It’s the mid 2010’s, justice systems grow ever more rigid as crime takes to the internet. With a little help from a crowdfunding website, a newly forged team of superheroes is looking to fill in the gaps, and provide their backers with some cool merch along the way!
Get all the updates straight from each hero as they take on vicious trolls, a trading card blackmail ring, and an ancient fungal entity with its own world wide web in this trilogy of novellas that also work together as a book.
(reading time: 53 minutes) (reading time for entire novella: 3 hours, 22 minutes)
($ $ $ $ * * * * * *) – ($4,344,823 dropped in $10,000,000 goal) – (26 days remain)
REMINDER – If ‘Justice Backers’ does not reach its $10,000,000 goal by October 6th of this year, the project will be cancelled. Coinhat accepts all major credit cards as well as payments through Fundyfriend. Refunds are available up to 24 hours after pledge in most circumstances. Refunds may be offered for cancelled, delayed, or altered projects on a case-by-case basis.
Justice Backers is a proposed initiative to create and maintain a team of specialized individuals to halt and prevent crime as well as provide disaster relief. In case you’re not catching our drift: SUPERHEROES. Since we will be operating outside of the known systems of the law, funding must come directly from the people we seek to protect.
The members of this team as well as those who provide funding will be referred to as backers, because that’s what you’re doing: offering your funds, your time, and your abilities as a way to support and protect the ideals of bravery, compassion, and above all else, justice. This is your chance to make a difference (and score some sweet backer loot while you’re at it). Check out our backer updates below to get all the specifics you could want.
Greetings, internet! My name is Eben Erenthall. I hope you like that name, because it might be the only one you get over the course of this project. While I promise to do my absolute best to keep you guys informed every step of the way, there’s just some information I can’t let get out if any of this is going to work. If I successfully recruit the other backers, most of their identities will be protected so that we can work without interference. So, I’m sorry if you see a (REDACTED) show up in place of a juicy detail every once in a while. Let me get things started by explaining why you can have my name and why I’m confident enough to stamp it on this Coinhat crowdfunding campaign.
I love dogs. I hate losing them. As a boy I had a cocker spaniel named C-span (get it?). I loved every minute of that dog’s life and every minute of my life while I was with him. He always whined like an affronted little British person every time he stepped in spilled water or juice. His bark was like the pop of a champagne cork. C-span was hit by a station wagon when he was six. I thought I’d never love again.
When I was seventeen we got a whitish Catahoula puppy. He was nearly deaf because of a genetic defect and was going to be euthanized when some do-gooders swooped in and rescued him. My dad bought him off his saviors, named him Garth because his favorite movie was Wayne’s World, and gave him to us. Training him was a nightmare. We put our sweat and tears into that dog and he went and died at the age of four from heart failure. At four! From then on I never had another dog of my own. I always visited my friends and played with theirs because I couldn’t bear the thought of another one dying under my roof, alone on some ratty round bathmat, while I slept.
About halfway through college I veered off course from my planned computer programming major and into a robotics program. I started playing with the idea of a robotic pet, like those gray plastic ones from the 90’s with their flashing red eyes, except mine would actually do something other than bark and waddle toward you. My project proposal was caught in some kind of tech-dragnet by a company called Mechanical Foundry Unlimited and they hired me straight out of school. Seriously. They grabbed the diploma out of my hand and framed it on my office wall before I could learn how to tie the tie that was part of the office dress code.
I spent more than a decade with them honing my craft. My dogs learned to walk. Run. Communicate. The best part was that I never had to put them down. Any time the bodies needed retooling, I always saved the software from each experiment. I’ve got ten kennels’ worth of buggy, but still very much functional, dog brains sitting in laptops all over my place. (I wasn’t supposed to save them because they were technically the property of MFU, but (REDACTED) ‘em.)
I built the units to initially serve as disaster relief. They had chemical and heat sensors in their snouts, powerful ears and eyes, and the jaw strength/precision to pull an unconscious person from a wrecked car without damaging their soft tissues. After that I streamlined their design and started filling them with all sorts of nooks and pockets to store various devices so they could be custom-built to handle different situations. Red robotic hounds riding on fire trucks, spraying extinguishing foam from their mouth. White ones that could deliver painkillers and bandages around field hospitals or even defibrillate someone with their front paws. I was building my dreams piece by piece.
Then corporate crossed me. Anybody who’s seen a movie with a robot that wasn’t that tube-armed flailing thing from Forbidden Planet knows what’s coming. I found out my project had been earmarked for the military. Some of the guys above me had even taken my units out for field tests without telling me. That’s how I found out. The dogs have a sort of pedometer that I checked regularly. Nobody walks my dogs but me. I threatened to resign. They told me to go ahead. Said the dogs belonged to them no matter what. I was madder than I’d ever been, but I didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. Until Nance put her hand on my shoulder.
Nance Pilton was a fellow researcher and designer about six years older than me. I’m not ashamed to say she whipped me when I needed whipping and made sure the work got done. She’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mentor. While I was overhauling hounds she was busy machining mitts. That was her pet project: gauntlets that synched to a pair of hovering robotic hands. The hands were powered by tiny jet engines and could build up enough force to punch through slabs of concrete. She designed them to speed up construction work because they could replace any number of tools with their ability to mimic the actions of human hands. Her mitts got stolen away and put in the same folder with my dogs. I’d never seen her so angry. Normally she looks like a soccer mom, all boring brown hair and PG smiles without a hint of sass or sexuality. After the theft she looked like a hawk that was ready to claw its own guts out if better prey didn’t show up.
She didn’t suggest that we do something; she demanded it. I manned up. We were both ready to throw away everything if it meant getting our work back. So we did.
Our resignations were set to go through in a few days, but we still had access to company data. Nance threatened a grub-shaped guy who worked in warehousing until he told us where our prototypes were stored. We snuck into the secure storage around lunchtime in the hopes that everybody would be off banging on the uncooperative third floor vending machine or grimacing at the cafeteria’s limp brown salad bar. It was even more deserted than we’d hoped.
It wasn’t just our stuff in there. There were a hundred different projects covered in hazard stickers with paperwork in triplicate stapled on them wherever a staple could hold. It was difficult to even guess what half of them did. There were gun shells big enough to cut open and make grills out of. There was something that looked like the base of a lava lamp; it didn’t have any hazard stickers so I went ahead and turned it on. It created a strange little vortex of frosty air that cooled the room so much I could see Nance’s breath.
I could’ve stayed in that toy store all day if Nance didn’t call my name. I looked over and saw her standing beside five waist-high figures covered by a plastic sheet. She grabbed the sheet with both hands and whipped it away like she was revealing a sports car.
“Looking for these?” she said with a crazy grin. Sure enough, there stood my five dog prototypes. Shiny gunmetal gray. Thin but expressive eyes. Tapered elegant snouts that opened into speakers. Shoulders and spines lined with hinges and compartments for anything you could need. Legs like greyhounds, but a hundred times stronger. My pack.
I ran over, drooling and cooing, and switched them on. They have a default play mode, so they jumped about and whined excitedly, happy to see me, to see each other, to be alive. While I rolled around and kissed at them, Nance found her mitts and checked to make sure they were working. She punched a hole in the wall.
“Keep it down,” I said, suddenly afraid of drawing attention. Playing with dogs is harmless, but what she did was property damage.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’ll be out of here in two minutes. Just as soon as we get that loaded onto the jet.” She pointed at something. A humming metal hand the size of a Maine lobster pointed its segmented finger as well. I didn’t like what I saw.
“What? We can’t take that thing. It’s not ours,” I said. I was practically whimpering. That thing was bad news.
“We’re taking the jet,” she reasoned. “It doesn’t belong to us either.” The room we were in was way too big to just be used for storage. It was actually the back half of a company hangar that had been walled off. We knew that just on the other side of the plaster, there was another project waiting to be pulled around on a leash in front of the company and military executives: a new compact aircraft with advanced electronic stealth capabilities. Its file was just as easy to read as the ones for my dogs or her hands, as long as we still had clearance. The plan was to escape the building with our projects inside the jet. It was the only way we could think of that would get us out of there without risking pursuit. That thing her cold metal hand pointed to though… that wasn’t part of the plan.
“That thing’s a weapon,” I said. I stared at the creepy metal skeleton. It had plenty of hazard tags wrapped around the black metal bars that made up its ribcage. Its expressionless eyes were black for now but I knew, without even seeing it in action or reading about it in its file, that those eyes would be red when electricity knocked around inside them. It was like the Terminator had been hollowed out and been given a make-over by a committee of mad scientists with bondage fetishes. It looked like the kind of thing that, even when blasted to pieces by the hero, would still manage to trap some ignorant animal by the neck and slowly choke the life out of it.
“Everything in here is a weapon,” Nance said and rolled her eyes. She stroked the cheek of the nightmare skeleton from six feet away with her machined mitt.
“Not my buddies!” I blathered into the faces of my dogs. They responded by raising their butts in the air and wagging their tails like car antennae. God I loved that. “I’m not taking that thing with me,” I said after I stood up. I knew its profile. It was a hostage-control robot. Built to wrap its hollow chest and limbs around somebody noncompliant and control their movements. That way if anybody tried to shoot at the robot they’d end up hitting their own trapped teammate or a civilian.
“I’m bringing it. I’ll need to sell some of this stuff if I’m going to have enough money to hide from MFU and the government,” she said. “We don’t all have crazy uncles with property they bought under the table.” That was my plan, but I’ll get into that in a minute. I’m not quite sure why that hostage robot sent such a chill up my spine, but it did. I dug in my heels and refused. Nance looked at me like I was betraying her. Her hand curled into a fist. It wasn’t noticeable on her regular hands, but the machine ones creaked and groaned. We both suddenly realized that since we weren’t letting MFU boss us around, we weren’t going to let anybody else do it either.
We fought. She tried to knock me out with those rocketing fists of hers, but my dogs played defense. They leapt up and took each blow on their sides to protect me. I control them with a sort of forearm-mounted keyboard, so I was able to order two of them to get busy breaking down the wall so we could get to the jet while the other three fought Nance and her hands. She killed one. The bitch killed one. His name was Hotrod. I have copies of him, but that one blinked out when she grabbed its skull in one of her mitts and crushed it like a tin can.
The other dogs ripped apart one of her hands like a dead pigeon as revenge. Then I had them cover me while I made it to the jet. I couldn’t fly the thing, but one of my dogs, Topgun, had an intelligent interface that, in combination with the autopilot, would be enough to get me where I was going.
I realized the alarms were going off. I left Nance behind with her evil robot and one remaining mitt. I saw her flip me the bird with a big metal finger through the hole in the wall as the jet took off and smashed through the hangar doors. I assume they caught her shortly after that.
Nance didn’t have the right kind of plan. Me, I do. My dogs are meant to be used for good, even if I’m the only one who can use them that way. I had Topgun pilot the jet to (REDACTED): a property I inherited from my doomsday-planner uncle after the diabetes took him. He never wanted anyone knowing where it was, so he kept everything off the record. I think he might have even bought it with unmarked gold believe it or not.
It was while I was enjoying my first few days of solitude in my hideout that the plan started coming together. Eben Erenthall couldn’t go out anymore. He was a wanted man. I needed more helpers than just the ones I could build, or I’d be stuck lazing around in the dark eating canned food and watching reruns for the rest of my life. I needed people who had dreams of making the world a better place, who could admit their vision was bigger than a signed contract or an ass-kisser in a judge’s robe hammering out fates like he was stamping envelopes.
There are people like me everywhere. Some are willing to join. I’ve been communicating with them through the internet, using my new hero name: Alpha Dog. That’s how I want all you backers to think of me. I’m Alpha Dog: commander of the Justice Backers. The thing is, even outside the rules, justice is expensive. My dogs need repairs. I need transportation funds, groceries, and utilities for the new members if they’re going to come live here. I don’t even want to say how much it cost to get decent internet run all the way out here to (REDACTED).
This is where you guys come in. The initial goal of ten million is for the upfront costs, but after that we’ll need to do monthly fundraisers to stay in operation. All I can offer you is the chance to finance the world’s first true team of superheroes. In turn, we become accountable to you. We won’t be a brutish police force that knocks you over and shocks you until you forget what the word ‘resist’ means. We won’t be a military invading foreign countries to slurp up their oil or engage in cultural imperialism. We’ll be there to help. How much we can help is up to you.
There are actually a few material benefits I can offer you. If you back us for twenty bucks we can send you an official Justice Backers T-shirt so everyone knows you’re participating. If you back at the hundred dollar level, you’ll get access to the video diaries I’ll have every member make to chronicle our deeds and the inner workings of the project. If you back at the thousand dollar level, I can guarantee special collector’s statuettes of the members cast from high-quality resin, hand-painted, and signed by all of us.
If you back at the level of ten grand you will appear on our founder’s plaque inside the compound and receive a surprise visit from one of my robotic hounds for a few hours of fetch or whatever else you’d like to do.
If you back at the level of one hundred thousand, I’ll arrange a trip for you to come meet us, plus all the previously listed rewards.
What do you say internet? Are you ready for a form of justice that is directly accountable to you? Do you want to be a Justice Backer?
($$$$$$$$$$) – ($17,455,622 dropped in $10,000,000 goal) – (0 days remain)
JUSTICE PREVAILS! – (Quick Backer Update – more coming very soon!!)
I’m stunned. I don’t know how to thank all of you. Your donations have transformed me from Eben into Alpha Dog! You’ve transformed my hideout into our new command center (codename: Backer Barn)!
Where do I even start… there’s so much work to do. I’ll be busy in the coming weeks arranging all the rewards and the team’s travel before we really get things started… I figure the least I can do is finally reveal some of the heroes to the people who generously funded their future. Nobody’s here yet. It’s still just little old me and the dogs (who are enjoying some sweet new upgrades courtesy of you backers), but the team will be arriving soon. It’s not set in stone how many members we’re actually getting (there are a lot of fakers to wade through), but it looks like once we start we’ll have eight to ten heroes on the payroll. I’ll tell you a little bit about the ones who are definitely confirmed!
Impala – She’s the only other one who can show her real name, because many of you probably already know it: Omara Toso! If you’re not familiar, she’s the thirty-eight year old athlete from Ethiopia who took more gold medals than she could carry two Olympics ago, but they were all rescinded when they decided her natural abilities didn’t make for fair competition. She has a triple-muscling mutation in her legs and thighs. Basically, she’s lady Hercules from the waist down. She can jump thirty feet in the air or deliver a kick that can fell trees! And now she works for you guys! Impala will be joining me as co-commander of the Justice Backers to make sure someone other than me is accountable for the wellbeing of the team and all your hard-earned money!
Golden Boy – He’s twenty, blonde, and the sight of him would probably make a few of our lady backers melt. Golden Boy was born as the result of in vitro fertilization. Somehow, it’s still a mystery, the embryos his parents were originally going to have implanted got swapped with some from an unknown source. The result was a glorious chiseled specimen with super strength, reduced vulnerability, and the strange talent for picking up any skill he observes. This guy can learn to fly a helicopter just by sitting in it! He could beat the Williams’ sisters at tennis without ever having picked up a racket before. Just being around him makes me feel pathetic, but how could I start a hero team without him?
Archive – She’s twenty-six, Italian, probably smarter than me, and was born with the most amazing eyes. They don’t look very special, just kind of blue, but you’ll never believe what they can do. We’re talking X-ray vision. That’s not all though! Her mind knows how to interpret the electrically-coded information she sees. That means she can peer into your mind, see the synapses firing, and give a pretty accurate assessment of what you were thinking. She can do it with computers too, reading data off of them that isn’t even visible. Add to that a photographic memory and… her girlfriend is a hero too!
Wallflower – She’s twenty-four, Korean, and in a relationship with Archive. How crazy is it that two heroes met up and fell in love just in time to join the Justice Backers? Now she’s very shy for a couple of reasons. In addition to being born with her powers, she was born without a voice. Her eyes also appear empty, like milky white marbles, but Archive tells me that’s just a side effect of her abilities. Wallflower projects a psychic field that tricks your brain into thinking it can’t see her! So while a security camera has no trouble spotting her, she can hide from humans and animals at will. She can also stick to walls! Sounds like she’ll be perfect for listening in on scheming criminals.
Pawn – He’s twenty-five, thin, and the color of vanilla ice cream! Pawn was just a normal kid until he was hiking alone one day and fell into what he describes as an ‘unknown-to-science massive squirming lichen’. When he came out his physiology was radically changed! You see when Pawn is struck with a significant amount of force he explodes into a fine white powder. After a while the powder comes back together, restores his shape, and he’s ready to fight again! As far as he knows he’s unkillable! That’ll help make the Justice Backers unbeatable.
Monkey Girl – She’s nineteen, Portuguese, and the last member I’m ready to confirm at the moment. The poor girl was the subject of gene-splicing experiments in her native country. She was kept in a cage for more than two years with a few other… unfortunate souls. Once she busted herself out and heard about our efforts she contacted me as quickly as she could. Her audition tape was certainly something. Science has changed her so she now has the flexibility and agility of an ape, not to mention their hand-like feet and a prehensile tail. Just don’t ask her if she likes bananas; I made that mistake already. Her favorite food is honeydew melon, and don’t you forget it! Though English is her second language, she’s close to mastering it. She’ll have plenty of practice talking to you guys in her video diaries. Don’t forget to get to that hundred dollar tier so you can see those!
That’s the starting lineup boys and girls. Like I said, I’m pretty sure there will be more to come. Keep an eye on your E-mail and our campaign page for the official start date. I won’t start the next fundraiser until everyone’s moved in and we’re ready for action.
Monkey Girl Diary #1
(transcribed from video log)
Hello backers! My name is (REDACTED) but you can call me Monkey Girl. I can say my name because Alpha Dog say his computers find little facts and cut them out. It is to keep our secrets safe. Alpha Dog say he explained about me but I should do these videos to get to know you. I’m sorry if I make mistakes. My English is not the best. I try to keep my sentences simple because I don’t want to screw up. Alpha Dog also say the computer changes the words some for the people reading this so it looks more like a book. I hope it makes me sound better.
Impala say I should be very honest in these too, so I will say about a screw-up I did. My audition tape was bad. I’m glad Alpha Dog showed it to Impala and not the others. I would not liked to meet them knowing they saw it. In the audition I showed off my power with many flips. I hanged from the ceiling by my tail. I drew a picture on canvas with my feet. (I drew the Justice Backers logo Alpha Dog put on the website.) I did not notice that some of the flips you could see my underwear. When I noticed it was too late!
Alpha Dog hugged me when I got to the Backer Barn. I not met him before, but I’m glad he is friendly. He whispered in my ear about my audition and laughed. Then he say to me not to worry. He made it so my clothes was ‘ready for battle’. Then he gave me my costume. The application for the Justice Backers asked me questions for my measures and favorite colors, but I did not know what for! It was so beautiful I almost cried. I never own anything that nice before. It is green and yellow with a small skirt and some shorts beneath it. He said he made the arms and legs bare so it wouldn’t screw up my flips. And there is this cute little mask, see? Then he said the fabrics was very strong and could keep me safe from blades. I still need to be careful for bullets though…
This is the first time you see me, so you can see my fur. I let it grow on my arms and hands up to here because I think it looks good. I keep the sideburns too. My ankles have it too and I let that go halfway to my knees. I have to shave everything else or I look like an animal. In three days I will look terrible if I don’t have razor. It is so much work. I think girl backers listening know my pain.
The plane ride to (REDACTED) was long and I was very tired when I got there. I put a smile on my face though. I wanted the heroes to like me. There is a sitting room past the desk in the Barn. Everyone was resting there. They all had costumes as good as mine. Alpha Dog say he does not like uniforms. He wore a uniform at his last job, so he made all our costumes special and different. His is blue and white and has no mask.
Impala shook my hand. Her costume is dark green and she has a headband with cute little horns. Her legs surprised me! Her thighs are like a horse! She introduced me to Archive. She has very serious face and glasses that look good with her silver costume. I asked about Wallflower because I knew they are girlfriends, but Archive say she is shy. I will meet her when she is comfortable. I wondered if she was hiding in the room with her powers.
Golden Boy and Pawn were on the couch and got up to say hello. Golden Boy’s costume was gold (not a surprise) and Pawn’s was black and white. Pawn is very shorter and thinner than Golden Boy. Alpha Dog was not joking when he say Golden Boy was handsome. He is very nice too with a warm smile, like a croissant!
When we all knew each other, we sat down and listened to Alpha Dog and Impala. They explained the plan. We needed a week of training out in the fields next to (REDACTED) before we could fight villains. We needed to learn being a team. Then we start with something easy. He say that he and Impala are the bosses so we need to obey when they give orders. We all agreed. I think we all know that when we join.
Alpha Dog smiled when we agreed and whistled. His dogs came in so we could meet them. I thought he had only five, but he say he made more after the Coinhat worked. There were twelve in all and he say he had three more in his workshop. They walked around the couch in a circle like they were in a doggy show. He say they can relax and then they walked around on their own. The red one came over to me and I petted him. They even grumble like real dogs. The blue one came over and tried to push the red one away. Alpha Dog threw (threw? Yes, I think that is right) a ball to Golden Boy. He threw it for the dogs to fetch. They ran after it like puppies and we all laughed.
I don’t know if I can remember all their names; they are even harder than remembering Santa’s deer! Can I remember the colors… there was blue, red, white, green, black, orange, purple… I guess it was all the colors now that I think about it. I will just say the ones I know I remember. Blue was Jaykay. He is for missions underwater and in wet places like swamps. I remember his name because Alpha Dog say he is… what’s the phrase? Nick-named? He is nick-named for James Cameron, the movie director who likes diving.
Red is a firefighter. His name is Crispy. White is for first aid, his name is Dr. Nick. I think it is a TV reference I do not know. Green is Ventura; he is for jungles and forests. Black is Lebron; he is for crowd control. There are more but Alpha Dog say he likes using those five most. He does not use more than five because they are too much to manage. I don’t know how long we played with the dogs because the Barn does not have windows. I do not know if the light changed outside but it felt like more than an hour. Impala and Alpha Dog say more little things about living at the Barn.
Each of us gets a bedroom. Alpha Dog say we should wear masks when we are not in our rooms to hide our faces. He say it is better we not know each other’s names and faces. I hope I don’t forget my mask. He say no visitors can come to the Barn. Golden Boy looked… troubled? Right word? Definitely not happy… it makes sense because I bet he has lots of friends and a girlfriend. He did not say anything though.
I wish I was not happy about it. I do not have anyone to visit. My parents sold me to the people who made me like this. I had a brother but he died as a baby. You who are watching, you know me as good as anybody. You will be my visitors okay? We will build up together. We will make ourselves into heroes.
So what other things should I say? It is only my second day at the Barn. Breakfast was good. Alpha Dog pays someone (he say they are very trusting) to shop and bring the food to us. We share the kitchen and eat when we want. I was happy to see a honeydew melon when I opened the fridge. Alpha Dog writed some words on its skin: who needs bananas right? I like it here already.
Something weird happened at night though. Impala say it is okay for me to talk about it. She say she and Alpha Dog are telling you about him today. It was late. I woke up because of the bed. The bed is not cheap or not comfortable, but I know sleeping in a hammock much better. Beds squish my tail a little. I will set one up I think so I can swing to sleep. I had my pajamas on; they are silly because they is blue and have flamingoes on them, but I do not care because they are very comfy.
I almost walked out of the room with no mask on. I thought about if I needed it. Is anybody other up? Does it matter if they see my face? I have no family to hurt if villains know me. I chose to go with no mask. I just needed glass of water so it was not big deal. Two eyes shined in my face as soon as I was in the hall. I was not scared, because they were only as high as my waist. Lebron walked to me and I petted his head. Alpha Dog say he have his doggies walk around at night. They are the security system. Lebron passed me and I moved to the kitchen.
When I went around the corner I saw someone leaning into the fridge. Maybe it was Wallflower. I panicked and grabbed a paper towel from the roll on the counter. I put two holes in it with my thumbs and held it in front of my face. I don’t think it was a very good mask. I say I was sorry and that I did not want to interrupt. I still did not know who it was. I hoped they were smart enough to have their mask. The person stood and turned to me. He was very tall. Taller than all the Backers. Tears made my silly paper mask stick to my face. I knew him. I lost him back in Portugal.
I walked back and I hit the wall. I ripped the paper off my face to see better. He was bigger than six feet. He did not have a shirt. He did not like wearing one because of his powers. His chest was not normal. He had bones… stiff flat bones on his chest. They wrapped around to his back; they are thicker there. It is his turtle shell. What they did to me with the monkey genes they did to him with a turtle genes. His name was Plastron. He walked to me and held his hand up. I cried. I maybe yelled. I do not remember.
We escaped together. He, me, and a few of the others. We had to attack the guards. They stopped using the… word? Sedatives? They stopped using the drugs that make us sleep when they see we are about to get out of the lab. They take out their guns. They kill two of my friends. Plastron fighted one guard and I attacked the other. I dodged a bullet and did a handstand kick to push the gun out of his hand. I catched… caught it with my tail and held it away. Plastron hit him with a head butt. I thought we were okay, but he was bleeding. His shell stopped some bullets, but not the one that hit his neck. He fell. He did not have the strength to walk. I tried to drag him. I could hear his shell scraping on the floor. Then I heard more guards coming. He smiled at me and say I have to go. Excuse me… It is hard to talk about.
I did not know how he was there in the Barn. Impala and Archive heard me cry and came out in their pajamas. Impala moved between us and whispered something to Plastron. He looked at me like… weird. Like he wanted to know I was okay. Like he was sorry about something. He turned and walked out of the kitchen. I heard a door close.
My feelings switched. I wanted to hug him. I reached out and say do not go, but Impala holded me back. I cry that I knew him. She say I did not. I was very confused. Archive got me a glass of water. I think she read my brain and knew that was why I was out of bed. It was hard to drink and not choke.
Impala explained that he was not Plastron. He was a Backer we did not meet yet. They did not think we were ready to meet him. His name is Loved One. His powers are psychic, like Wallflower’s. He makes a field of energy that he cannot turn off. It makes people see him as their lost loved ones. He cannot go outside because people cry and fall to pieces when they see him. Parents see their dead babies walking around. Widows see their husbands and ask him why he left them. I cannot imagine how bad that must be.
He does not come to the meetings. Alpha Dog and Impala talk to him at different times so people do not get upset like I did. Impala say his job is to find information. He is sneaky like Wallflower and will not be in battles with villains. He does not come out at day time. I wish I can say to him that I will be fine and he does not need to be trapped in his room. In truth, I do not know if I would be fine. Plastron was my best friend. Seeing him now puts me back in that lab. I can feel the oily gun held in my tail. I can see the flashing lights. The blood on the floor.
I hope Loved One knows I am sorry. I do not want him to feel like a monster. I don’t even know what he really looks like.
I don’t want this diary to be a screw-up, so we have to end on a happy note. Alpha Dog say I should answer backer questions. I have a few here I can do and then we turn the computer off for today.
FievelgoesWesteros: Hiiiii Monkey Girl!!!1! Does your tail ever get in the way? It seems annoying XD
It just feels natural, so not really. It is only when I lay down on my back. I can use it for fun weird things. It makes a very good paintbrush!
Seizetheday420: Who’s you’re favrite comix hero? Liek who is you’re inspiration?
I am sorry I do not read the comics. I only seen some of the movies and in truth I do not think they are very good. I like westerns. Those good guys are my inspiration. You can tell a good guy in a western because he is the one who looks the villain in the eye. I want to look one in the eye and say ‘No! I will not let you do this evil.’ That is the part where they take out their guns, but I will only have my flips. They will be enough I think.
H0ttertr0tter: I’m writing a piece on the Justice Backers for my journalism class. Are you worried about the local authorities that are going to be around you guys like flies when you actually start digging around their turf? Also can you do a shout-out for my stepmom Emily Ridell? Thanks in advance!
I am not worried about the police. The police did not look for me when I was trapped in that lab. They had richer girls to find. We will do what the police will not. Our masks are better than their badges. We will not use them to bully. Good luck with your homework. Hello Emily Ridell! This is your official Monkey Girl shout-out!
Jesuslove55: Science has gone to far! First they shove all that mercury in the vacines to keep us stupid and docile so we wont riot and now there smashin people together wiht monkeys. Are they tryin to “prove” evolution by showin a person nd a monkey can shack up? Those so-called “experts” seem ridiculusly stupid. Jesus loves you sweetheart, furry butt and all. He is love. John 3: 16
That was not a question…
2Pornot2P: Do we pay $$ 4 u guys 2 fight or r u gunna find villains yorself?
I do not know if I understand your question… We will find villains where they are causing trouble. Alpha Dog say there is places we cannot go. They are places with sensitive politics. War zones. Places with bad leaders like North Korea. Other than those though we go any place we are needed. Alpha Dog still has the jet he took from his old company. He say it is in the garage below the Barn. He painted it with dogs all over and say we should call it the Dogfighter. We will use it to travel where we are needed. Okay, that is enough for now. I will talk to you soon backers. Wish me luck for training!
Transplant’s Application E-mail
Subject: my application
To the staff at Justice Backers headquarters,
Hello, my name is (REDACTED) and I am extremely interested in supporting your efforts to help the people of this world. At first I thought I would be too young to apply, but then I read about Monkey Girl and she’s a touch younger than me, so here it goes.
I never felt right growing up. My clothes always felt like they didn’t fit even when they clearly did. To me it felt like wearing a skin that some reptile had shed and tossed at my feet. The problem was that I was wearing the wrong clothes. My parents put me in dresses when I wanted shorts. They put my hair in pigtails when I wanted to chop it all off. They bought me dolls with glossy pink lips that looked stamped on: a factory-produced sexy pucker. They told me I was a tomboy and that one day I’d look at a boy in just the right light and the unpleasant crust of my personality would crumble away and reveal the glorious armless Greek statue of a woman inside. It didn’t happen. I was not a tomboy. I was just a boy.
I came out as trans to my parents when I was fifteen and they took it better than I could have hoped. My dad even threw himself into it like a maniac screaming his way down the high-dive. He tried desperately to get me interested in football but that didn’t take. We ended up bonding mostly over nachos and bad commercials. I digress though.
I thought that was the hardest thing I’d ever have to deal with. I thought there was no way I could feel stranger than being a boy in a girl’s body. I was wrong. Something happened to me that plunged my mind and body into a world I’d never imagined. The world of plants. Basically my body now thinks it’s a fern or something.
I never knew what I wanted to do with my life until the moment I saw your Coinhat campaign. I backed you guys for a lot. Before I knew it I’d spent two months’ rent trying to make sure you could afford the bullet-resistant costumes. I’ve always had people staring and I’ve always been brave about it. I want to give them a real reason to stare. I want one of those masks. I think you’ll find that my abilities are a good fit for the team.
I went camping once when I was seventeen. It was a trip I’d planned with three other guys where we were just going to kayak up and down a lake until the mosquitos forced us to retreat to the fire pit. They chose to go out on the kayak and get a little drunk, but I figured at least one of us should stay sober. I stayed in the tent and cracked open a book.
Something attacked my tent. I thought it was a strong wind at first because the sides sort of writhed. Then it collapsed and something ripped through the fabric. The big squirming thing enveloped me. That’s when I started feeling strange. It wasn’t just the terror. It felt like a trillion little seeds germinating under the surface of my skin. For all I know that’s actually what happened. I don’t look any different but my skin and flesh tingles now. It feels the way I imagine a fruit feels while it’s ripening.
I communicate with plants by touch. I give off chemicals that send their growth into overdrive. I can convince them to change shape or whip around at high speed. I can encase myself in roots and travel underground rapidly. I can jump into a tree and transform it into a suit of armor. Vines, wood, thorns, roots, trunks… they’re mine to control so long as I keep my skin connected to the plant. I hope these abilities intrigue you. I hope you can imagine me binding a villain in roots and leaving him for the police wreathed in flowers like a spring centerpiece.
There’s something else you should know. The thing that attacked me and changed me never showed up again. When I heard the description Pawn gave though, I just sort of knew. It was the same ‘lichen’ that gave him his abilities. Small world huh? That was the only sign I needed that I was meant to be on your team. I hope you’ll consider me for a position.
Transplant (The name practically came up with itself)
Pawn Diary #3
(transcribed from video log)
Hey guys, Pawn here again. I guess I’ve got a few things I can talk about before we do dinner. Golden Boy is making some kind of casserole he saw on the food channel. He said we had to try it. I asked him if his mom used to make it for him.
“No,” he says.
“So how do you know we have to try it?” I asked. He just looked at me in that funny way of his like he missed part of the conversation.
“Just look at how good it is,” he says, as if that makes total sense. I can’t disagree with his results though. He cooked a beef stew for us a few days ago that tasted like it should cost thirty bucks at a place that makes you wear a collared shirt. I think everyone else is afraid to cook for us now, because we’ll all look like crap in comparison. I know I am. I don’t think the microwave-rice stir fry I perfected in college can outshine his golden palate. We’ll probably just sneak around and store our food in our rooms like squirrels.
Alpha Dog’s not too happy that everyone is breaking one of his ground rules already. It’s the mask thing. It’s just so irritating to put it on when you just want to hit the bathroom or microwave some popcorn, you know? I’ve already seen Monkey Girl’s face and Golden Boy’s. I’ve seen Wallflower’s too, but I doubt she’s worried about hiding since she can just vanish. Impala doesn’t seem to care. I think she knows that it helps people bond when they know things about each other. He’ll cave eventually and we’ll all just be able to hang out together.
He shouldn’t mind that I criticize him a little here. He did tell us to be extremely candid with you guys. He says the more honest we are the more money comes in. I’d be skeptical if he hadn’t immediately pulled out a pile of charts showing our funds and views on certain days that proved him right. It also proved the girls’ diaries are more popular. Some of you guys still show up for me though right? Alpha Dog also said we weren’t supposed to watch our teammates’ diaries. He just wants them to be between each Backer and their supporters.
So… What am I talking about? Right. We had another day of training and we got a new member! I think he’s the last one for a while though, the Barn only has like two rooms left. I think. Alpha Dog’s got so many hidden compartments built into it already I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I steady myself in the bathroom by grabbing the shower head and I get dropped into a trapdoor leading to a secret sewer exit.
Okay so, the new guy. We didn’t actually meet him at the Barn. We were out in that field next to the (REDACTED) and doing some more training. I guess Alpha Dog knew we’d be out there all day and asked him to get dropped off there.
I think I told you guys already, but Impala’s giving us some basic self-defense and martial arts training. Obviously she’s good with kickboxing too. We had some dummies set up in a line, like the ones you always see football players running into and screaming at. Alpha Dog threw some plastic masquerade masks from the (REDACTED) on them so they’d look more like super villains. I’m still skeptical any costumed bad guys are going to show up. I’ll be happy just stopping drug dealers and getting people out of flooded areas.
Impala keep telling me to punch the dummy harder. I’m afraid to tell her why I hold back. It’s not that I can’t hit harder; it’s that I’ll break my arm if I do. I don’t mean the bone. I mean my arm’ll go poof. Fall away as confetti. Then I’ll have to wait like an hour for all the powdery bits to crawl or float their way back before I can applaud again. Three hours if there’s a strong breeze.
Monkey Girl and Golden Boy are having no trouble. Golden Boy has to restrain himself so he doesn’t break the damn things. Same with Impala when she’s kicking at them. Even Wallflower and Archive are better at it than I am and their bodies are normal. I told you guys why I picked the name Pawn right? I like to say it’s because I make the first move, but you can probably tell by now that that is just blatantly false. My name is Pawn because I’m expendable. If you need someone to die I’m the man for the job. I can take a bullet to the head. A magician could literally saw me in half on stage and nothing but white sand would pour out of the holes in that stupid box. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I have powers. It’s what lets me be here. I’m just not in the same class as the others though. They play a role. Me? I’m like the dummies. More training material. They can hit me as hard as they want without having to worry. I’m cannon fodder.
You know how I know I matter less? I’m never around for the victory celebration. On the first day of training we were just practicing hand-eye coordination and letting Alpha Dog’s dogs scan our biometrics when Golden Boy tossed a ball to me. I didn’t see it and it hit me in the back of the head. Then the ball landed in the pile of dust that was me. I don’t know if anybody freaked out, since it was the first time most of them had seen me like that. I can’t really see or think when I’m sand; my body just does all the reforming on its own. When I finally came back they were all celebrating the first day with a picnic. The sun was going down and they had a checkered blanket and everything! It was covered in cold cuts, crushed soda cans, and open pickle jars. They did it without me.
It’s not like I can expect them to wait. They’d waste their lives away just waiting for me to exist. I just have to accept that I’m only going to be around for part of our adventures. When the going gets tough and they really need me I’ll break under the pressure… literally. It beats high school though. My ‘friends’ there powdered me for fun. Any time I tried to go to a party some musclebound guy the size of Golden Boy, without being mean about it, would just playfully smash into me. Then they’d sweep me into a corner. By the time I was back the guy who had done it had left with a girl already and told someone else to tell me he was sorry. The closest I got to a girl (most of the time) was when one stepped in me.
I didn’t miss everything that first day though. It was the first time I really got to talk to Archive and, by extension, Wallflower. You guys know she’s mute. At first I only saw her in training because Alpha Dog said she had to be visible for that, but now she pops up for meals and the occasional game around the kitchen counter. She just watches, but she seems perfectly content to do that. I asked Archive about it that first night after the picnic, when we were playing a game.
“Doesn’t she want to play?” I asked Archive quietly. I could see Wallflower watching from the corner, stuck to the wall like a fly. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to look at her at all. Sometimes if you do she goes transparent or disappears completely. She doesn’t seem to like looking people in the eye.
“She’ll join in eventually,” Archive explains. “Probably not this game.” I looked down at the cards in my hand after she said that. It was a game I’d brought with me from (REDACTED) called Beach Detective. It’s this board game with all these different footprint trails in the sand that your piece has to follow. As you go you collect cards with story details on them and have to figure out who made your trail and why. It’s pretty much the best. The thing is… the cards have a lot of writing on them.
“What’s wrong with this game?” I asked. I was a little defensive about it because I enjoy it so much. It bugs me to think about how, if I was a character in the game and something happened, I wouldn’t even leave a trail of footprints. I’d just be the sand the real characters were leaving their mark in.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Archive says. (By the way she promised she wouldn’t use her powers when we played games. I’m pretty sure she didn’t too, because she would’ve seen that I had the Amelia Dunbar card and three stat cards for her: her shoes, her current emotion, and her BAC. That last one helps you prove that the uneven steps belong to the person you say they do. I was totally about to win.)
“So what’s the problem?” I asked.
“She has dyslexia,” she says, “of a sort. It’s very difficult for her to parse written information. Her brain slides the letters together and makes them look like little black octopi jetting away.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t really know what else to say. I didn’t look at her, but I’m pretty sure she overheard. We were playing with Monkey Girl and Golden Boy, but Golden Boy was busy blabbing about his girlfriend back in (REDACTED). Archive sensed, or maybe saw, my tension and helped loosen it.
“It’s one of the reasons we’re so perfect for each other,” she says. “She has trouble with writing and sign language as well, so she feels like she has no way to communicate. It made her feel stupid and like she was alone because of it. I can see past her troubles though. Everything she wants to say is splashed across her brain like a beautiful pastel picture. I can see what she wants to say and say it for her. I can even look right now,” she turned her head and smiled at Wallflower, “and tell you that she’s fine with me explaining this to you.”
“Well I can’t read minds,” I said, “but if she ever wants a kindred spirit around… I know what it’s like to get shoved in the corner and not be able to do much about it.”
“I know you do,” she says with a smirk. Talking to her is weird. “In fact you and Wallflower think similarly. Your paintings have the same sort of brushstrokes,” she says. I took her word for it. She adjusted those silver glasses of hers and looked at her cards. Eventually Golden Boy realized it was his turn. Two cycles around the counter later, I threw down my hand and declared victory.
“These footprints belong to Amelia Dunbar,” I declared. “Her feet were bare, she felt betrayed, and her BAC was .09. She had just discovered that her husband Raoul was cheating on her with the lounge singer Connie Mist!” I grabbed up all the umbrella tokens greedily. I caught Wallflower giving me a thumbs-up and a smile in my peripheral vision. I think she’ll migrate to the center of it before too long.
“I thought those were Jerry Kalliper’s prints,” Golden Boy says. He looked genuinely confused. I don’t think he’s used to losing games on account of his powers, but sometimes natural ability just doesn’t beat practice. Plus there’s a little bit of luck in Beach Detective so…
Man I’ve been talking a while. These things go by fast. I guess it’s because my life actually contains events now. It’s not just work, drive-thru food, and then sleep. I still need to talk about the new Backer.
We were out in the field battling the masquerade dummies when Alpha Dog ran up to us and told us to huddle up. He was huffing and puffing. I think maybe he needs to be running rather than punching dummies. He still had his earpiece in, so I assumed he’d been talking to the new member and giving them directions or something.
“Okay,” he starts, “Transplant is going to be here in like five minutes. You guys should know… he’s a transsexual. He was born as a girl but switched it up when he was a teenager. So you know, fair warning.”
“Why do we need to be warned?” Archive asks. Alpha Dog rolled his eyes.
“I’m just saying,” he says. “You guys need to stay on your toes and make sure you always use the right pronouns and stuff. I want everybody to play nice. He is a he. He, him, his.”
“It should be no trouble,” Monkey Girl says. I think she might have though Alpha Dog was directing that at her because of her awkward English. It was a pretty strange thing for a leader to say. I noticed Impala didn’t feel she even needed to mention it. He just kept going too.
“Oh and you guys probably noticed, but the Barn’s bathrooms are unisex,” he says. “So there shouldn’t be any problems there.” That was when I rolled my eyes. We’re not children.
A couple minutes later a (REDACTED) dropped Transplant off in the field with us. He seems nice enough. We all shook hands and everything. Impala talked about his application for a second. That was the first I heard about the lichen. I had no idea that thing was still out there. Maybe there’s more than one. Transplant said he had a theory about it; he thought it was an ancient lifeform that adapted by engaging in horizontal gene transfer between species. Apparently that’s something some bacteria can do. It means they can do a little DNA swapping and wind up with new qualities. It might also explain why the two of us got different abilities.
Sometimes I wish it would show up and get me again, especially since Transplant’s powers are flashier than mine. Alpha Dog handed him his new costume, an armored tunic with exposed shoulders so his body can make contact with the plants he uses. It’s got nice colors too: burgundy and dark green. For a second I thought he’d just train with us in his regular clothes because he didn’t have anywhere to change, but he had a different idea. He took the clothes over to the nearest tree and literally opened a hole in it like he was opening a curtain. Then he stepped inside and closed it.
I ran my hands across the seam of the wood. It had actually grown closed. About a minute later he popped out in full costume. He’d even added a tiny twig from the tree that went from the tops of his ears around the back of his head. It was covered in little berries and leaves and kind of looked like it was burrowing into his skin right next to his ear. It looked like the kind of thing a faun in some myth would wear.
I’m definitely jealous. Who doesn’t want to use a tree as a dressing room? He immediately joined us in training. I don’t know how much he needs though. I saw him grab a network of roots and just start knocking those dummies out of the way like bowling pins. Meanwhile I’m just standing there hoping I don’t break myself in front of everybody.
Alright, that’s enough for today. I’ll do two questions but then I’m hitting the hay.
FLORIDAGAL432: DO YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON ANY OF THE OTHER BACKERS?? YOU HAVE TO TELL US I PROMISE WE WON’T SAY ANYTHING.
We haven’t known each other long enough for things like that to happen yet. With nine people in the Barn and the majority of them under thirty I’m willing to bet it’ll happen at some point. In a couple of weeks Alpha Dog will probably have the happy couple splashed across the site like they’re on a tabloid. Won’t be me though. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than getting a date.
Socialjusticewalrus: My mom caught me donating to you guys and took away my phone. She thinks you need to get real jobs. I keep telling her that nobody wants a real job when it means working retail, the grill, or a mop. I respect you guys for finding your own way. How did your parents react when you told them you were running off to be a crowdfunded superhero?
First, thanks for your donation Walrus. I know we sound like a broken record, but it does make all this possible. Second, they didn’t take it too well. I don’t think they’ll blow my cover but I think that’s largely because it would embarrass them. They wanted to know why I wouldn’t just join the police. I want justice, not authority. The day the Barn becomes a prison is the day I’ll leave the team. As long as we simply stop the bad guys and turn them over I don’t see any reason to jump through the hoops and do the paperwork just so I can pepper spray homeless people sleeping on benches. Goodnight everybody.