Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Take Down the Master's House"

This poem came out of the August 4, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] janetmiles, [personal profile] mylittleangel, and [personal profile] nsfwords. It also fills the "Understanding" square in my 2-1-19 "You Are" card for the Valentine's Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.  It builds on "Targets of Their Own Self-Hatred," so read that first.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes the aftermath of the mad science raid, survivors squabbling, another recently connected street drug, ethical debates, Carl Burnhardt's history in fertility clinics, reference to medical rape, infertility and other sexual concerns among survivors, harsh language, history of slavery, using Bernhardt's research to undermine Nazi goals, soup research, redheads as crayon soups, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Take Down the Master's House"

[Tuesday, June 2, 2015]

The survivors were squabbling again.

Ansel had brought over a new batch of
summaries scraped from the lab notes
of Carl Bernhardt, thanks to work
done by the zetetic research team.

They had connected another street drug
to him, the notorious fertility agent Knock-R.
Designed to fix problems of egg maturation and
release, it could also damage the immune system
and disrupt hormone balances. Occasionally,
it made people develop primal traits and
was a leading source of pig people,
along with several other species.

Unlike most of Bernhardt's work,
though, Knock-R had clear benefits:
it did substantially increase fertility,
and in a large improvement over
conventional drugs, it repaired
the problem permanently for
about 20% of its users.

This had rekindled
the arguments over
whether it was ever
acceptable to utilize
unethical data such as
Nazi mad science notes.

"It's up to you," Ansel said,
looking around the barn at
them. "Just try to be gentle
with each other, please."

"If it's ours now, I say
we burn it," Dodge said.
"That man's a rattlesnake,
he's never gonna spit out
anything but poison."

"What she said,"
Hobart agreed. "We
don't need that shit
spread out farther."

Hobart had been
a neo-Nazi before he
had fallen into the hands of
actual Nazi mad scientists,
which had put him off that idea.

"Yes, but we should check first
to see if any of this is relevant
to us or others," Pogonip said.

Dodge snorted. "That's fertility shit,
and he never did any of that to us,"
she said. "It was all earlier on,
when he worked at clinics."

That made Ansel shudder.

Everyone had been appalled
to learn that Carl Bernhardt
had spent years working at
fertility clinics before he
set up his own facilities.

In some cases, he had done
nothing more than substitute
his own semen for sperm samples,
in numerous cases of medical rape.

In others, he had tampered with
the gametes before uniting them,
or with the embryos afterwards.

Sometimes he had substituted
material whose source was
still unknown to researchers.

"Are we sure about that?"
Arun said quietly, looking
at Miriam. "We don't want
to throw out anything that
we might need later."

"Yeah, my uh ... libido isn't
really in the normal range,"
Turq admitted, blushing.

"They told me I'm probably
infertile," Miriam said.

Harriet shuffled uneasily.
"Maybe someone should check
on that connection," she said.

"I'll take care of it," Ansel said,
taking out his smartphone.

Please check for overlaps
between fertility experiments and
any known survivors, especially
the centaurs and Turq's cohort,

he sent to the zetetic team.

"You're not seriously thinking
about using that crap, are you?"
Hobart said with a scowl.

"No, but I'd like to know if
it was used on any of us, or
if anything could be done to help
the street users," Harriet said.

"Also, look at the brief," Turq said.
"Knock-R doesn't just help while people
are taking it. Some users find that
it cures their infertility forever."

"That's a big gain," said Pogonip.
"I wonder how it does that."

"Beats me," Turq said.
"There's not a lot of detail."

"The team is trying to balance
between risk and information,"
Ansel explained. "Anyone who
wants more detail can ask for it."

"There's a piece here about how
it splices in healthy functions
to replace unhealthy ones,"
Pogonip said, paging through
the report from the team.

"So like a virus?" Dodge said.

"No, it's a drug, not a germ,"
Ansel said. "I know it can spread
under limited circumstances, but
only to a user's male partner if
the saturation gets high enough.
That guy can't pass it on."

"Okay, more like licking
someone who overdosed
on acid," said Dodge.

The comparison that
Ansel had gotten was
depleted uranium, but he
didn't want to repeat a story
that grotesque in this crowd.

"At least Knock-R is self-limiting,
more or less," said Arun. "If
it could be retro-engineered
to fix the spillover issue and
other problems, there might
be a decent fertility drug
buried in there somewhere."

"Oh, come on," Hobart said.
"You want to trust a Nazi?"

"No. This isn't quite the same
as historic experiments," Arun said.
"Those can't be replicated, so there's
no way to tell if they're accurate or not.
With this, the zetetic team has some
of the drug. People are using it, despite
the risks. So it can be studied by people
who aren't Nazis and do science right."

"Also the researchers have choices in
what to do with it," Pogonip said. "They
could try to fix this drug, but they could
also start from scratch, just using it as
inspiration, and make something better."

"Shit," said Turq. "Look at this page.
One thing Knock-R addresses is infertility
due to partner incompatibility. That's not
even what it was made for, just carryover."

Ansel leaned over to look. "Wow. If that
can be confirmed, it's big. Soups have
higher rates of that problem just because
our genetic diversity is so much wider."

"This is so much bullshit," Hobart said.
"Bernhardt is evil, and so anyone
who uses his stuff is evil too."

Turq flinched, dropping the report.

"Shut your pie hole, Hobart!"
said Dodge. "Remember that
Turq's parents had some problems."

Not problems conceiving, exactly,
but they'd lost one daughter to
congenitally poor health, and
that tended to be genetic.

"I know this is a difficult topic,
but let's strive for understanding,"
Ansel said. "We aren't going to get
anywhere by hurting each other."

"You can't understand,"
Hobart growled. "You're
not one of us, you fake freak."

"All right, that's enough,"
Arun said firmly. "Let's
get some air." He herded
Hobart away from the others.

Ansel heaved a sigh of relief.

"You okay?" Turq said,
bumping gently against him.

"Close enough," Ansel said.
"This is a messy situation with
no easy answers, but still ...
that remark was hurtful."

"It's not true," Turq said.
"You're not fake and you're
not a freak. You've sat with me
plenty of times when I freaked out
about something. So even though
you're not part of our cohort, you're
part of our support group, and
that gives you a voice here."

The centaurs nodded.

"We respect what you have
to say, whether we agree
or not," Pogonip said.

"Thank you," Ansel said.
"I don't want to take the choice
away from you. What you do
with this stuff is up to you."

"Is it really?" Pogonip said.
"The zetetic team has been
sending stuff to us because
our cohort and Turq's are
the most obvious victims. But
Dodge raised a point earlier --
we're not the targets for Knock-R."

"That's probably true," Ansel said.
"If there's any crossover, it's probably
just incidental instead of methodical."

"So, does this batch of material belong
to us as the most famous victims, or
should it go to the people most affected,
the fertility clients?" said Pogonip.

"Interesting question," Ansel said.
"I'm not sure of the legalities, but
I can ask. I think the current view
focuses on you because the team
knows how to reach you here and
you're together. Even if others can
be identified, they're probably scattered."

"Fertility clinics keep records, though,"
said Turq. "Somebody could check those."

Ansel shook his head. "Not quickly or
easily," he said. "Those places have
massive privacy protections for
everyone, which is why they're
so upset over what Bernhardt did."

"Yeah, that was heinous," Turq said.
"I feel sorry for those victims too."

"Still, getting the clinics to share
their relevant records is unlikely --
though they might contact clients
on their own -- and it would be hard
to convince a judge to pry them out,"
Ansel said. "That's a long shot."

"Well, somebody better do it,"
Dodge said. "You don't want that
popping out of the woodwork
a year after the wedding."

Ansel winced. "Good point."

He sent another note to the team
asking them to try reaching out to
the fertility clinics. An offer to share
data might grease some hinges that
even the law would leave shut.

"You know, we have at least
one person who probably fits
both groups," Pogonip said.
"Miriam is one of us, but
she also has fertility issues."

"Okay, Miriam, then what's
your brilliant idea about
what do to with this shit?"
Dodge said, turning to her.

"Use it against him," Miriam said.

Harriet stomped, the vibration
making her dark skin shiver.
"The master's tools will never
take down the master's house."

Ansel had heard that before,
usually right before someone
decided that peaceful protest
wasn't working and it was time
to break out the rougher methods.

Just the thought of that made
his professional instincts itch.
The centaurs would be devastating
if they ever responded with violence.

"That depends on how you use it,"
Ansel said. "My brother-in-law is
an artist and journalist, which is
pretty much why it used to be
illegal for black folks to read.
The owners always feared
that literate slaves would turn
the written word against them."

"Okay, you got a point there,"
Harriet conceded. "So now what?"

"I would really like to hear what
Miriam has to say," Ansel replied.

"Think outside the box," said Miriam.
"I think we should not only use Knock-R
to refine better fertility drugs, we should make
them free to everyone historically victimized by
Nazis -- Jews, homosexuals, Romani, intellectuals.
Then we really could use the master's tools
to take down the master's house."

"Huh." Harriet rocked back
on her haunches. "That is ...
definitely a direct strike against
everything that he holds dear."
She whickered a laugh.
"Yeah, okay. I'm in."

"Remember, we don't
have to decide everything
today," Ansel said. "We may
find other victims to weigh in."

"I bet Miriam's right, though,"
Dodge said. "You ever deal with
women facing infertility? I had
more'n one foster mother like that.
One of 'em said she woulda fucked
Satan himself if got her a baby,
and damn, I believed her."

"I wonder if that explains
Ammon," muttered Pogonip.

Dodge snorted a laugh. "Could be.
He sure was creepy enough for it."

"You know, there's another angle,"
Turq said. "We've been talking about
whether to revive the college ... and it has
all kinds of lab space. Maybe we could
hire soup scientists to work on this stuff
there, where we could watch them."

"Now that's not a bad idea,"
Ansel said thoughtfully. "So far,
the most active place I know of
doing soup research is Red Island
in the Maldives, and that's because
they're doing it as self-study."

"Oh, please," Dodge said. "Those
are the flakes who claim that
redheads are crayon soups."

"I've seen some of their findings,"
Pogonip said. "Redheads are rare,
and the gene correlates with a bunch
of other stuff from odd drug reactions
to Fire Powers and the Second Sight."

"Really?" Dodge said. "I thought
that all that stuff was just bunk."

"Not if they can back it up,
and they're doing the science
for that now," said Pogonip.

"Okay, let's plan to do
a feasibility check on these,"
Turq said. "Research on Knock-R,
who's for it and who's against it?
Do we get to decide, does this go
to a different set of victims, or do we
share it? Is the college a good place
for zetetic research if we reopen it?
Ask around and gather feedback."

"We can also get more information
about Knock-R from the zetetic team,"
Ansel pointed out. "I'm sure they'd be
interested in further avenues of research,
if that turns out to be permissible."

Earlier requests for survivor input
had made relations touchy, because
so many of them were skittish about
anything remotely medical, but some
of them wanted all the information
they could get about themselves
and what had happened to them.

"That's a plan," Pogonip agreed.
"Now let's all go for a walk. I need
to clear my head after that talk."

"Hear, hear," Ansel said.
"Turq, do you want to join
me? Two legs or four?"

In reply, Turq dropped down
and the caney shook out
his marbled blue fur.

As they walked out of
the barn into the bright sun,
the shadows of darker topics
seemed to burn away.

Later, they could gather
the tools to take down
the master's house.

Bounding ahead of Ansel on
the trail, Turq gave a happy yap.

For now, there were butterflies to chase.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, safety, science, weblit, writing
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