Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Fabric of Our Own Making"

This poem was selected in an audience poll as the freebie for the June 1, 2021 Poetry Fishbowl making its $200 goal. It came out of the April 6, 2021 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] hangingbyastitch and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "Colors" square in my 4-4-21 "Effects" card for the Genderplay Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Kraken thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"A Fabric of Our Own Making"

[Monday, January 11, 1954]

Eldridge Mandelkern skimmed
the pages one last time, then
closed the file folder and
tucked it under his arm.

When he walked into the lab,
his team was already waiting.

Ren Da was a skilled scientist
whose family had fled China
during the Civil War in the 1940s,
out of which only Ren Da and
his little sister Ren Hui survived.

She had become a lab tech
whose knack for anticipating
her teammates' needs made
her particularly popular.

Lionel was a primal soup
with mostly human features
except for a shaggy orange mane
and a tufted tail. His feet were
clawed, but less noticeable.
Lionel's enhanced senses
came in handy for science.

"Okay, folks, we have received
a special assignment," said Eldridge.
"I'm sad to say that Garisha died
last week. She has left Kraken
her project notes. Our job is
to retro-engineer what we can,
hopefully both chromaflax
and dexflan if possible."

He placed the file folder on
the table and lifted his hand
to reveal the inscription on it:
We live in a web of ideas,
a fabric of our own making

"But we're not all super,"
Ren Hui protested.

"That's why you're on
this team," Eldridge said.
We want to retro-engineer
the materials so that anyone
can manufacture them, not just
another Super-Gizmologist."

Lionel pounced on the folder.
"This looks captivating," he said.
"Did Garisha leave us any samples?"

"Yes, she left us everything related
to her work in materials science,"
Eldridge said. "We have a lot of
resources that we can study."

"I'd love to get my hands on
some and measure its features
with our instruments, to see if we
get similar findings as she did,"
Lionel said. "That will give us
a clear target to aim for."

Ren Hui looked at the list of
components. "This looks ...
sort of risky," she said.

"Well, that's why they
pay us the big bucks,"
Eldridge said dryly.

Ren Da chuckled.
"We're survivors, we'll
manage," he said.

So they spent
the first month
just studying what
Garisha had made.

Dexflan had been around
for long enough that it,
was familiar to them.

The stretchy, clingy fabric
resembled elastic in texture
and responded to superpowers.

Chromaflax was a modernized version
of duck cloth that blended natural and
synthetic components into a tough fabric
that could bond and respond to one owner.

It was so new that Garisha was still tinkering
with the construction and had only released
a few costumes using the new material.

At least the formula for dexflan was
consistent, so they just needed to find
a way of controlling the quality when
produced by naries, not soups.

The problem was that they couldn't
seem to get the stuff to set properly.

"We really need better measurements,"
Ren Da grumbled over the fortieth failure.

"Excellent point," said Eldridge, and
reached out to the R&D folks who
developed sensory equipment.

A few weeks later, they had
pinned down the variable that
kept turning their batches to sludge.

By April, dexflan was on its way
to production in a Kraken factory.

Chromaflax was more challenging
because Garisha had still been
playing around with the blend
of its different fibers and
the zetetic enhancers.

It took a lot of trial and
error to get smart fabric of
any kind, let alone something
close to what Garisha had made.

Eldridge worked on her notes,
poring over the pages in search
of things they might have missed.

Ren Da kept them going with
his determined optimism,
no matter how many times
a batch turned out inert.

Lionel experimented fearlessly
with things that even Garisha had
not thought to try, and that allowed
them to begin separating some
of the many features of the fabric.

Ren Hui was always there with
whatever they needed, even if
they didn't know what they were
going to need until they did.

They only blew up the lab once.

Their first success came in
the formula that allowed
the fabric to recognize and
respond to a single owner.

They couldn't get it to do
much yet, but at least it
knew who it belonged to.

"Which makes it smarter
than my cat," Eldridge said.

Lionel snorted. "A cat doesn't
belong to you," he argued.
"You belong to your cat."

Ren Hui giggled. "So true.
A cat is a king, and we
all bow down before him."

They couldn't seem to get
the loose fibers to blend well
before spinning, so they resorted
to making fine threads of each,
then plying them together.

That made excellent cloth,
and it stood up to the zetetics
instead of dissolving under them
the way weaker blends had done.

The color-changing effect still
stubbornly refused to work, though.

Lionel discovered that the ability
to bond with an owner could be
transferred to other fibrous things,
such as rope or even paper.

"Now that's useful," Eldridge said.
"We could key all kinds of things
so they won't work if stolen."

Ren Da and Eldridge tried
hundreds of chemistry tricks
until they recreated the ability
to change colors, only to find
that it wouldn't stick to the cloth.

Ren Hui raised a hand. "Have
we tried it on dexflan or capery?
Garisha developed those too."

"No, we haven't," said Eldridge.
"Take some of each, set up
a station, and see if it works."

It took her a couple of months,
but then Ren Hui got it to work.

"The colors are blotchy," she said.
"It doesn't have the finesse it should.
It can do a good camo pattern, it
can mimic the colors around it,
but I can't imagine making letters
and logos like Garisha had it doing."

"We're not Garisha," Eldridge said gently.
"We may never reproduce all her work.
What matters is we have useful things."

By the middle of 1955, Kraken was
able to start producing new uniforms.

The jumpsuits were sensibly designed
with sleek fit, and plenty of pockets
and fasteners to hold equipment.

They provided excellent camouflage
to a designated user, but if worn by
anyone else, turned garish neon colors.

Not long after that, many Kraken members
began wearing underwear printed with
lollipops or donkeys, just in case
they got mugged for their uniforms.

* * *


Garisha (Paris Underwood) -- She has kola skin, black eyes, and nappy black hair buzzed short. She is tall and wiry. As a girl growing up in Britannia, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. When the fashion schools rejected her for being black and incorporating that identity into her work, she told them to sod off and threw in with supervillains instead. Garisha worked her way up from minion to the most famous and sought-after materials science Super-Gizmologist in the world. She invented first capery in 1946, which was straightforward to replicate, and then the first version of dexflan in 1950, which was much more complex. She sold her work only to supervillains, so for a long time superheroes had a disadvantage, while the fashion industry gnashed its teeth in envy. At the time of her death in January 1954, Garisha was working on a new material called chromaflax, which could bond to a designated user and respond to their commands. She left her notes on dexflan and chromaflax to her friends in Kraken, hoping they could retro-engineer something useful.
Origin: Her abilities appeared through punctuated equilibrium. Looking back, it seems likely that she had Super-Intellect growing in slowly, then once she began working with exotic materials, it jumped to Super-Gizmology.
Uniform: Garisha has never stuck to one look, but tests out new fabrics and garments all the time. She usually dresses in bold colors and patterns.
Qualities: Master (+6) Seamstress, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Expert (+4) Supervillain Contacts, Good (+2) Good Afro-Britannian Culture, (+2) Independent, Good (+2) Thinking Outside the Box
Poor (-2) Putting Up with Racism
Powers: Master (+6) Materials Science Super-Gizmologist
Motivation: I'll show you who's fashionable!

Eldridge Mandelkern -- He has pinkish-fair skin, blue eyes, and short brown hair going silver at the temples. He has a sardonic sense of humor. He speaks English, Esperanto, and Latin. He is 49 years old in 1954. Eldridge earned a Master's Degree in Materials Science at at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, but left academia because he loathed the politics and money-grubbing. He just wanted to do science, and supervillainy turned out to be a better place for that. So he joined Kraken and now works in their Research and Development department. In 1954, Eldridge heads the team who works on retro-engineering materials designed by Garisha. As a hobby, he enjoys ceramics and fibercrafts.
Origin: His abilities grew in gradually.
Uniform: He typically wears a white shirt over dark pants, with a white lab coat in the lab. Occasionally he switches down to jeans and a geeky T-shirt.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Materials Scientist, Good (+2) Kraken Operative, Good (+2) Sardonic Humor, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) No Patience for Politicking
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect
Motivation: For science!

MSE History
at Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ
The Department of Materials Science and Engineering is one of the oldest such departments in the country, dating back to 1902 when the department was originally founded as a School of Ceramics. Located on George Street in a beautiful building (pictured above) that is now the School of Social work, the School flourished and developed an international reputation. In 1964 the School joined the College of Engineering as a leading center of innovation and research. In 2005 research and educational profile had grown to such a breadth that it became the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Today, it is a large and active department engaged in all important areas of modern materials science and engineering. Read more about our history in the following sections.

Ren Da -- He has tawny skin, almond-shaped black eyes, and black hair buzzed short. He speaks Chinese and English. He is 32 years old in 1954. He is the older brother of Ren Hui. Their family fled China during the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s, but only these two siblings survived. When Ren Da turned to stealing in order to support his little sister, Kraken picked them up, and they have been working there ever since. Despite his rough past, Ren Da remains a determined optimist and a tough survivor. He has become a capable scientist and enjoys the challenge of retro-engineering. However, China is still a sore topic.
Qualities: Good (+2) Determined Optimist, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Scientist, Good (+2) Survivor, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) China Is Still a Sore Topic

The Chinese Civil War was a civil war in China fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China (ROC) and forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC) lasting intermittently between 1927 and 1949.

Lionel (Lon Allaway) -- He has ruddy skin, amber eyes, and a wild mane of curly orange hair. His hands are fully human, but his feet are more leonine, and he has a lion tail. He is strong and robust. He speaks English and Esperanto. He is 20 years old in 1954. As a primal soup, Lionel faces a lot of discrimination when outside of Kraken, and he tends to get violent when provoked. He spends most of his time in Kraken territory not because he fears outsiders but because he has come to view them with great disdain. He is a talented scientist, using his senses to explore the world.
Origin: His abilities manifested in his teens, and his family kicked him out. He made a nuisance of himself on the streets until Kraken picked him up.
Uniform: Lionel loves warm, bright colors and bold patterns. Often he wears a solid T-shirt with plaid pants, or a tie-dye T-shirt with solid pants.
Qualities: Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Kraken Operative, Good (+2) Leadership, Good (+2) Scientist, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Dealing with Discrimination
Powers: Average (0) Lion Traits
Lionel has Enhanced Balance, Enhanced Smell, and Enhanced Vision.
Motivation: Pride.

Ren Hui -- She has tawny skin, almond-shaped black eyes, and straight hair of dark brown cut at shoulder length which she usually pulls back in a ponytail. She is petite and graceful. She speaks Chinese, English, and Esperanto. She is 22 years old in 1954. She is the younger sister of Ren Da. Their family fled China during the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s, but only these two siblings survived. When Ren Da turned to stealing in order to support his little sister, Kraken picked them up, and they have been working there ever since. Despite her rough past, Ren Hui is cheerful. Her anticipation and followship skills make her an excellent lab tech. She doesn't like taking charge, though.
Qualities: Good (+2) Anticipation, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Followship Skills, Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Lab Tech
Poor (-2) Taking Charge

The Chinese Civil War was a civil war in China fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the Republic of China (ROC) and forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC) lasting intermittently between 1927 and 1949.

* * *

"We live in a web of ideas, a fabric of our own making."
-- Joseph Chilton Pearce

Materials science includes synthetic textiles such as smart fabrics.

Capery -- a lightweight fabric responsive to super-powers, similar to silk. This is retro-engineered tech. Capery is a rare median between ordinary material and super-gizmos, in that it can be produced by ordinary people but then function on a super scale. Capery is considerably lighter and more billowy than dexflan, but inelastic.

Dexflan -- a mediumweight stretchy, clingy fabric responsive to super-powers, similar to spandex. This is retro-engineered tech. Dexflan is a rare median between ordinary material and super-gizmos, in that it can be produced by ordinary people but then function on a super scale. Dexflan is form-fitting in a way that capery cannot be, but it's heavier.

Chromaflax -- a modernized version of duck cloth that blends linen, cotton, and hemp with zetetic ingredients. It can range from medium to quite heavy in weight. It has the unusual ability to bond to a single owner and respond to that person. The original version by Garisha featured a great deal of finesse in the display of colors, but nobody ever managed to replicate that part. The modern version by Kraken allows their uniforms to change into garish colors if stolen.

Kraken underwear often plays to classic animation jokes involving donkeys and lollipops.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science, weblit, writing

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