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The Guardians of Freedom
by Dan Tana

Beyond the boundaries of what you call reality there are many other spaces, dimensions, and forms of existence. Well, maybe there are. None of you human beings actually know anything about what lies beyond the veil of your Earthly existence, because everything that you experience in this place is ultimately just an experience of this place, so nothing that happens to you here can ever really prove whether there is something else out there or nothing at all.

But I do know that these other places exist, because I come from another dimension of reality. Or, maybe I don't. Maybe the place that I come from is really the imagination of some person who lives on this planet Earth, which, incidentally, could very well be that other dimension of reality. And you may never know for sure what the truth is. So it is probably best not to worry about such matters, and just enjoy the story that I am going to tell you.

Anyway, some of these places that may or may not exist are very much like the space you inhabit, and some are even hospitable to creatures like you, while others are stranger than anything that you can comprehend. I am certain of that because I have used the scanner in my head to view the thoughts and memories of your minds, and I can see
that you have no frame of reference with which to conceptualize and understand certain aspects of my native dimension, where I was created by an immeasurably ancient race of beings who I will refer to as the Goo.

No, that statement about the immeasurable ancientness of the Goo is not an exaggeration, or a figurative expression, as I can see that some of you assume it must be. It's a literal fact: the exact magnitude of the duration of the existence of this race cannot be measured, because time does not function in their space as it does here.

It is also no exaggeration to say that the Goo are, in general, the nicest, friendliest bunch of people that I have ever met, which is both cause and consequence of the fact that they devote most of their thoughts and energy to the purpose of having fun and producing happiness.

That is why they built me – for the sole purpose of bringing happiness to one of them who has a particular fondness for playing silly games and petting fluffy things. So I am, essentially, what you would call a toy, although the term playmate is also applicable.

Now some of you are incorrectly assuming that those Goo who constructed me just for the sake of another being probably did so without much concern for my own well-being, which is synonymous with my overall level of happiness. But their sensibility is such that they consider my happiness to be just as important as the wishes and well-being of anyone else. In fact, unlike many human beings, they would have found it utterly unconscionable, and even recognize it as a criminal act, for anyone to subject me to this existence just to gratify their own desires if they could not be reasonably certain that I would be fundamentally happy.

So they designed me to require minimal material resources, which are all abundantly available to me, and made me feel no physical discomfort. They also gave me a cheerful, optimistic temperament, and programmed me with interests and a
personality that makes me the perfect companion for my intended friend, so that it would bring me immense, profound happiness to use my consciousness just playing with, amusing, and caring for that Goo.

As my constructors had anticipated, the pseudo-spatial nexus at which the existence of my buddy and I intersected expanded into many segments with a highly exciting and enjoyable resonance, which, basically, just means that we had a lot of fun playing together.

We particularly enjoyed taking trips to a place where collections of trans-dimensional enclosures have been assembled to allow the Goo to observe the inhabitants of other spaces. Scattered among these enclosures are white holes that have been modulated to emit tasty but nutritionally deficient consumables and fairly useless objects that somehow pertain to the residents of the dimensions on display.

On one of our trips to this place that you might call a zoo - though in some very significant ways it is unlike any zoo that you have ever known - we decided to watch you Earthlings who live on this land that someone once named Colorado. In its reckless excitement at seeing such strange and funny-looking creatures my friend rapidly transcended the safety barrier, carrying me in its outermost interactors, and climbed up onto the rim of the enclosure in order to get a better view. There it slipped, caught itself but lost its grip on me, and dropped me down into this Earth dimension.

Upon my arrival here a very small human being greeted me enthusiastically. A big smile spread across his face as he excitedly cried out the name Teddy, and then he ran up to me and gave my leg a big hug. A quick scan of his mind showed me that I possess an uncanny resemblance to his favorite plaything – a construction of stuffing and cloth that is meant to be a caricature of an Earth animal called a bear - except that I am several times taller than that other toy.

A moment later another human saw me and let out a horrified scream. In her mind I saw that this woman was a progenitor of the boy who hugged me, and that, for no good reason, the sight of me terrified her. I used the transmitter in my head to project into her mind an image of us smiling benevolently at each other, conveying my peaceful, friendly intent. Then I projected words to explain to her who I am, using the English language that I had just scanned from her brain, as I slowly approached her to give her a hug. After that the three of us played together until the child got tired and the woman took him home.

For a while I sat on the ground and wondered what to do next, which was quite a novel experience for someone who had never been to a dimension that intersects only a single, linear, mono-directional flow of time. Then I saw a blur of something blue and silver zoom past above my head. I projected a friendly greeting at the thing, which turned out to be a robotic person named Herberta Winchester. As this massive, angular contraption of roughly human size and proportions landed in front of me I got a clear picture of her mind.

In scanning her memories to acquaint myself with this person I saw that she considered herself to be what you would call the owner of a vast estate, which included a sizeable portion of this world's natural resources. It took me a while to comprehend this image.

I knew of several races that find it convenient to grant each individual the exclusive opportunity to utilize certain objects during a given period of time and to prohibit others from taking those items from the one who may be using them, but I had never encountered any other species that asserted this bizarre human pretense that certain people have the right to claim actual ownership of - and perpetual dominion over - certain portions of a universe whose most basic substance none of us can credibly claim to have created.

For the first seventy years of her life Herberta's supposed ownership of these resources allowed her to live a luxurious and carefree existence. She considered herself to be one of the luckiest people in the world. Then her wife died of a long and painful illness. Shortly after that her son, his children, and their mother were all abducted and held for ransom, which was another image that I had no familiarity with from my time among the Goo. She quickly paid the money demanded for their release, but then the architect of the conspiracy murdered them anyway, because he did not want to leave any witnesses to his crime.

I cannot convey to you with words the grief and despair that Herberta experienced after these people were murdered, and I will spare you the direct projection of this disturbing image into your mind. But I assure you that the torment was horrific. In her agony and rage she abandoned much of her humanity, including the organic form in which she had been born.

Over the years that followed she devoted her time and fortune to the development of that robotic incarnation that she wore when we met, which she equipped with numerous guns, lasers, missile launchers, plasma cannons, and all manner of deadly weapons with which to exact her revenge. When it was complete she transferred her mental functions into that metal shell, killing her original self in the process. Then she set out to wreak lethal vengeance upon everyone who had been involved in the kidnapping plot.

She first tracked down the one who had murdered her child, but discovered that some other people who wanted to take the money that he had extorted from her had already killed him. Then she located an impoverished woman named Maria Johnson, who informed Herberta that she had only taken part in the plot because she needed money to buy medicine for her own sick child.

Maria's son suffered from a condition known as pituitary dwarfism, because his brain could not produce a sufficient quantity of a chemical called human growth hormone. He had reached barely four feet in height after twenty years of growth, and experienced numerous chronic health problems as a result of this deficiency.

Many people who have this condition are given an artificially synthesized form of that substance, which allows them to grow normally and to be healthy, but that woman could not afford the price charged by those who make this chemical. So her son suffered, unnecessarily. Even after the kidnapping that robbed Herberta of her family Maria could not get her son any of the medicine because the man who orchestrated the plot had run off with all of the ransom money.

This revelation stunned Herberta and halted her plan to kill the woman. It made her realize that some of the responsibility for what had happened to her family lay on the head of the socioeconomic system that deprived this child of the medicine that he needed, in order to benefit others like herself who claimed a right to hoard this resource but did not actually have any need for it. In this moment she understood that what her society had done to this helpless, innocent little boy was no less of a crime than what that murderer had done to her own son.

Herberta was heading home from this encounter when we met. At the time she planned to donate all of her wealth to a charitable organization and then to fly off into space where she would not endanger anyone else when she overloaded the mass of exotic matter in her power core, which would release the immense amount of energy needed to destroy her.

I introduced myself to her as Teddy, assuming the name that that first human being I ever met had used to greet me, because the name given to me by those people whom I have named the Goo cannot be translated into any of the air-vibration-based languages that Herberta understood.

Then I explained to her that I had been constructed with a strong desire to protect the happiness of all persons and person-like things, which includes protecting them from the psychological harm and unhappiness that is caused by anything that infringes upon a person's fundamental freedom. So, to that end, I was going to do whatever I could to
create a society in this world that is more like the one from which I came.

I was about to ask Herberta if she would consider postponing her plan to euthanise the tortured, metaphoric heart trapped within her mechanical corpse long enough to help me in my mission to save others from such tragedy as had befallen her, but before I could even ask the question she pledged the remainder of her life to the task.

Shortly after she met me Herberta decided to release from their contracts all of the people whose poverty had compelled them to become subjects of medical experimentation in her pharmaceutical research companies. She apologized for taking advantage of their desperate situations and gave each of them a generous pension to live on.

Among those former human lab rats there was a young girl named Jakinda Jones, who had been conceived by a woman that was being used to test a new allergy medication. The compound proved highly toxic to its recipients, leaving them in need of continuing medical treatment for the rest of their lives, but somehow caused this embryonic girl to develop an unusually robust and remarkable physiology.

The skin of this child has the same deep purple hue as the chemical that transformed her, and her hair shines like polished bronze. She is partially covered with sharp, bony projections and plates, and possesses a moderate degree of superhuman strength.

Like the six-dimensional Tweeters of the Great Behind, she also has the amazing ability to split her substance into multiple incarnations so that she can be in more than one place at the same time. Each incarnation of Jakinda is able to act with complete autonomy from the others, possessing a distinct consciousness that is able to mentally communicate with the rest of her incarnations over any distance because each one is actually part of a single super-conscious mind, and can increase or decrease her relative size within this dimension by concentrating or expanding her elemental matrix.

The man who ran the facility that studied this girl kept her from leaving by telling her that if she refused to submit to all of the highly unpleasant and often harmful experiments that they wanted to perform on her he would not let her mother have the medicine that she needed to survive, and then she would die a slow and miserable death.

After freeing her from such coercion Herberta asked Jakinda if she would like to use her special abilities to help us in our mission to protect all the people of Earth. One part of Jakinda wanted to help us do this, but another part just wanted to live a quiet, peaceful life with her mother. So she decided that she would do both.

The part of her that chose to help us thought that it would be fun to use a colorful pseudonym, like the ones customarily used by those characters that you call superheroes, since a superhero is exactly what she figured that she was going to be. So she told us to please start calling her Hypergirl.

This notion of engaging in dramatic and fantastical feats of super-heroism under funny new names struck me as delightfully silly and also quite exciting, and I considered several different names to call my superhero self, including Captain Cuddles and the Fuzzy Defender. But eventually I decided that Teddy would be a fine hero alias, since it
was, in fact, not my original name. I also decided that my everyday, Earthly name would be Theodore Fluffington.

Then Herberta instructed the managers of those companies to go out and hire more test subjects so that they could continue their medical research that has improved the lives of so many people. But she told them that this time they had to offer a degree of compensation commensurate with the level of personal risk that the subjects were taking for the benefit of all those others, which would appeal to more than just the desperately poor and disenfranchised.

The next day we went to visit Maria Johnson and her son. Herberta told them about her intention to change the world we were living in, and informed Cain that she would provide him with all of the medicine that he ever needed.

Over the following weeks we planned out the details of our mission to protect the people of Earth. We decided that our primary, immediate concern would be to address those abusive oppressions that are routinely inflicted on people by governments and social institutions, often in the name of law, morality, or tradition.

These government oppressions run so rampant throughout this world that many people take them for granted and are unable to see them for the crimes that they are. And some of those who do recognize the fundamental criminality of such acts delude themselves with the false belief that those who carry them out on the orders of some government institution are somehow not really responsible for doing so. But the Goo have taught me that each person who chooses to have any part in committing an inherently abusive act against any other person, whether acting as a socially-sanctioned
government agent or not, is personally guilty of perpetrating a crime against that victim.

From studying the history of the human race we knew that we could not do away with such oppression by instigating yet another in an endless string of political revolutions, having recognized the futility of simply shifting the current state of politics to another configuration that is superficially different, and controlled by a different group of people, but based upon many of the same underlying principles and assertions. Rather, we must inspire what might be called a philosophical revolution, in which those problematic and destructive ideas that shape, sanction, and empower the oppressive social structures of this world will be replaced by something fundamentally different.

The first, most essential change that needs to be made is the abolition of that archaic notion that a government or state is a sovereign entity with a right to rule and subjugate its citizens. This assertion of state sovereignty is an incredibly dangerous and inherently oppressive notion, regardless of which ideologies its proponents use to try to
rationalize and justify it, because it places the state in a position of dominance and supremacy over the people, even when the government of that state pretends to be a servant of the people.

Our new society, like that of the Goo, will recognize only the sovereignty that each person holds over the domain of its own life. The primary purpose of the government of such a society is not to allow a small number of people to subject others to an endless stream of arbitrary edicts that usually just serve their own interests but rather to articulate in practical terms the specific details of where every person's freedom to do whatever makes it happy, and to be free from that which makes a person unhappy, is limited by the equal freedom of all others, then to defend this freedom from all infringements, and to aid each individual in achieving happiness to whatever extent is possible.

Of course this principle of just government is easier to define here than it is to implement. In the dimension of the Goo it is possible to mathematically analyze any situation in which the desires of two people conflict and to prove indisputably what constitutes a just resolution to that situation rather than an abuse of one person for the benefit of the other. Unfortunately, there is no Earthly way to do so, so those of us who live in this place will always have to watch out for anyone who would accidentally or intentionally try to portray the oppression of certain people as a just act.

During one of our conversations about this principle of sovereign freedom Jakinda suddenly put an intensely puzzled look on her face, which caused Herberta to stop speaking in mid-sentence, and then she asked how this principle could apply to those people who lack the mental ability to make decisions about what will make them happy.

So I explained to her that people of limited mental capacity do sometimes require the help of another person who can make choices on their behalf, and that this arrangement is not a criminal oppression of those people, whose personal sovereignty is not in any way diminished by the fact that they lack the ability to manage their own affairs, unless their happiness is not really the primary concern of the person designated as their official proxy.

Jakinda replied that that made a lot of sense, and then abruptly announced that she thought we should start referring to ourselves as the Guardians of Freedom, because we had dedicated our lives to guarding the freedom of all people. Herberta and I both liked the sound of that, so we agreed that that would be the name of our organization.

Then our conversation turned to the necessity of eliminating that pervasive and insidious notion that the material resources which all people need in order to survive and be happy may be owned - by individuals, or by society as a whole, or by any entity at all - and thusly held justly for ransom from those who need them. This lie will be replaced
with the idea that as the representative and servant of all people it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all people have access to an adequate share of these vital resources that belong to no one, because it is not really possible, or meaningful, but is only a cruel and pitiful joke to say that someone who is deprived of the necessary materials of life itself can have a life of personal freedom.

The government must find a way to meet this obligation to all people without violating the basic freedom of any person, which, I can see, some of you do not think is possible. I have seen how the Goo achieve this goal, but I must admit that I do not know how or even if it can be done in this place. Certain psychological traits that I have observed in the minds of many human beings make me very skeptical of the possibility that humans could effectively implement the solution that works so well for the Goo, as does the physical nature of the dimension we currently inhabit. But I do believe that the approach taken by the Krileks of Gragnar 7, who are physically and psychologically very much like human beings, might also work on Earth.

The Krilek people have developed a system in which everyone who utilizes a natural resource during a certain period of time pays a certain amount of currency into a fund which is then divided evenly among all of them, ensuring that each has the means to acquire a share of these resources that is equal to the average used per capita. Of course each person is free to engage in a profession or business venture that will earn the currency needed to acquire a greater share of resources or to pay those who provide goods and services that increase a person's standard of living. This arrangement makes it possible for most of the people to meet their own needs, making it easy for the government to provide adequately for those who require further assistance.

While we discussed these matters a mechanic arrived to give Herberta some routine maintenance. As he tinkered with the servos of her right shoulder, which had been sticking a bit over the previous few days, I noticed a nervous indecision in his mind. A quick scan of his thoughts revealed that he was debating with himself whether or not to
tell us about his niece Shannon and her friend, who had some remarkable abilities that he thought might be helpful to us.

In the mind of her uncle I saw that this young woman is one of those rare human beings who are born with unusual attributes and extraordinary powers. In her case the unusual attribute is a pair of large, glowing, golden wings that enable her to fly faster than the swiftest bird. I also saw the image of her friend - a boy barely into the adolescent stage of human development – who possesses no superhuman powers of his own but has entered into a symbiotic relationship with a pair of powerful creatures who live on his right and left hands, like gloves of skin.

The next day we met with Shannon O'Hara and her friend Emerald Lee. Shannon showed us how the feathers of her wings move in response to her thoughts, and demonstrated their amazing power. She hurled one of these feathers from her wing to strike a book that was sitting on a shelf. The feather vanished, and a moment later the book rose several feet into the air. Then it flipped open and the pages began to turn while Shannon explained that the energy of her feathers can imbue an object with a psychic potential that enables her to manipulate it telekinetically for a little while, or can be used to strike a target with incredible force for a single instant at the point of contact.

Then she explained that the thin, luminous aura that surrounds her entire body is a film of some kind of oily, psycho-reactive substance secreted by her wings that eliminates wind resistance when she flies and protects her from contact with foreign objects. She encouraged us to test it out by throwing something at her, which put a big, silly smile on Jakinda's face as she picked up another book from the shelf and hurled it enthusiastically at Shannon. A fraction of a second before the book struck her its trajectory suddenly deflected, causing it to slide along the contour of her shoulder and continue on right past her.

Emerald then demonstrated his power by raising his hand toward me and zapping me with a bolt of green energy. As sparks of this energy spread across my fur I experienced a surge of power like nothing that I had ever felt before. I found that I could see clearly into minds that were far beyond the usual effective range of my mind-scanner. I felt stronger and more energetic than ever, and was even able to pick up a paperweight, which must have weighed several pounds, without any of the strain that lifting such an object would usually cause me.

Then he pointed a finger at me and zapped me with a bolt of orange energy. Suddenly I felt so weak that I could barely stand. I dropped the weight, which broke on the floor. The boy knelt down by the shattered globe, scooped the pieces together, and held his hands over the pile. Little green sparks of energy began to leap from his fingers to dance between the shards of broken glass, and the pieces began to come together. In a matter of seconds the paperweight had completely reformed itself.

Then he pulled a pebble from his pocket and held it in his palm. Orange sparks arced between his fingers and the stone, and right there before our eyes the rock began to crumble into dust.

We were all quite impressed by these awesome abilities, but the most important thing about being one of the Guardians is what a person wants to do with its talents. So I asked them to tell us why they wished to join us in our mission. And I scanned their minds as they answered, to be sure that they were speaking honestly.

According to Shannon they had both suffered abusive and traumatic experiences in their lives and wished to prevent such things from happening to anyone else.

In her mind I saw the truth of her tragic history, which began with the brutal murder of her doting, affectionate parents. They had made a comfortable living by selling certain, illegal chemical compounds, and were murdered by another seller who did not want any competition and who was not worried about committing this crime against them because the police already targeted him as a criminal.

At first this image of it being treated as a crime to merely produce or possess a certain substance baffled me, since this supposed crime has nothing to do with the substance being used to harm, threaten, or otherwise oppress anyone else. I quickly realized that the use of some of these prohibited substances can be a very dangerous activity, which might result in injury to the person who chooses to do so - just like the use of certain legal drugs, and a lot of other things that a person can do. But that fact does not make it any less ridiculous, despicable, or intrinsically criminal to imprison, threaten,
harasses, or otherwise hurt someone for using any particular drug in a manner that does not infringe upon the freedom of anyone else.

After scanning enough of her memories to comprehend that peculiar notion of an illicit substance I viewed the image of Shannon being adopted by her aunt and uncle. The uncle was a kind and meek man who showed her much affection. Her aunt, on the other hand, was a very sick and violent-tempered woman who regularly abused both of them. She beat the child almost every day, hitting her repeatedly until the psychic residue that protects Shannon from the world wore away and the woman could feel her fists bruise the tender flesh beneath. She also berated and belittled her incessantly, and told Shannon that nobody could ever really care for an inhuman freak like her.

In her psychologically battered state Shannon submitted to this physical abuse, believing herself powerless to resist it, until the day that it escalated beyond what she could bear. She decided that she would rather die than put up with such treatment for another minute, so she knocked her aunt unconscious with a feather to the head. After she regained consciousness, months later, in a hospital, Shannon's uncle told the woman never to return to the house where she had tormented him and his niece for so long.

When Shannon had finished speaking Emerald confessed that they were partially motivated by resentment of those who had mistreated them, and by the desire to sooth the lingering remains of the emotional pain that their abuse had inflicted upon them with the satisfaction of knowing that they had thwarted the attempts of other people who make the
same vile and loathsome choice to dominate and harm others for their own gratification.

As I listened to that impressively self-aware admission I saw in his memories that Emerald had been born in a country called China. In the place that I come from people have no use for those inherently self-centered and chronically warmongering institutions known as countries, or anything to do with the pointlessly divisive concept of nationality, but I knew of such things from stories that I had heard about certain other races in which most individual members give special allegiance, with a few exceptions, to those people who live within the same geographic region.

One evening while Emerald and his parents were playing a game that they all enjoyed very much a gang of armed agents of the government of that state burst in through the front door and arrested them for being practitioners of a peaceful religious movement that this government had for political reasons labeled a dangerous and evil cult. He spent the next five years in a state-run orphanage and never saw his parents again.

The people in charge of the orphanage were all quite selfish and authoritarian, very much like the government that employed them, and treated Emerald like he was not a sovereign human being but merely an object to be molded to serve their own will. The other orphans were also very cruel and often vented their own misery on him, singling him out for ridicule and harassment because one of his parents had come from a place called Jamaica, where most of the people have much darker skin pigmentation. During this time he grew very angry and vengeful, and for a while entertained a fantasy of one day blowing up the entire world.

But then he was visited by a pair of extraterrestrial beings who call themselves Right and Left. These creatures explained to him that they need the nervous system of another being to form a mental connection between themselves, in which they find great enjoyment, as well as to provide them with physical nourishment. They asked Emerald if he would allow them to use him in this way, and told him that in exchange for this service he would gain the use of their incredible powers.

After they had attached themselves to his hands Right and Left suggested that it might be time for Emerald to leave his miserable existence behind him, and recommended that he travel to the United States of America where he would meet
someone who was going to hold a very special place in his heart. A week later he arrived in the city of Denver, and that same day he met Shannon. Since then the two of them have become very, very close friends.

I see that some of you are wondering if that last statement about being such close friends was meant to imply that these two people are playing with each other in a certain way that, apparently, some of you disapprove of quite strongly. And now I can see some of you starting to get really pissed off at Shannon for what you think she may be doing
with this boy, on account of the fact that she has ridden this planet around its sun more than some arbitrary number of times and he has gone around fewer times.

This attitude seems to be based upon the ageist, prejudiced assumption that people who have existed for less than a particular duration of time must lack certain intellectual and emotional faculties necessary to make sound decisions about how to live their lives, which is simply not true. No matter how many young people do happen to fit that stereotype, no matter how prevalent and accepted age-based discrimination is within most human societies, it remains utterly absurd, oppressive, and wrong to insist that those who do not lack these faculties must be treated as if they do.

But I can see that, on some level, most of you already understand that. For many of you there are other, personal, emotional, ulterior motives lurking behind your need to condemn a certain kind of relationship that may exist between Shannon and Emerald. Many of you are either consciously or unconsciously motivated by the trauma and psychological scars that you suffered, possibly while you were still a child, when you realized just how violently and venomously people would condemn your innate sexual attraction to other, younger people, and are still driven by the fear that you yourself will
face some kind of persecution if you do not hide your true feelings by endorsing this very same attitude that has molested so many of you.

Now I can hear some of you protesting, loudly, in your minds, that your concern in this matter really is all about protecting a mentally deficient and particularly vulnerable person from being taken advantage of and harmed. But, obviously, if that were your honest intention then you would actually care about the question of whether or not that unique, individual human being named Emerald Lee really is a mentally deficient and particularly vulnerable person who is being taken advantage of and harmed, and would not insist that you are somehow justified in acting as if that were the case even though it
is not.

For those of you who are still concerned about the specific type of relationship that exists between Shannon and Emerald, let me assure you that it is one based upon genuine respect, affection, and kindness, which brings them great comfort, emotional support, and happiness. Both of them are moderately competent to make decisions, and neither is in any way manipulating, coercing, or forcing the other to do anything. And that is all that I am going to tell you, because the other details of their relationship are not any of your business.

As for those of you who are not satisfied with that assurance, who are determined to persecute Shannon and take her away from Emerald if she makes him happy in a way that you cannot accept, let me warn you right now that these two human beings have the power to defend themselves against any of you who tries to use any kind of force to impose your own will onto whatever relationship they have chosen to have with each other. Sadly, I see that some of you are still wanting to force yourself on them in this way, so I will warn you again, as emphatically as I can, that this would be an exceedingly foolish choice, which you might not live to regret.

Now our story has reached the point where two more heroes pledged their lives to the cause of the Guardians. Thewoman with the wings decided that she would be called by the alias Avian, while her friend decided that the name Host would be most fitting for him.

I tried then to scan the minds of Right and Left, wondering what wonders they might have seen in the course of their extraordinary lives. The first thing I learned is that even though they seem to be individual beings they are actually different stages in the life cycle of the same immortal creature. I saw in their memories that at the moment when this universe ends it collapses back on itself to be reborn, and in that moment Right and Left each flip inside-out to become the other one.

Then a pair of sleepy, irritated voices asked me to please stop making such a racket. The voices came from Right and Left, who spend most of their time snoozing contentedly on the hands of their host being. And being probed by my mind-scanner disturbed their rest, for which I apologized. They told me not to worry about the intrusion, but asked me to please not do it again.

Before drifting back to their happy slumber they promised to introduce themselves properly the next time they fully awoke, which would be in a little bit less than six Earth years, when Emerald will give up his life to save humanity from being
enslaved under the theocratic domination of a band of super-powered religious zealots.

A couple of days later Jakinda was curled up in my lap taking a nap when I learned that someone calling himself Asphalt Man was trying to cover all of Denver, along with everyone who lived in the city, beneath a coating of some kind of viscous, tar-like compound.

Despite the urgency of the situation I felt a momentary reluctance to disturb that sweet, sleeping child, whose habit of using me as a pillow has brought me such overwhelming joy in the brief time since we met. There is something about the intense, unabashed pleasure and utter contentment that I see in the mind of this friendly, trusting little person when she pulls my arms around herself and softly snuggles her cheek into my fluff that touches something deep within my vital-energy pump, and makes me want nothing for myself quite so much as to just hold her like this forever.

But I would not shirk my duty as a protector of those people who cannot protect themselves, so I gently shook her awake and told her that the Guardians were needed. Then I summoned the others and we took off in the direction of the disturbance.

Soon we arrived at the strangest scene that any of my human allies had ever seen. Behind a vaguely humanoid figure gushing torrents of thick, black sludge from its upraised arms stretched block after block of buildings, trees, cars, and even people covered in the stuff.

Immediately Host began running around to the human-shaped piles of asphalt, zapping them with bolts of orange energy to disintegrate the deadly coating that was suffocating the people trapped inside. And Hypergirl split herself into dozens of miniature incarnations in order to comb the surrounding area for anyone who had not yet made it to safety.

Meanwhile, the rest of us confronted Asphalt Man directly. Avian told him that we were not going to permit him to continue in his current course of action, which prompted him to fling a large blob of tar at her. She dodged the stuff and then used the power of a feather to telekinetically hurl a car at him. A moment before it struck him he solidified the liquid material of his body, and the car bounced off his head without leaving a scratch. Then Herberta blasted him to pieces with one of her missiles.

The bits and shards of Asphalt Man melted and flowed back into a single pool from which he reconstituted himself, completely unfazed. Then he sent a wave of molten asphalt to envelope the three of us.

Avian's protective coating deflected the stuff away from her. And, fortunately, my fur is impervious to dirt and other messes like this. In a matter of seconds it had all dripped to the ground, leaving me as soft and fluffy as ever. Herberta, however, was not so lucky. She got trapped under an immobilizing layer of sludge, which did not seem to cause her any physical injury but certainly pissed her off, and prompted her to use some very interesting and colorful human language.

Then I asked the supervillain, as you might call him, why he was acting this way, and used my sixth sensor to peer into his mind. Immediately I saw great pain and distress. I saw that he had once been a human being named Bernie Noble, who had become Asphalt Man after falling into a vat full of an experimental paving material that had been designed to immediately repair itself when it cracked. Ever since his transformation the sight, smell, or even though of anything that was not a black, tarry, asphalt-like substance disturbed and aggravated him greatly, at times even making him feel physically ill.

Once I saw why he was acting in this destructive and criminal manner I knew how to stop him. So I projected into his mind an image of a place where there was nothing but sand and rock for miles in every direction, and then showed an image of him using his abilities to create his own personal asphalt paradise where he could live happily ever after in peace and comfort.

When Bernie understood that there was a better way to deal with what was bothering him he immediately stopped what he was doing and began to reabsorb all of the sludge that he had used to cover the city.

Then he saw the streets littered with the bodies of all the people who had died in his rampage and became greatly agitated. He was afraid that people would hunt him down and try to hurt him for what he had done. So I explained to him that the desire to punish those who do certain things, which is to intentionally inflict some kind of suffering on another person, is a fundamentally criminal impulse, which the Guardians will not tolerate.

I told him that even though he had committed criminal acts against other people we would protect him from such retribution, which would be nothing but another act of abuse because it would not serve to undo the damage that he had caused or to protect anyone from further harm. I also warned him that if he ever gave us any reason to believe that he would do something like this again, or would otherwise endanger the welfare of any other people, we would take more drastic steps to ensure that he could never hurt anyone else.

This assurance calmed him greatly, but Bernie still worried that curious and meddlesome people would never allow someone as unusual as him to live in peace. I promised him that we would guard his privacy and solitude from anyone who refused to leave him alone, and then Avian picked him up with a feather and we all went off in search of a place to make his new home.

When that task was complete we returned to the house where Herberta had once lived with her family, which had become our base of operations. There we found Cain Johnson waiting for us.

Since getting the medicine that he required Cain had transformed from the sickly, feeble, lethargic creature that we met several weeks before into an energetic and vibrant figure who we barely even recognized. Over the course of those weeks he had also come to suspect that he might possess a remarkable talent which he could not explain but which
he also could not deny, and he said that he wanted to use this talent to aid Herberta in the mission that she had told him about at their last meeting.

When we requested that he demonstrate this ability Cain took a coin from his pocket and asked us to tell him which side we wanted it to land on. Herberta spoke the plural form of the word head, then Cain flipped the coin ten times and each time it landed with the picture of the human head facing up. At that point Jakinda told him to do tails, and the next ten flips all landed with the picture of the bird facing up.

When Cain stopped flipping the coin the others stared at him in confused silence, knowing that we had just witnessed something very strange but uncertain of what exactly it was, while I began to scan his mind. He took this opportunity to explain to us that things seemed to turn out however he would like them to be with an improbable degree of frequency. He also informed us of his ability to perform incredibly complex calculations in his head, to figure out answers to problems that he doesn't really know how to solve, and to make arbitrary guesses about things that just happen to be correct more often than seems possible purely by random chance.

But, he then told us, sometimes this stuff just didn't happen, or stopped happening after a while, which made him wonder if it wasn't only a coincidence when it did.

None of us could be sure if Cain has any superhuman ability at all, though it seemed most probable that he does have some extraordinary power. But I was sure that he was sincere about his desire to use whatever power he does have to help save this world from the clutches of its countless tyrannies, so we welcomed him into our organization.

Jakinda then asked Cain what name he was going to use as a superhero, and he said that he would like to be called Ace.

She also asked him if he had any ideas about a good name for Herberta, which none of us had been able to come up with. After a moment's consideration he looked down at the shirt he wore, which had a picture of a robot from a cartoon series that had been quite popular several decades earlier. Then he looked up at us, his face cracking into a mischievous grin, and he suggested that we ought to call her Bertron, which made us all start laughing because we knew he meant that to be a silly parody of the name of that rather famous robot. Then Herberta said that she actually liked the name Bertron and was going to use it, which made us all laugh even harder.

Later that evening we decided that with the successful completion of our first major heroic endeavor it was a good time to announce our presence and intention to the world.

Then Cain raised the question of whether we were going to try to conceal our true identities behind our superhero personas. After considering the matter of secret identities for a while we concluded that it would be inappropriate to have them, besides being nearly impossible for some of us, because our dedication to the cause of the Guardians is an essential part of who we all are as people, and is not something that we would hide or forsake while in the guise of our ordinary selves.

The next day, when we were all rested and ready, Emerald zapped me with a massive dose of his green energy bolts, expending every bit of the power that the symbions had previously absorbed from him and stored within themselves, while Cain concentrated on using the ability that he might not even have to make us succeed in what we were attempting to do.

This immense jolt of energy, just as we had hoped, made it possible for me to communicate with countless millions of minds all at the same time. And that brings us up to this very moment, in which I am telling you this story so that you know who we are and what we are all about.

We, the Guardians of Freedom, the sworn defenders of personal sovereignty, are here to save all the people of Earth from every criminal and tyrant, every individual and organization, that wants to harm, exploit, or subjugate us.

But even with our fantastic abilities this task that we have undertaken is much too enormous for us to achieve without the help of many other Earthlings who share our dream of a freer world. So I encourage each of you to make the choice to be one of the Guardians, and I ask you to share this message with as many people as possible, because the power of those criminal regimes that victimize the people of this world comes not only from those people who directly perpetrate the abusive acts but also from each and every person who chooses to tolerate, endorse, and otherwise support them, often because it does not know of any better alternative.

And each person who promises to stand up with the Guardians against criminality in all of its forms, and resolutely refuses to tolerate any infringement of any person's sovereign freedom, takes us one step closer to a world in which all who respect the freedom of others are truly free to do whatever makes them happy.

So… uh… well, I guess that's about all I have to say right now. I would like to end this transmission by declaring that I hope this tale has entertained you, and inspired you to support the cause of the Guardians, but that is not something that I can literally hope for, because I already see how each of you has reacted to all that I have just projected into your minds. Still, the knowledge that my words have failed to amuse and convince every single one of you does not diminish my hope that someday they will. And, by the way, this is not the end of the story, but since I cannot see into the future I cannot yet tell you anything beyond the events of this present moment. So I will just say goodbye for now, and wish you all the best until I see you again.

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