Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Coming Together Is a Beginning"

This poem is a gift for my father. It came out of earlier notes and discussions plus the February 4, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl with prompts from [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] kengr, and Anonymous. It also fills the "Nonsexual Touch" square in my 2-1-20 card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes references to youth abuse and neglect, misbehaving "superheroes," bringing in supervillains as a better option, Kraken as a general support organization for troubled youth, inviting superteens to form teams in a controlled context, disclosure vs. nondisclosure of various things, teen angst and sass, sexual misconduct, references to countries threatening for soups, and other challenges.


"Coming Together Is a Beginning"

[Monday, June 1, 2015]

With a spring in his step,
Saul Omar walked through
the secret Kraken base
known as Bulldog Hall.

Today was the big day.

Kraken collected teenagers
with superpowers, many of whom
couldn't be returned home, even if
they had a home in the first place.

In fact, sometimes connected people
actually called Kraken to come deal with
wild young things instead of SPOON.

After all, Kraken didn't get involved
in religious debates. They didn't
discriminate based on abilities,
skin tone, orientation, and so on.

Hell, they didn't even exclude people
who might turn out to be gray capes
or white capes instead of black capes,
which made them more inclusive than
SPOON's "Everyone Is a Hero!" schtick.

After last spring's fiasco in Easy City,
they got a lot of calls that amounted to,
"We called in the villains to deal with
the hazard because we know they
won't just bust in there without
taking precautions. After all, they
won't get paid if they screw up."

Some got more explicit, like "We don't
want a mess like the Spectrum caused."

Many were amusing. "We called in
the supervillains because they won't bitch
about my using levitation to get stuff out
of the gutters instead of superheroing."

Others were thoughtful. "I figured
that you could handle the kid better,
because you didn't freak out about
my having theological debates with
the local supervillain over coffee,
and he's not willing to break up
with his goody-two-shoes brother."

More often the calls were panicky,
or even heartbreaking, like the times
someone whispered, "I don't care
that people call you supervillains, just
please come get her before they kill her."

Kraken did the best that they could
to save the superkids and get them
somewhere safer, along with giving
a sharp reminder that child abuse
was in no way acceptable.

They took whatever they got
and helped the survivors find
a place where they could live.

It made for a very mixed bag.

At the moment, they had a lot of
speedsters, plenty of elementals,
the usual run of teleporters and
psychics, assorted oddballs,
but only a few primals.

Now some of them would
have a chance to form teams.

Saul stepped inside the gymnasium,
where long tables held information
or snack food and beverages and
dozens of teens already gathered.

In one corner, several of them
had set up a Robo Rally in which
two robots tried to push each other
off the edge of a round platform.

Others milled around at random,
or chatted in twos and threes.

Each teen wore a big sticker
which they could fill out with as
much as they wished to share of
their name, pronouns, superpowers,
goals, or other relevant interests.

That would help them to identify
possible teammates and then
discuss how they matched up,
at least for the ones willing
to disclose enough details.

If not, well, some of them
needed practice in saying no
and defending their boundaries
more than they needed a team.

There would be other events,
after all -- Kraken typically held
several of these each year.

The teens were watching him,
though, since most of them knew
him by now. He had picked up
a lot of them himself, in fact.

Saul waited until one robot
shoved the other to the floor,
making the geeks cheer.

Then he clapped his hands.

After a minute of chattering and
shuffling around, silence fell.

"Welcome to the Teambuilding Fair,"
Saul said. "You're all here because
you have a lot to offer, and you're
hopefully ready for this next step."

"We're ready!" the teens chorused.

"Allow me to remind you that there is
to be no violence, grabbing, bullying,
excessive rudeness, or misuse of
superpowers today," Saul said. "If
you can't follow basic rules, then
you're not ready and will be sent
out for further individual training."

"Sounds just like everywhere else,"
one of the teenagers muttered.

"Do you really want to join a team
with someone who treats you like dirt
or tries to hurt you?" Saul countered.
"Show of hands, please, how many of
you would like to announce that you
left somewhere because of that?"

Most of the people in the room
raised a hand, including Saul.
Some even raised both hands.

"Okay, so I dumped Palestine
for being a bottom-ten piece of
hell on Earth," said Saul. "Let's
all try not to act like Palestine
and we should do fine."

Titters rippled around
the room as people
dropped their hands.

"What do we get if we're
not Palestine?" a girl asked.

"Those of you who succeed in
forming teams will earn access
to the Teambuilding Room now,"
Saul said. "Teams may also use
the Hard Room, the Soft Room,
and the Combat Training Gym
collectively, not just individually."

He had to wait for the whoops and
cheers to die down so he could continue.

"Each group will gain a team supervisor
in addition to your personal soup mentors,
who will assist you in learning about
each other's abilities and how best
to work as a team," Saul went on. "If
you happen to have someone willing
and relevant, though, you can also ask
a mentor to supervise your team."

"So is it just classes or can we
hang out too?" a boy asked.

"To assist you in teambuilding,
you will have the right to move into
a dorm suite with a common room and
bedrooms suited to your group size,"
Saul said. "You may do so now or later,
but you are not obligated to live together.
How you spend your free time is up to you."

He waited for a moment, but there were
no more questions. "All right, everyone,
mix and mingle," Saul said. "Today is
the first day of the rest of your life!"

The loose circle around him
broke up and the teens
went back to chatting.

Saul scanned the group,
looking for the ones that
he recognized from earlier.

He spotted several each of
fire and water elementals,
talking to each other and
some of the other superkids.

Sluice was a graceful girl, talking
with the much more taciturn Coburn
about how their Water Powers worked.

Shamash had a small crowd around him,
fascinated by how he could share his abilities.
The boys held hands, comparing sparks.

Jiho and Do-hyeon had connected too,
both Koreans with crayon hair and
psychic powers, although Jiho was
bicolored pink and blue while
Do-hyeon was all shades of blue.

Slither, a wild young man with
prehensile hair, had connected
with the teleporter Dropdown.
As Saul watched, the two of them
headed toward Sluice and Coburn.

The speedsters had an advantage
because they could lap the room
reading everyone's stickers before
deciding whom to approach first.

Sherwin was flitting from group to group,
but Altha hung back, hesitating to try.

"Give people a chance," Saul urged Altha.
"I know you miss your old friends. You
won't make new ones without talking
to people. This is a safe place for it."

"All right, I'll try," Altha said. She
pulled herself up and headed for
another of the speedsters.

A squawk of protest made Saul
whirl around just in time to see
Dropdown's hand slide away from
Sluice's hip as she slapped him
into a wall with her waterwhip.

"Don't touch me like that!"
she screamed at him.
"This is my body, and I
decide what happens to it."

"You said it, sister." Pumps
cracked her knuckles as she
stepped toward them. "Need
any help taking out the trash?"

Sluice just sniffled, keeping
Dropdown pinned to the wall.
He was too dazed to teleport away.

"Let him go, Sluice," said Jiho.
"Other people want a turn too."

"That's --" Saul started to protest,
then realized Jiho was tilting his head
to indicate Saul, and smoothly switched
to say, "-- my job, so I'll take it from here."

Sluice let go and backed away from
the wall, hugging herself tightly.

Saul checked to make sure
the boy wasn't injured, then said,
"Dropdown, it looks like you're
not ready for teamwork yet. I'll
walk you to the door, and you can
fill out the exit paperwork in the office."

"But I just got here," Dropdown whined.

Saul looked at his watch. "You made it
fifteen minutes this time," he said as he
propelled the teen toward the door.
"Next time you can try to last longer."

With that, he deposited Dropdown in
the consultation office outside the gym.

Then he went back to check on Sluice
and the rest of her nascent group.

"Great, now you just cost us
our teleporter," Coburn said.

"Hey, Sluice has a right to
her own body," Pumps snapped.
"If you don't like it, then you
can leave too, Coburn."

"Fine! I will!" he said,
and stomped away.

"Was that a good idea?"
Jiho said. "Now we're
a lot shorter on people."

"Yeah, well, better to lose them
now than in a fight where they get
each other killed being careless,"
said Pumps. "Besides --" She waved
a hand at her purple tank top, which
read, Not created to be subtle.

"A teleporter would've been
useful, though," said Slither.

Dauber raised a hand. "I um, I can't
teleport yet, but my soup mentor thinks
that I might learn splash teleporting
someday," he said. "So we might
not be totally without options."

"That's cool," said Pumps.
"What can you do now?"

"I uh ... I melt," said Dauber.
"Sometimes it's useful! It got me
out of a wrecked car once."

"All right, what else do we
have here?" Saul asked.
"Maybe I can help out."

"I'm a strongwoman and
Sluice is a water elemental,"
Pumps said. "Do-hyeon
and Jiho are both psychics.
I'm not sure about Slither."

"I'm a teek," Slither said,
raking one hand through
his long blue-and-brown hair.
"My telekinesis leaks out
through my hair. Mostly I'm
a thief and a brawler, though."

"What could you do with that
set of skills?" Saul asked.

"I dunno," Slither said.

"Well, think about it while
I loop the room," Saul said.

"Let's brainstorm," Jiho said.
"Maybe we can come up
with some interesting ideas."

Saul left them to it, and looked
around the gym. Clusters were
beginning to form in some spots.

Participants seemed to sort
themselves out based on
which languages they spoke.

There were dozens in play,
big bunches of English, German,
Spanish, and other world languages
along with a liberal sprinkling of
Esperanto, although the latter
also had some people joining
other clusters in hopes of
learning a new language.

It helped that so many teens
spoke two or more languages, and
of course Kraken taught Esperanto.

Saul was pleased that nobody
was really hooking up based on
nationality, appearance, or gender --
the handful of matched sets had all
gotten together based on other things
with the match as a coincidence.

One trio approached hesitantly.
"You said it's okay if we didn't want
to be supervillains?" Shamash said.

"That is correct," Saul said. "If you
want to do something else, we'll
help you find another place.
What's on your mind?"

"We want to be firefighters,"
Shamash said. "All three of us
are firebugs, but we each have
different abilities -- and I can share
mine with other people temporarily."

"I thought, you know, backfires?"
Coll said. "I can start or stop fires.
Shamash is immune, in addition
to controlling them. Nut Cannon
mostly has offense abilities but
he can absorb fires as well."

"Well, I know three places that
can always use more firefighters:
Alaska, California, and Australia,"
said Saul. "We have contacts in
all three, but more in Australia."

"I grew up in a desert," said Shamash.
"Australia sounds pretty good to me."

"I had my basic training in Nevada,"
said Nut Cannon. I'm smooth with it."

Coll just shrugged. "It would be
totally new with me, but that's okay.
I don't mind exploring somewhere new."

"All right, I'll send word to Australia
and see what we can do," Saul said.

"Can we really start now?" Coll said.
"I thought you had to be eighteen,
but Nut Cannon said you don't."

"Actually you're both right," Saul said.
"Minimum age varies from one place
to another. In most, you have to be
eighteen to become a full firefighter, but
lots of places have a junior program. You
can also start on your training early."

"What kind of training?" Shamash said.
"Do you actually have fire trucks?"

"No, but we don't need those,"
Saul said. "You can start with
first aid, fire science, teamwork,
and as much physical fitness as
you can tolerate. Once we find you
a program, they'll tell you more about
what to study for their activities."

"See, I told you that Saul would
be smooth with it," Nut Cannon said.
"I've seen Junior Firefighters doing
everything from fire safety and
building inspections to helping
with a controlled burn."

"This is going to be
brilliant," Coll said.

"I'm happy to hear that,"
Saul said, then helped them
figure out the paperwork
to register their new team.

He moved on through the fair.

Several more teams, most of
them mixed, were ready to make it
official. Saul helped them fill out
the necessary forms for that.

He checked on Sluice's group
again, and found her showing off
pictures of her cotillion wardrobe.

"Why on Earth would anybody need
that many dresses?" Slither said.

"Self-expression," Dauber said at
the same time Pumps said, "Infiltration."

Slither raised his eyebrows at Pumps.

"I like war stories," Pumps said.
"Have you seen The Sister 'Hood?
It's my new favorite TV show."

"There's a TV show?" Slither said.
"I only knew about the miniseries."

"Yeah, the miniseries told about
the New York War and that set up
for the TV show, which covers
the aftermath," Pumps said.

"Now I want to binge it,"
Slither said. "That's so cool."

"After the team fair, perhaps,"
Saul said. "How are you doing?"

Do-hyeon sighed. "I don't think
this is the right team for me," he said.
"It's sounding rougher than I want."

"That's okay," said Saul. "There are
plenty of other groups still looking for
more members. Why don't you go
walk around and meet more people?"

"I know," said Dauber. "There's
some kind of skunk girl around, and
I heard she's looking to assemble
a diplomatic team. You could try her."

"Her name is Mephista, not Skunk Girl,"
Saul said firmly. "Try to be nice, kids."

"I didn't get close enough to hear
her name or anything, I just saw her
across the room," Dauber said.
"Someone else told me what kind
of team she was trying to build."

"I'll check it out," said Do-hyeon.
"Does anyone know where she is?"

Slither was tall enough to look over
most people's heads, especially
when he stood on tiptoes.

"Yeah, she's over there," he said,
pointing to a corner of the gym..

"Thanks," said Do-hyeon. He
hugged Jiho, then trotted away.

"So you're looking for the rough stuff?"
Saul asked the remaining teens.

"We want to be able to do it,"
said Pumps, "not necessarily
do that all of the time."

Sluice nodded. "We have
a nice diverse group going here,"
she said. "So we want to take
advantage of that flexibility
to do some different things."

"Sometimes you don't know
what you're getting into
until you're already in it,"
Slither observed. "It's
good to have options."

"Well reasoned," Saul said.
"Keep working on that."

"Speaking of diversity, we
have two boys and two girls,
but only one nonbinary person,"
said Dauber. "I'm genderfluid.
It'd be nice not to be alone."

"I'll ask around and see if
any other gender-variant kids
are still looking," Saul said.

He walked around the gym,
watching as more groups formed.

There weren't as many individuals
left unattached as on earlier rounds,
and there were more pairs and trios
discussing whether to join with others
to create a larger group together.

He asked about nonbinary teens,
but the few that he found had
already selected a team.

Three girls approached him,
all of them speedsters.

Dianna Tamaro had been
unable to get into college after
her super-speed manifested
during a rape attempt.

Sherwin Dallas had gotten
hers from track and field, while
Altha Layton's superpowers had
come from a traffic accident.

"Need a hand, girls?" said Saul.

"We heard that it's okay if people
don't want to do combat stuff,"
Dianna said. "Is that true?"

"Yes it is," said Saul.
"Not everyone is suited for
or interested in fighting.
What were you thinking?"

"We want to make a team
of medics," Dianna said.
"We're all speedsters, and
Altha has healing too! Think
how much good we could do."

Saul didn't even have to think; he
had standing orders to encourage
all interest in medical studies
because they never seemed
to have enough to go around.

"That's wonderful," he said.
"Kraken will happily cover
as much medical training
as you want. Remind me
how old you are right now?"

"I'm 15, Altha is 16, and
Dianna is 17," said Sherwin.

"Okay, great," said Saul.
"You can all start out with
first aid training. Then there
are Junior Medic programs
to let you do things like staff
a first aid booth or teach
basic health workshops."

"That doesn't really sound
very exciting," Sherwin said.

"Well, you also get added to
the local surge plan," Saul said.
"If there's an emergency, then
you work with the paramedics
while untrained volunteers
take over the easiest stuff."

"Now I'm excited," Sherwin said.

"I'll get you set up," Saul said, and
walked them through the process.

Then Do-hyeon caught up to him.
"Hey, were you looking for nonbinaries?"

"I am, yes, Dauber would like to have
another on his team," Saul said.

"Amahle is still looking," Dauber said.

Saul followed the pointing finger to
a black teen with brightly colored hair.
"Thanks for the tip, Do-hyeon," said Saul.
"I will follow up on that right away."

He trotted over to the dark teen.
"Amahle?" he said. "I heard
you're looking for a group."

"Yes," said Amahle. "I'm hoping
for something diverse and flexible."

"I know a team with two girls, two boys,
and one genderfluid person who would like
another nonbinary member," said Saul.

"I'm agender, and I like that idea,"
said Amahle. "Please introduce us."

So Saul led the way back to
Dauber's team. "Okay, folks,
this is Amahle, who is agender,"
he said, glancing at the nametag,
"and uses ey/eir pronouns."

Dauber bounced on his toes
as he shook hands with Amahle.
"I use he/him but I'm actually
genderfluid. I'm glad to meet you!"

The rest of the teens introduced
themselves one at a time.

"So what do you do?"
Sluice wondered. "We're
assembling a mixed team."

"I'm an illusionist," Amahle said.
"I can change the color of things,
or make shapes appear -- my hair
is dyed that way, and watch this."
Ey flicked a hand, and little shapes
danced in the air. "I can even
make fog or smoke in colors."

"Now that's useful," Pumps said.
"Combat and noncombat applications."

"Do we want to go with that?" Jiho asked.
"Have everyone come up with ways to use
their abilities in a fight or peaceful situations?"

"I'm gonna suck at that," Slither warned.

"That's not what I asked," Jiho said. "Do
we want to try for it? Are you willing
to take a chance on it with us?"

"As long as you don't act
surprised and blame me
if it flops," Slither said.

"Agreed," Jiho said.
"Besides, I don't know if
I can manage combat."

"I love coming up with
new applications for
my gifts," Amahle said.
"It seems like the more I do,
the more I'm capable of doing."

"That often happens," Saul said.
"Superpowers are like muscles;
the more you use them,
the stronger they get."

Jiho took out his phone and
made a note. "We'll want
to schedule regular times
for practicing that, then."

"You'll have access to
the Hard Room, Soft Room,
Combat Training Gym, and
now the Teambuilding Room,"
Saul reminded them. "You can
use your superpowers anywhere
it's safe, depending what they are."

"We'll need to spread out where
we practice, because we want a team
that can handle many different missions,
violent or nonviolent," Sluice said.

"As long as it's not in Africa,
I'm willing," said Amahle.

"What's wrong with Africa?"
Slither asked Amahle. "You'd
fit in better than I would there."

"Some people wanted to cut me up
for parts," Amahle said, shuddering.
"That's why I had to leave my home.
I don't dare go back to Africa, ever."

"So not happening," Pumps said,
and cracked her knuckles. "Let's
cross Africa off of our list."

"While we're on the topic,
I'd rather not go near Korea,"
Jiho said. "That's risky too."

"We don't send young people
to any bottom-ten countries,
or other high-risk areas if
we can avoid it," Saul said.
"You can certainly rule out
anywhere you don't want to go."

"Anyone else have a no-go zone?"
Jiho asked, tapping on his phone.

"Turkey isn't good for me," Pumps said.

The rest of them shook their heads,
so Jiho finalized the list and tilted
his phone so that Saul could see it.

"That looks good," Saul agreed.
"Are you folks settled enough that
you want to register your team?"

The teens looked at each other.
"I want to," Sluice replied.
"Everyone else, sing out."

"Agreed," Pumps said
at the same time Jiho did.

"Yeah, me too," Dauber said.

"I'm in," Slither said. "I want
to learn more about teamwork ...
if you folks don't mind that
I'm kind of bad at it."

"I'm not that great myself,
but I'm learning," Pumps said.

"That's okay, we'll teach you,"
Jiho said. "There are lots of
exercises that can help, and
some of those are really fun."

"I'll join too," Amahle said.
"You seem like good people."

"Are we settled on six?"
Dauber asked. "We
have a great mix, but
let's make that part clear."

Everyone nodded agreement.

"Okay, Saul, we're all set,"
Sluice said. "Can you help us
with the paperwork? I looked,
but it seems kind of complicated."

"A little complicated, but I'm happy
to help with that," Saul said. "Start
by entering your names along with
your soup mentors. Fill in what you
can do, as much of that as you want
to share for now. Then describe
what work you hope for as a team."

The teens filled in the blanks,
murmuring among themselves.

"Can we move in together?"
Sluice said. "I heard teams could
get a suite, not just dorm rooms,
with a real kitchen and everything."

"You can if everyone wants to,"
Saul said. "Yes, some of the suites
have a common kitchen. Others have
a living room, but the bedrooms
each have a kitchenette."

"I'd love to have more room
to stretch out and not hit anything,
but well ..." Slither scruffed a hand
through his hair. "My previous times
living with other people ended badly."

"Did anyone teach you skills for
sharing a house or a room?" Saul said.

"No, why would they?" Slither said.

"Because otherwise you probably
won't know them, and you need them,"
Saul said. "We can get you a class on that."

Slither looked around at his new team.
"Yeah, that's ... probably a good idea."

"Any other objections?" Sluice said,
and they all shook their heads. "Great.
Saul, please put us on the list for a suite."

"I can do that," Saul said, tapping his phone.
"You should get notices when to move."

"So that's everything?" Jiho said.
"Or do we have more stuff to do?"

"That's everything," Saul said.
"Congratulations, you're a team."

The teens all hugged each other.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so its character, location, and content notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, education, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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