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 a prompt from [personal profile] janetmiles. This also fills the "red" square in the Spring and Autumn Bingo public card. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. This poem belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, an immediate sequel to "Buttoned Up."

"Collateral Damages"


The day after the fire
in the Franklin Lab Building,
a message goes out to all students
that the Curie Library next door
has sustained water damage,
and volunteers are needed
to help rescue the wet books.

It's one of our lighter days
in terms of classload,
not counting the exhaustion
from yesterday's escapades,
so we can spare a few hours.

I read the appended instructions on
how to salvage water-damaged materials.
Then I go pull some supplies from the house;
we can spare a few paper towels too, and
the box fans that nobody needs this late in fall.


The library is likely to be busy,
so I'm the one who goes,
because I can fake being Maisie
if any of her friends are there.
It's a science building, not theatrical,
but you never know -- that message
will probably pull people in
from all over campus.

The last leaves on the scarlet maples
bracketing the front of the building
look like flames as they flutter in the wind.

The row of trees down the walkway between
the Curie Library and Franklin Lab Building
are blackened from the fire and probably dead.
The walkway itself is a mire of wet ash
flecked with blood-red leaves.

The damage could be worse, though --
both buildings are still standing,
and only the floor where the fire started
looks really bad, its windows broken,
more leaves blowing in.

It's still going to be expensive to fix,
and the school isn't made of money.

I go into the library,
accepting a stack of soggy books
and a sheet of instructions.

The librarian is pathetically grateful
that I have brought my own paper towels,
and she starts to cry when she sees the fans.
There are already about five of the things
spread around the room, but it's a huge room
so the air is barely moving because
the central air is out of order.

I put the books on one of the big wooden tables,
then set up a fan at either end, plugging both
into the Medusa's tress of extension cords
that lie on the floor along the walls.

I try to follow the instructions,
separating out a few pages at a time,
inserting a paper towel,
then repeating the process,
until the whole book is fanned out
and laid on its side to dry.

The pages want to stick, though,
and I'm getting frustrated.


I lean forward,
nudging Maze aside,
and riffle through one of the books.

It feels heavy and damp
under my fingertips, but more,
I can sense how the pages
want to stick to each other.

I reach out, as carefully as I can,
with the talent that lets me
catch things from falling or
throw punches from a distance.

It feels different, like trying
to slip the edge of a knife
between the wet pages
and somehow use the flat
to press the ink in its places
so that nothing tears or smears.

It's harder with the picture books
than it is with the plain texts;
the glossy paper feels more fragile
and the bright inks want to let go.

I manage to ease the pages apart and
tuck the paper towels between every pair,
leaving each book flat to dry a while
before it can be set upright and fanned open.

Book by book, I work my way
through the stack I was given,
and the librarian brings more --
all picture books this time,
having noticed my skill at salvage.

A headache builds as I work,
faint at first, then growing,
like a white-hot fire behind my eyes.


The pain pulls me out,
and I put down the book
that Ham was just holding.

There's something different
about this time, though.

Usually I can wrap my talent
around whatever is hurting,
but now it feels like trying
to put out a fire with gasoline.

What's worse, I can feel
everyone else's pain too,
the whole room aching with regret
for what has been lost, even as
they try to save what can be saved.

There's a tight, hot knot of it
at the next table over,
worse than the rest.

The girl looks vaguely familiar,
slim and fair with hazel eyes
and shaggy brown hair
that sticks out at the ends.
It's the faint whistle and wheeze
of her breathing that clues me in:

this is Farce in her student guise,
hiding in plain sight just like I am.

I think, for a moment,
about blowing her cover,
but that rarely does any good --
people have tried.

The ordinary world really isn't equipped
to handle people with superpowers,
which is why we try to manage our own.

It keeps the collateral damages
a little bit lower, at least.

She finishes her last book,
then sidles over to me and says,
"Don't know if you've noticed,
but your power has hiccups.
It's kind of distinctive."

I shrug. It's not my thing.
"Why are you even here?" I ask.

Spike and shrill of pain
that I can't grip to use.
"We didn't know it would
spread to the library,"
she whispers.

"Well, it did," I say.

"I just wanted to come
and fix what I could," she says.
"I've been pushing down mishaps
all morning long."

She rummages in her purse,
then offers me a tiny bottle.
"That reminds me, I've got some blue.
You look like you need it."

I shake my head. "No thanks.
"You and drugs have a bad history."

But that gets me thinking,
Clement would know what to do
about this headache.
There must be aspirin around somewhere.


I know that restrooms on campus
typically have vending machines
for personal products.
I slip out of the big room
and go looking for one.

It's always a temptation
to go in the men's room
instead of the women's
but I remember, I catch myself.

Between the condoms and the tampons
is a dispenser for over-the-counter meds
like painkillers and decongestants.
I feed it the requisite quarters
and catch the little packet of aspirin.

Farce is still there when I get back,
silently working her way through my books,
her small hands more careful
than I would have expected.

I pull a bottle of water from my backpack
and swallow two of the aspirin,
then get back to work.

"That won't help much,"
she says quietly.

"What makes you say that?"
I remember her offering
something different to Keane,
but I can't blame him for being suspicious.

"Not much else works on super-headaches,"
she says. "You can read about it
on the SPOON site."

Clarity and Maze have poked around there,
although I haven't bothered to.
I didn't know it had a health section.

Farce pulls out the bottle again,
and I can glimpse the label --
Blue Chamomile Essential Oil --
before she dabs some on her wrist.

It smells minty and musky, and yes,
under that I can catch a hint
of fresh-mown hay in the sun.

"I think I'd rather buy my own,"
I say, more diplomatically
than Keane was in a mood for.

"Suit yourself," she says.
You probably won't find it in stores, though.
I had to special order this."

Her fingers are calm and precise
on the pages of the books.
We're working on the last of the stack.

"You should go home," I say as I pack up,
leaving the last of the paper towels
behind for other students to use.
"The smoke and ash around here
can't be very good for you."

Her laugh is nothing more
than a faint rasp,
mocking and harsh.
"Yeah," she says.

I don't stay to see if
she follows my advice.
I still resent her part
in this whole disaster.
I just can't help wanting
people to take care of themselves.

I head home, because there's no way
we'll be any use in classes today.
The aspirin is barely taking the edge off.


Clement drags me out for the walk home,
red leaves swishing around my feet,
because coping with pain is my job.

I'm pissed at him because fixing the body
is his job and he hasn't done it,
but then again, neither of us
trusted Farce and her little bottle
of viscous blue liquid.

We may be broken,
but we're not stupid.

I jot down the name of the stuff
so that Clement or Clarity
can look it up later.

Then I lie in bed for hours
with an ice pack over my face
hoping that it will help,
and eventually the headache
dies down enough for me
to get a grip on the pain
and make it go away.

I can't help remembering Farce anyway,
how she tried to help clean up the mess.
She does a lousy job of containing the collateral
but the thought must be in there somewhere.

That girl is more conflicted
than she lets on.

Ham would be spoiling for a fight
if he hadn't backed away from the headache.
I guess Clement and I don't hate her
the way he does, but then,
combat is his job.

I think she's miserable enough already.

It's too much to bother about
for now, though, so I roll over
and try to get some sleep.

* * *


Water damage is often a serious problem after a fire that has been put out by firefighters. Know what to do following a fire.

The original prompt asked: Who pays for and performs cleanup after a superpowered incident? First, compare the educational funding as a percentage of federal budget:
Local: Department of Education 1.32%
Terramagne: Department of Education 4.32%
So they're investing almost four times as much as we are. Their schools aren't rich but are nowhere near as strapped as ours.

Second, consider outside resources. There are some state, local, and private services and funds for superpower concerns. For example, cities big enough to have a soup population often set aside money to cover damages from a superpowered battle. (Federal programs typically don't cover direct damages from superpowers, and many private insurers won't either. Indirect damage such as fires may be covered, especially if nobody realizes that powers were involved.) Independent soups or teams find that similar funds improve public relations and acceptance. SPOON has the largest and most effective conglomeration of services and resources in this field. Volunteer efforts often pick up much of the mess, as shown here, for superpowered incidents as well as natural disasters.

The library is named after Marie Curie.

Psychic abilities are associated with headaches, as are other mystical abilities to a lesser extent, and this is a common symptom of overstrain. There are tips for coping with empathy-induced migraines. Psychic nosebleed is a more advanced danger sign. (Using superpowers can be stressful; stress raises heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to nosebleeds.) Know how to treat a headache. A drawback is that overstrain headaches respond little if it all to conventional medication. Material treatments such as cold, heat, or massage are slightly more helpful.

Superheroes and supervillains tend to balance each other out and police their own. This is necessary because ordinary police are poorly equipped to handle conflict on a super level, and in Terramagne are advised not to engage supervillains unless someone is committing major crime.

Switching between headmates can cause a "hiccup" in energy, and has been caught on camera in a few cases where it made a momentary blip of static. Some soups have enhanced senses, but beyond this, many are sensitive to power in general and can get a subtle feel of other soups. Farce is actually picking up something when Damask switches front, but Farce doesn't know what it really means yet -- just that there's a change in the feel of talent.

Being evil sucks, especially for Farce. This glimpse of remorse is one clue that she may not be past redemption. Understand how guilt works and how to cope with it.

Blue Chamomile is an essential oil derived from the chamomile plant, often shortened to "blue" among soups. It soothes a variety of metaphysical complaints and is their go-to first aid supply.

Salvaging wet books is a necessary step after library floods or fires. I've done this twice in actual libraries, other times elsewhere, and used a lot of personal experience. Ham is rather better than I am, but I was good enough to get handed all the picture books too.

Know the signs of a troubled friend and what helps.  Clement and Keane are better at spotting this kind of clue, compared to their other headmates.

Complex, layered

Date: 2014-07-23 02:21 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
But this is definitely more 'lasagna' than 'layer cake'. (I couldn't resist!)

The links are again, well-chosen and distracting, just thought I'd add that.

It feels like a very /complete/ story, for Damask as a whole. It's not so jarring, or angry, even with the frustration between Clement and Keane. They don't understand that this is a /different/ kind of headache.

Thanks for posting this.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-24 03:28 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Keane didn't really handle that very well, did he?

Marie Curie is one of my heras -- first person to win a second Nobel Prize.


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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