'll take any gender, but
I bet we get more girls."

"You mentioned departments,"
Mingxia said. "What kind did
the old college have, and what
would you want for the new one?"

"Almost everything was STEMZ,"
Jaida said. "Engineering, Science,
Computer Science, and Mathematics
were the main ones, each of those
with its own subdivisions."

"We need to diversify,"
Albert said. "We all agree on
expanding the arts and humanities.
We can add Business and Management,
Human Services, Peacework, and
Personal Development, maybe
a few other things as well."

"Useful stuff," Turq said.
"It's important to know things
that people want, so you can
find work when you need it."

"I'm making a note to check
the Missouri job market for
inspiration on demand,"
Linnea said as she typed.

"Look for cutting-edge stuff,"
Ansel suggested. "I know
that police departments never
have enough zetetic researchers.
Even if your equipment is older,
you have the basic facilities for it."

Jaida nodded. "We had Zetetics
under the old Science department."

"Well, if it's cutting edge we want,
how about Superpower Studies?"
Linnea said. "Nobody teaches that,
but we sure as hell need it now!"

Turq and Arun both cringed.

"We really don't like people
studying us," Turq squeaked.

"What about studying ourselves?"
Linnea said. "Come on, I can't be
the only person who ever experimented
with dyeing over crayon-colored hair!"

Now Ansel cringed. "Perhaps we
could table hot topics for later."

"Okay, okay," Linnea grumbled.

"One last point before it's closed,"
Mingxia said. "You're not the only one,
I've heard of other people doing that.
It usually doesn't work well, though."

"Yeah, I found that out," Linnea said.
"But I still had lots of fun trying."

"Moving right along," Jaida said briskly,
"Personal Development would add flexibility,
even if we can't add many new departments.
It would span subjects including College Skills,
Job Skills, Coping Skills, and Life Skills. You
could take a series of Yoga classes, then
Public Program Design, Teaching, and
Small Business Management toward
starting up your own yoga studio."

"Good ideas," Mingxia said,
"especially if you want to include
many disadvantaged students."

"We do," Jaida said. "TCNJ
used to attract mostly rich students
who couldn't get into elite colleges,
but also aspiring small-town kids
who couldn't afford anything higher.
We want to do better with ours."

"Another thing we want to do
is broaden Science Fiction to
Speculative Fiction including
fantasy, horror, and so on,"
Frida said. "Plus make those
majors as well as minors."

"Yes, one thing the old school
did well was produce a lot of
creative folks," Jaida said.

"We can diversify other things,
too," said Antoinette. "Fine Arts
branches into Studio Arts, Music, and
Dance. Social Sciences expands to
Psychology and Sociology. Then
if the college grows, those could
become separate departments."

"Relatively small changes, but
a lot of bang for our buck,"
Albert said. "Good idea."

"Who's going to teach all of
those classes?" Ansel wondered.

"I looked into this," Jaida said. "Losing
the old college gutted the whole economy
of Douglas County. Most of the faculty
never found jobs as good. Out of those
I asked, over half said they'd come back.
Other people moved away, though, and I
wouldn't expect many of them to return."

Ansel sighed. "Good point," he said.
"Some of the people picked up in
the raid turned out to be uninvolved
in the crimes, and wound up working
for shady people because it was a job."

"Yeah, there's not much work here,"
Albert said. "That college used to be
the one big white-collar employer."

"So restoring that would do a lot of good
in Douglas County," Arun realized.
"That's an argument in favor."

"It could apply to other plans
as well," Turq pointed out.
"Like Albert said, they all
benefit the public somehow."

"Mixed feelings notwithstanding,
I like the idea of turning that place
into something good," Arun said.
"It shouldn't stay all bad."

"I am not what happened to me,
I am what I choose to become,"
Turq said. "That's from recovery."

He'd heard it from Nebuly's therapist,
and sometimes the affirmation helped him
to move on from his difficult memories.

"Many of the other ideas would work
as adjuncts to the college," Jaida said.
"We could do media productions or
art shows. We've already agreed on
more accommodations for disabilities
and diverse body types. I don't know
about adding a museum, though."

"The dungeons," Arun said quietly.
"You could put a museum there."

"What dungeons?" Jaida squawked.

"They dug -- under some buildings,"
Turq said. "We found the centaurs
down there. It was a dungeon."

He was panting, gasping for air
even in the wide-open garden.

"Okay, we already decided to refer
that topic to Miriam," said Mingxia.
"We've made good progress today,
but I think we've had about as much
of these heavy conversation as
some people can handle."

"Yeah," Turq said. "Yeah."

Arun tried to pat his shoulder,
and Turq dove out of the way,
shifting in midair so the caney
disappeared into his bed.

"Discussion closed for today,"
Jaida declared. "Thank you
both for your time and help."

The tip of the caney's nose
poked out under his fluffy tail,
but he made no reply.

"Okay, I've got plenty of
notes for followup activities,"
Linnea said. "I'll be in touch."

"I'll bring out lunch," Mingxia said,
and disappeared into the house.

Soon she came back with
platters and bowls and jugs.

"We have long soup, sticky rice,
and a fruit plate with lychees and
Chinese plums," Mingxia said.
"The jugs have iced green tea
with honey and mint leaves."

Most of the people crowded
toward the dining table.

"I think I'd better stay
where I am," Arun said.
"I'd hate to break your floor."

"That's very thoughtful,"
Mingxia said. "I'll set up
a tray for you. Turq, do you
want to eat where you are,
or come sit at the table?"

The caney lifted his head,
then put it right back down.

"Outside it is," Mingxia said.
She brought him a big bowl
of soup and a few plums.

Then she brought a tray
for Arun. "Don't worry if you
need more food, we can refill
this as often as necessary."

"Thank you," Arun said.
"This all smells delicious."

"I think today went pretty well,
considering the sensitive issues
we covered," Ansel said.

"Yeah, it did," Arun said.
"It's good not to waste things."

"Turq, what do you think?"
Ansel said, looking at him.

The caney reached out of
his bed far enough to start
lapping his bowl of soup.

"Good enough," Ansel said.

* * *


This poems is long, so the character, setting, and content notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, education, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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