(reading time: 56 minutes)
Electric Eel Diary #29
(transcribed from video log)
Diary number twenty-nine without accidentally slipping on my own slime and killing myself during a mission. Good work everybody. Add another tally to the board. Eventually I will at least slip; it’s inevitable. I just hope that when I do I slide into a bad guy and knock him over so I can claim it was intentional.
I do have a big thing to talk about today. Most of you have probably seen Alpha Dog’s unboxing video, but I’m going to tell you about the parts that got edited out. I know he would rather I didn’t, but once I talked to everybody else about it I was sure I had to say something here.
It all started yesterday when Truck delivered a box the size of a phone booth to the Barn. Alpha Dog had him wheel it right through the kitchen and into his workshop. Something that huge passing through the building couldn’t help but snag a couple curious pairs of eyes, mine included. Before Truck even had it off the dolly there were four of us in the room staring at it: Paladina, Act-of-Goddess, Transplant, and me.
The box was made of pleated metal and most of its corners and edges were orange with rust. It had a ton of ‘do not touch’ and ‘fragile’ stickers all over it along with some yellow hazard ones for good measure. None of us had any idea what he’d gone and bought, just that it was really expensive.
“Are you guys going to be in the unboxing video?” Alpha Dog asked when he walked in. Paladina and Act-of-Goddess got up to leave, but Alpha Dog urged them to sit back down. “It’ll make it look better if you guys stay. Try to look excited.” They returned to their places leaning against a work bench while Alpha Dog positioned a webcam in front of the box for the recording. He told me to scoot towards Transplant so we would both be in the shot. Then he told us to be quiet. We watched patiently while he cleared his throat, paced back and forth, and mumbled something he’d rehearsed to himself. He exhaled slowly, put his hands behind his back, and started talking to the camera.
“Hey backers how’s it going? Alpha Dog here with a few of the other Backers who have joined me for this epic unboxing. Before we get into it though I need to give you guys a quick history lesson on the unusual treasure stored inside this box.” He banged on its side twice.
“You’ve probably never heard of an eccentric scientist who went by the name of Daye Janus. He’s been a worm potluck since the mid-eighties, but I’ve never forgotten about his work; it inspired me when I was young. Janus was a famously secretive computer engineer who was often seen to have incredible gadgets on his person that did things most other scientists would say were decades away.” Alpha Dog held up a grainy picture of a white guy in a cream suit with glasses that had frames like dominoes.
“He made millions during his career by drip feeding some of his knowledge to major corporations, but he kept all the good stuff to himself. It’s been locked up in his estate since he passed away. Until now that is. A secretive auction went down a while ago and I was privy to its existence. That’s what you get when you read three biographies about a guy and search his name on the internet every day for fifteen years.” He whistled and one of his dogs walked up; I always forget their names. The dog sparked a torch in its mouth and started slowly cutting the box open.
“There was only one rumored item in the lot that I could justify purchasing with Backer funds. There was always talk that in 1976, one year before Star Wars filled the public’s mind with bleeping and screeching droids, Janus created a true android. A machine that could walk, talk, and even fight on its own. Some of the notes found in his desk after his death referenced the project as the ‘tin soldier’. I purchased the soldier. At least I think I did. Nobody has laid eyes on him in thirty-five years. You’re about to join me in introducing the soldier to the twenty-first century!”
He grabbed a torch from his workbench and helped the dog finish the job from the other side. He ripped the metal panel off the front of the box and a bunch of sawdust came pouring out. A cloud of it went into the air and we all started coughing.
“I’ll… ack… I’ll cut this part out,” Alpha Dog sputtered while we waited for the dust to clear. He wiped the laptop down with a cloth to get some of the dust off it. While he was preparing to turn the recording back on I took a second to walk in front of the box and get a good look at the supposed soldier.
I was expecting the Terminator; I wasn’t even close. The thing was only about five foot six. Its eyes were big, round, and amber-colored. Its mouth was a jutting steel rectangle that looked like a harmonica. It wore a dark hat that looked a lot like a pirate’s. The strangest thing is that it was wearing a uniform that looked very similar to a revolutionary war get-up: long blue coat with white sashes across the chest, red-tipped sleeves, and yellow pants with knee-high white socks. It even had buckled shoes.
“This thing looks like some kind of museum animatronic,” I said. Transplant and the girls crowded around my sides to get a look at it too while Alpha Dog popped the back panel of the box off. More sawdust poured out but Act-of-Goddess brought in a breeze that pushed all of it down to the floor. Another dog showed up to start vacuuming all the packing material but Alpha Dog told it to scram.
“I’ve got to finish the video,” he said. “Everybody get back in your spots. Look excited. I want to see bright happy faces even if this thing just turns out full of gumballs.” We did as we were told. He wiped the sawdust off his costume and turned the camera back on so you guys could see the robot. With both sides of the box pulled away it looked like it was standing in an airport metal detector, rigidly waiting for its pat down. I was sitting behind it and I noticed it had a rifle mounted on its back. Next to the rifle, in the center of its back, I saw a metal semicircle that looked like a clock key; it turns out that’s what it was.
“It seems the rumors were true,” he started. “No, I shouldn’t say that. It has to be more dramatic than a rumor. Got to cut that part too. It seems the legends were true. This is Daye’s tin soldier. Time for a test run.” He moved behind the robot and turned the key a little. It clicked once. He waited before releasing it. “My research indicates the soldier is powered by an efficient kinetic turbine. Turning the key around twice should power him for about six hours. One click should be just a few seconds.”
“Wait!” Paladina said. “That thing has a gun! You don’t know what it’s going to do.”
“I highly doubt it’ll default to attacking me,” Alpha Dog scoffed. “Besides, I had all his ammunition shipped separately. Even if he tries he can’t fire that thing.” Alpha Dog released the key and stepped back before anyone else could object.
Something inside the soldier started clicking. Its joints loosened and let off some more sawdust. I heard another sound like a projector warming up. The machine marched forward out of the box, turned ninety degrees, and turned again to face Alpha Dog. It paid no attention to the rest of us or the sawdust it was kicking out of the way like snow. It saluted him. I could see now that its eyes were lit up. They were surprisingly warm, like there was an old oil lantern inside its head or something.
“Tin soldier number zero-zero-one reporting for duty,” it said through its harmonica-mouth. Its voice was somewhere between an air raid siren, a kazoo, and a coughing carburetor.
“Cool,” Alpha Dog whispered. He tugged at its jacket and wiped some dust away. “Uhh… Welcome to the Backer Barn. I am your new owner Eben Erenthall, but you can call me Alpha Dog.”
“Alpha Dog,” the robot repeated. It was quiet for a moment. We all were. “How goes the war?” it asked.
“What… what war would that be?” Alpha Dog asked it.
“The war for independence from tyranny,” it answered.
“Do you mean the revolutionary war? I thought you’d know the answer to that one. You were built on the bicentennial of our victory.”
“May I ask what the year is?”
“It’s 2015. You were created in 1976.”
“I am likely obsolete by now,” it said. For a second I thought I detected some sadness. It could’ve just been a sigh of sawdust from one of its exhaust ports.
“Oh there’s still nothing like you my friend. Trust that you are still one of a kind. What does your current programming tell you?”
“I am a soldier Alpha Dog sir. It is my duty to protect my owner as well as the American people at large. I am to defend their rights and die in battle if it is necessary to prevent injustice.”
“That’s all I need to hear! Wooh!” Alpha Dog hollered and pumped his fist in the air. “I was right on the money. Thank the stars he turned out to be real. What a rush! I bought a superhero! Let me introduce you to your new teammates.” He touched the robot on the shoulder and turned it towards us. I didn’t really know what to do so I just put my hand up and waved hello. I should know by now that just keeping my mouth shut isn’t good enough.
The robot grabbed the rifle off its back and pointed it square at my heart. It pulled the trigger. Click. Even though Alpha Dog had said there was no ammo, I felt like I’d been shot anyway. There was this moment where I was certain I felt a burning spear go right through me. I can’t believe it was just fear; it was worse than any wound I’ve ever actually gotten. I’d take a hundred root canals over that.
When the soldier realized he couldn’t shoot me he reached into his jacket and pulled out a blade. He snapped it onto the end of the rifle as a bayonet and rushed towards me. I freaked out and rolled backwards onto the table I was leaning on. The blade came in so fast that it would’ve turned me into a shish kebab if Paladina wasn’t right there with her katana. She forced the bayonet down and into the table. A huge curl of wood formed as the blade lodged itself in place. I kicked the robot in the head and knocked it back.
“Soldier stop! I order you to stop!” Alpha Dog said futilely. He fumbled with the buttons on his gauntlet, trying to call his nearest dogs. The robot grabbed Paladina’s wrist and wrenched it in a circle so her sword flew across the room. Then he pushed her aside and came for me again. Act-of-Goddess rose into the air, blowing the sawdust she’d been controlling everywhere, and fired an icicle the size of a traffic cone at the machine. The ice spear broke against him and only made him stumble for a second. “Don’t destroy it! Just knock it over!” Alpha Dog was yelling. It sure was nice to hear how concerned he was for my wellbeing.
The machine wrenched its bayonet free from the table and came at me again. It swung the blade over its head like an axe and like I was the wood on the chopping block. Almost on instinct I clapped my hands together and squeezed out the thickest rope of pale green slime I could muster. I know it’s gross, but don’t knock it. It saved my life. I pulled my hands apart and the blade came down. It cut through three quarters of the slime and then stuck in place.
The tin soldier clicked. The amber of its eyes, which now looks more like a raging inferno to me, went out like a pilot light. That was the last of the energy Alpha Dog had given it. If he had turned that key another inch I might be dead. Paladina pulled it away from me and tossed its lifeless body into the sawdust. She had her axe so she was roaring like a Viking. She was about to bash it into scrap when Alpha Dog threw himself in front of her. Four of his dogs rushed in and grabbed each of the soldier’s limbs in their jaws.
“Woah woah woah!” our leader said. “If you destroy Tin Soldier I’m going to fire you.”
“What good is that golem to us?” Act-of-Goddess spat. She was still hovering off the ground and tossing dust everywhere like a helicopter.
“Calm your righteous fury for a second,” Alpha Dog said. “I don’t need you to smite anybody. This thing is a big investment for us. I’m sorry I missed the bayonet, but I think it’s just confused. It did say there was a war going on. You guys get out of here and I’ll get it sorted out. The dogs won’t let it go until I’m one hundred and eighty million percent sure it’s safe.”
We haven’t seen the robot since, but Alpha Dog says its murderous few moments were just a glitch. It was in some kind of hyper-alert battle mode and was assuming everyone around it who wasn’t its owner was violent. He’s going to bring it out to train with us tomorrow. He wants us to call it he instead of it too. Once it demonstrates it can walk a straight line without tackling me, I’ll oblige. Until then it’s an it.
Question time. Show me what you’ve got.
Quesoholic12: Whatever happened to that Swagglerock loser who was harassing you guys? Did he just get bored or something?
I haven’t had any trouble with him. I think his efforts are more focused on the western team. I’m pretty sure our cybersecurity is the best in the world though, so he can’t really do much to them directly.
Orangewedgesmile: You’re slimy like a slug right? What happens if Salt Shaker accidentally hits u with a salty missile? Would u shrivel up and die? (If so please be super mega careful bcuz you’re my favorite.)
We haven’t really tested that particular theory but I’m not too worried about it. I can produce lots of slime but it’s not part of my flesh the way a slug’s seems to be. I’ll tell her not to spill any on me just in case okay? Thanks for saying I’m your favorite by the way! Maybe I can get Alpha Dog to send you a special shirt and I’ll sign it or something if you like. Just send your E-mail to our fan address if you’d like that.
I should be back tomorrow backers, if Tin Soldier doesn’t blow a gasket and chop me into unagi.
Secret Shuffle gets a New Rarity
(This is a widely reposted notice written by Deckard. Its original source could not be traced, but it is believed authentic.)
I’d like to add a new rarity to the game anyway. That depends on you, the players. If you want fatter tankier cards you need to go out and get the secrets yourself. You might be asking yourself who has juicier secrets than the governors and CEOs currently crowding the skull rank. The answer is simple: superheroes.
If you’re good enough at Secret Shuffle you can have a deck full of terrified perverts and miscreants doing your bidding so you don’t air their dirty laundry. Now imagine having a hero’s dirt in your deck. Suddenly your bidding could be the destruction of a building. Maybe your slag of an ex needs an uppercut that smashes her head into the ISS.
I want these cards to exist as badly as you do my friends. Someone has to dig up the dirt though. I’ve already worked up a graphic for the new rarity symbol; it’ll be a wishbone. I’ll pay handsomely for the ability to print it on the most exclusive set of cards yet.
I’ve heard the Justice Backers are considering our little game their next target. One thing they’re going to learn about me is that I strike first. Any of you what have lost to me in Secret Shuffle know that. I’m offering four hundred thousand US dollars for the secret identity of each Justice Backer, east or west. Other secrets will net you some cash, but I want unmasked faces most. Help me pin them down like bugs on a map. If we know who they are we know where they’re from. We know who their family members are. We open up a million little holes across their lives and go digging for some particularly foul-smelling shite.
Remember, Secret Shuffle is all in good fun. If you’re not good at having fun you don’t belong near it, you belong in it. You have to play. Nobody gets to sit this one out. You have to prove yourself smart enough to stay off the cards. If you can’t, well then you deserve to be played with. If you can’t win then the only thing you can do is lose. Become my product. Most of you out there would make such lousy cards I wouldn’t even use you as coasters.
I know the tournament scene is ramping up. I’ll be round for some of them. I can’t say which, on account the Justice Backers or the police are bound to show up at a couple of them. I will show my mug at some point. I’m not too worried about the Backers, because I’ve hired some super-powered lads of my own. It’s amazing what you can buy with secrets. If you’re in a tourney be on the lookout for my two bodyguards: Rot and Speedball.
Rot you’ll know by looking at him; he looks like a pile of pasta salad with some fish guts tossed in. I’d tell you how he got that way, but he likes to keep it a mystery. Whenever he wants he can cover the floor and walls with rotten fungal growth that can choke the life out of you. I don’t know why he insists on wearing proper nice suits all the time since he’s always staining them with that shite, but I guess he thinks he has style. If he sees you messing with me he’ll bury you in mold and decompose your body in an hour flat.
Speedball used to be in baseball before they tossed him out on his arse for drugs. I never got that particular American sport, just seems like a bunch of fags running around a square so they can slap each other’s bums. I hooked Speedball up with part of a military-grade exoskeleton. Now he can throw a ball through a concrete wall. I went ahead and equipped him with a backpack full of cannon shot, gas grenades, and bombs to toss to his wee heart’s content. I’ve seen him stop a man’s heart with one throw.
That’s it. Get out there and rip the bloody masks off the Backers. Get me some pictures of their pretty faces. Get me some names so I can flatten them out and run them through my fingers.
We’ve got three new sets coming out this month. Talk to your dealer about getting your hands on some. As usual some of the cards are going out of circulation this week because the dirt’s lost its potency. If you try to use the cards from now on, you’re disqualified. The legal cards are always on the compendium sites, so it’s your job to not fuck up your deck. As far as Secret Shuffle is concerned, these cards are just toilet paper now:
Melissa Brody (suicide)
Gary Ulle (fired)
Stellan Onslieg (fate unknown)
Senator Johnathan Shu (admitted guilt)
Stephanie Rawmark (fate unknown)
Barclay Ziegler (suicide)
Raphael Caruso (fired)
Nellie Kelly (fate unknown)
Karima Jackson (comatose)
Opossum Player Diary #33
(transcribed from video log)
B-b-b-b-ackers! Do I have a story for you my beautiful little goblins. It’s about the brand new knight in shining armor we bought on the internet. It turns out his armor’s not so much shiny as it is covered in crusty racism!
Everything went fine when Tin Soldier came out to train with us. Alpha Dog cranked a couple of hours into his key and he was a good little toy-boy the whole time. He did what he was told. Alpha Dog gave him this big-ass box of ammo to load his rifle with. We don’t do normal guns, so we gave him rubber bullets. The big dog says they still have plenty of stopping power. He can do other stuff with the gun anyway since he’s got like a utility belt; there’s a grappling hook he can shoot out of it and cool stuff like nets too. We gave him some tasty new Justice-Backers-brand orders so now he isn’t allowed to kill anybody.
Like I said the training went fine. The soldered soldier hit all the targets we put in front of him. He did some drills with the dogs so we could see how well he worked with them. With his old-timey uniform it kind of looked like a fox hunt when he was giving the dogs orders. Maybe we should get him a robo-horse and a bugle or something. That’s the weird trumpet they had right?
Anyway the day after that we got a mission. There was this research student in some chemistry program down in Louisiana. She got blown up. Just like me she kind of shook it off. She can do that now because some weird chemicals in the explosion bonded to her cells and gave her the ability to turn into a purple cloud. That didn’t sound too scary until we heard that the cloud was basically made out of acid and could eat through anything it touched.
She went nut-balls on this crazy power trip and started telling everybody she ran into to call her Toxic Violet. Then she decided her first act as an indestructible cloud person would be going through her diary and dissolving every guy that’d ever done her wrong.
I know how tempting it is to get revenge on badly behaved boys, but I never melted any of their faces. After she killed one guy we were all over her like glitter on everything I ever made in school (yes, even the essays).
The team that went to vacuum her up was me, Orb, Electric Eel, Salt Shaker, and Tin Soldier. We brought two of the doggies with us too since the big dog had modified them with these big vacuums on their mouths. They kind of looked like dogs wearing those white cones vets give out. He told us he’d lined the vacuum bags with stuff that neutralizes most caustic compounds so Violet couldn’t acid her way out.
Her Connectera was covered in old arguments with guys, so it wasn’t too hard to guess which one she would go after next (hint: it was the one that cheated on her a baker’s dozen times). We chased her away from his house and into this gross boggy place with a bunch of concrete sewer pipes big enough to walk through. It smelled like crayfish ass.
Once she realized she couldn’t outrun us she tried to fly way up into the sky. Salt Shaker kept her down by shooting some missiles above her that exploded. The salts in them caked up her cloudy bits and forced her back down. That was when I finally got a good look at her. She was real pretty except for all the evil seeping out from between her teeth. You can’t really take your clothes with you when you’re an acid cloud, but she didn’t really look like she was naked either. The purple gas just kind of clung to her body and she sort of made a costume out of it. She hovered in front of a big pipe, legless, giving us the evil eye.
“Don’t make me kill you,” she threatened. Puffs of purple smoke came out of her mouth with every word.
“No can do Sweetie,” I said. “Murderers go to jail. Them’s the rules.
“If you put me in I’ll just slide right through the bars,” she said.
“We’re going to shove you in a bag and go from there,” Salt Shaker said.
Violet decided to spray it instead of say it; she puffed out her cheeks and shot a jet of purple gas right at our feet. Everybody jumped back, including me. It really wouldn’t have mattered if she’d barbecued my tootsies but my poor boots would have never recovered. Orb put himself in his ball, but it wasn’t like he could do much since you can’t squash a cloud. Violet flew at him and broke over his mind-marble like water.
Salt Shaker tried to corral her with more missiles and even had to do this dandruff-looking explosion thing to keep her away. That was when I started to get scared; she was a lot faster than I thought she’d be. The dogs couldn’t get close enough to start sucking her up. Tin Soldier had a spray can attached to the end of his rifle that sprayed glue, so he managed to keep her back too. Electric Eel was the only one without some kind of protection. I kind of put myself in front of him like a shield just in case she decided to go after him.
I didn’t even get the chance to protect him. Toxic Violet swooped in towards him and spread out her arms so she was leaving a wide blanket of gas. Eel was exposed. I stood in front of him to take most of the gas, but something pulled me out of the way. It was Tin Soldier. He’d grabbed my arm right as the gas was hitting me and pulled me away. That left Eel with no cover. I was certain he was screwed.
He was smart enough to backpedal and drop himself into a deep muddy puddle. The gas didn’t really penetrate into the water. While Violet was hovering over the pond waiting for him to surface, Tin Soldier let go of my arm, grabbed Orb, jumped, and tossed the round old man down into the puddle. There was a big splash like Shamu off the high-dive. All the mud and water in the air sort of soaked up Violet and left these purple globs of slime all over the edge of the puddle. The dogs started vacuuming those up as quickly as they could so she couldn’t reform.
“What the hell man?” Electric Eel exploded as he pulled himself out of the mire. He had brown crud and weeds in every bit of his costume. I assumed we’d need to hire some kind of super laundry lady to handle it. I could see some burns on his arms where a little bit of the gas had gotten him. I felt a little guilty they were there, but it wasn’t my fault. Like Eel and everybody else I was way more pissed at Tin Soldier. If he wanted to kill us he had plenty of opportunities in training. Eel stomped towards Soldier. The robot held up its gun and stopped Eel in his squishy tracks.
“I will defend myself,” Soldier said.
“Put the gun down,” Salt Shaker ordered. She pointed her own hand at Soldier and I saw a bunch of little crystals grow out. Soldier turned his gun on her.
“I do not take orders from natives,” Soldier racisted all over her. I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought I might need to chop them off, wash them out, and put them back on to make sure I heard right. You guys remember that Salt Shaker’s Native American right?
“Excuse me?” Shaker roared. I think it took all she had to not rust him into oblivion right there. I love that salty bitch. Orb pulled himself out of his ball and tried to calm the robot.
“I don’t take orders from any type of Indian,” the robot insisted and pointed his gun at Orb. We were all pretty shocked. We’d never heard him say anything that sounded so human before. All of a sudden it was like he actually had a personality. It was just our luck that personality was a blazing racist. It was also our luck that I was technically the only white one there, which none of us had been forced to notice until that second.
“Do you take orders from me?” I asked. Soldier stared at me for a second before his head darted back to his darker teammates. I started walking towards him; a rubber bullet would bother me less than a mosquito bite.
“In the absence of Alpha Dog, yes,” Soldier confirmed.
“Well then I order you to put your gun down and stand perfectly still,” I said. He looked like he didn’t want to comply. “That was an order soldier!” He lowered his rifle and then slung it over his back. He looked me in the eye with his weird flashlight-eyes.
“Don’t let them touch me,” he practically whispered to me.
“What is your problem? They’re on your team,” I said.
“They are not soldiers. They are the enemy. It is a shame you and Alpha Dog do not understand that. It seems the war was lost mere months after I was put in that box.”
“What war are you talking about?” Salt Shaker asked. Soldier didn’t answer her, so I repeated her question. She looked at me like she didn’t want me to humor him, but how else were we going to find out? I hate being dragged into stuff like this. This kind of crap was supposed to be over before I was even born.
“The war of the races,” the robot said. “The war I was built to fight in.” That tidbit of information hit us just like Toxic Vi would have; it burned the skin.
“Why are you dressed like a revolutionary war soldier then?” I asked.
“My creator saw the coming war as a second war for independence. The white man would be fighting for freedom from the poisonous infiltration of Israel, Africa, and the Orient. My uniform exists to unite the true masters of America.”
“Masters is right,” Electric Eel grumbled. “When we unboxed you… you said it was a war against tyranny.”
“The tyranny of clamoring minorities,” Soldier said.
“I guess Daye Janus wasn’t too happy with the civil rights movement,” Salt Shaker said. “He thought the firehoses were going to be traded in for tanks.”
“Do not speak ill of my creator,” Soldier scolded. You could practically hear the heat sizzling on his mouth-grill-thing. His hand twitched like he was going to grab his gun again, but I think he remembered his order.
“So why did you pull Player off me? You’re trying to get me killed because I’m black?” Eel accused.
“Not so,” the robot answered. “I have been ordered by Alpha Dog to not harm humans who aren’t the target of our missions and to protect the Justice Backers.”
“I’m a Backer!” Eel insisted.
“Opossum Player is a Backer. I was protecting her from the gas. Though it was unlikely to kill her I thought it was better to be safe. You, Electric Eel, are not human. You are the property of the Justice Backers. Only creatures with souls deserve my protection.”
“I could fry you right now!” Electric Eel seethed. I saw electricity jumping between his fingers. I knew he wouldn’t do it though. None of us was sure if Tin Soldier was actually alive. He seemed petty and foolish enough to be your everyday human being.
‘I’m turning you off,” I said and walked round behind him. He tried to turn and look at me but he wasn’t allowed to move his feet.
“Can you place me in the storage compartment on the helicopter?” he asked. “I don’t want their fingerprints on me.”
“You’re sitting right next to them,” I said. I grabbed his clock key and pushed it forward a few rotations to use up his energy. When it stopped moving he shut down and his eyes darkened. I think that was an even weirder mission than Game Master.
After we loaded him into Bit we headed straight back to the Barn to have a word with big dog. He didn’t even believe us at first. He asked why we were hauling his inactive metal ass into the Barn and scuffing his stupid metal feet.
“Maybe you could have mentioned that the brilliant scientist Daye Janus was a warmongering white supremacist,” Salt Shaker said.
“What? That’s ridiculous. I’ve read like three biographies on the guy and none of them say anything about that. He had an uncle in the Klan or something, but that’s it.”
“Tin Soldier almost got me killed because I’m too black to bother with,” Electric Eel said. He’d been stewing the whole helicopter ride and he looked angrier and more dejected than I’d ever seen him. I mean it’s not like we’re best friends, but I could feel how upset he was. I don’t think he thought something like that would follow him into his new home full of superheroes.
“I doubt that,” Alpha Dog dismissed. “He’s not perfect. His eyes are actually slightly worse than 70’s TV cameras; he probably just thought he saw something that required that course of action. He can make mistakes just like you.”
“He denied that we had humanity,” Orb confirmed calmly. Alpha Dog seemed to actually listen to him. Orb doesn’t lie. I don’t think he even exaggerates.
“That thing explicitly said it was built by Janus to fight in a coming race war,” Salt Shaker added. She probably thought Orb wasn’t angry enough about the whole thing. “I know we signed up for weird stuff, but you can’t expect us to tolerate a piece of malfunctioning racist hardware that might get us killed. You need to decommission it.”
“No,” Alpha Dog said after rubbing his forehead for a minute.
“No!” Salt shaker shouted back. “What the hell is your problem?”
“I understand this is an issue,” the big dog said. “I’ll see what I can do about his parameters. I won’t let him into the field again unless it’s clear that he is to do everything in his power to protect and assist every person on the team.”
“He doesn’t think we’re people,” Electric Eel reminded, trying to drill the point in. Sometimes the big dog’s made of granite though.
“The fact is I spent so much money on him that we cannot write him off as a loss without losing significant support. If I could do it all again I’d be a little more cautious, but for now he stays. He’s my property and he’ll do what I say. He won’t hurt anybody. I haven’t said it yet, but good job with Violet. You guys did great work out there. For now you’re dismissed. Leave him in my shop.”
That was all he’d say about it. Salt Shaker stormed off into her room. Electric Eel did the same and Orb took the robot into the shop. It’s no wonder his last team got so pissed at him. Two of our guys could quit over this and they’d be totally right in doing so. I don’t want to be on team racism.
Suddenly I was alone in the kitchen thinking about how light my skin was and then reminding myself that this wasn’t even about me. That stupid tin wrench was thrown into our works at the worst time. We hadn’t even finished becoming friends yet. Our rooms aren’t even that comfortable to retreat into yet.
Two days later he told us Tin Soldier was coming out with us again. He said that he couldn’t alter his personality or his beliefs because the 70’s computer that is his brain is so different from anything he’s ever touched, but that the soldier now knows he has to work with us regardless of his feelings. Nobody’s happy about it. I’m honestly shocked Salt Shaker didn’t quit right there. Somehow we’re all still here. For now.
Give me some questions goblins. Let me laugh and choke on your silliness for a while and forget my broken home.
Randomdestroyer: Are you guys really going after that guy over his card game? I know it’s technically illegal, but come on. Shouldn’t you be stopping terrorists and giant monsters and stuff? People just need to suck it up and maybe live less perverted lives if they’re worried about their secrets turning into toys.
People can be as perverted as they want to be as long as they don’t hurt anybody. Deckard’s doing plenty of hurting and that’s what put him on our radar in the first place. Besides, we haven’t actually run into any giant monsters yet. Fingers crossed though.
Ch4rming3ch0: Have u though about defecting to Impalas team? U seem like u wanna make freinds & their all friends over there. Just sayin.
Somebody has to cover this half of the country. It wouldn’t be right for me to jump ship just because nobody wants to wear friendship bracelets. I’ll keep trying. It’s really really hard to not like me. Thanks goblins. Now let’s all crawl into our caves and get some sleeping done.
Act-of-Goddess Diary #59
(transcribed from video log)
We can finally rest. I know many of you have been following our leader’s updates, but for those of you who haven’t I suppose I should start from the beginning. Excuse me if I jump around a little; these have been a trying few days for me. They were the kind of days that make you question whether or not you have a destiny. I felt like I was a joker being shuffled in and out of a deck of cards at a party. Nobody was sure where I was supposed to go or if I should be in play or not. I’m sure you’ve seen how those cards end up after a while. Rips. Circular stains from a sweating liquor bottle.
It started this past Thursday. The day was uneventful. We trained in the fields. Paladina regaled me with some of the fairy tales planted in her head by the Game Master. Each one was a story of war or vengeance, something to convince her mind it needed to master a different weapon or style of fighting. The Viking in her fights to claim new land for her people. The legionnaire fights to restore his name. Any of them could make excellent tales around a campfire. I suppose that was the point. The stories had to grip her to become a part of her.
She is having difficulties with her family. Her husband does not accept her choice to leave her old work for what he considers embarrassing theatrics. Though I have not spoken to him in person his words reek of jealousy. I advised her not to listen. She agreed to spend the rest of her life with him, but did the four warriors that now live deep within her breast do the same? She has a goddess for a partner now; there’s no way he can compete with that as a mere… never mind.
Most of us retired to our quarters early that night. I was watching a romantic comedy film in my quarters called ‘She Outpartied Me’. It was recommended to me by several backers as the latest step in my return to normalcy. As many of you know I spent the last few years under the thumb of a mesmerist who had me convinced I was an actual divine being. I’m ashamed to admit I ate the idea up and changed my demeanor and vocabulary to reflect it. You have been kindly suggesting contemporary pieces of entertainment to help me modernize my speech. I finally got away from referring to the other Backers as ‘mortals’ last month.
I’m sorry to anyone who enjoys it, but it’s quite an awful film. I don’t think two people locking eyes as they vomit their hangovers into the same toilet makes a very good basis for a relationship. It seemed like both the characters had serious alcohol issues that the story never addressed. I know every celebration needs a good cask of wine, but the bathtub full of crushed ice and mojito was excessive.
I was nearly finished with the film and strongly desiring an excuse to turn it off when my wish came true. I heard a terrible clamor like some gigantic stork screaming. I rushed out into the hall to find Paladina brandishing one of her swords. She was just as confused as I was. We moved quickly towards the workshop; the noise seemed to be coming from that direction. We came upon Tin Soldier, eyes blazing and bayonet primed to skewer anything that got in his way. The terrible noise was coming from his mouth. We both ordered him to quiet down.
I am aware of the machine’s race issue; that’s why I made sure to repeat any order Paladina gave. Tin Soldier will obey commands given by her now, but there’s a noticeable delay in his reactions that isn’t there when white lips direct him.
“What is going on?” I demanded.
“There is an intruder,” the machine informed us. “It may be two intruders.”
“You’re not sure?”
“I am not sure,” the machine said.
The door to Alpha Dog’s workshop exploded outward. A tumbling ball of glinting metal bodies spilled into the hallway. It took a moment to make out four of our machine hounds doing battle with a confusing mass of bluish-gray limbs. Alpha Dog emerged from the broken doorway. He had a deep gash across his forehead and a darkened eye.
“Stop them!” he shouted to us and pointed at the mass of hounds. His other hand fumbled with his gauntlet as he tried to give orders to his machines. We still had no idea what we were supposed to be stopping. Between the metal fangs and claws of the hounds I caught only glimpses of something amorphous; the strange dark lump occasionally produced a fist that punched one of the hounds away.
My powers are incredible, but nearly useless in tight spaces. I can order a hurricane around like a personal servant, but it’s still not a good idea to bring one into my home. Any lava or boiling water would risk damaging my teammates. I had to stay towards the back while Paladina and Tin Soldier moved forward. Their blades only added to the chaos. The bluish mass did not bleed; instead it produced sparks when Tin Soldier’s bayonet struck it. Two legs, surprisingly feminine in shape, emerged from what looked like a male torso and kicked Paladina through the air. I caught her and lifted her back to her feet.
One of four hands wrapped around Tin Soldier’s neck and slammed him into the wall. The robot’s key could not turn in that position, causing him to deactivate. Another of the four arms was held high in the air so Alpha Dog’s nipping hounds couldn’t reach it. The hand held a small yellow rectangle with a plastic shell: a USB drive.
“Get the drive!” Alpha Dog ordered. “Or destroy it! Just don’t let them leave with it!” The mass skittered towards us with four feet and two of its hands. I summoned a gust of wind from the Himalayas to push them back. The air turned cold and filled with clumped snowflakes.
The mass barely faltered. The nearer half of it split off from the rest and launched itself at me. Only then did I decode what I was looking at. The intruding entity was made up of two people, one man and one woman, whose bodies could pass straight through each other. They were indeed made of metal, something I confirmed when the woman’s steely fist struck me in the stomach and forced me to my knees.
The ferrous fiends took off down the hall. They’d broken two of our hounds, but the rest ran after them. Alpha Dog picked Tin Soldier up and started his key moving again.
“Use your magnet Soldier,” he ordered. “Keep them stuck together. I’ll get Electric Eel.” The robot nodded and opened a panel on his chest. He removed a large bullet-shaped block of metal and replaced his bayonet with it. I am not a woman of science, but I can tell you the device’s magnetism became far stronger when the robot charged it with electricity. I was able to sense it because I too can access the Earth’s magnetic field when the need arises. If I tried to use it indoors it would have torn all the wiring from the walls and all the silverware from the cupboards.
Feeling useless does not sit well with me, but I had little choice as the muscles in my abdomen still bit at me. I hunched forward and followed behind Tin Soldier and Paladina. When we found the intruders again they were destroying the area around our front door. Alpha Dog had triggered the security doors, so two metal sheets had dropped down over the entrance. The metal man and woman had formed their hands into blades and pry bars and were ripping the sheets open.
The dogs barked at them, but were forced to back up when Tin Soldier approached with the magnet. I think the intruders felt its pull because they doubled their efforts. In seconds they’d torn a hole through to the night air. The singing of crickets reached my ears. They were about to jump through the hole when something pushed them back in. Thick roots grew at the edges of the hole. Shrubs plugged the opening. Transplant emerged from one of the plants. I had forgotten that he often slept outside on nice nights. He’d heard the banging on the security doors from within his makeshift tree bed. (He gave me a chance to sleep inside the trunk of a tree once; it was pleasant, if a touch confined.)
With their only means of escape blocked, the metal duo backed themselves into a corner. Her torso passed through his and her eyes watched from his clavicle. Tin Soldier fired the magnet like a grenade. It struck its mark, right near the man’s heart. It not only bound him to the security door, but it kept his woman from separating her body. A burst of green slime shot out and wrapped around one of her arms. Electric Eel was attached to the other end. He forced a lightning bolt’s worth of energy through it and into the intruders, which knocked them unconscious. Alpha Dog strutted over to the collection of arms and legs and pried the USB drive away from them. He tossed it to one of the hounds, which crunched it in its jaws and chewed until there was nothing left but tiny yellow shards.
When everything settled down and we’d brought everyone out to discuss it, the intruders awoke. They were tied together with a magnetic cable and sat in two chairs facing away from each other.
“So who are these fridge magnets?” Opossum Player asked.
“Their racial background is unclear,” Tin Soldier said.
“That’s not what she meant,” Electric Eel snapped.
“Do not speak for her,” the robot snapped right back.
“Everybody shut up for a minute,” Alpha Dog requested. He held a bag of frozen baby corn to the cut on his forehead. I had offered to bring a chunk of sea ice in for him, but he declined. He has often worried, rather vocally, that my powers would accidentally bring someone across the world into our secret home. His fears had been realized in a way that he found significantly more upsetting. “These two are mercenaries.” He pointed at them with his free hand. “We’ve got some FBI files on them.”
“We have backers in the FBI? Sweet,” Opossum Player said.
“Their names are Metal X and Metal Y,” Alpha Dog continued. “They’re married geologists. They got their hands on some weird meteor a couple of years ago. Nobody knows how it happened but the metal from it fused with their bodies.” I looked closely at our intruders and saw ridges around the ring fingers on their left hands. Meteorite wedding bands fused right to the skin. I could see a large Y on his chest and an X on hers. Their eyes were cloudy and white like dissolving pearls, their expressions smug and untroubled. “I’m sure you saw they can move right through each other too. You’ll never know where the next punch is coming from.”
“Why did you come here?” Salt Shaker asked them. They looked at her with their tiny smiles and said nothing.
“They only talk to each other,” Alpha Dog added. “I bet they pass their thoughts back and forth when they’re stuck together. I’d like to get Dreamweaver in here to see if…”
“What were they here for?” Paladina asked. “What was on that drive?”
“Our private files,” Alpha Dog answered. “Dialup alerted me when our computers were accessed. They copied all our financial information and all of our secret identities. I think they were after Deckard’s bounty.”
“They didn’t get out of here though… so we’re fine right?” Electric Eel asked.
“Not exactly.” Alpha Dog waited for someone else to figure out the problem and say it for him. Salt Shaker took the opportunity.
“Somehow they found the Barn,” she said. “That means they could find it again or sell the information. We need to convince them not to. A little corrosion could persuade them.” Small white crystals bristled across her arm hair and in her eyebrows.
“I’m pretty sure that would count as torture. We don’t do that, right?” Electric Eel asked.
“Hey you two. Would that count as torture?” Opossum Player asked them. They simply stared back with their stiff smiles. I’m not sure if they can even change those expressions.
“And the Justice Backers have a strict policy against taking prisoners,” Orb said. I had almost forgotten he was there. Even though he shares authority with Alpha Dog, it is rare for him to speak up or give an order.
“What are we going to do?” Paladina asked. No one answered her, but the solution descended on us all anyway. Metal X and Metal Y could not be held at the Barn and we could not stay there if we sent them to the police.
We tossed ideas back and forth for a few hours, but eventually they all slid out from between our fingers. Only one option, heavy and cold, stayed solid in our minds. The Backers had to move.
For our newer members it was merely a hassle. Salt Shaker had to empty all of the exotic salt lamps out of her room. Opossum Player had to take down her layers of posters. It was more than labor for some of us. Alpha Dog, Orb, Transplant, and I had been there for quite some time. We’ve been heroes long enough to transform our lairs into our homes. My best memories since before I could fly are in the Barn. I do not keep many possessions since I have access to the most beautiful places and materials of the Earth, but I am just as connected to the walls there as anyone else might be to a line of scratches on the corner they grew up stood against.
This is the reason for our spotty communication recently. We had to coordinate with Impala’s team (who agreed to hold Metal XY and turn them over to the police once we had vacated) and several of our most devoted backers to facilitate the move. Obviously I cannot tell you our new location, but Alpha Dog has cleared some of the details we can share. There was one backer in particular, whom I shall call Saint Nameless, whose business connections and deep pockets moved everything along as smoothly as possible. They acquired the facility for us, free of charge.
In the mid-eighties an organized crime family attempted to liquidate their criminal assets and shift all their money into legitimate businesses, primarily tourism. One of their ventures was going to be a mid-sized aquarium that would also function as a research center for river health. The family’s prior connections were discovered by the government and they were forced to shut everything down. Some of their investments they managed to mothball and most of their records were destroyed in a fire. The aquarium building was nearly complete, lacking only decoration and more permanent roads to replace the dirt ones used during construction.
Alpha Dog has named it the Backer Bay. The tanks are largely without cracks, so he intended to use them as display cases for the many oddities we acquire during our adventures. The largest will house the robotic hands we took from Woman’s Touch. Walking by them every day would be an unpleasant reminder for me. I used to be in the palm of those hands, sometimes literally. I held my tongue when he brought up the idea; I dare not destroy what little enthusiasm our team has for their work. Being a superhero seems to get grimier every day. I feel like a custodian sweeping the floor only to watch the dust settle back before my eyes. For every Game Master we defeat there are two spies trying to steal our hearts from our chests and ten internet scavengers trying to dispel our support.
We were all fatigued by the time we arrived at the Bay. Worse still, one of our intended bedrooms was occupied by stacks of heavy plastic buckets of water treatment chemicals. One of us was going to have to sleep in one of the fish tanks for a night or two while it was cleaned out.
“I’ll do it,” Electric Eel offered. “I’m already the fishiest one here.” We were all grateful to him. Our first choice would have been to set Tin Soldier in there, but he did not have a room at the Barn in the first place. Since he did not need sleep he usually just marched the halls and coordinated with the hounds on security.
Paladina and I took an evening stroll through the building. A few tiny holes in the ceiling had, over nearly three decades, allowed generations of insects and spiders to squat in the corners. Pale dry leaves filled one of the tanks, nearly submerging a decorative pirate ship.
“I’m even farther from redacted,” she told me, referring to her husband. I thought she was going to say something else, but she let the words clot and stick in the stale air.
“Perhaps we should think more about what we’re moving towards,” I suggested. It was a meaningless statement. It would have been better for me to simply bring an invigorating breeze into the hallway.
“Come on guys. This place is way bigger than the Barn; it’s an upgrade!” We turned to see Opossum Player walking towards us. She had a heavy duffel bag over her shoulder with the sleeves of various loud sweaters dangling from its jammed zipper like the ends of deflated party balloons. She’d neglected to shift the weight of the bag for so long that there was an unpleasant rash on her shoulder that she seemed unaware of.
I don’t find her energy as infectious as some of the other Backers. In the short time I worked with Pawn I learned that he seemed embarrassed whenever he perished in battle. Opossum Player has the opposite attitude, seeing it as an opportunity to make as many mistakes as she wants. If I were brutally murdered and left to rot in a quarry I’d like to think it would convince me to change my behavior. To her it’s a free pass. Murder is just an insult she can shake off. I wonder if she takes the threat of our secret identities being revealed seriously; what’s a secret to someone nigh invulnerable? She could create a fresh start whenever she wanted. For me the move was pain. I was a monarch ripped from its chrysalis and shoved into a test tube by a greasy thumb. In that hallway I just wanted to share a moment of quiet adjustment with my greatest friend; I snapped at Opossum Player a bit. I regret it now, especially given how I lost control later that night.
Dreamweaver used to help me settle my thoughts immediately after I drifted to sleep. My former physician left enough holes in my mind to bury a thousand memories. Dreamweaver, with her amazing dress that seemed to be made of the same stuff as the dreams themselves, gave me hope. She tamed my nightmares. She is with Impala’s team now. I thought I could handle all the stress on my own, but the move helped some of the nightmares bite through their leashes.
There was a time with my doctor when, convinced I was being pursued and sickened by a demonic entity, I would use my powers to retreat to the bottom of the ocean. I had hoped the demon’s illusions could not penetrate miles of water and that the great pressure around me would prevent my sanity from leaking out. By keeping an open connection to a windy place, I was safe in a bubble of air no matter how deep I went. On our first night at the Bay as I dozed fitfully, my mind tried to take me back there. Subconsciously I think I assumed an aquarium could handle any amount of water I threw at it.
A wave of salt water crashed over me. It lifted me off my bed and slammed me into the wall before shattering the aquarium glass on the adjacent wall. Gasping for breath, I held out my hands and opened a portal to an area hundreds of feet above a jagged mountain top. I drained the water in my room and showered it over the rocks.
I suddenly became aware of a dozen other holes I had unwittingly opened all over the Bay. I could feel them; there was a lot more water where that batch had come from. I dared not close the holes my dreaming mind opened, lest I trap one of my teammates across the world and under an ocean or in some raging rapids. I had to first check to see if they were alive.
I raced through the corridors of the Bay, stomping through puddles and the now-mushy dead leaves. I could hardly believe what I’d done. Every tank I passed was now full of seawater. The lights passed through the tanks and bathed the halls a smothering eerie blue. In some of them I could see silvery fish swimming by in tight spherical shoals. I had opened portals at the front and back of every tank, so the animals were not trapped. With the glass between us it was just like looking out the window of a submarine. The strange sights and the occasional pulse of a luminescent jellyfish nearly hypnotized me, but a shout brought me out of it.
When I found Paladina her wet hair was hanging over her eyes like clumps of seaweed, but she was alright. Tin Soldier had outrun a wave that took over a hallway before dissipating and leaving a dozen purple starfish and one confused octopus behind. Though I didn’t know at the time, almost everyone was safe but drenched. Salt Shaker was beyond furious. Blocks of orange salt, yellow salt, pink salt, black salt, some with unique chemical properties, from all over the world, dissolved in moments. I had plenty of apologizing to do, but she wasn’t in danger. Electric Eel was.
The poor boy had no idea volunteering to sleep with the fishes was going to end up literally being the case. I found him clinging to the edge of the tank he’d been sleeping in, doing his best to resist the pull of the current. I rushed to help him and was about to grab his hand when a blue streak came in from the side of the tank and bit his thigh. He panicked and let go of the glass. The current tossed him out of sight in less than a second, taking a streak of his blood with it.
I cried out and focused my powers on the tank in front of me. I shifted the portal further down the path of the current to search for him. Cold fear crept up my costume along with the ankle-high water I stood in. More and more water pulsed over the rim of the tank as I shoved the portal forward. The glass cracked. I saw a shape, but it turned out to just be the streak that attacked Electric Eel. It was a shark about five feet long with big black eyes. I could’ve searched the entire ocean ten times over and not found him, so I instead followed the shark. I thought perhaps it was sniffing out his trail of blood in order to finish the job.
The shark opened its mouth just as I saw its target, my friend, rolling around helplessly in the current. I forced the portal wider and pulled as much water in as I could. The glass shattered. The water struck me like a charging bull and knocked me off my feet. Once the waves forced me under the surface I had no choice but to seal the portal and let the room drain out into the hallway. I was only able to stand once most of it had gone. My ears were clogged, but I could hear Electric Eel struggling. I rubbed the salt out of my eyes and saw him in the middle of the floor, wrestling with the blue shark. He tossed it away. I opened a tiny portal and let the shark fall back into the ocean from whence it had come. Then I helped Electric Eel to his feet and did my best to tend to his wound until the medicine hound arrived.
Luckily none of us were severely harmed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed in my life. I suppose this is the goddess version of wetting the bed. Paladina and Electric Eel have forgiven me. Tin Soldier does not care. Salt Shaker has forgiven me on paper, but the anger still grinds along the edge of her irises when she looks at me. Transplant and Orb were the furthest away, so most of their property did not even get wet.
Alpha Dog didn’t take any convincing. I was about to go and close the rest of the portals in the tanks when he stopped me and said that we should keep them. The idea seemed strange at first, but grew on us quickly. My mind had naturally tailored most of the ocean windows to the boundaries of the tanks. To anyone that walked through, it would just look like a functioning aquarium. Anything that passed by was ours to observe.
I did not know if I would be able to maintain the portals at all times. Normally my powers require a certain amount of focus. This time was different though. In adjusting to our new home my spirit has used my powers to root me here, to give me a comfort I used to seek. These waters actually put me at ease. I would have to try harder just to close them. The Bay really is my home now. I can only hope the others adjust as well.
The last thing I must mention occurred the other night. Most of our rooms had fully dried from my unintentional tsunami. I was asleep in my bed. I’m not sure what woke me, but when I opened my eyes and looked at the tank in my room I saw a huge egg-shaped shadow. Though the glass had shattered, the portal conformed perfectly to the panel’s original shape. I reached out and touched the tips of my fingers against the wall of water. Four fingers in the midst of the shadow reached out towards mine, like a reflection seen at the bottom of a drain.
What was I seeing? My mind was still fuzzy from sleep. Was it a dream? No. The water at my fingertips was too cool. Its movements were too tiny and fluid to be the false water of a dream. A face appeared next to the other set of fingers. A woman around my age. She looked at me. A smile grew under her eyes, like a razor clam opening to reveal an entire line of pearls. Her features pulled away for a moment. She came back holding a colorful booklet. She flipped through it to a certain page, turned it around, and pressed it against the shadow so I could see. There was a picture of me, standing proudly in full costume. My signature swooped across the page, with the last letter curling around my knee.
The booklet is something Alpha Dog sells on our website. It contains pictures of all of us. I remembered because he has us autograph one hundred of them a week for you backers. The sight of the dry merchandise under water cleared the last of my sleepy haze. It was a small submarine, the shadow that is. The woman inside was looking at me from a tiny porthole in its side. I waved to her and smiled back. There are backers even deep under the sea.
I assume the vehicle was there for some kind of research and just stumbled across my new window. She couldn’t stay long, but I hope she comes back. If the woman from the submarine is watching or reading this, please feel free to contact me again. It’s nice to know that even if I retreated from my friends as far as I could, support could still find its way to me.
As you can imagine, the stress of recent events is still wearing us out. Forgive me as I’m going to forego any questions this evening. Fear not. Your goddess will not abandon the faithful. That was a jest. I don’t actually think I’m a goddess… not anymore anyway. Mistakes can humble you that way. Now I’m just a hero.