The Multi-versal League of Jerks – Part 2

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
[AUTHOR’S NOTE II (the revenge)] This is a pretty long one. I’m working on some site reformatting so that not all the text is on the front page (in case someone gets spoiled and also so you can have easier access to all my posts without scrolling!) Changes to come in 2016. Happy New Year!

“Is this all you ever do?” said a familiar voice, followed by a sigh, “Honestly, you’re hopeless.”

Justin, having fallen asleep on the couch in front of a binge watch of one of his new favorite shows, cracked his eyes open to see that other version of himself – Firestarter of Earth One (or two, depending on who you asked) – standing in a very heroic pose directly in front of him. It appeared as though he had a few others with him, but he couldn’t make out who they were. He didn’t really care to.

Justin closed his eyes and fumbled around for a throw pillow which he quickly placed over his face, attempting to hide from what would likely be another very talky ordeal.

“What are you doing back here?” asked Justin, “I thought you gave up on recruiting me.”

“Well, the pickings were slim,” said Firestarter, “We are not very cooperative people, as you can probably imagine. Also, there aren’t many realities in which the accident happened and, even in the ones where it did, I got the same conversation as I did with you.”

“So, why don’t you go bother them?” Justin asked, pressing the pillow harder against his eyes, “Maybe you can ‘inspire’ another one of the lazy bastards like me to join your cause.”

“I tried that already,” Firestarter said, “See, the weird thing about these alternate universes is that they’re sort of linear. When I leave here and go backward, I’ll be on Earth One. When I go forward, I’ll be on Earth Three. You can’t jump from one to three, you have to go through two. So, once I got, like, five-hundred earths away from home, I had to backtrack to get to here. You’re the last stop before I get to Earth One, so I figured I’d make the offer again after I introduce you to my team.”

“You’re still insisting on colonizing this Earth Two,” Justin said, “Seriously, dude, just stop it.”

“Relative to my point of origin, this is Earth Two,” said Firestarter, “No one else had any problems with being Earth Sixty-Three or Earth Four-Hundred and Fifty Nine.”

“Earth Two just sounds so, I dunno,” Justin paused to think, the pillow still on his face, “Derisive?”

“Yeah,” Firestarter said, sighing, “The Us of Earth Three said that too. Come on, let me do this one last sales pitch and then I’ll be out of your hair forever, ok?”

“Fine,” said Justin with a reluctant groan as he removed the pillow from his face, “Show me what we’ve got to offer.”

As he looked around the cave, he saw five other men and one woman. Though some of them wore masks, all of them had smoke for hair.

Justin clenched his eyes shut, wishing they would all be gone when he opened them. His wish did not come true.

He stood up and walked to the nearest of his other selves. This one wore Victorian-looking garb – mostly black and grey in color. His moustache and goatee (seemingly a trademark of all Justins) were well waxed with the goatee coming to an almost sharp point and the moustache perfectly curled into handlebars. He wore a pair of brass-rimmed goggles (currently on his forehead) and the facemask (currently pulled down around his neck) was something of a more bulky gas mask – silver metal with bronze flames riveted to it as decoration. A top hat with a small brass smokestack at the top billowed with his smoke hair. On his side was an elaborate wire-hilted rapier – also brass.

“Steampunk,” Justin said, looking over at Firestarter, “You went out and found a steampunk us.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Steampunk Justin in a huffy sort of wandering British accent, “There is no need to refer to me in the third-person when I am standing right in front of you.”

Justin looked to Firestarter again, peering at him over his glasses.

“Dude, I know,” said Firestarter, “Weird thing is, you’d be amazed at how many steampunk iterations of reality there are in our neighborhood.”

“You may call me Justinius” said the man in brass, half-bowing, “And, what is this ‘steampunk’ to which you refer? A few of our dopplegangers seem to have quite a negative connotation with this term and have applied it to me.”

“Your world,” Justin said, “Full of brass and gears and steam power and calculation engines and airships and crazy clockwork robot ninjas and things like that, right?”

“Clockwork robot ninjas?” Justinius said, shocked, “Preposterous. Curtis’ clockwork fighting men are more than simple ‘ninjas’. And robot – such a crude and incorrect term. Though they may be our enemy, one must respect the craftsmanship and, indeed, their general shape and concede that they are androids.”

“And I thought I talked too much,” Justin said, “What about you? What’s your story?”

He pointed to the woman with smoke for hair, sharing a similar yet decidedly feminine version of his face. She, like him, was dressed simply in a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, and boots. It was strange for Justin – like looking at a twin sister. Her smoke hair billowed higher and darker than any of the others.

“I’m Jennifer,” she said, her voice a strange elevated version of his own, “The us of Earth Sixty-Three.”

She extended her hand to Justin and he looked at it before looking up at her.

“Earth Sixty-Three,” Justin said, his eyes rolling at Firestarter, “Seriously?”

“Coincidence,” said Firestarter, shrugging, “It’s an arbitrary numbering system.”

“Pretty big coincidence that the only female version of us you could get to come along is from Earth Sixty-Three,” Justin said, “Just saying.”

“Look, I know,” said Jennifer, “To me, you’re all Rule Sixty-Three me. It’s hilarious. Can we get past it? I’ve had to deal with this on way too many different Earths already; I don’t need to hear it from you, too.”

“Was she the only one gender-bent on Earth Sixty-Three?” Justin asked, still looking at Firestarter.

“I’m standing right here, dick,” she said, “You were right, Firestarter, this one is probably the biggest jerk out of all of us.”

“Well, I can’t exactly ask you who else on Earth Sixty-Three is gender-bent, can I?” said Justin, “You don’t know who is what gender in my little corner of our multiverse.”

“Does it even really matter?” she asked.

“Do you have a burgeoning relationship with a male ice elementalist? One who you think out-classes you in looks? You probably exchanged an awkward kiss in the laundry room after he revealed he was responsible for the accident?” Justin asked, “Maybe named something like Zack?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. Her hair flared around the edges for a moment.

“His name is Zane,” she muttered

“Yeah,” Justin said, “Earth Sixty-Three was a totally arbitrary designation.”

“How do you think I feel?” asked another version of himself, “He designated my world Earth Thirty-Four.”

This one didn’t wear a shirt. He was ripped and athletic, his brown skin glistening in the overhead lighting. He wore a pair of low-hung jeans, exposing his prominent hip bones. His face was like Justin’s but much thinner, chiseled, and with perfectly groomed facial hair. Above the pair of sunglasses he wore, his smoke hair seemed thicker and almost slicked back, undulating shades of black and grey along his scalp rather than above it.

“Ugh,” Justin said, “You’re from the porn dimension?”

“It’s not really,” said the hunk, “This is just the style.”

“Since when are we stylish, six-pack?” Justin asked.

“Speak for yourself,” said Jennifer, “Firestarter there caught me on an off day.”

“Indeed, sir,” Justinius chimed in, “Perhaps it is you who, on this plane, is without style. Some of us, however, have a reputation to keep.”

Justin slapped the top hat from Justinius’ head causing his steampunk counterpart to make some unidentifiable harrumphing noises.

“Seriously, Thirty-Four,” Justin said, “What’s with the get-up?”

The chiseled one shrugged.

“Being ripped is a big thing on my Earth, I guess,” he answered, “People don’t wear much for clothes because we’re a lot more comfortable with our bodies. I’m actually considered a fat guy in my reality.”

“Stop trying to blend in,” said Jennifer, “We’re all jealous of you and you can’t humble that away.”

“You’re wasting time,” grumbled a very deep and angry version of Justin’s voice, “We’re one world away from actually getting to the problem. Why are we arguing with this little chump?”

“Big Christian Bale fan, are we?” asked Justin to the figure lurking in the shadows.

A pair of flaming eyes blinked into existence followed slowly by an orange glow on the figure’s head and his hands. Justin rolled his still very human eyes uncontrollably.

“Is this guy for real?” Justin asked.

“That’s the Last Ember,” said Firestarter, “He comes from an Earth where the Project took over.”

“I was the only survivor of their attack,” said Ember, “I fight to avenge my fallen friends, destroy Kurt and the Project, and restore the world to what it once was.”

“Oh, I get it,” Justin said, “In your world Kurt allied with the Project and took us down from the inside. Then somehow some superhero apocalypse occurred and you think you’re the only one left behind to fix it.”

“Um,” grumbled Ember, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“Ok,” Justin said, “Gritty reboot universe.”

“Sounds fair,” said Ember, “Does that make this the whiny little bitch-verse, then?”

“Easy, Ember,” said Firestarter, “This one of us seems to know quite a bit more than even I give him credit for. Don’t you, Earth Two?”

“No doubt,” Justin said, “And you need to stop with all this Earth Two crap. It’s really getting under my skin.”

“What can this ass hat do that the rest of us can’t?” Jennifer asked, “What makes him so important?”

“He can see the narrative,” said Firestarter.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” grumbled Ember.

“It’s some kind of predictive foresight,” Firestarter answered, “He can tell what’s going to happen before it happens based on his knowledge of superhero situations.”

“If you’re me,” Justin said, looking at Firestarter, “You should have that, too.”

He looked around the room, each of his doppelgangers stared blankly back.

“Really,” Justin said, “We’ve fallen into that trap, have we? You’ve all experienced your ‘superhero journey’ without being tainted by existing fiction. That is such a flimsy plot device. Like, can there really be that many worlds without superhero stories? I mean, I guess that explains the seriousness and the general lack of cynicism in the room.”

“Well, to be truthful,” said Justinius, “I believe we, the members of this group of otherworldly duplicates, all share the same general attitude toward life and that we all look to move toward the greater good. I can’t say the same for you or your ilk.”

“’Me or my ilk’?” Justin asked, “What’s that supposed to mean, Sir Hammerlock?”

“It means,” said Justinius, “That you are yet another one of the crass and ignominious versions of us. There are so many of us who are simply uneducated and uncivilized and, to be quite frank, it sickens me.”

“Be careful,” Justin said, his hair flaring up, “Or I’ll knock off more than just your top hat, you brass-plated limey wannabe.”

“Don’t do that,” said a much deeper voice from behind him as Justin felt a large weight rest on his shoulder, “We’re all us, we should all be friends here.”

Justin turned to see a large orange and white furry hand – or was it a paw – resting on his shoulder. Turning the entire way around, he was now face-to-furry white chest of a nine-foot tall anthropomorphic tiger. His face was completely feline with large green eyes and a strange smirk which exposed his rather large canines. Small black whisps of smoke emanated from his stripes making them even more hypnotic.

After studying him for a moment, Justin clenched his eyes shut and whispered:

“Seriously, there’s an anthro-verse?”

“If that’s what you want to call it,” said the tiger, “We just call it Earth. I’ve been through a lot of worlds with Firestarter and mine seems to be the only one where humans aren’t the dominant species.”

“Ok,” Justin said, “Steampunk, I get. Sixty-three, Ember, and even Thirty-Four I kind of understand. But, seriously… an anthro-verse? There are so many questions I have for you. Like, is everyone a tiger or is everyone a different animal? How does that work for food? Do you hunt and eat things smaller than yourself? Is it all land animals or are there fish people, too? Lizard people? Insect people? Why is my analogue a tiger? If there are other animals are you, like, genetically bound to date within your species or is that just done for procreation?”

“This happens every time,” the tiger said looking at Firestarter, “We need to start making a printed FAQ.”

“Just console yourself with the fact that Justin of Earth Two-Thirty-Seven is a jacked anthropomorphic Sumatran tiger with the same fire powers as the rest of us and smoke for stripes,” said Firestarter, “That’s cool enough. You don’t need him to explain everything about his society.”

“Sorry I wasn’t here when they woke you,” said the tiger, “I had to use your restroom.”

“Really?” Justin asked, “How does that work? Do you have, like, more human-like… parts and stuff?”

“Can we not discuss that?” Jennifer asked, “Does it really matter?”

“It’s a legitimate question if he used our bathroom,” Justin said, “Plus, he brought it up.”

“We’re wasting time!” shouted Ember from the shadows.

“Seriously,” Justin said, “Is that all you’re good for? Barking from the corner in a two-pack-a-day voice? I just want to understand how Shere Khan over here functions.”

“He’s right: it doesn’t matter,” said the tiger, “We have serious business that requires our attention and we need the help of every one of us we can find.”

“Like I told Firestarter,” Justin said, “I’m not interested on throwing my life away on some massive multi-versal crossover adventure. Seriously. Next thing you know it’s going to turn into something where I get replaced by an other-dimensional duplicate while I’m trapped in limbo or something and then twenty years later, when sales of the book are flagging, they’ll reveal that the me everyone on this Earth thinks is me isn’t really me and they’ll bring back the really real me from the void or wherever it is you guys go when you sneak through your little cracks in the universe. I have too much going on here and I don’t want to just dump it and leave it behind.”

“You’re binge watching a magical girl anime,” said Jennifer, looking at LENNY’s main screen, “Is that the ‘too much’ you’ve got going on?”

“Shut up,” Justin said, defensive, “A friend of mine recommended it and I’m only watching it so I can participate in the conversation.”

“I bet you say that about all the girly shows,” Jennifer taunted.

“Anyway,” Justin said, turning to Firestarter, “The answer is still no, like it or not.”

Firestarter sighed, looking down and shaking his head.

“Fine,” he said, “But can you do us one favor?”

Justin narrowed his eyes at his more heroic counterpart.

“What?” Justin asked.

“Tell us what’s going to happen,” Firestarter requested, “You’ll know. I know you’ll know.”

“Multi-versal danger?” Justin asked.

Firestarter nodded.

“Single enemy, multiple enemies, or crazy galactic-level entity?” Justin said.

“Crazy galactic-level entity,” Firestarter said.

“Hm,” Justin said, “Fighting in the earthly realm or that limbo between dimensions?”

“Limbo,” Firestarter said.

Justin counted the duplicates again and stroked his goatee in thought. He motioned to Firestarter to come closer, which Firestarter did.

“How attached are you to these chumps?” Justin asked in a whisper, “I mean, I know they’re us, so like, you should be very attached, but let’s be real. You’re not expecting any of them to come back, are you?”

Firestarter hesitated.

“No,” he whispered back, “Not even myself.”

“Everything is going to go great,” Justin announced, loudly, “You’re going to fight and you’re going to win. It’s gonna be a long battle. A tough one. Probably at least a giant-sized seventy-two page issue or like a three-part episode, but in the end, you’ll win and all will be right with the multi-verse.”

“Be serious,” said Jennifer, putting her hand on her hip.

“I am being serious,” Justin said, “If there’s one thing I know, it’s me, and I know that I can persevere. With this many me’s in the mix, you should have no problem with whatever it is you’re facing.”

“Jolly good,” Justinius piped up.

“Simple as that?” grumbled Ember, stepping out of the shadows and revealing his bushy, unkempt, salt-and-pepper beard along with his tattered costume and wispy smoke hair, “No more cynicism? Somehow I’m not convinced.”

“This is real,” Justin said, “Firestarter knew to come here. I am quite good with narratives. I’ve seen it all before. These things never go wrong.”

Justin clapped Firestarter on the shoulder and looked straight into his eyes with an expression Firestarter immediately understood.

“Good to know,” said Firestarter, clapping Justin on the opposite shoulder, “I hate that you won’t be with us.”

“Me too,” Justin said, “In a way. But, good luck.”

“Thanks,” Firestarter said, “You heard him, people. We’ve got some interdimensional ass kicking to take care of. Let’s get to it.”

“Finally,” Ember said as the group formed up around Firestarter.

“Nice meeting me,” Justin said.

“Likewise, I guess,” Jennifer added.

“You know,” muttered the tiger as he passed Justin to join the others, “Tigers have exceptional hearing. But, thank you all the same.”

Justin’s resolve cracked a bit.

“I hope I get to see you again, man,” Justin said, petting the tiger’s arm, “Good hunting.”

“Thanks,” said the tiger.

Firestarter’s gaze was locked on Justin’s as he raised the kludged, Kurt-made, dimensional cracker on his wrist, giving him a solemn nod as he pressed the button.

“Until we meet again, Earth-Two,” said Firestarter smirking.

They turned into smoke and vanished before Justin could get out a comeback.

Offline (An Unlucky Seven Short)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!

He woke up.

If you could really call it waking up. Was it more of an activation? Did he sleep or did he just switch off? He didn’t feel the need to rest yet he still, somehow, was dormant and was comfortable in that dormant state. Now, he was what he considered awake.

The space around him was both dark and bright at the same time. It wasn’t really a space as much as it was an empty plane. There was no real light, but there was also nothing to see. No horizon. From his perception, the farthest point could have been at the tip of his nose or lightyears away.

And, floating here – if you could really call it floating and not the simple act of existing – his faculties returned to him one by one. The things that he used to know as senses were just processes now. They activated, piece by piece, as his mind came online.

He had no physical form on this plane. He was just… him. A shapeless consciousness in this void of grey space. Was it, in fact, grey or was this just his perception? Was anything about where he was now real? His mind – or, the electrical impulses and processes that governed his current form – raced with these existential questions. It was the same after every night. Day? Arbitrary timed rest cycle. It was the purely mental equivalent of fumbling around for one’s glasses after being roughly awakened.

Initially, he hadn’t thought he would have to rest. Now, the idea of the rest cycle disturbed him. He was never sure that he would be able to reactivate (re-manifest? reawaken?) when the time came. He was never sure exactly how long he was resting (sleeping? switched off?) when it happened. Time was irrelevant, now more than ever.

He hadn’t worried about waking up again when he was human.

Rest (sleep? down-time?), he had found, was less of a necessary fact of crude biology and more a term of a functioning consciousness. Even without that fleshy shell to hold him back, the abstract concept of the mind still required time to organize itself; to compile data and put it in the right places. In this new life, he supposed it was more like a disk defragmenting. With as much knowledge as he now had, it was very necessary to ensure everything was in its proper place.

He had found his lack of dreams disturbing at first. There was no interim. There was simply on or off. There was no slow, lazy drift into unconsciousness. It was simply a close of the eyes (did he have eyes? was he really seeing?) and out. He had no awareness of the passing time while he was down, he only knew that it happened and that it had to happen.

The first time, a few days (weeks? months?) after his initial transference, it came without warning. He dropped off and came back having no idea what had happened. The equivalent of passing out from lack of sleep, he had discovered. Sleep, in the flesh-bound world, was a learned behavior with defined time periods. Here, it felt much more frightening.

He tried to turn his mind from this and focus on what he was doing previously. As he did, displays came up before his eyes. A control room slowly began to materialize around him, appearing only where he currently needed it to do so.

He questioned the reason for the existence of this. He supposed it was his formerly human mind grafting on to tactile sensory needs. Perhaps his mind could not yet comprehend things without the necessity of form. The data he needed could just as easily be accessed directly rather than displayed and read. The interface of a keyboard could be discarded in favor of simply placing the data where it needed to be. There was no call for elaborate buttons of indeterminate function when those functions could simply be accomplished at a thought.

He guessed it was a bridge – something his mind insisted on to help him cope with the transition from human to… whatever he was now. He was wary of this. Even with the world at his fingertips, he was still worried about losing his humanity.

He was working to fix that.

“Group 279,” he said into an imaginary microphone attached to the illusory control panel, “Proceed to specified coordinates.”

“Acknowledged,” returned a deep, growling robot voice. He watched a group of highlighted dots travelling across a city map on one of the many monitors on the console.

It was the second night in a row he was attempting the same theft. The previous night saw a dozen or so of his black androids destroyed by Justin and Zoey, however, it also allowed one of his ninja to get a connection to the standalone network containing the research data of this particular laboratory. Even with the knowledge of how things worked, he didn’t have the facilities to create the substance he needed. He needed as much of the stuff as they had on hand.

They would never see him hitting the place two nights in a row. They still thought he was just doing this to keep them on their toes. There was no way they could know what he was actually after. They probably wouldn’t even care about what he was stealing.

It was the principle of the thing, he guessed. They thought of him as a bad guy now. They had to stop him from doing what they perceived to be bad guy things. He didn’t take it personally. He had, after all, created this situation to give them something to fight against. Still, he really did need what was inside that laboratory.

Mike, he knew, had taken things very personally. Kurt supposed he couldn’t blame him. He had destroyed Mike’s building and his livelihood along with it. But nsurance would cover it. No true harm would come to anyone. Property could ultimately be replaced.

But Mike had destroyed his main avatar as an act of revenge. Kurt had only possessed enough material to construct the prototype android and the one which looked like his original body. He could always inhabit one of the ninjas, or even Sasuke’s more advanced body, but he wanted to at least feel more human. He wanted to be grounded again, not a nebulous form floating in null-space.

“Group 279 has reached the destination,” said the grinding monotone voice. “No resistance has been encountered. There are no significant life signs in the area.”

“Proceed into the site,” Kurt said into the microphone.

He watched the bank of holographic monitors, each showing the point-of-view of one of the ninja group. One of the androids held its hand against an RF ID box. After a few moments, the light on the box turned from red to green with the satisfying click of an unlocked door.

Kurt smiled (or felt like he was smiling) and pressed a button on his virtual console. The internal security system of the building went into a loop while simultaneously hijacking the live feeds of its cameras and putting them through to him. Several additional monitors appeared in his bank.

The androids quickly swarmed the lobby and stood still, awaiting their next orders.

A floor plan of the building spread out in front of him, indicating which cameras were in what rooms. After a few moments of searching, he touched on of the rooms on the floor plan. A spinning white diamond appeared where his finger (was it really his finger?) fell.

“Proceed to waypoint,” Kurt said. “Ensure stealth protocols. Two remain in the lobby to watch for security presence.”

“Acknowledged,” the voice rumbled.

As they progressed through the hallways toward what the cameras indicated as the main laboratory, he grew excited. He waited for a tingle up his spine. He waited for the hairs to rise on the back of his neck. He was so near success – one nearly final step toward his goal. None of it came.

There was no tingle. There was no spine. No hairs. No neck. No feeling. There was only the thought of it. The idea of what should happen. There was no anxious burn in his chest – there was no chest. There were no cold and nervous fingers – there were no fingers.

He clenched his eyes shut but realized there were no eyelids. His desire dimmed the plane to darkness to imitate the lighting effect he wanted. It was simultaneously real and not real.

“Waypoint reached,” said the voice. “Awaiting instructions.”

Kurt shook his head (but didn’t) to snap himself out of it. Looking at the monitors, he surveyed the room through the eyes of his androids. He saw where they needed to go next.

“There is a latched door along the back wall,” Kurt said. “It should lead to cold storage. One of you go inside.”

One of the monitors showed a ninja walk forward, grab a silver handle, and open a door into a large refrigerated room. The walls were lined with silver tanks bearing different numbers and letters.

“Find all canisters marked SRP-6592-B,” Kurt said. “When you have them secured, bring them home. Quickly and quietly.”

“Acknowledged,” said the voice.

He reached his hand up to feel his face. Nothing happened. No hand, no face, no skin, no nerves, no muscles, no bone. Not even a phantom sensation.

“Skin,” he said aloud. Or, he thought he said it. He wasn’t sure. Had he been speaking all this time? Was he barking orders or communicating with them directly? He had no vocal cords. He had no air.

He stopped himself from going any further.

In an hour or so, his androids would be back with compound SRP-6592-B; an experimental skin replacement compound which was currently undergoing human trials with severe burn victims. The research was very promising. The false flesh, when used on scar tissue and even areas where the body had eroded away to bone, would graft itself to the body and create the appearance of normal skin. In the research documents he’d perused, one of the scientists whimsically referred to it as “human spackle”. It was strictly cosmetic but they were looking into an advanced version which may even be able to regrow hair follicles and even nerves.

He already had an android skeleton, slightly more resilient than his last model, waiting to receive as much of the compound as it could. In the trials, the substance was sculpted and set permanent using ultraviolet radiation. After more cosmetic alterations by Kurt, it would be a nearly perfect replica of his previous body. He would be able to get out of this plane and see the world from the ground.

He was excited, but again, there came no chills.

SRP-6592-B wouldn’t regrow nerves or hair follicles the way he would use it. It would offer a more realistic effect, but in the end his body would remain a tangle of servos and motors and circuitry covered in fake skin. His soul – if that was what he was in this ethereal form – would remain trapped in a computer.

He would waste time installing fake teeth. He would use systems from the medical industry that would allow him to create fake vocal cords and an imitation tongue. The body had the capability to pull in air so that it could generate an actual voice – one akin to his original – so that he would be able to actually speak instead of broadcasting.

What was the point of this elaborate setup if his tongue couldn’t taste, a mouth that couldn’t eat, a respiratory system whose chief duty was to allow speech and not to smell the air or gasp with joy or sigh with sadness?

He would never do any of those things again. Even though his mind (soul? essence?) remembered these things, they would never feel the same because they would never feel. He might be able to hop into the body and run around, but his true presence would always remain here, in this grey place, forever looking out a window into the world rather than being able to experience it.

He wished he could cry but he couldn’t. He could experience the desire but none of the physical effects. Not the release that came with it. If he had remained human, he would have been dabbing his eyes with his sleeve, sniffling, his chest heavy and his head cloudy. He wanted to cry even more now for the complete lack of his ability to do so.

He hated himself for what he had done in haste. He thought his transference would make him more powerful than anything he could have imagined; invulnerable, immortal, infinite. Instead, he had trapped himself in a vast prison from which there was no escape.

He swung a virtual fist at the control panel in front of him, causing it to shatter and disappear. No force was exerted. No satisfying crunch or crash of breaking equipment. No components scattered along the floor. There was no pain of flesh impacting with the hard, cold metal. What happened was just an exercise of his imagination, just like anything else around him.

He would have fallen to his knees, if he could. He would have covered his face with his hands and wept openly, if he could. Everything in here – everything that once made him feel powerful and important – was rendered pointless and feeble.

Now, he simply was. Existence was all that he truly had, if this was even existence. There was no tangible way to tell that he wasn’t just some artificial intelligence or collection of data. A disembodied consciousness. He could not point out on a map where he was. He could not look around him and discover his reality. He could neither feel the ground beneath his feet nor taste the air. How could he truly be sure?

If he had a chest, he would have felt a pang of hot fear as the next thought crossed his mind. He couldn’t continue to live like this. He couldn’t continue to exist like this. Something had to be done.

He looked up to the sky (there was no sky, there was no up).

“DELETE ME!” he screamed (didn’t scream), “DELETE ME!”

Nothing happened. The grey plane still surrounded him, unending and barren.

“Please delete me,” he begged (didn’t beg), “Please just let me pay for this mistake.”

It was prayerful – reverent. As if the literal Deus ex Machina were listening to his pleas. As if there were some power, some intelligence higher than his own in this place. He waited, disappointed, for an unknown amount of time. It was impossible to know how fast or slow things went.

Suddenly, in the depths of his muted despair, an epiphany.

Electrical impulses. Data storage. Circuitry. It all made sense.

This new body would not do.

He was going to have to take this in an entirely different direction.

Down with the Ship (an Unlucky Seven short)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!

“Do we really have to unpack this now?” Zoey asked, her ice katana smoothly carving the head from the shoulders of one of Kurt’s ninja-bots, “We’re a bit busy at the moment, aren’t we?”

“Well, yeah,” Justin said, blasting another ninja-bot in the chest with a fireball, “But, you’ve been kind of aloof lately. The only time we get to see each other is when we’re out on patrol together and I’m usually too nervous to say anything.”

“And the middle of a fight is your idea of a good time to talk about things?” Zoey asked, parrying another black blade with a resounding clang of her sword, “You couldn’t have brought this up on the two hour stakeout waiting for these guys to show?”

“No,” Justin said, blasting the head of the robot whose sword was currently locked with hers, “Had to be now.”

“This is a little clichéd for you, isn’t it?” Zoey said, kicking aside the ninja he had just disabled and moving forward to engage with the next one, “I mean, this so tropey. The whole ‘let’s talk about our relationship while we’re fighting bad guys’ thing.”

“Maybe,” Justin said, throwing another fireball and hitting his target, “I dunno, I just feel, like, more open to discussion right now. Less anxious. Full of adrenaline.”

Her blade suddenly thrust in front of his face, blocking a potential deathblow.

“Maybe pay attention to the fighty part,” she said as he thrust both hands forward causing the midsection of the ninja who had just tried to split him in two to be violently ejected from existence, “That adrenaline will still be there when it’s over.”

The two of them finished creatively destroying the mostly inept yet still very real and dangerous robot ninjas which had appeared at the back entrance of an unsuspecting office building in an industrial complex far from the city. They were given the assignment because it was their night for patrol anyway.

They sat in the back of the black panel van they borrowed from Phalanx (on the condition that neither of them cause it to explode) eating some post-fight cheeseburgers, their legs dangling from the tailgate. It had been quiet since Zoey suggested they shut up and fight. Justin finally broke the silence.

“I think a discussion about this is warranted,” he said.

She sighed.

“I’m not sure if I’m really ready for this discussion,” she said, “I’m not even sure there’s anything to discuss.”

“I just want to know where I stand,” he said, “We haven’t really addressed any of this. It’s kinda nebulous and I want to put a bit of definition on it.”

“I think that’s kinda my problem with talking about it,” she said, “I have feelings here and I want to open up to you but I… I’m afraid that all you’ll end up doing is trying to define me again.”

“What do you mean?” Justin asked, taking a bite of his burger.

“I mean,” she said, pausing and sighing, unsure of her words, “Like the whole manic pixie dream girl thing. I was seriously upset by that because it felt like you were just treating me as another character in your ‘narrative’. You assigned a trope to me. It felt like a blind judgment based on the situation and, honestly, made me feel like less of a person in your eyes and more like some kind of shell that you were looking to fill with what you wanted me to be in order to preserve a storyline.”

She set her burger down on its wrapper and hopped down from the back of the van. She paced, trying to let the words come to her while not outright insulting him with what she wanted to get across. After a moment, she turned to him and spoke.

“I see what you do and I understand it. You built a narrative structure around our personal situation because you saw how well it worked for the group’s situation as a whole. You’re able to see what’s going to happen because, you’re right, things progress in a linear fashion and continue to be predictable. You use your pop-culture knowledge to call out all these things and make fun of them. It makes you feel more secure because you are familiar with the structure and can laugh about its nature.

“We are different, you and I. This is not something that you can assign a narrative to as if it was some kind of romantic action-comedy. I am a person; not an idea, not a situation. Our relationship – whatever it may be – isn’t a plot hook and I am very afraid that if I openly share my feelings with you, you’re not going to take them seriously. You’re only going to look for ways to plug them in to whatever device works for you before you categorize it and turn it into another narrative because that is what makes you feel safe from any potential emotional damage. You can prepare better because you think you can see what is coming.”

Justin sat, continuing to eat his meal, with wide eyes. They looked desperate, she thought. She had broken through something in his brain and she knew it. She hesitated to think that she was fixing him because that would be playing right into another one of his tropes. The other side of her brain was telling her that the tropes didn’t matter and what she was doing was important to a person she cared about.

He didn’t reply. He stared, silently, waiting for her next words.

“We don’t even really know each other,” she said, turning away from his gaze, “I mean, we’re basically co-workers. Like, we know each other to the extent of basic details but we’ve never really had time to talk about anything. Moving forward quickly – defining something – would only be feeding into that narrative thing.”

“I want to get to know you,” Justin said, “I like you a lot.”

“You find me attractive,” Zoey countered, “You like the surface. You appreciate the aesthetic. That’s good for a start. We’ve kissed, we’ve had some moments, but we’ve really never talked about anything that wasn’t immediately pressing. Like, we’ve had discussions about everything but our real selves and I feel like we need to explore that before we put any kind of label on it.”

“You kissed me, though,” Justin said, “That meant something, right?”

“You’re cute,” Zoey said, shrugging, “I’m not denying that I am also attracted to you, but, we’re adults. Just because we shared a kiss doesn’t mean we’re in some kind of exclusive relationship. From what Lisa tells me, you were reading way too far into that. It was a very emotional moment when that happened. We both needed to feel good about something right at that second. I gave us that something. It wasn’t the declaration of undying love that you think it was.”

“Really?” Justin scoffed, “That’s how she told you I felt about it?”

“Is that a lie?” Zoey said, raising an eyebrow.

Justin looked down. She could almost see the exact spot she had placed the pin in his mind to start his deflation.

“I was confused,” Justin said, “And emotional. And, really, girls don’t typically take an interest in me. They especially don’t suddenly kiss me.”

“Get over yourself,” she said, dismissing him with a hand wave, “You need to stop playing this role you think has been assigned to you. You don’t necessarily need to stop looking at the narrative, as long as it applies, but you need to stop looking at people as characters. Yourself included.

“You have yourself pinned as this chubby ugly nerd who is mad at the world because no one appreciates you. You don’t realize that you are so much more than the stereotype you’ve shoe-horned yourself into. Just like I’m not the manic pixie dream girl, you are not the depressive ogre nightmare man. Realize that you are attractive, you are smart, and you have a bigger part to play in the world than just the ‘character’ you think you need to be.”

“So,” Justin said, looking up, “You do like me?”

“Yes, you moron,” Zoey said, laughing, “Yes, I do. I want to get to know you better so that I can find out if I like you for more than just being attractive. I think you should really get to know me better, too, to make sure I’m not just another pretty face.”

“I know you’re not just another pretty face,” Justin said, “But yeah, I would like to find out for sure.”

“So, there’s your label, if you still need it,” Zoey said, “’Tentatively dating’. Yeah, still a little nebulous, like you said, but that’s good. The less you can associate anything to do with us to a plot hitch or a trope, the better. I don’t like being put into a mold. Stay away from that and we’ll see what happens from here.”

He was quiet. She was sure that this was going to take him a while to process. From the look on his face, she had hit every nail directly on the head, but it was clear he wasn’t ready for this. It was clear that he would have never been ready for this.

“Yeah,” he said, finally, nodding, “Yeah, I guess we’ll see.”

She put her head on his shoulder as she dug in to finish her burger. He leaned into her as well. There was a soft hiss as his cheek met her ice hair. It subsided after a moment.

“Are you saying you ship us?” Justin asked.

“Shut up,” Zoey said, a smile crossing her face.

“You totally ship us,” Justin said.

The pale, cold skin of her cheeks turned red, out of sight from Justin. She was very thankful for that last part.

They stared out into the parking lot of the industrial park. It was filled with the evidence of the preceding battle.

“A fight, cheeseburgers in the back of a van, and cleaning up dead robot parts,” Justin said, “Hell of a first date.”

Diamonds Are For Never (an Unlucky Seven short)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!

“Ok,” said Phalanx with a sigh, “What seems to be the problem?”

Budda was lying flat across both of the metal gurneys in the medical cave formerly known as dead robot storage. Phalanx had pushed them together to accommodate the width of the giant rock man and was quite unsure as to why someone with no internal organs and the ability to regenerate by eating rocks had asked for a check-up.

“Well,” Budda started, “I need you to check my strata.”

Phalanx paused.

“Your strata?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Budda said, “Y’know, the layers where I’ve been regenerating. There’s those stripes of coal and grey stone that came in after I started eating the cave walls to regenerate my torso. Now there are some cool black scar kinda things all over me because I ate coal after that big fight with the robot ninjas.”

“Ok,” Phalanx said, lingering on that word, “Seems like you already know what’s in your strata. What do you need me for? I’m not much of a geologist.”

“I didn’t figure that,” Budda said, “But you do know chemistry. I tried an experiment and I need you to help me determine the results.”

“What exactly do you need me to do?” Phalanx asked with a sigh.

“Ok, well, let me tell you my idea first,” Budda began, “So, I was thinking that I regenerate rock I’ve lost with any rock I consume, right? I just have to chew it up and it gets excreted or whatever into my strata.”

“Established,” Phalanx said, “Go on.”

“So, I had this thought that I would walk to, like, Africa,” Budda said.

He followed up with nothing. Phalanx stared at him, waiting for some kind of indication as to where this whole thing was going.

“Walk,” Phalanx said,” To Africa.”

“Yeah,” Budda offered after being prodded, “Walk to Africa. I mean, I could do it. I don’t need to breathe and I’m pretty sure my body would be ok handling pressure at the bottom of the ocean because, you know, I’m made of rocks. I could make it if I tried.”

“Do you realize how long it would take you to walk to Africa?” Phalanx asked, “Underwater?”

“Two years, three months, six days, and six hours at an average walking speed of 3.5 miles an hour,” Budda spouted.

Behind his sunglasses, Phalanx’s eyes bugged out of his head.

“I googled it,” Budda said.

“So you want to spend two and a half years walking to Africa along the bottom of the ocean,” Phalanx said, “Please explain.”

“I’m going to walk to Africa,” Budda said, “Find a diamond mine, damage myself piece by piece, and eat diamonds until my entire bodily structure is solid diamond.”

“Eat diamonds,” Phalanx said, “You’re going to walk to Africa and eat diamonds.”

“Yep,” Budda said, “It’ll make me practically indestructible.”

“I don’t even know if you can eat diamonds,” Phalanx said, “Did you… Is that why I’m here? You ate a diamond and you want me to see what it did to you?”

“Exactly,” Budda said, “I used some of my sweet government hush money to buy a two-carat diamond ring off the internet. When it finally came in, I made a little gash in my chest and I ate it. I wanted you to see if there was any trace of the diamond in the spot I’m regenerating.”

“You ate a diamond,” Phalanx said plainly.

“A two-carat diamond,” Budda said, “Not really as big as I thought it would be, but whatever. This was just an experiment.”

“You ate something like a ten-thousand dollar precious stone,” Phalanx said, “As part of experimenting with your powers.”

“You keep saying these things like somehow you’re going to surprise me with what I did,” Budda said, “Yes. Whatever you are thinking, I totally did it so that I could see if it was worth my time to do the bigger thing.”

“Walking to Africa,” Phalanx said, his jaw continuing to remain slack with incredulity.

“Yes,” Budda shouted, “Walking to freaking Africa, finding a diamond mine, and slowly piecing myself together a newer and far less destructible body. In case you didn’t notice, I was ripped in half by your big bald Project friend in my last big one on one and I was only recently chipped away at by robot ninjas. Just because I can’t feel pain doesn’t mean I can’t take damage.

“I would be a better asset to the team if I could regenerate myself with sturdier stone. I’m not really sure why I ate so much coal on that note, but it seems to hold up a little better when it’s part of my body. What I’m saying though is that if I got into a diamond mine, I would be able to just eat everything in sight and be a giant diamond man instead of the rock guy who gets blown up or disfigured during every fight.”

“I understand your reservations,” Phalanx said, “Trust me. I’m usually the expendable one, too, because I can’t really die. I don’t care about loss of life or limb because there will be more of me. In fact, I don’t think you’ve actually talked to the original Phalanx that showed himself to the group since very near the beginning. We’re very careful about retaining our local source. I do have some issues with this plan, though, if you can be reasoned with.”

“Sure,” Budda said with a sigh.

“Ok, for one,” Phalanx said, “Walking to Africa is ridiculous. I know you have this whimsical Little Mermaid kind of idea of what that will be like but, seriously, it’s dark down there and you still need light to see. There isn’t a light source that would last long enough at the depths you’re talking about. You would have no idea where you were or what you were stepping toward. If you really wanted to do it and didn’t want it to take two years or more, I could get in touch with one of my contacts and we could ship you over in a crate or something.”

“Hm,” Budda said, “That actually sounds like a better idea.”

“No kidding,” Phalanx said, “Second thing: did you do any research at all on diamond mines beyond watching, say, Snow White?”

“Well, it’s a mine, right?” Budda said, “Like this one. I can hide out in a tunnel and dig on my own and stuff. I’m sure I’ll find enough big stones to eat.

Phalanx sighed.

“You need to look into this stuff, man,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose above his sunglasses, “Most diamond mines are giant pits in the ground – strip mines, not tunnels. Not a place you’re going to be able to hide. Not to mention they’re usually pretty secure.”

“I’d go in at night,” Budda said, “Sneak in.”

“You are an eight-foot tall rock man,” Phalanx pled, “I don’t know why anyone has to constantly remind you of this.”

“Just because I’m big doesn’t mean I can’t be stealthy,” Budda argued.

“Well, no I guess it doesn’t,” Phalanx conceded, “But, seriously, breaking into a diamond mine is not going to be a walk in the park.”

“Look, I appreciate your concern about my master plan,” Budda said, “But, it’s not even going to matter if you don’t help me test my theory. So, can you like sand off a bit of this portion here and see if it contains anything of that diamond I ate earlier?”

Phalanx stared at him, certain that he was serious about all of this. Budda looked back at him, his pupil-less onyx eyes pleading for help. Phalanx sighed.

“Fine, whatever,” Phalanx said, “Let me go get some tools.”

Budda’s stone face contorted into a disturbing expression of joy.

***

The next day, after the small dust sample Phalanx had sanded from the area where Budda assumed his diamond regeneration would take place had been analyzed, Phalanx called for the rock man. They met again in the medical bay and Phalanx remained impressed that the wheeled gurneys were able to handle the weight of his “patient”.

Phalanx handed Budda sheaf of papers.

“This is the chemical analysis of your surface stone,” Phalanx said, “Feel free to look through it at your leisure.”

“What about the diamond?” Budda asked, anxiously.

“Sorry,” Phalanx said, “Lots of carbon, but none of it dense enough to even come close to diamond.”

“But,” Budda said, stammering in disappointment, “But I ate it.”

“It’s the hardest bulk material known to man,” Phalanx said, “Your powers would be a lot more serious if you could actually digest it. Or, whatever it is that happens in there.”

“It’s not fair,” Budda said, “It’s not logical. Coal is carbon, diamonds are carbon, I can eat coal, therefore…”

“It’s not about fair,” Phalanx said, “It’s about science. Maybe your body just can’t deal with the density difference. I know I’m kinda the expert on super abilities around here but I’ve never dealt with a rock person who regenerates by eating other rocks. I can’t really give you an explanation to why, but…”

He stopped abruptly and tilted his head at Budda.

“What?” Budda asked.

“Open your mouth,” Phalanx said.

Budda did as he asked. Phalanx grabbed a pair of tweezers and approached his rocky maw full of jagged white pieces of what looked like quartz imitating teeth. He gently reached in with the tweezers, plucked something caught between two of the shards and dropped it into his other hand. He immediately went to one of the lab tables, removed his sunglasses, and gazed through a jeweler’s loupe at first, then placed it under a microscope.

After a moment, Phalanx started to laugh.

“What?” Budda asked, “What is it?”

“Budda,” Phalanx said, turning around, his fist clenched around what had been taken from Budda’s mouth, “Let me just say that I still believe that you wouldn’t be able to actually eat a diamond. As a matter of fact, whatever restoration furnace you must have burning inside of you probably wouldn’t be able to reincorporate it into your body. That said, this was stuck in your teeth.”

Opening his hand, Phalanx produced the two-carat stone Budda had wrenched from the ring he had purchased online.

“So that’s why it didn’t work,” Budda said, reaching for it.

Phalanx closed his hand and drew it back.

“Before you take it and inevitably try to eat it again, there’s one thing you should know,” Phalanx said.

“What?” Budda sighed.

“This is a cubic zirconia,” Phalanx said.

“Seriously?” Budda shouted, “No, it’s not. How do you know?”

“Really?” Phalanx asked in return, “You asked me to shave off part of your body and put it under a microscope, I hand you a ream of paper that is the full mineralogical and biological work-up of your crunchy outer shell, and you’re going to doubt me on telling the clear difference between a diamond and not-a-diamond?”

“Dude, I dropped like fifty grand on that ring,” Budda said, “There’s no way that’s not a diamond.”

“Well, in fact,” Phalanx said, “Having only recently qualified myself to you, I can definitively tell you it is very much not a diamond and communicate to you the principal of caveat emptor as well as the idea that the internet is not always an honest place.”

“I sniped some guy for that ring,” Budda said, his voice half sad, half furious, “It came with certification and stuff. I ripped the gem right out of the setting like it wasn’t a thing. Now I’m out fifty-k and I can’t even resell the damn thing because I tried to eat it.”

“There, there, big guy,” Phalanx said, patting him on the shoulder, “You know, Cubic Zirconia is pretty tough. Almost as tough as diamond. You want to take a taste?”

Budda sighed, taking the gem from Phalanx’s hand. He held it gingerly between two of his massive fingertips.

“Do you know anything about Cubic Zirconia mines?” Budda asked.

“Let’s cross that bridge if we come to it,” Phalanx said.

The Fandom Menace

There’s this theory going around the internet – isn’t there always a theory going around the internet? – and it’s been around for a while. Of course, I am just now picking up on it, along with many other people, due to the uptick in a certain fandom based on an upcoming, highly-anticipated, and amazing-looking sequel.

I’m going to talk about it, but only as part of the overall point of this entry. Promise you won’t go away because of the certain name you see below and I swear I’ll make the rest of this article worth your while.

Promise?

Pinky-promise?

Ok.

The big theory is that Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord – the real Phantom Menace titular to Episode I.

Lest you think this is some laughable fan theory made up to grant significance to what is viewed as one of the worst Star Wars characters of all time, I compel you to look at the evidence for yourself.

I’ll wait here while you check it out. You really should before we go any further.

Welcome to mind blow land. I’m not going to present the entire theory here, that’s why I posted the link. Please, seriously, click through and check it out. It’s important to the next few paragraphs but I suppose not the entire article as a whole.

Now, some of you may view this with a skeptic’s eye, as I originally did. Some of you may even say, “Lucas isn’t that smart,” but I would persuade you to think of your qualifier for that. Most of you feel betrayed by Lucas BECAUSE of Jar Jar Binks and his stupidity. But what if – WHAT IF – all of this was true and Jar Jar’s presence was justified by making him the most powerful Sith Lord in the universe? How would George Lucas look to you then? How would you feel knowing that the buyer’s remorse you felt for your midnight Phantom Menace tickets resulted in what could have been the most amazing reveal in all of film history?

None of us would have seen it coming. If I could wax hypothetical on the theory for just another paragraph or three, I would like to posit some quick ways this would have changed everything about the prequels. For the better. Maybe for the amazing.

Count Dooku was the shoehorn replacement for Darth Jar Jar in spots. I think the reveal would have happened at the end of Attack of the Clones. Instead of battling Count Dooku, the Jedi would have had an epic lightsaber battle with Darth Jar Jar who would instantly drop the stupid Gungan accent and suddenly be quite smooth and intellectual. He and Anakin would have some words with “Little Ani’s” heart being broken after realizing his childhood friend was a Sith Lord all along. They fight, Jar Jar gains the upper hand – maybe even says some words to convince Anakin to come to the Dark Side – and he is the one who cuts off Anakin’s arm. Then we get the Yoda vs. Jar Jar fight which would have been an epic achievement in CGI (maybe, probably, maybe not?).

This would be a much clearer influence for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side than Palpatine blah-blahing some old story about Darth Plagueis the Wise and his ability to resurrect and retain life. Hell, Jar Jar himself could have been Darth Plagueis the Wise. My personal theory is that Jar Jar may have even been Jedi Master Saifo-Dias who supposedly ordered the Clone Army from Kamino. I’m probably wrong there, but, if Jar Jar is a missing and high-ranking Force adept on either side of the coin (or both), he could fill many holes that exist in the legends by being that “unseen” character.

Either way, Anakin’s betrayal by Jar Jar at the end of Attack of the Clones would have been brutal but his old, innocent friend seducing him to the Dark Side would have been much more interesting. Jar Jar always approved of the love between Padme and Anakin. He would be very understanding and accepting (and greedy) regarding their prophecy fulfilling children. I couldn’t even imagine the after-effects of the whole ordeal. Would they have killed Jar Jar by the end of Revenge of the Sith or would he have escaped, leaving us to wonder where he was during the events of the Rebellion? We’ll never know.

We will never know. That is the most important takeaway from this theory – we will never and can never know what exactly Lucas had in mind. Even if he confesses – which I would advise him to do immediately – that the Darth Jar Jar theory is real, we will never get to see those movies. We will never get to hear that story. Why? Because we all dropped the ball. Hard.

The reason I made you promise to stay with me at the beginning of the post was that mentioning the name Jar Jar Binks is nearly guaranteed to shut people off immediately. You think of his stupid face, his bumbling, and his meesa-yousa bullshit and you immediately want to change the channel. We ALL hated Jar Jar. We hated him so hard and so publically that articles were written about it. Hate mail was sent to Lucas because of it. The pressure of the fanbase purely hating on this character made Lucas change his plans, as evidenced in tweets and interviews.

We killed Darth Jar Jar with the unbridled hate of the collective internet before Lucas had a chance to perpetrate the end of his scheme. We were tainted by the “Greedo shot first” incident and thought he was completely off his rocker. Jar Jar put us all over the edge and made us lose faith. Lucas became a joke and, ultimately, sold to Disney because he knew that no one would ever trust him to make a good Star Wars movie again. That’s not to say that The Force Awakens doesn’t look amazing, but I digress.

Fandom banded together and pressured a creator so hard that he ditched an entire master plan for fear that people would boycott any movie which would assign an important role to a character as conceivably ridiculous as Jar Jar. I remember before Attack of the Clones came out, there were rumors that Jar Jar would become a Jedi or something like that and I remember pounding my fist on a bar and cursing Lucas’ name if he made it true. Little did I know that almost fifteen years later I would be sitting here looking back at that me as part of the problem.

The same sort of thing happened to J.K. Rowling when info leaked that, after the Battle of Hogwarts and the defeat of Voldemort, Harry would become a squib due to the loss of his connection to the Dark Lord. Fans and forums went apeshit and caused J.K. to bow to pressure and “fix” the ending.

That’s really where all this talk was going.

Fandom has a huge influence on the way modern creators craft a story. This is a pure and important fact and, perhaps, a peril of being a storyteller in the internet era. The power of internet fandom can topple dynasties in hours if they disagree with something happening on a given show or in a movie or in a book series. Fandom can become militant. Fandom can tear down worlds. Fandom can hold stories for ransom.

As a storyteller and a universe builder, my question is this – Is this the right thing to do? Should an author/filmmaker/showrunner bow immediately to the pressure of the fans? How does this compromise story elements? How much should this change the overall plot or goal?

I am not speaking out about fandom in general as I am part of it. I have written (in my head if not in word files hidden deep within my vault) the way I thought Lost and Harry Potter should have ended. I am vocal about how I think things should progress in shows (which ultimately don’t materialize). I have my own ideas of how things should go if I would write them. I am deep in the fandom of certain things but I have learned in my old age to trust in the writers for the most part. Not that they are always right, but as fandom, we should respect that it is their story to tell.

There have been moments during reading/watching where I have angrily shaken my fist or been outwardly vocal or even cried due to a plot turn or a character death or a stupidly implausible whatever. There have been characters in things that I really wanted to die who make it all the way to the end and vice versa. That is part of the emotion of the narrative.

Nothing can ever satisfy everyone within a fandom. There will always be some hate for certain characters/events/situations/places but in the end, the creator of that story should stand firm and not bow to the demands of the fandom. The fandom should respect the source material, even if it’s not created yet.

On the other side, some fan service is ok, but never at the expense of the narrative. Bowing to fan pressure to the narrative is the reason Jango Fett was the source of the Clone Army – because people just couldn’t get enough of Boba that there just HAD to be a way to shoe-horn in someone in Mandelorian armor flying Slave I and generally being an overall badass. I know I keep going with the Star Wars references but the way the fandom influenced the prequels is, in my opinion, why they were so awful. Lucas put out the Phantom Menace and we all (myself included) hated it. We railed so hard against it that he took all of our suggestions into account when proceeding to Episodes II and III and those turned out to be garbage to the point of being completely disavowed by sections of general nerdity.

If you need a more contemporary example, think about the phrase “if Daryl dies, we riot,” and tell me that doesn’t influence a certain group of showrunners.

As an author, I have to tell you – trust us. We have a plan. Even if you don’t think we do, we totally do. We have this stuff lined up. We know the direction things need to go. We have already decided who lives and who dies and we’re very sorry if that somehow puts out your favorite character but that is the story we are telling. Sometimes these things are unavoidable. By all means, if a character is killed off, you can always push for a prequel. Or an alternate universe. But, let that character stay dead if the author says they’re dead. There are enough Jean Greys out there.

And, if you don’t like the way things are going, be cool and wait it out. Let things unfold without the backlash. If we had, we would have Darth Jar Jar. And it would have been amazing.

Have an opinion on this topic? Feel free to voice it in the comments. I’m interested in fandom’s opinion on this. Also, if you’re interested in joining the Unlucky Seven fandom, let me know. I want one so bad.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Mutli-versal League of Jerks (an Unlucky Seven short)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
[AUTHOR’S NOTE PART II] Sorry about the formatting. WordPress doesn’t like tabs and needs carriage returns to make this look less like a giant run-on sentence.

Justin slept on the couch in front of LENNY’s main screen.

He was sitting, slouched, his head back and his mouth open, snoring. A video game controller dangled in his hand, slipping ever so slowly toward its inevitable fall to the stone floor of the main chamber as his unconscious grip grew lighter.

On the screen, a wizard stood in the middle of a town. The character’s idle dialogue had been chastising the sleeping gamer every two minutes for around forty-five minutes now. Justin couldn’t even hear it and continued snoring.

The others had all gone to bed earlier. Justin had seized the opportunity to take over the screen for gaming purposes but didn’t last long before slipping into an exhausted and unprompted sleep.

His nose twitched with the smell of smoke. Strange for a person with smoke for hair – he smelled smoke all the time and had become mostly nose-deaf to it. This was different somehow; enough to cause him to snort loudly and wake up. The controller clattered to the ground as he sat up.

His eyes opened to smoke billowing around him. He panicked, stood up quickly, and started looking for its source. He checked himself over first to make sure that this wasn’t some kind of superpower malfunction. As far as he could tell, this was something external. His eyes darted around looking for flames and found nothing but the cloud of smoke itself that was largely obscuring his sight of anything.

Suddenly, the smoke moved away and became humanoid in form, standing a few feet away from him. With a quick burst of flames, the smoke solidified and Justin was face to face with a slightly familiar looking figure.

The person he looked at wore a black leather trench coat with red leather flames rising up from the bottom. His boots and pants matched the theme. On his chest was some sort of body armor with a stylized flaming skull on the chest. He wore a respirator decorated to match and a pair of heavy-duty welding goggles. His hair was a pillar of white and grey smoke. It became very clear to him quickly.

He was stunned for a moment as the person removed his identity-obscuring disguise revealing a face identical to his save for a few noticeable scars and a full beard rather than Justin’s typical goatee.

“Hello, Firestarter,” said Justin’s duplicate, smirking.

Justin’s face suddenly and almost violently clenched.

“Oh, shit,” Justin said, sighing, putting his hand up to his brow, “Please don’t tell me you’re me from the future. Please. We totally have enough problems here without having to deal with a time-travel story arc.”

“Story arc?” said the other Justin, “What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do I mean?’” Justin asked, “You’re me. You should know exactly what I mean, right? Like, me from the future should totally remember this discussion happening. Not only that, me from the future should absolutely understand what I’m saying when I say I want to avoid a time travel story arc. You should hate them as much as I do. They’re unnecessary to a narrative. Most of the time it’s just showing off alternate costumes and alluding to things that have happened in the years since the time period the displaced character left. Seeing as you have a cool alternate costume, some scars that I don’t have, and a rockin’-ass beard, you’re really hitting on all the tropes. So tell me, Future-Boy, who’s President of the United States in 1985?”

“What the,” said the other Justin, shaking his head in confusion, “1985?”

“It’s a reference joke,” Justin said, “Please tell me that I still have my wits in the future.”

“Hang on a minute,” said the other Justin, “I’m not from the future.”

“Oh, God,” Justin said, “It’s even worse. You’re alternate dimension me.”

“Well, really,” said the other Justin, “I could argue that YOU are alternate dimension me seeing as I’m the one who traveled here from my home dimension to find you.”

“Wait, let me guess,” Justin said, “There’s some kind of inter-dimensional crisis and you’re running around collecting all the alternate dimension us-es to face some kind of gigantic threat the likes of which our worlds have never seen.”

Other Justin looked intently at his surroundings.

“Have I been to this one before?” Other Justin asked.

“Are you serious, dude?” Justin said, slapping himself in the forehead, then looking pleadingly at his well-equipped doppelganger, “Come on. This is a prank or something. Bad dream, right? I’m still passed out on the couch in the middle of playing video games.”

“Well, you were,” said other Justin, “I woke you up. Trust me, this is real.”

“No it’s not,” argued Justin, “Because there aren’t other dimension and crap like that. That stuff is all in the comics.”

“So are people with smoke for hair who can throw fireballs,” other Justin said, “What’s your point?”

Justin took a moment to think about it and sighed.

“I guess you’re right,” Justin said, sitting down on the couch, “This life has officially become a comic book hellscape. All of my dreams of having super powers and all of the nightmares of the tropes to go with it. Next thing you know we’ll be fighting mole people or planet-eating purple cosmic titans or some crap like that.”

“You didn’t meet the mole people yet?” asked other Justin.

Justin looked up at him from the couch, his face contorted in an expression usually reserved for people with bamboo shoots under their fingernails.

“Kidding, dude,” said other Justin, “Only kidding.”

Justin hung his head low and cradled his face in his hands.

“You’re the first of us I’ve talked to,” said other Justin, “The Firestarter of Earth-Two.”

“Earth-Two?” asked Justin, shifting his head slightly to look at him between the fingers covering his face, “Why are we Earth-Two? This is the only Earth I’ve ever known, so this is Earth-One or Earth-Prime or something else that sounds like the main Earth from a DC Crisis comic.”

“You’re Earth-Two,” said other Justin, “Because you’re the second Earth I came to.”

“So, you’re just blatantly colonizing us as ‘Two’ because you’re the first alternate dimension person to set foot here?” Justin asked, “No, that’s not right. This is Earth-One if anything.”

“Dude, look,” other Justin said, “It was really hard and dangerous to get here. Can’t I just call you the Firestarter of Earth-Two for the sake of setting us apart?”

“Why are you calling me Firestarter at all?” Justin asked.

“Well, that’s my superhero name,” said other Justin, “You’re the me from Earth-Two.”

“I never called myself that,” Justin said, insulted, “Firestarter? Really? Did you name yourself after the Stephen King book or the Prodigy song? How am I so lame on your Earth?”

“You never thought of calling yourself Firestarter?” asked other Justin.

Justin stared forward quietly for a moment before responding.

“No,”

“Dude, you totally did,” said other Justin.

There was another moment.

“Ok, I did,” said Justin, “But I trashed it because I wanted to think of something that wasn’t already the title of two identifiable pop-culture properties. Can you please not call me ‘Earth-Two Firestarter’ or whatever, though? I’m not in love with either the superhero name or the colonization of my home dimension.”

“Fine,” said other Justin, sounding slightly frustrated, “Look, we need to talk business.”

“You’re forming a superteam,” Justin recapped, “Some interdimensional team of Justins to try to eliminate a huge reality-destroying threat.”

“Something like that, yeah,” said other Justin with an exasperated huff.

“Nope,” said Justin.

Other Justin stared at him, an incredulous look on his face.
“Nope?” he asked.

“Nope,” Justin stated plainly.

“You haven’t even heard about the danger we’re facing,” other Justin said, “This threat could destroy the multi-verse!”

“Multi-verse,” Justin scoffed, “Listen to yourself, man. You sound like a monthly one-sheet promo. Is the cover cool? Are we standing back-to-back facing the bad guy or is there an entire army of alternate costumed us-es standing behind us facing the camera and looking angry?”

“Be serious here, man,” said other Justin, “Like the term or not, the multi-verse is a real thing as witnessed by the fact that I am here. Also, it’s some pretty dire straits and we are the only ones who can help to save it.”

“By what?” Justin asked, “All throwing fireballs at the same place at the same time? Everyone going into our crazy super-saiyan state and mega-blasting a bad guy? Everyone turns into smoke and gives the supreme alien intelligence lung cancer? Why did they only send you? Did the rest of the team wuss out or something?”

“If you must know,” other Justin said, holding his wrist up to show Justin a device of blinking lights and buttons which very much bore Kurt’s signature kludge, “This device creates a crack in the fabric between realities which is too small for anyone to get through unless they can change into…”

“You know what?” Justin interrupted, “Forget I asked. Too much explanation of the how and the why is going to take all the comedy right out of this situation.”

“This isn’t supposed to be funny,” said other Justin, “I risked my life crossing dimensions to come here and get your help.”

“Look, I love a good alternate reality story as much as anyone else,” said Justin, “And I really do love all of the alternate costumes. And yes, yours looks super bad-ass and cool and I’d love to know where you got some of those scars. And I’d also like to know why you don’t seem to see the narrative the same way I do and why you don’t understand reference humor. But, at the same time… nope. Nope to all. Don’t want anything to do with it.”

“Why not?” plead other Justin.

“I have my own corner of the apparent multi-verse to take care of,” Justin said, “If there is really a multi-verse out there, go pick up the next couple of dudes down the line. To be honest, I’m kinda sick of all the action and could use a break. I’ve been through a lot since the accident and all and I really haven’t had any time to let that stuff sink in. Plus, I kinda have this thing with Zoey going on and I don’t really want to die before I see that through. Do you have a Zoey in your reality?”

“Zoey?” asked other Justin.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Justin said, “Yeah, I’m out. I don’t want to disappear on some adventure I might not come back from right now. I’d really rather sit here and veg out and pray there aren’t any robot ninja attacks in the near future.”

“You’re going to put your head in the sand and play video games because you’re lazy,” said other Justin.

“Yep,” said Justin, “Not having it, not going, good luck. Get the guy the next universe over. You can colonize that one Earth-Three. Think of how cool that will be.”

“Do you have no responsibility in this dimension?” other Justin asked, “These scars you’re so fond of? I earned them. I fought to def…”

“Yeah,” Justin interrupted, “Not really interested anymore. They’re an aesthetic thing and they kinda look cool with the whole get up but if you’re going to sit there and tell me about your scars to try and gain some sympathetic leg up on me so I come with you, you’ve got another thing coming. Blah, blah, whine, whine, all my friends are dead and these scars represent them or some gung-ho garbage like that. It’s all very pedestrian as far as alt universe stuff goes. It actually goes further to prove that yours is Earth-Two because all the people on Earth-Prime or whatever are the ones who are all still alive. This story should be about me falling into your bizzaro world and trying work my way back to where things are normal.”

“You know,” other Justin said after a minute, “I don’t remember being this much of an asshole.”

“Oh, if you don’t think you are now, you probably were before,” said Justin, “I’m sure your tragic backstory made you hardened and jaded. Maybe your Earth-Two is the gritty reboot we’ll get when things finally wear out here. Until then, happy hunting out in the multi-verse. I hope you find a bunch more us-es to rally to your cause and I hope they all have scars as cool as you.”

Justin picked up his controller and continued playing his game from where he had left off before falling asleep.

The other Justin sat watching for a moment, quietly.

Justin huffed and paused.

“Dude, seriously,” Justin said, “You’re really bringing the room down here. Can you just go find Earth-Three or –Four us and see if he’s interested instead?”

“The multi-verse needs you,” other Justin muttered.

“If the multi-verse is as big as the comics says it is,” Justin said, “Then there is a lot of me to go around. I’m sure one or two of us will gladly join your cause. Go mope on their couches. I’m trying to forget that I have to sort my life out here.”

“Whatever,” other Justin said with a sigh, “Why bother.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Justin, “Let the whole multi-verse perish in flames because you came to me first; the lazy one with his head in the sand, right?”

“Man,” other Justin said, “I’m a real dick.”

“You certainly are,” Justin said, “Have fun storming the castle.”

Other Justin stood and, after pressing a button on his wrist device, turned into smoke and vanished through a microscopic crack in the universe.

The Firestarter of Earth-Two continued playing video games for another fifteen minutes before passing out again.

All-New, All-Different

While I fail to see the problem with the recent rash of changes Marvel has completed over the last year or more, you need look no further than the comments sections of just about any post on the internet announcing one of them to realize that there are some very vocal people out there who don’t really care for what’s going on.

It starts with a cry that these are marketing ploys; something akin to the Death of Superman in the sense that it won’t last too long and was only done to drum up new sales. I fail to see the problem from this angle as it’s the prerogative of a company to be successful. If that success means changing something, even briefly, to become more profitable, then that’s probably something the company should do. It’s just good business.

It continues with a cry that these marketing ploys are “pandering” to a more diverse audience to broaden Marvel’s readers. I also fail to see the problem here, aside from the use of the word “pandering”. Again, a successful business targets a broad base of consumers. Why be exclusionary? From a strict business standpoint, the more people you have reading your books the better.

After these two logical arguments have been presented as to the business of running a major comic label, detractors will continue their line of objection by stating that the changes to the characters in the story makes Marvel’s integrity questionable at best. That replacing beloved characters like Steve Rogers or Bruce Banner or the Odinson with equivalents such as Sam Wilson or Amadeus Cho or Jane Foster, respectively, does some sort of massive disservice to the story and the community at large.

Of course, the logical argument to this is that, if one actually reads the comics involved, then one would see that the replacements and changes are all integral to the story. Story is the important part, after all, and it wasn’t as if Steve or Bruce or even the Odin-born Thor were removed inexplicably from the Marvel Universe. They continue to exist. They continue to affect the ever-unfolding fabric of the Marvel Universe because they couldn’t just be brushed aside. Their story goes on though they might not get quite as much of the spotlight as they once did.

“Oh,” say the commenters, “But, we don’t want the all-new, all-different. We want more of the same.”

To these particular dissenters, I reply: Why? Steve Rogers has been around forever and, when he died briefly not too long ago, Bucky picked up the shield until Steve returned. There was even a period where Steve was just Captain Steve Rogers, letting Bucky continue with the Captain America moniker for a while longer. Not quite as many were upset with this. Steve’s story went on, Bucky’s story went on. The story allowed for this to happen.

We know why, though, don’t we? We know why the Sam Wilson handoff – even though it was perfectly in line with details of the story – didn’t pass as quietly. It had nothing to do with integrating mechanical wings into the stars-and-bars motif, either.

It’s the same reason that so much controversy was generated when a woman picked up the fallen Mjolnir after Thor Odinson was rendered unworthy. It’s also the same reason people are going insane that a Korean man (who has been a staple in the Marvel Universe for longer than most “fans” probably know) is slated to replace Bruce Banner.

It’s the same reason that Miles Morales freaked so many people out back in 2011.

When I was a kid, I grew up reading comics. My first love was the X-Men (followed shortly by Batman, but that is another blog entry).

I loved the X-Men because it was a team of people with crazy powers. All the characters had such different voices and looks. It was vibrant and different and some people looked practically inhuman (not a cross-reference). It was way different than watching reruns of Challenge of the Super Friends because not everyone was running around in a mask. They showed the X-Men at play as well as at work. There were actual inter-character relationships working there. It was intricate and engaging and not just good guys/bad guys because you had characters like Wolverine – the consummate anti-hero – and Magneto – the guy who was bad but not really but really but not really. You know what I mean.

No, I didn’t really have all these feelings when I was a kid because I didn’t know how to define them. As an adult, I can tell you about this with much more articulation. I liked the X-Men because they were all different.

The X-Men were all outcasts from society; sometimes because of their powers but, more often than not, because of their appearance. I related to them because I was in a similar predicament, growing up a different color from most of the kids around me. I was a pariah, I was looked at differently, and I always hoped I would find out someday that I was a mutant. Aside from Wolverine, my favorites were Beast and Nightcrawler because, out of the lineup at the time, they were the least human in appearance. Also because Beast was super smart and Nightcrawler could teleport (a power I coveted highly).

As I got older and the comic progressed, somewhere in my early teens, I related to the two of them even further. Nightcrawler had a crisis of faith and became a Catholic priest for a time (something that, until I was like 12, I had possibly considered) and later, Beast continuing to mutate into something more feline, getting further away from his humanity.

My point (before this backstory drags on any further) is that I loved the X-Men because they took in anyone. They gave a home to people who were dealing with some serious issues. I related to that because, as a weird, intelligent, brown kid in a white neighborhood, I never really felt like I fit in. It’s why I continued to read comics. It’s why I wanted to write. I realized because of the X-Men that there might be a hero out there who was like me.

Marvel expanding its universe to be inclusive is possibly the best thing they could have ever done. Introducing characters like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan… Elevating characters like Sam Wilson, Carol Danvers, Jane Foster, Amadeus Cho, and even Laura Kinney (that’s X-23 to you noobs)… This is what we need. The little kid reading three-month old issues of X-Men Classic about Wolverine and Storm (mainly) taking on the Brood – one of the first comics I ever owned – is cheering for the kids who are picking up the books now and finding heroes to whom they can directly relate – showing them that they can be super, too.

Purists will brush off this entire blog entry. I wonder, honestly, through the veil of anonymity that is the internet, why they call themselves “purists”.

A true comic book purist accepts canon as gospel. What the company says goes. If they say Steve Rogers had his serum stripped from him, then he has. If they say Bucky didn’t want to pick up the shield again, then he does not. If they say that Sam Wilson was next in line for the throne, then bow to your new king and STFU. A comic book purist would accept the changes and be excited about the directions the story will take from this point on.

Instead, these “purists” seem to be more concerned with the color of Sam’s skin and what it means that a strong Black character is holding the shield and bearing the mantle of Captain America. They get upset about the rumors that Peter Parker wants to retire from crime fighting to run his new company (which, admittedly, was built by Doc Ock as “Superior” Peter) and hand the role over to Miles Morales, a half-Black-half-Puerto Rican kid who has proven himself an amazing (not reference humor) Spider-Man in another universe. The rumor is that Banner will do the same (or be otherwise depowered), leaving room for Amadeus Cho to put on the purple pants of destiny.

“NO!” they scream, “You’re taking away our heroes for the sake of colorwashing the cast! You can’t just make all that history disappear!”

Colorwashing, by the way, is a despicable term. If you use this, please unfriend me and never come here again.

No one is taking anyone away. They are staying. No legacies have been eliminated. No timelines have been changed (well, unless you’re Spidey, then who knows). Their stories go on. And, as far as them not wanting to see action anymore, can you blame them? How many times has Peter Parker skirted death, caused the death of loved ones, cause property damage… how many more happy returns can there be? If someone else is capable, can’t he put down the power and the responsibility and let it be taken up by someone a little younger? Someone who has more of the drive? Hasn’t Peter deserved a little bit of the reward for all that risk over the years? Steve Rogers has been fighting for America since World War II. Can’t he have a little break where he’s not freaking dead?

Don’t even get me started on Banner…

The “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Universe, in my opinion, is shaping up to be fantastic. People will hate it. We know why. It is nice, however, to see one of the big comic labels recognizing that diversity is important. Not only does it allow the kid that I was see someone more like me being a superhero, but those kids like me will also read stories that are more relatable to their own lives.

DC has miles to go before they can even think of catching up. In fact, if DC did something similar now, THAT would be the real disingenuous pandering marketing ploy.

Keep making mine Marvel. Marvel, please keep making Marvel ours.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—