Justice Backers: The Lichen Calls (Part One)

(reading time: 45 minutes) (reading time for entire novella: 3 hours, 31 minutes)

Sportfish Independent Backer Update #14

(transcribed from video log)

Hello again friends and supporters.  Thanks to the mention I received in yesterday’s The Daily Pills, my donations are up sixty percent.  That means many of you watching this are new to the Sportfish program; I’m going to give a quick history lesson to catch you up.  If you’re a veteran at this point you can just click here and skip ahead to my big news.

If you’re wondering if my operation has any relation to the eastern and western superhero teams called the Justice Backers, the answer is yes.  The creator of that program, Alpha Dog, is my uncle.  About a year ago I flunked out of college.  I will not work retail.  I will not wait tables.  I will not make beds.  I will not sit at a desk and help people who don’t matter make appointments that don’t matter.  I am an adult human being in the twenty-first century and I refuse to let my life get flattened and paper-clipped that way.

I expertly ignored every single thing my parents said and called my uncle Eben.  I told him about my situation.  He did not judge.  He didn’t even sigh.  He asked what I cared about and I answered ‘the ocean’.  He asked what my favorite animal was and I answered ‘pilot whale’.  Then he said he was going to build me a robot whale and it would solve all of my problems for the rest of my life.  So far he’s been right.

I was to be a nature-conscious superhero with the main goal of protecting the oceans and coasts from illegal fishing, whaling, dumping, and resource exploitation.  Eben, being the brilliant inventor that he is, supplied me with the super powers.  My insulated and armored neoprene suit is fully equipped with synthetic wing membranes and water jet pods that allow controlled flight under and over water, two wrist-mounted cavitation blasters based on the predatory techniques of the snapper shrimp, and enough compressed air to keep me submerged for up to seven hours.

Uncle Eben had much more fun building Marcy, my robotic pilot whale assistant.  She is twelve feet long, black, nearly indistinguishable from her organic counterpart at a distance, one and a half times smarter than any of my uncle’s dogs, and a big sweetie.  She can swim at speeds of up to thirty-four miles per hour, scan vast areas with her sonar, and store an additional fifteen hours of air for me.  If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be here to make this update, but I’ll get to that.

I sort of lied to uncle Eben.  He built my identity as Sportfish under the assumption I would immediately come to join his team of Backers in the Backer Bay.  While living in the world’s first organic aquarium was tempting, I wanted to be even closer to my great blue ward.  I already had a secure and secret location allowing me to be based in international waters.  I broke his heart a little bit, especially since I took Marcy before telling him.  We ended up striking a deal that I would act as the first independent Backer: a hero without a team who was still allied with the rest of the Backers and still used the Backer ethics code and crowdfunding methods.   Guess you could call me a freelancer.

They haven’t needed my help and I haven’t needed theirs, until now that is.  Early this morning I was patrolling just under the surface of a very ecologically vulnerable area, the location of which I will not reveal.  Marcy and some of my equipment had detected unusual seismic activity on the seabed and I was looking for the cause.  At first everything seemed normal.  The water was thick with plankton and not much else.  I slowed to a stop and switched my jets to tread mode.  I stuck my head above the water to watch the red sun’s light wash over the sea.  I got a face full of garbage instead.

I sputtered and spat and flailed until I peeled a big wet bag off of my face.  I’m a superhero now, but there was still basically nothing I could do about the bag.  My suit doesn’t really have storage and ripping it into smaller pieces only multiplies the problem.  I can’t defeat litter, just the litterbugs.  It could’ve been floating for ages, but I decided to analyze the current and make a guess as to its origin anyway.  Then I sealed my helmet, dove, and headed in that direction.

My sonar pinged back with something massive.  It was bigger than most industrial ships.  Out of the foggy cerulean came black columns the size of buildings, crusted with barnacles and brown seaweed like the hair of a thousand drowned women.  A parasitic umbilicus of pipes and cables connected it to the sea floor.  Drillers.  Drillers in water not cleared for drilling.  I shifted my jets into flight mode and rocketed toward the surface.  I broke through and opened my visor expecting salty morning air and instead getting a nose full of toxic smoke.  The oil drilling platform rose into the sky: a colossus of green, yellow, and red metal bars.  Men scurried about on its paved deck.  The ones that weren’t carrying equipment were busy scratching their asses and tossing food containers over the side.

Attacking an active drill might have caused a rupture, so I first needed to find someone in charge and threaten them until they shut everything down.  I decided to find him or her by making the workers scream and scatter like sand fleas.  I swooped in low like a manta ray or an eagle, firing my cavitation blasters behind the feet of the men as they scattered.  Above water their concussive force is only strong enough to knock a man down and maybe cause a mild burn.  Below the surface they can blow a hole in the side of a submarine.

“Who is in charge here?” I roared through a voice modulator that made me sound like a cross between a bass opera singer and a gargling snapping turtle.  “Who is bleeding my ocean?”  A man who tried and failed to squeeze himself under a metal ridge caught my eye.  I dropped onto the platform next to him and watched silently while he pulled his grimy self away from it.  The half that had made it under was covered in grease.  I flapped my fin-wings menacingly and sprayed him with water.  I asked again where the leader was. He pointed me towards a boxy red building across the platform.

I launched back into the air and made for it.  Before I could set down, the top of the building groaned and split in half to reveal something like a helipad with yellow markings everywhere.  There was something perched at its center, but it wasn’t a helicopter.  It was some sort of armored exoskeleton like the ones the military so frequently experiments with, except it was much bulkier and seemed entirely sealed from the air.  If you count the oddly pointed glass helmet it was nearly eight feet tall.  It was dull green in color, with some kind of logo printed on its left shoulder.  I touched down near it and tiptoed closer for a better look.

It was a picture of a cartoon baby wearing a cowboy hat.  The baby was riding a handheld power drill like a mechanical bull and swinging its cord like a lasso.  I’d seen the image before; I knew who was in that suit before the helmet even opened.  Drill Baby.  Every time he was called to testify in front of congress he used his legal name: Kenny Bittumer.  Kenny likes to poke holes in the world and suck its life out like a mosquito. He gets paid in the billions to do it.  I assume he used those billions to build the illegal drilling platform I was standing on as well as the man-shaped tank he was nestled in.  One of my favorite hobbies is firing a toy dart gun at his face on my TV when I watch him drool lies into congress’ microphone.

The helmet on his strange suit was a combination of transparent panels and metal ones, so I could see the shape of a human head inside.  When the two front panels slid open I was proven correct; there was Kenny puffing away on some kind of electronic cigar.  Apparently pouring poison gas into the atmosphere is fine, but his lungs are too sacred.

“Hiya,” he chirped.  “You looking for something missy?”

“It is illegal to drill here.”

“That’s why I aint going to tell nobody.  You aint going to tell neither.”

“Shut down the equipment.”

“Shut down your mouth.”

“Have it your way.”

“I will, much obliged.”

I launched myself back in the air and started dealing perfunctory damage to the rig with my blasters.  It didn’t take much to goad him into a fight.  When his helmet closed its various bars and panels started to spin around at high speed.  Drill bits loaded into place around his ankles and wrists, revealing the suit’s main purpose as an exploratory drilling unit.  Its secondary purpose appears to be kicking my ass.

He shot me out of the air with a chest-mounted machine gun.  Its bullets tore straight through one of my fins.  The fin collapsed and sent me into a spiral back into the ocean.  I reoriented myself upward in the water and hit the sonar distress beacon on my wrist.  Drill Baby splashed down next to me and propelled himself through the water with the drills on his ankles.  I put my limbs flat against my body and hit the booster on my jets to get away, but his suit kept pace.  I tried leaping out of the water and gliding periodically like a flying fish, but I couldn’t pull ahead.  His suit just tore across the water like a speedboat, sending fountains of spray off to each side.  His guns continued to fire and take bites out of the water around me.

With no other options, I dove straight down and then put my back to the seabed to get a better angle.  I returned fire with my blasters.  Each shot was an explosion of bubbles and bright cavitation light.  A direct hit might have won the fight for me, but his suit proved more nimble than it looked.  He spun out of the way expertly and came towards me drill bit first: an intelligently guided torpedo.  I couldn’t outswim him.  The drill ripped through my other fin and spun me around so fast I nearly lost consciousness.  All I could see was the world turning around me like I was in a tumble dryer.  Daylight, seabed, daylight, seabed…

He pulled us both to the surface.  The force of the spinning ripped my helmet from my head and tossed it all the way back up to the deck of the rig.  Water shot down my throat, up my nose, and into my mind.  One thing I should have considered about my hero name is that sportfish tend to get caught and served up with tartar sauce and a lemon wedge.  My body stopped spinning, but my head kept going.  Drill Baby pulled me into an industrial strength bear hug and pressed my face against the gun on his chest plate.  The edge of the barrel burned my cheek.

Marcy breached the surface, flipped through the air, and smacked Drill Baby back under with her tail.  His arms loosened.  I couldn’t see anything in the column of bubbles, so I held my hands forward and let a hopeful wish bubble out of my mouth.  Marcy’s dorsal fin slid between my wrists.  Little hooks on my suit extended and locked onto her back. She pumped her tail and pulled us away from Drill Baby.  I freed one of my hands and fired behind us continuously until the blaster’s battery was drained.  It kept him off me long enough to make an escape.

As you can see I’m pretty banged up.  I sent Marcy back to check and as I suspected, the rig is gone.  The entire thing is awfully large to move like a submersible, but all the evidence suggests it can.  I think it was intended to always be at sea, far away from any environmental or safety inspectors.

I won’t let him continue, but I’m going to need help.  I’ve called my uncle and am currently waiting for a reply.  Drill Baby won’t be able to crack the Justice Backers.

Backer Update #164 (Swap Meet)

Happy four-and-a-half year anniversary backers!  That’s right; we’ve now been at this for nearly five years.  I went ahead and got the five year balloons since they don’t make this particular interval.  I figured we’d celebrate now-ish since we’re having the big swap meet tomorrow.

For those of you who haven’t kept up with your old pal Alpha Dog, we’re having a bit of a roster exchange with the western Backers.  It’s been a few years so a couple of us are ready for a change.  I’m really hopped up because we haven’t had a change-up in more than two years.  The last time was shortly after our slightly excessive victory party when we defeated Deckard and turned his hand into a blob of fruitcake.  During the party Salt Shaker and Pawn got a little slightly excessive with each other and she wound up pregnant.  Pawn’s been filling in for her ever since while she handles little Sugarcane.  They must want her to be a hero too, because a girl named Sugarcane doesn’t have too many other career options.

As for the particulars of the swap, it’s two for two.  We’re handing over Electric Eel and Opossum Player for a while, while Golden Boy and Monkey Girl are coming back to the team that started it all!  I’ve been working hard on two new puppies as a welcome present.  It wasn’t too hard since I had some extra parts lying around from that whale fiasco.

If any of you are patrons of Electric Eel and Opossum Player, your donations will automatically be moved to their new pages on the western section of our site; you don’t have to lift a finger.  That’s where their vlogs will show up now too.  The same goes for Monkey Girl and Golden Boy.

What a four-and-a-half years it has been huh?  We’ve brought down so many villains that I’m starting to lose count: Woman’s Touch, Wing King (like a dozen times), Trifecta, Toxic Violet, Deckard, Game Master, Wildlife, the Quadkillers, the Great Pretender, the Kissimmee Coroner, Bloato, Judge Mental, Dr. Malice, Metal X, Metal Y… the list goes on.  Still no giant monsters though.  I’m sure you remember that we’ve established the official Backer definition of what counts as a giant monster:

giant monster – (noun) – Any organic, mineral, or energy-based creature of sufficient strangeness as determined by the internet, with a length, height, or width totaling more than twenty feet.

We came close with that mutant starfish that was attacking beachgoers, but it was only seventeen feet across.  Besides, it only moved at two miles per hour or something like that.  People just need to pay more attention when they’re tanning.  That reminds me, we’re now selling a plush toy of Pentazar the starfish on the site.  He comes in three sizes and if you put in your e-mail before this Friday you’re entered for a chance to win the one life-size version we had made.

The acquisition of Backer collectibles brings me to the next topic: the acquisition of more Backers.  We’re not looking to expand the size of either team right now, but we’ve got several candidates who could perhaps work well as independent Backers like my niece.  We considered a third team, but nobody really wants to lead it and most of our candidates say that they would prefer not to move.  What do you guys think?  We’ve got a rowdy discussion about it going on over on Thinkitch; go join that if your opinion is ready to throw a few chairs to get heard.  Some people think too many independent Backers will turn us into some kind of corporatized fast food heroes, but I think our operation is still small enough to avoid that.

There’s also some voting going on over there about which potential independent Backers are the best candidates.  Here’s the three who are polling highest right now:

Armigo – He’s a mechanic about my age based in Mexico.  Like every other aspiring inventor he got his hands on some exoskeleton specs on the internet. The difference is that he actually knows how to build on that foundation.  His harness is covered in hundreds of tiny machining tentacles that can rip, shred, melt, and weld pieces of his surroundings into an instant suit of armor.  His demonstration video, which you can see here, has him disassembling a car door and converting it into armor, a shield, and a club in less than twenty seconds.

Sacred Queen – So far she’s the only one from the so-called ‘prehero’ community whose powers decided to show up.  Her body converts the positive and hopeful psychic energies of those around her into strength, reduced vulnerability, and a blinding halo of light that coats her.  She’ll be most effective as a mascot for a particular area, that way the trust of the people she protects can enhance her abilities.

Islander – He doesn’t have any powers per se, but his story is certainly gripping. He was part of a group of Polynesians kidnapped to be used as slave labor on a crazed billionaire’s private island.  The island itself was entirely artificial and mobile, outfitted with state of the art security disguised as plants and wildlife.  Somehow they managed to overthrow the guy and then they voted Islander to be the head of their new mini-nation.  They’ve been doing great work providing transportation for all kinds of refugees across the oceans.

If any of them sound like your kind of hero go ahead and toss them a vote.  I just want it to be clear that I am not building robots or suits for any more independent Backers.  Don’t spam me with E-mails telling me how you’re such a wonderful, compassionate, and brave soul and all you need is a mechanical riding ostrich to prove it.  The answer is no.  From now on our operation is BYOP: bring your own powers.  Got it?

A lot has changed for us in the past years, but I want to remind everyone that we’re still the same organization.  Your money is still converted into positive acts of justice for the world.  We still want to connect with you and hear what you have to say, even as it gets a little more difficult to hear you in the crowd.  There is always a way you can contribute more and it doesn’t have to be financial.  We even appreciate the crazy stuff; if you want proof just check out this image gallery of the one hundred best Justice Backer tattoos.  I can’t decide if my favorite is the one with my dogs forming a pyramid on some guy’s back or the one of a full hand of Justice Backer Secret Shuffle cards on that woman’s thigh, with every picture flipping the viewer off.  Those are definitely classics.

So please add your voice to the clamoring welcome we’re going to give Monkey Girl and Golden Boy tomorrow.  We’ll be livestreaming their arrival free of charge and I’ll make sure they at least say hello to a lucky handful that show up in the chat.  I’ve got to get back to work and let’s face it… you’re probably looking at this in a tiny window when your boss is across the room, so you should too.

Emergency Backer Update

(five days after the swap meet)

We’ve got some missing Backers.  Last night something happened to Pawn and Transplant.  We don’t know what’s going on yet so we don’t have many details for you.  Our security cameras show both of them rising from their beds simultaneously in the middle of the night, with no alarms or anything.  They dressed in full costume, deactivated their puppies, and silently left the building together. They have not been in contact with us.  Given the strange zombie-like nature of their departure, we suspect some form of psychic warfare has been deployed against us.  We’re hard at work on some precautions as well as the search for our missing teammates.

If you have any information at all about their whereabouts please contact us or the Unfridgable Girl immediately.  We’ll keep you updated as new information comes to light.  We would appreciate any and all positive sentiments you can send our way in this trying time.

Transplant’s Personal Diary

I’m writing this because I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to fully explain it.  And because I’ve done so many of those vlogs that it feels weird to not take an hour out of my day to reflect on the rest of it.  I’m writing this in the hopes that the people who now think I’m a monster will think I’m a slightly smaller monster with duller teeth.  I want them to know that the human part of me put me in this situation just as much as the inhuman part.  All of it was my choice, and all the regret I feel seems healthy, like the burning of a long-ignored muscle.  This is the record of how I became a spore.

I woke up that night with a very strange feeling in the center of my brain; it was like someone had inserted a flashing green lighthouse into the background of all my memories.  Every single one.  It was like only realizing that you’re just a fruit on a massive tree the second after you snap off and hit the ground.  I felt a throbbing need to return somewhere I had never been.  I felt like my conception and birth had all been a mirage and the green spinning light was cutting through it.  I needed to see it.

I got out of bed.  My puppy, Sprout, lifted his head out of curiosity.  He started to whimper but I quickly scratched behind his left ear to turn him off.  Sprout’s personality mimicked mine according to Alpha Dog, but he couldn’t feel the call that I was.  I had no idea where I was going, but I knew it was not a place for him.

When I had my costume on I crept out into the hall.  The Bay was lit only by the blue glow of the ocean coming from all of the tanks.  Someone else appeared in front of me.  Pawn.  My green light connected to his and I knew we were going to the same place.  I knew we could talk to each other without opening our mouths, but neither of us spoke.  A very small part of me was relieved I wouldn’t be going alone.

The security doors are extremely noisy, so we took one of our secret exits.  It brought us out into a field.  Our transportation was waiting for us: two strange pods about seven feet tall.  They grew straight up out of the ground and had thorny brown shells that popped open when we approached with a sound like someone cutting into a crisp apple.  The inside was full of a cool smooth fiber like corn silk.  I climbed inside.  Every little strand of silk flattened against my skin and cradled me as the pod sealed itself again.  There was no light at all inside.  The pod wiggled and slowly pulled itself back into the Earth; I could hear Pawn’s pod doing the same.  Once we were out of the moonlight the pods turned on their sides and started tunneling through the Earth faster than I thought possible.  I heard the zooming sounds of midnight semi-trucks as we were pulled right under roads.  The rush of dirt and the soft embrace of the silk lulled me back into a half-sleep.  When my senses perked up again I realized I’d completely lost track of time.  I think we were in there for more than ten hours.

The pod stood up straight again and popped open. When I stepped out on my wobbly legs my boots sunk right into a puddle.  The ground was covered in moss, green leaf litter, and dew.  A thick fog hung like bed sheets from the branches of the plentiful trees.  A hundred frogs and insects peeped and buzzed.  I couldn’t tell what time of day it was through the clouds.  I’d seen a place like this on a nature documentary once; I think they called it a cloud forest.

My mind saw the green light emanating from somewhere deep in the forest.  Pawn and I walked towards it.  Even though the place was teeming with life, I don’t think there was a single bird or mouse anywhere.  Everything seemed to slither, scuttle, or inch along.  The plentiful mosquitoes ran into us without biting as if we were panels of glass.  My skin started to squirm more than usual.  My skin cells had forgotten they weren’t seeds and desperately tried to germinate.  Goosebumps appeared and disappeared in rhythmic waves.  Not like a heartbeat.  Like something older.  A limb withering, snapping off, and regrowing.  A tide of bacterial generations.

We didn’t get far before we met a third pilgrim.  Rot.  I had not seen him since our confrontation with Deckard.  There was another empty pod nearby; he had been brought from his home the same as us.  There was no aggression.  The pull was strong enough to wash away any rivalry.  We continued on as a trio.

We walked like confused zombies until we reached the lip of a massive wet ditch filled with darkened branches.  I looked down to see my feet had stopped as late as possible; my toes hung over the edge and forced two trickles of mud down into the hole.  We had been called here.

Two figures sat with their legs crossed on top of the collapsed dam of sticks.  They lifted their bowed heads to examine us.  Our minds connected with theirs, eliminating the need for introductions.  We knew them and they knew us.  They stood.

One of them was a middle-eastern woman wearing a cloak.  Its hood used to be a niqab, but she’d altered it to reveal her face.  She had a long dark gray cape.  She carried a long warty staff that curled at the top.  It was not made of wood, but the flesh of a creepy crawly.  It was a giant dried earthworm, not unlike the ones you find on your driveway after it rains.  Her human name was discarded.  Composted.  Her spore name is Dry Worm.  Her mind connects to the worms of the soil just as ours do to each other.  They obey her will.  Many of the worms have felt the call too.  They grew larger.  Far bigger than any you’ve ever seen.  Big enough to get a horror movie and at least three bad sequels.  I could feel them writhing and groaning under us, boring tunnels big enough for trains.

The other figure used to be a woman, but now she is nothing.  She has let the call take her almost completely.  She is the very silent sound of it.  Most of her body is plant tissue now.  She wears no clothes, but the hanging leaves and hulls look the part anyway.  Her legs are spiraled; the call told me that she can split them into many tentacle-like vines.  A zig zag pattern runs along both her forearms; I know they open up to create jaws like a Venus flytrap’s.  The same pattern divides her face vertically.  Her eyes are green bumps, fossils she carries with her.  Merely a human disguise.  Her name is Venus Man-eater.

The two spores walked across the branches, which were so wet that they bent instead of breaking.  They joined us on the ditch’s edge.  The twigs moaned.  A bulge appeared at the center of the pile and grew quickly.  Huge tangles of fungus-riddled wood rolled down the side as it pushed through.  Gray-green stalks, wider around than telephone poles, rose out of the pile and into the clouds.  They were tipped with dark, swollen, pulsing structures the shape of a stone axe head.  A central stalk, frilly and tiered like a flowering wedding cake, rose above the rest.  I shouldn’t compare it to a flower in any way; it’s far older than any of those.  It has roamed this Earth for four hundred million years.  It participated in the adolescence of the world.  It cast its vote in our biosphere a trillion times.  It was the Lichen.  It had called us here.

The Lichen gave me my powers years ago.  Actually, I only encountered a small piece of it.  A drone.  An adoring simple-minded child of the Lichen.  Standing there in front of it, awash in its waves of respiration and its invisible green light, I finally understood how my powers worked.  There is something called horizontal gene transfer.  Scientists already know about it.  It mostly involves genetic material getting transferred between species of bacteria without involving reproduction.  It’s how some germs ‘learn’ to beat our medicines.

If you don’t already know, lichens are a symbiotic arrangement between a fungus and algae.  They aren’t plant or fungus; they’re a team.  You’ve probably seen them growing on trees or stonework: little patches of fleshy life, sometimes coming in strangely radiant sunset colors.  Harmless natural rust.  The Lichen, the greatest of them all, has been using horizontal gene transfer to shuffle things around for millennia.  It uses it to connect itself to the world and to better itself.  It first took genes from us when we still lived in caves and scribbled bison on the wall.  That was when its intelligence grew exponentially.  A while after that it started giving back.  Sharing.  Trying to make diplomatic connections to the only other smart thing on Earth.  It gave me genes from a wide variety of plants.  The same with Venus Maneater.  Dry Worm got some from worms and her worms got some from much heftier animals like whales.  Rot got a huge cocktail of everything undergrowth.

Pawn got some from a slime mold.  We always knew our powers came from the same source, but we thought it was a coincidence.  We thought it was one rogue mutant thing spawned by pollution or experimentation.  That was why Pawn tried to escape the Lichen when it was giving him his powers.  He was scared; he didn’t let it finish.  The Lichen addressed that as we stood before it.  One of its stalks leaned down in front of Pawn.  He touched its slick surface.  Life forces crossed.  Thanks to our connection I know what he felt.  When his body was destroyed he would no longer have to wait hours or days to reform.  The process would be nearly instantaneous.  I could feel his joy.  He felt like he’d been cured of a chronic illness, like huge chunks of his life that were plucked out were all being returned at once in an overflowing basket.  He wept.  I cried his tears alongside him.

We asked the Lichen why it had waited so long to call us.  We hadn’t known it, but we did not want to be alone.  The Lichen told us it wanted only what its kin wanted: to grow in peace.  It was content to be that little spot of natural rust spreading out in the sunlight.  The Lichen could not deny its power though, and a sense of responsibility had grown inside it and taken it over.  The Earth’s peril could no longer be ignored.  It could no longer hide itself in the dirt and only whisper and play with the occasional animal.  It had a duty.  And like everything else, it shared that duty with us.

Leaves rustled all around us.  Trees bent down and swung back into place.  Hands rose from right out of the Earth.  Puddles bubbled up and spat out people.  More than a hundred bodies appeared from the fog.  They were all strange by the standards of men, even though they’d all been men or women at some point.  Most of their hides were entirely green.  Only a few still wore scraps of clothing: ripped shorts here and a threadbare scarf there.  No two were the same; some had wings like helicopter seeds growing from their shoulders, some had skin like swirling bark, some were covered in red thorns, some had drooping necks like flowers weighed down with rain, and so on.  The call told me who they were: vagrants, criminals, and those who had given up on life.  People the Lichen had scooped up from the past three hundred years and given the bliss of decomposed humanity.  They willingly gave up most of their minds and souls to be its emissaries.  Now these spores would be its soldiers.

The five of us would lead them.  We had not rejected the Lichen’s call.  Our bodies assimilated it.  We were of human mind just as much as we were of the Lichen.  We were its teammates in its new struggle.  We helped it to understand the enemy.  Pawn and I thought working with the Justice Backers was our calling.  We did good there, but it was not our purpose.  This was the team we always felt we were meant to join.  Pawn paused and thought about Salt Shaker and their young daughter Sugarcane.  The Lichen assured him he needn’t give them up.  We weren’t forced to obey the Lichen, but we did.  Its will is a hope for brightness and compassion.  We cannot deny the same will that lives in us.

The Justice Backers will not understand.  The Lichen’s call falls mostly on deaf ears.  Only the smallest pocket of men and women feel the responsibility they need to.  We will have to fight.  Some may die.  I have told the Lichen I will not harm the Backers.  It understood, but it will be up to me to keep them safe from the other spores.  It can only make so many considerations.

We will strike soon.

Top Ten Justice Backer Moments


We asked you guys to vote on your top ten favorite Justice Backers moments of all time.  It was a tough time narrowing it down from our original list to the thirty we let you guys choose from, but I think it was worth the effort.  Whether you’re a fan of Orb being a baller or Wallflower trying to hide from the cameras, we’ve got something for Backer fans of all stripes.  So strap in and grab some Justice Backer organic gummy snacks for a trip down memory lane.

10. Scraping Wing King off the Windshield

 No foe has been more persistent than Timothy Ankhee, the sniveling mad scientist who grew a pair of eagle wings, a pair of bat wings, and a giant pair of dragonfly wings on his back.  After the initial wave of fear he caused when he picked up three people in public and dropped them from fatal altitudes, he quickly became a joke.  All it took was one week of an awareness campaign so that nobody traveled outside alone.  Any time he tried again, people just hugged each other until the chain was too heavy for him to pick up.

Pelting the loser with rotten food and bottles didn’t stop him from trying.  The moment we’re highlighting this time was after his second escape from custody.  (Do the police just let him out for a laugh?)  He was buzzing and flapping his way around an adult film industry expo, trying to steal a scantily clad bride or something like that.  Before he had a chance to build a nest out of fuzzy handcuffs, the Justice Backers showed up in one of their helicopters.  Visitors to the convention center thought they might get a free super battle during their horny weekend, but they didn’t know just how disappointing Wing King could be.  Good old Timmy was so busy laughing maniacally that when he swooped around he collided with the front of the helicopter like a bug on a truck windshield.  Electric Eel, possibly realizing the humor potential, tossed a length of slime around the front of the helicopter and tied him to it.

Then they flew off saying their work was done.  We’re bound to get a repeat performance next time he flies the coop.

9. Transplant Planting the Justice Juniper

This is our earliest Backer moment to make the list.  Though their funding campaign drew a lot of attention, the world didn’t really believe a superhero team was going to be a thing until they showed up to put out that wildfire.  Transplant wowed everyone with the greatest display of personal power ever televised.  Not only that, he made the cops look like fools scrambling around trying to catch them for saving the world in an unsanctioned way.  There are few images online right now more iconic or remixed than him stepping off the top of the strange giant tree he made and into that jet.

Transplant hasn’t forgotten how all this started, because he leaves strange, beautiful, maybe slightly bloated, plants behind every time he goes out on a mission.  In addition to the Juniper, some of the more popular ones he has installed include the Boston Baobab, the Flowering Redwood, the Global Ginkgo, and the Fourth Amendment Maple (A.K.A Fammily). And because Transplant is so good that his good has good runoff, all kinds of local businesses have sprung up around the Justice Juniper as it turned into America’s favorite tourist trap.  Transplant: good guy gardener to the world.

8. Monkey Girl’s Return to the Cage 

It was the first major mission for Impala’s western Backers after their split from Alpha Dog’s team and boy was it a personal one.  Monkey Girl has had to bear not only the most tragic backstory of all the Backers, but the brunt of the online harassment.  Theories vary as to why she was targeted, but most land on simple disappointing facts like her sex, her nationality, and her general level of furriness.

We were all happy and proud to root for her when she spearheaded a raid on the secret lab that experimented on her and more than thirty other individuals.  You might not understand why this made it to the top ten given that the lab was abandoned, but if you’ve seen the video you understand the emotional weight of it all.  People-sized cages.  Disarticulated hands from unidentified species.  Blood and feces on the wall of a padded cell, a dog bowl on the ground labeled ‘Misty’.  Nobody knows the full extent of what happened there and nobody wants to know.  Seeing her stand there and point to the cage that used to be hers was more heartbreaking than the last three Pixar movies.  As if that wasn’t devastating enough, they found the remains of her turtle friend Plastron buried in a shallow plot among the reeds behind the building.  Next to him were the bones of a bison man and a cassowary woman whose identities are still lost.  Not even Dr. Moreau could be that cruel.

7. Archive Leaking the ‘Diamond Car’ Plot

The world let out a collective groan when we first heard rumors that the children’s cartoon designed to sell sparkly unisex car toys might be getting a film adaptation.  Sure, unisex toys are great, but Diamond Car is notorious for being weirdly retrograde in its own right.  If you’re lucky enough to be unfamiliar with it, the show follows secret agent Garland Bling as she travels the globe taking down all kinds of bad guys in her high-tech spy car that happens to have a diamond finish (to make it impenetrable the show argues, and definitely not to make toys sparkly).  What upsets most people is the way all the female characters seem to be almost sexually aroused by the diamond car, while the cars of her rival and her enemies (with gold, silver, ruby, emerald, and sapphire finishes) don’t.  We don’t need a show that teaches young girls that women are supposed to be drawn to diamonds like flies to poopoo.  We don’t need a movie of it either.

Enter Archive, the X-ray woman.  The Justice Backers were on the movie studio backlot that day to capture a stuntman who’d been taking jobs as a hitman for bigwig producers looking to eliminate the competition and the occasional ex-lover.  After crashing their way through a dozen green screens in the chase, Archive just happened to get a sneak peek at the screenplay for Diamond Car, which someone was carrying inside an envelope.

After the battle she realized the only responsible thing to do was to leak the details online, even though it was illegal.  The official title was going to be ‘Diamond Car: The Silver Screen’.  The plot involved agent Garland protecting the cast of a reality show, while participating in it, from an evil ex-cast member.  There was a scene where she washed her diamond car.  In a kid’s movie.  The internet got mad.  The studio cancelled the movie before the actress could even dye her hair blonde.  They denied they’d ever even written a screenplay for it.

Impala chewed Archive out for a misuse of her powers, but I think you’d have a hard time finding anybody who will deny that justice was indeed served.

6. That Time the Justice Backers Showed up in Congress and Testified Against Themselves Ironically

 Our beautiful lily-white congress was putting on a dog and pony show to condemn the vigilantism of the Justice Backers.  They paraded expert after expert across their microphones, all of them repeating the same outrages like sock puppets.  They didn’t even invite the Backers to let them defend themselves.

Imagine their surprise when Act-of-Goddess opened a portal right into their chambers, enabled by the stormy weather outside, bringing in enough wind to mess up every scrap of paper and misleading chart in the place.  Through that portal came Alpha Dog, Paladina, Tin Soldier, and Opossum Player.  They were fresh from their encounter with a nearly giant monster, the mutant starfish Pentazar, evidenced by the slimy twitching arm Alpha Dog carried.  He slammed it down on the desk and took a seat in front of a microphone.

“We almost didn’t make it,” he declared to a room full of representatives (three of whom we now know wet their pants thanks to the leaked footage).  “This little bugger was giving us some trouble.”  He then smacked at the flailing arm until it calmed down.  “Let’s talk about what a menace the Justice Backers are.  Did you know we only manage to save an average of five lives a week?  I mean come on, five?  Five regular people aren’t even worth half a congressman; am I right?  I strongly recommend we take action.  We should pass some kind of law that stops my friends and me from running around and doing the will of the people.  We can’t do anything about a law; those are impossible to ignore!  That’s why there’s no crime in America!  What a great idea.  Good work everybody.  Now we can all go home, but first, please rise for the national anthem.”

That was when Tin Soldier proceeded to play the star-spangled banner through his mouth like a Victrola.  Every Backer there then saluted their congress and exited through their portal, leaving behind a stubborn tentacle that had gripped the desk so powerfully that it took three red-faced congressmen to pry it off.

5. When Golden Boy Bowled Ten Perfect Games

 I didn’t think this moment would make it so high, but I guess there are a lot of bowling enthusiasts out there.  This gem took place back with the original team; they’d just stopped a small mom and pop bowling alley from being robbed blind, so the couple rewarded them by giving them the alley all to themselves for a night with unlimited free games and snacks.  I never thought I’d be more jealous of a free pass than superpowers, but I hear their snack bar wings are orgasmic.

Shenanigans proceeded.  Some Backers are good at bowling and some are terrible.  I thought Wallflower was surprisingly good.  What surprised nobody was Golden Boy being the best, what with him being the literal embodiment of the little golden man on top of all the sports trophies.  He threw a strike every single time.  He threw a strike standing backwards.  He threw a strike while stuffing nachos into his face with his other hand.  He threw a strike with Alpha Dog yelling in his ear to distract him.

After the sixth perfect game his team really tried to interfere.  Impala stomped on the ground to shake the lane. Alpha Dog had a dog stand in the middle of the lane and try to grab the ball with its mouth.  Somehow the angle was always perfect.  It always curved just out of the dog’s reach.  Eventually it came down to the final throw on the tenth game.  Everyone was getting tired.  Impala stomped.  Alpha Dog had two dogs in the lane.  Monkey Girl was hanging around Golden Boy’s neck to throw him off balance.  He had one hand in his pocket and a blindfold on.  Everyone was chanting for a miss.  Pawn even begrudgingly agreed to lie down in front of the pins so the ball would have to go through him.

The ball sailed through the air a quarter of an inch over the lane.  Pawn exploded into a cloud of dust and the pins flew all over the place.  One landed upright on a drink tray as it was being brought to them.  Never challenge Golden Boy.  You’ll wind up getting swept out of the gutter and into a dustpan.

4. Grill Marx Almost Faking his Way on the Team

Do you guys remember him?  He was by far the most successful of any of the pretenders who tried to simulate superpowers and get on one of the teams.  His supposed story was that he had the ability to generate extreme heat and make it travel along any straight lines or grooves he came into contact with.  If he touched the bottom of a door the heat would travel up the side and light the top on fire.  He’d build a special metal staff with a groove in it so he could touch things and ignite them.

It was all special effects.  In his demonstration videos he simply planted fireworks in the right places and triggered them remotely.  His editing was close to super though, as he fooled most of the internet and Impala’s team completely.  Luckily, they were smart enough to insist on meeting him in a neutral location first so they didn’t reveal their base’s location.  (You’re never going to find the Backer Burrow internet, so stop trying.)

Of course when the time came he couldn’t actually make with the flaming lines of doom.  After nervously yammering off a list of excuses he got down on one knee and proposed to Monkey Girl while they were trying to leave.  Some people thought it was sweet, but as it turns out ‘Grill Marx’ seems to have been behind some of the harassment she’d been facing.  Nobody knows what he was actually thinking, but we’re all pretty sure he isn’t going to get a happy ending.  His costume was cool though.

3. The Three Hero Jousting Combo

This was the moment when people stopped calling Paladina lame.  The Backers were in the middle of a heated battle with some rogue Hostage robots.  Their owner, like every other loser who thought they could build those things based on online blueprints and control them, got killed the moment he turned them on.  The units escaped and started terrorizing the rural area surrounding his home.  The Backers and the bots were duking it out in a field of frightened horses.  Transplant created a wooden spear, only to have it blasted away from him by a Hostage.  The spear sailed through the air and impaled Opossum Player through the chest.  Naturally she was fine, but she didn’t have the strength to remove it.

Across the field, a Hostage was riding one of the horses and swinging a chainsaw it had stolen from a barn.  There was only one thing to do.  Joust.  Paladina leapt onto the back of another horse and rode straight towards the mounted robot.  She called to Opossum Player, who seemed to pick up on the idea immediately.  She ran to converge with Paladina, trying to pull out the lance the whole time.  It wouldn’t budge.  The distance between all three of them was closing and there was only one way to pull it off.  Opossum Player jumped as high as she could alongside the horse, Paladina caught her by the end of the wooden spear-lance-thing and held it forward like there wasn’t somebody already skewered on it.

The two horses sped into each other.  Paladina drove the lance created by Transplant and delivered by Opossum Player straight through the metal spine of the Hostage unit and broke it in half.  It was the three hero jousting combo that resulted in a disembodied set of metal hips and legs riding a horse across a field.  We’ll never know how much of it was planned or intended, but we know exactly how awesome it is thanks to its third place award here.

2. Orb Winning All the Gold Medals in the Backer Olympics Simultaneously

I’m sure everyone saw this one coming.  At first it seemed the Backer Olympics wouldn’t be anything too out of the ordinary; it was just another chance for Alpha Dog to raise awareness and dough by getting his team to do something silly.  This time it was a competition made up of various physical challenges where the two Backer teams were free to use their powers in any way they wanted to score a win.  They had plastic medals and participation trophies they’d bought in bulk from the dollar store to hand out to the super-humans for embarrassing themselves in front of us.

They hit the all major family picnic ones: sack racing, bobbing for apples, and three-legged races with a few more unusual ones like diving and staring contests.  There was a brief intermission for a fake dog show with all the robo-puppies and then they made it to the final event: the dance-off.  Only the Backers who wanted to compete did: Monkey Girl, Impala, Alpha Dog, Golden Boy, Opossum Player, and to everyone’s surprise, Orb.  They were all pretty talented, with Impala’s and Monkey Girl’s powers giving their routines a natural flourish.  Alpha Dog mostly just danced like your dad while pointing to his dogs doing far more amazing moves.  Then Orb took the stage.

Some of the loudest electronica you’ve ever heard started blasting around him.  The dancing came out of him like the light of god.  He balanced on his palms, on his heels, on his sternum.  He moved so fast you couldn’t even see all of it.  It couldn’t even be counted as breakdancing because there were several long pauses where he didn’t touch the floor at all.  It was dancing the way detached enlightened souls that live across the solar system do it.  He was declared the winner and retroactively given the plastic gold medals for all the other events as well.

If it wasn’t for Orb, we wouldn’t have the ten thousand fail videos of people trying to replicate the technique and smashing their noses on the floor.  Thank you for that sir, you beautiful, groovy, funky, totally krunk soul you.

1. Act-of-Goddess Turning Back the Wrath of God

This should come as no surprise to anyone.  While the Justice Juniper might be the greatest symbol of their work, what Act-of-Goddess did is unquestionably their best work period.

We learned, after the fact, that the tsunami had the strength to wipe out cities completely.  The death toll was estimated to be in the millions.  Those millions are alive today because of the Justice Backers.  Act-of-Goddess felt the force of the natural disaster before any authority scientific or political was aware.  She put herself on that beach, right in its path, and waited.  Nobody understood yet what it would look like to see a person truly control nature.  Everything we do is a minor manipulation of it.  The best we can do is box some of it up and poison the rest.  She, the Goddess, can discipline the Earth.

When that wall of water rose up in front of her she held her arms forward and flexed those divine muscles.  She used a long portal to drain half of the wave’s energy and send it back into the rest, creating a cataclysmic explosion of foam that annihilated the beach, and nothing else.

While she never discusses it, it is widely known that Act-of-Goddess suffers from a mental illness that includes hallucinations that has never been properly diagnosed.  Not only did she save countless lives that day, she raised awareness of the capabilities and humanity of the mentally ill.  Her actions have spoken louder than a million different charities for the same cause.

On that day we all thought we were hallucinating when we watched a young woman, hovering in the air, destroy a natural disaster to save her fellow human beings.  That moment tops this list, which in itself tops the thousands of good acts the Justice Backers are responsible for.

I don’t think I need to disclose this, but I’m a backer.  I don’t understand the people who aren’t.

3 thoughts on “Justice Backers: The Lichen Calls (Part One)

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