ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the June 3, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alexseanchai and [personal profile] siliconshaman. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Over the Old Bridge"


Granny Whammy was answering email
at her desk in the Eastbord base of the
Super Power Organizational & Operational Nexus
while Cheersquad manned the dispatch board,

when all of a sudden the phones went wild
and teleporters started popping in from all over.

"What's going on?" she asked Cheersquad.

"People say there's some kind of disturbance
in the energy field," he said, his left thumb --
the only one he could still move --
tapping super-fast on his electric wheelchair.
"Whatever it is seems to be powerful."

Junket arrived with a tidy fwap of displaced air,
like a large bird backwinging to land.
His blue and green hair stood up in spikes,
intense indigo eyes half-hidden by matching makeup,
all of which clashed with his expensive business suit
and the two elegant elves holding onto his hands.

"These gentlemen just crashed a party
that I got hired to chauffeur," said Junket.
"They opened some kind of portal
over the boss' ornamental bridge, and
let me tell you he is not happy about it
flash-frying $50,000 of prize breeding koi."

The elves, one of them in scarlet robes
and the other in violet, looked unimpressed.
"We wish to speak with your natural leader,"
said the one in scarlet.

"I suppose that would be me,"
Granny Whammy said,
saving her work before
she stood up to greet them.

"What is your best area of spellcasting?"
asked the scarlet elf.

"I don't cast spells," Granny Whammy said.
"I lift heavy things." With one wrinkled hand,
she hoisted her desk and set it back down.

The violet elf shook his head. "Not a warrior,"
he said. "We mean your natural leader,
your strongest mage."

Not many people held the gift of sorcery --
like power manipulation, it ranked among
the rarest of superpowers -- and those who did
tended to be a little on the surreal side.

"Well, you could try Aubrey the Alabaster,"
said Granny Whammy. "I don't know
whether she can help, though;
you haven't actually said what you need."

"There is a disruption in the alignment
of your plane and ours, caused by
some shifting force in this world,"
the violet elf explained.

"Get Aubrey," said Granny Whammy
with a brisk nod to Junket.
He flicked out.

"What should I tell our callers?"
Cheersquad asked.

"Confirm the energy interference
and tell them we've got people on it,"
Granny Whammy said.

"Will do," Cheersquad said.

Then Granny Whammy flapped her hands
at the small herd of teleporters.
"The rest of you, shoo!
I'm sure you have work to do."
She turned to the elves,
pointing to a row of chairs.
"You gentlemen may take a seat."

A few minutes later, Junket returned
towing a harried Aubrey the Alabaster
in a long gown festooned with ivory ruffles,
one hand still adjusting her crown of gold leaves.
Fairy-lights twinkled around her skirt.

"Can I go back to my real job now?"
Junket asked Granny Whammy.

She shook her head, saying,
"We might need more transport."

Junket held out his hand.

"Oh for Pete's sake, young man!
You are not a panhandler;
do your part," said Granny Whammy.

"I'm a businessman," Junket insisted.
"I do the work and people pay me.
If you pull me out of line, that
could ruin a very nice party for
one of the four rich men I know
who is actually not a dick.
So you pay me, and you --"
he pointed to Cheersquad
"-- find someone to cover my gig."

She paid him.

Meanwhile the two elves were talking
to a flustered Aubrey, waving their hands
and trailing streamers of golden light.
Aubrey sketched in the air with silver,
tarnished in some places,
which even Granny Whammy
knew could not be good.

"Sorry," Aubrey said to the elves.
"I don't know much about the environment,
and I know even less about politics.
Those really aren't my areas."

"But you're the natural leader,"
said the scarlet elf.

"Where did he get that idea?"
Aubrey asked the other soups.

"They just showed up saying that,"
Junket said with a shrug.

"If you need someone to cast spells
or lay a geas on bigots, you want me.
If you need a diplomat, you don't want me,
you want Valor's Widow or possibly Pax,"
Aubrey said, ticking off the options
on her opalescent fingernails.

"But the strongest mage
is always a diplomat,
because everyone turns to her
for advice," the elf protested.

"Darling, that's in your world.
I sell used books for a living,"
Aubrey said.

"What about the wild world?
Who is in charge of that?"
the violet mage asked.

"Plenty of people protect different parts of it,
but most of them have regular superpowers,
not sorcery," Granny Whammy said.

"Well, there's Green Man," said Aubrey.
"He has ancestral powers, which are
sort of related, but he's a supervillain."

"And kind of a crackpot,"
Junket added.

"Let's try Valor's Widow,"
said Granny Whammy.
"At least she can coordinate
people's sphere of influence
across magic and politics
and environmental issues."

So Cheersquad made another call,
and then Junket popped off
to bring Valor's Widow to SPOON.

Aubrey cast a lovely illusion of the Earth,
slowly rotating in place, while the violet elf
held up a similar image of his homeworld.
Sparks and flares showed where
they should have aligned but did not.

"Deforestation," Aubrey remarked.
"Apparently it's a problem
for more than just paper production."

Junket arrived with Valor's Widow
clad in her neat black suit.
"What seems to be the problem?"
she asked the elves.

"The natural balance of your world
is in disarray, and it is affecting ours,"
said the scarlet elf. "We came to see
your natural leader, but evidently
she has little knowledge of wilderness
or influence in politics."

"Actually the best person I know of,
when it comes to green politics,
is the President of the Maldives,"
said Valor's Widow. "He likes soups.
I suspect he'll like magic just as much
if you can help keep the waves off his porch."

"I heard about him from Aquariana,"
said Granny Whammy. "He should be able
to put you in touch with the politicians
who deal in environmental laws.
Aubrey can handle the magic."

"Acceptable," said the scarlet elf.
"We will be on our way."
He held out a hand to Junket.

"Chill," said Junket.
"I can't jump that far all at once.
Give me a minute to plot a route."
He fiddled with his smartphone,
then nodded. "Okay, I'm taking
Aubrey and Valor's Widow first,
then I'll come back for the elves."

It took a while to complete the transport,
shuttling through multiple jumps
with multiple passengers, but he managed.

"You get what you pay for," Junket said,
then returned to his party.

Granny Whammy looked around the room,
which was covered with papers and other debris
from the flurry of teleporters who had come and gone.
Someone's jacket hung from the ceiling fan.

"It could have been worse,"
Cheersquad said brightly.

"What a clusterfuck,"
Granny Whammy muttered.
"I need a drink."

The phone rang again.
A moment later Cheersquad said,
"Sorry to bother you again,
but Green Man just wrecked a convoy
of semi-trucks loaded with gasoline."

A hero's work was never done.

* * *

Notes:

Cheersquad -- Chuck Collins has short sandy hair, green eyes, and tawny skin. His body is crumpled and mostly paralyzed from an accident, so he uses an electric wheelchair to get around. He has very limited use of his left thumb and forefinger, not much else. Given his current job as a counselor, he knows many other people with superpowers and/or handicaps. Most people pronounce his code name as "Cheer Squad." If you listen closely, however, you can hear that he says "Cheers Quad." If asked which it is, he smirks and says, "That's a state secret." (It's the Hellspark joke.) Chuck is popular as a charity auctioneer, one of the few ways he can still use his super-speed.
Origin: Chuck started out as an ordinary college student studying linguistics. While on a field trip in Guatemala, he was struck by a mysterious clay pellet from a blowgun that left him shivering and delirious for weeks. Chuck emerged from the ordeal with super-speed and a new interest in emergency medicine. So he got his Class Z license and drove a zoom ambulance, sometimes also serving as a translator. His girlfriend Jocelyn, a cheerleader at the local college, threw a fit but stuck with him.
Then a drunk driver T-boned the ambulance at an intersection, killing everyone but Chuck. He broke his neck and a bunch of other bones, leaving him mostly paralyzed. At this time Jocelyn finally dumped him. Chuck fell into a depression, but eventually started to claw his way out. A local charity contacted him, intending to put him on their list of recipients. Instead, he proved such an engaging conversationalist that they hired him and trained him as a counselor. Now he works primarily over the phone, helping people deal with personal trauma, especially things related to superpowers. He has subsequently begun working at the Eastbord SPOON Base as well.
Uniform: Light blue jumpsuit with a red cross on each lapel, modeled after his old ambulance uniform. His electric wheelchair is a bright metallic blue with the same emblem on both sides and the back.
Qualities: Master (+6) Cheerful, Expert (+4) Ambulance Driver, Expert (+4) Constitution, Expert (+4) Counselor, Expert (+4) Contacts in Soup/Disabled Circles, Good (+2) Games, Good (+2) Linguist, Good (+2) Science Fiction Fan, Good (+2) Trivia
Poor (-2) Mobility
As a linguist, Chuck is fluent in 9 foreign languages: Esperanto, French, German, Japanese, Láadan, Latin, Nahuatl, Russian, and Spanish.
Powers: Average (0) Super-speed (Spin-off stunts: Auctioneering, Speed-reading)
Motivation: Keep your chin up and do your part.

Junket (Brandon Drexler) -- He has pinkish-fair skin and vivid indigo eyes. Although born with black hair, it turned peacock shades of blue and green when he gained his superpower. Unlike many soups, he has a business degree and staunchly maintains that what he does is honest work so he should get paid for it. This clashes with a lot of the altruistic superheroes and the ruthlessly mercenary supervillains alike. He's a businessman, dammit, and he just wants people to respect that.
Origin: At his college, an experiment in Super-Gizmology got out of hand and caused an explosion. A number of students caught in the blast developed Teleporting or Super-Speed, with Junket getting the former. They all share the distinctive peacock-colored hair.
Uniform: Expensive business suit, which rather clashes with his spiky blue and green hair. He also favors heavy eye makeup in the same peacock colors.
Qualities: Good (+2) Business Degree, Good (+2) Fanlore, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Ladies' Man, Good (+2) Networking
Poor (-2) Jumps to Conclusions
Powers: Expert (+4) Teleporting
Motivation: "Let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job, and then I get PAID." (Firefly)

Aubrey the Alabaster (Aubrey Vieuxpont) -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and long wavy black hair. She runs a used-book store, The Unicorn's Forest.
Origin: While hiding in the library to escape the popular girls at junior high, Aubrey discovered a strange and ancient book. Reading it gave her the power of sorcery.
Uniform: Variable, but always extravagant gowns in shades of off-white, made from dexflan and capery. She typically crowns herself with leaves, flowers, feathers, or jewels.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intuition, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Friends on the Fringe, Good (+2) Used-Book Seller
Poor (-2) Flaky as a Pastry
Powers: Master (+6) Sorcery
Motivation: Some things must be believed to be seen. (Ralph Hodgson)
Read a poem, "i was born between the pages," by [personal profile] thebonesofferalletters that explains how Aubrey feels about libraries.

* * *

Teleportation is a moderately common superpower.

Koi are large ornamental carp, which can get extremely expensive.

Leadership spans many definitions and qualities. People argue about it a lot.

Sorcery is a very rare superpower, really a meta-power that allows people to do almost anything within the idiom of mysticism. Think of it as having sysadmin control over reality, but in a magical expression rather than a technological one -- contrast that with Antimatter, who does have the scientific version.

Altruism and capitalism are two different motivations. Superheroes can be altruists, and Granny Whammy sees superhero work as a duty to serve. Superheroes can be capitalists, and Junket sees superhero work as a profession where people have a right to earn a living. These two characters come from totally different backgrounds and therefore have different philosophies. That's okay; there is no One True Right And Only Way to be a superhero. Altruism and capitalism are complex ideas, but it's possible to find a balance between them.

Task assignment is an important part of organization. Know how to choose the right person for the job and how to delegate effectively.

Deforestation creates a variety of environmental imbalances. There are ways to stop it.

The closing line is a riff on "a woman's work is never done" or "a mother's work is never done." Superheroes have to learn how to spread out the workload, because despite what you see in the movies, nobody can stay on call 24/7 forever. That way lies burnout.


Sometimes-

Date: 2014-06-10 02:16 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
It's not what you can DO, it's who you KNOW that helps.

I love the distinctions, I love the assumptions, and I also think Junket's getting a LOT of flak from other soups because he /does/ treat it as a business, yet you've said there are "blue plate specials" all over the place.

To me, that reads like the riff fed to genius-level(and "merely pretty smart" people) "you should cure cancer"-- as though intellect is some kind of PUBLIC property. I could go on for DAYS about how inane it is, and worse, how LITTLE the attitude has changed over a half-century or so.

Really great read, lots of new soups interacting-- and the poor President of the Maldives gets the BIG job. Has Cheersquad sent him a fruit basket yet?

Thanks for posting it.

Well of COURSE...

Date: 2014-06-11 04:58 am (UTC)
thnidu: edited from img383.imageshack.us/img383/3066/ss35450qf7.jpg (smiley)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
... I got a kick out of the Hellspark bit and the list of Cheersquad's languages :-D

Other favorite line:
"Poor (-2) Flaky as a Pastry"

Scarlet and violet, pretty much the two ends of our visible spectrum.

Re: Well of COURSE...

Date: 2014-06-12 08:24 pm (UTC)
thnidu: What, me worry? MAD Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman (idiots)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
And just within the hour, no shit, there I was listening to the bloody voicemenu bot on a call to a large co.: To continue in Spanish, say "Spanish". Or it may have been, even worse, Para continuar en español, diga "Spanish".

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-13 01:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wait... Did I see a linguist? In a work of fiction??? And he's awesome????? OwO

Sadly, linguistics is one of those fields where people think, because they've never heard of it, it must be totally useless. So, yay! Exposure!

That being said... I suppose I should warn that this next part is said with love and the want for the spread of knowledge? (I have a tendency to come off as a jerk, but that is NOT my intention.)

It's fairly easy to tell that the language list was NOT written by a linguist (or a polyglot). First, linguistics has nothing to do with language fluency! The word you're looking for when you say "As a *linguist, Chuck is fluent..." is polyglot. There is a good deal of overlap,and it is a very common mistake, but that's what makes so annoying!

Also, I'm kind of disappointed that there's no information on HOW fluent he is in each language. It seems like the perfect place to use your tabletop-esque points system! (Which I love, BTW.) It really makes me curious. Would he get more points in Esperanto for ease learning? In German for it's similarity to English? In French and Spanish for regional presence (assuming he lives in the USA/Canada)? Is there someone on the team that shares a second language with him? There are so many factors to consider! It sounds fun to me, but I know it may not be so fun for you.

Just something to consider.

Blahr, so long. Sorry.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-17 12:50 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] moriwen1
I've been catching up with the Polychrome Heroes series, and I love this one! Elves, huh? And their insistence on the social structures they're used to makes me grin.

I think I like Junket, as well. It must take a very particular kind of personality to actually be happy to have your superpower be a party trick.

I wonder if these elves would be interested in chatting with some non-human soups? As long as they're headed to the Maldives...

Economic balance

Date: 2014-06-11 01:22 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
As far as capitalist uses of personal abilities, I chose to establish a policy regarding my own. Because I regard the ability to heal the spirit as a gift, I don't charge for it, though the gift may come with responsibilities of its own when used. However, the time and energy I spend when doing work are both of value, and so I tend to charge for time spent when I do spirit work professionally (barter is acceptable exchange).

Re: Economic balance

Date: 2014-06-11 01:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> As far as capitalist uses of personal abilities, I chose to establish a policy regarding my own. Because I regard the ability to heal the spirit as a gift, I don't charge for it, though the gift may come with responsibilities of its own when used. However, the time and energy I spend when doing work are both of value, and so I tend to charge for time spent when I do spirit work professionally (barter is acceptable exchange). <<

That's a good plan.

For me, there are gifts I use professionally and prefer to get paid for, and gifts I use spiritually which are usually free but I'll take barter or other help if I can get it. There is one thing I customarily do for free as part of my vocation, which is writing elegies. Those come when they come, and I don't charge for them.

I think it makes a difference how you frame things when you start. Junket is a businessman; he's built a niche for himself as an instant personal chauffeur service. That comes with certain responsibilities. He's done a lot of work to help ordinary people see soups as reliable, as people who can be counted on to do a job, in certain ways a better job than can be done without superpowers. That can be really valuable when Nary A is contemplating whether or not to hit Soup B with a baseball bat just for existing. Junket wants superhero work to have the same respect as, say, accounting; you don't ask those people to do it for free. He wants to get it out of categories like art and music where everyone feels entitled to ask you for your time and work without giving anything back. Think about how superheroes are treated in mainstream comics and you can see why this is a need.

Conversely, I don't think Junket is a selfish jerk the way some soups might see him. He's a gentleman in his own way. If a car crashed in front of him, I think he'd jump the victim to a hospital without asking for payment. It's one thing if you volunteer your help, and quite another if someone asks you to do something without offering you anything for the favor.

Re: Economic balance

Date: 2014-06-20 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] johnpalmer.livejournal.com
Just an interesting note: I know of a great many shamanic folks who insist on payment - not for themselves as much as for the recipient. People tend to value what they purchase more.

It's an interesting perspective, and one I value (though I've never done professional spiritwork).

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