ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the prompt calls, filling the "desperate" square in my 5-22-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: This poem includes intense topics, and some of the warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. Be prepared for mass fatalities, EVERY LIVING THING in the radius is dead, heroes arriving too late to do anything but analyze what happened, war parallels, disturbing scene details, existential horror, and the aftermath of heroic sacrifice. Oh, and the villain is dead in a corner too. Not recommended for reading shortly before bed. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether to read further.


"The Bones of Truth"


All they knew, at first,
was that the Mandible had
taken over an island research facility,
intending to use germ warfare
to wipe out humanity

and that he had, somehow, been stopped.

Granny Whammy herself led the team
to find out what really happened,
her chest glittering with braid and metal
in case diplomacy was needed.

Once the Analyst confirmed that
she could detect no biohazards,
they all disembarked, with Stonewall
shielding them behind his massive form.

Skeletons lay strewn about the tarmac,
mute sign of the Mandible's terrible power.
The whole area was eerily silent.

Granny Whammy could read the signs
of a desperate battle in the scattered guns
and overturned vehicles, fires long since cooled.
Sunlight glinted on spent shell casings.

Indoors they found more skeletons
but also bodies whole and untouched.
"Death field," the Analyst murmured
as she twiddled with her instruments.

"That isn't the Mandible's power,"
Granny Whammy said,
"or at least it wasn't."

"I would suspect a failsafe,"
the Analyst said with a nod, "meant to
terminate everyone on the island
in case of a violent takeover,
to thwart plans like the Mandible's."

A death ray could be converted
into a sort of bomb with a field effect.
Granny Whammy hadn't seen that
since World War II, and she had
hoped never to see it again.

Silently she removed her helmet
and bowed her head in a moment of respect,
then put it back on and marched forward.

"Blood trail," Granny Whammy said,
pointing toward a spatter of red
that turned into a widening swath.

"That heads toward the control room,"
the Analyst said, showing them on her map.

"Let's follow it," Granny Whammy said,
leading her team deeper into the building.

They almost didn't recognize the Mandible
when they found him, because his trademark glow
had been extinguished, his corpse lying in shadow.

"Looks like someone finally got the bastard,"
Stonewall said. "I wonder who it was."

"Him," Granny Whammy said, pointing
to a skeleton draped over a control board,
phalanges still clasping a switch.
"He was a brave man. He saved the world."

"She," the Analyst said quietly.

"What?" Granny Whammy said.

"Look at the pelvic girdle," the Analyst said.
"That was a woman. Based on their positions,
the Mandible killed her as she activated the failsafe."

"She was a brave woman. She saved the world,"
Granny Whammy said. From her uniform
she detached a Purple Heart and a Medal of Valor,
then lay them reverently inside the ribcage.

After a long moment of silence,
the team moved onward, documenting
what the unknown hera had accomplished.

* * *

The Mandible (Harvey Williams) -- His body is average height and build, but he has no hair left; his nose and genitals were also smoothed away in the transformation. His lower jaw is enlarged and thrust forward, making it difficult for him to speak clearly.
Origin: He snuck through a fence in pursuit of fossils, not knowing that secret weapons testing was about to commence. Struck by a beam of unknown origin, his body transformed into a skeletal horror. He can open his mouth and emit a greenish beam that destroys soft tissue but leaves the skeleton intact. It also tends to dissolve organic fabric, although it leaves some synthetics alone.
Uniform: None. He goes nude. His soft tissues are dark and translucent, like smoky quartz, and his bones glow a lurid greenish white.
Qualities: Master (+6) Intelligence, Master (+6) Plans, Expert (+4) Intimidation, Good (+2) Dinosaur Fan, Good (+2) Gambler, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Hates Scientists
Powers: Good (+2) Flensing Beam
Average (0) Minions: The Knucklebones have seven named lieutenants and many nameless goons. Two of the lieutenants and about two hundred goons are killed alongside their leader.
Motivation: "The world is corrupt. You'll see! Someday I'll kill you all!"

The Analyst (Josephine Turner) -- She is average height and full-figured. She keeps her blonde hair cut short for convenience. Her father is a policeman; her mother is a librarian. Her childhood role model was Velma from Scooby-Doo, who also could not see without her glasses but did not let that stop her from solving mysteries. Now she works for SPOON, specializing in the analysis of incidents involving superpowers.
Origin: Her powers grew in slowly over time.
Uniform: She dresses in a version of the SPOON uniform with lots of pockets in her pants and vest, plus a toolbelt
Qualities: Expert (+4) Deduction, Expert (+4) Know-It-All, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Friends on the Force
Poor (-2) Runner
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-Gizmology, Expert (+4) Super-Intellect
Expert (+4) Spic-n-Spanner: a portable super-gizmo with a vast array of scanning and analytical equipment.
Good (+2) Utility Belt: a compact way to carry many ordinary tools and small super-gizmos, thus ensuring she usually has the right tool for the job. Any job.
Vulnerability: Her eyesight is so bad that she is legally blind without her glasses. Her combat glasses have an elastic strap, and her everyday glasses have a jeweled chain, to reduce the chance of losing them.
Motivation: To find out what happened.

Stonewall (Aaron Jackson) -- Originally he was a black man with dark curly hair and brown eyes. Now he is about eight feet tall, and very bulky, three feet wide at the shoulders. His body is sandstone, primarily chocolate with swirls of caramel and red ochre. Unfortunately he has only two fingers and a thumb on each hand, which contributes to his poor dexterity. He smokes, and one of his habits is striking matches against his skin. ("Yeah, I know, I'm a shitty role model. Deal with it.")
Origin: A rock fell on him while he was exploring the southwest desert. He lay trapped beneath it for days, periodically trying different ways to get loose, without success. Slowly his body began to transform, taking on the characteristics of the nearby stone. As his size and shape changed, so did the balance of the boulder atop him, and eventually he managed to roll it off. By the time he made it back to civilization, he was a fully formed rock-man.
Uniform: Brown dexflan, similar to a weightlifting singlet.
Qualities: Master (+6) Strength, Good (+2) Campfire Tales, Good (+2) Loyalty, Good (+2) Survival Skills
Poor (-2) Dexterity
Powers: Good (+2) Invulnerability, Good (+2) Super-Armor, Good (+2) Super-Endurance
Motivation: To keep people safe.

* * *

The Sterbenfeld device, whose name literally means "death field," was a German invention during World War II. It's what the Axis powers were working on instead of an atomic bomb. They never got the killing field that wide, but they did make a very effective tool for killing every living thing within its radius, without affecting anything else. It is profoundly creepy in a way that's difficult to specify. Here it was used as a type of doomsday device or self-destruct mechanism. Mainstream media uses these all the time, but they almost never work exactly as intended; here it did. The result is that everybody's dead and the island is too quiet, both signs that some serious shit went down.

Self-sacrifice raises interesting ethical questions. Here we have a heroic sacrifice resulting in a mutual kill. By someone who almost certainly was not a superhero or even supernary, just an ordinary person determined to stop one of the truly batshit crazy supervillains from getting his hands on lethal goods.

Sexing skeletons is possible based on bone structure and other signs, and even has a scale of certainty. To be told at a glance, this skeleton probably belonged to a wide-hipped woman.

Sometimes soldiers will hand off their own medals as a show of respect. The Purple Heart goes to people wounded or killed in action. The Medal of Valor comes in multiple flavors, all relating to heroism.

Shocking, dark, and thought-provoking

Date: 2014-07-16 11:15 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Disturbing not for the Sterbenfeld device, but for the thought of /why/ attack that particular target rather than, say, Manhattan?

Dark, because so many people are portrayed as mere skeletal set dressing. That disturbs me in this universe, because it's NOT commonly done, unlike Marvel (where nobody bothers to point out how many people died when the stadium went for a walk) or in DC, where it's hovering at the line of 'gore porn' almost by default. This... is far more effectively done.

Thought provoking, because I wonder if anyone escaped the field, or if the field interacted with non-mammalian life. Does it kill plants, too? How low on the 'life' scale? Yeast? Etc. You see where I'm heading; yet another incident with very, very unpredictable consequences.

Sometimes, all someone has is the /hope/ that they've done the right thing. She was a hero.

Re: Shocking, dark, and thought-provoking

Date: 2014-07-17 12:59 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Every. Living. Thing.

Shudder.

Gah. Now /I/ might not sleep tonight!

Even with the potential to kill things like Ebola and the so-called superbugs...No. Just. NO. How deeply is the soil affected? You know it's completely sterilized now?

Talk about salting the earth!

Even MORE 'no'.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-17 12:43 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Creepy, in way that most comics aren't and reality can be...

and as an aside, although we don't have anything quite like the Sterbenfeld device, [thankfully] some really serious bio-containment labs have something like a 'gamma bomb' [specifically a sub-critical fission impulse device designed to produce gamma rays] or megawatt X-ray generator intended to do pretty much exactly that job. Kill everything within a specific radius.

Oh..and that's one nasty superpower Mandible had...and one very brave woman.

containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 01:01 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Okay, EVERYTHING within the radius dies... It isn't likely to affect an area larger than the facility, right? And they're not going to deploy it for something as banal as smallpox, either.

Now I'm creeped out by wondering what kind of biohazards are IN that facility.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 01:20 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
It's an intense gamma or X-ray burst, it kills anything and everything within the outer containment walls [which are usually heavily shielded while the interior lab walls are basically drywall.] and almost everything anywhere up to half a mile outside that due to spalling from the shielding and bremsstrahlung radiation if they use a 'gamma bomb'. [that uses an intense neutron burst to generate the gamma.]

Put it this way.. things like ebola and the reconstructed 1918 flu [and smallpox if they had it] are contained in a category 5 containment facility.. this, this is the sort of thing they use for cat 7 labs.

Whatever it is, it's serious shit... and very, very classified.
Edited Date: 2014-07-17 01:21 am (UTC)

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 01:42 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I'm getting a definition for spalling that is from geology-- flaking/crumbling rock. Clearly, that's not what you meant.

Let me ask the most pertinent question, rather than fuss around looking for a more precise definition-- Things within half a mile or so go directly to the afterlife of their choice, do not pass 'go,' do not collect cancerous cells and genetic damage?

Or more like a souped-up hydrogen bomb? Smaller bomb, larger and more immediately lethal blast of radiation? BUT, given a certain distance past the main pulse, survivors may have genetic effects?

I'm not even going to /begin/ to theorize about what could be /so/ dangerous, or volatile, as to warrant that kind of response, beyond half-jokingly suggesting that the "black oil" from the X-Files seems like a good candidate.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 10:34 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Spalling is when neutrons smack into and through stuff like aluminium, producing a burst of gamma and x-rays on the other side. [it's named after what happens to the inside surface of armour when you fire a shell at it, even if it doesn't penetrate, it blasts stuff off the other side.]

Which is basically how a gamma bomb works. You have a sub-critical mass of plutonium or uranium, so that when you smack them together it don't quite explode... but it does produce a chain reaction generating an intense neutron burst [lasting several tens of seconds before it burns itself out]. This you wrap in a couple of feet of plastic, water and lithium so the neutrons then produce a hailstorm of secondary radiation, mostly gamma and some x-ray...

You are correct insofar as the edges of 'blast' are non-lethal but damaging. However, this is electromagnetic radiation not particle radiation. Basically, it'll fry stuff up to a point, after which it drops off sharply [inverse square law] so the area of affect goes from lethal to damaging to non-lethal fairly sharply... typically under a 100 feet or so.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-18 01:44 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Great to know! I spent the day in the library, and completely, UTTERLY forgot to look up spalling in the physics subcategories.

Thanks for the explanation.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 02:06 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Bremsstrahlung radiation-- converting electrons into protons as the particles slow down-- Responsible for the light flash?

Also, wouldn't the shielding on-site be layered? A sandwich of high-density material like lead with a low-density material like Plexiglas or water in between, to help offset both the initial radiation and the bremsstrahlung radiation? Would sheets of flowing, circulated water, like sheet fountains, be more effective than pipes? Or are we talking several feet of water between layers of lead?

I've no idea, just tossing off questions as they occur to me, as this is the first time I've met this concept.


Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 10:40 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
I don't know the details of the shielding... but you're probably right kinda. Bear in mind that the design of the place is such that there is no interior shielding because they want anything inside, plus a buffer zone around the facility in case it gets beyond the doors, to be thoroughly irradiated if the failsafe is triggered.

Actually, I'm not sure why they bothered with shielding.. given that the facility is located somewhere very isolated. [the actual location of course is classified, probably to stop madmen trying to break in.] I'd presume there's more to the facility, support staff etc, outside the death zone.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-18 01:45 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I'd shield just to make it easier to get approval and to clean up after the fact IF the system were deployed. In the meantime, I'm certain the same shielding is considered a reassuring bonus to the people who work there.

Re: containment procedure

Date: 2014-07-17 10:49 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Actually, not necessarily bioweapons. That article is flippantly written, but basically accurate... because I know one of the researchers who worked on that. He's now part of a CDC/UN task force [part time, he has a day job.] that supposed to respond to stuff like that could've been.

Cat 5 is pandemic stuff, kills lots of people but not threatening on a species level. Cat 6 probably deals with bioweapons etc.. cat 7 is supposed to deal with things that could cause extinction level events. But even the existence of such labs is classified, no-one will confirm nor deny that they've been built much less where and why.

Edited Date: 2014-07-17 10:55 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-17 01:02 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
(to self) OMG
(shakes head) Whoof!
That's a powerful story.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-07-17 01:47 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Thanks for the warning.

I know it seems incongruous that I'm asking all kinds of questions about /real/ containment, for a /theoretical/ breach, but I can COPE with that just fine.

That visceral, gut-punch 'DEAD down to MICROBE levels' in the story ITSELF warrants the warning, though. That's what's going to make me want to lift weights until I can't any longer, before trying to sleep.

Putting a warning on it isn't overreacting, because it's the /shock/ and /horror/ that merits the warning, not the procedure alone, at least in my opinion.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-17 03:08 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
You have put the hair on my neck up worse than any horror movie in the past decade. That's /awesome./

It took a moment for it to sink in that the bodies hadn't decayed, because there was nothing to cause them to decay, and then another moment to wonder how long that field effect lasted, that nothing has recolonized them yet. Sure, bacteria creeping across a surface are slow, but the wind blows. Granny Whammy is a brave woman, to walk back into that.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-07-21 09:51 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
That's good! I got the oogies over the possibility that a miscalculation could send a team into an active field.

impressions of starkness

Date: 2016-10-12 06:10 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> I don't write a lot of horror, but when I do, it tends to spook people for real. Blood and guts, meh. I'm more likely to go for things that create a real sense of wrongness. <<

You succeeded brilliantly with this piece. It probably helps that I have memories of driving around our metro area in mid-December 2006, after the windstorm that took out ALL the power electricity in a 20+ mile radius. Some areas were without power electricity for a week or more. Seeing miles and miles of human habitations all dark, with nobody on the streets, was unsettling in a way I'll never forget.

>> The first time somebody fired this weapon, it took them a while to figure out what was happening and why. <<

SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT! *THIS* wasn't the first time?! *shudder*
Part of me wants to ask, and another part does *not* want to know. Gonna go with the latter on this.

My favorite part of the poem is when Granny Whammy took off her Purple Heart and Medal of Valor and put them *inside* the corpse of the (as yet) unknown hera. The solemnity of the gesture, and the weight of meaning to it, really impressed me.

I'm wondering, *will* we ever find out the name of that hera? Somebody *somewhere* must have personnel records for the facility; they should at least be able to narrow it down to a handful of people, right? I can see how they might not be able to identify the exact person, if whatever that lethal device was obliterated all the DNA along with the soft tissue.

Overall, I find the piece... sobering, but not disturbing or devastating. Perhaps my life experience "buffers" me in ways that others don't have the benefit of.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-17 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The description of Stonewall from the endnotes is really great, I hope we get to see him again.

This was interesting

Date: 2016-11-04 01:02 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Scary, and sad, and chilling. and also weirdly confusing...

Because now you also have my brain going "wait what?! Their guts would begin being a bit soupy at least internally not from the presence of bacteria but because of the intestinal enzymes and acids related to digestion...peptids, -lases, HCl, and the like are only buffered by the constant work of the mucosal lining producing mucous that keeps those compounds from digesting the tissues they are produced by (the failure or death of those mucous producing cells can be a cause of very painful peptic ulcers in some people) so without the mucous production, eventually those digestive juices would begin the process of breaking down the tissues from the inside....

resulting in ick. Even in the presence of sterility...

Unless the Field has the ability to denature enzymes as well as rip the ATP production process apart (nearly every living thing uses ATP processes for cellular energy from blue whales to plants to fungi to single celled bacteria...cut that off at the pass and...well. Dead. Everything Is Dead.) Which is a scarier thought.

Because if you've figured out how to halt ATP production or usage in an instant...that is some Serious Shit.

Re: This was interesting

Date: 2016-11-07 04:08 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
any way you slice it...Serious Shit

the comment about Ashley makes me wonder if someone at SPAZMAT is about ready to vibrate out of their clothes with the excitement of that possibility, Ashley utilizing her powers for things like guaranteed Total Sterilization (since if you can develop a material that withstands the venom cloud, I think even friggin PRIONS would be eradicated, and that would make any scientist/biologist/medical professional worth their salt absolutely SALIVATE since prions are the only known biological contaminants at the moment which cannot be destroyed by traditional autoclaving technique...they're an enzymatic protein which denature any tissue they target and transform the building blocks of that tissue into more of themselves

O_O IS CHAYNE A FRIGGIN ZECTECTIC PRION?!?!?! SCARY STUFF THAT THOUGHT!

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