[ASH] ASH #58 - Big Break
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Thu Apr 28 16:05:28 PDT 2005
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #58
// || \\ || || "Big Break"
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen
[cover shows Breaker tumbling through the air towards the viewer,
with an enraged Giantess in the background being the clear cause
of her uncontrolled flight.]
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS STATUS
-------- --------- ------ ------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control ACTIVE
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 ACTIVE
Fury Arin Kelsey Concussion Blasts ACTIVE
[November 15, 2025 - Manila, SEATO]
Breaker turned off her translator implant to better concentrate on
sweeping people out of the way of Giantess's feet as the Filipino woman
strode angrily towards some target Breaker couldn't make out. Whatever
Giantess was shouting, it came out of the implant as a garbled, almost
Dadaist, mess. Probably a Spanish/Tagalog creole specific to Pilar's
The crowd was panicking, and people were almost definitely being hurt or
even killed in the crush. Breaker tried not to think of that...she'd save
the ones she could, but she couldn't be everywhere.
Golden tendrils of energy lashed out from Breaker's hands and encircled
Giantess's wrists, slowing the titan's hysterical punches just enough that no
one was at ground zero when they landed, smashing most of a section of stands
and bloodying Giantess's hands. Unfortunately, Giantess seemed too far
beyond reason to shrink down and heal her wounds. More unfortunately, it
looked like she could take a lot of punishment in her enraged state.
"This is going too far!" Prime Minister Liebre muttered, puzzling
Breaker for a moment. Time to think about it later...need to neutralize
The arena floor was pretty clear now, so Breaker raced across it in a
series of shallow TK-boosted leaps, glowing brightly in an attempt to draw
Giantess's attention. It didn't seem to be working...Giantess was tearing
through section after section of the stands in an attempt to get at whatever
her elusive target was. Even with her left eye covered by that stupid mask,
"Aha!" Breaker shouted, then reached out and pulled Giantess's mask
fully over both eyes.
Now the berserking hero started smashing everything in reach at random.
"Not really an improvement," Breaker sighed as she jumped in closer,
launching a series of telekinetic rams that probably felt like gentle tapping
to the towering woman. "Come on! Snap out of it before I have to do
something really nasty!" Breaker had trained in a few techniques for doing
the maximum possible damage to a living thing with her TK, but she wasn't
comfortable with using them even against the truly evil, and certainly not
against someone who could very well be under mind control. Or just pushed to
her breaking point.
A flailing fist smashed into Breaker, and even with a quickly interposed
TK shield, she went flying back several meters, landing a little raggedly on
"I deserved that," Tina muttered. "That mask is stretched so thin she
can still probably see pretty well, even if it keeps people from seeing her
face. Okay, time to get nasty...sorry, Pilar."
A quick golden tendril sliced through the mask in several places,
sending it snapping away like a broken rubber band.
"NOOOOOOOO!" Giantess screamed, throwing both hands in front of her
face. "DON'T LOOK AT ME!" And with that, pushed the rest of the way over
the edge, she curled into a sobbing ball that slowly shrank until she was
almost invisible amidst the rubble she'd created.
* * * *
[November 16, 2025 - Montreal, Venus]
Jeanette was bored.
She almost laughed at the thought! She was on another planet, helping
create the ideal society, free from outside influences like the anglophone
Combine. She was living a dream...if not exactly her own dream (the whole
"another planet" thing hadn't really occurred to her), it certainly qualified
for "really good stuff" status.
A year or so ago, she and the other members of the Sans Rouge had been
fighting a guerrilla war for the liberation of Quebec. Well, to be honest,
more of a terrorist campaign. Even with the celebrity of the Viaus bringing
additional supernormals to the cause, the Sans Rouge simply didn't have the
power to even be a serious guerrilla force.
She snapped to attention. Work called.
"Hey, you!" she shouted in French. The man she was addressing flinched
a little, but kept walking. She growled to herself...mandatory language
lessons were too far along for anyone to pretend they didn't know what she
was saying, but people still tried it. Pissed her right off.
She walked briskly to catch up to the man without looking undignified.
"You, there! Let me see your pass!" she called after him. This was one of
the depopulated parts of Montreal, and it had been decided recently to keep
people out unless they had official business.
He stopped, and without turning around, replied, "Need pass to cut
Jeanette groaned to herself. Eventually it would be good to have
everyone speaking the right language, but it didn't mean she had to like the
transitional period of mangled phrases.
"Yes, you need a pass. This area is restricted." She finally caught up
and grabbed the man's shoulder to force her to face him, rather than walking
around the other side.
It was like looking into a mirror at her younger self.
Oh, he didn't resemble her or anything. It was his expression. Burning
hatred badly covered by a subservient mask. Hatred for authority figures who
represented tyrannical rulers.
She'd spent years of her life "fighting the Man" as her grandfather used
to say. Now, clearly, she WAS the Man.
Jeanette shook it off. "You go back that way, then go around this
neighborhood. Take Rue Parisienne," she ordered. "Three blocks that way,"
she added, pointing. Just in case the man hadn't learned the new name for
The man sullenly did as he was told, and Jeanette once again wished they
could just dynamite all the empty houses and be done with it. But the
Committee insisted on not wasting the building materials OR the explosives.
Too bad they were perfectly fine with wasting Jeanette's time.
* * * *
[Movember 16, 2025 - Manila, SEATO]
Tina sat in a corner booth of a middling-fair restaurant during the
lunch rush, nursing a cup of tea with one hand and typing on the keyboard in
her lap with the other. The screen projected as a heads-up display that was
only visible from her angle and only to someone wearing special contact
lenses. Not perfectly secure, but good enough for her needs.
Tina: File sent. Here's the executive summary...they recovered
Giantess's handcomp and found she'd been in contact with a man named Joachim,
who'd been reinforcing her psychological problems and generally undermining
the work SEATO's psych boys were trying to do with her. And as icing on the
cake, her handcomp was broadcasting some sort of mind-influencing harmonics
during the rally. Only effective really close up, and only on someone as
unbalanced as she was already, but good enough to send her into the next best
thing to a psychotic episode.
Dan: Makes sense. The PRoC has a generation's worth of research on using
non-paranormal means to manipulate psychological and emotional states, even
leaving aside rumors of "Manchurian Candidate" events in the TwenCen.
Skimming files...this highlighted part about Liebre? You're right. That's
worrisome. Are you sure of his tone?
Tina: Yes. It was almost like a child complaining of cheating. Well,
not THAT petulant, but in that direction.
Dan: Right. That would be consistent with some of the things I've been
digging up here in the CAC. All of politics is a game, but I've been getting
indications that the relations of China and its breakaways are more game-like
than is normal.
Tina: So, where do we go from here? The local authorities are trying to
trace "Joachim", but they're dead-ending. Should I come back to the CAC?
Dan: I think I know who to talk to about that dead end. Stay there.
Dig into Liebre as much as you can without getting in trouble. I have some
suspicions, but I'd rather not share them yet...I want to see if you come to
the same conclusions independently.
Tina: Right. Signing off, this tape will self-destruct in five
Tina flipped the terminal closed and put it back in its case. She could
remove the contact lenses later. "Check, please," she signaled to a nearby
* * * *
[November 17, 2025 - Cyberspace]
The mercenary adjusted his five-lensed nightvision goggles, then
continued his cautious way along the ceiling of the complex. The guards
weren't bad at their job, but they weren't great either, which was good. The
mercenary really didn't want to have to attack any of them, since they were
theoretically on the same side.
Not that being on the same side meant wanting to share everything you
know, yes? That's where the mercenary came in.
The room where it all went down was empty for now, all the guards
remaining outside to keep the scene untouched. And it would stay untouched,
at least as far as the locals would be able to tell. The mercenary was that
good at his job.
He quickly recorded all the obvious stuff that even the locals had been
able to uncover. Joachim was the name of interest, but only a name. All
attempts at tracing him back to his point of origin had dead-ended in
nothingness. He was literally the man from Parts Unknown.
The mercenary raised an eyebrow. Whoever the locals had working for
them was pretty good. If Joachim had been anywhere that could be found, the
local guy would have found him. But the locals were still thinking ancient
times, assuming that Joachim had to be a real person at a real terminal
somewhere, much as the mercenary was (not that they'd ever track HIM back to
his source...their guy wasn't THAT good).
But the merc had seen this sort of thing before. Joachim wasn't a
person. He was an AI. That meant entirely new rules for tracking.
The mercenary sniffed out a few promising start points, then carefully
backed out of the complex that was Giantess's handcomp surrounded by a SEATO
forensic analysis expert system.
The doorkeeper nodded to the mercenary on his way out, with a faint
smile. The expert system was smart enough to know they were both on the same
side, and even savvy enough to realize that nothing would be gained by
telling its masters about the mercenary. He made a note to do something nice
for it later.
Once out in the forest, the mercenary discarded the video game
architecture he'd been using to filter the raw data of cyberspace. Now he
needed to track someone across thousands of miles, time for a different
architecture better suited to that sort of thing.
Netwalker mentally flipped through his options. The fox hunt was
thorough, but would attract too much attention. And he suspected he could
get by on a few juncture traces, rather than having to fully investigate
every inch of the virtual landscape. Ah, just the right thing.
The archaeologist looked out the window of his airplane, watching the
Phillipines recede into the distance. Suddenly, the point of view swooped up
into the air and became more abstract, his plane sailing across a simplified
world globe and trailing a red line.
The line traced to Singapore, then Phnom Penh, Krung Thep and finally
Yangan...Rangoon. A city in a nebulous borderland between the three pieces
of what had been PRoC territory until recently, it made sense that an AI
might be slipped into SEATO networks from that place. Not that it would
necessarily still be resident in a system there, but Netwalker would be able
to get fresh spoor at least.
Getting off the plane, he decided to stay in this architecture for now.
It was good for both fighting and investigating, and he could always change
later if he needed the mercenary's intrusion skills again. Or even go the
old Net.Hero route if he was feeling nostalgic.
He walked into a seedy bar, which was how the architecture represented a
low-security system that tended to be a haven for scum and villainy.
Stepping up to the bartender, he said, "I'm looking for a guy who goes
by Joachim. An arty."
The room went silent. It may have looked like a bar full of drunks, but
every one of those drunks had highly sensitive "ears" out for certain
phrases. Most probably triggered on "arty", but intuition (and the ability
to internally play back recent events) told him a few had gone silent on
"Anyone here know about Joachim?" he asked the crowd, grinning
lopsidedly while also carefully loosening the whip at his belt.
A towering mongolian with long mustachios stood up. "And here I thought
he was already standing," Netwalker thought.
"I'm Joachim. What's it to you, American?" he spat the last word as an
"You pulled a job that got a lot of people killed," Netwalker replied,
friendliness frozen and insincere in his voice. "And before I unravel your
code and feed you to the vultures, I'd like to know who you're working for."
The crowd sized up Joachim and Netwalker. Most hurried for the exits, a
few ducked behind tables. A couple looked like they were thinking of joining
the fight, but they slinked off after a moment as well, having decided that
the two meanest hombres in the room were already involved in the fight to
Joachim opened the dance by throwing a table at Netwalker, who ducked
under it and flicked out the tip of his whip to snap against the mongolian's
face, leaving a painful welt.
Netwalker rolled up his whip before it could be grabbed and used against
him, and picked up a chair, smashing it against Joachim's chest as the two
rushed together. Predictably, it had no real effect.
Joachim grinned. "You're mine now, little man." He grabbed Netwalker
in a crushing bear hug before the supernatural could react. "Once I have
crushed your shell program, I will devour your source. I will be famous for
killing the mightly AI-hunter, Netwalker!"
"Don't...be...too quick...to...boast...!" Netwalker gasped. "Look...
The welt left by Netwalker's whip had spread into a webwork of red lines
that now covered Joachim's arms and upper torso. The grip slackened, and
Netwalker easily slid free.
"What...?" Joachim sputtered.
"You don't think I was counting on battering you down with brute force,
did you? Like you said, I'm an AI-hunter, and a good hunter uses the right
tools. Now. Who sent you to prey upon Giantess?"
"Who does it look like?" Joachim gestured weakly at his mongolian
features as he slumped into a chair, his legs no longer strong enough to
support him. "China."
Netwalker pulled out his whip again, twisting the handle lightly. The
one long lash split into nine shorter, barbed lengths. In another
architecture it might look like a brainprobe, or an interrogation chair, or
something along more whimsical lines. But Joachim had done his best to break
the psyche of a woman over the course of months...Netwalker didn't want to
sugarcoat the process of data extraction.
"Let's try that again, with feeling...."
* * * *
[November 17, 2025 - Manila, SEATO]
Sometimes, you just have to search the net the old-fashioned way, Tina
mused. "Let's start with the basics."
Combine Intelligence Agency Brief: Executive Summary
Last updated: 7/25/2025
Name: Liebre, Arturo Jaime Ernesto Jimenez y
Birthplace: Claimed to be Malolos, the Phillipines
Birth date: Claimed to be 3/13/1973
Note: Official records lost in 1998. Approximately 84% of official records
in the Phillipines lost that year in the post-July 6 instability.
Arturo Liebre first came to local prominence in 1997 as an organizing
member of the Christian Democratic League (see file), a group dedicated to
legally limiting the so-called Godmarket's activities. Due to its religious
nature, the CDL survived July 6 better than most other political groups in
the country (losing only about a quarter of its leadership in the mass
vanishings), and it formed a government in 2004 when the situation in the
Liebre's political career has been primarily marked by the guidance of
powerful patrons, as he seems to have a talent for finding the strongest
figure in a situation and making himself indispensible to them. This meant a
great deal of interaction with the People's Republic of China as the
Phillipines fell under that polity's hegemony.
In July 2023, this changed, with the decaptication of Chinese leadership
in the nuclear destruction of Beijing. Calling in numerous favors and using
his demonstrated talent for finding and allying with power brokers, Liebre
rose to the leadership of the CDL in November 2024, followed by election as
Prime Minister in April 2025. His first act as Prime Minister was to move
that the Phillipines seek closer diplomatic ties with the North American
Presuming this act was in character for Liebre and not the bidding of
one of his backers, it is likely that he has decided that the Combine
represents a better protector than China.
"Hm." Tina skimmed the more detailed documents linked in various places
to the summary, and nodded. It fit with her personal experiences with the
man. He was almost the polar opposite of the Western Dragon, at least until
very recently. Older, meeker, worked behind the scenes and sought the
protection and patronage of the powerful. Whereas the Western Dragon was
young and dynamic, welding a nation together via her sheer force of will.
And her paranormal powers. He was the old world, she the new.
There was a third piece of this puzzle, though. The new Premier of the
People's Republic of China.
Combine Intelligence Agency Brief: Executive Summary
Last updated: 9/12/2025
Name: Niu Jijiang
Birthplace: Unknown, phenotype and speech patterns suggest Anhui or Hubei
Birth date: Unknown, appears to be between 45 and 55 years old.
Note: Pre-1998 intelligence has identified three men named Niu Jijiang in
various parts of the PRoC bureaucracy who could be this man. Or he
could be a fourth Niu Jijiang.
Due to the closing of the Bamboo Curtain in 1998, we know very little
about the current Premier of China. According to information released by the
government, he was the governor of Sichuan Province from 2020 through 2023
and honored as a strong and fair administrator.
In the chaos that followed the deaths of most high-ranking party
officials, including Premier Xu, the military temporarily assumed control of
the country. Their information control protocol wasn't as good as that of
the civilian government, however, and we know that General Yenfei (see file)
was accused of being in league with Devastator, and the rest of the military
decided to hand control back to civilian authorities as soon as possible in
order to concentrate on tending its own house.
Niu Jijiang came out on top of the struggle among the provincial
governors and other surviving party leaders, advocating a return to
traditional values as a way to restore the confidence of the people. What
has resulted since his rise to leadership in late 2023 is an apparently
stable blend of Maoist Communism and Neo-Confucian hierarchical bureaucracy,
with Mao worshipped in a style similar to that of Confucian ancestral
veneration. International trade has remained minimal, and there is evidence
that trade with Pranir has been reduced, but not cut off.
Niu seems to be respected by the populace, if not necessarily loved, and
he has gained the epithet "Ox who will pull our nation forward," based on his
policies and the literal translation of Niu ("Ox").
"An ox, a dragon and a..." Tina double-checked with a Spanish-to-
English dictionary, "hare. Interesting," she muttered. "They've got a
quarter of the Chinese Zodiac covered. Not to mention..."
Her thought was cut off by a ping from her handcomp. Incoming message
from Mr. Walker.
"Hi, Li," Nate smiled from the screen. Odds were, he wasn't using a
camera, he was actually telepresenced in her handcomp and just projecting a
"Hi, yourself. Anything interesting on Joachim?"
"You better believe it. I had to flay him almost down to components,
"Relax. He's an AI. A rogue, at that. The kill-on-sight variety,
under international law. And flaying just means I had to peel away a few
layers of disguise code. Anyway, he was created to prey on Giantess's
insecurities, like you and Grind thought. But here's the interesting part.
The Proccies didn't send him."
"The CAC. He's part of an experimental line designed to let Western
Dragon manipulate emotions via communications signals, sent out to do a
Tina had nothing to say to that for a long moment. It made sense that
the Dragon would want that sort of thing...but why would one breakaway attack
another? Especially if both were really puppets of the People's Republic?
"Thanks, Nate. You told Grind yet?"
"Multitasking it, telling him now. He seems as stunned as you are...
although, being Grind, it's almost impossible to tell that he's stunned."
Tina nodded. "Let him know I'll call him in a bit. I have to think
about this some."
* * * *
[November 18, 2025 - Mount Olympus]
"My Lord Q'Nos," Simon addressed the minotaur slouching in a backless
throne of ancient design. "Have you taken the time to read my report?" he
nodded in the direction of the tablet computer resting on a table next to the
"Astronomy mixed with dreams and portents?" Q'Nos rumbled diffidently.
"Yes, yes. It seems that the gods seek to mock me by speaking to you and not
to me." His tone was now bitter...after his fall from power millennia ago,
Q'Nos had been first prisoner, then exile, and then humiliated as a mere
servant of the gods. As a final blow to his ego, he had been trapped in a
spatial oubliette by a mere mortal a generation ago, and might still be
trapped had that mortal's heir not opened the prison. He did not LIKE the
gods, but it clearly rankled him that they did not seem to wish to speak to
him, not even to accuse him of hubris.
Simon did has he had done often enough in recent months, simply ignored
the bitterness and self-pity, and continued. "I have had several dreams now
of a city founded by two gods...Athena and Poseidon, Artemis and Apollo,
Hephaestus and Aphrodite. In my waking hours, however, I have felt compelled
to observe the planet Venus, which is behaving in ways inconsistent with the
laws of nature. It is in the wrong place. It is dimming. The chemical
composition of its atmosphere seems to be changing, although my fragmentary
memories of spectrography aren't helping me determine what it is changing
"Suffice to say, I think my dreams and my observations may be linked.
The gods have their eyes on Venus, and we would do well to take a closer look
ourselves, before things become widely known."
Q'Nos looked curious for the first time in weeks. "How do you propose
we take a closer look? We lack the infrastructure for a space program, and I
would not trust anyone we could hire out of Khadam."
"We may not have much of a technological base yet, sire, but we do have
much that was left behind by the gods when they abandoned this land a
generation ago. Including, I believe, a piece of the rainbow bridge of Eos."
"That faithless slut?"
Simon hid a smile. "Well, to be fair, she *was* cursed by Aphrodite in
that regard. In any case, her rainbow bridge did touch down a number of
places in this land. I believe I can use sympathetic magic to construct a
mystic bridge to Venus...Eos is goddess of the dawn, Venus is the dawn star,
and such. Plus Aphrodite's curse may even help, although I'd rather not tie
any godly curse into my makings."
"You seem rather dour and dark a man to be working with rainbows, but
perhaps something will come of it," Q'Nos mused. "Very well. You may
proceed with your plan, using such resources as you see fit. I trust you to
stop if it looks like it's all a waste, however."
Simon bowed. "Thank you, my lord. I believe you will be pleased by the
Very pleased, if Simon's suspicions were correct. Or perhaps immensely
*displeased*, depending on the details. The devil was, indeed, in the
* * * *
[November 20, 2025 - Guam, Pacific State]
It had been a busy few days. Grind agreed that they needed more
information about the PRoC, in light of Netwalker's discovery about Joachim.
He'd stay in the CAC and see what else he could ferret out from his end, and
Tina would follow the hunch she had about Niu and the other leaders. A
paranormal's hunches are often *worth* following.
Now she was at a black ops base under Guam, speed-learning a dialect of
Chinese common in Xinjiang. She'd pose as someone caught outside her home
province when it defected to the CAC, looking for work in the once and
present capital city Chang'an (known for a while as Xi'an, but changed back
to its ancient name by Niu). She'd be helped by one or two of the dozens of
"normal" agents the Combine had in China, but otherwise was going to be on
her own in the heart of China.
And...she wasn't terrified of the thought.
Sure, it was daunting. There was danger there, and it'd be stupid not
to be a little afraid. But somewhere along the way, she'd lost that child's
terror at the big monster that was China.
Maybe it was because the China she'd feared had died over two years ago,
and running around in its former hegemony had shown her it was really dead.
Or maybe it was simply enough that she was facing it and seeing it for what
it was...a monster to be sure, but she'd faced plenty of monsters now. The
lights had been turned on, and it wasn't so deep-down TERRIFYING anymore.
Not that it couldn't still eat her whole if she made even the slightest
Tina is dropped behind the Bamboo Curtain and has to figure out what's
going on before her cover is blown, in "Ox Body Technique"!
Originally, Romance of Three Republics was going to be 12 issues, with a
four issue arc for each republic. But as I started writing this second arc,
it started to look like I'd have to pad out a lot in the PRoC arc, something
I didn't want to do. Not to mention, it'd also mean pushing back the payoff
for all of this Venus stuff I've been putting into the stories. So, I've
decided to reduce that to two issues and the overall arc to ten.
Netwalker, for those who have only recently started reading (see
LNH2023/24 for more about him), is a student at the Academy who has the power
to psychically project himself into the internet, filtering the raw data
through various "architectures". The opening bit is essentially Splinter
Cell, while the rest is obviously an Indiana Jones pastiche. Splinter Cell
did get made in the ASH setting, but it came out several years later due to
the chaos around the turn of the century. :) Clancy survived 1998, as did at
least the people who designed the look and feel of the game. Netwalker is a
bit more brutal now, but I figure he's been through some rough stuff since
first going into cyberspace.
Yes, Eos has a rainbow bridge too, although it's more of a personal
thing than the highway that Bifrost is. I expect there's a lot of rainbow
bridges in mythology, since rainbows look kinda bridge-like.
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
More information about the racc