[ASH] ASH #51 - From Serpent To Dragon

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Tue Sep 21 18:54:59 PDT 2004

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #51
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||               "From Serpent to Dragon"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2004 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows the Leviathan and a Chinese dragon back to back, 
      like some sort of serpentine Janus.  The background is 
      alternating gold and black bars that form the pattern of 
      the hexagram incorporated into Breaker's costume.]

                       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

[August 30, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "Que pendejo es ese Howard!  Eso condenado me frego' bien!  Que
pendejada!  Voy a quebrarse los ping-pongs!  Oooooh!"
     Essay continued in this manner for several minutes, branching out into
speculations on the nature of Peregryn's parentage and employing words that
no one even knew outside of the part of Lost Angeles where she grew up.
Finally she ran out of steam and just sat there, breathing heavily and
staring at the test results.
     "Um, would you really do all that?" Doctor Ibanez cocked an eyebrow at
her fuming patient.  "If he was here right now?"
     Essay let out a long sigh, then shrugged.  "If he was here, I wouldn't
be so angry, doc.  But I'd still probably bust his ass for him for not
telling me earlier."  She paused for a moment, and anger flashed in her eyes
again.  "He told me he could control that sort of thing, which means he got
me pregnant on PURPOSE!" she realized.
     Doctor Ibanez could almost feel her skin being flayed by the renewed
stream of inventive invective.  She'd served in the Army to help pay for
medical school, and she'd never heard such language, even from non-coms
wounded in field exercises.  In between scheduling young Miss Rodriguez for a
few rounds of therapy and pre-natal care, she made sure to note down some of
the more interesting turns of phrase.

               *              *              *              *

[August 31, 2025 - Mount Olympus]

     Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.  The words floated up from
somewhere in Simon's memories, and they certainly applied to the monarch
slumped in a backless throne before him.
     "I have failed," Q'Nos lowed, for perhaps the tenth time that day.  Like
the gods he once counted himself among, the man-bull was given to the most
extreme expressions of any given mood.  When triumphant, he acted as if he
could challenge Zeus.  But today, and every day since the ritual had been
inverted, the mighty Q'Nos could barely summon the enthusiasm to berate
himself.  And there was no harp-playing Hermes around to break the foul
mood.  Even the satyrs seemed to be avoiding Olympus this week.
     "I have failed my mother, who is now doomed to Tartarus once more, and
that only if fortune smiles on her.  That accursed mage could have sent her
anywhere, even slain her.  I was a fool to think that these modern day heroes
would be any less vicious, any less determined than those of the golden age.
Peregryn is no doubt slain, but his death against my loss is such a small
     "I have failed my people," he continued the litany Simon had practically
memorized by now.  "I gambled with their lives and prosperity, and lost.  My
own powers remain diminished greatly by both the Eye of Purity's gambit and
the investments I made in the spell to release mother.  I can barely hold
Hellas and Crete now."
     Simon tuned out the rest of the recitation.  It would not vary, and he
knew better than to try to snap Q'Nos out of his funk again.  Even with the
extra power he had managed to gather from Peregryn's own siphons, he had been
hard pressed to fend off the enraged minotaur.
     No, Q'Nos just wanted to complain, and to have a silent audience to his
suffering.  He would snap out of it on his own eventually...or Simon would
simply exercise his power as vizier to run the young world power in Q'Nos's
     Rulership felt...comfortable to Simon.  Especially rulership behind the
throne of another, passing off his own decisions as those of a convenient
figurehead.  A figurehead he could...betray...when the need arose.  Betray.
Simon pondered the word.  It wasn't quite the right word to fit his mood, but
it would have to do.  The word he wanted flitted just out of reach, but he
knew chasing it would be pointless.  It would come to him in its own time.
     Just as true power would.

               *              *              *              *

[September 2, 2025 - The Academy, Wisconsin Sector]

     Tom didn't have to be back yet, it was only Tuesday of move-in week, and
most of the activities were for the benefit of new students.  But, to be
honest, he welcomed the chance to get out of Chicago.  The vibe there was
getting unsettling, with Peregryn gone, Essay in a foul mood and Tina
obsessing over finding a way to go to China.  Even Peter the Satyr seemed on
edge, so Tom headed for the north woods.     
     "Scuse me," a hulking cyborg muttered as he brushed past Tom, carrying
a huge lockbox over one shoulder like it was a duffelbag.
     The Academy was getting crowded.
     More and more paranormals were entering at the high school level, and
there was even talk of opening up the junior high to non-extreme cases.
Plus, a number of paragangers were growing up and deciding they needed a real
education, like the human tank walking down the spiral walkway towards the
most recently renovated living quarters.  Probably a Rust Brother, but might
even be a reformed CyberNostra.
     The successes of ASH and the Marshals were not only convincing parents
to send their kids to the Academy, they were also getting the government to
throw money into expansion here at Northwoods.  He'd heard that the on-site
living quarters were something like ninety percent full already, and they
were debating whether to dig more tunnels, or just build more aboveground.
They were even considering allowing some commuter students at the college
level, especially those like himself with "travel powers".
     Tom spotted a familiar figure working his way smoothly through the
traffic, and blinked.  It was that Coulter guy, who had spent a few months in
the Conclave of Super-Villains.  At least he had the decency to not wear that
embroidered jacket that had been part of his costume.
     Coulter turned to meet Tom's gaze, and Tom blinked before realizing that
the reporter-turned-supervillain-turned-Academy instructor had spent a few
months on the run before Handleman recruited him.  Must have set up a routine
in his cybernetic eye to let him know when he was being watched.  Coulter
shrugged and started moving towards the alcove where Tom had stopped.
     "I suppose it's better to have this talk sooner rather than later,"
Coulter sighed as he got into earshot.
     "What talk?" Tom replied blandly.
     "Come on," Coulter snapped.  "You've got to have some witty snark that
you've been waiting to unload on me ever since you found out I'd been hired
on as an instructor.  Let's have it."
     The man could certainly read people, Tom thought.  In fact, he had a
few, but he decided to just give Coulter one for now.  "Okay...I thought
journalistic ethics meant you reported on the story, not that you became part
of it."
     Coulter rolled his eyes.  Well, he rolled his organic eye.  The
cybernetic eye interpreted the signal in a more disturbing manner, and Tom
tried not to look at it.
     "Please.  Even before your time, old man, reporters were getting
involved in the story when that's what it took to get the story.  You give me
the story and I'll give you the war, all that.  And besides, it's not like
_Para_ is hard journalism.  It's an entertainment magazine.  Different
standards...people don't exactly expect real news from us.  Them.  Whatever.
Finally, I didn't seek out my roles in either the CSV incident or that
business in Manhattan last year.  My past was just catching up to me.
Something you should be familiar with."
     Tom bristled at the repeated mention of his out-of-time status, but held
back from taking the bait.  And fair was fair...he'd poked at what had to be
one of Coulter's sore spots too.  He turned the issue around, countering,
"I've noticed a few ex-Cybernostra in the student body this year, you know.
Be careful your past doesn't catch up to you again here, or a lot of kids
could get hurt."
     And with that, Tom ended the conversation by the simple expedient of
leaving more quickly than even a cybernetic eye could follow.

               *              *              *              *

[September 2, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     JakZak put the stylus back in its holder and looked up at Tina.  "Done.
Consider yourself on indefinite leave, as requested.  Of course, be sure to
have some means of communication on you in case I need to cancel the leave to
deal with some planet-shattering crisis," he smirked.
     "Thank you," Tina nodded.  "Now, there's something else I wanted to ask
you about..."
     "No," he cut her off.  "The rumormill's been pretty clear on this point,
so I need to be equally clear.  I know you want to go to China and work
through your personal issues.  But our diplomatic situation with the People's
Republic is more than a little uncertain right now, and the *last* thing we
need is a superhuman running around dealing with 'issues'.  And you may be on
leave, but you're still in the chain of command.  So...NO."
     "NO.  I'm telling you, find some other way to deal with your China
issues," JakZak turned off his computer with a firm gesture of finality.
"And before you try to resign and storm off on your own, take a few days to
think things through.  Too many people know what you want to do for a
resignation not to look suspicious.  As in, you might find yourself in some
sort of custody if DSHA thinks you're going to run off to China and start a
     Tina seemed ready to explode, then just sort of deflated.  "Fine.
Whatever," she snarled, and trudged out of JakZak's office.

     A few hours later, JakZak was catching up on some routine paperwork when
he got a call from STRAFE HQ.  When it was over, he stroked the short beard
he'd been growing lately and hmmmm'ed. 
     "This might work out," he muttered.

               *              *              *              *

[September 8, 2025 - MetaPsych, Baffin Sector]

     "Well, *this* is a pleasant change," a familiar voice chirped behind
Aaron.  He turned to see Gene Clark entering the reception lobby from one of
the many hallways that radiated outward from its literal and organizational
hub.  "You're here without being ordered to."
     Aaron blushed slightly.  It was intentional, as his autonomous functions
had been under his complete control since before he turned eighteen.  But it
was a useful bit of non-verbal communication.  After all, he was slightly
ashamed of the circumstances that had previously brought him to MetaPsych in
the past year or so.
     "I need to work on my broadcast distance," he shrugged, turning back to
the computer screen for a moment to sketch out the last of the details for
his "check in".  Then he replaced the stylus and faced Gene again.  "Next
time I get stranded on a remote Pacific island, I'd like to be able to call
for help over a longer range.  If Mr. Kalita hadn't been vacationing in
Tahiti, I would have had to wait for things to settle down before someone
came to look for us."  Kalita was an odd duck.  He was a normal, as far as
anyone could tell, and had survived 1998.  In fact, he was in his fifties.
But he was remarkably sensitive to telepathic sending, which made him a
valuable member of MetaPsych's staff.
     "Ah.  So, it's strictly business then?" Gene smirked.  There was
something about her, nagging at the back of Aaron's mind.  Something had
     "Pretty much, yeah," he replied.  "So, um, how's things with you and..."
he trailed off.  He'd never asked who Gene was seeing, and it was rude to
just scan her for the information.  Especially given how rocky things had
been between them recently.
     Gene made a small swatting motion with one hand.  "Over.  He decided he
couldn't handle the level of intimacy that dating a telepath involved."  She
sighed, then added in a "you know what I mean" tone, "Men!"
     "Riiight," Aaron agreed, having his own theories on why a non-telepath
might want to break off things with the precocious Gene.
     "Well, I'm sure I'll see you around," Gene added, tapping out a few
quick codes on the computer terminal next to Aaron then breezing off down a
different corridor than the one she'd entered by.
     Aaron heard Paul humming something faintly.
     +-What's that?-+ Aaron asked.
     -+An oldie, by Bobby Vee.+-  He broke into singing.

     -+Come back when you grow up, girl / You're still livin' in a paper-doll
world / Livin' ain't easy, lovin's twice as tough / So come back, baby, when
you grow up.+-

     Realization hit Aaron.  +-Ah, that's what's been bugging me.  Our little
Gene seems to have grown up while we weren't looking.-+
     -+Exactly.  She got her very first heartbreak somewhere else along the
line, as the song says.+-
     This would certainly make things...interesting.
     -+And maybe, while you weren't looking, you grew up a little yourself.
Which should really make it interesting.+-

               *              *              *              *

[September 12, 2025 - United World Embassy, Federal Sector, America]

     "Rule one: do not try to cause an international incident.  We'll see
enough of those without looking to make one," Grind warned, fixing Tina with
a stern glare.  She had to suppress a giggle, since she remembered the
awkward social misfit one year ahead of her in the Academy and one year
behind her in age, and now he was playing the part of patrician with her.
     No, not playing, she realized, and the giggles died in her throat.  Dan
Tracey wasn't just a prodigy anymore, he had truly grown up.  In some ways,
he was far older than she was.  Especially when you looked into those eyes.
     "Rule two: you are not going to be there as a representative of the
North American Combine.  Or even really as a citizen.  So don't try to pull
rank or privilege or anything like that.  This is a United World diplomatic
mission to the newly-formed Central Asian Confederation, and your presence is
officially at the request of Ambassador Weidan Shen.  That means no costume,
not even the formal uniform.  But there will be formal events, so make sure
you arrange for something appropriate before we leave."
     "Professor Shen really asked me to come along?  I barely remember him,"
Tina frowned slightly.  Balding, vaguely distracted air hiding a mind like a
computer, kind of pudgy.  That was about all she remembered about the man,
who she hadn't seen since she was, oh, maybe seven.
     Grind shot her a "Don't be so naive" look.  "Unofficially, I want you
along as heavy support in case things hit the fan worse than expected.
STRAFE lacks hitters with experience, and most of my supernormal teammates
are busy coordinating training with the NAC Marshals or helping the EU try to
assemble a similar program.  You're the ASH member with the best excuse,
since Ambassador Shen was friends with your parents during their stay at
University of Michigan.  He was unofficially asked to officially request your
presence as a guest.  Everyone involved knows the real reason you're coming
along, but it's all about putting a diplomatic veneer on things."  
     He paused for a moment, as if weighing what he was about to say next,
then shrugged.  "Eventually, I'd like to have every member of ASH go on a
mission of this sort.  Supernormals are starting to become important
politically, and you people are going to find yourself running in diplomatic
circles quite a bit in a few years, once your replacements have been trained
up and you can retire from the field."
     "Short career," Tina smirked.
     "Short life expectancy too.  We've been extraordinarily lucky to date.
But consider: at least three major nations are now essentially ruled by or at
least strongly influenced by supernormals.  Q'Nos, Khadam and the Central
Asian Confederation.  The bureaucratic structures of the larger powers have
made it difficult for supernormals to take power simply because they haven't
been playing the game of politics long enough to make it anywhere, but once
our generation is seasoned enough to be taken seriously by the electorate..."
he let the sentence trail off.  The implications were clear.
     "And since I might one day be Senator Li, it would be a good idea for me
to start hobnobbing with the other world leaders, right?  So, who's the one
in charge of the CAC?"
     "Better to ask who is the inspiration behind the CAC.  In theory, it's a
true confederation, many smaller polities banded together for common defense
against reabsorption by the People's Republic of China.  A woman calling
herself the Western Dragon is their rallying point, much like Duvalier
brought the Eurasian Union together twenty years ago.  We have depressingly
little information on her, but the same could be said about almost every
figure of importance to emerge from behind the Bamboo Curtain in the last
year or so.  She's extremely charismatic and rumored to be a supernatural who
came into her powers when the Premier died.  And it would probably *take* a
supernatural to keep the Confederation together, even with the PRoC finally
showing signs of reorganizing after the destruction of Bejing.  The regions
comprising the CAC are historically very diverse in culture, a situation
aggravated by China's policy of homogenization.  Most of the small states in
the CAC would love to expel the 'foreigners' Beijing placed in their midst,
but the Western Dragon has somehow kept them from doing so."
     Grind called up a series of images, both still and moving, on the small
briefing room's screens.  "You may notice that she doesn't quite look like a
member of any one ethnic group.  The leading hypothesis is that she's the
product of a mixed union, which would explain why she's all for keeping the
groups together."
     Tina let out a low whistle.  "File those pictures under the textbook
definition of 'inhuman beauty,' Grind.  Maybe she doesn't need superpowers to
be so persuasive...just an audience with eyes in their heads."
     "Actually, that ties in to the number two theory.  That she's a
shapeshifter at some level, and has deliberately made herself look like a mix
of all the peoples who make up her desired constituency, as well as being as
attractive as possible," Grind noted.  "This could also explain why she's
harder to get data on then most, if this isn't the face she wore prior to
     "So why not bring an Anchor on the mission instead of me?" Tina asked,
half-anticipating the answer that followed.
     "They...don't like Anchors in the Confederation.  They see them as a
symbol of China's generation of oppression.  Plus, trying to play 'gotcha' on
the Western Dragon and see what her true face is would not exactly be a
diplomatic move.  We, meaning STRAFE and some of our higher-ups in the UW,
would rather they forge closer ties to the Combine and the Union than to
their neighbors in the Moslem Confederation.  The Western Dragon is
reportedly not happy with the oppression of paranormals in some of the
nations of the MC, but dragging an Anchor along on this trip might make her
willing to overlook that and ally publicly with the Moslems."
     "Fine, I'll be sure to read the white papers you downloaded to my
handcomp.  Any other summary points I should know before I sign on the dotted
line and agree to the rules?" Tina asked, patting the slim computer tucked
away in a padded pocket on her hip.
     "We can expect the People's Republic to try something while we're
there.  Nothing that could be officially traced back to them, nor big enough
to trigger a war or anything like that.  But enough to get across their
displeasure that the United World is dealing with rebels.  And it will
probably be something designed to make sure you do something flashy and
obvious in a public situation, so they can get you on newsfeeds and make
political hay about 'lackeys of the Combine' and so on."
     "Indeed.  So while you can't use your uniform, our Tesla Branch will set
you up with some passive defenses and other tricks.  And a translator
implant, which should work fine given the absence of Anchors."
     Tina protested, "But I already know Chinese."
     "Standardized Chinese, yes.  But the CAC has slipped back into using
older western dialects as a means of expressing their independence.  Not to
mention that there's approximately ten officially recognized languages within
the Confederation and several dozen unrecognized dialects you might run into.
The implant will have the official languages, which should be enough for your
part in things," Dan explained.
     "I take it you've already learned most of the languages yourself?"
     He shook his head.  "Only about a third of the total.  Even for me,
learning a new language takes time that's in short supply."
     "Only about a third," Tina sighed.

               *              *              *              *

[September 21, 2025 - Guam, Pacific State]

     George zigzagged between the trees at the edge of the beach, where they
grew most densely in competition for the sunlight that was there for the
taking.  If the shadow hounds had taught him anything, it was that speed
without maneuverability isn't much use in a fight.
     Of course, this sort of training was as much fun as just goofing off.
The past few weeks could be described that way, really.  Sure, he was
steadily getting better at using his new body, helping rebuild the parts of
the island shattered by that giant serpent, and so forth.  But it was also a
tropical paradise, a feast for the eyes...even if that was all that it was a
feast for in his case.  He doubted he'd ever regain a sense of smell or
taste, but at least he wasn't uncomfortable in the afternoon heat, either.
     And the locals loved him.  He could see the attraction Sal had to
staying in Mexico City, where he was a darling of the public.  Green was the
new "in" color to be wearing, and the streets looked like a strange
St. Patrick's Day parade without the shamrocks.  Some children had even taken
to using bodypaint to go green all over, in emulation of The Mighty Beacon.
     Yeah, he missed Chicago, but he didn't miss it enough yet to want to
leave.  Maybe he could convince Scott and Julie to honeymoon here...by the
time they finally got around to getting married, the island would probably
look pristine ag...
     George came to a full stop and turned to look back down the beach at
something that had caught the corner of his eye.  They told him he could
probably see in all directions at once with practice, but for now he clung to
the old human habits.
     A glittering figure, shimmering with flashes of all colors, but mostly a
pale rose color, was striding out of the surf.
     "A leftover scale warrior?" George said to himself, proud to note a
total lack of underlying buzz or hum.  Then he flew over to the shore to meet
the newcomer.
     Now he could see her more clearly.  Definitely a her.  She was a very
feminine form hewn roughly from rose quartz, with occasional hexagonal rods
jutting out from joints and the top of her head.  She had a breathtakingly
inhuman beauty about her...if George still had breath, she would have taken
it away.
     "Are...you...Combine?" she asked, her words forming haltingly.  Her
voice was like windchimes, but with a strong accent that George couldn't
quite place.
     "I am Beacon, member of the Academy of Super-Heroes and representative
of the North American Combine, yes," Beacon replied, drifting just above the
water and schooling his expression to stern authority.  She might be
beautiful, but so was a thunderstorm or a tiger.
     "I...Moslem superhero.  Request asylum from North American Combine," she
said, the last words sounding very rehearsed.  "Can no longer hide gender, or
human...ity," she gestured at herself.  "Will be killed by own people as
     Beacon furrowed his brow.  There weren't any Righteous Flame members who
even remotely resembled...wait.  "You're...the Base of the Pillar?  The one
who's supposed to be a stone brought to life by Allah?"
     She nodded.
     "Oh, boy," George buzzed.


Next Issue:

     The United World team arrives in Tibet and has their first encounter
with the Western Dragon, while the Base of the Pillar tries desperately to
avoid being sent back to the Moslem Confederation and certain death!  Be here
for "Journey To The East"!


Author's Notes:

     The opening lines were composed with the help of "Mierda!  The REAL
Spanish You Were Never Taught In School" by Talavera Berger.  And no, I'm not
providing translation here.  Suffice to say they're fairly profane, and "los
ping-pongs" is an East LA-ism that should be pretty easy to figure out.

     Y'know, sometimes irony and coincidence just decide to walk up and kick
you in the shins.  Jayson Blair, the guy who was fired from the New York
Times for making up stories, is now being paid speaker fees by universities
(such as Winston-Salem State University) to talk about journalistic ethics.
Of course, Blair's shenanigans never happened in the ASH universe, so you
won't see Coulter being compared to the guy.  :)

     Fair warning on the upcoming stories: if you know a lot about Asian
naming, you will probably be annoyed by the mistakes I'm going to make.  Some
of the "mistakes" will actually be in-story stuff (i.e. a southeastern
Chinese name showing up in the far west is not an accident, it's a result of
a deliberate ethnic mixing policy), but others will just be me not knowing
what I'm talking about.


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and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

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