[ASH] ASH #53 - Angolmois Energy

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Tue Nov 30 19:50:02 PST 2004

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #53
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                   "Angolmois Energy"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2004 by Dave Van Domelen

     [the cover is a Chinese brush painting of a pair of Mongol warriors,
      circa the start of the Yuan Dynasty.  However, even with the 
      strongly stylized art, it is clear that this is a portrait of
      Grind and Breaker.]

                       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 1, 2025 - Lhasa, Tibet]

     "Can you hear me Miss Li?  Do not move...please open your eyes if you
can hear me."
     Hurt.  Thinking hurt.  Breathing hurt.  Opening her eyes REALLY hurt, so
Tina closed them again before she could make anything out besides a warm
yellow blur.
     Sleep didn't hurt.  Sleeee....

     Sleep ended eventually, as it always does.  Tina felt like a big bruise,
but it didn't hurt as much as before.  Yay supernormal healing.  Her wits
were starting to pull together too.  Something about...
     "A bomb!" she gasped, sitting bolt upright and instantly regretting it.
Rather than flop back on what looked a lot like a hospital bed, she continued
forward and curled her legs up so her forehead rested on her knees.  "Ow,"
she added.
     A middle-aged man in hospital blues stepped over and slowly lifted her
head so he could peer into her eyes.  Bits of combat medic training drifted
to the top of Tina's brain and told her he was probably checking for pupil
response to see if she had a concussion.
     "You should be fine," the man said.  "If you were a normal person in
your current condition, I'd say a night's rest would have you up and about,
if a little stiff.  And looking at your progress in the past hour, you should
be fine in time for dinner."
     "If I have an appetite by then," Tina muttered.  "What happened?  Gr...
Agent Tracey and I were talking, and then...boom."
     "There was an explosion in your suite.  Your body armor stopped most of
the shrapnel, and divine intevention is the only explanation I can think of
to explain why you received no facial lacerations."
     Tina sat straight up, finally noticing that the bed was tilted at a
slight angle to keep her head below her feet while supine.  "No miracles
needed, Doctor..."
     "Nurse Deng," the man supplied, a twinkle in his eye.
     Tina nodded slowly, her head still feeling a bit cottony.  "Before my
power level increased last year, I had to train extensively to get any use
out of my telekinesis.  One of the things that took me years to hammer into
my brain was linking my flinch reflex to generating a TK shield around my
head.  I must have had just enough time to do that."  Click-click.  "What
happened to Agent Tracey?" she asked as the realization hit.
     "The man has tremendous reflexes," Nurse Deng replied.  "But not quite
enough for the task.  Like you, he was extensively bruised as his body armor
distributed the impacts, but he also suffered a serious laceration to the
bridge of his nose.  He was able to twist so that the shrapnel did not
penetrate, however."
     Tina breathed a sigh of relief.  If that had been a serious
assassination attempt, it failed.  And if it was another "we're thinking of
you" thing like the incident at the banquet hall...well, that was getting old
     That box of mechadragon bits had been forwarded from the CAC's main
forensics lab in Ulaan Bataar.  As soon as she and Grind were good to travel,
it was time to head to Mongolia and see if they could dig up some answers
that *didn't* explode in their faces.

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2025 - MetaPsych, Baffin Sector]

     -+You know, being dead, I figured that was the end of being asked to
help move furniture for friends,+- Paul's voice quipped in Aaron's head.
     +-Yeah, but doesn't the sofa look much better in my left frontal lobe?-+
Aaron joked back.  Most people who talked to voices in their heads were
crazy, but Aaron was merely on the frontiers of psi development.  And maybe a
*little* crazy.  But mostly dead tired, in a way that non-psis could never
really feel.  Weeks of intensive training to extend the range of his
telepathy *had* left him feeling like he'd been moving furniture around in
his brain.
     Right now, he was slumped in a couch in one of the more heavily
psi-damped lounges in the MetaPsych facility.  Most dampers were like harsh
static in his head, as they were designed to just overpower any electro-
encephalographic waves in the vicinity, but MetaPsych had more finely tuned
dampers that were more like those white noise generators people used to help
them sleep.  It kept out the voices without being like a bullhorn in his
     Gene Clark poked her head into the lounge, then quickly followed with
the rest of her body.  "There you are, guys.  I figured I'd find you in a
null zone."  Legally, Aaron was simply one person with an imprinted second
mind haunting his brain.  But more and more lately, the psi community was
treating him like two separate people in one body.  That's how he showed up
to telepathy, after all.
     "Hi, Gene," Aaron replied.  He felt a little guilty that he had hardly
seen her the entire time he was at MetaPsych, but only a little.  He'd been
on the intensive track, and barely had time to eat and sleep, much less
     "So, you're checking out tomorrow?" she asked, leaning against one of
the comfy chairs in the lounge.  Aaron didn't need to be able to use his
telepathy to tell she was fishing for a particular response, but he decided
to play the straight man for a bit.
     "Yep.  JakZak wants me to get briefed and head back to Istanbul
soonest.  Q'Nos has been awfully quiet, and that's starting to worry people.
Yay me, being the team's expert on the region."
     Gene nodded, then leaned forward a bit.  "Any plans for tonight?"
     "Oh, I was thinking of catching up on my reading," he teased.  "Or, I
suppose I could be talked into heading into town for something at Hudson's
Folly," he grinned.  Maybe he hadn't had time to see her much, but in a
community of telepaths, rumors spread even faster than normal (if that's even
possible).  Even the mindblind staffers knew Gene was angling for Aaron
again, apparently completely over their conflicts of a few months back.
     "Consider yourself talked," Gene smiled.  "Meet you at the garage at
five, I'm driving."  She bopped out of the lounge, a spring in her step.
     -+She's not really my type, you know,+- Paul sighed.
     +-Naturally.  You're still pouting about that security guard Tony being
taken.  Want me to speed-read a book so you have something to go over in the
event anything happens?"
     -+Sure.  I suppose one of us should catch up on our reading....+-

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2025 - San Francisco, California Sector]

     "But I do not want to be naked!" Geode protested.
     "They're not asking you to," Beacon countered, flushing a slightly
darker green as he was reminded that he was essentially naked himself.  Not
that he had any "naughty bits" in his new body, any more than Geode did.
"It's just that a burqa is too obvious.  It tells anyone who's paying
attention that you're from, well, the background you're from.  And the whole
point of this exercise is to keep anyone from making the connection between
Geode and Moslem Confederation state-sponsored superhero Base of the Pillar."
     Geode made a dismissive motion broad enough to be clear through the
covering of her burqa.  "That clothing is almost as bad as being naked," she
pointed at the bodysuit held in the hands of one of the tailors.  "It may
cover my body, but it is too immodest."  She paused for a moment, then added
in a slightly panicked tone, "Am I to give up my faith in Allah as well?"
     Simone Gayle, San Francisco's lead Department of Super-Human Affairs
agent, shook her head and gave Geode a motherly smile that fit perfectly with
her overall appearance...Simone was the sort of woman you expected to see
serving dinner in a Norman Rockwell painting, not running a government
office.  "Islam is a common enough faith in the Combine, that in itself won't
draw any suspicion at all, dear.  We're just asking that you shed the
trappings of the more fundamentalist faith you were raised in.  I know it'll
be a trial for you, but you'll cause too much suspicion in a burqa."
     When Geode didn't respond, Beacon broke the silence.  "Maybe we could
add a jacket and skirt over the bodysuit?  That would be more conservative,
hide the lines of her body some.  Then put on a helmet like Sal's...if none
of her actual body is exposed, that makes it even less likely someone will
make the connection."
     Simone nodded thoughtfully.  "But what about situations where she might
be expected to not wear the helmet?  The coat and skirt would actually help
in those cases, but..."
     "I could say...I am shy?  Not proud of face, wish to keep hidden?" Geode
     "There *is* precendent," Simone pondered.
     "I'm not so sure that's the best way to go, though," Beacon argued.  "I
mean, Geode...you're beautiful.  All it would take is one picture of your
face to get leaked out, and the excuse is in shambles."
     "You really think I am beautiful?"
     Beacon opened his mouth, then closed it.  Finally he nodded, and
stammered with a faint buzz in his voice, "Anyone would say so.  But, um,
maybe we can get something designed for you that would be acceptable in more
formal occasions, work with the shyness angle but lose the 'I'm ugly' part."
     Geode nodded.  Beacon didn't even have a heart anymore, but he could
have sworn it beat faster.

               *              *              *              *

[October 3, 2025 - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia]

     When Grind wanted to keep a lid on his emotions, Tina noted, it was like
the cap on a radioactive dump.  Totally impenetrable.  Despite days of
frustrating bureaucratic delays, he wasn't showing even a hint of his
annoyance...although being able to hide some of it behind the bandages on his
face probably helped.  He barely even vented in private.
     She didn't really know him well enough to be sure if this was a bad
thing...would he explode for no apparent reason some time later on?  Or was
he just grinding away at his own lifespan, taking off a year for every
swallowed insult or hidden scream?
     "Who would you like to talk to first?" Security Chief Stellar Vixen
asked.  "We have five likely suspects in our custody, each of whom had access
to the evidence," she added.
     Grind looked at the list on her handcomp and nodded.  "Those were all
people I though might be behind it as well, and I may want to talk to them
     Vixen raised her eyebrows.  "I'm impressed at your thoroughness,
although a bit dismayed that our own data security was sufficiently lax that
you were able to assemble enough information to come to the same conclusions
we did."
     Tina braced herself.  She knew Grind's list had *six* people on it.  And
he was definitely about to bring that up.
     "But it's your personnel security I'm more worried about," he replied.
"I have one more suspect who is not on your list.  Chief Dagva?" he turned to
the head of the forensics lab.
     "Another of my people?" Dagva Adja snorted indignantly.  "You already
have three of my best scientists in custody.  How am I supposed to get any
work done on the other cases..."
     There was a sudden shift in mood.  Dagva's posture went from indignant
to terrified, Grind started to raise a hand.  Tina's instincts shouted,
"Runner!"  She started to send out a telekinetic web.
     There was a sudden burst of light.  Tina and Grind both managed to keep
from being totally blinded, thanks to their training, but Dagva was already
diving through a doorway leading out of the conference room.
     "Lockdown!" Stellar Vixen ordered into her handcomp as she tried to
blink away the spots dancing in her eyes.
     Grind was through the door in the blink of a partially-dazzled eye, but
the sound of pursuit stopped almost immediately.  He came back into the room.
     "Dead.  Some sort of suicide device," Grind sighed.  "Dr. Dagva was part
of the Pranir liaison group under the old PRoC government in Mongolia.  I
thought he might still have some contacts with the offworld smugglers, even
if he wasn't actually involved in the assassination plot.  Now it'll be
harder to tell if he was our man this time, or just involved in some other
dirty business he knew would come out once scrutiny fell on him."
     "Dead end," Tina nodded.  "Literally."

               *              *              *              *

[Somewhen, Somewhere]





               *              *              *              *

[October 5, 2025 - The Academy, Wisconsin Sector]

     Love can make you SO stupid sometimes.
     Sure, the CSV was a snakepit and getting out was, in theory, a good
idea.  But running off with Rob hadn't been the way to do it.  The PLAN had
been to have Eugene running interference for her, so she wouldn't have to
keep looking over her shoulder.  Making it clear she was interested in
someone else, though?  He'd probably be the one she'd have to look over her
shoulder *for*.
     If he cared at all, that is.
     Anya wasn't sure which possibility appealed to her least.
     Damnit, though.  There was just something about that paraganger turned
reporter turned supervillain turned fugitive turned teacher that she couldn't
resist.  Maybe it was all the turning, she chuckled to herself, standing and
performing a quick spin in the cell.  
     Then she frowned at her own so-called humor.  Talk about love making you
     Anya looked impatiently at the clock that was sunk into the wall above
the cell door.  Rob wasn't late yet, but she wished for him to be early.
This was going to be the first time she'd be allowed up on the surface since
she'd "moved in" at the Academy.  Iron bars do not a prison make...it's the
hundreds of tons of earth above your head that does it.
     A Sunday afternoon outside under the sky.  The weather report said it
would be a little cloudy and windy, but no rain.  The trio of NAC Marshals
hovering within earshot would kill a lot of the joy of it, but something was
surely better than nothing.
     Ah, nostalgia.  As a so-called "Fenris Wolf," Anya had been shadowed by
one Anchor or another for most of her life, ever since the first time she
spun out of control as a child.  They left her just enough power to excel as
a ballerina, and then vanished.  Were killed, to be precise.  But it was the
wrong time in her life for her full powers to blossom.  Was it any surprise
she was attracted to the offer made by the Conclave of Super-Villains?
     The chime sounded.
     Of a sort.
     For a while.

               *              *              *              *

[October 7, 2025 - Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia]

     Dan Tracey was not really a vain man.  He knew he was attractive, and
took reasonable care of his appearance, if only because he knew it was a
useful tool.  And because the last time he had let himself go, during his
obsessive profiling of Rebus, it had...freaked people out.
     Now he was looking in the mirror at a face that had almost entirely
healed from the shrapnel wounds of several days ago.  Almost.  An angry red
scar cut across the bridge of his nose, almost precisely horizontal, almost
exactly dividing his nose into equal halves vertically.  And almost certainly
not about to disappear any time soon.
     He knew how paranormal healing worked, and didn't work.  The fact that
such an obvious but cosmetic reminder remained of his injury meant that
somewhere inside, he felt he deserved to be marked.  He'd been careless, and
this was the sign to tell everyone around him that he'd paid for that
     What galled him the most, though, was that Radner knew this too.  And as
soon as Dan appeared in public with this scar, it would be the high point of
Radner's month.  He could almost hear Derek crowing, "Ha, put it too close to
the grindstone, eh Nose?"  Covering it with makeup would only make things
worse if and when the scar became visible, so he supposed he'd just have to
suck it up and accept that certain people were going to get too much pleasure
out of his pain.
     There was a knock on the door of his hotel room.  Turning from the
mirror, he checked the sensor on his wristcomp...Tina's transponder.  Still,
no sense in taking chances, not lately.  He pulled on the rest of his combat
suit, including the helmet.  Especially the helmet.  Then he pressed a button
that triggered the electronic lock on the door.  In fact, he'd rigged it so
that the regular key cards or hotel staff remotes would no longer open it.
An extra second while someone had to batter down a door was all he'd need,
most of the time.
     "Come in, Breaker."
     The door opened slowly, and Tina Li stepped in.  She was wearing a
semiformal pants suit in dark gold and black, but he knew she had her impact
suit on underneath it.
     "Any luck with Dagva's trail?" she asked as she pushed the door shut.
     He shook his head.  "Totally sanitized.  Even things I'd been able to
find before were gone.  Clearly, his suicide device also sent someone or
something a signal to tell them to start burning his records.  The one good
thing to come out of it, though, is that it's such a thorough sanitizing that
he's almost definitely linked to the plot, rather than just suiciding for
unrelated reasons.  
     "I talked to the other five suspects and dug even deeper on them," Grind
continued, "but while three of them were involved in some petty criminal
activity, none of them was linked in any way to the exploding robot dragon
pieces.  At least, not in any way that I could find."
     "Maybe one of them was being blackmailed over his indiscretions?" Tina
     Another head shake.  "Thought of that.  No flags went up in searching
their financial records, other than those directly related to their
extracurricular activities.  And those didn't show any sudden changes, as if
blackmail was being paid out of the proceeds.  It's not impossible, but right
now I'm looking at the five as very unlikely.  Dr. Dagva was on his own
track, a track that's been pretty thoroughly dynamited now."
     Tina finally sat in the room's armchair, looking defeated.  "This is so
damned weird.  It's like an inverted assassination plot...instead of making
the most effort to make sure the political leader dies, they seem to be
trying harder the *farther* you look from the center.  Weak attempt on the
Western Dragon.  Strong attempt on those investigating it.  Successful
attempt on one of their own people.  The fact that *some* people are getting
killed hurts your theory that the PRoC is just sending nuisance-level
messages of their disapproval...I doubt they'd have had Dagva kill himself,
they'd just close diplomatic ranks around him and shuffle him across the
boarder as soon as they could."
     Grind cocked his head to one side in thought.  "I hadn't thought of
looking at it quite that way, but you're right.  The conspiracy is more
important than the target of the conspiracy, which would suggest that being
discovered would be a bigger loss than killing Western Dragon would be a
     "So, someone high in the government looking to score points, but knowing
that it can never get back to them?" Tina suggested.  "If they get lucky and
the Western Dragon dies, hooray, but they won't try *too* hard?"
     "Mayyybe," Grind pondered.  "But I don't think so.  It reminds me of the
attempted Quayle assassination back in 1990, right after he was sworn in.
The backtrail was so clean that Quayle never shook the suspicion in some
quarters that he arranged it himself to gain sympathy while also revealing
his powers in a very public way."
     "So, you think the Western Dragon is setting up these hits on
     "It's certainly possible.  The CAC is largely an anti-People's Republic
alliance.  By making it look like China is trying to kill the Western Dragon,
she not only gains personal sympathy, she also makes sure that China remains
a boogeyman she can wave at any member state that's considering going it
alone.  Of course China will deny involvement...they'd deny involvement even
if the Premier was caught on tape beating Western Dragon with a baseball
bat."  Grind stood and started to pace.  "Killing us and pinning it on China
would only help the CAC diplomatically, although they have to be extremely
careful about it.  I'm guessing that our late forensic scientist friend was a
limited asset, someone loyal enough to erase himself if caught."
     "And we don't know the full extent of the Western Dragon's mental
powers," Tina noted.  "She could be capable of mentally dominating someone to
the point they'd cheerfully lay down their lives for her."
     "Maybe, but I hope not.  Our mindscreens are enough to hold off subtle
effects, but if she's a high powered psi, she could smash through them pretty
easily and rewrite our minds."
     "Agreed.  So, what's our next step, Mr. Tracey?  I'm guessing it's *not*
direct confrontation."
     "No, that could be a disaster at this point.  We need to keep our eyes
open, look for anything that might confirm or deny our theory.  And, most
importantly, we need to make sure we attend the Western Dragon's public
appearances from here on out, because I have a hunch that the next fake
assassination attempt will be staged for the biggest possible audience."
     Tina pulled out her handcomp.  "The next big one is in the capital of
Nepal.  Looks like we're going to Kathmandu."  Tina paused, then giggled.
     "Oh...I just realized something.  This investigation really has been
taking up a lot of my time, keeping me from thinking about my personal
problems with, you know," she waved vaguely in the direction of Beijing.
"I've been too busy worrying about China...to worry about China.  And now
that we're not worrying about China anymore, I'm starting to worry about
China again."
     Dan allowed himself the luxury of rolling his eyes at that, confident
that Tina wouldn't see it behind his helmet visor.


Next Issue:

     "Going to Kathmandu" wraps up the first third of the Romance of Three
Republics, and determines the fate of the Central Asian Confederation on the
world stage!


Author's Notes:

     For those who came in late and haven't read the archives yet, Aaron and
Paul were a couple in college and for a while after.  Then Paul was killed,
and Aaron thought he'd managed to save Paul's spirit by bonding it with his
own.  It was later discovered that Aaron had only copied Paul's memories, and
that Paul really was dead.  Since then, though, the fine distinction between
"alive" and "copy" seems to have eroded somewhat, as shown this issue.
     Hudson's Folly is a small restaurant in the fishing village a few dozen
miles from MetaPsych.  It mostly serves MetaPsych employees looking to "get
off the rez" and the occasional ecotourist.
     Another latecomer note: President Quayle is something that came out of
the original ASH Champions campaign, in which the PCs failed to save Bush
Sr. from assassination.  It turned out Quayle was a superhuman with an
invisible force field and a disintegration blast, and the lightweight thing
was just an act.  He was quite successful as President, was re-elected in
1992 and again (with the help of a tweak Amendment to change the "two term"
limit to "two elections") in 1996, vanishing with all the other supernaturals
in 1998.  His would-be assassin in 1990 was a public victim of Quayle's
disintegration power.

     To see Grind's new battle suit, check out the HeroClix mod I made at
http://www.dvandom.com/kitbash/mk/grindhc.JPG (the blue and white thing on
his chest is a United World emblem).


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !


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