ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This story came out of a discussion between me and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, with contributions from both of us; it's so short, I don't want to muck around trying to divide a price. It also fills "The Classics Freestyle" square in my 6-11-14 card for the [community profile] fanbingo fest. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This story contains some rude language, weapons of mass destruction, references to crazy supervillains, and super-gizmologists with a shortage of common sense. Consider your tastes before you click through.


"Marketing Concerns in Mad Science"


When Steve saw the news report about what happened to the Iraqi village of Bashir, he blew a gasket.

"Jesus FUCK, John, you do NOT sell weapons of mass destruction to supervillains who will USE them! You sell that shit to people who make plausible bluffs and demonstrate on barren ground!" Steve said, waving a hand at the viewscreen on the wall and its scene of dusty devastation.

"But you sold the Jackass Hammer to Mr. Pernicious just last month, and he used it," John whined.

"First, the Jackass Hammer targets an individual victim and is intended as a direct response to the Egghead Beater," said Steve. "Second, there's a big difference between someone like Mr. Pernicious who is into fear and control, and someone like Haboob who wants to KILL PEOPLE."

"Didn't Mr. Pernicious run Dr. Doohickey through a woodchipper? I heard that was how he lost his legs," John said.

"Yeah, but that was a nemesis fight with a death trap affecting one guy. It didn't desiccate an entire town," Steve pointed out. He tapped the remote control against his palm. "Seriously, John, you need to be more careful. If you keep arming terrorists, you're going to bring the cops down on the whole Dweeb Team -- or worse."

"What could be worse than the cops?" John asked as he snatched the remote control and changed the channel to a rerun of Animaniacs.

"Hope we don't find out," Steve said grimly.

* * *

"Steve, Steve! I just got this great commission to build a weather conversion machine," John caroled. He waved a sheaf of papers in Steve's face. "It'll solve the greenhouse effect, but I'll be gone about two years, a little less if my first prototype goes as well as I want."

Steve plucked the papers from John's hand, read down to the travel/lab arrangements, and bit the inside of his cheek. "John, you just be sure you get the thing working right this time, okay? Take extra time if you need it."

John nodded, then bounced off like a tigger on a sugar high. Steve leaned against the wall and thumped the back of his head against it until the sound attracted another member of the gang.

"S'up?" asked Gail as she came into living room. A cybernetic ferret clung to her shoulder, chittering softly. So that was where everyone's socks had gone.

"John just got a commission from Dr. Infanta. He's going to be in freaking SIBERIA for the next two years," Steve explained. "How long do you think it'll take him to realize it's a punishment?"

Gail shrugged. "Dibs on his stereo. His room is bigger than yours, though, if you want to move into it."

"And risk getting blown up by something he forgot?" Steve stared at her, incredulous.

"Good point."

That was the main disadvantage of sharing a house with other Super-Gizmologists: having to call SPAZMAT whenever someone moved out.

* * *

Notes:

The Dweeb Team is a Westbord gang based in Silicon Valley. The members are all Gizmologists or Super-Gizmologists, most in their teens, a few in their early twenties. They pool resources for living and research space. They tend to make and sell things, often to supervillains, to finance projects in their own interests.

Joystick (John Homer) -- He has floppy brown hair, hazel eyes, and very pale skin. He is short and scrawny. He wears large clunky glasses. He is enthusiastic and hyper. What social skills he has are primarily centered in nerd culture. John joined the Dweeb Team because he had the relevant skills and needed a place to stay.
Joystick excels in manipulating hardware. He can build things and also control them with his superpower. He can also sense and influence the weather. His current interest lies in merging these things to create super-gizmos for weather control. Being young and inexperienced, he has not altogether figured out the difference between weather and climate.
Origin: When he was five, John's kindergarten class went on a carefully supervised tour of a super-gizmology lab. John slipped away, somehow got into the active parts of the lab, and accidentally blew it up. His new superpowers manifested while he was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries. He drove his parents and teachers nuts for years, building things and making trouble, until he finally ran away and/or was kicked out of home (he tells the story both ways) at fourteen.
Uniform: Gang t-shirt printed with motherboard lines, jeans, and tennis shoes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Nerd Culture, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Meteorology
Poor (-2) Wisdom
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Gizmology, Good (+2) Technokinesis, Good (+2) Weather Control
SunBrella: Good (+2) Localized Weather Control. Creates a traveling dry area within a rainstorm, with about a three-foot diameter.
Motivation: Because I can, that's why.

Safemode (Steve Watson) -- He has short black hair, brown eyes, and golden-fair skin. He wears small, neat glasses. He has a round face and chubby body. Steve keeps trying to grow a beard, but it barely shows. His ancestry is mixed Chinese-American. He likes wearing bright colors and patterns. He joined the Dweeb Team partly to pool resources, but also because they obviously needed someone to look after them.
Safemode specializes in security and safety equipment, along with firewall programs. The catch is that he wants to find ways of making very dangerous things safe to use, and it's difficult to get official permission or funding for that. He does very well at planning ahead to prevent problems, and very badly when something goes wrong anyway. As a sideline, he sometimes builds retaliatory weapons that are meant to level a playing field.
Origin: His powers manifested one at a time as he grew up. First came Technomancy, when he entered puberty and developed an intuitive sense of technology. Then came Super-Gizmology in high school. The Forcefield is a recent development and he doesn't have great control yet, but is fascinated by trying to incorporate it into devices for safety or security purposes. It would probably be growing in faster if he didn't keep injuring it while trying to attach it to things before he fully understands it. Sadly Safemode is better at protecting other people or things than himself, although he honestly tries to take precautions.
Uniform: Gang t-shirt printed with motherboard lines, jeans, and tennis shoes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Computer Programmer, Good (+2) Cook, Good (+2) Finance, Good (+2) Thinking Ahead
Poor (-2) Acting Fast in a Crisis
Powers: Good (+2) Forcefield, Good (+2) Super-Gizmology, Good (+2) Technomancy
MyLock: Good (+2) Security, Good (+2) Awareness. Learns its owner and refuses to open for anyone else; no key required.
Motivation: Money, but he prefers not to hurt people to get it, which limits his options.

Gopher (Gail Washington) -- She has curly blonde hair, gray eyes, and fair skin. She keeps her hair long; for work, she puts it up in a bun, but it tends to come loose and straggle everywhere. She loves music. Gail likes wearing cute, fashionable clothes when not in uniform. She belongs to the Dweeb Team because she's tired of trying to get any respect at conventional institutions. Membership in the gang is strictly meritocratic.
Gopher interfaces animals and technology. She has built cyborg and robotic animals, developed artificial life in cyberspace, and designed equipment for animals. So far her best-selling device, a collaboration with Safemode, is a minesweeper backpack for dogs trained to clear minefields. As a pro bono hobby, she makes prosthetic gear for handicapped animals. There is a circus elephant actively performing with a prosthetic trunk of her design.
Origin: While pregnant, Gail's mother worked as a cleaning lady in a lab building that analyzed Gizmology and Super-Gizmology materials. Gail was born with her superpowers not merely active but conspicuous, as her first words on arrival were, "Hi, Mom!" The obstetrician dropped her in shock. Fortunately Gail landed on the delivery bed and was not seriously injured, but it gave her some early doubts about the reliability of men.
Uniform: Gang t-shirt printed with motherboard lines, jean skirt, and tennis shoes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cleaning Things, Good (+2) Concentration, Good (+2) Fashion Sense, Good (+2) Knowledge of Animals, Good (+2) Pretty
Poor (-2) Pushy
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-Gizmology, Good (+2) Super-Intellect
Rikki: Expert (+4) Cybernetic Ferret. Skills similar to a live ferret, but programmable. Mostly. Sort of. Well, it's more trainable than a live one.
Motivation: Girls CAN TOO do engineering. So BITE ME.

* * *

Weapons of mass destruction are intended to affect many people and/or structures at once. In our world the main categories include nuclear, radiological, biological, and chemical; Terramagne adds gizmological and super-gizmological categories. Whether used in entertainment or real life, these devices raise serious ethical concerns. They often require distinguishing between a credible threat and a bluff. This is vital to creating suspense or practicing terrorism; many threats are credible in Terramagne that would not be in other superhero settings, because grave things have actually happened on an individual or mass scale.

Superheroes and supervillains adhere to different but overlapping standards of behavior. Superheroes have a greater sense of responsibility and more lines they will not cross, which tends to limit what they do. Someone like Stalwart Stan has a pretty concise range of action. Now compare a punch clock villain like Cold Cash with a batshit crazy terrorist like Haboob, noting that Mr. Pernicious falls somewhere in between. Haboob is not just a mad bomber but also a person of mass destruction in his own right. Quoting from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike explains why most villains don't really want to go so far as to destroy the world. They understand that 1) you can't milk a dead cow, and 2) you shouldn't saw off the branch you're standing on. Thinking like a supervillain, however, actually allows someone to use their powers more forcefully in pursuit of laudable as well as selfish goals. The entire top two layers of supervillains are either fully bifocal, or want to have people and a world available for their use; this includes world-class supervillains such as Dr. Infanta and far-reaching ones like the Puppetmaster. The bugfuck ones just never develop that much influence, limited by their own flaws.

Bashir is a village in Iraq which has been a target of terrorism.

Both the death trap and the nemesis are widespread tropes in superhero storytelling. The rules of engagement are a little different for this context, compared to general combat, because consenting adults are allowed to do things with each other that nonconsenting bystanders might not enjoy. In my desert language Seshaa, there's a whole batch of vocabulary for this, including concepts of "best enemy" and "negative resonance."

Animaniacs is a cartoon about particularly wild young characters.

A weather control machine is a super-gizmo which harnesses the power of weather manipulation. Although rarely used for practical purposes in entertainment, here it is proposed as a solution for the greenhouse effect and global warming, a serious problem in Terramagne because it's impacting the interface with other dimensions. As if it wasn't bad enough in our world already. This is an application of geoengineering, which is more feasible there than it is here, but you can see the potential for disaster if it goes wrong.

Ferrets have a well-earned reputation for stealing everything. Now imagine these as cybernetic ferrets.

SPAZMAT is the equivalent of HAZMAT for dealing with superpowered issues. It stands for Super-Powered Assessment, Zetetics, Management, And Transport.

Zetetic -- as an adjective, it means "proceeding by inquiry and investigation." As a noun, zetetist means "inquirer" and zetetics means "an inquiry" or the field itself. In Terramagne, this is the field of study which analyzes (or attempts to analyze) gizmos and super-gizmos. It is distinct from gizmology and super-gizmology in that it does not aim to create new devices, but rather to understand and perhaps duplicate existing ones. Zetetic consultants are essential for police, who sometimes gather evidence from labs active in gizmology or super-gizmology.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-23 02:18 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
MVCH FVN!!!

Expanded, FUN scenes

Date: 2014-07-23 03:28 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I love the little details that fleshed this out, and I love the character stats because they help me fix the characters in my head, especially in a sketch.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-23 03:32 am (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
So, Steve's got nurturing instincts? I like this.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-23 04:04 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
Who's worse than the police? The very first name that springs to mind is Dr. Infanta.

Granny Whammy comes in there, too, though it might actually take more to get her involved.

I love this setting. <3

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-07-24 02:55 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>>Exactly. They have external rules to follow. Hers are internal. Interestingly, she does have a scale of acceptable force, hence sending a dumb kid genius to Siberia instead of killing him.<<

This is part of what makes her interesting, and part of what makes her read as a more 'real' and full character, especially in a genre where villains who want to burn everything down for the lulz/existential angst of it are commonplace.

I wonder if he's ever going to figure out that he's being intentionally isolated.

Now I'm playing with the idea of Granny Whammy and Dr. Infanta's areas of interest, based on the bits and pieces I've read.

... this is a -fun- game.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-08-25 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] book_worm5.livejournal.com
"It helps that Terramagne-America is better than local-America, but Granny Whammy thinks it's #1. It's not. It's #5 on the list of most soup-friendly countries, and the Republic of the Maldives is a whole order of magnitude better than anywhere else."

This makes me curious - what are #s 2 to 4?

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