ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This is the freebie for the July 2014 Crowdfunding Creative Jam, inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] pointedulac, along with some previous discussions about the sliding scale of morality. It also fills the "manipulation" square in my 6-1-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest, and the "fever / delirium" square in my 6-10-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Compromising Positions"


Brad grew up in the Heights,
not the best part or the worst part,
but the part in between where
you could see both the best and the worst
from the window of your apartment.

He learned that the world is full of conflict,
but nobody is ever really wrong or
ever entirely right -- it's all shades of grey --
and what side you're on matters less
than what you're willing to do to win.

He loved his country, though, and his city --
every brash, gritty, brawling inch of it.

When Brad got out of school,
he applied to the Police Academy
so that he could protect and serve.
The work was interesting, but it was hard;
he wasn't the best of students.

A new program offered biofeedback
to help improve memory and concentration.
Brad couldn't tell if it was working or not,
and the program was shut down when
the equipment proved to cause headaches
for some of the cadets using it.

Later that year, he began to catch
fragments of other people's thoughts.
Maybe he was imagining it.
Then again, maybe not.

In any case, Brad kept his mouth shut;
the Heights was not the friendliest place
for people with superpowers.

After graduating from the Police Academy,
Brad got a job in Boulder, working Vice.
Sometimes the little glimpses gave him insight
into the drug shipments or prostitution rings,
allowing him to establish an excellent record
of arrests and convictions as he closed cases.

Then he made the mistake of raiding a brothel
where the mayor's son happened to be a client,
and that was the end of his job in Boulder.

So Brad moved a little ways down to Denver,
and a step sideways into Property Crimes.
There he made a name for himself
tracking down thieves and vandals.

Brad was particularly proud of himself
for putting away a firebug named Cherry Bomb.
She burned down four buildings before
anyone could catch up to her, and even then
she managed to weasel out of the charges twice.

When an abandoned warehouse went up in smoke,
Brad collared her and kept her in the interrogation room
for hours, smiling and coaxing and saying how
he knew that she wanted to confess,
until finally she did.

Then Brad toppled a money-laundering ring
that cut into the department's budget
(seriously, how was he supposed to know
that the chief's cousin was a dirty cop?)
which was not the official reason
he got fired but it wasn't hard to guess.

The investigator from Internal Affairs
was happy to give him a referral, though,
so Brad moved south again and
settled in Aurora, this time for Homicide.

The first thing he noticed was
that murderers were loud.

People thinking about drugs or hookers
tended to focus inward on their own pleasure.
People who stole things or broke things
favored subterfuge and obscurity.

Murderers, however, thought and thought
about who they had killed, and how, and
why that person had really needed killing.

Sometimes Brad had to work harder
just to avoid overhearing them.
Sometimes he even bothered to do that.
Most of the time he just quietly gathered up
the information spurting out of them
and used it to close more cases.

It wasn't his fault if they didn't know
how the hell to keep silent.

It was the serial killer who
pushed Brad over the edge.
Three young women had gone missing,
one at a time, and turned up dead.
When the fourth disappeared,
they arrested a suspect,
but he wasn't talking.

Brad had ways of making him talk.
He tried all the ones that he could use
in a public interrogation room.
None of them worked, and
somewhere out there was a girl
waiting for a hero to save her.

This murderer wasn't like most of them,
spilling his thoughts everywhere,
but Brad pressed himself against
the smooth wall of the man's mind
until he managed to slip inside.

It was like wading through a sewer.

Well, Brad had done worse in the line of duty.
He slogged through the childhood full of abuse,
the tentacle porn, the revenge fantasies,
and the memories of Dirty Girls #1-3.

Twice Brad had to visit the john and throw up,
but he kept coming back until finally
he dredged up the location of Dirty Girl #4
who was, mercifully, still alive
when BASH broke down the door.

Brad felt grateful that he had managed
to save the girl and make a strong case
against the man who called himself the Reamer.

Unfortunately Brad couldn't seem to
separate himself from the murderer,
their thoughts and feelings blurring together
into one dizzy, disorienting mess.

One of the feds who had helped
to identify and capture the Reamer
took pity on Brad and drove him home --
Gabrielle, that was her name.

She lowered him into his bed,
took off his shoes, loosened his clothes,
and covered him with a blanket.

His head was pounding so badly
that he didn't protest when
she fed him a handful of pills
and half a glass of water.

By then the color was melting off the walls
and the wan beam of sunlight falling
through his bedroom window felt like
a laser beam stabbing into his eyeballs.
The pills did little to help either the pain
or the hallucinations, but did put him to sleep.

Brad drifted in and out of awareness
for several days, surprised to find
that Gabrielle stayed with him.

Her quiet competence comforted him
as much as the cool hand on his forehead
and the calm voice assuring him that
the armchair was not actually trying to kill him.

On the fifth morning, his head cleared.
"Well isn't that interesting," Gabrielle said.
"They just moved the Reamer to
a maximum-security prison, and now
you're wide awake again."

Brad wondered what, if anything,
he might have babbled while out of his head.

Gabrielle just gave him an enigmatic smile.
She made him toast and tea for breakfast,
then said, "Come to D.C. You're wasted here."
After that she slipped out of his apartment,
and was nowhere to be found when Brad
finally made his way back to work.

When a job offer materialized, Brad took it,
because the money was a lot better
but also because Washington, D.C.
seemed like it would offer more
opportunities to save the day.

He chafed under the tighter regulations,
though; Eastbord was more soup-friendly
compared with the sensible Heights.
You couldn't just arrest a supervillain
for being a supervillain, even if everyone knew.
You had to catch them during or connected
with some kind of major crime.

Then Gabrielle showed up at his desk,
looking formidable in her crisp black suit,
and said, "I'm forming a joint task group
to investigate the assassination of a diplomat.
Pack a bag, Harris, you're on it."

So he packed a bag and let her sweep him off
to a meeting with other people in black suits
and a wide assortment of uniforms,
all eyeing each other with suspicion.

It turned out that they already had
half-a-dozen suspects, all other diplomats,
and no real leads to help distinguish
which of them might have actually done it.

Brad listened to the presentations,
looked at the pictures, took a few notes,
and then went off to observe the suspects.

Regrettably, all of them had diplomatic immunity.
This was not the barrier for Brad that it was for others.

He simply skimmed the minds of people
going into and out of the embassies until he
figured out who had committed the assassination.
He had to admit it was an elegant crime,
slipping a bit of poison into a glass of champagne
during a get-together after the peace talks.

Brad used his ulterior knowledge to assemble
a file of evidence against the assassin,
which he passed along to Gabrielle.

"I suppose it had to be one of them," she sighed,
"though I was hoping it would turn out to be
someone we could actually arrest.
Now we'll have to figure out some other way
to make him pay for his crime."
Her cool gaze regarded Brad
over the edge of her sunglasses.

"I'm sure someone will think of a solution,"
Brad said blandly.

Then he went back to the embassy
and waited until the diplomat walked by.
It was easy for Brad to slip into the man's mind,
although the poisonous thoughts made him queasy.
Brad prodded at the alcoholism to make it thirstier,
found a thin layer of guilt which he thickened,
and it didn't take much to amplify the headache
into something in need of some serious pills.

The next day, Brad was one of several people
called to the embassy to confirm that
the cause of death was an accidental overdose
of painkillers that shouldn't be mixed with scotch.

Gabrielle was not-quite-smiling as she
directed the men at the fatal scene.
Brad was assigned to question the staff
to corroborate that the deceased diplomat
had indeed been alone prior to his death,
which of course was true.

One of the janitors paused to give Brad
a friendly slap on the shoulder.
"Good job, bro," the man said with a grin.
"Three of us have been trying to get close enough
to finalize that bastard for weeks now.
It's always great meeting a new supervillain
who can get the damn job done."
Then he disappeared into the serviceway.

Brad frowned, nibbling on the edge of his mustache.
He wasn't a supervillain. He wasn't even really
all that super, just a guy who was good at
reading people and manipulating them.
Besides, he was a hero.

Wasn't he?

* * *

Notes:

Brad Harris -- He has tawny-fair skin, brown eyes, and brown hair in a buzz cut with a mustache. His body is fit and attractive.
Origin: In the Police Academy, Brad volunteered for a biofeedback training program that was supposed to help students improve their concentration and memory. It was discontinued after the equipment caused headaches. For Brad, nothing happened at the time, but later that year he began to catch fragments of other people's thoughts. He kept quiet about it, but used his burgeoning abilities at work, which gave him a very high rate of arrests and convictions.
Brad served in the Heights for several years, working at police departments in Boulder, Denver, and Aurora. His performance earned him an invitation to work in Washington, D.C. but the more soup-friendly atmosphere in Eastbord grated on him. Not long after, he came to the attention of the Ventral Intelligence Agency, a shadow organization that coalesced from the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies. It has only quasi-official status and funding, so it functions primarily through joint task forces. The VIA gladly capitalized on Brad's Telepathy, and Brad enjoyed the much looser reins. However, they like to maintain a standard of plausible deniability, so he has little if any official backup should things go wrong.
Uniform: Originally a police uniform, which he still wears sometimes. More often, he wears a business suit, and occasionally some other disguise.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gaming the System, Expert (+4) Shady Contacts, Expert (+4) Spy, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Cop, Good (+2) Cunning, Good (+2) History, Good (+2) Interrogation
Poor (-2) Ethical Decisions
Powers: Good (+2) Telepathy (Signature Stunts: Erase Memory, Implant Memory, Mind Control)
Vulnerability: Brad can get caught up in someone else's mind. Sometimes it's hard for him to break away, and it can make him sick.
Motivation: To protect America against all threats, foreign or domestic.

Cherry Bomb (Cheryl Lefurgey) -- She has gray eyes and very pale skin. Her hair is naturally blonde, but she dyes it cherry-red. She has a heart-shaped face and a short, curvy body. She dislikes nature, avoids parks, and has been heard to reverse the famous Buffy quote into "Tree bad, fire pretty."
Origin: She has a taste for designer drugs. One of the things she smoked left her with a raging fever for a week, and when she woke from the delirium, she could start fires with her mind.
Uniform: Current fashion, with a particular taste for short skirts.
Qualities: Good (+2) Adventurous, Good (+2) Barista, Good (+2) Fashion Sense, Good (+2) Immune System, Good (+2) Street Smart
Poor (-2) Impulse Control
Powers: Average (0) Firestarting
Motivation: Ooo, fire is shiny.

The Reamer (Harvey Mills) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and floppy brown hair with a short beard and mustache.
Origin: Systemic sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of several relatives drove him to develop Empathy so he could predict and avoid their attacks better. Then he decided that he wanted a turn on top.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Criminal, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) People-Watching
Poor (-2) History of Abuse
Powers: Good (+2) Empathy
Motivation: Sadism.

Agent Gabrielle Greene -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and straight brown hair usually pulled up in a ponytail. Her body is trim and straight, with a layer of wiry muscle. She keeps a variety of exotic pets, mostly venomous ones such as tarantulas and scorpions. Her brother used to tease her puppy when they were growing up, so she took to heart the line from Lilo & Stitch: "something that can defend itself, something that won't die."
Origin: Her father was in the army, so Gabrielle grew up on and off a variety of bases. She wanted to serve her country, but preferred a more subtle approach, so she went into politics as an intern, which got her into espionage. She used intensive training to hone her skills to compete on a super level if needed.
Uniform: Business suit.
Qualities: Master (+6) Politics, Master (+6) Spy, Expert (+4) Gunplay, Expert (+4) Hacker, Expert (+4) Smart, Good (+2) Card Shark, Good (+2) Exotic Pets, Good (+2) Martial Arts, Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Talent Scout, Good (+2) Tough
Poor (-2) Trust Issues
Motivation: Cloak and dagger keeps the country safe.

The Trashman (Juan Carlos Garcia) -- He has warm-toned skin, brown eyes, and short, wavy dark hair. His build is slim and wiry, with a substantial amount of body hair. He looks completely ordinary and forgettable. He is fully bilingual in English and Spanish, able to mimic diverse class and regional accents in both. He has subsequently learned moderate amounts of Farsi, French, German, Japanese, and Russian for professional reasons.
His telempathy is limited but extraordinarily useful in his line of work; it makes people overlook him, assume that he has a right to be there, and see what they expect to see. It's very subtle and therefore almost impossible to block. It's like the mental equivalent of inserting a tape loop into a security camera. It also helps him notice people approaching before they can spot him. The Trashman is a skilled and respected assassin. He'd be considerably richer if not for his habit of taking low bids to hit bigots.
Origin: As a boy, he served as a lookout for drugrunners. His talent grew in slowly as he stretched himself to observe and to remain unobtrusive.
Uniform: Menial service garb. He wears the uniform of a janitor, trash collector, delivery boy, or whatever else will go unnoticed.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Assassin, Expert (+4) Menial Labor, Expert (+4) Smarter Than He Looks, Expert (+4) Weapons, Good (+2) Birdwatcher, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Unarmed Combat, Good (+2) Underworld Contacts, Good (+2) Wealth
Powers: Average (0) Telempathy
Motivation: Primarily money, but he also favors targets who are hostile to soups or people of color.

* * *

Ethics is an awareness of right and wrong, through which our choices define us. This raises concerns in criminal justice and espionage. Terramagne has a wretched problem with espionage because the people whose ordinary and extraordinary abilities best suit it are inherently dishonest. While there is no official department specializing in superpowers, many intelligence organizations recruit soups with relevant powers and also investigate superpowered incidents. The shadow world is rife with treachery and mayhem.

The perception of morality as black-and-white or shades of gray influences how people behave. Here the shades of conflict and the characters' perception of the world as grey and gray contribute to a slow slide from hero to villain.

Biofeedback is used to improve memory and concentration. It's pretty safe, although there are some contraindications.

In our world, "firebug" may refer to an arsonist or pyromaniac. In Terramagne, it means a person with Fire Powers, such as the Firestarting that Cherry Bomb has. A quirk of this power is that people who can control fire typically want to use it and love watching things burn. It requires a strong will to resist the temptation to light stuff, and there really is a notable tendency for them to commit arson, although not all people with Fire Powers are arsonists.

Internal Affairs is the branch of law enforcement that deals with police misbehavior, usually with mutual animosity between IA and ordinary officers.

Telepathy involves reading or influencing other people's minds. It includes layers of surface, broadcast, shielded, and deep thoughts; and both sending and receiving. The ethical implications are complex, often involving boundaries and violations. Learn how to master telepathy.

An interesting point of law in Terramagne-America is that it is typically illegal to enter another person's mind without their permission, but it is not a crime for a telepath to pick up thoughts which are broadcast. Lawyers get rich arguing this distinction. Furthermore, telepaths who pick up information pertaining to a serious crime are considered to have just cause for seeking more information. Most telepaths are mentally fastidious and prefer to maintain mental privacy, theirs and everyone else's. Similarly few of them will tamper with someone's mind without permission. Even most supervillain telepaths are mentally fastidious. Moral telepaths take an extremely dim view of those few who are not, and they tend to police their own kind pretty rigorously.

Interrogation is the art and science of extracting information from unwilling subjects. While the history is very broad, modern police tactics favor subtle psychological methods.

BASH stands for Ballistic Assault Security Handlers. BASH is this setting's equivalent of SWAT, a team with heavier firepower for intense conflicts. They are allowed to use conventional guns, not just zatzers.

Telepathy often has drawbacks, one of which is that a criminal mind is a terrible thing to read. Sometimes a telepath can get stuck in someone else's mind, a disturbing form of enmeshment which may lead to delirium, hallucinations, and delusions.

Eastbord is a metroplex that spans much of the eastern coast of America in Terramagne.  It runs roughly from Boston, Massachusetts to Norfolk, Virginia as defined by the mass-transit network.  The core cities are still there, but you can go between them without ever passing through countryside.  Terramagne has better transportation and infrastructure, and while they're at it the cities have higher walkability too.  They still have a lot of traffic, but not as much as we do here.  It's one reason why zoom wagons are feasible as emergency vehicles.  Eastbord has the most soup-friendly and evidence-based policies of the major metroplexes.

A task force is a team assembled to deal with a particular project. A joint task force draws people from two or more organizations, which is a great way to combine different talents and to disperse responsibility.

Diplomatic immunity means that a person can get away with any crime as long as their home country doesn't surrender them to foreign justice. This has led to some ridiculous abuses, which is what usually happens when people are excused from the consequences of their actions.

Self-delusion often belongs to a web of deception and denial. Self-doubt can shake the whole web that binds a life together. Understand how to be honest with yourself.  Brad was getting an F in Good before he got dropped from the class for absenteeism.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-21 02:40 am (UTC)
thnidu: blank white robot/avatar sitting on big red question mark. tinyurl.com/cgkcqcj via Google Images (question mark)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
So agent Greene is what you call a supernary, right?

Eastbord = the territory or country of the eastern seaboard?

• Pack bag, Harris, you're on it.
?→ Pack [a/your] bag
> or is this intentional, Greene's or the agents' deliberately curt style?

• he figured out who committed the assassination.
(→) who had committed

Edited Date: 2014-07-21 02:41 am (UTC)

Creepy

Date: 2014-07-21 03:07 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Because it's so /plausible/.

Does he just miss out on the /edges/ of the grey field? Because he's so focused on the grey, he's giving himself excuses to do what he wants to?

Thnidu caught the same things I did, so no problems there.

Re: Creepy

Date: 2015-04-27 01:23 am (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
This would make a terrific start of a whole new cycle.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-21 04:23 pm (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
This one is wonderful, I really liked the gradual darkening.

Rereading this

Date: 2014-07-21 09:24 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
The thing that's curious, that LITTLE detail that makes me want another story,

is the janitor.

Either Brad ignored him as "not the target" or he wasn't actively scanning everyone (which he had been doing in the first visit), right?

So how did the janitor slip by him BOTH times?

Now I want to know more about HIM as a character, too.

Re: Rereading this

Date: 2014-07-21 10:41 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I spend most of my time trying to /catch/ those little threads, because I have real problems /remembering/ them later!

LOVELY addition.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-25 06:40 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
And this would be why I'm really glad I don't have super-powers. Even though I think I have a fairly strong ethical framework, I don't trust myself against the temptation of "power corrupts".

You can take this as a prompt if you like. What if there were someone whose power functioned like an "intent mirror" -- if you direct malice or threat at her, it rebounds back onto you, not always quickly enough to establish a pattern to an outside observer? People who give her shit just somehow... don't prosper. They run into bad luck or freak accidents, or make bad decisions that mess up their lives. Does she even know she's doing this?

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-22 02:09 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
I'm... not sure how I feel about this one.

Oh, right. You've done the Third Man in Terramange. Of *course* it doesn't feel quite right. Well done! Besides, you've given the proper clues with both Endings and Titles...

There's a reason I asked the lady trying to hire me for Boeing whether I needed a security clearance. There are some people who would think my morals are screwed all to hell (choice of words deliberate), but my *ethics* get uncomfortable when things get shady like that. Besides. I've seen it too many times, *both ways*: Karma is a force of Nature.

Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-22 02:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> I'm... not sure how I feel about this one. <<

Then I did it right.

This poem is supposed to be ambiguous and uncomfortable. It's about an average guy trying to do right, but without support for dealing with some extra abilities that complicate his life, and how easy it is to get into trouble without realizing it. The hell of it is, as a telempath, he doesn't misattribute guilt; he can directly perceive what people remember doing. That isn't always an indication of legal responsibility though, because there may be extenuating factors (such as mental state) that he doesn't have the training to evaluate. His objectives are laudable; it's his methods that get ickier over time.

>> Oh, right. You've done the Third Man in Terramange. Of *course* it doesn't feel quite right. Well done! Besides, you've given the proper clues with both Endings and Titles... <<

That's good to hear.

>> There's a reason I asked the lady trying to hire me for Boeing whether I needed a security clearance. There are some people who would think my morals are screwed all to hell (choice of words deliberate), but my *ethics* get uncomfortable when things get shady like that. <<

Probably because you're Stage 6, with a sturdy and considered personal code of ethics which you are unwilling to breach on anyone else's say-so. You do what's right because you feel it to be right, not because someone is watching. That's not usually what is desired when people are looking to assign a security clearance; they want people who will do whatever they're told, because personal ethics have a pesky habit of getting in the way of following orders.

>> Besides. I've seen it too many times, *both ways*: Karma is a force of Nature. <<

Yea, verily.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-22 03:46 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
You do what's right because you feel it to be right, not because someone is watching. That's not usually what is desired when people are looking to assign a security clearance; they want people who will do whatever they're told, because personal ethics have a pesky habit of getting in the way of following orders.

That's about right... particularly that last sentence.

See also, Ed Snowden....

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-22 06:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> That's about right... particularly that last sentence. <<

Sooth.

>> See also, Ed Snowden.... <<

I am profoundly disturbed by the increasing tendency of America to punish people for revealing wrongs done by others. If you punish that behavior, it covers up crimes and encourages more crime. This undermines a healthy society.

People claim to want the truth, but most of the time, truth is punished and lying is rewarded. This is a problem.

Agent Greene

Date: 2017-06-24 06:56 pm (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
While reading the background on Ms. Greene, I noticed several parallels with Valerie Plame. Deliberate?

Re: Agent Greene

Date: 2017-06-24 08:22 pm (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
Hmm, I don't think I conveyed what I meant. Now that I'm using the laptop and not the tablet, let me try again. What brought the Valerie Plame story to mind was the description of Gabrielle's training and her approach to it. Harris is the scary one, because he's totally bought into the b.s. that ends justify means, no matter how unethical or destructive the means. Hey, he's a low-level soup, right? It would be great if we could hook him up with Spectrum somehow. They'd get along like a house on fire. *wry*

Re: Agent Greene

Date: 2017-06-24 09:11 pm (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
> >> What brought the Valerie Plame story to mind was the description of Gabrielle's training and her approach to it. <<

> They do have some similarities. I just didn't plan those.

So art imitates life - again. Funny how that seems to happen with stuff you write (I'm thinking of Douglas Bader, frex). Tapping into ... hmm. not archetypes exactly ... what *would* be the right term?

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