ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the March 1, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "imposter" square in my 2-29-16 card for the Villain Bingo fest, and the "janitor impersonation infiltration" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Berettaflies 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 difficult emotional adjustments to major life changes, body-conscious feelings, worry about possible allergies due to body changes, assault (with and without superpowers), traumatic manifestation of a new superpower, kidnapping, attempted brainwashing, and other mayhem. Also it ends on a cliffhanger, and the action has been picked up by another writer covering a different perspective, because the next exciting scenes are not visible to Adalina from her current predicament. On the bright side, the target displays great determination throughout the misadventure. If these are sensitive subjects for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. However, be advised that this is a significant plot point in the Berettaflies thread, with a number of sequels that will make little or no sense without it, so this isn't one that can be skipped with no impact.

EDIT: [personal profile] shiori_makiba has posted the poem "Wrong"  which details how Tsubasa finds out about this mayhem.[personal profile] siliconshaman has posted the story "Chase" Part 1 and Part 2 which follows the action here.  These pieces overlap somewhat in time.


"Capes and Credos"

Week 3, Day 1


"Want to go out for ice cream?"
Facet asked without warning,
which startled Adalina into
dropping her textbook.

"What?" she said.

"We need to start getting out
more than we have been,"
said Facet. "We're not sick
anymore, and it's not good
to stay cooped up at SPOON."

"I don't know," Adalina said,
flicking the pages of her book.

She'd gone out a few times,
mostly to meet some other people
involved in the berettaflies incident,
and the stares made her uncomfortable.

She ruffled a hand through her lilac hair.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if she wore
a hat. Or long sleeves. Or a burqa.
There was that store that catered
to the Muslim girls on campus ...

"Come on," Facet coaxed.
"I can introduce you to
my favorite ice cream parlor,
the Blue Raspberry."

He held out his tablet,
which showed a picture
of a long counter lined with
glittery pink and blue seats,
and then a different picture
of a cooler full of ice cream
in a rainbow of flavors.

She could feel his hum in the back
of her mind, softly encouraging.

"What about allergies?"
Adalina said, gazing at
the tempting display.
"Nurse Overton told me
that some things might
have ... changed, inside."

"Well, you have two options,"
Facet said. "First, you could
redo your baselines, which
means a whole battery of
unpleasant tests. Second,
you could just do the stuff
that you usually do, and see
if anything makes you sick.
It's up to you which to choose."

Neither really sounded good,
but Adalina definitely did not
want to be anyone's lab rat.

"So, ice cream," she said,
trying to muster her enthusiasm.
She liked ice cream, or at least
she had before the incident,
and hoped she still would.

Besides, she had to start
thinking about her future.

As they stepped outside of
their rooms, Adalina stared
at the thick red mud tracked
all over the SPOON base.
"What happened here?"

"Oh, I heard people talking
about a team casing the bayous
for berettaflies today," said Facet.
"Want to see the ice cream menu?"

Adalina picked her way around
the clots of mud and the busy staff
who were working to clean it up. "Sure,"
she said, and took the tablet from him.

Apparently the Blue Raspberry
sold not just ice cream but also
gelato, sherbet, frozen yogurt,
sodas, and a ton of things
to put on or in them.

If the inside of SPOON had
been bad, the outside was worse.
Many ordinary volunteers along
with a sprinkle of crayon soups
wielded brooms and hoses.

"Did it rain mud out here?" Adalina said.

"Sorry, miss, we're cleaning it up as fast
as we can," said one of the janitors.
Then he turned and added. "Oh wow!
Are you Facet? I heard all about you
on the news, how you tried to catch
all the berettaflies that got out."

Adalina frowned. Nobody ever
fanboyed Facet like that, because
his face creeped people out. Okay,
yes, it was weird to see bug eyes in
an otherwise human face, but it
wasn't that weird and they didn't
have be so rude. But they were.

"Yes, uh, that's me," said Facet,
ducking his head. "If I'd been quicker
with the butterfly net, then we wouldn't
be having this problem today."

There was something odd about
that janitor, Adalina was almost certain
of it. She couldn't sense much outside
the group of berettafly survivors, and yet
there was ... sort of an echo about him.

"Gosh, no, I didn't mean anything like that,"
the janitor said. "You're a hero! I think it's
amazing what you did. I know, I know,
they told us not to bother the superheroes,
but I just wanted to shake your hand."

"I guess," Facet said. "Sorry, I'm not
used to dealing with the public."

The instant their hands touched, Facet fell.

Adalina screamed. Her sense
of Facet abruptly went out, like
a line left open but not broadcasting.

The janitor hurried toward her.
"Hey, no, it's okay -- just come
with me and I'll explain everything."

"No!" she said, scuttling away.

He followed her, arms wide,
trying to touch her even as he
herded her farther away from
the safety of the SPOON base.

"I know that you don't want to hear
this, but these people have all been
brainwashing you," said the imposter.
"Come with me and you'll be free!"

The mud around her smelled like
High John the Conqueror root,
earthy and spicy, or maybe it was
the sweet-sharp scent of the flowers
blowing in from the gardens.

She couldn't tell for certain.
She was so dizzy and so furious
that everything seemed to run together.

"Get away from me!" Adalina snapped.

The imposter staggered back
as if shoved by some powerful force.

Emboldened by that success,
Adalina raised her voice. "Help!"
she shouted. "Somebody help me!
The fake janitor is attacking me!"

Someone in dark clothing ran toward her,
no telling whose side he was on.

The wind shifted, and now Adalina
could smell acacia blossoms, their perfume
voluptuous and disturbing, like flowers
waving in a thicket of thorns.

Suddenly there were bugs everywhere,
honeybees and wasps and ants and
fuzzy caterpillars falling from the trees.

There were people, too, the volunteers
dropping their brooms and hoses to pile
onto the imposter, pummeling him
with their fists and their feet.

Adalina had hoped for superheroes
but most of them were out on assignments
and even as she watched, the janitor collapsed
under the weight of naries, so maybe it was
just as well there weren't any heavy hitters.

"Okay," she said faintly, backing away
from the fight. "Maybe that's enough."

They all ignored her now.

Adalina wished desperately
for her soup mentor to explain
what the hell was going on here,

but Facet lay face-down on the pavement,
not moving and not responding to anything.

Suddenly arms grabbed her from behind,
dumping her into something and then
slamming the door in her face.

"Hey!" she yelled. "Let me out!"

Whatever it was roared to life
and started moving, knocking
Adalina off of her feet.

Looking around, she saw ...
a bed? walls lined with drawers?
It was an ambulance, she realized,
and just then the siren wailed to life.

Adalina was pretty sure it wasn't
taking her to a real hospital.

A recording droned to life,
some woman speaking in
honeyed tones of oppression.
"You may think that the people
who held you captive were friends,
but they were only oppressing you,
just as the underclass are permitted
every few years to vote on who they
would like to have oppressing them.
That is not a real choice!"

Blah blah rebellion,
blah blah cape politics,
it was as bad as some of
the history classes that
Adalina had taken.

She started looking around
for better alternatives.

"Society is all about class struggles,"
the voice went on. "Owners and slaves,
rich and poor, educated and ignorant --
they always oppose each other."

Whatever. Adalina's ancestors
had banged around all over
those supposed barriers.

She found the drug cabinet.

It was locked.

She found the keys, but
hesitated over the idea of just
jabbing someone -- even a villain --
with unknown substances.

"Sometimes the fight is open,
other times hidden, but it always
continues, remaking society anew
in each age," the voice went on.
"Those of us with special powers
must reject the crumbs we are thrown
and take our true place at the table."

Then Adalina found the scalpels.

She remembered her training
in women's self-defense class:
disable your attacker, then run.

Nobody with two blades in his legs
would be very effective at pursuit,
and even aiming for vulnerable points
in knees or crotch wouldn't kill him.

She had survived the berettaflies.
She would survive this too.

Gripping a scalpel firmly in each fist,
Adalina crouched down facing the door.

God have mercy on whomever opened it.

* * *

Notes:

Adalina Louis -- She was born with light brown skin, brown eyes, and straight black hair. Now most of her skin is paling to an uneven chalky white marked with bold splashes of yellow, orange, and black. Her hair is a vivid lavender. She is slim and petite, with modest breasts, a soft belly, and hips a little wider than her shoulders. Her heritage is primarily Hispanic mixed with African-American, French, and various other things. Adalina is studying Environmental Science at Loyola University in Easy City, Louisiana.
Origin: While working on a class project, she was stung by berettaflies. Their venom made her very sick, but also triggered the development of her superpowers.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Constitution, Expert (+4) Gregarious, Good (+2) Naturalist
Poor (-2) Situational Awareness
Powers: Good (+2) Insect Powers, Average (0) Super-Intellect
Developing. So far her metapower includes Chromatic Skin and Hive Mind. She also has the ultraviolet and polarized vision. The purple hair seems to be a separate manifestation from her own potential, triggered by the metagen. Some kind of skin color power, which may be static or active, along with the purple hair. Possibly pheromones, direction sense, dancing, or other things related to insects.
Motivation: To learn about the environment of Louisiana.


[Character by Siliconshaman]
T.K.O. (George Whitman) -- He has fair skin, squinty brown eyes, and short brown/green hair that mostly looks brown. He wears glasses. He is average height and build. His appearance is completely unremarkable.
T.K.O. is primarily a cricket, and also a minor criminal recruited by the Ring Mistress. Currently employed by the cleaning company to which SPOON subcontracts its janitorial duties, he has spent the past fortnight working his way into the Easy City SPOON base and building up trust. He's punctual, with enough work ethos to pass as a decent employee, but almost everyone overlooks him.
Origin: He bought a cheap bolt pistol to stun some guard dogs during a heist, but when he pretested the gun at home, it blew up in his hands. He was unconscious for days, and when he woke up, he had superpowers.
Uniform: Boring street clothes, often stuff scrounged out of thrift shops. At work, he wears whatever menial uniform he's given. He does not have a specific supervillain uniform. T.K.O. often wears a set of headphones listening to a self-improvement course audio book. It also allows him to remain in contact with the Ring Mistress covertly through an encrypted comms circuit.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Unnoticeable, Good (+2) Punctual, Good (+2) Self-Improvement
Poor (-2) Not the Sharpest Crayon in the Box
Powers: Good (+2) Contact Stun, Average (0) Greenish Hair
Limitation: He must make skin contact in order to stun someone. Even thin clothing blocks his superpower, although a target's own fur and hair do not.
Motivation: To please the Ring Mistress.

* * *

A burqa is one type of concealing garment, which people may wear for many reasons. Although outsiders may think of it as forced concealment, women who actually wear these things tend to say they do not want strange men staring at their bodies. This is a thing women may desire regardless of their religion, and Adalina is not the first person to consider adopting such clothes for completely unrelated reasons of coverage.

Ice cream parlors and soda shops are far more popular in Terramagne-America than here, about on par with coffeehouses. All of these establishments provide a place to gather and socialize; do you want cold or hot nibblements and beverages with that? See the Blue Raspberry and one of its freezer cases.

Allergies happen when the body reacts violently to something that is harmless or only trivially hazardous. Superpowers tend to push the ends of the bell curve; many soups are either resistant to allergens due to tougher biology, or more sensitive because their body is not quite human and safety tests are done on humans. Many people with allergies prefer to make their own observations, at least enough to narrow the field before resorting to unpleasant medical tests. As a general rule, handle irritating allergies yourself if you judge them less bothersome than doctors; but life-threatening allergies are better handled by experts if you can find and afford reliable ones.

Pheromone Manipulation is a superpower based on biochemistry and scent. It is most often associated with seduction, but Adalina is using hers very differently. Honeybees produce many pheromones for communication and other purposes, and hers are largely inspired by that. Super-Pheromones are far more potent than the ordinary kind -- and even the ordinary ones can make people and animals go more than a little nuts.

High John the Conqueror is a relative of morning glory, and in voodoo magic, among the most powerful ingredients for "command" mojo. Adalina's "obey me" pheromone smells like a combination of the root and the flower: earthy, spicy, and sweet.

Mimosa is a relative of acacia, and even the acacias that don't actively host ants are somewhat protected by them. Adalina's "protect me" pheromone smells like acacia flowers, voluptuous and disturbing.

Louisiana is home to four ordinary species of venomous caterpillars, even before Stylet stuck his fingers in the pie and added the berettaflies. For a few weeks in spring, all of the little buggers are active at the same time. So it's a good thing that lots of Easy City citizens and soups have been studying first aid for insect injuries, because they're going to need it.

Kidnapping can be a serious threat or only a major inconvenience, with Terramagne leaning toward the latter. People are often kidnapped to gain control of them, get them out of the way, or get attention rather than intent to injure, kill, or even ransom them. However, because location is protected information in T-America, kidnapping violates that and can have aggravating charges tacked on from that direction. "Rescuing" people from cults for "deprogramming" is a form of kidnapping which is helpful in a few cases, harmful in most, and often illegal depending on jurisdiction and context. There are tips for surviving an abduction, which boil down to using your head to escape if possible. Notice that Adalina's alert response to danger greatly undermines the argument of her being brainwashed.

See the inside of the ambulance. As a kidnapping vehicle, it has many ups and downs from everyone's perspective.

Marxism is primarily a political and economic critique of democracy and capitalism. However, its arguments generalize well to many other forms of oppression, which means that activists in other fields -- such as soup awareness -- sometimes adapt them.

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
Karl Marx

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

Women's self-defense often advises people to target soft spots so as to disable an attacker and then run away. Fleeing is a terrific survival strategy so long as the danger cannot effectively pursue you.

The human body has many vulnerable points. Those tell Adalina some useful targets for muscles and tendons. Attacking with a blade means you can also target major arteries and veins; a modest hole there rarely kills quickly but does require your assailant to stop attacking you and redirect his attention to plugging the leak. Just treat the pressure point map as a set of vital targets. If someone has kidnapped you -- unless it's the kind of overblown prank that Antimatter and some other supervillains have pulled -- then you are typically justified in using tactics that could cripple or kill in your efforts to escape.

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