Justice Backers: Secret Shuffle (Part Three)

(reading time: 46 minutes)

Salt Shaker’s Skin-Crawling Fan Fiction Corner

The move to the Bay has derailed much of our lives.  Do.  Not.  Worry.  All of the fan fiction is intact.  Deckard and his goons might be able to stop us, maim us, kill us… but he cannot stop the power of socially awkward people intent on writing themselves into history as war heroes and legendary lovers.

I’d initially intended to introduce you to various authors in this series, but few of them can compare to Kharmie Buttercup.  As long as she churns them out, we’ll be turning to her for all our needs.  This week’s selection has a few interesting details, including a footnote (placed nowhere near the foot of the page) about Salt Shaker’s Fan Fiction Corner.  It seems she’s spotted us.  We’re no longer observers.  Our presence in her habitat has made her hostile, so she’s incorporated our images and attacked them as a warning, puncturing the copies of us and filling them with venom.  You do have to be careful when a fan writer feels threatened.

As Kharmie has honed her craft, she’s figured out that incorporating actual current Backer events increases her traffic.  In this multi-part Epic, which we will only be viewing an excerpt of, she tackles the very real issues of interracial love and transhumanism with the delicacy and skill I’m sure you’ve come to expect.  I should also warn you that this post contains “medium sexiness”, so you might want to excuse yourself if you can’t take the heat.  Me?  I love spicy food and I am ready to eat this up.

We join in media res, with Electric Eel and Tin Soldier trapped inside a magical board game labyrinth built by Deckard to separate and destroy the Justice Backers.

Electric Eel X Tin Soldier:

Power Surge! – Part 3


Kharmie Buttercup

(medium sexiness)

Electric Eel and Tin Soldier don’t know any ideas as to where they are at.  Everything is so confusing!  The other backers are trapped in other parts of the game board which has tall walls everywhere.  Tin Soldier marches forward.  Nothing can keep him awa from the battle.

“Where are you going?” Electric Eel asks him.  “This place is full of traps!  You might get us killed!”

“I am a soldier.  I must fight.  It is everything too me.”

“There is more to being with among the living other than all of the fighting that we do,” Electric Eel says.  He has to run a little to catch up with the robot.  He can’t stop himself from thinking his little march is very cute, just like a Christmas toy.

“You just want to trick me so I won’t want to fight black people,” the robot says back.  Tin Soldier’s racism is still alive and strong: he always sits next to the whities on the helicpoters… every time.

At that suddenly, two giant dice fall out of the sky!  They roll by like big rocks and the two backers jump out of the way for there lives.  When they stop rolling the dices say 4 and 3.  That makes a grand scary total of 7 monsters emerge from inside of the walls!  3 of them are giant snakes and 4 of them are giant bats.  The boys go into battle stances so they were read to battle.  Electric Eel is extra ready because he does not want to suffer the same fate as Salt Shaker who got killed a few hours ago when she wouldn’t stop yelling at people long enough to look out for the board-game-dragon that was about to eat her.


FOOTNOTE:  I’m killing off Salt Shaker in all my fics now because she is a jerk.  Yes, it is true that she’s been putting my fics up to try and get people to laugh at them but the joke is on her because I’m more poplar than I ever been before.  She is just jealous of my totally mad internet skills and all the awesom peoples in my fic-mmunity.  READ THIS YOU STUPID SALTY JERK!!!!!!  Don’t worry loyull readers, she can’t hurt me because I’ll just toss her over my shoulder like your supposed to do with salt.


Electric Eel shoots slime out of his hands and hits a bat which he shocks so it looks like Benjamin Franklin’s kite when it was struck by lightning.  The bat falls to the ground in a pile of ashes.  All the other 3 bats get angry and starts shreeking at him and divebombing.  Tin Soldier shoots them out of the air with his gun like he’s playing an old arcade game.  1 bat… 100 points!  2 bats… 200 points!  3 bats… 300 points!

The snakes are busy wrapping around their legs while the bats distracted there attention away from off the ground.  Tin Soldier tries to jump away, but he lands on a red square and a voice says “YOU LOSE ONE TURN!”  He is stuck and cannot move for a little while!  It’s up to Electric Eel to save him.  He wasn’t just saving the team’s toaster though… Electric Eel has been hiding his feelings for the robot.  He knows its not right because Tin Soldier is not human and also happens to be super racist, but he cannot help it.  He often thinks about how if he will tell the robot and maybe that will make him not hate black people anymore.  Love is more powerful than how tan people are!

Electric Eel ties two of the snakes in a knot and then lightnings the third off of the big piece of metal he’s crushing on.  Then the turn-freezing ends suddenly and Tin Soldier trips and hits his head against one of the walls of the board game.  It screws up something in his head a little bit and acicdentaly turns on a program he didn’t mean to.  Electric Eel kneels down next to the robot and looks at all the images flashing across the robot’s eye screens.  The pictures look like… men!  He recognizes the background in the flashing pictures… brown with gold borders.  That was the background for smokinwood.com! (It’s a dating app for gay guys)  Electric Eel is stunned.  Tin Soldier is so embarrsassed that he hits himself in the head until the pictures stop and his eyes go back to what before been.

“You have a profile on smokinwood.com?” Electric Eel asjs.

“It’s none of your business!” the robot yells.  “I’m the only one of me that exists… so I get lonely some of the times okay?  I like the idea of having a person around to turn my key when I need it.”

“But… guys?”  Electric Eel says.  “Are you gay?”

“I… I don’t know,” the robot says.  “I don’t know what I’m allowed to be.”

“You don’t need permission to like boys,” Electric Eel says, proud of himself for being open.  His hand moves without him fully controlling it really.  It touches the back of Tin Soldier’s neck and cradles his head.  They stare a long time into each others’ eyes until Electric Eel has to blink.  When he opens his eyes again Tin Soldier amazingly somehow looks even cuter.  Heat rushes through his body, giving him an illicet thrill.  Some electricity leaks from his fingertips and pops across Tin Soldier’s neck.  The robot flinches.  “I didn’t hurt you did I?” Electric Eel asks.

“No… it feels good.  Please don’t stop,” Tin Soldier says and hugs Electric Eel with his taut metal biceps.  Electric Eel is so excited to have permission that his hands go kind of crazy, running all over the robot and pushing little bolts of lightning out everywhere.  They get lost in a personal little thunderstorm of lust.  The clouds of their desire clash and don’t make any sound but they both swear they can hear something.  Electric Eel’s hand moves down Tin Soldier’s broad chest.  Down.  Down.  DOWN FURTHER THAN THAT.  All the way to between the robot’s legs.  He makes even more electricity and rubs it in as ahrd as he can.  They both become lost in ecstaticsy.  If the other backers found them they’re they wouldn’t even care.

Tin Soldier finally realizes that love could come from any place.  It didn’t matter that the hand that was so expertly pleasuring him was blacker than the licorish nobody eats.  He holds his new boyfriend and shivers a little when his new boyfriend runs a fingertip along the key in his back.

They do not want it to end but they worried if people were going to shun them.  They did not yet know the full magic of Deckard’s evil board game.  The spell was meant just for people… so if Tin Soldier manges to escape it back to the real world… he will become a fleshy bloody man!

For now the two backers just get to their feet and start searching for the rest of the team.  There is still justice to be done, and that unfortinitly has to come before sexy time.

To be continued!

(Like my work?  You can fund me on Stirotic: my handle is KButtercup90)

No matter how many times I get eaten by a dragon, I will continue to supply you with fan fiction for the dark days where you just need a reminder that there are people who matter even less than you.  If you’ll excuse me I’m off to lock Electric Eel and Tin Soldier in a closet with a few skin magazines and a box of Kleenex to see if that actually clears up the race issues.  It’s worth a shot right?

Paladina Diary #12

(transcribed from video log)

Notice anything different?  I’m giving extra backer points to all the people who actually don’t notice.  I just made backer points up and for the moment they’re completely useless, but maybe I can actually find a way to reward the backers who actually care about me.  Not just backers.  I need to find all the people who really care since I’ve failed at figuring it out so far.

If you didn’t notice, I moved the camera up a few inches.  Normally you can see down to my elbows.  There’s a lot I need to unpack in this diary and I’m not sure where to start exactly…

I’m going to be getting a breast reduction.  As you’ve probably noticed I was pretty well endowed by whatever engorged little nature fairy handles all that junk.  I’ve never been the most athletic person so it didn’t inconvenience me too much until now.  There was always some back pain, but pretty much every job I’ve had put me in a desk chair eight hours a day anyway.  Now that I need to swing swords and axes and run two miles a day for training, it’s time for a change.  I can feel every warrior in my head get irritated when an otherwise perfect swing throws my body off balance.

I went to talk to Alpha Dog about possibly getting the cost of the operation covered by backer funds, since it will make me a lot more effective in the field.  He told me that would not be a problem if I was willing to let Doc Donor do the operation in our medical room.  I wasn’t sure at first, but I talked with the doctor and it seems like it won’t be much of a challenge for her.  Even though money wasn’t an issue, Alpha Dog did raise a concern.  He asked me if I was worried about the viewership I would lose.  I didn’t see what he was driving at right away.  When I said as much he brought out his computer and showed me some graphics he had that represented our popularity.  Apparently three of the most common words searched along with my name are ‘tits’, ‘boobs’, and ‘rack’.

Needless to say I was extremely embarrassed to have my boss show me a bar graph depicting the relative ‘hotness’ levels of the female Backers as according to the internet.  I don’t blame him for keeping such documents; it’s his job.  I’m just disappointed that I don’t matter as much as I thought I did.  I went and looked around on the web myself.  Some of the things I found were extremely upsetting.

I did an experiment with my last diary.  That was the first time I had the camera positioned higher like this, so you could not see below my neckline.  I wore a sweater as well.  Normally the viewership for my diaries is around 936,000 people.  I started with that much on the last diary, but less than 322,000 watched until the end.  I guess they realized they weren’t getting what they came to see.

Alpha Dog told me those numbers would likely drop some more.  He estimated that if I get the operation it will end up reducing our donations by as much as 31,000 dollars a month.  To his credit he left it at that.  From what I’d heard about him from my few conversations with the western Backers, I’d assumed he’d try and talk me out of it.  Maybe he just understands that we’re all trying to get comfortable in the Bay.  The sooner we make big decisions here, the sooner it becomes home.

The surgery’s happening next week.  The camera is staying this high.  To those of you who stay in my audience, thank you for being adults.  To those who will leave after this video, good riddance.  I don’t need your money.

I also don’t need the validation that I used to.  I don’t need the people I used to.  Redacted has asked me for a divorce.  Things have not gone well for us since Game Master changed me.  He immediately felt left behind.  In many ways he was.  The move to the Bay took me so far that I would only be able to return home for a day or two every two weeks.  That wasn’t the last straw though.  The reduction was.  He told me I couldn’t destroy the one thing he had to look forward to.  When he said that it felt like someone wrapping barbed wire around my lungs.  I did not know my breasts were integral to his affection.  In the redacted years we were married he never said that.  Here I was thinking he loved me.  He loved that I worked.  He loved that I carried his children.  He loved all my most meaningless parts.  He just loved my tinsel.

I agreed to devote my life to him, but the four others in my head did no such thing.  They’re not concerned with his laundry.  The knight in me even went so far as to slice up some of the older clothes he should’ve thrown away years ago.  I’m committing to them now.  I’m committing to the Backers.  Sending Deckard to jail will be like a new wedding.  The warriors and I will join for the rest of my life, and this time I’ll actually have a life.  The commitment will matter more.

I’m lucky that my kids have been nothing but supportive.  They’re both in college now, so they don’t need me around as much.  I wish I could tell you more about them, but I know most of it will get redacted.  I can admit now that they take after me.  I don’t care if it’s impolite to say.  Maybe if I continue to be lucky one of them might come to intern at the Bay.

That’s what has changed for me.  How the rest of the team is coping with the Bay is more of a mixed bag.  We had something of a blowout yesterday.  Most of you have probably seen it by now, but Deckard somehow got a hold of one of our secrets.  I guess he didn’t find it particularly useful, so he just released it onto the web and threatened that more were to come.

Act-of-Goddess and I were helping Salt Shaker move some replacement salt into her room when we got the news.  Watching her repair her room was certainly a treat.  She shaped each post of her bed herself from different-colored salts.  They went from the floor to the ceiling and made the entire corner look like a cavern.  Then she shaped perfect square tiles of salt to cover the floor.  I can’t even begin to describe the salt crystal chandelier she built.  I suppose I should give it a shot; it was like looking at two snowflakes crystallizing through each other.

We were carrying a heavy lump of orange salt through her door when Alpha Dog barged in, waving a tablet around.

“Is this true?” he asked and tapped the screen violently about twenty times.

“I can’t see it,” Salt Shaker said with a grunt.  He was blocking the spot where we were trying to put the salt down.  Act-of-Goddess casually put a palm on his chest and moved him out of the way so we could set it down.

“Deckard says you’ve been dating Pawn,” Alpha Dog said to Salt Shaker, ignoring me and the goddess.  Salt Shaker sighed and stared back.

“Crap,” she said.

“Oh my god it’s true!” he shouted.  “What the hell?  Do you have any idea how much a relationship in our ranks means money-wise?  Do you?  If you two are together, why isn’t he on the team anymore?

“That’s exactly why he’s not on the team,” Salt Shaker explained.  “I didn’t want us to live together.  Not yet anyway.  I like him and I don’t want all these heroics pushing us together before we’re ready.”

“You salty cougar!  You’re like fifteen years older than him!”

“Eleven.  We’re both adults.”

“So you’re telling me I lost my unkillable man because of this?  God!  Why couldn’t he have been unlovable too!  Or at least unscrewable!”

“You should probably just shut up and get out of my room,” Salt Shaker said plainly.  Alpha Dog huffed and puffed for a while but eventually he shifted to a more professional tone.

“Do you know how Deckard found out about your relationship?”

“I have no idea,” Salt Shaker admitted.  “My diaries have been the only communication with anyone outside the Bay in the last three days.”

“You haven’t sent anything to Pawn?  I thought you were dating?”

“We are.  I told him I’d call him when I got a free moment.  I’ve been busy ordering all this salt and fixing this room.”

“Are you using a secure line when you call him?”

“I only use our encrypted wireless.  Either Deckard has access to that or Pawn made a mistake and mentioned it to someone.”

“Yeah well I can’t yell at him because he’s not on the team anymore!”

“You can’t yell at me either, because I won’t stand for it.  If you’re so worried about Deckard why don’t you try finding him instead of policing our lives?  Give us a location and we’ll go take him down.  Until then, get out.”  Salt Shaker maneuvered him out of the room and shut the door in his face.

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Pawn yet, but he must like strong women.  A couple of us have been whispering that perhaps Salt Shaker should be a co-leader of our team.  I don’t think Orb would mind if she took his place since he rarely uses his authority anyway.  We haven’t even talked to her about it yet though.

Something might need to change soon though since we’re not close to finding Deckard.  We’ve tried to raid small clubs that were running Secret Shuffle tournaments, but we’ve only ever found squeaky bratty teens there.  We’ve never even seen his super-powered henchmen.  We confiscate the kids’ cards and destroy them, but that’s an empty gesture until we can find Deckard and the places where he keeps his data.

The game’s effects in the real world are becoming more noticeable.  Four state senators resigned this week; we suspect it’s because somebody used their cards against them.  There have been six more suicides that could be related as well.  Alpha Dog keeps a few of the cards from every raid we do and picks them apart to try and identify where the card stock or ink comes from.  Maybe that’ll get us some results soon.

There are probably less than 300,000 of you right now, but I’m sure that’s enough to leave a few questions.

Suemw336Paladina I just found out that I’m in Secret Shuffle and I’m really scared some random guy is going to start calling me and making threats.  I’m only a common card so I’m not worth much but I’m still really freaked out.  Do you have any advice?

Don’t let them calculate your worth; that’s up to you.  I’m sorry to hear about your situation.  The best practical advice I can give you is to stay calm and hold tight.  The sooner we can find Deckard and erase the proof he has for all these secrets, the sooner those cards become scribbled rumors.  If anyone threatens you, send me a private message and I’ll personally show up and teach them a lesson.  I’ll even let you pick which warrior gives them the spanking they deserve.

CockysocksY r u guys ignoring all the good Deckard is doing?  Internet leaks are a super good thing bcuz they stop the govmnt from keeping secrets from us.  Some of those cards reveal major corrption in the highest levels of govmnt.

If Secret Shuffle reveals anything that should be public knowledge, I’m sure it will be coincidental.  Deckard and the players groveling at his feet are in it for the money and the thrills, not the truth.  If he’s a Robin Hood of secrets then I’m a rampaging lava shark.

DRSousaI think maybe you can get the robo-racist to like you if you trick him with a paradox or something.  I read that’s how you’re supposed to beat computers.  So just tell him that the knight who lives in your head is a white person so he can’t be a racist to you.  Have you tried that yet?

That’s an interesting thought.  I don’t think he’s simple enough to fall for something like that but I’ll give it a mention next chance I get.  Even if it works we would still need to find a way for him to accept Electric Eel and the other Backers of color.

I’ll call it a night.  Next time you see me I might have a major weight off my shoulders.

Electric Eel Diary #37

(transcribed from video log)

We found Deckard.  We saw him.  He wears a long dark green coat with big rectangular buttons like playing cards.  The buttons are white… they’re probably made of baby seal bones or something.

Alpha Dog called a meeting so he could tell us where he was.  There’s a small sunken stage near the beginning of the aquarium’s planned tour route that has carpeted steps you can sit on.  I think they were going to use it for kid-friendly shows where they would bring out live box turtles and stuff.  It’s one of a few really neat things about the Bay.  Has anyone mentioned the main entrance to you guys yet?  It’s one of those glass tunnels you can walk through.  When Act-of-Goddess had her little accident she filled that tank too.  Now every time we come in there’s usually about a hundred skates flapping their little tan wings over our heads or some giant squishy grouper milling off to the side.

The helipads might be even cooler.  The largest tank, which was also filled thanks to the goddess, has an open top and a retractable roof over it.  I think it was supposed to be for a group of trained otters or something like that.  Since Alpha Dog couldn’t put Woman’s Touch’s giant robot hands in a tank anymore, he converted them into something else.  He gutted most of the machinery and filled the fingers with buoyancy tanks.  Then he floated them palm up in the big tank.  Now they’re the helipads that we float Chomp and Bit on.  They look like dragonflies resting on lily pads, just waiting for that roof to open.  I’ve got to get back on track; you guys will see Alpha Dog’s virtual tour soon anyway if you’re past the 300 mark.

To get us excited, Alpha Dog started the meeting with a present.  All of us sat with our legs on the stair in front of us like little kids while he brought out some kind of metal Easter basket that was so big he could barely lift it.  Things were moving around inside and yipping.  Alpha Dog had a big goofy smile like he was giving his kid a brand new car with a bow on top.  He whipped a blue sheet of packing paper off the top and poured the basket out onto the stage.

Puppies.  Robot puppies.  Most of us knew they were coming at some point; he’d talked about the project quite a bit.  Paladina hadn’t known though.  She and Opossum Player immediately got down to the stage and started playing with them and squealing and laughing.  I should’ve been more excited than I was, but Tin Soldier has kind of soured me on the whole man’s best mechanical friend thing.

None of the human Backers could hold back once we realized that there was a puppy for each of us and they’d been painted to match our costumes.  Even Salt Shaker picked up hers and flashed a smile.  Alpha Dog might not know how to make people happy, but he sure knows how to excite them.  I think I’m going to name mine Clingy.  Because I’m Electric Eel and it’s like static cling… never mind I’m sure you’re already laughing.

“Think of them like my regular dogs but pared down and without a specialty,” he said.  He could’ve told us that there was a seventy-five percent chance of them exploding randomly and we still would have clicked the old ‘I agree to the terms and services’.  “Their top speed is sixteen miles per hour and their jump height is about five and a half feet.  Each one is equipped with a homing beacon.  We’ve been running things a little more loosely around here than I originally intended.”  Our playing subsided a little bit.  It’s probably not a good idea to pin an agenda to your gift of puppies, but it’s not like he had a better opportunity to talk about it.

“What are you saying?” Salt Shaker asked.

“I’m saying I’m cool with it.  This isn’t the old Backers.  We have our own dynamic.  Each one of us has their own dynamic.  We’re a team but that doesn’t mean we need to march in lockstep.  These puppies will help with that.  Should anyone decide they need to take a solo mission, you can bring along your puppy as your sidekick.  They can help you fight or call for back up when you need it.  Whenever they’re not active they will be assigned as your personal security detail to guard your room and your belongings.  You can even customize their settings so they’re only as helpful as you want them to be.”  I can’t speak for anyone else, but they seemed impressed.  I was too, but I had one little hang-up that I whispered in his ear right after the meeting.

“You gave Tin Soldier one… we’re not going to have a White Dog scenario on our hands are we?” I asked.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered back.  “They can’t hurt Backers.” That was a relief.  When I left the room after that Tin Soldier stopped next to me.  His head turned slowly and I could hear something clicking in his neck.

“I heard what you said to Alpha Dog,” he said.  Then he didn’t say anything else.  He did stand perfectly still and keep staring at me.  So did his puppy.

Anyway, the main purpose of the meeting was discussing Deckard.  After much testing, Alpha Dog had apparently found a clue to where the Secret Shuffle cards were getting manufactured.  I can’t say where it was, but he found it using some kind of isotope map.  Apparently there was a mine in this place about two decades ago that ended up distributing a lot of mildly radioactive but harmless dust into the air.  The dust settled into the ground and some of it got absorbed into the surrounding trees over the years.  Some of those trees were cut down and made into card stock used to print some of the cards we’d captured.  Alpha Dog just cross-referenced paper sales from that source with recent factories that hadn’t been filling out all the proper legal paperwork and bam, he had a decent suspect.

He kept smiling smugly at Salt Shaker.  I heard they had a bit of an argument and his push to find Deckard was mostly just something to shove in her face and prove he still knew what he was doing.  She didn’t take the bait.  She did take the puppy though, so I guess he won?  I’m pretty sure anyone who gets an immortal puppy that won’t pee on the carpet is a winner too.

He told us all to get suited up and get ready to raid the factory.  The worst case scenario was that Deckard’s two super goons would be guarding it along with any number of armed thugs, so that’s what we prepared for.  Salt Shaker practically brought a suit of armor’s worth of salt.  Transplant wrapped a bunch of vines around Bit’s rails so he would have something to use inside the factory.  Me… I put some moisturizer on my hands.  A little on my head too.  The whole flight over there Opossum Player was trying on zombie faces and making me pick out the scariest one.  It was like a haunted house eye exam.

“Is it better at one,” she said with both lips split open and one eye swollen shut, “or two?”  Her scalp peeled back and her ears became riddled with holes.  “Three.”  Her eyelids peeled back.  “Or four?”  Her throat slit itself.

“They’re all equally horrifying,” I told her as I suppressed the urge to vomit.

“You need to be more Romero and less twenty-eight whatevers later,” Transplant told her.  She smiled and nodded so much that her holey ear nearly fell off.  That was about all I could take, so I just looked out the side after that.  I saw Chomp flying alongside us.  Both helicopters have full auto-pilot, but Alpha Dog has a rule that there must be at least one person in each chopper who can actually fly it.  He was in ours and Tin Soldier was in the other… sort of.  The choppers really only have seating for four, so the robot was actually hanging off one of the doors with his feet resting on the rails.  His other hand held his silly hat in place so he looked like some pirate hanging off his ship’s rigging.  I hate having to remind myself that we’re eight strong instead of nine.  There’s still no way I’m going to trust Soldier to look out for me, no matter what Alpha Dog says.  How do you get on a robot’s good side?  It’s too bad his brain isn’t just a cassette player I can flip to side B.

The factory was smack dab in the middle of an industrial district, letting off some kind of steam in big lumpy clouds.  There were about a hundred cars parked out in front of it, with a scary number of them being the black SUVs most henchmen are so fond of.  The helicopters did two sweeps way above the building.  The dogs, which were locked in place right below the helicopter, scanned it and told us there were security cameras on basically every corner.

“We’re going in through the roof,” Alpha Dog told us.  Chomp and Bit set down on top of the building and we got off quickly and quietly.  That probably didn’t matter though; who wouldn’t hear a helicopter landing on top of them?  Ours are quiet, but there’s only so much noise you can reduce.  We assumed they’d know we were coming; the goal was to get in there and nab Deckard if he was there.  If not, we needed to at least disable all his machinery and destroy any completed cards.

The roof had one entrance.  Orb put himself in his ball and started spinning in place.  The few times he opens his mouth he always goes on about inner peace and tranquility, but that guy must have something against doors; he smashes them better than anyone or anything I’ve ever seen.  His marble accelerated from zero to deadly in half a second.  He ripped the metal door from its hinges and rolled down the stairwell.  Alpha Dog ordered his dogs to follow right behind.  We followed after them, single file.  Tin Soldier was right behind me, stepping on my heels the entire time.  It might seem juvenile to you, but metal feet aren’t the gentlest.  I ended up just greasing the seat of my pants with some slime and sliding down the rails to get ahead of him.  That meant I was the first one out of the stairwell after Orb.

I came out onto a metal walkway that ringed the upper part of the factory’s single level.  There was one metal-sided office raised up above the work floor right under me.  I surveyed what was in front of me as quickly as I could.  There were workers in overalls fleeing from Orb.  The dogs followed him down the stairs and used their barking to direct the flow of people out of the big doors at the end of the work floor.  We weren’t here for guys in overalls and we usually don’t do the whole ‘I’m going to threaten to drop you off the roof unless you rat out your boss’ thing.  That stuff’s for the emotionally disturbed billionaires of the world who don’t have backers they have to explain themselves to.

Everyone else poured out behind me.  Act-of-Goddess flew to the center of the room, stirring up all the loose paper and cards as she went.  Sparks ricocheted across the metal beam above her head.  I looked down to see some guy in body armor firing a handgun at her.  I rubbed my hands together to get the old juices flowing and then hurled a wad of slime at him.  It wrapped around the barrel of his gun.  Every bullet he fired after that was so slowed down it was like he was flicking candy at us.

More armed guys started coming out of the woodwork, a lot of them with mustard or ketchup stains on their shirt.   I think we interrupted their lunch hour.  Some of them had assault rifles.  The room erupted into gunfire and raining sparks.  Act-of-Goddess brought in walls of snow that ate up the bullets and buried most of the men with the automatic weapons.

It was right about then that the rest of us reached the work floor and started restraining any goon with a gun.    The dogs do most of the hard work in that department; I just shock anybody with a grimace who’s still standing.

“Tin Soldier, torch those cards,” Alpha Dog ordered.  The robot took a small canister of flammable liquid and attached it to the end of his rifle.  He was about to go Ellen Ripley on a block of card packs as big as a speedboat when something whistled through the air and bent Tin Soldier’s rifle barrel at a forty-five degree angle.  We all turned to look at the raised metal office, where it sounded like the whistle had started.

Have any of you guys ever seen a worst case scenario?  This time it looked like three sinister men in full costume staring down at us.  Deckard was still technically in the office, looking down through a big window.  We finally put a face to the game: he was black, bald, and probably only a couple years older than me.  He had a persistent stare, like a bit of industrial glue you can’t shake off your finger.

Speedball was hanging out of a door at the top of the left set of stairs.  His getup looked like the baseball uniform for Lucifer’s Hot Tamales or something like that.  He had a metal backpack on and braces on both sides of his arms that connected to thick gloves.  He was palming a shiny steel ball.  An identical one rolled by my feet and I realized that was the item that had bent Soldier’s rifle.  Oh and the guy looked like a complete sleaze: stubble, quivering toad neck, and spiky greasy hair like a hedgehog rolled through an oil spill.  He was chewing something, gum or tobacco or the innocence of small children; I had no idea.  Somehow it was louder than anything else in the factory.

At the top of the right set of stairs… something I was not ready for.  That Rot guy is practically from another planet.  I couldn’t see any normal skin, just pulsing wrinkled folds of purple-gray gunk.  His eyes bulged out, big and green, with no sign of an iris or pupil.  Tendrils of purple gas rose lazily from the collar of his very expensive suit.  The undershirt was stained green and yellow, like baby vomit, just from touching his chest.  His face was so moldy that there was no way to make out an expression.  His body language suggested he wasn’t in the mood to deal with losing a game of solitaire, let alone battling a team of superheroes.  I could see lumps of purple stuff growing on the floor around his feet and creeping down the stair’s railing.

“Are you Deckard?” Alpha Dog asked the man behind the glass.  Deckard lifted his index finger and slowly brought it down on a button in front of him.  The building’s intercom crackled.

“I am,” he said.  I think he’s British.  I didn’t see that coming either.  Aren’t they supposed to be polite?  “The real question is: who are you?”

“We’re the Justice Backers,” Paladina retorted.  “That’s all you need to know.”  I think I saw her suppress a smile.  Your first quip can be pretty exciting, so I don’t blame her.

“I’ll give any one of you lot one million dollars if you flip on your mates,” he offered, ignoring Paladina completely.  As I’m sure you guys expected, there were no takers.

“Is that why you do this?” Alpha Dog asked.  “The money?  There’s got to be an easier way for a guy like you to make a living.  Hell, it’s probably even legal.”

“It’s not just the money,” Deckard said.  “It’s the ruleset.  It’s mine; I built it.  I’ve got millions of people either fleeing from it or willingly putting the yoke on so they can be party to it.  It’s my code of Hammurabi.  It’s my Ten Commandments.  It’s my shirtless Fight Club speech.”

“How much more banter is required before we can just go grab him?” Opossum Player asked.

“Yeah I’m not really in the mood for it either,” Alpha Dog admitted.  “Justice Backers… grab that jackass.”  We started moving in.  Rot slammed one hand against the front of the office and a bunch of rot crawled across the window, obscuring it.

“Don’t kill them; they’re worth nothing tits up,” Deckard said as the rot grew across the window and hid him.  “Take their masks or cripple them.”

I was closer to the action than I normally am.  I was confident… wouldn’t you be?  We had them outnumbered four to one and that’s without counting the robots.  Numbers count for a lot less when everybody’s blind though.  Rot made some kind of deep growl that turned into a deafening sound like a hundred bears and tigers being drowned at once.  Greenish smoke exploded off of him and overwhelmed us immediately.  I couldn’t see more than six inches in front of my face.  The gas burned my throat, nose, and eyes.  Something started growing on my face; it felt like I was wearing a layer of eye shadow that took root in my pores and was trying to drink the tears out of my eyes.  I tore at my face and pulled off several puffy squishy growths that stuck to my fingers and continued expanding.

Distracted, I collided with the railing of the metal stairs.  I thought Rot might still be at the top of them, so I clamped both hands around the rail and pumped a huge wave of electricity into it.   I was hoping to hear a pained shout or a body rolling down the stairs, but nothing happened.  One of our dogs bolted past me and up the stairs.  A second later it was blasted back to the ground, covered in gray muck.  It tried to get back up, but the gross mound grew and covered it completely.  I could see it weakly thrashing through the fungal membrane.

Something whistled by my head.  Somebody grunted.  Then another whistle. Act-of-Goddess fell out of the air and landed in front of me.  She looked unconscious, but then another steel ball whistled in and struck her leg.   I heard the bone crack.  Her head shot up and she screamed in pain.  The medical dog approached her, but another shot of steel flew in and smashed the dog’s head.

“Hang on,” I shouted and tried to get to her. The floor was suddenly slippery.  I looked down and saw the greenish dew foaming and expanding into mats of growth that looked like Rot’s skin. My shoes were pulling some of it off the ground with every step.  I slipped and dropped to all fours.  Even crawling was difficult, and I could feel a lump of that stuff creeping across my lower back.  I started to panic.  Rot was going to bury us in his personal bog before we could even regroup.  I tried frying the fungus, but every pulse of electricity weakened me and only blackened the stuff for a second before a wave of fresh growth swallowed the evidence.

I heard a dozen more whistles accompanied by impact sounds.  The smash of machines.  The oomph of someone having their air knocked out of them.  Some of them were punctuated with small explosions or sounds like spinning saw blades.  I tried to stand but there was so much mold around my waist that I couldn’t bend it.

Paladina appeared out of the green haze and slashed at the mound covering me with her spear. She expertly carved the biggest chunks off of me without so much as scratching my costume.  The rot did stick to the tip of her spear though, and ten seconds later it was like she was holding a giant cotton swab.  She dropped the useless weapon and pulled out another.

“I’m okay,” I told her.  “Go help Goddess… over there.”  She vanished back into the cloud a second later.  I stumbled around for a few seconds, trying to find someone to help or something to zap.  With even the walls hidden I had little sense of where I was going.

Some of the guys with guns pulled themselves out of Goddess’ avalanche.  They had gas masks to protect them from Rot’s spores.  Two of them came at me from different angles, but I had just enough time to snag them with slimy ropes and shock them.  I put my hands together and combined the two ropes, so when I let go the slime contracted and pulled them into each other.  Then the indiscriminate rot covered them.

Orb rolled into view.  His face, eyes closed, looked as calm as ever, but I saw a few cracks in his marble shell like hail craters in a windshield.  I’d never seen it actually take damage before.  He spun in place, tearing mold off the ground and tossing it away.  He was building up speed, probably to rocket up the stairs and smash his way into the office.  Before he could take off there was another echoing roar.  Rot dropped in from somewhere above us and slammed both his hands down on Orb.  There was a wet sound like a pair of rock-filled boots dropped into mud.

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, but I guess Rot missed that particular idiom.  That gunk spread over Orb’s shell as he spun, eventually rooting him to the ground.  Once Orb was nothing but a roundish lump, Rot turned and started stalking towards me.  He was hit in the shoulder by a stray bullet from one of Deckard’s guys, but he shrugged it off like nothing.  I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of fighting this guy, so I tried reasoning with him while I backed away.

“You could be one of the good guys you know.  We’re always looking for new talent.”  My voice was raspy from the gas.  He clenched his fists and more of that noxious vapor hissed out from between his fingers.  “We can get you a costume that won’t stain so easily.”  He didn’t respond.  “Does he have something on you?”  Rot stopped in his tracks.  “Are… are you a card?  Maybe one he keeps in his own deck?  Does he have one of your secrets?”  Rot stared at me.  I think, maybe, I saw him nod a little.

A salt crystal shot in from the left and stuck in his side.  It created a bit of white smoke.  He grabbed at it, clearly surprised something had actually hurt him.  Salt Shaker emerged from the fog and started pelting him with more crystals fired from a pointed block of salt on her forearm.  Rot lobbed a ball of gunk at her, but she blocked it with a panel of salt attached to her other arm like a shield.

Tin Soldier appeared behind Rot while he was distracted and punched him in the back of the head.  Rot stumbled forward.  All three of us moved in.  With her salt and my electricity perhaps we could’ve created enough of a caustic bubble to stop him from spreading.

I heard a whistle.  A steel ball was coming.  I don’t know how I knew where; it had to be pure instinct.  It was going to hit Tin Soldier.  I leapt in front of him and touched my hands to my ankles.  Then I stretched a blanket of slime out in front of us.  The ball struck the slime, nearly ripped through it, and hit me in the chest.  I thought I felt my heart exit my body and hit the back wall of the factory.  The impact threw me into Tin Soldier and knocked us both to the ground.  I heard ticking, like an egg timer.  The ball was a bomb!  I ignored the fact that I didn’t have the energy to do anything and I wrapped the slime around the ball.  I spun it around my head once by the end and tossed it back in the direction it had come from.  Not a second later it exploded into an orange cloud that illuminated the green fog for a brief moment.

Tin Soldier pushed me out of the way.  He tried to get back to Rot, but the swampy guy buried himself in a cocoon of mold that then slid away from us.  A few of the armed guards sounded a retreat.  I don’t know if we would’ve made it out of there if Salt Shaker hadn’t formulated the perfect salt to burn away the rot.

After a minute the fog started to clear.  The entire factory floor and the lower half of the walls were coated in Rot’s layer of insta-swamp.  Big mushrooms were springing up everywhere, most of them growing so fast you could see it.  Deckard, Rot, and Speedball were gone.  Somehow, in the confusion, they’d managed to take a lot of the cards too, leaving only the block Tin Soldier had almost destroyed at the start of the fight.

“Is everyone alright?” Alpha Dog called to us.  His costume was almost entirely coated in gunk and he had streaks of residue on his face.

“Orb’s stuck in there,” I said, pointing to the mound.  Salt Shaker ran up to it and blasted the mold away with a spray of salt.  Orb was lying unconscious, his shell gone.  Salt Shaker leaned down next to his mouth.

“He’s breathing,” she confirmed.  We took some really bad hits guys.  It took us nearly an hour to dig the dogs and their loose pieces out of the rotten stringy pumpkin flesh that was the floor.  Act-of-Goddess’ leg was broken.  Transplant, whose vines had been instantly eaten up by the rot, had a bullet wound on one arm.   Paladina had a torn muscle and I had a bruised sternum.  Tin Soldier had a dent on his hip from one of Speedball’s pitches that nearly tore through him.  Even the dogs that weren’t buried were busted to the point where they couldn’t walk.

I leaned up against the block of Secret Shuffle packs to take a breather and pick some of the gunk off my skin and clothes.  Tin soldier came up next to me, but he didn’t look at me.  He just pulled a few packs from the pile, opened them, and started flipping through the cards.  He owed me a thank you.  I’m not one to call in debts normally, I think my best friend from elementary school still owes me a dollar and fourteen cents, but this time was different.  I took a bomb to the chest for that backwards machine.

“You’re welcome by the way,” I said to him.  He kept flipping through the cards.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“I just saved your ass from a major league bomb!”

“You prevented damage.  I am not human and cannot be saved.”

“So I should’ve just let you die?”

“I can only be damaged or destroyed, not killed.”  He stopped rifling through the cards and stared at one of them.  “You, being the subhuman Negro that you are, cannot die either.  Dying is for creatures that bear souls.  What just occurred was property preventing damage to another piece of property.  It is efficient and helpful, but not deserving of thanks.”

“You’re only property if you act like it,” I growled at him.  “You lousy cotton gin.”  Then I walked away.  Opossum Player caught up to me.

“Is he still being lame?” she asked.

“You mean racist?  Yes he’s still being racist.”

“It’s probably going to be even harder to get him to come around now that he’s seen Deckard is black.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well seeing a black villain isn’t really going to improve his attitude.”

“It doesn’t actually matter,” I explained to her.  “For him to think Deckard was capable of evil he would need to believe he’s human in the first place.  Isn’t that right?” I shouted that last part over my shoulder at the robot.  I had a feeling he could hear us.

‘That’s right,” Tin Soldier confirmed.

“See?” I told Player.  “In fact Deckard being an asshole might help.  If he wants to call him evil he’ll have to admit he’s human.  How screwed up is that?”  Player was going to say something else, but she was interrupted by an argument between Alpha Dog and Salt Shaker that was steadily getting louder.

“How could we have possibly prepared more?” Alpha Dog shouted and threw his hands in the air.  The remaining dogs jumped in response and crashed back to the ground clumsily.  He hammered at a switch on his arm to get them to sit still.  “We brought everybody.  Act-of-Goddess is our biggest gun!”

“And you put our biggest gun in a tiny box,” Salt Shaker countered.  “She can barely even use her powers indoors.  Now they’re gone to who-knows-where.  We should’ve taken an extra day and worked out a way to spy on them.  We might’ve been able to find all his factories and safe houses.  We might’ve learned where he keeps all these secrets.”

“Hindsight!” was all Alpha Dog had to yell in response.  “Everyone with hindsight makes an incredible leader!

You guys don’t need to hear the rest of it really.  They fought.  They both said things I don’t really want to repeat.  We destroyed most of the cards, but we saved a couple hundred for more analysis.  Most of us watched over Orb on the flight back.  Salt Shaker had failed to awaken him with her smelling salts and we were all worried.  Tin Soldier just stared at the cards though.  He was flipping through them like a stack of headshots, sometimes dwelling on a card for more than a minute.  I don’t know what he was thinking.

When we got back to the Bay we called in Doc Donor to take care of us.  She sewed up Transplant and put Goddess’ leg in a cast.  Then she basically told Paladina and me to rub some dirt on ours.  Orb got it the worst.  His marble lets oxygen in, but that mold ball Rot stuck him in didn’t.  He was without air for a few minutes.  He wasn’t just unconscious, he was comatose.  Doc Donor didn’t really have a solution.  She said there was a chance he might even have brain damage.

Of all the brains that could get damaged, his would be the greatest loss.  He is his state of mind.  Orb at anything less than his best is not Orb.  Wounding a mind like his is a global tragedy, like an oil spill or a hundred dead from a human stampede.  We immediately called up Impala and asked one of the westerners to escort Dreamweaver over.  I haven’t had the pleasure of actually meeting her in my sleep, but it’s clear she works wonders.  After two nights of her putting Orb back together, he came out of the coma.  As far as any of us know he’s fine.  Apparently Dreamweaver told him he had a few psychic scars but they were not in crucial areas.  Something has changed a little.  Whenever he goes into his marble there’s now three whitish seams wrapped around the outside.  He’s no weaker, but Rot definitely left his mark.

I guess that’s one point for Deckard.  It’s been a rough week.  Maybe you guys could give me some slightly cheery questions?  A couple fluffy ones where my answers don’t really matter please.

RustybicuspidSuper mega ultra hyper uber important question here man:  Can you use your zappy-zappy powers to charge your phone?  Need to know ASAP or will die from curiosity.  Over.


Niels’thundernuts’BohrHow many racist robots does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two.  One to change it and one to glare menacingly at any nearby black people.  Hope that was funny enough for you.  I promise I’ll tackle the hard-hitting questions next time.  Have a good night everybody.  Stay safe.  Make good decisions.  Don’t trust internet people (except for us).

One thought on “Justice Backers: Secret Shuffle (Part Three)

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