[ASH] ASH #63 - The Land Of Nod

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sun Dec 11 18:34:32 PST 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #63
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                   "The Land of Nod"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows Peregryn standing atop a rock, the surf crashing up behind
him, as he holds a shimmering blue-steel sword in a guard position.
Spearpoints frame him, but their holders are not visible.]

                       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              ACTIVE
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        ACTIVE

[December 27, 2025 - Beta Regio, Venus]

     On the rocky shore of the Guinevere Sea, on the narrow strip between the
foam-flecked water and the vibrantly living green, Peregryn stood his ground
and watched the dozen foemen charge.  
     To his back, sanctuary.  
     To his front, escape.
     In his hand, a narrow slice of the storm itself, the sword Azure
Lightning.  Forged in a mythic time that no longer truly existed, held in the
hands of the greatest heroes never to be remembered, recovered from a
tattered curio shop in Chicago's Chinatown while its current user was still
known as Howard Henderson Jr., student at the Academy.  It now hummed with
excitement, desiring nothing less than to sample the blood of the strange
reptilian men who rushed at Peregryn.  It was a dangerous weapon, an
addicting weapon, a powerful weapon...in short, it was as all weapons have
been in the history of mankind.
     The approaching warriors didn't cast their spears, having learned from
long experience that their aim would be spoiled by the tamed winds that
swirled about the mage.  Instead, they clearly hoped to ring him about with a
thicket of spearpoints, bring him to bay like an animal.
     Peregryn was not a warrior by inclination, but he had the training of
one, and Azure Lightning could make a child the match of a man, so what would
it make of a man who was stronger, swifter and braver than any mortal?
     Simple.  It would make him the whirlwind.
     Peregryn leapt above the first spear thrust and ran up the shaft of the
weapon itself, kicking its holder in the head hard enough to dent the bronze
helmet the serpentman wore.
     Using the force of the kick, he propelled himself into a backflip,
biting deeply into the flesh of another attacker with Azure Lightning as he
thrust towards the ground that was above his head.  The semi-human screamed
and dropped his own weapon and shield to clutch at the ruin of his right
     Two simultaneous spear-thrusts were parried by a single slash that
severed the bronze heads from the wooden shafts.  One of the warriors shouted
something in a language Peregryn did not understand, and he didn't have the
time or breathing room to cast a spell to help him comprehend.  Not that he
really needed to...he was sure that it would translate as something like,
"He's only one man!  Get him, you fools!"
     Some things, after all, were constants of nature.
     He started to reach for his pouch, then stopped.  Normally, his solution
to a small horde like this would be to entangle them in magically fast-
growing vines, but he suspected Photosynth was enjoying his discomfort too
much to allow that to work.  And as she was the will of all plants on this
brave new world of Venus, it would be...unwise...to rely on the vines.
     If plants were an uncertain ally and all else that lived on this world
turned its hand against him, there was still the living rock.  The planet
itself resented its new tenants.
     "Stone of this world, aid me," he whispered as he parried another trio
of spears.
     The spirit of Venus was weak, overcrowed by the Leviathan that Peregryn
had banished to it.  But it was not dead, it was not unwilling.  The scaled
warriors suddenly found their footing as unstable as if in an earthquake, yet
Peregryn's tread was sure.  Azure Lightning licked out once, twice, three
times, and as many enemies as that lay bleeding.  Yet another lost his
balance and fell hard, a sickening crunch followed by stillness as his head
struck a stone at just the wrong angle.
     It was enough, the enemy had lost half its number in a matter of
moments, and none had so much as touched Peregryn.  They broke and ran,
dragging what fallen comrades they could.
     Two remained.  One was clearly dead, but the other was slowly regaining
his senses after the kick that had stunned him moments ago.  Now that he had
time to concentrate, it was a simple matter to reshape the stones into
manacles that bound the warrior to the ground.
     "Speak, and I will understand.  Listen, and you will hear," Peregryn
commanded, ensorceling the serpentman so that they would be able to
understand each other.
     "Invader!" the man spat.  "I have nothing to say to you, nor do I wish
to listen!" 
     Minoan.  The man was speaking a variant of ancient Minoan, the native
tongue of the debased godling Q'Nos.  And, most likely, of his demon mother,
the Leviathan.
     "I am about to leave this land," Peregryn replied.  "And you are as much
invader as I am."
     "Liar!  This is the land the Mother promised to us when she rescued us
from the mountain's fire!  We have served her for eons unknown, and we now
have our reward...no servant of base gods will take it from us!"
     Peregryn nodded grimly.  He had read of gods trying to hide worshippers
away so that they would have a power base in the event of being wiped from
history by the wars of the gods.  The Leviathan had clearly tried something
similar.  Whether these men had been serpent-like already, or became so
during millennia of captivity within her scales, it didn't really matter.
They were here, and their goddess was one of the world spirits now, alongside
Photosynth and the original unnamed spirit of Venus.
     "I go now, but others may come, others as powerful as I.  You may wish
to consider diplomacy with your next visitor," Peregryn said, unfolding the
magical boat Skidhbladhnir and placing it in the surf.  Replacing Azure
Lightning in his beltpouch, he lept lightly aboard the longboat as he
dissolved the warrior's bonds with a gesture.  Before the serpentman could
reach a weapon, though, the magic boat was gone over the horizon.

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Ouda Regio, Venus]

     Mantissa stood atop his ship, drinking in the first rays of the local
sunrise.  As much as the human leader of the expedition might complain about
the climate, the T!rir found it quite pleasant.  Of course, his race had long
ago engineered themselves to tolerate a rather large range of conditions, as
it made more sense than trying to alter entire planets to their needs.  And,
to be honest, the higher atmospheric pressure and oxygen content made
breathing easier for the young exoskeletal alien.  He clicked his mouthparts
in what passed for a chuckle among his phlegmatic species.
     Strange that someone had done such a thorough job of changing an entire
planet, though.  Of course, it was "magic", that strange sort of nature-
warping talent that was unique to humans now that the inhabitants of the
nearby starsystem had wiped themselves out.  Such a task could be done with
honest science, but it would bankrupt a dozen worlds to even try it.  There
were plenty of more habitable worlds, even for weaker races like humans or
the Santari, no need to go to all the effort to alter such a hostile planet.
     All around his ship, final checks were being made and systems locked
down, to create a holographic camoflage.  It was high-end Pranir gear,
multispectral and guaranteed to prevent technological detection from more
than one or two radii of the concealed area away.  Combined with chemical
scrubbers to keep their spoor off the wind and seismic dampers, the beachhead
would be undetectable to anyone not close enough to hear voices.  Quite
thorough for what was intended to be only a temporary encampment.
     He "chuckled" again.  As much as he might try to fight the biases and
prejudices of his chitin-bound people, Mantissa still couldn't help but think
like them.  The camp was intended for use over the course of the better part
of a planetary revolution...perhaps not truly long term even for the short-
lived humans, but not the eyeblink his instincts told him it was.
     "Hey, Manty!" Conflicto called up from the door of a small plastic
shack.  "We need to calibrate the seismics against ship traffic, couldja fire
up the landing thrusters?"
     "I will do that," he replied via translator box, then opened the hatch
and left the lovely sunrise behind.  One of the oddities of Venus...it would
still be there later for him to view.

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - 100 miles from Montreal, Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "Hey, Slim, a little to the left!" Willie the Satyr ordered.
     "That's not my name," the hulking cyclops grumbled as he adjusted the
radio tower he held delicately in his gigantic hands.
     "Ask me how much I care, gowan," Willie sniped.  Q'Nos didn't have a
whole lot of techies available to him, and Willie knew it.  And he knew that
while he might not be in command of this little mission, he was too valuable
to step on.  "Bridge, you getting the carrier wave now?"
     "It's clearer, but could be better," the human tech replied.  Jessica
might not have had any formal training, but she was at least familiar with
technology and thus trainable, unlike most of the mythologicals who followed
Q'Nos.  And she was a damn fine lay, to boot.
     "The tower needs to be two meters higher," Zdeslav Ivansco insisted.
There was a lot of resentment in that guy, Willie noted.  It wasn't that he
minded working for a mytho...no one who served Q'Nos could have that qualm.
He just didn't like working for *anyone*.  And he made it clear by disputing
Willie's decisions whenever possible.  "We will barely clear the curve of the
planet at high noon."
     "By the time that comes around, Z, we'll have a permanent basecamp and
this thing," Willie waved at the tower in Slim's hands, "will have been
replaced anyway.  It's tall enough, and I don't wanna have to put it back up
if it's so tall a storm blows it over."
     "Like *you're* gonna be putting it up," Slim muttered.  Willie pretended
not to hear it, although when the cyclops spoke they could probably hear him
in Montreal.
     "I'm picking up the scouts' transponders," Jessica quickly said, hoping
to forestall another argument.  "Kinda fuzzy, but this is just with the
spar's built-in dishes.  And the all clear pings are solid."
     Willie nodded.  The centaur squad took to the forested mountains like it
was their home, and was already sweeping for hostiles.  Shouldn't *be* any,
but the Monties could be sending out their own patrols by now, you never
     "Can I put this down now?" Slim asked.
     "Yeah, just a sec, lemme mark the spot," Willie scampered over.
"There.  But don't go far, we're gonna need ya to drive in the foundation
spike once we have the base ready."
     "Okay," the cyclops rumbled.  "We got any sheep left?"

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Venus Orbit]

     Veturna Severa, junior Corpsman of the Galactic Warriors, twisted
uncomfortably in her tiny scoutship.  A lot of technology had gone into
making the ships fast, powerful and tiny, and no small part of that
technology had been devoted to pilot comfort.  But there was only so much you
could do to compensate for the fact that the cockpit was practically a
coffin, and even a virtual immersion display helmet couldn't counter all the
psychological effects.
     So, while most of her senses told her she was flying free above the
newly livable planet, as if in a suit of skintight armor, her body still
insisted she was in a box.  A box that could enter Hyperspace, a box with a
Tsaran cannon strong enough to punch holes in a half meter of steel, but a
box nonetheless.  She wasn't Star Knight, who could do all those things under
his own power while just wearing skintight armor, she wasn't even a Deltan or
a Scytharian.  She was only Santari, and if the box broke, so would she.
     "Corpsman Severa logging report," she then rattled off a reference
number for the file.  "Third orbit completed of Sol II, also known as Venus."
Terrans picked good names for the planets in their system, at least.  They
weren't quite Santari names, but they were close enough to sound right.
"Earth," however, just lay there like a lump, linguistically speaking.
     "Sensors confirm that the energy balance does not conform to standard
planetary science.  Simply put, some of the stellar energy reaching the
surface is vanishing, and seems to be shifted to the nightside.  The dayside
is far cooler than it should be, even with its new atmospheric mix, and the
nightside is far warmer.  The entire planet is an exercise in what the
Terrans call 'Violation Science'.  If the unnatural effects sustaining it
should fail, the planet will revert to uninhabitable status, although it may
be recoverable with our technological resources, as most of the hard work has
been done and will not likely vanish simply because the 'magic' goes away.
End report."
     Veturna shuddered.  Whatever was powerful enough to alter the entire
biosphere of the planet might still be down there.  Probably *was* still down
there.  "What a time for Star Knight to be halfway across the Confederation
chasing down a cyborg cartel," she muttered.  "Maybe I shouldn't have pissed
off the commandant enough for him to assign me to this short-fused bomb...."

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Chicago, Illinois Sector, Earth]

     "You know, when I said I might do a little traveling over winter break,
this isn't exactly what I meant," Lightfoot sighed.
     Comet chuckled in sympathy.  "At least no one attacked us at dinner the
day before yesterday.  And it's not like you're being permanently assigned to
Venus, you're just shuttle duty," she patted the side of the reconditioned
ASH Orbiter that Tom had arrived in over two years ago, then gestured at the
knot of NAC Marshals checking their gear over in the corner of the hangar.
"Those guys get to go into an unknown situation and scout around, and if it's
not instantly fatal, they get to stay for a while.  You can come home after
you drop them off."
     "But why need me?  Don't we have access to alien ships for this sort of
trip?  I thought we were supposed to get some help from the GWC for policing
our stellar back yard."
     "Politics, Tom."
     "Joy.  Details, please?"
     "The North American Combine does not have a call on those resources, the
United World does.  In fact, I'm given to understand that the UW already
officially requested that aid.  But our esteemed leaders want to get a look
at things separately.  And stake a claim to some of that real estate, most
likely," Sarah confided.
     "Whatever happened to the *United* World?" Tom frowned.
     "Realpolitik.  We may be one big happy family, but that doesn't mean we
don't squabble over the last drumstick at the dinner table.  Eventually, the
UW will make some sort of decision regarding the disposition of Venutian
rights, but having a presence on the ground is worth a lot in that kind of
negotiation.  Less cynically," she added, "Non-UW nations are going to be
interested in this as well, and it's a land rush.  Khadam, at least, has
space transport resources it can tap pretty easily, and we want to make sure
they don't get too big a foot in the door."
     "Hence the Marshals," Tom nodded.
     "Yep," Sarah confirmed.  "The techs and surveyors and so forth are
important too, but if the CSV is sunning themselves on a beach up there, we
want at least a ghost of a chance of keeping them at bay."
     "Why not send some Anchors, too?  I know we don't have a lot anymore,
but an Anchor could shut down the CSV a lot faster than a few Marshals."
     Comet shook her head.  "Think about it.  There's no way that
terraforming was done with realtech...the GWC would have known about that,
and said so when the UW asked.  Do you really want an Anchor on a world that
may require magic just to stay livable?"

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Montreal, Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     [Note: all dialogue in this scene is in French.]
     "How are they getting out?" Gaston Lapointe growled, sounding as
dangerous as the polar bear he could become.
     "That assumes they *are* getting out, my leader," Nadine Beaubien noted,
idly twirling a small ring of force around her fingers.  "Montreal is still a
fairly large place, with any number of hidey-holes.  Plus, Frederic has
rolled up all the bridges, so even if the dome has a breach, it's a long swim
to it."
     The man known as Asphalte nodded.  "Even the new causeway is no longer
there, it had enough man-made materials to be within the scope of my powers."
Almost as an afterthought, he muttered, "Wasn't easy, though."
     Gaston sighed.  "Etienne, your thoughts?"
     "Aigle" Bernard shrugged.  "I've flown all over the dome, poking at it
carefully and using what scientific instruments I could scrape up.  The only
thing that seems to get through it is light.  I suppose if any of those
photonics were lurking around from after the Battle of Montreal, they could
get in and out.  And, of course, the CSV got in by magic a while back, but
none of us have seen them since they left."
     "I've been boating out by the edge of the dome," a small and slender
woman named Adele Bujold interjected.  "The crater is filling up slowly with
water," she referred to Cleopatra Crater, where the city had come to rest in
the Maxwell Montes.  "We may have a leak below the waterline."
     Aigle shook his head.  "I haven't noticed any significant change in the
shape of the coastline, so we can't be losing water.  It must be the rain
outside.  Cleopatra Crater must simply not have an outlet low enough to let
the storm waters flow out.  Long term, if the Viaus wake up and realize the
dome is no longer needed, we may need to create a valley to avoid flooding
the city."
     Asphalte sighed.  "I keep trying to extend my power to cover natural
stone, but it's not working.  We'll have to do any such geoscaping projects
the hard way."
     "Venerascaping," Adele giggled.  Everyone else just ignored her.  Her
codename of Lune may have been derived from her power to lessen gravity, but
everyone just thought of her as Loony Bujold.
     Gaston broke the brief awkward silence.  "So.  The dome is intact.
There may be some criminals hiding in abandoned buildings or other locations,
so I want Frederic and Adele to accelerate their deconstruction project,
let's remove some of the cover.  Nadine, however it's happening, people are
slipping from our grasp...I want some ideas on my desk for improving loyalty,
or we'll be running a ghost town."
     "What about me?" Etienne raised an eyebrow.
     "We're going to try to talk to Claudette again...."

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sector, Earth]

     "He's getting so big!" Sal said, carefully lifting little Chris up in
his massive hands.  
     "Wheeeee!" Chris gurgled, sounding more like an infant than like the
three-year-old he appeared to be.
     "I know," Nancy Balzer sighed.  "I wish his mind would keep up with his
body, but it's clear now that it's not.  I've had to get help from another
Anchor lately, my passive Anchor effect isn't strong enough anymore to keep
him damped down when I'm asleep.  And *he* still sleeps like a baby: waking
up every few hours."
     Arin took the cheerful, squirming boy from Sal's hands, and hugged him
tight, her eyes glistening with restrained tears.  "I wish there was
something I could do," she whispered.  Anchoring him was only a stopgap
solution now.  A telepath might be able to force his mind to advance more
quickly, but couldn't operate with an Anchor nearby, and Chris might well
outrace any telepath's efforts in another temporal growth spurt.  And for all
his efforts on her behalf, Lightfoot had not been able to make his own power
operate in reverse, and make something go slow instead of fast.
     "Prison's too good for his father," Nancy snarled.  "I've never heard of
the Owens Effect being so...pathological!  But Cole found a way to get his
fast-growing soldier boy.  Probably planned to make him a puppet, so no need
to let him grow up mentally."  The Magene that gave superhumans their powers
was no normal bit of DNA, it responded to the wishes of a child's parents
sometimes.  Those who wanted a special child sometimes got one.  Those who
wanted a normal child got one.  But when a superhuman, unbound as they all
were by the normal laws of probability in the first place, wanted a child
with the Magene...it could get nasty.
     Sal held out an arm to gently block Nancy.  "Stop pacing.  We know.  But
he's happy right now, let's not ruin the day."

               *              *              *              *

[Meanwhile - Nearby]

     Timeslip tried not to look like he was pacing as he walked through the
snow-dusted Mitchell Park gardens.  Even in winter, there was enough to see
in the manicured and shoveled lanes around the locally-famous Domes to
explain the presence of a young man walking around.  In fact, he wasn't the
only person out for a stroll, which helped.
     If he'd tried just hanging around a few blocks away, where m...Nurse
Balzer lived, he'd probably get arrested.  It was the sort of borderline
residential neighborhood where the locals really wanted to keep out the
riffraff that often squatted in the light industrial zone nearby.  And while
he could handle a few cops, he really didn't want to try to go up against a
couple of seasoned ASH members.
     He idly poked at a frosty pine needle, watching the flecks of rime break
off and flutter to the ground.  Beautiful but fragile, kinda like time
     The pressure was building at the back of Timeslip's brain.  He could
feel the impending timestorm getting ready to rip loose from the baby in
Balzer's care, the child of Arin Kelsey.  The timestorm that he knew would
tear most of Milwaukee out of reality and set it adrift, if he didn't act


Next Issue:

     Peregryn has to keep his promise to Photosynth, but will anyone survive
the results?  Plus, Timeslip completes his mission, which may not be what you
think it is!  Be here for "Year's End"!


Author's Notes:

     I couldn't resist the temptation to have all the scenes this issue take
place in a series of "meanwhiles".  Heh.
     http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/gallery/veturna.JPG shows Veturna in
her hazardous duty gear.  Light blue with dark blue trim (or bodysuit) is the
standard non-camo color scheme for lower ranking GWC members.  Middle ranking
GWs go with golden yellow and brown trime, higher ranking are generally red
with white, but often have idiosyncratic personal color schemes.

     Here's a complete rundown of the ruling council of the Sans Rouge, since
I didn't get everything worked into their scene.
     Gaston Lapointe, "Polaire" - He's the leader, as mentioned.  His sole
paranormal power is to transform into an extraordinarily large polar bear,
but he's also a talented administrator and moving speaker.  These "mundane"
talents are the main reason he leads the SR.
     Etienne Bernard, "Aigle" - His codename means eagle, and he flies like
one, albeit without wings.  He has also trained himself to hunt like one.
     Nadine Beaubien, "Cirque" - Her extensive acrobatic training lets her
use the force rings she generates as a means of defense and transportation,
but she is most feared for the way in which she can trap an opponent in those
rings and then shrink the rings, often slicing a mundane target in two.
     Adele Bujold, "Lune" - A gravity controller, she is currently limited to
creating lunar-equivalent gravity around any target, hence the codename
meaning moon.  She and Cirque have trained together so that Cirque is not
fazed by the alternate gravity.
     Frederic Grande, "Asphalte" - In addition to his near immunity to heat,
he can animate asphalt and concrete.  He seems to be limited to aggregates
that have been processed by human hands, natural stone is beyond him.  With
effort, he can affect glass and steel as well.


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