[ASH] ASH #54 - Going To Kathmandu

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sat Dec 18 09:51:34 PST 2004

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #54
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                 "Going To Kathmandu"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2004 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows the Western Dragon at a podium, flanked by Grind 
      and Breaker, as she gives a speech to an adoring throng.  The
      view, however, is through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.  A
      "Romance of Three Republics, Phase 1, Part 4" banner is set in 
      the upper right corner.]

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   STATUS
--------       ---------                ------                   ------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        ACTIVE
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Comet          Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed, Ice Body     ACTIVE
Green Knight   Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   ACTIVE
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      ACTIVE
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              ACTIVE
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             ACTIVE
Essay          Sara Ana Rodriguez       Gadgeteer                ACTIVE
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           MISSING
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         RESERVE
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              RESERVE
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        ACTIVE

[October 8, 2025 - Mount Olympus]

     Simon Smith put down the instructions for his newly acquired telescope,
after checking them for the third time.  And for the third time he was
certain he had followed them correctly.  He'd located the guide star, input
all the relevant geographical and calendrical data, everything was as the
instructions said they should be.  Compared to the astrological systems he'd
been studying lately, these instructions were the soul of clarity.
     But Venus wasn't showing up in the eyepiece.
     He could see it clearly in the pre-dawn sky.  There was very little
light pollution around Mount Olympus, and Venus was nearly as high as it
would get all year, about thirty degrees above the horizon (it was 31.9
degrees away from the Sun, according to his astronomical charts).  But when
he looked through the telescope, he wasn't seeing it.
     This was probably a bad omen in itself.
     Simon turned back from the astronomy to the astrology, consulting the
various tomes and scrolls and computer files he'd been assembling in his
attempts to peer into the future.  Venus was important because it ruled the
constellation of Libra, the current sign.  Strictly speaking, it wouldn't
actually enter Libra for a few days, but it was still the planet to consult.
Additionally, some past astrologers had claimed that a conjunction between
Venus and Pluto starting this year would bring chaos to monarchies,
definitely an omen to look out for on behalf of King Q'Nos.
     If only astrology wasn't such a godawful muddled mess!
     The problem was separating the small amount of wheat from the mountain
of chaff.  There was no real way to tell which of the great astrologers was a
paranormal with real talent for magic, and which were just idiots playing
with numbers and seeing connections that weren't there.  But since Simon
didn't seem to have any innate talent for precognition, he had to go with
*something*.  He was about ready to switch to tea leaves, though. 
     Sighing, he glanced back at the computer-driven telescope again.  He'd
entered all the correct coordinates...time, location on Earth, even his
elevation.  The fine gears on the machine whirred to track a Venus that was
not there when he looked.
     Then Simon slapped his forehead in frustrated realization.  The computer
still operated under the classic principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If
there was something subtle he was missing, it could be tracking just outside
the right field of view.  And dead sighting along the barrel told him it was
pointed in the right general direction.
     "Time for a manual adjustment," he grumbled, picking up the remote
control and squinting through the 50x sighting scope.  "Aha," he muttered as
he saw Venus was visible, but about 20 arcseconds off-center.  He made the
fine adjustments necessary to bring it to the center, then set the telescope
back on autotracking.
     Before looking into the main eyepiece, he frowned and used the remote's
calculator function to check something.  20 arcseconds at today's distance to
Venus meant it was about 20 to 30 thousand kilometers away from where it was
supposed to be, depending on parallax.  He made a mental note to check with
the publicly accessible astronomy data and make sure it was his telescope,
not Venus, that was misaligned.
     As soon as he looked at Venus's shining face and saw the blemish on it,
though, he started to wonder if perhaps there *was* something wrong with
     And if Venus was in the wrong place, what kind of omen was that?  Did it
mean that the prophecy for disorder would fail to come true, or would it be
all the worse because the heavens themselves were out of order?
     And...what was it that caused a dark hole in the ever-present cloud
cover of the hottest planet?

               *              *              *              *

[October 9, 2025 - Kathmandu, Nepal]

     "Nepal is much like Singapore or the Philippines," Ambassador Shen told
Tina after the exchange of greetings.  "It was never officially made a part
of China like Tibet was, but spent most of a generation under Beijing's thumb
nonetheless.  So its people do not make as much of a point of rebelling
against Chinese ways as the Tibetan youth, but at the same time they are less
likely to feel they really need help in staying out of China's hands now."
     "Making this a place the Western Dragon has to keep a close eye on,"
Tina nodded.  "And anything that makes her look bad here, like another
assassination attempt, would have more effect than it would in Tibet or
     "Exactly.  And with Tibet acting as a buffer for them now, their need
for membership in an alliance is even less," Shen added.  "The world's
current state, with a handful of superpolities, is a precarious balancing
act.  It is human nature to want to break up into smaller, more eaasily
grasped and more *familiar* units.  To mistrust larger governmental units
composed mostly of groups one is not part of."
     "So, if the Western Dragon is behind these attempts on her life, it's
less likely we'll see anything here, because she would want to look strong
for the vacillators," Tina pondered.  "And if it's China after all, they'd be
saving something extra special for next Tuesday's rally."
     Ambassador Shen nodded.  Then he grinned in his avuncular manner and
proclaimed, "But enough plots and intrigues for now, Tina.  You've had a
rough time of it lately, and I found an excellent French cuisine restaurant
here in town.  Let's go find Mr. Tracey and some of the other staffers and go
out for a relaxing, NON-business dinner!"

               *              *              *              *

[October 12, 2025 - Singapore, SEATO]

     "Captain vanVoort!" the pilot screamed over the intercom.  "You'd better
get up here!"
     The middle-aged Dutchman cursed and vaulted up the ship's steep stairs
at a pace he knew he'd pay for the next morning.  "This had better not be
another customs cutter," he muttered under his increasingly labored breath.
The /Waalre Star/ had already run into three of those on the way in.  All
very polite, none demanding bribes or anything unreasonable, but all still
very very annoying.
     As he reached the bridge and looked in the direction the pilot was
pointing, he blinked.
     "Sea monsters?  Again?"
     The /Waalre Star/ had been nowhere near the planet-circling serpent at
the time it rose up, but vanVoort had heard about it.  Everyone had heard
about it, but especially those who made their living on the ocean.  The
island attacks had gotten all the press, but five freighters and a dozen
fishing boats had been sunk by that damn thing.
     The tug that had been sent out to guide his ship into the mouth of the
Singapore River was being buffetted on all sides by strange beasts, with the
heads of lions and the bodies of small whales.
     "Damn, merlions!" vanVoort hissed.  "Damn Chinese bred the damn things
then took the damn control units with them when they damn well buggered off.
Damn."  There was actually a bounty on the chimaera-spawn, but far more ships
had been sunk for their troubles than had collected even a single bounty.
SEATO kept saying they were training a supernormal team to deal with the
problem, but the team was always "almost ready".  Damn.
     "Jansen, full about, back for open water.  We'll try again next high
tide," vanVoort ordered.
     The pilot looked relieved and nodded.  "Aye, captain."
     It was a very good thing that Lloyd's of London covered delays caused by
sea monsters, vanVoort reflected.

               *              *              *              *

[October 14, 2025 - Kathmandu, Nepal]

     The applause slowly died as the Western Dragon stood at the podium and
acknowledged the accolades of the crowd.  From her position in the "royal
box" flanking the stage, Tina could see the various defensive precautions
that were carefully designed to be invisible to the crowd...and more
importantly, to the cameras that would provide the limited and tightly edited
clips to the media.  Rapid-deploying sheets of armorplas, active radar
systems and magnetometers, white noise generators to blunt focused sonic
attacks, a powerful Tesla coil to generate a field that would draw away the
charged particle beams favored by several alien races...the gamut.  There was
even a young woman crouched out of sight who reportedly could teleport others
a short distance, for emergency evac.
     In short, the Western Dragon was certainly taking every reasonable
precaution against another assassination attempt, and a few unreasonable ones
besides.  Not that this helped establish whether she was also behind the
attempts on her life.
     "My people, I am gladdened to see so many of you here," the Western
Dragon started.  She paused to wait out another round of applause and
     Except she didn't have to wait as long as she apparently had expected
to.  Very carefully masking a look of disappointment that Tina only caught
because she was watching the Dragon very closely, she continued.  "I assure
you that our enemies' attempts on my life and those of our honored guests
have failed miserably, and only show how desperate they are to crush what we
have built here," she gestured at Tina and Grind.  There were some obligatory
boos and hisses at the mention of enemies, but again the Western Dragon
seemed disappointed by the lack of stronger reaction.  "They are cowards, who
prefer the dagger in the night to a sword in the daytime!" she shouted, and
this seemed to get the crowd pumped up to her satisfaction.
     Grind nudged Tina slightly once the crowd's attention was fixed back on
the Western Dragon.  Holding his left palm so that only she could see it, he
sketched the shape of an anchor with his right index finger.
     Tina tuned out the Western Dragon's speech as she processed this.  An
Anchor was in the crowd, shutting down the Dragon's psi talent, and one of
the subtle sensors Grind carried on his person had triggered.  Anchor
detectors tended to be "one shot", devices designed to require a very subtle
use of Violation Physics that broke down in the presence of an Anchor.  But
all they really did was let you know there was one around, no details.
     The crowd was growing puzzled.  Most were caught up in the rhetoric, but
more and more were wondering why it wasn't the magical experience they'd been
told to expect by others who had seen the Western Dragon speak.  Seeding in
an Anchor was a clever attack, since finding an Anchor in a crowd was like
looking for a needle in a haystack.  Even STRAFE's Tesla Branch couldn't
devise something sensitive enough to do the job without sending everyone past
it one at a time.
     "The way to find a needle in a haystack is to simply look at every piece
one at a time," Uncle Brower had told her once.  Like most of her "uncles",
he was university faculty, in this case an archaeologist.  He had been trying
to explain to her about the care taken in his line of work.  Aunt Clark,
however, had been listening, and jibed in, "No, the best way is to use a
magnet."  Trust a physicist to come up with that kind of answer.
     But while there was no such thing as an Anchor-sensitive magnet, Tina
realized she had the next best thing.
     She spread her telekinesis out into the crowd, only the lightest of
fields, invisible under direct sunlight such as flooded the arena through its
translucent dome.  Back when her powers had been weakened by her tenuous
connection with China and therefore the Premier's super-Anchor effect, she'd
concentrated on more subtle uses of telekinesis.  Like feeling around via
tactile feedback.  It wasn't very sensitive, like groping around in heavy
mittens, but it was also useless against even the lowest grade Anchor.
     Which meant she expected to feel a hole in the crowd where there was
     An advisor was now at the Western Dragon's side, and she paused in her
speech to listen to him.  Tina guessed that they had an Anchor detector
active as well.
     "My people, I apologize for the interruption...but I am told we have an
agent of a foreign power in the crowd," the Western Dragon said when she
turned back to the podium.  "One of the hated Anchors, no doubt sent to
bypass our security systems and make another attempt on my life."
     NOW the crowd was energized.  Pointing people at an enemy was a tried
and true means of getting people to follow you, no psi powers required.
     "This is going to get ugly," Grind muttered, starting to pull the mask
of his armor suit out of a pocket.  "They're going to start tearing into each
other in search of the Anchor."
     "Not if I can help it," Tina gritted her teeth and stood.  She could
feel where the Anchor was, and prayed he was a low-rated one.  China had been
particularly hard hit by Rebus's Anchor-killing campaign, and it was unlikely
that they had any high-rated Anchors to spare for what could be a suicide
     A golden shield flared to life around her target, a young Chinese man
who didn't really look any different from the other ethnic Chinese in the
crowd.  He dressed like them, wore his hair like them, blended in quite
     He was also smart enough to know when the frying pan was preferable to
the fire, and Tina lifted him with ease as he held in his Anchor effect.  He
was shouting something, but between the roar of the crowd and the muffling
effect of the TK aura around him, it couldn't be made out.
     "He's accusing the Western Dragon of being a psi," Grind muttered in her
ear.  Of *course* Grind could lip-read Chinese.  "More or less, anyway.  The
classical Mandarin China uses now doesn't have a word for that, so he's
calling her a spirit."
     In moments, the Anchor was in the custody of several well-armed and
highly trained men, and the Western Dragon was calming the crowd with her
words.  And, no doubt, her telepathic powers.

               *              *              *              *

[October 15, 2025 - San Francisco, California Sector]

     Dan Deere wasn't as good as his sister Julie, George thought to himself
as he watched Geode step nervously up to the podium, but he wasn't half bad
at designing superhero uniforms.  Deere had taken George's basic ideas and
run with them, bringing in a hint of an Egyptian motif in the process.  The
blank gold mask's shape reminded George of the famous bust of Nefertiti, and
the jacket and skirt also had hints of ancient Egyptian royal garb.  Aside
from being visually striking, the motifs also helped with misdirection.
     There had been a large influx of Egyptian immigrants to the United
States in the early 1990s as an odd and still unexplained side effect of one
of the plots by the supervillain Sutekh, and most of them had remained devout
Moslems and thus untouched by the vanishings of July 6, 1998.  All very
strange, but it made it easier to mislead people into thinking Geode was
     Simone Gayle stood next to Geode at the podium, and was clearly going to
be doing most of the talking.  In the audience were a handful of reporters
and loggers for outlets George knew to be, well, tools of the state, to use
maverick newsman O'Ryan's sneering description.  They were uncontroversial,
safe, and willing to parrot the government's talking points in exchange for
the "prestige" of attendance at live events like this one.  There was also at
least one fashion reporter in the small group, no doubt at Deere's request.
     "Thank you for coming on this sunny Wednesday afternoon," Agent Gayle
opened.  "As you probably know, not all Supernormals express their abilities
as children.  Such is the case with the woman at my side, who prefers to be
known as Geode.  She will be training with the Academy of Super-Heroes
directly for the next few months to help her acclimate to her powers and
determine where she should be placed at the Academy in Wisconsin Sector when
the new term starts in January.
     "This little conference is meant in part to be an introduction, because
we believe that she will likely be ready to take a more public role in a
relatively short time.  But it is also intended to spread the word of a
request she has of the press and the public.  Geode?"
     The statuesque woman shyly stepped to the fore.  "I am from a very
private family, who wish only to serve Allah quietly and in peace.  I have
been given a great gift, and have a responsibility to use it to help others,
but the rest of my family still does not wish to be famous.  Please, be kind
to them and do not try to find out who I am."
     Gayle put a hand on Geode's shoulder and nodded.  "Don't worry, there's
nothing sinister about her family, they're just regular people who don't want
to be in the media spotlight like some supernormals' families."  George
quirked an eyebrow at that, recalling the media circus that swirled around
the Taylor house in the months after JakZak took on the mantle of Solar Max.
     The reporters were allowed to start asking questions, but George just
tuned it out.  Just fluff, really.  The tame reporters knew better than to
ask hard questions.  The feral reporters like O'Ryan might try digging some,
but they'd have trouble finding anything.  That in itself would be
suspicious, but the fact was that there were a lot more stories out there
than reporters who would doggedly pursue them.  Gayle had just warned off the
casual vultures, and that would probably be enough.  It would have to be

               *              *              *              *

[October 18, 2025 - Kathmandu, Nepal]

     "What's he saying?" Tina asked Grind as the two observed the
interrogation of the Anchor.  "I mean, it sounds like Mandarin, but I can
barely pick out one word in four.  He's being a jerk and pushing his Anchor
to full, so my translator implant isn't working."
     "Classical Mandarin," Grind shrugged.  "Not the simplified Mandarin
still spoken in China when you were born.  They've been pushing for a return
to the language of the past for a couple decades now, eliminating modern
words like psionic or even the power-dampening sense of Anchor.  Gave me a
royal headache when I was in Singapore a few years back, even though the
person I was talking to was old enough to have learned simplified Mandarin as
a child...he just couldn't remember important terms like 'Pranir'.  [STRAFE
#1-4 - Ed.]  Anyway, he's claiming he's a citizen of Nepal, and he quit his
job as an official Anchor before Nepal broke away.  He says he just wanted to
see the Western Dragon speak with his own eyes."
     "And I can tell that story's not washing," Tina nodded down to the
interrogators on the other side of the one-way glass.  "CAC laws require that
Anchors register, and he's not registered, I'm guessing.  Or they never would
have let him get that close."
     Grind nodded.  "He has all the correct papers other than that, though,
but they're probably faked.  It'll take a while for them to do the legwork to
prove that the computers were tampered with, though.  We're not going to see
anything more here for now, let's go."
     This was Grind's way of saying he wanted to talk where their hosts
couldn't overhear.  Tina was pretty sure she knew what he wanted to talk
about, too.
     Once they were outside in the brisk and wintry air, he pulled on his
mask, ostensibly against the cold.  Tina followed suit with a regular ski
mask that covered her lips.  No sense in letting lipreaders pick up on them,
and it was getting a bit chilly even for a supernormal.
     "I've got my white noise jammer on," Grind finally indicated.  "Unless
they're being extremely convoluted and taking unnecessary risks, I don't
think the Western Dragon or her people are behind this one."
     "I agree.  Risking serious injury in an assassination attempt is one
thing.  After all, if she's a paranormal, she can take more punishment than
most.  But this seemed to be more along the lines of character assassination,
and blowing her secret powers into the open."
     "And yet, while there would definitely be backlash from the revelation,"
Grind pointed out, "I don't think it would totally destroy Western Dragon's
ability to run things and keep the Central Asian Confederation together.
Just like the mecha-dragon attack might have hurt her, but not killed her."
     "So we're back to China?" Tina shivered slightly, and told herself it
was the wind.
     Grind nodded.  "But it still seems odd.  If China really wanted the CAC
thrown into chaos, they could certainly do more than they have without
leaving themselves any more open to retribution or international rebuke.  It
still feels like whoever is behind this wants a hammerblow, but not a
     Tina puzzled over that as they continued walking in silence for a few
minutes.  Then her handcomp purred, and she pulled it out of the insulated
pocket on her hip.  She had a voice communication.
     "Hello?" she said as she held the device to her ear.
     "Breaker, this is Solar Max," came the voice at the other end.  The fact
he was using codenames meant this was not a social call.
     "If you feel up to it, I'd like you to come off the reserve list.  We
have a request from SEATO to send someone to Singapore to help with a problem
they're having, and since you're already geared up to deal with the region, I
figured I'd offer it to you first.  If you think you're ready to come back to
active duty, that is."
     Tina laughed.  "I could use a break from this sabbatical," she replied,
then turned to Grind.  "JakZak wants me to do some diplomacy in Singapore.
Do you think you could do without me?"
     Grind nodded.  "Probably the Merlion problem Cook sent me reports on.
Sure, I think I can cope here.  Besides, I just had a thought on this whole
issue," he gestured as if to take in the entirety of Asia.  "What if the CAC
and SEATO aren't really independent?  What if the People's Republic of China
just set them up as puppets to quell and channel dissent until they were
ready to reabsorb the nations?"
     "Letting a thousand flowers bloom, then sending in the lawnmowers," Tina
nodded.  She turned back to her handcomp, "I'm up for it, Solar Max.  Let me
say my official goodbyes, then I'll get on the next flight for Singapore."


Next Issue:

     #55 takes Tina to the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization to help Grind
investigate his theory about the "breakaway" republics (and deal with a
little Merlion problem), and finds the hosts "Eager To Please"!


Author's Notes:

     All of the astrology stuff in the opening scene came from the websites
of actual believers.  The astronomy stuff came from NASA.  And if you've been
reading all the ASH Universe titles, you probably know where the dark spot on
Venus came from.
     Here's a merlion statue: http://www.cs.ndsu.nodak.edu/~lim/merlion.html
Singapore is essentially a river port, with the harbor being near the mouth
of the Singapore River.
     Yes, "Dan Deere" is a stage name, just as Juliana Silvestri is.
     The line about Egyptian immigrants isn't just throwaway, by the way,
it's a plot hook for a possible later story.  I may give it to someone
interested in writing an ASH-Universe title, since it'll be at least 8 more
issues before I could really tackle it in ASH myself.
     For those who haven't read STRAFE in a while, the "Cook" referred to in
the last scene is Bill Cook, who works for the United World Security Council
and is essentially the guy who tells STRAFE what the UW would like them to


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