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 prompts from [livejournal.com profile] siliconshaman and [livejournal.com profile] kestrels_nest. It also fills the "sand" square on the Spring and Autumn Bingo public card. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


Sink or Swim


Fact: The Republic of the Maldives
has an average ground level elevation
of 1.5 meters above sea level,
and a natural highest point
of 2.4 meters, making it
the lowest country on Earth.

Fact: Global sea level is rising
at a rate of 3.5 millimeters per year,
and the rate is increasing,
with conservative estimates
between 0.8 and 2 meters by 2100
and more catastrophic estimates
of 7 meters or more.

Fact: President Mamadou Latheef
is responsible for keeping his country
alive, healthy, prosperous,
and preferably above water.

President Latheef sighs
and tries to rub away the small line
entrenching itself between his eyebrows.
His responsibilities slip through his fingers
as if he is trying to grasp dry sand.

He can see the problem quite clearly,
and an assortment of possible solutions,
but even his excellent skill at diplomacy
is limited by the resources at hand.

He does not have the money or the leverage
to pressure large countries like China
and Russia and the United States
into cutting out those activities
that cause climate change.

What he does have
is political control of a country
which happens to be
an utterly beautiful place to live.

Perhaps, he thinks,
I can use these resources
to entice the aid of more powerful allies
.


Muriel Green is reading on the beach
when she comes across the ad:


WANTED: People with superpowers
to assist the Maldives in withstanding
the ravages of climate change. Elementals
with Water or Earth especially solicited.
Offer includes citizenship, government seat,
picturesque lodging, and generous pay.
Must be willing to immigrate.
Visit our website for details.


In the several years since the accident
that left her with superpowers,
she has taken on the role of Aquariana
and worked to protect the waters of the world.

But. People stare at her all the time,
because she is bald and has webbed hands.
She goes nude as often as possible since her skin --
which is beginning to turn a fine shade of aquamarine --
no longer tolerates the dry rasp of clothing very well.

Her enemies have figured out that her power
grows in proximity to any large body of water and
diminishes the farther she goes onto dry land.

Aquariana is tired of getting kidnapped
and dragged into the plains or mountains
or, worst of all, the heart of some desert.

She looks at the map.
The Republic of the Maldives
lies amidst the Indian Ocean.
About 99% of its territory is ocean,
with the other 1% consisting of
a necklace of coral islands.

She looks at the rest of the website.
This little island country has
come to her attention before,
given its vulnerability to rising water
and its interest in green energy, but
the cultural conditions are a concern.

Evidently the recent upheavals
have enabled some political changes:
the new constitution is more democratic,
and the requirement of Muslim faith
has been starred with a footnote
that superpowered immigrants
of other religions are only asked
to respect local traditions, not convert.

Muriel's webbed fingers stroke her tablet,
whose adaptive programming allows her
to navigate more easily through the album
of images that show sparkling turquoise water,
white sand dotted with cowrie shells, and
palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze.

Here it is early spring,
a good time for new beginnings.

Muriel opens the application form,
activates her voice recognition software,
and begins to fill in the blanks.

I think, she muses,
that I could learn to love that place.


The Republic wants her,
Muriel realizes, when she receives
a complimentary plane ticket
and a hotel room in Malé.

She doesn't give herself time
for second thoughts; she just
packs a suitcase and goes.

The air is warm and wet
and full of salt from the ocean
that she can feel surging all around.
The sheer immensity of the water
is intoxicating to her.

Muriel meets with President Latheef
to discuss what they might do for each other.

He is bemused by her nudity,
even warned about it in advance,
but he bows to the necessity.
Perhaps it helps that she has
a trim, muscular build with minimal curves
and doesn't look as mammalian as she used to.

The role in government
turns out to be a cabinet seat.

"I can appoint whatever people I need,"
he explains, "subject to approval
from the People's Majlis.
I want to establish a new cabinet
for our super-immigrants, who will
all come with their own unique qualifications."

Muriel admits that she doesn't know
much about politics, but is willing to learn
if it helps protect the ocean.
She has a hard time not looking
out the window at it every five minutes.

President Latheef offers her a house
and a whole island to put it on.
She doesn't want either.
They talk about that,
and agree on a houseboat.

The salary is half again what she made
as a professional swimmer,
and twice what she's making now
as a superpowered environmentalist.

"About the matter of Islam ..."
the President says delicately.

Muriel sighs.
She can't deny
that it's an issue for her.

"You probably know that Haboob
is a nemesis of mine," she says.
"He doesn't exactly make a good impression.
Last month he dumped me in the Arabian Desert.
I almost died before I dragged myself to an oasis.

Outside the office window,
she can just see the waves glinting
between the tall buildings of Malé.

"Haboob is a disgrace of a Muslim,"
President Latheef says in an aggrieved tone.
"So many people think that we are all terrorists,
and fools like him only encourage them.
We hope you will give us a chance
to improve the impression."

"I'm not sure I can, but I'd like to try,"
Muriel says honestly. Something
about him makes her want to try.
"This entire development has been
pretty traumatic for me, and Haboob
has made everything a whole lot worse.
I don't want to be stuck in that mindset forever,
though, and I'm sick of getting kidnapped."

"It would be difficult for your adversaries
to reach you here, let alone extract you,"
the President points out. "Perhaps
additional security could be arranged,
given the pattern of past hazards."

"Maybe we could test it for a few months?"
Muriel suggests. "That would let us
get to know each other, and find out
how my power fits with this place."

President Latheef smiles then.
"We can test it right now, if you like," he says.
"I've seen you looking out my window,
and I'd like to see what you can do."

Muriel can think of nothing
but the water, calling and calling her,
even as the President leads her to the beach
kicks off his shoes, and rolls up his pants.

He walks beside her as she admires
the flawless white sand and the little bay
spreading out like riffled blue silk.

"Go on," he says.
"I know you want to."

It is Aquariana
who runs the last few steps
and dives into the warm, welcoming sea.


President Latheef stands on the beach
with a bodyguard holding his shoes,
wriggling his toes against the sand
as he watches the foreign woman
frolic like a dolphin in the bay.

She is nude, which is indecent,
but she is nearly the color of a dolphin
and hardly looks human anyhow.
It is still beautiful to watch.

Aquariana swims for hours
until the sun begins to set.
From time to time there are signs
of her power at work -- schools of fish
moving into and out of the bay,
waves rising and falling.

The President knows that she is one of
the strongest Water talents in the world;
he can well imagine what good she would be
for keeping his country in fresh water,
helping the coral reefs survive, and
buffering the effects of storms and tsunamis.

When she emerges from the ocean at last,
drops of water dripping from her like diamonds,
President Latheef takes one look at her face
and just knows that she will stay here,
however much she and his people may need
to stretch in order to accommodate each other.

In the world to come,
his country will have to sink or swim
on its own merits and on the strength
of the alliances it can make.

Looking at Aquariana,
he feels an upwelling of hope.

* * *

Notes:

Aquariana -- Muriel Green is a bald superhera with a swimmer's build: trim, muscular, flat-chested and narrow-hipped with slight waist.  She is 5'10" and weighs 140 lbs.  She has blue eyes.  Her skin is beginning to turn a soft aquamarine color.
Origin: While scuba diving, she experienced the rapture of the deep and nearly died as a result.  Dolphins carried her back to the surface.  When she recovered from the ordeal, she realized that she had influence over water and its creatures.  Other manifestations developed with time.
Uniform: None.  Literally.  She goes nude.
Qualities: Master (+6) Swimmer, Good (+2) Environmentalist, Good (+2) Fanbase
Poor (-2) Manual Dexterity (due to webbed hands)
Powers: Master (+6) Water Powers
This meta-power includes Control Water, Control Aquatic Life, and Beam of Water.  Her use of Water Form is iffy.
Limitation: Aquariana's super-powers grow stronger in or near a large body of water, but weaker the farther away she gets.  She tries to stay close by an ocean or lake.  Her enemies try to get her away from there.
 Her skin is sensitive, and not tolerant of clothing anymore.  She can only wear clothes briefly, and it's an uncomfortable distraction that downshifts both her qualities and powers.  This complicates everyday activities and travel.
Motivation: Protect the waters of the world.
Model: Staciana Stitts, swimming, 5'10" 140 lbs.

Mamadou Latheef, President of the Maldives -- Elected after recent upheavals, President Latheef won on a progressive platform to stabilize Maldivian culture and ensure the survival of the nation in the face of climate change.  He supports green energy, social programs, religious tolerance, and working with foreign interests for mutual benefit.  While his people are wary about the religious tolerance, they recognize the urgent need to make allies if they are to survive.  Mamadou has wavy black hair, black eyes, and brown skin.  He is short, slim, soft-spoken, and overall unimposing.  It's easy to underestimate him.  He does not even realize that his exceptional way of understanding the future and influencing people are superpowers rather than ordinary skills.
Origin: Mamadou was born with the ability to influence people, which has grown stronger with age and experience.  The extrapolative gift grew in later, probably around puberty.
Uniform: Business suit.
Qualities: Master (+6) Politician, Expert (+4) Environmentalist, Expert (+4) Family Man, Expert (+4) Seaside Skills, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Muslim, Good (+2) Tolerant, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Respect from Other Nations
Powers: Average (0) Super-Extrapolation, Average (0) Super-diplomacy
Motivation: Preserve the Republic of the Maldives.

Haboob -- He is an Iraqi supervillain whose name means Sandstorm.  Although he purports to be a holy warrior and likes to expound on the topic, he doesn't seem to have read the book.  Many Muslims feel that he misrepresents their faith, and they resent his violent tactics.  Haboob has brown skin, curly black hair, and brown eyes.  Nobody, including himself, knows his birth name.
Origin: Haboob's family was killed by American soldiers searching a village for weapons.  The adolescent Haboob was shot in the head and left for dead.  A freak storm destroyed the troop.  Haboob was found by a small terrorist cell and trained to fight.  Eventually he took over.
Uniform: Traditional desert garb of loose layered cotton clothes with a headscarf to keep out dust and cover the hair.
Qualities: Expert (+6) Terrorist, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Doumbek Player, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Survival
Poor (-2) Muslim
Powers: Master (+6) Desert Powers
This meta-power includes Control Sand, Control Wind, Control Desert Life, and Desiccation.  The sandstorm effect makes it unsafe for Haboob to fly the way many wind-powered people can, although he's trying to find a way around that.
Good (+2) Minions: The Kitab consists of nine lieutenants, each in charge of roughly a hundred regular troops.  Lieutenants have qualities of Expert (+4) Terrorist, any other Good, Poor (-2) Fanatically Devoted to Leader, and one Good (+2) superpower (often Energy Blast, Strength, Speed, or Invulnerability).  Troops have Good (+2) Terrorist, any other Good, and Poor (-2) Uneducated.
Limitation: Haboob's super-powers grow stronger in or near a desert, but weaker the farther away he gets. He tries to stay close by drylands. His enemies try to get him away from there.
Motivation: Destroy America and other foreign invaders.

* * *

The Republic of the Maldives lies in the Indian Ocean.  Its landmass consists of stunningly beautiful islands arranged in a double chain of atolls.  The capital city Malé lies on the island of the same name in the North Malé Atoll.

Rising sea level caused by climate change has many negative impacts.  The Maldives, as the lowest country on Earth, is especially vulnerable to this.

The political situation in the Maldives has been fraught with tension in recent years.  In our world, the current president is Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who replaced Mohamed Nasheed under murky circumstances.  Both of them have confronted the environmental issues threatening the Maldives, to some local effect, but with minimal leverage on a global stage.  In Terramagne, Mamadou Latheef won the 2013 election and is pursuing an ambitious plan to entice superpowered people to protect the country.

Diplomacy is the art of negotiating agreements among nations and pursuing mutually beneficial goals.  Take a peek at American diplomacy.  In addition to the official governmental representatives, however, much work is done by citizen diplomats -- which includes everyone who has traveled abroad, dealt in global issues, or worked to coordinate people around the world.  (That's us, by the way.)  Learn the basic skills of diplomacy and how to be diplomatic.  While Mamadou Latheef is fictional, I've based his abilities on real-life diplomats and peacemakers; this is definitely on the list of things that can be pushed into the super range with a combination of innate talent and diligent effort.

Webbed fingers and toes do appear on humans, a condition known as syndactyly.  It is usually a birth defect that impairs dexterity, as the digits fail to separate properly before birth, although occasionally a looser and more functional webbing appears.

Dexterity impairment ranges from a minor to a major handicap.  In Aquariana's case, the same physiology which allows her to swim better also hinders her ability to move her fingers independently, which makes it awkward for her to use tools or perform everyday tasks.  Adaptive equipment and programs can improve computer use.  Touchscreens may have alternate keyboard apps for people who need larger keys or other accommodations.  The most sophisticated programs under development can "learn" a user's disability and compensate for it automatically without requiring explicit commands.

It is possible to acquire your own island.  Within the Maldives lie well over a thousand islands, less than two hundred of them already inhabited.  They've got the beachfront property to spare.

A houseboat is designed for long-term residence, not just short trips.  Some resorts in the Maldives are made of houseboats.  For someone with water powers, this type of home is both pleasing and practical.

Islam is a complex and beautiful religion which currently prevails in the Maldives.  It supports environmental responsibility, religious tolerance, and human rights.  The rights of non-Muslims, especially residents, are to be respected; they have freedom of belief.  Not all Muslims do a good job of representing Islam; some are bad Muslims who do terrible things that are against the tenets of the religion.  Terrorism and racism are particularly reprehensible according to the Prophet.  In our world, the politics of this are touchy and not always perfectly in keeping with actual Islamic principles.  In Terramagne, a tolerant government has taken hold of the Maldives with a progressive agenda, somewhat hampered by more reactionary forces.

The Arabian Desert covers part of Iraq.  Haboob draws power from the desert much as Aquariana does from water, and his powers manifest accordingly.

Modesty is a principle of Islam for both men and women.  The President is making a big concession to put up with Aquariana's nudity.  She isn't thrilled about going around naked either, but it's better than rubbing her skin off.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin has a lighter blue color than common dolphins.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-26 03:53 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Dr.Whomster)
From: [identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com
Memo to self: To be followed, with interest.

In the interest of easing the nudity issue in a mostly-Muslim country, how feasible would it be to develop a cloak that Aquariana could wear? Some (new?) fabric that would not irritate her skin, and cut to ride very loosely and lightly on her? In Terramagne it shouldn't be too hard to do. Or maybe she could work out an arrangement with some other soup with appropriate powers: maybe a Wood elemental, for example (including plant matter generally, following the Chinese 5-element system). And with some clasp(s) that she could release in an instant to dive into action unfettered.

Typo:
•  Dessication
→ Desiccation
> From Latin desiccatus, past participle of desiccare to dry up, from de- + siccare to dry, from siccus dry. (MW online)

This is a very common error, because the spelling is doubly at odds with what we're used to:
1) /ɛ/ (short-e as in "lesson") followed by a single consonant letter instead of two or more before the next vowel, and
2) double letter "c" in "-iccation", from the Latin base word (siccus), instead of such common word-endings as "-ification", and words like "location" and "vacation" whose origins have single "c".
And we know there's a double letter in there somewhere!
Edited Date: 2014-03-26 04:06 am (UTC)

Fixed!

Date: 2014-03-26 04:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Memo to self: To be followed, with interest. <<

Yay! I'm glad you liked this so much. It introduces a major new theme in global politics for this setting.

>> In the interest of easing the nudity issue in a mostly-Muslim country, how feasible would it be to develop a cloak that Aquariana could wear? <<

Probably doable, although how soon is iffy. Part of the problem is that her body is still evolving. Her skin isn't finished yet, so it's hypersensitive and keeps wanting to dry out. Once it settles, it should be tougher, but will likely remain vulnerable to drying. She'll never be comfortable in conventional American clothes again, but something looser and lighter ought to work eventually.

>> Some (new?) fabric that would not irritate her skin, and cut to ride very loosely and lightly on her? In Terramagne it shouldn't be too hard to do. <<

A blend of capery and silk might work. I've been toying with the idea of something like that.

>> Or maybe she could work out an arrangement with some other soup with appropriate powers: maybe a Wood elemental, for example (including plant matter generally, following the Chinese 5-element system). <<

*makes note to develop Wood and Metal elementals*

An illusionist could give her visual modesty, at least. They may need to try several different things.

The local women will be horrified by this particular handicap, and probably fall all over themselves trying to figure out a way to cover her without irritating her skin.

>> And with some clasp(s) that she could release in an instant to dive into action unfettered. <<

Yes, that's a significant concern.

Typo:
• Dessication
→ Desiccation
> From Latin desiccatus, past participle of desiccare to dry up, from de- + siccare to dry, from siccus dry. (MW online)

This is a very common error, because the spelling is doubly at odds with what we're used to:
1) /ɛ/ (short-e as in "lesson") followed by a single consonant letter instead of two or more before the next vowel, and
2) double letter "c" in "-iccation", from the Latin base word (siccus), instead of such common word-endings as "-ification", and words like "location" and "vacation" whose origins have single "c".
And we know there's a double letter in there somewhere!

Re: Fixed!

Date: 2014-03-26 05:24 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I'm thinking some kind of very soft fabric that can be kept moist. The moisture would provide lubrication as well as keeping her skin from drying out.

Re: Fixed!

Date: 2014-03-26 07:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
That's a thought too.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-26 05:19 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I've always liked the idea of houseboats; one of my friends once had a girlfriend who lived on one.

I thought *very* seriously of living on a sailboat, back in my 20s, but that was before I became settled and sedentary.

Yay!

Date: 2014-03-26 07:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I find houseboats interesting too. Someone in our family had one that I got to peek at.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-27 10:21 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Plenty of houseboats here in Seattle. Problem is, relative to RE, *any* houseboat is TEENY... and no amount of Bigger on the Inside would ever hold all our stuff. Nevermind N could never put up with the constant bobbing...

But, damn. House concert on the water? COOOOOOL.

The story reminds me of Dave Weber's "Honor of the Queen", in which Captain Harrington saves Grayson's bacon, despite Grayson being a very patriarchal world where the idea of a woman in trousers, much less in uniform, is just unheard of... commanding a small squadron? Inconceivable!

The President there, however, reminds me of Protector Mayhew, who, despite his protectees' fears and prejudices, turns out to be rather open-minded... being married to not one but *three* strong women tends to do that to one. *feral grin*

Thoughts

Date: 2014-03-28 01:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Plenty of houseboats here in Seattle. Problem is, relative to RE, *any* houseboat is TEENY... and no amount of Bigger on the Inside would ever hold all our stuff. Nevermind N could never put up with the constant bobbing... <<

They're not for everyone, but for the right person, a good choice.

I don't think Aquariana is the kind to have a ton of "stuff." She was a professional swimmer and then turned superhera-environmentalist. Those are traveling professions. She probably has a small apartment; she could reasonably fit onto a nice houseboat, especially with adjunct storage ashore. And then it'll be easier for her to get around the islands, too.

>> But, damn. House concert on the water? COOOOOOL. <<

Sweet.

>> The story reminds me of Dave Weber's "Honor of the Queen", in which Captain Harrington saves Grayson's bacon, despite Grayson being a very patriarchal world where the idea of a woman in trousers, much less in uniform, is just unheard of... commanding a small squadron? Inconceivable! <<

*laugh* Yeah, I loved that. The Grayson culture is wonderful because it's not the obvious kind of patriarchy. *cough*lingerie catalog*cough*

>> The President there, however, reminds me of Protector Mayhew, who, despite his protectees' fears and prejudices, turns out to be rather open-minded... being married to not one but *three* strong women tends to do that to one. *feral grin* <<

Yeah, I should give him some wives. Aquariana is going to need a flock of local women to help her; that's a good place to start. Thanks for the idea.

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