ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, somewhat inspired by recent news about police brutality. It fills the "logic and numbers" square in my 12-17-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest, and the "sentient spider -- but it was just lonely" square in my Superhero Bingo card. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Blink"


On Friday nights, Hefty and Fiddlesticks
liked to meet up with other friends
from among Omaha's first responders.
Refugio Thompson from the fire department
had actually started it by organizing
friendly games of chance and skill.

Tonight they were playing Blink and You Miss It,
with an assortment of food for markers.

Hefty chipped in a carton of blueberries for ones,
Fiddlesticks offered Nellie wafers for fives, and
Felicity had brought her brother's ranger cookies.
Refugio contributed puerquitos as the twenties, which left
Katie's little box of medical-grade chocolates as the fifties.

Each person also had an assortment of photos
hidden inside a folder until one was needed.
They would show a picture briefly, then
ask a questions about it, with the bets
depending on their confidence level.

Felicity brought out a snapshot of a black boy.
"Blink, two, three, four, blink," she said,
then turned the picture face down.
"Age and threat level?"

"Twelve years old, minimal threat," Katie said,
pushing a Nellie wafer into the pot.

"Thirteen, no threat," said Refugio, calling her bet.

"Eleven, no threat," said Hefty,
raising the bet by a second Nellie.

"Ten, no active threat but he is sizing up
the photographer," said Fiddlesticks
as he put in three Nellies.

"He's ten years old, and there was no altercation
but he was later identified as a lookout for
a gang selling drugs," Felicity said.
"The pot goes to Fiddlesticks."

Fiddlesticks raked in his winnings
and promptly ate one of the Nellies.

Katie laid out a picture of a middle-aged white man.
"Blink, two, three, four, blink," she said.
"Healthy or not?"

"Healthy," said Fiddlesticks, betting two Nellies.

"Healthy," Hefty agreed, calling it.

"Not healthy," said Refugio, adding his two Nellies.

"Not healthy," Felicity said, and put in three.

Katie showed them the picture again.
"He's not healthy, and he coded on us
five minutes later -- we barely got him
to the hospital in time to save him," she said.
"In fact, this photo was his apology to me.
What tipped you off?"

"He just didn't look quite right," Felicity said.

"His lips were blue," Refugio said.

"Got it," Katie said, tipping a finger at Refugio.
"That took me a good fifteen, twenty seconds to spot.
He was blowing smoke about how 'fine' he was."

"First responder?" Felicity asked, because yes,
people in rescue professions tended to
overlook their own difficulties.

"Army veteran," Katie said. "Split the pot, you two."

Refugio flashed an image of a girl,
gone almost as quickly as it appeared.
"Blink-blink," he said with a grin.
"What's the first thing you noticed?"

"Gun!" Fiddlesticks exclaimed, then added,
"Water pistol, dark blue, plastic, shaped like a dolphin,
aimed at the photographer's two o'clock."
He put a ranger cookie into the pot.

Hefty shook his head. "You beat me,
I missed the line of fire. Penny and fold."
He put a single blueberry into the pot.

"Penny and fold," Felicity said,
following suit. "All I saw was the gun."

"Skinned knees, fresh within an hour.
Sunburn at least two hours without protection,"
Katie said. "I'll admit I ignored the toy gun."
She put in a ranger cookie.

"Well, nuts," said Fiddlesticks.
"I missed the injuries."

"Skinned knees, no big deal," Katie said.
"Gotta be careful about sunburn, though,
because it can make people cranky or spacey --
and you do not want to grab anyone over a sunburn."

"You two split the pot," Refugio declared.
He clucked his tongue at Fiddlesticks.
"You're a hard man to beat."

Fiddlesticks shrugged. "I can't help
having Super-Speed, it basically gives me
more time to study a picture when
the count is really short. The rest is
just ethnicity and practice," he said.
Then he chuckled. "We could switch
to something more equalized."

"Such as?" Refugio asked.

Instead of reaching into his folder,
Fiddlesticks used his smartphone.
"Open view," he said. "Person or wildlife?"

"What?" Refugio demanded,
staring at the picture of a fuzzy spider.
"That's a spider, not a person."
He put a puerquito into the pot.

"Oh now you're just jerking with us,"
Katie said. "I hit it with my shoe."
She called and added a piece of chocolate.

"Too rich for me," Felicity said. "Penny and fold."

"I already know the answer, so I'm
not playing this round," Hefty said.

"Her name is Nerissa," Fiddlesticks said quietly.
"Superball and some of his friends found her
in a facility run by exotic pet smugglers, after
an incident with another nonhuman soup
in Australia. She initiated contact because
she was lonely, then volunteered to help
once she learned about the mission at hand.
She's a Telepath and a Super-Intellect,
a little above average on a human scale."

"Shit," Refugio said.

Katie put her head in her hands.
"Can't believe I just caused
an avoidable casualty," she said.
"Bad EFA, no chocolate."
She put an extra piece in the pot.

"No winner this round," Fiddlesticks said,
so the pot stayed in the center of the table.

Hefty brought out his smartphone and
called up another image, this time of a red fox.
"Open view. Person or wildlife?"

"Wildlife," Refugio said, but
he only bet four blueberries.

"Wildlife," Katie said,
raising to a Nellie wafer.
"There's no collar or anything."

Hefty cleared his throat.
"Some nonhuman soups
consider collars to be vulgar."

"I did not know that," Katie said.
"Live and learn, I guess."

"Person," Felicity said abruptly,
and pushed half her markers into the pot.
"He's facing downwind, but he's clearly
observing something. Ordinary foxes
use their noses, but he's thinking about
something else altogether. Person."

"This is Rufus," said Hefty. "He is
a red fox with Phasing and Levitation,
who can speak aloud. He has his own
bank account and everything.
"Felicity, take the pot."

"How did you do that?" Refugio demanded
as she scooped up her winnings.

Felicity shrugged. "I read a lot of science fiction."

"So ... what, you're used to thinking of people
who might not look human?" Katie asked.

"It's more than that," Felicity said.
"Some of the books have a kind of
scale or test that estimates sentience --
like if they talk or build a fire or wear clothes.
But a big part of it is just not acting the way
a dumb animal would typically act."

"We're seeing more animal soups,"
Katie said slowly. "Not a lot, it's still
incredibly rare, but more than a few now.
Maybe we should start exploring those scales
more seriously, before somebody makes
the mistakes I made in this game, for real."

"Good idea," Hefty said.

The conversation deepened into
what kinds of clues could indicate sentience,
whether the animal soups might like to help,
and how to start encouraging first responders
to think about these things when dealing
with creatures that might be more than wildlife.

The last thing they needed was another incident
like the one that had created the Undertaker.

* * *

Notes:

Katie Clairmont -- She has hazel eyes and pinkish-fair skin. Usually she wears her straight brown hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her body is short and sturdy.
Katie takes a particular interest in damage control, not just at the scene of an emergency, but also in terms of fixing social problems while they are still small. She has a soft spot for troubled youth. Currently she works in Omaha emergency services, providing emotional or superpower first aid in crisis situations, especially those involving soups. She is a "blue plate special," using her superpower in an ordinary job, without a secret identity.
Origin: She has a younger brother with a mental handicap. She grew up helping him, and that inspired her to choose a caregiving profession. Katie's telempathic ability developed as a result of pushing herself to understand her brother's needs, because he can't communicate easily.
Uniform: Short-sleeved shirt and pants of taupe fabric, with patches indicating her affiliation with Omaha emergency services.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Emotional First Aid, Expert (+4) Metaphysical First Aid, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) First Responder Friends, Good (+2) Mysteries Fan, Good (+2) Patience
Powers: Good (+2) Telempath
Motivation: Damage control.

Felicity Pearson -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and straight blonde hair to mid-back which she usually wears in a braid. Her father is a soldier; her mother is a paramedic. Felicity has two older brothers and two younger sisters. Cheerful and easygoing, she makes friends readily and has no trouble getting people to trust her. She also spots connections between small bits of information, and creates rapport between people. Felicity is skilled at hunting, with an eye for tracking and excellent aim. Regrettably she can't cook the game she brings home, but her middle brother is happy to take over. Felicity is a rookie police officer in Omaha, Nebraska.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Cop, Good (+2) Geometry, Good (+2) Huntress, Good (+2) Making Connections, Good (+2) Speculative Fiction Fan
Poor (-2) Cook

Refugio Thompson -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He works as a firefighter in Omaha, Nebraska. He's very good at analyzing a fire or other situation. Refugio makes a lot of friends by arranging friendly games of chance or skill. A talented baker, he often uses delicious cookies as gambling chips.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Firefighter, Good (+2) Baker, Good (+2) Gambling with Friends, Good (+2) Smart, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Handling Money

Nerissa -- She is a sentient spider of the species Portia fimbriata. At one meter long, she is about 100 times the usual size. At this size, her venom is strong enough to paralyze large mammals or kill small ones, and it has a bonus against spiders. Her species has keen vision, tough chitin, and exceptional hunting skills capable of planning attacks and learning from mistakes. Her Super-Intellect gives her above-average human intelligence, but she's even better in the areas of observation, deduction, strategy, and tactics. Her lifespan is estimated around 75-100 years. Nerissa currently lives at the Donga Department in Australia, a small portable base camp shared by several superheroes.
Origin: A group of smugglers servicing the exotic pet trade have been experimenting on Australian animals in an attempt to produce more interesting pets. By modding the smartest species of spider, they hoped to create something that would appeal to arachnid fanciers with the intelligence and social interaction of a dog. They got more than they bargained for.
Uniform: None. She goes nude.
Qualities: Master (+6) Spider, Good (+2) Friendly, Good (+2) Patience
Poor (-2) Lonely
Powers: Good (+2) Giant Size, Good (+2) Super-Intellect, Average (0) Extended Lifespan, Average (0) Telepathy
Motivation: To make friends.

Reynard -- He is a red fox. He was discovered by Savoir Faire.
Origin: He has a foreign object buried in his left shoulder, about the size and shape of a bullet. No one has been able to get a clear image of it, but it is suspected to be super-gizmology and thus perhaps the cause of his manifestation.
Uniform: None. He goes nude.
Qualities: Master (+6) Fox
Powers: Good (+2) Phase, Average (0) Human Speech, Average (0) Extended Lifespan, Average (0) Levitation
Motivation: Curiosity.

* * *

Observation and deduction skills are useful in many professions. Police and snipers may undergo special training in these areas. Kim's Game and its variations help in learning them. Brainbox is a card game with a similar purpose. Learn how to practice on your own.

Nellie wafers are a Terramagne-American version of vanilla wafer cookies, similar to Nilla wafers. You can also make your own.

Ranger Cookies are both nutritious and durable enough to pack on a hike.

Puerquitos are pig-shaped cookies popular in Hispanic cuisine.

Chocolate really does have medicinal properties, even in our world. You can find raw, unprocessed cacao and dark chocolate bars, or make your own medicinal chocolate truffles. T-America has medical-grade chocolate, because it's useful for some psychological things, and particularly for some people with superpowers. It's made with the highest quality ingredients, handled very carefully, and expensive. It differs somewhat from gourmet chocolate where the intent is primarily sensual.

Police tend to overestimate the age of black youth by more than four years. That means an 8-year-old child is perceived as a 12-year-old preteen, the preteen is seen as a 16-year-old teenager, and the teenager is considered a 20-year-old adult. For anyone under their mid-20s, a four-year span entails a great deal of growth and learning, often crossing these major thresholds of physical, social, and legal development. It has devastating consequences. In T-America, the tendency is somewhat less, because people practice identifying age and other traits. This is fully replicable for anyone who needs to gauge such traits quickly and accurately.

Estimating health is another useful skill, as first responders look for signs of medical emergencies. Much can be told from the face, eyes, skin, and so forth while making introductions and asking permission for a closer examination.

It can be difficult to distinguish toy guns from actual firearms, which causes a lot of tension. In L-America, police training uses red plastic guns to avoid confusion. T-America uses pink ones, because pink is the prevailing color for non-lethal zap guns, whereas heat guns are often vermilion and disintegrators tend to be crimson, matching the prevalent color of the respective energy discharge.

Sunburn is not just painful but often disorienting, a concern to first responders who actually care about keeping people safe. Know how to treat sunburn.

Portia fimbriata is considered the smartest species of spider. Nerissa is named after the character in The Merchant of Venice.

Exotic animal smuggling poses a serious problem in L-Australia. It's worse in T-Australia, where people are trying to make animals smarter so as to improve their appeal as pets.

Recently some countries have ventured the idea of nonhuman persons. This challenges us to define "person" which is not always easy.

Police training helps make swift, accurate decisions and therefore improves safety for cops and citizens alike. Departments that care about this put in the time and effort required for excellent performance. Alas, many do not, and then people die. T-America is much more careful about this because the stakes are higher for them; set off a person with Self-Detonation and whole blocks can vaporize in an instant. Games as in this poem offer one opportunity to practice job-relevant skills. Furthermore it is easy to distinguish between one bad apple and systemic corruption, based on whether a cop who breaks the law is censured or protected. T-America pays more attention here too, as witness the horrified reaction of most people to the events in "A Perspective, Not the Truth."

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 05:24 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Fun! Sounds like an interesting game. I'd be very bad at it.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-05-01 08:02 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
You might, especially at first, but you might find that you see more than you realize once you learn how.

A fun game

Date: 2015-04-27 06:55 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
--but they're also honing valuable skills. I like that aspect just as much.

I liked this one for the opportunities it presents, and the implications for T-America. These first responders are on the ball, not running from it or hiding behind it.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 10:14 am (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
That sounds like an excellent game.

Even better than the game, though, is how the players acknowledge and discuss their mistakes.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 01:43 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I am scared of spiders, and yet you managed to make me feel sorry for one.

The statistic of how much police overestimate the ages of black youth is scary.

Good poem.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 11:57 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Point of clarification, utterly separate from my very much liking this poem - I would be a-tro-cious at Blink! and hi Nerissa! Is the red fox Rufus or Reynard? The poem's text reads one way but the notes go the other.

De nominibus

Date: 2015-04-28 12:58 am (UTC)
thnidu: painting: a girl pulling a red wagon piled almost to her own height of books along a sidewalk (books)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
The picture of the fox in the ATM queue is great, but the URL lacks both link and label. (I couldn't resist the aLLiteration.)

«Portia fimbriata is considered the smartest species of spider. Nerissa is named after the character in The Merchant of Venice.»

Nicely named.
Shmoop.com:
>>>>>
Nerissa is Portia's woman in waiting (read: her sidekick). At the beginning of the play, she acts as a sounding board to Portia. She listens to Portia complain about her life and the unfairness of the casket contest and tells her to suck it up and be glad her father was wise enough to plan for his daughter's future. This, of course, tells us that Nerissa is a very practical girl....
<<<<<

This makes me illogically glad that Nerissa is of the fimbriata species of genus Portia.
Edited Date: 2015-04-28 01:01 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-30 10:27 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Nerissa is ONE METER long?!! Holy Fuck. That would scare the hell out of ME, and I'm not particularly spooked by spiders! (OTOH, if I'm lucky, she would ping as K's'tl'k and I'd drop right into Dealing With Aliens mode.) You're not going to do much damage by hitting her with a shoe either; I don't think Katie needs to worry about "avoidable casualty" as much as she does "majorly pissed-off intelligent super-critter".

The smugglers were trying to breed for a meter-long spider with the intelligence level of a DOG? Man, they deserved what they got. Spiders don't have a pack instinct, and aren't going to react the same way that a naturally social animal will.

And yes, reading SF can provide some pretty big clues when trying to evaluate what looks like an animal -- but only if you don't get trapped by seeing what you expect to see. I wonder if Felicity would have been so quick to spot Reynard in the wild? Also, I love the picture you found for him!

An animal soup trying to get along in human society would have a lot of the same problems as the boy from "In Hiding" (which I cannot find online; if you're not familiar with it, I can provide a summary). And more besides -- a boy can communicate by mail (or, nowadays, by computer), whereas most animals won't have that option. If they don't find some humans to hang out with, that's going to be rough.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-27 12:13 pm (UTC)
ext_74: Baron Samadai in cat form (Default)
From: [identity profile] siliconshaman.livejournal.com
I'm sure Nerissa is a nice person, but she'd still give me a case of screaming heebiejeebies. That said, she reminds me of Boris the bird eating spider. Boris was science experiment back at university, most arachnids as well as insects are size limited due to their method of respiration [tracioles and diffusion] But the larger species use what are called 'book lungs' which work like bellows. Boris was Brazilian bird eating spider, which commonly grow to 18 inches across.

They wanted to see how big Boris would grow, so my tutor treated him with growth hormone. Boris stopped growing at 3 ft across, roughly twice normal size. Primarily because any larger and keeping him would be a problem. [as an aside, he also had enough venom to kill 10-20 adult humans in one bite.]

One day, Boris got out... which caused panic on an epic scale but he was eventually subdued using a CO2 fire extinguisher. [the large heavy bench autoclave dropping on him didn;t bother him at all, and we suspected he'd probably be bullet-proof].

Here's the point though... right up until I read this poem one thing had never occurred to me to wonder. Just how did Boris escape from a locked cage?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-28 03:55 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
You hear maniacal laughter in the distance. --more--

Yep, there's an arachnophobe in this house, too, though I am not he... OTOH, any crustacean that big, I give a wide berth, because CHOMP...

Yes...

Date: 2015-04-28 09:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Giant spiders can be alarming, even if they are friendly and "only" a hundred times normal size.

dying donkey noise

Date: 2016-05-29 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I literally just made one...I knew Nerissa was a spider...I clicked anyway...I am sorry. I made dying donkey noise that woke the dog and has her checking for injuries...that is CERTAINLY a spider.

weird question now, could Nerissa or a similar super-intellect spider help people get over their aversion to arachnids or actual arachnophobia? ...it might take a long while, say spending some time simply conversing telepathically from under a nice cozy log in a terrarium, and maybe peeking a leg out and then halfway out and then beside the log, then atop the log in the terrarium until the person could handle that....open the top of the terrarium and then do away with it once they're more comfortable. Some people might even get to a level where they could HOLD the superspider

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-23 05:54 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This piece made me think. -kellyc

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