ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the October 7, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] chanter_greenie[personal profile] mdlbear, and Shirley Barrette.  It also fills the "suicide" square in my 7-30-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo  fest.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem deals with some intense and controversial issues. Some of the warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. It talks about historic suicides, possible murder, assisted suicide in battlefield conditions, homosexuality, kink, vulgar and derogatory language, discrimination against smart people, homophobia, despair caused by social pressure, and other cultural ills. Please think carefully about whether or not this is something you want to read.


"The Lights Behind Us"

 

[June 7, 1954]

Whammy Lass sat on the ratty little cot
in the breakroom of the SPOON office,
crying into her handkerchief.

"Are you all right?" asked Franz.

"No," she said.  "He was one of us."
She waved a hand at the crinkled paper
lying beside her on the cot.  "Alan Turing
killed himself earlier today.  He left a note.
His family wired a message to me."

Franz skimmed over the lines.
"He was super-smart and he
could 'hear' technology.  The British
hounded him to death for being a pervert,"
the engineer said.  Then he dropped the page
and flung up his hands.  "Who cares?
Half of Germany likes to dress in leather
and flog each other up against a wall!"

Whammy Lass groaned.  "I do not
need to know what a bunch of krauts
like to do for a good time, Franz!"

"Be that as it may, I think suicide
is likely to remain an ongoing problem
for people with special powers," Franz said.

"Bigotry  is the bloody fucking problem,"
Whammy Lass snarled, throwing
her hankie onto the mattress.

"Conceded," Franz said.  "However,
suicide is a well-known response to
that kind of persecution.  It's a matter of
having a distal problem and a proximate problem."

"We need to do something about this,"
Whammy Lass said.  "He was one of us.
If we'd known sooner, maybe we could have
done something to help him.  Now it's too late."

"Most people think of suicide as a moral failing
in the individual, not a flaw in society," Franz said.

"Most people  have never had to help
a gut-shot soldier hold the knife,"
Whammy Lass growled.  "Moral failing,
my super-powered ass."

"We've been trying to identify other people
with unusual abilities," Franz said.
"Just knowing they're not alone might help."

"Alan Turing knew enough to tell his family
to send me that note, and he's still dead,"
Whammy Lass said.  "We need to do more.
Maybe we could make a charity fund or something
for people with superpowers who are in trouble."

"That's a start," Franz said.  "It makes me wonder,
though, just how many of us there are -- or were.
We can't be the first.  There have always been
stories about heroes doing extraordinary things."

"It would be interesting to look through history
and see if we could find some earlier soups,"
Whammy Lass agreed.

So the two of them went to the library
and dug into references of the odd,
the eccentric, the mad, and the crackpots.

Most of it seemed to be either nonsense or
exaggeration, but a few references panned out.

They found Alberto Santos-Dumont,
a Brazilian aviator known for his
studies and experiments in aeronautics.
While some of his designs had gone into
production, others could never be replicated.

"Gizmology or super-gizmology?"
Franz wondered as he read further.

"Air elemental," Whammy Lass suggested.
"People thought he was a nutjob -- they used
the phrase 'wings of madness' repeatedly
and implied that he made things fly by magic
instead of by technology."

"Another suicide," Franz murmured,
tracing a finger over the yellowed article.

"Or possibly a murder," Whammy Lass
said grimly, and showed him her book.

The next one they agreed upon
was Nikola Tesla.  "Super-smart,"
they both said at the same time.

"Super-gizmologist," Franz added.

"I was thinking some kind of
energy manipulation," Whammy Lass
said, tapping a pencil on her notebook.

"It says he had an eidetic memory and
slept only two hours a night," Franz read.
"Can people have more than one superpower?"

"I know Gandhi can read both minds and feelings,
but it really seems like a single power for him,
even though I've met a couple of other people
who had only one or the other," said Whammy Lass.
"I have yet to meet anyone I'm sure  has multiple gifts."

"There's the French legend of La Petite Mort,"
Franz said, pointing to another book,
"and that's not the only tale of a tiny assassin
with an assortment of unbelievable powers."

Whammy Lass snorted.  "Unbelievable
is the word for it.  We're not here for fairy tales."
She turned a page.  "We should be grateful
that Tesla never completed his energy weapons,
or at least never released any.  Some of these
sound too close to the Sterbenfeld for my comfort."

"He died in poverty," Franz observed.

"We really  need a charity fund,"
Whammy Lass said.  "I can lift a tank,
but I can't hold down a job for the life of me.
I'm seeing a pattern here that I do not like."

"The thing about smart people," said Franz,
"is that we seem like crazy people to dumb people."

"I don't want their efforts to be forgotten,"
Whammy Lass said.  "I don't want to be left
with nothing more than the lights behind us,
shining on the dark water of history."

"What else can we do about it?" Franz said.

"I'm a war hero," said Whammy Lass.
"That has to be good for something.
I could try accepting more of those
silly invitations for public speaking."

"People don't listen," Franz said.

"Well then," said Whammy Lass,
"I'll have to make  them listen."

* * *

 

 

Notes:

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a famous inventor.  Special thanks to [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah for mentioning elsewhere the Tesla fluid valve, which is an awesome piece of gizmology extant in our world too.  In Terramagne it is THE preferred type of valve for gizmos and super-gizmos anywhere it will fit, precisely because it is so durable.

Alberto Santos-Dumont (20 July 1873 – 23 July 1932) studied aeronautics in Brazil.  He was a gizmologist as well as a soup.  Special thanks to [personal profile] chanter_greenie for identifying the source of his Air Powers as the custom wristwatch built by Louis Cartier.  The watch has since been passed down through the Santos-Dumont family.  Since it can only enhance a power, not bestow one, it doesn't always seem to "do" anything for its wearers, and has the reputation of being a "lucky charm" that only works if it likes you.

The watchmaker Cartier himself was one of several supergizmologists responsible for France's eclectic supply of accessories that activate, grant, or enhance superpowers.  In fact, the Cartier watches with their original square design underlie Terramagne's evolution of the vidwatch decades later, as the square pilot watch never gave way to round ones as in our world.  The first generation of anything like an actual vidwatch premiered during World War II when the T-Allies enjoyed a few true wireless telephones rather than the clunky radiotelephones of Local-Allies.  In 1942, Louis Cartier delivered one case of 24 of gizmotronic wristwatches with a telephone function (not all the later bells and whistles of modern ones) shortly before his death.  These were later retro-engineered by the Cartier family to produce mass-market versions, although it took decades for them to gain real popularity.

Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) has been counted the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.  In our world, it is believed that he committed suicide, although some of his relatives believe his death was accidental.  In Terramagne, he made it explicitly clear that he was going to take his ball and go home, and why.

Suicide affects other people.  It's important to understand that someone else's suicide was not your fault.  However, bullying correlates with suicide.  If society makes people's lives unlivable, it is no surprise that some of the victims cease living, so the first step to preventing suicide is making sure that people have decent lives and are protected from torment.  Understand how to deal with suicidal thoughts and how to help someone who is suicidal.  These remain ongoing challenges for soups in Terramagne, on top of all the issues shared with our world such as bullying and bigotry.

For decades in the early and middle 1900s, Germany was a hotbed of thinly concealed sexual adventure with a thriving nightlife if you knew where to find it.  Some references to this appear in the history of BDSM.

Kraut is a rude term for German, most used during WWI and WWII.  Whammy Lass simply never dropped the habit; she doesn't think that all Germans are inherently bad people, but she had enough bad experiences to leave a lasting impression.  The common ground of superpowers makes it possible for her and Franz to form a friendship, but there's always a thin membrane separating them and sometimes they bug the hell out of each other.  They've decided to tolerate each other's irritating habits anyway.

Bigotry has negative effects on the speaker and other people.  Know how to respond to bigotry and fight homophobia.

Suicide is not a moral failing, but a result of having more pain than coping methods.  Sometimes it's because of missing life skills or depression, but other times it's due to poverty, torment, or other crushing external circumstances.  Not talked about nearly as much, but ubiquitous throughout human warfare, is the use of suicide or mercy killing for gravely wounded soldiers when medical care is unavailable.  The morality of suicide and assisted death is very complex.

La Petite Mort means "the little death" and most often refers to orgasm, but it has some other macabre associations.  In Terramagne it is a French nickname for Dr. Infanta.

Sterbenfeld device -- a super-gizmo dating from World War II, whose name literally means "death field."  It generates a plane of energy fatal to everything.  The Germans never had very many of these, and couldn't get the area of effect large enough to outstrip conventional weaponry, but it was still terrifying.  The technology remains rare but has appeared in modern times.

Among the issues for gifted people is that they are often considered crazy by those who do not understand them.  They rarely get the support they deserve.  There are tips for raising smart children and support gifted children.

Painful

Date: 2014-10-14 06:28 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
But... I think you handled the grieving, frustration and the topic of suicide quite well.

The interesting thing is a simple, fleeting impression. Whammy Lass calling a subset of Germans "some Kraut" didn't come across as true bigotry, more like the mental gap between GERMANS (whom she likes and respects, as is clear with Franz) and KRAUTS, who are a bunch of, well, incomprehensible strangers, rather than purely evil madmen or degenerates. Yet it was a snapshot, drawn from the two words juxtaposed against her conversation with Franz... Well, well done. Yes, it is racist, but it doesn't show /hopelessly/ racist or even /angrily/ racist behavior.

Re: Painful

Date: 2014-10-14 07:36 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
The most lingering effect I can imagine is that she'll be less likely to /forgive/ or suggest /clemency/ for someone who does something not just illegal but ethically reprehensible who is a member of this particular subgroup.

Which, of course, makes me think that the early Nazi war crimes tribunals went similarly to ours, but that the ones /after/ that picked up speed rather than petering out for lack of evidence. Whammy Lass kept reminding people of the /millions/ who weren't Jewish, just /different/ who died for that, and that made the Holocaust EVERYBODY'S problem.

Since I am an optimist, I /hope/ that there were more acknowledgments of political prisoners, gays, religious minorities (Seventh Day Adventists among them), the Rom, and disabled who were /also/ wiped out simply to /prepare/ for their so-called Final Solution.

Re: Painful

Date: 2014-10-15 02:33 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
What if Boarskin doesn't /stay/ with the Marionettes as long as Glyn does? Oddly, we reverse who backs out and have BOARSKIN settled in a foster family in the US after a run-in with Whammy Lass?

Re: Painful

Date: 2014-10-15 11:09 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I've made notes! This has so much potential either way, that it's going to be fun to /develop/.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-14 04:06 pm (UTC)
brushwolf: Icon created by ScaperDeage on DeviantArt (Default)
From: [personal profile] brushwolf
Well, this is timely.

I really, really hate the idea that there's something morally wrong or weak about people who suicide. It's very much a black-and-white, absolute-evil-exists take on the world, and I figure that like a lot of how we react to psych problems, it's a simplification to try and be more comfortable with stuff which is pretty inherently uncomfy. Thinking it through, if I assume people have the capability to be both good and incredibly caught up in themselves (and things leading towards suicidal ideation are basically perception folding you more and more inwards into this little tiny world of hurt after all), so it makes sense that someone could be a pretty awesome person and yet hurt people profoundly with the act of punching out early.

Huh. You know... the only criticism I have here is that somehow the language use feels off from Greatest Generation. Something I've noticed about people that age is that they could be really accepting of things like homosexuality, ethnic differences, suicide, and divorce, but that a lot of their coping mechanisms involved not talking about it openly. Maybe differences in tech and superpowers mean that Terramagne got some really subtle social differences as well?

I really liked that "Helping Your Highly Gifted Child" link -- this is pretty much the first place I've seen someone state that how a smart kid develops is not some sort of even across-the-board thing, where immediately they can hack all social and intellectual challenges with the same level of proficiency.

Last, with LGBT people and superpowers, "La Petite Mort" gets me thinking; Chevalier d'Eon maybe? She sure sounds like someone with almost superhuman agility and endurance.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-10-15 04:58 pm (UTC)
brushwolf: Icon created by ScaperDeage on DeviantArt (Default)
From: [personal profile] brushwolf
All kids have a spread of things they do early, average, or late; but for gifted children the range tends to be extreme. Holding them responsible for being brilliant at everything is oblivious at best and abusive at worst.

Yeah, but this is a really new concept to me. All along being smart was phrased as this toggle switch where either I was the capable genius kid who could figure out everything and fit those requirements, or I was this incompetent moron with a side of maliciousness to my ineptitude. And this felt completely unrealistic, even a little at the time, but I hadn't thought too much about how and why. "Because, especially while a kid's still developing, their emotional, physical and intellectual skills are all over the map" is a pretty rational how and why.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-10-17 02:03 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
One of the biggest problems for gifted adults is that because of how few people realize we grow up lopsided in our abilities, we usually stay lopsided when we've matured. And then we're missing social skills or everyday stuff that most other folks understood at the "usual" ages. Without someone to compensate and teach us the underlying principles, we end up making do for years before we really begin to understand how these under-developed skills work. A relationship with a gifted person has to start by relating to them as a person, but often the gifted person is almost too focused on their personal field of interest -- a big reason many intimate relationships with geeks fail, because the other party gets tired of trying to speak our language and don't want to be interpreters.

This means that a linguist or anthropologist may be quite compatible with other geeks, but of course they want to geek out about their personal interests! If the individuals aren't really relating to each other, introducing a common interest may help them develop a common language.

It's really about the interface: will we be able to speak the language of those around us enough to understand that world? Because most others won't adapt to us. If we have something in common and the willingness to let small thoughts become big ones over time (the natural course of conversation and relationships), we have a much better chance of figuring things out.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-10-18 01:53 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
Ysabet, would you be willing to discuss this further? I'd love to work with you on this subject. I have friends across the internet who are still struggling with exactly these issues.

Also, my own creative process works best when I have a friend I can bounce ideas off of from time to time.

you said it

Date: 2016-09-24 07:16 am (UTC)
callibr8: (hodag)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> That right there is why so many gifted people, like abused children, learn that they must be of use <<

This here VoE (voice of experience) will affirm that the above goes double increases exponentially when both conditions apply. Hooboy.

While the phrase "human being" is familiar linguistically, "human doing" is /much/ more familiar experientially.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-14 04:56 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>>"I don't want to be left
with nothing more than the lights behind us,
shining on the dark water of history."<<

Oh, lovely image. Chilling, but beautiful.
This also aligns perfectly with how a lot of folks seem to see the world; all the luminaries behind and nothing ahead but the darkness (upon the hungry deep).

I love how Dr. Infanta has a presence in so many of these, even when she doesn't.

The emotional tone rings brilliant in this one.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-14 08:12 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I love the off-hand dismissal of Dr. Infanta as a fairy-tale. *chuckle*

"The thing about smart people," said Franz,
"is that we seem like crazy people to dumb people."

All too true.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-16 10:44 am (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a starscape, including a spiral galaxy (on a quest for a jewel)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
You already know I love this. I am sooooo tempted to prompt you for Terramagne's Alberto Santos-Dumont. As I've said, a potentially acefolk air elemental working in that world circa 1900 gives me the shiny eyes, whether or not he lets his abilities show in public.

Uh-oh. I'm now imagining at least one modern-day Brazilian soup drawing inspiration from him. Not sure who they are, where in Brazil they're from or what their ability or abilities are, but if they acknowledged him somehow... <3.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-10-17 11:56 pm (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a starscape, including a spiral galaxy (on a quest for a jewel)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
Oh shards. I just read "Look Both Ways" and saw the notes on French supergizmology and related artifacts. Cartier's watch! The one he made specifically for Santos-Dumont for use while in flight! Could *that* be an inherited artifact with some sort of imbued ability(s) or power to enhance/focus what's already there, similar to what Claire's compact does? I'm imagining it strengthening or activating ability(s) related to its owner rather than its maker, although... hmm. The question might arise just *whose* supergizmology powered it up. It could even be supergizmology layered on gizmology, if Cartier had a talent of his own. And who said he didn't?

If that hypothetical watch wound up in the hands of a shirt tail relative of Santos-Dumont's somewhere in Menas Gerais... oh, dear. I am in so much trouble. The good kind, that is. :P

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-10-18 02:42 am (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a starscape, including a spiral galaxy (on a quest for a jewel)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
*glances at notes, grins like a fool* Thank you. I can absolutely see Santos-Dumont with already-active air powers getting an upshift, pun intended, from Cartier's watch. I'm sure Cartier knew at least some of what he was handing over to his friend, too, extensive knowledge of superpowers during that time period or otherwise. :D

I think I will be prompting for that relative down the generations. Now I want to know them. Great great niece or nephew? Great great nidling, anyway? If Santos-Dumont was acefolk, which is purely my own happy suspicion...

I bet Cartier has some soup descendants of his own somewhere, now that I think about it. And tangentially, you know, Tesla *does* have descendants around in our own universe, so I wonder...

See also: That semi-articulate steampunk-y flaily state I mentioned backchannel. This'd be me going in that direction. :) 3Q or is it <3q for a mostly happy flappy hand?

(no subject)

Date: 2014-11-02 05:56 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
I see I wasn't the only Yank who picked up swearing like a Brit...

Cartier still makes these watches today, just, sadly, no supergizmology.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-11-03 07:02 am (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Mais oui, ce montre bracelet est très beau.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-10-16 02:53 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: Drawing of Helga, holding her sword, looking upset. (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Oh, wow. This just. I have brain-weasels that try to tell me that life would just be easier for everyone I know if I weren't here. Reading about the impact of suicide on others helps, it reminds me that, no, people would be devastated if I checked out.

I'm glad that Whammy Lass is trying to do something.

When they said they were looking for historical soups, I immediately thought Herakles and Gilgamesh. Wrong era. Have you touched on that?

Being gifted sucks, sometimes.

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