ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the March 18, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "extortion" square in my 6-10-13 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest and the "fury" square in my 3-6-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"A Nice Little Racket"


It worked best in suburbs
and in quiet neighborhoods
where everyone aspired
to a normal life.

The gang moved in discreetly --
that was a challenge,
training criminals to be subtle --
and watched for clues.

Scattered here and there
throughout humanity were people
with a little something extra.
Most folks only paid attention
to the superheroes and supervillains
who showed off their stuff,
but others kept mum.

There were always signs
if someone had a hidden power;
no matter how careful the cricket,
sooner or later it would chirp,
although sometimes you had to
shake the cage a bit in order
to stir them into action.

Then it was just a matter
of moving in to make contact
and lay the terms on the table:
pay out some hush money,
do an occasional favor for Boss Agro,
and nobody else ever has to know.

Of course, now and then,
somebody got cocky and
they had to make an example of him
to discourage the others from trying it.

Things always smoothed out
for a while after that.
It was a nice little racket.

They hit the jackpot
in a place called Pleasant Acres,
where some enterprising soul
had landscaped all the parks
with sand from a toxic dump,
presumably to save money
and line his own pockets.

A lot of people got sick,
and they were agitating about that,
but so far nothing had been done.

What interested the boys in the Business
was a cluster of kids showing superpowers,
weak at first but with the potential
to grow useful in time.

It was always easier
to train puppies than dogs.

Careful observation showed
that the survivors displayed
primarily talents related to survival:
a girl who could adapt to environmental hazards,
a boy who could phase through dangers,
a boy whose skin acted as armor,
that sort of thing.

Their parents were all urgently concerned
with keeping everything as quiet as possible,
clinging to the illusion of a normal life
amidst the uproar in the community
over the toxic sand.

It proved so profitable that
Boss Agro himself came to visit
in hopes of sniffing out even more.
He was so good at identifying superpowers
that people called him "the Pointer."

Sure enough, he found one,
a cute little girl with light brown hair
and hazel eyes in a heart-shaped face.
The first clue was how her scrapes and bruises
disappeared in moments, but later she was seen
healing injuries for other children as well.

Her rich father was away
on important business,
but her horse-faced nanny
was nervously agreeable
to the terms of the deal.

They were called to the next Meeting Day
when Boss Agro gathered all of his
"special" kids in an empty warehouse
to show what things they could do
and see what kind of favors
they might be useful for.

The new girl wore a white tennis dress
with coral trim and a matching bow in her hair,
white socks with lace trim, and leather shoes.
She smiled at the other children
and their terrified parents, and
nobody quite noticed that
she wasn't nervous.

After Variel had been dumped in a vat of acid
to see how she would adapt to it,
Erion had phased out from under
a car dropped on top of him,
and Ansel had been shot seven times
to test the strength of his armor,

Boss Agro's right-hand man
drew a knife and approached the girl
who could heal herself and others.

"You want to see what I can do?"
she asked in a sweet voice.
"What if I don't want to?"

"Show us, or else,"
said Boss Agro.

"Okay," she said,
"now I want to."

She didn't move, or speak,
but suddenly the right-hand man
was stuck motionless, like a scorpion
in a cheap plastic keychain.

"What did you do to him?"
Boss Agro barked.

"This," she said,
and the boss himself was
held fast in the same fashion.

The bodyguards tried
to draw their guns,
but the little girl was faster
and far more dangerous.
She left them standing there
like statues in a garden.

The other children were crying,
some of them clinging to parents
who tried to protect them
with their own bodies.

"Shush now, it will be all right,"
the girl said to them,
petting someone's younger sibling
who sat on the floor in tears.

"Who are you to promise that?"
Variel's mother demanded.

"My name is Alicia Martins," she said.
"You might know me as Dr. Infanta.
I'm not here to hurt you.
I'm here to send a message that
this sort of extortion is unacceptable."

Ansel's sweating father
screwed up his courage enough
to step forward and ask,
"If you're not threatening us,
can we go now?"

"You may leave if you choose,"
said Dr. Infanta, "or you may stay ...
and partake in my form of justice."

She turned to the men held in suspension.
"Is anyone here the accountant?" she asked,
loosening her hold on them just a bit.

One man's hand moved
in a small, slow-motion wave.

"Return the money,
and your life is spared,"
Dr. Infanta said to him.

He nodded as if through the thick air.
Dr. Infanta flicked a finger,
and her nanny moved to supervise
the transferral process.

"Nanette's a telepath," said Dr. Infanta.
"If you lie or try to trick us, she'll know,
and then I'll kill you."

The accountant performed
exactly as directed.

"Now we come to the matter of favors,"
said Dr. Infanta, stepping close to Boss Agro.
"Those are more costly. I know, for example, that
you've already had Erion use his phasing
to steal things on your behalf.
So I'm going to steal something back
to compensate your victims for their trouble."

She turned to the small crowd of onlookers.
"Anyone who wants to may claim
a year of this man's life,"
she said to them,
then gestured to the other thugs.
"Whichever of these men has hurt you
is also fair game in this regard."

Boss Agro whimpered.
He wasn't a young man.

One at a time, Dr. Infanta beckoned
the people forward, stripping away
the mobster's life energy to give to them.

By the time she finished,
Boss Agro was not quite dead,
but he lay on the floor, a twitching mass
of withered limbs and wrinkled skin.
A thread of drool trickled from his mouth.

Then Dr. Infanta turned on the other men,
again inviting their victims to come claim a year.
One of them did die, because it seemed
that everyone wanted a piece of him.

Interestingly, two of them
garnered no takers at all -- criminals, yes,
but practical enough to avoid the kind of abuse
that drove people to take revenge.
Dr. Infanta would let them go
with a warning.

The rest fell in between, having singled out
this family or that one for their amusement,
now turned against them.
It left them aging out the Business.

They would live, but
they were no longer a threat.

Next Dr. Infanta lifted away
all of the bad memories
from those who wished to forget,
and pushed them like a row of thorns
into the minds of Boss Agro and his men.

Erion was one of the few
who didn't want his memories eased.
"If you ever need a favor,"
he said to Dr. Infanta, "ask me.
If it won't hurt anyone, I'll do it for you."

"Agreed," she said,
and they linked pinky fingers
to seal the deal.

At last, Dr. Infanta directed everyone outside.
She took special care with the people
who no longer recalled why they were there,
ushering them toward safety.

She even made sure that the bodyguards
picked up the doddering husk
of their boss.

Then she swept her talent
over the warehouse, aging it
all in an instant until the whole thing
came crumbling down.

It made a nice little racket.

* * *

Notes:

Dominic "the Pointer" Agro -- Dominic is an Italian mobster fond of extortion, whose favorite victims are people with secret superpowers. He likes to insinuate himself into a community by volunteering at a local church. He is prejudiced against soups, his favored victims.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Mob Boss, Good (+2) Church Usher, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Rough Stuff, Good (+2) Tough Guy
Poor (-2) Common Sense
Motivation: Money and power.

Variel Rivera -- Currently eight years old, Variel grew up in a toxic neighborhood. She has curly black hair, brown eyes, and café au lait skin. She has mixed Hispanic heritage. Dr. Infanta rescued her and others from Boss Agro, but Variel finds her creepy and scary.
Origin: The playgrounds in her neighborhood were landscaped with contaminated sand that made some people sick, but gave superpowers to a few.
Qualities: Good (+2) Bilingual, Good (+2) Gymnast
Poor (-2) Sticking With It
Powers: Expert (+4) Adaptation

Erion Belushi -- Currently nine years old, Erion grew up in a toxic neighborhood. He has wavy brown hair, gray eyes, and light olive skin. His ancestry includes Albanian, Greek, Italian, and American. He is tall for his age. After Dr. Infanta rescued Erion and others from Boss Agro, Erion offered to do a favor for her, as long as it wouldn't hurt anyone.
Origin: The playgrounds in his neighborhood were landscaped with contaminated sand that made some people sick, but gave superpowers to a few.
Qualities: Good (+2) Brave, Good (+2) Flute Player, Good (+2) Sense of Fairness
Poor (-2) Handling Money
Powers: Expert (+4) Phasing

Ansel Merle -- Currently seven years old, he grew up in a toxic neighborhood. He has straight blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. He already shows a sturdy build. His father's side of the family is primarily French, with a bit of Swiss. His maternal grandmother emmigrated from Luxembourg, and his maternal grandfather is American. Dr. Infanta rescued Ansel and others from Boss Agro, and Ansel is secretly in awe of her.
Origin: The playgrounds in his neighborhood were landscaped with contaminated sand that made some people sick, but gave superpowers to a few.
Qualities: Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Sports
Poor (-2) Dyslexic
Powers: Expert (+4) Natural Armor

Dr. Infanta -- Alicia Martins is a world-class supervillain who looks like a little girl about 7 years old, but is actually centuries old. She has hazel eyes, shoulder-length wavy hair of light brown, and slightly tinted skin. She has a heart-shaped face. She admires altruism and loyalty, hence the makeup of her minion contingent. She isn't malicious, just ruthless.
Dr. Infanta is extremely well-protected by other super-villains and many wealthy naries because of her powers. She always travels with a "nanny" and bodyguards, masquerading as a rich young heiress. She can't be killed, has rarely been captured, and it never takes long for her to escape. She is that powerful and connected.
Dr. Infanta often uses her influence to quash legislation that could harm soups. She is a key reason for how little institutionalized oppression there is, given the amount of informal oppression. This makes even some superheroes secretly appreciate her, if they haven't personally had to fight her or watch her give their archenemy a new face.
Origin: Alicia was a peasant child purchased by a noblewoman for experiments to extend life. They worked. She killed her owner and ran away. When Alicia discovered what she could do with her powers, she soon gathered adult protectors and traded her skills for what she needed.
Uniform: street clothes, usually whatever is fashionable for children of her apparent age.
Qualities: Master (+6) Children's Folklore, Master (+6) Wealth, Expert (+4) Intelligence, Good (+2) Cute, Good (+2) Gunplay, Good (+2) Living History
Poor (-2) Pint-sized
Powers: Master (+6) Time Control (Signature Stunts: Erase Memories, Transfer Lifeyears; Spin-Off Stunts: Danger-sense, Precognition), Expert (+4) Healing (Signature Stunts: Plastic Surgery, Regenerate Lost Body Parts), Average (0) Immortality
Average (0) Minions: The Guardians are a set of 7 trusted grownups, in charge of the collective personnel. They protect Dr. Infanta and usher her through the adult world. They are all relatives of people whose lives she has saved, thus all sharing the Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Leader quality. In addition, each has a Good (+2) profession (usually Nanny or Bodyguard), another Good (usually social for Nanny, physical for Bodyguard), and one Average (0) superpower (often Teleportation, Invulnerability, Super-Gizmology, or Sorcery).
Motivation: Survive and prosper.

Nanette Abraham -- Nanette is tall and lanky, with fair skin and brown eyes. She has long straight brown hair, which she usually puts up in a ponytail or French roll. Her face is plain, even horsey. Nanette is one of the Guardians in service to Dr. Infanta.
Origin: Nanette was born a telepath. It made her life awkward growing up, especially before she learned to hide it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Conversationalist, Good (+2) Nanny
Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Dr. Infanta
Powers: Good (+2) Telepath
Motivation: Keep Dr. Infanta safe and happy.

* * *

Trying to be normal is exhausting for some people. That's one of several reasons to stop doing that. However, there are tips on living a normal life for neurovariant people, which generalize nicely to other types of difference. You just have to find out what 'normal' means for you, because being differently normal is okay.

A "cricket" is a person with superpowers who rarely if ever uses them, instead preferring to live a commonplace life. They are almost always "in the fuse box" or hiding their power from most or all people. The term comes from "you can hear the crickets chirping," a reference to safe and usual situations, or to a group of people who don't speak up.

Italian-American mobsters appear in the American Mafia. They practice extortion and other crimes.

Toxic neighborhoods may be caused by different problems. Brio, Love Canal, and Times Beach are just a few famous examples.

The trope Tertiary Sexual Characteristics refers to characters dressing in gender-stereotypical ways. Cute Is Evil deals with the contrast between innocuous appearance and high threat level. Dr. Infanta plays up her childlike demeanor as a way of encouraging people to underestimate her.

Pinky swearing is a widespread childhood custom.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-20 01:24 am (UTC)
thnidu: edited from img383.imageshack.us/img383/3066/ss35450qf7.jpg (smiley)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
This one approves. I especially liked Erion's "turn" and the pinky oath.

Typo:
• She took special care with the people
who longer recalled why they were there,
̂→ who no longer recalled

WHY, why, WHY?????

Date: 2014-04-20 03:29 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
WHY is Dr. Infanta one of my favorite characters of the set you've created?

(Shoulders sag, slight pout forms, morphing into slightly too-cheerful grin) She's such a GOOD villain! I mean, honestly, she's doing some pretty horrible things in the poem above, but she's doing it for good reasons.

Talk about messing with one's perception of ethics!

This was a lot of fun to read; thank you again.

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