Justice Backers: The Lichen Calls (Part Three)

JordanJaded’s Top Ten Weirdest Justice Backer Moments

(jordanjaded.blogstack.com)

With all this Drill Baby and Lichen drama going on, everybody’s been asking their favorite blogger (and when they don’t answer they ask me) what they think the Justice Backers should do in this situation.  I’ve always been pro-backer myself, but more as a sideshow and fuel for my writing than legitimate sociological experiment.  Everyone’s having a field day posting their listicles and things, but I haven’t seen this one go up yet so I’m going to try and squeeze it in there.  I didn’t bother to do a poll or anything since most of you are here for my opinion anyway.  This is just a list of what I think are some of the top conversation pieces that have come up because of the backers in the last few years.  I owe this coverage to them; without their shenanigans I never would’ve had anything to write about when I started this site three years ago.  Now I get like two million unique visitors a day!  These aren’t in any particular order except for number one, so let’s start the ride!  Starting with…

10. The search for the Mindyville lemon

The Justice Backers crashed an elementary school science fair in the heart of Mindyville, Arkansas, hardly cause for writing an article.  They were there to capture one kid’s dad for running a 3D printing operation designed to get plastic guns and harpoon launchers into criminal hands.  The weirdness started when the tubby middle-aged guy in question awkwardly ripped off his sweater to reveal an arsenal of flat, cream-colored plastic weapons.  One shot from his 3D shotgun nearly killed one of the judges, but luckily Alpha Dog’s para-mutt-ic was there to stop the bleeding.

In the middle of the fight Transplant happened to grab one of the experiments away from its cardboard explanation.  It was a simple lemon battery.  Transplant’s powers modified it so it grew a few thorns and leaves and then he chucked it at 3Dealer (as some on the internet called him).  It was a glancing blow that didn’t pierce the guy’s plastic armor.  The fight went on and everyone forgot about the little old lemon rolling across the gymnasium floor.  Eventually they collared the guy and turned him into the police.  The kid who made the lemon project retrieved his mutant fruit and put it back on display.  To his surprise it blew out the lights he connected to it.

Now if you don’t know how a lemon battery works, here’s the quiz notes:  two pieces of metal are sadistically jabbed into the innocent young fruit (sorry, science experiments always sound like Saw-style deathtraps when I describe them) and they generate an electric current when they interact through the electrolytic medium that is the lemon’s citric acid.  The power comes from the metal, not the lemon.  That’s the main reason we can’t just power everything with some kind of giant Country Time turbine.  The lemon Transplant touched, however, seemed capable of generating power on its own.

After the fair the lemon’s trail almost immediately went ice cold.  The kid claimed he lost it after several weeks of it not rotting on his kitchen counter.  Most people think his parents are liars and that they sold it to some corporation for about fourteen gajinkafillion dollars.

Try as they might, no internet sleuth has been able to track it down.  There has been the occasional suspicious clue: a grainy photograph of a lemon-topped carousel running without being attached to anything, an extremely well-lit cabin that was supposed to be off the grid, and a small recall of a batch of organic lemonade that seemed to shock anyone who drank it.  The conspiracy theories multiply every day.  Whether you call yourself a lemonhead or not, you have to admit it was one strange event after the other with that sour mystery generator.

9. Kharmie Buttercup’s bestseller

 Everyone remembers the star author of Salt Shaker’s fan fiction corner series.  Everyone wishes they could forget what happened after: some bigshot publisher keen on choking the life out of the preteen girl market snapped up the special little internet moth and told her that if she changed all the character names in one of her fan fictions, they would give her an editor and a book deal.  The company didn’t even bother to ask us, the sane people of the world, how we felt about the offer.

Cut to a few months later and bookstore shelves were filled with the first edition of A Tear-Filled Mask: a super-powered romance by Kharmie Buttercup.  Her thinly-veiled Justice Backer characters weren’t fooling anyone.  The main character was Gibonnie, a girl with all the powers of a gibbon.  Sound familiar?  She was joined by such bastions of creativity as Pride Lion (Alpha Dog), Daydreamer (Dreamweaver), Spring Doe (Impala), Bronze God (Golden Boy), and Can-can (Tin Soldier).

Even if you didn’t try to read them you can guess the plot beats: Gibonnie falls in love with a villain who only ever accidentally killed people.  Then a secret government agency comes after her because reasons (she’s just so pretty she can’t be allowed to exist).  Kharmie stretched that silk thread out into three books and a movie deal.  It was bizarre and horrifying to watch as the lowest common denominator of justice backer fan swarmed like locusts to get their copies.  We should move on; I’m getting queasy just thinking about it.

8. The goldenism scare

Whatever was done to Golden Boy as an embryo in a test tube is still unknown, but some aspects of it briefly resurfaced for a few months and freaked everybody’s hypochondriac mothers out.  ‘Goldenism’ was the term quickly minted to explain children born without any urge to participate in, or understanding of, the creative process.  These toddlers’ drawings looked like high school drafting projects.  At first people were thinking autism of some sort, then OCD, and then one guy who was a few courses short of actually being called a doctor made a comparison to Golden Boy.  The problem was that the kids didn’t really receive the same fortitude or instant-talent ability that the famous justice backer demonstrates.

There were a million suggested causes for seventy or so afflicted kids across the developed world.  The usual suspects were flogged to death in the internet’s public quadrangle: vaccines, GMO foods, cell phone radiation, too much red meat, yadayadayada…

Nobody stopped to think how that might make Golden Boy feel.  He made a statement addressing the issue and trying to convince the parents that their children weren’t diseased.  That convinced some people he had somehow been sleeping around the country and impregnating women in order to make his own race of supermen.  Then he shut up about it, because how on earth do you fight that kind of idiocy with words?

Goldenism came and went with no answers.  Some kids grew out of it.  Some didn’t.  Some never had it in the first place.  It was a blip on the medical radar, but one that had new mothers needlessly terrified for several months.

7. The phantom orb

 An invisible sphere rolled through a charity benefit and knocked people down.  Its shape was only revealed as their spilled wine spread over it.  We all immediately thought of Orb, but he always appears at the center of the ball he creates and this one didn’t seem to have a pilot.  Early theories still blamed the backer and said it was some kind of silent protest against the ‘charity theater’ the wealthy put on.  The invisible ball was supposed to represent the invisibility of the people they were supposedly helping, but who weren’t invited to the black tie event.

My personal opinion is that it’s another example of justice backer sleepwalking.  Sometimes, at night, you just lose control of your bodily functions.  For most of us that means yellow sheets, but for people with powers it could mean all sorts of things.  We’ve heard about Act-of-Goddess nearly drowning her team in seawater when she slept.  I think the phantom orb was just a random projection of the actual Orb’s sleeping mind.  He just didn’t admit to it because, you know, it’s embarrassing!

6. Doc Donor’s door-to-door organs

 For a while it looked like the first independent Justice Backer, before Sportfish showed up, was going to be the young black athlete people had nicknamed Pony Express.  (They called him that because he delivered his neighborhood’s mail… on foot.)  He showed the unusual ability to run or walk for days without tiring.  His first test mission had him teaming up with Doc Donor, who had recently been trying to donate some of her extra organs to hospitals.

The hospitals wouldn’t send appropriate transportation to retrieve the organs because they weren’t sure of their source, so the backers boxed them up professionally and sent Pony Express across the nation to deliver them where they were needed.  Unfortunately, it didn’t matter how many dying people they had inside, no hospital would take the freely given organs because of liability concerns.  It was a disappointment for everybody, Pony Express especially so.  He was so disillusioned by the red tape deaths occurring that he gave up on heroics before he even started.  For a while though there was a chance a man with a mailbag full of icy human organs was knocking on your neighborhood hospital’s door.

5. Precon

 Oh boy.  I could write a book about this one.  I might.  Most other bloggers barely have the fortitude to touch the subject.  Plus any criticism at all sent towards the prehero community is met with a waterfall of whining, offense-taking, and occasionally threats.

Preheroism is when a deluded or young (and deluded) person on the internet becomes convinced they are destined to be a superhero but that their powers, like wisdom teeth or appendicitis, just haven’t come in yet.  They divide themselves into two categories: PP and LP.  PP stands for pre-powered and means their abilities have unexplained origins.  LP means that they think the Lichen is going to show up and turn them into one of its plant-people soldiers.  (I’m not going to get into the whole Lichen proxy thing; that’s too dark for this particular list.)  All of this I’m-so-special nonsense was relegated to chatrooms where they sniffed each other’s farts all day until the fluke happened.  One of them turned out to be real.

Sacred Queen does in fact have powers.  So far, none of the other preheroes have panned out.  Instead of being adults and admitting it was all just fantasy, most have doubled down.  They have pride parades where they piss off actual marginalized groups.  They walk around in cardboard costumes and insist they should be allowed to do so in school, in Walmart, at funerals, etc.  Then they took the ultimate step and organized their own convention called Precon.

Lots of media outlets showed up at the center they rented out of morbid curiosity.  Imagine it: hundreds upon hundreds of overly-sensitive liars pretending to fly through hallways and buying up merchandise catered to their own fabricated power set.  I have a few personal favorite preheroes who showed up to get interviewed:  Shadowcreep said he could turn into your shadow to follow you around and mentioned how he did it to girls all the time, Bumble Bear claimed she was only overweight because she was preparing for hibernation (in June?), and Lot’s wife visibly wiped the sweat from her zit-covered forehead while explaining that she was a living salt golem accidentally created by Salt Shaker.  If that doesn’t qualify as weird I don’t know what does.  I may have to make a special list just for Precon 2 when that happens this year.  I hear they’re raising their ticket prices.

4. The Backer Bistro

 Why do creepy awkward things have to make so much money?  Make sure you look at my picture gallery for this one if you haven’t heard about it; the costumes really make it.

Someone decided that since there is a theme restaurant for everything from 50’s rock cafes to mildly racist Mexican mariachi cantinas, there needed to be a justice backers restaurant for the whole family to enjoy!  Just like precon, morbid curiosity seems to be what drives the bistro’s profits.  If you’ve ever wanted to see a white guy in an Electric Eel costume hang kid’s-toy slime ropes from his arms while balancing cheeseburgers, this is the place for you.

By the time you get tired of their bad costumes they’ll have two or three ‘villains’ emerge from the kitchen and perform the world’s most terrible scripted fights on stage.  I’ve been once.  Even the kids there don’t get it; they just stare blankly like they’re watching two of their action figures come to life and do the nasty.  Seriously.  It’s like watching that.  It’s like watching two featureless plastic groins rub against each other and produce a squeaking sound.

Don’t get me started on the food either.  The punny names are so bad that you might lose your appetite.  There’s the alpha’s hot dogs with color-coded relishes, a fried steak called the golden brown boy, the opossum fillet-er (uh ew)… and we can’t forget the ‘deck’ of rectangular pancakes complete with the Secret Shuffle logo burned into them.  I had the Trans-eggplant parmesan.  It was alright.  BUT I WAS STILL OFFENDED.

3. Abe the lynx hugged his deceased owner

 We all miss park ranger Oaky Kolden, the soft-spoken national park advocate who sadly passed away four years before his awkward but heartfelt set of internet videos finally got the popularity they deserved.  I still watch one every Monday to build up enough faith in humanity for my weekly Walmart run.  His catchphrase, ‘you can be whatever you want when you grow up as long as you’re never done growing’, is already so ingrained in the public’s mind that it’s going to start showing up in kids’ essays any day now.  (Every single one of those essays should get an A.) 

When Oaky was alive he and his wife often raised or rehabilitated wild animals that had nowhere else to go.  One of those animals is a Canada lynx named Abe that Oaky had raised since it was a kitten with an injured paw.  Abe is kept at the Oaky memorial nature center near the park where his owner worked.  As it so happens, that center was visited by one of the lesser known and under-appreciated justice backers: Loved One.  His power: he adopts an involuntary psychic disguise in the presence of others that automatically reproduces the voice and appearance of a deceased loved one.  You can imagine why he doesn’t go out much.

Lucky for the weepy-eyed among us, he went out to visit the nature center late on a weekday when few other visitors were there.  He walked by Abe’s enclosure.  As luck would also have it, a teenage girl was trying to get a picture of the napping cat at the time and accidentally switched her phone over to video mode.  The device picked up the whole scene: Abe’s ears pricking up when Loved One coughed, the cat’s eyes adjusting to the light, his tensing muscles that seemed to say he was about to pounce, and the adorable, pathetic, tear duct nuking mewl the animal made when he couldn’t reach over the walls of the enclosure.

That was when Oaky’s wife showed up.  Apparently Loved One had called ahead to warn her he was coming and she immediately opened the enclosure’s door and let the hero in.  Abe the lynx wrapped his big fluffy paws around Loved One’s shoulders and started nuzzling him like we needed the static electricity between them to power a few city blocks.  That was when everyone, including Loved One, realized that his power affected animals as well.  Abe saw ranger Oaky, who he hadn’t seen in years.  He asked him where he’d been over and over again with his wild meows and purrs that sounded like they should’ve been coming out of a cat the size of a teacup rather than one the size of a keg.  I cried guys.  I’m not too ashamed to admit.  The world cried.  The sprinkler systems in any building where the video played went off because EVEN INANIMATE OBJECTS CRY WHEN THEY SEE ABE AND OAKY TOGETHER AGAIN.  Everyone bonded over that cat and his sweet beautiful lie we all let him believe.  I guess it was kind of weird too.  Honestly I included this one mostly because I thought it was an injustice that newscandy didn’t put it on their ‘top ten backer moments’ list.  I hear that Loved One has scheduled regular visits so the kitty can have his snuggles.

2. The cow tipper

 It’s exactly what it sounds like.  It was a very slow week for criminals.  If you thought that cow tipping was just an urban legend… well, you’re right.  It’s not physically possible to tip cows on your own.  Not only can they be around a half ton of hamburger, they tend to get annoyed when you shove them.  Even if you did manage to knock one over they’d just get back up and stomp the snot out of you.

So this guy was really more of a cow harasser.  He was a mean teenager who literally thought he could express his anger by trapping sleeping cows on their side.  Apparently the dairy owner was a high-tier backer and had a personal line to Alpha Dog.  Maybe they thought it would be funny, who knows.  Regardless, an entire team of superheroes in helicopters showed up to stop him from smacking cows on the backside.  The owner didn’t want to press charges, so the backers just harangued him a bit and took some embarrassing mugshot-style pictures.  They sent the kid home and put the pictures online so he could enjoy a little public opinion flogging.

It kind of backfired though, since he now has a quarter of a million followers on his Chirpo account and was named Betterbedhead’s thirteenth sexiest internet boy last year.  I love weird stuff, but not even I can make this up.

1. The Justice Backers destroyed my wallet

 Number one is not all that odd either, but it’s obviously near and dear to my heart.  A while ago I was blogging under the influence and getting into a couple heated arguments with Deckard-defenders when they tried to call me a hypocrite.  They said that whatever amount of money I gave to the Justice Backers couldn’t possibly be enough to give me the right to talk about their exploits like an expert.  One thing led to another and I ended up saying that I would donate half my yearly salary to the electronic-privacy-for-the-underprivileged charity called My Eyes Only (they were helping a lot of people recover from Secret Shuffle)… but ONLY IF all of the justice backers commented on the blog entry in question.  Then they did.  I screwed the pooch pretty badly.

Every backer commented!  Even the non-powered ones!  Alpha Dog, Impala, Monkey Girl, Golden Boy, Orb, Transplant, Archive, Wallflower, Pawn, Salt Shaker, Opossum Player, Electric Eel, Dreamweaver, Act-of-Goddess Loved One, Paladina, Tin Soldier, Doc Donor, the Unfridgable Girl, and even Truck all wrote, ‘you totally have to do it now.’  So I did.  No, I won’t tell you exactly how much it was, but you should be satisfied when you learn that I was forced to eat ramen noodles and toaster pastries for about seven months.  That’s what I get for opening my mouth.

That’s it for my list of weird moments.  Join me tomorrow as I open my mouth for a living some more and hopefully don’t get caught in the justice backers’ searchlights.

Act-of-Goddess Diary #199

(transcribed from video log)

Hello.  I’m feeling the true fury of a goddess today, so I hope you’re ready to sit through a rant.  Is there anything else I should cover before I erupt all over this diary?  Oh, some of you will be expecting my movie updates.  I’ll do them really quickly, but then you must prepare for the frothing magma!

I know I have been flooding all of you with my mini-reviews lately; it’s an unexpected consequence of our current situation.  Though all of the others seem to think Pawn and Transplant have betrayed us, Paladina and myself (the only backers with direct experience of brainwashing) aren’t convinced the Lichen’s influence is completely voluntary.  The mind is meant to be solitary.  Even Dreamweaver knows this and understands she is at best a stowaway on someone else’s ship.  Imagine being an artist hard at work finely stroking your brush across the canvas and in a moment of distraction an unseen hand adds a few strokes of their own.  It’s confusing… like the ground under you suddenly becoming a dark sea.  Anyway, my point is that I have been keeping my mind off the subject with my usual coping mechanism: film.  Here are my three mini-reviews for today.

First up was the animated family film Chippy Shoulder, which followed the adventures of a young girl who was somehow born as a porcelain doll.  I found the mechanic of her acquiring cracks and chips over the course of her adolescent years as a representation of the self-esteem issues most girls face to be entertaining, if a little on the nose.  I sometimes give films secondary accolades if they stick with me enough to appear in my dreams, and this one did.  Perhaps it’s because having a Justice Backer with porcelain armor doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.  Chippy slipped comfortably into my group of dream friends as we did battle with the Lichen in a giant flowerpot.

The second movie was the creature feature The Dryad of Eastmill.  I give it points for having a unique setting in the lumber mill, but I don’t know if it intended for all the characters to come off as extremely gay.  Everyone in the movie is so desperate to prove they’re the manliest logger that they just end up looking like they were compensating for something.  I honestly though the movie would end with the main character’s wife dying to the splintery claws of the dryad and him finding solace in the large bear-like arms of the machine inspector.  Thanks to that and the rather stiff special effects, I’m forced to say it wasn’t really worth the time.

Last but in no way least: The Red Eye of Space.  It’s a science fiction epic you may not have heard of because it only had a limited theater release in 1982.  It’s about a team of astronauts traveling into Jupiter’s perpetual storm, the great red spot, to gather data.  The harsh alien weather proves too much for the team as it slowly rips apart their vessel.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.  Then, during a particularly tense scene, I found I was actually flying just above the edge of my seat.  The movie has a wonderful speech, delivered by a female climatologist who actually didn’t have her clothes torn off by the forces of gravity, which really connected with me.  It describes the way I often feel when channeling the raw power of the Earth.  I have reproduced it in full for you here.  Keep in mind these words were being spoken in place of a prayer that one of the remaining scientists suggested they should say while the storm was battering their last-remaining module.

O great red eye of space, with your destructive gaze, hear our weak human words.  We forget.  We forget the powers of nature when we blind ourselves with plastic and light and video screens.  We think of sadness and anger as storms when in truth they cannot compare.  There is nothing like a storm.  They destroy the books that describe them.  They destroy the people that fear them.  They ravage the worlds of the void in ways that make us inconsequential.

O great red eye of space, we ask nothing of you.  We understand you will keep us from our goal and take our lives from us.  We understand we are just dust in your wind.  Mankind cannot beat the storms.  We can only hope, on the edge of death when pride is torn away, to catch a glimpse of your greatness.  We can only hope to feel your power in us and around us in the thin moment before chaotic finality.  We see you great red eye of space… and you see past us!

I would have to give this one a recommendation based on that last sentence alone.  Rare is the story that flatly states mankind can’t solve all its problems.  Every once in a while it helps to just see other people, as stand-ins for you, get steamrolled by the forces around them.  It makes you feel alright about the times in your life when indiscriminate walls kept you from what you wanted.

The movie got me thinking about the great red spot.  It is a storm, the kind of thing my powers can normally access.  Just for fun I tried to reach out to the gas giant with my mind and see if the storm was within my grasp.  Alas, my powers cannot escape the Earth’s atmosphere.  Oh well.  A storm like that could blow through all of our arguments and stop the people who needed to be stopped.  Drill Baby and the Lichen couldn’t argue with the red eye of space.

That brings me to my rant.  Alpha Dog is back to his old weaknesses in the face of Transplant’s and Pawn’s supposed treachery.  (This is worsened by the fact that we suspect Dreamweaver may be doing reconnaissance in their heads and we don’t know if she’ll get a chance to return to us.)  Suddenly it has become our fault the team drifted apart.  I did not know it was my job to make sure we were all so close that betrayal wasn’t possible.  Even with all his blustering, it is abundantly clear to the rest of us that our current predicament has more to do with him than anyone else.

This all started the day after our encounter at the mountaintop.  After the things our former teammates had said, Paladina and I did some snooping around for information on Drill Baby.  We watched the Sportfish videos and read the E-mails Alpha Dog had neglected to show us.  I did not understand why the man hadn’t been on our radar sooner.  I got everyone together in the Bay and we all confronted him about it.  We were in the theater room, which has a projector and a screen draped over one of the tanks.  Our leader was acting strange, simultaneously packing a suitcase with random things that didn’t seem to belong and trying to reach someone with a video call.  There was a loading icon up on the screen.  When I started firing questions there was a busy signal playing in the background the entire time.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m packing.  All of you should do the same.  We need to leave the Bay, at least for a little while.  In fact, we should leave tonight.  I doubt those screwy plants need to sleep; there’s no telling when they’ll show up,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Uh, hello!  We’ve been double-crossed!  Transplant and Pawn are working for some big greasy dandelion that wants to destroy the energy infrastructure of the entire freaking world!  They know that we won’t allow that.  They also know, courtesy of the traitors, where the Bay is, so we need to leave.  They could attack here any time.”

“If they wanted to stop us from stopping them,” Golden Boy said, his index fingers pointing in opposite directions as he crossed his arms, “wouldn’t they have just captured us on the mountain?”

“A fair point,” Orb said.  He rarely even participates in these arguments.  If I know anything about our enlightened friend, which I probably don’t, he must have sensed significant discord.

“Maybe they just couldn’t bear to look at us when they killed us.  You know, the guilt or whatever.  They’ll probably send those green wads with the dead eyes to do us in our sleep.  Stab us with big-ass thistles or something.”

“What are your orders regarding Drill Baby?” Tin Soldier asked.

“I don’t have any orders for that.  Don’t do anything.”

“Why not go after him?  He’s a giant jackass!” Monkey Girl said.

“The guy ignores green tape; he’s not running around chopping heads off.  The Lichen is the one that’s going to hurt people.  That’s our target.”

“So we’re on his side?” Paladina asked.  “It seems like we’re damned either way.”

“Wait, if we’re leaving… where are we going?” Golden Boy asked.  Alpha Dog was about to answer when his call finally connected and a face appeared on the theater screen.  We all turned to see Salt Shaker in casual clothes, with a wooden fence behind her.

“What is it Eben?” she asked, scratching at her temple under her sunglasses.  We heard a little splash.

“What are you doing?” Alpha Dog asked disgustedly.  Salt Shaker turned her phone around so we could see her bare feet dipped into some clear water.  Tiny salt crystals formed around her ankles and then crumbled into the water where they dissolved.  The camera swung back to her face.

“A friend of mine has a saline pool.  I’m just adjusting the salt levels for him as a favor.  Hey guys.”  She waved at the rest of us.  Some of us waved back awkwardly.  We hadn’t seen her in a while.  She looked very relaxed, especially for a person whose partner was in the thrall of a colossal toxic weed.

“Where’s Sugarcane?”  Alpha Dog asked.  “Did Pawn take her?  We can be out there in redacted.”

“They’re called babysitters Eben,” she said, “and my mother makes an excellent one.  Sugar’s fine.”

“Do you know where Pawn is?”

“No, he couldn’t say.”

“So you’ve talked to him since that plant snared him!?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not upset!?  Your boyfriend just betrayed the Justice Backers!  You remember that you’re still a reserve Backer right?  You’re supposed to be on our side.”

“I am on your side.  I’m also on Pawn’s.  He explained everything he could to me.  What the Lichen wants them to do… it’s his calling.  He needs to do it.  I told him I understood.  He’s standing by his family and we’re standing by him.”

“Are you going to fight us?”

“No.  I’m trying to stay out of this.  You’re not wrong and the Lichen’s not wrong.  That drill jockey is though.  If you guys need me to come in for that I will.”

“We don’t need you for anything!” Alpha Dog shouted before abruptly hanging up on her.

“Eben that was rude,” Paladina said.  Eben threw a wrench into his bag so violently that it bounced back out again.  One of his dogs meekly picked it up off the floor and dropped it back in before walking away with its head down.

“Have you chosen an evacuation location?” Tin Soldier asked to break the silence.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Maybe Impala will have us at the Burrow.  Pawn and Transplant never went there did they?”

“They’ve been there several times,” Orb said.

“We can ask Saint Nameless,” I suggested.  If you don’t remember, Nameless is an anonymous donor whose wealth and connections provided us with the Bay facility a few years ago when a similar situation forced us to vacate the Backer Barn.  He has been our top donor every year by a wide margin.  “He might even be willing to put us up in a nice hotel.”  He immediately rejected my idea.  He’d never shown any hesitation to beg to Nameless or lick his boots before, so I pressed the subject.

“We just can’t,” he said.  The other backers fired a volley of why questions.

“Because Saint Nameless is Drill Baby!  Okay!  He’s a rich weirdo and he loves how we break the rules all the time so he dumps money on us.”  The others were stunned, but I was furious.

“So the real reason we need to move is that Drill Baby knows our location!  He would attack us if we did anything to stop him.  Or, something I’d wager is worse in your opinion, he would stop donating!” I shouted.

“Are you friends with him?” Golden Boy asked.

“No!” he protested.  “I mean, I went to one of the guy’s pool parties like twice or four times.  That’s all.  I just wanted to show my face to acknowledge his contributions.  I ate some pulled pork sandwiches and clinked a beer bottle with him.  We’re not exactly blood brothers.”

“Were we not invited to these pool parties?” I asked.  You’d think someone like me, who could turn an Olympic-sized swimming pool into a hot tub with some well-placed geyser water, would be guaranteed an invitation.

“You guys know what’s up.  I was protecting you.  Drill Baby’s been a smirking controversy for years.  I kept you away from him so you didn’t have to feel bad about taking his money.”

“We would be fine without it,” Orb said, his piercing stare being the closest thing I had ever seen to aggression from him.

“Yeah, we would’ve been fine if you wanted to live in some abandoned sewer pipes instead of this nice aquarium.  If you wanted to shove everybody into one rickety helicopter.  If my poor dogs were stuck with steel teeth instead of titanium.”

“We would be fine,” Monkey Girl said.  “The good backers would take care of us.”

“Badly spelled praise and Bitcoin only gets us so far.”  The team and Alpha Dog continued to argue back and forth while my temper stewed.  I did not like being under Drill Baby’s gaze, so much so that I couldn’t tolerate it for another moment.  I slipped out of the room while the others were distracted and made my way to the center of the Bay.  My toes lifted off the ground and I flew over the pool where we keep Chomp and Bit.  I held out my hands, palms parallel to the walls, exhaled, and focused.

There weren’t too many choices.  The place needed to be isolated so no other humans would see the building.  It needed to be far enough away from the natural disaster I was channeling that it wouldn’t threaten us.  I found a patch of tundra in redacted.  There the winds whipped at high speeds and the ground nearby had just collapsed, but there was a stable patch next to it.  My connection would weaken as the dust from the collapse settled, so I wasted no time.  I told myself the walls were my palms.  The floors the soles of my feet.  The roof the crown of my head.  The air conditioning my breath.  My aura of connection extended beyond my body.  The existing connections in the Bay, the fish tanks, acted as useful antennae for my powers.

I’d never transported an entire building before, but as my aura pushed all the way to the entrance tunnel I knew I would succeed.  Drill Baby is the only type of natural disaster I would try to escape.  He is not my element.  He is a drowning tar.  The building shook.  The pool beneath me sloshed over its edges and the fish in it scattered away.  A bit of the tundra wind swirled around me and slowly turned the helicopter blades.  I made us safe within the tundra’s storm so man could not reach us, a beautiful inversion of my new favorite film.

A few problems struck me just before I touched my toes back to the pool’s edge.  In my fury I’d forgotten about the finer veins and arteries of a living home.  The toilets now led straight to nothing.  The lights went out.  I did not wince until I remembered the internet would be gone as well.  If I thought Alpha Dog was angry before…

I will not bore you with a drop-for-drop retelling of all the spittle that flew from his shouting mouth.  He’s Alpha Dog though, so his bark is far worse than his bite.  He knows if he actually berates us rather than the situation, we would simply take our leave.  So he gushes up into the air like Old Faithful, almost as regularly.  The team is mostly pleased with my executive decision to move us to barren tundra, as far as I can tell.  We’ve long had a backup generator designed to be powered by my channeling of lightning storms, so we used that to restore the electricity.  As far as bathrooms I merely opened small ocean portals in their place.  There was nothing I could do about the internet, but Alpha Dog managed to connect us to some satellites.  It’s quite slow, but it works.  We will remain here until the Lichen/Drill Baby fiasco is over or until I find a better location for the Bay.

I think it is time for questions.

RambonerYour powers are all natury… do you think maybe you could’ve gotten em from the lhicen?

I have no memory of the creature, so no.  I have mulled over some similar possibilities.  Since we know the creature can create super powers in humans, there might be a chance that these alterations can be passed down through the generations.  Perhaps all of us with unexplained abilities, Opossum Player, Archive, Wallflower, Impala, et cetera, are indirect results of much older Lichen meddling.  I do not know, but it does seem possible.

C0ncernedbr1t1zenHow is anyone supposed to oppose Drill Baby?  Stop driving their car?  Most of us can’t afford to even protest his actions.  Aren’t immediate human concerns like that dangerous lichen more important than a fuel shortage or climate change that is at least decades away?

You’re asking questions I am not qualified to answer.  I’m tempted to say that less suffering now is better than more suffering later, but my answer comes from a place of privilege.  I can fly and generate electricity as I please, so I will never feel the most obvious hardships of the crisis when it arrives.  On the other hand, as callous as one might feel saying it, humans are more renewable than both petroleum and the atmosphere.  Does admitting that make me the villain?  Nobody may be qualified to answer.

Wing4rdiumI lost like sixty bucks last week betting ont he backer puupy race.  Who do you hink is going to win this time so I know who to ebt for?

My money is on Tin Soldier’s puppy.  It’s not that I don’t trust my little Nymph to do her best, but those two machines just seem to want it the most.  I’m retiring for the night everyone, thank you for your questions.  I will no doubt be back soon, if not with news then with more movie reviews.  Goodnight.

Transplant’s Personal Diary

Blood has been spilled this day.  While all blood matters, this was the blood of a martyr; some people think it matters more.  Those people are why we have to do what we’re doing.  They’re why the Lichen is going to take away the planet’s humanity.  I’ll explain how our plans of destruction and interference have come to be judged by the Lichen as a failure.

I went with Pawn the other day to visit Salt Shaker and Sugarcane.  He would have preferred to go alone, but the Lichen asked us to stick together.  Since we’re unsure what agents of the Backers, Drill Baby, or the government might be watching her, we only show up when they’re away from home.  We caught up with Salt Shaker while she was helping a friend with her pool’s salt content.  The friend was picking up an algae-killer at the store, so she was alone.  I did my best not to eavesdrop, but it was certainly awkward when Alpha Dog called her.  She was careful to keep the phone angled in such a way that they could not see us.  I could feel Pawn’s most familiar pain, the pain of being ignored.  If Salt Shaker wasn’t supporting him, I think he might have thrown himself into the Lichen’s embrace as much as Venus.  He would be a cloud of pollen without her keeping him tethered.

We knew Alpha Dog would think us traitors.  I still don’t know what the others think.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I wish I had Archive’s powers for a day.  I want to look at them like little ant farms just so I can see how big the old stockpile of love is versus the new stockpiles of hate or disappointment.  I haven’t spoken with anybody on Impala’s team, but they also haven’t shown up to fight us yet.  Leave it to her to recognize when the spotlight is a trap, a sense Alpha Dog certainly lacks.

We were forbidden from telling Salt Shaker about the Lichen’s backup plan.  At that point we were still hoping it wouldn’t come to that.  I tried to pretend I couldn’t feel their kiss when my back was turned.  Embarrassment is something the Lichen doesn’t grasp.  I know Pawn appreciated the gesture despite its uselessness.  We traveled underground to Salt Shaker’s mother’s house so he could have a few minutes with his daughter.  Instead of returning to the Lichen immediately, we made a stop.  Pawn showed me where it was.  He suggested we go there just to relax for a little while.

It was a natural mineral lick, the place where Salt Shaker had gotten her powers.  At first glance it looks like nothing but a pocket of light mud and stone tucked into a forest, but then you start to see all the animals that come along to lick the salts off the Earth.  We sat in the shade under a shelf of rock and watched deer and raccoons come and go for a few hours.  If only industry could do that, come along harmlessly and lick its fuel off the ground without disturbing nature.  If only it wasn’t such a violent, penetrative, poisoning act.  Then we wouldn’t be where we are now.

When we left this morning, we already knew we would be walking into a trap.  Small delicate beings, inconspicuous molds and mosses that happened to be part of the Lichen’s network, informed it of a massive pipe literally pumping nothing but methane and carbon dioxide into the air.  It was more than the standard gaseous runoff of the fuel industry by far.  It had to be Drill Baby, baiting us with another glue trap.  Still, we had to try. 

Our entire force came along with us, all of the spores, all of the worms, and even the Lichen.  It wanted to observe the battle directly this time.  We warned it to stay underground.  As much as I want all this to be over, I want it to get hurt or killed even less.  We need the Lichen.  This time we would have the winged spores for air support and we would be more prepared to face the guns.

Our travel pods slowed down as we drew closer to the source of the gas.  The earth around them was getting thick like syrup.  Even sealed underground we started to get whiffs of the industrial machines over top of us.  The acrid smell sent Rot’s skin bubbling.  Venus, who gave up human breathing ages ago, was unaffected, but the rest of us were eager to get back into the open air.  We surfaced as quietly as possible.  The spores funneled out of their burl and gathered around us, hunched over or on all fours.  Their heads darted back and forth as they analyzed the curious place.

It was a Canadian tar sands site.  I’d only heard about tar sand in school and on the news up until then.  The stuff was thick, black, and crumbly.  It was like the slimiest most cancerous part of a smoker’s lung finely diced and mixed with aquarium pebbles.  The ground was dark and wet; I could see patterns in it where a thin skin of water was flowing over the sand, like one of those aerial shots of an alluvial fan.  Processing that stuff into fuel takes a lot of work, and it showed.  The expanse of land had plenty of mobile offices and trailers set up.  Huge pieces of equipment sat nearby, sunk several inches into the ground by their own weight.  There was plenty of litter, waste from man and machine alike: burger wrappers, soda cups, rubber hoses, drill bits, cigarette butts…

A few of the spores acted as bloodhounds, analyzing the air and leading us towards the methane vent.  I was certain Drill Baby and his forces would pop out at any second, but the first things we saw and heard were Chomp and Bit.  The two helicopters swooped over us and landed on top of two of the larger trailers before we got there.  My old family got out and stood between us and the methane vent.  I’d dreaded this confrontation since the call.  The Lichen had let me warn them last time and send them away.  It might not do the same this time, especially if they fought alongside Drill Baby.  The other spores were more than ready to take them out; even Pawn was convinced our greater good was worth their lives if they forced us.

The spores, spurred on by the chemical trail, initially tried to walk past them.  All of the dogs set up a fence with their bodies and started barking and growling until our forces took a few steps back.  The other spores weren’t intimidated.  Dry Worm raised her hands skyward; the sandy soil shifted as two worms the length of commercial airlines reared up like cobras.  Venus’ many mouths opened and flashed their bright red interiors.  I told them to wait.

“We have to shut this place down,” I said.  Alpha Dog was about to respond when one of the trailers next to him popped open like a jack-in-the-box.  The entire side of it flew off with an explosive force.  Out stomped Drill Baby in his freshly-polished suit, splattering black sand as he went.

“Oh it’s good to see you Fido,” he bubbled as he patted a giant metal hand on a dog’s head.  “I’m glad you folks decided to show your faces.  I bet you’ll be getting a lot of new backers among my employees.  You can start filling those fish tanks with money and backstroking around in them!”

“We’re not on your side,” Paladina said.  “We’re here to apprehend them for murdering some of your men,” she pointed to us, “and we’re here for you Drill Baby.  Maybe you forgot that you tried to kill Sportfish.”

“Alpha Dog!” he blubbered, sounding genuinely hurt.  “Is that the truth?  After all I’ve done for you?”

“Wait what?” Pawn questioned.  “What have you done for them?”

“I did it for you too Pawn,” Drill Baby sneered.  “You don’t recognize jolly old Saint Nameless?  That stings, especially since I put such a nice roof over your head.”

“You were taking his money!” Pawn exploded at Alpha Dog.  He marched forward.

“That’s far enough,” Drill Baby said and pressed a button in his helmet with the tip of his E-cigar.  The side panels of a dozen other trailers blew off and clattered to the muddy ground.  They were all full of men, some with military exoskeletons, all with guns pointed at us.  “That was supposed to be a lot more exciting, but the Backers here ruined the surprise.”

We all stood, frozen as we waited for the first shot.  Drill Baby seemed to be enjoying himself as he wiggled his fingers near his hips like an outlaw ready to pull his six guns.  Every second we waited, more of that gas was pumped into the air.  While the damage caused by something like that in the long run was probably negligible, Pawn and Venus were taking its continued existence very personally.  Their anger pushed against the inaction of the moment, poking tiny holes in it.  One of them was going to explode any second, so I made sure I had as much of the plant matter from our transportation under my feet as I could possibly control.  The first thing I was planning on doing was putting another giant wall of flora between us and the Backers.  It could possible buy us enough time to take out Drill Baby before even having to engage with them.

A rogue bullet fired.  Pawn’s head exploded into white powder.  Before the Lichen he would have missed the entire battle, but now his body didn’t even drop to its knees before his head was back.  The other men in the guilty trailer looked at the new recruit who had fired prematurely.  Pawn singled him out and ran towards him.  All the other trailers started firing at him.  The explosions of powder only slowed his approach to the man that had momentarily beheaded him.  Alpha Dog dropped the leashes and the battle began in earnest.

Venus flattened herself against the ground, scuttled under a trailer, and flipped it on its side.  She moved from trailer to trailer, forcing the soldiers to climb out of them like ants over the lip of a bowl.  A second after I pulled up the plant wall meant to keep them safe, Act-of-Goddess had an earthquake swallow it right back up.  I couldn’t control the situation.  Everything became chaotic.  I encased myself in wood and roots just in time to deflect a few bullets.  Dry Worm grabbed me by the arm and pulled me onto the back of the biggest worm with her.  We bowled over a dozen men slithering towards Drill Baby.

We found him desperately trying to impale Monkey Girl with a drill.  She treated his suit like a jungle gym and kept out of harm’s way until he pressed another button that charged his exterior and electrocuted her.  She was tossed into the air; I threw out a root and grabbed her so she wouldn’t hit the ground as hard.  Then I set her down as gently as I could and tried to ignore the small smoke trail from her singed fur.  Golden Boy picked her up and spared a second to give me an angry glance.  Like I needed to get shot by anything else.

I looked ahead just in time to see Orb flying at us.  He knocked us both off the worm and slid all the way along its tail like he thought he was Fred Flinstone.  I hit the ground hard, dark semi-solid earth staining the side of my face.  The end of Dry Worm’s staff wrapped around my forearm and then she brought me back to my feet.  Orb swung around and came in again.  Drill Baby smashed down in front of us and punched Orb with a spinning drill of a fist.  There was a piercing sound and a brilliant flash of light as Orb’s psychic shell shattered and sent the old man rolling into the mud.  That had never happened before.  It was enough to convince the Backers to temporarily ignore us and focus on Drill Baby and his men.

Act-of-Goddess channeled what I assume was a Missouri tornado and had it toss the trailers around.  The sight of it sent some of the soldiers running.  The dogs pounced on them and bound their wrists one by one.  Drill Baby responded to the attack on his people by shredding one of the dogs with his left drill and then kicking one of its severed legs up at Goddess.  It struck her in the back and interrupted her tornado.  Rot hopped onto Drill Baby and tried to gum up his works, but the drills were just too fast.  He took a giant laceration on his side before Drill Baby bucked him off and into one of the overturned trailers.  I needed to end this before someone got killed.  We did have a plan for situations like this and despite the Saturday-morning-cartoon nature of it, it felt like the best option.

I called out to Venus and Rot.  Since their bodies are largely composed of plant matter I can partially manipulate them.  Venus came up behind me and wrapped her jaws around my arms and head.  I pulled her around and essentially turned her into a suit of armor.  Rot jumped on us and spread a layer of purple protective fungus as well, creating a messy triple-spore colossus.  A worm came up underneath us and lifted us off the ground.  A few chunks of our armor were blasted away by Tin Soldier’s rifle.  We couldn’t quite get to him, so Pawn offered his services.  I picked him up by the arm and threw him with all the force the three of us could muster.  His arm ripped off and the rest of his body sailed through the air until it smashed into Tin Soldier and knocked him over.

All we needed to do was find Drill Baby.  The worm crawled over a few trailers and lifted us as high as possible to scan the battlefield.  I spotted our foe off to the left; he was busy shooting our winged spores out of the air.  The worm coiled and then unfurled rapidly to fling us at him.  Venus’ jaws became a huge pair of claws out in front of me.  We struck with so much force that our plant teeth were able to slip into the seams between his chest plate and his shoulder armor.  The three of us pulled outward, severing wire after wire.  Sparks popped and flew.  Drill Baby’s suit arms fell to the ground, leaving only his pale fleshy arms.  I dug my roots into his suit’s legs and forced him into a kneeling position.  We tore the helmet from his head.  His suit shut down and left him paralyzed.  His E-cigar dropped out of his mouth and rolled around the rim of his suit.

“They got Drill Baby!  Retreat!  Run!”  His men scattered.  We let them go; they didn’t matter.  The three of us split up.  Rot went to shut down the vent.  I barely had time to breathe before noticing that the Backers had been captured.  All of my friends had their limbs held behind their backs by spores.  Act-of-Goddess had a leafy blindfold on as well so she couldn’t call up anything that might hurt her teammates.  The spores had seen me drop Drill Baby to his knees, so they mimicked me and forced the Backers down into the same position while they held them.  They would be witnesses to Drill Baby’s punishment.

Pawn’s hand gripped my shoulder.  He silently told me that he was going to do it.  I was grateful for that.  I stepped back.  Pawn paced back and forth in front of the immobilized Drill Baby for a few moments.

“I don’t got all day you toadstool,” Drill Baby spat.  His sweaty forehead and trembling neck betrayed his fear.  Even now he pretended he had a firm grip on the situation.  He would only be in trouble if he had failed, and Drill Baby was not allowed to fail.  Pawn dexterously grabbed the tip of the E-cigar, picked it up, and twirled it around in his fingers.  He wrapped a fist around it.

“Pawn what are you doing?” Alpha Dog asked.  The spore holding him pushed his head down to the ground so he couldn’t see, but he kept going.  “Don’t do it!  Don’t do what I think you’re going to do.  I’m not letting you leave the Backers, not yet.  I’m giving you a direct order to not kill that man!”  Some of the other Backers shouted as well.

“Shut up!” Pawn cried.  They quieted.  “This has to be done.  You know what?  I’m not going to pretend I’m not enjoying this.  For once I’m here.  For once I stayed alive until the end of a battle.  Today it’s someone else’s purpose to die.”

“If you put so much as a twig on my…” Drill Baby started to threaten.

“Choke on it!” Pawn screamed.  He thrust the cigar and his fist into Drill Baby’s open mouth.  He pushed his forearm down the man’s throat.  The armor quaked and trembled.  He exhaled powdered bits of Pawn’s arm from his nostrils.  Still Pawn pressed.  Baby’s face reddened, then the color collapsed into a gloomy purple.  His eyes rolled into the back of his head.  I wasn’t watching, but I was.  I see what Pawn sees.  The trembling stopped.  The man had drowned in Pawn’s powdered arm.  Pawn pulled his elbow out.  Sand crawled out of Drill Baby’s mouth and reformed his arm.  The cigar was left somewhere inside.  It was done.  Drill Baby was done making decisions for the entire world.  That was up to us now.

“You’re a murderer!” Alpha Dog yelled, face still inches from the black ground.

“I am,” Pawn said matter-of-factly.  “He didn’t have my permission to destroy my home.”  The ground moaned.  A swell appeared in the midst of us.  The stalks of the Lichen poked through and rose into the sky.  Its familiar fleshy tiers appeared and it sighed as its floral body settled into position.  “Justice Backers, meet the Lichen.”  The Lichen released a cloud of particles.  The Backers, against their will, breathed them in.  These were not altering particles, merely a medium for communication.  The Lichen wished to speak with them.  Poor Tin Soldier, whose metal body and mind lacked the ability to interact with the Lichen, was forced to rely on context clues.

“We’ll never work for you,” Act-of-Goddess said, fully convinced the Lichen was taking over her mind.

“Please let us go,” Monkey Girl whimpered.  “We just want to help.”  The spores lifted all their heads so they could look at the Lichen.  The Lichen reached into one of its many folds with a tendril and pulled out a bundle of purple wrinkled seedpods.  The pods rattled against each other on the end of their silky stems.  The Lichen held the seeds close to them.

“These are for you,” it told their minds.

“What are they?” Orb asked.

“These are the seeds of the future.  They will make you one with us and the Earth.  You will lose the will to defy us.  You will lose the will to destroy your own nest.”

“It’s goddamn mind control,” Alpha Dog panicked.  He tried to wriggle free, but the spores’ grip was unrelenting.  “It’s going to turn us into goddamn zombies.”

“You will keep your minds,” it told them.  “You will lose only the urge to self-harm.”

“What about the urge to you-harm?” Alpha Dog raged.

“Your people will return to the old ways.  They will shrink and make room for the Earth to heal.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” my former leader growled.

“These seeds take years to cultivate,” it said as it delicately ran a tendril through the pods.  “Their work is subtle.  They do not control.  They influence.  You let yourself be influenced by a thousand human forces; why not let these, my gift to you, the first of the new tide of harmony, help you?”

“No thank you,” Monkey Girl chirped.  “Our brains are fine; I promise.”

“You’ll learn to appreciate them,” the Lichen said.  The tips of the pods split open.  The Lichen held them closer to the Backers.  If I didn’t say anything they would be forever changed.

“Wait, stop,” I said and stood between the Backers and the harmony pods.  I gently pushed the pods back toward the Lichen with my palm.  The other spores looked at me like I had assaulted the Lichen.  Luckily the Lichen is less swayed by emotion.  It calmly asked me why I did not want them changed.  “They aren’t the problem,” I said.  “It might seem like it because they keep showing up, but they’re some of the good ones.  I want them to be complete.  I want them to be themselves until… until they can’t be.  I want them to have that time.”

“They have had plenty of time,” the Lichen told us.  “They have already chosen these seeds.  They’ve admired them for years while they grew.  They have even settled around them in awe of them.  They do not know it in their human minds, but their primordial urges drew them to it.  The secret they keep even from themselves is their desire to be stopped.”

“I want their human minds, flawed as they are, to stay with them,” I insisted.  “The little time left won’t make a difference.  Please Lichen.”  The harmony pods closed.  The ruler of the spores returned them to his flesh.

“Goodbye humans.  Soon we will be dear friends.”  The Lichen twisted and pulled itself back into the dark damp earth.  The Backers were free to glare at me instead.  Pawn silently told me he would take their judgements.  Again I was grateful.  He stood in front of them with his hands on his hips and absorbed their anger.  He was more secure in his certainty that we were the good guys in all this.  His ideas for the future made him impenetrable.  While he gloated and told them we were going to let them go, I quietly bound them with roots that would hold them long enough for us to retreat underground and get away.  I was as gentle as I could be.  It was a huge relief to go back to the darkness underground.  The silence helped cure us of the lingering pains from the fight.

When we returned to the cloud forest I sought counsel with the Lichen.  I went alone.  It didn’t take long for news of Drill Baby’s death to spread.  Less than a day and it was everywhere.  We caught wind of the sentiments; Drill Baby was a hero.  He fought for the human freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want.  Rules are for the weak, even the ones that keep the cold out and grow the food.  There was already talk of international cooperation to create Lichen-hunting task forces.  Little did they know that by suggesting such things they doomed themselves.  It showed the Lichen that they would fight it no matter what.  It convinced it the backup plan was required.

We spores had always known the plan involved the harmony pods.  The Lichen told us it’d formulated the plan years ago and that they’d been maturing the entire time.  Once activated their particles would scatter to the winds and infect every human lung not protected by extremely high altitudes or private air supplies.  They would lose their free will and become more like delicate grazers.  In a few generations seven and a half billion people would become less than two billion.  These were the decisions that had to be made for them.

There’s a bacteria that inspired the pods called Wolbachia.  It infects all sorts of bugs and changes their reproductive behavior.  Feminized males, fewer males, incompatibility between infected and uninfected individuals…  Some animals have even become so accustomed to the bacteria’s effects that they can’t live without it.  The pods contain the human equivalent.

What I didn’t understand was the pods’ origin or location.  The Lichen had said something back in the tar sands about humans admiring the pods while they grew and even living around them.  I asked what it meant by that.

“I wanted humanity to make this choice; I want them to feel the responsibility.  That is why I put this decision in their hands.”

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“I put it in your hands Transplant.  I planted the idea in you and let your unconscious mind decide if your people needed it.  Then you planted the seeds and the seeds attracted an audience.”

“I planted them?” I said out loud.  It was the loudest sound in that forest for days.  At first I was extremely confused; I’d never planted giant purple seed pods.  The Lichen nudged my mind, gave me a clue in the form of a soft flashing memory.  A tree rising under me as I stepped into the sky.  My first public act as the strange plant-wielding boy.  The Justice Juniper.  “The pods… the pods are in there?” I muttered.  I had created them in the heat of the moment, the most powerful part of my mind shoving the conscious part aside and doing the necessary chemical manipulations with instructions embedded in me from the moment the Lichen visited me years before.  For years they’d been maturing under the bark, just out of sight of the tourists that ogled my creation and bought postcards and mugs emblazoned with its image.  “Why do you not activate them now?” I asked.

“As I said, I want this to be a human decision.  The pods will be fully matured in a few days.  I want you to return to the tree and release them.  That is why I gave you your power.  Only your hand can open its shell and bring the pods to split.”

“Why?  Why did you pick me?  Why not Pawn?  He’d do anything you ask.  Or the other spores.  They think you’re god!”  I retracted a little.  I shouldn’t have spoken to the Lichen in such a way.  It doesn’t deserve any harshness; I was just scared of being pulled into the biggest moment in human history.  I wasn’t eager to jump into the label ‘the guy that killed the future’.  The Lichen saw my fear and comforted me.

“It is your hesitation that makes you worthy,” it said.  “Too often in your species has enthusiasm and certainty doomed you.  You, Transplant, are the great cautious worrier of your kind.  You will bear the weight of the decision where Pawn or Venus would let their morals do it.”

“What if I get there and I can’t do it?  What if I decide you’re wrong?”

“Then mankind will continue as it has.”

“You mean they’ll kill the planet.”

“I cannot say for certain.  You have taken my olive branch.  The decision is yours.”

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