ASH: ASH #64 - Year's End

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Fri Dec 30 20:18:40 PST 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #64
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                     "Year's End"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover is split down the middle.  On the left, Timeslip is reaching for
a child, a look of menace on his face.  On the right, Peregryn is swinging a
sword towards what appears to be a wall made of copies of Labyrinthe.  They
share a burst speech balloon at the top middle, shouting, "I MUST DO THIS!"]

                       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 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sector]

     The sense of impending doom hammered at Timeslip.  This wasn't just
normal, everyday paranoia, though.  His own time-related abilities were
enough that he could SEE the warp bubble starting to form over the city.
     Time was already moving slightly out of synch with the rest of the
     Those who paid attention to telecommunications links were just now
starting to notice strange effects on links to and from Milwaukee, but if any
of them took the problem seriously, there's no way they'd have figured it out
     But Kelsey and Salvatore hadn't left the house yet, Timeslip could still
see their rental car parked out front.
     Timeslip didn't dare use his powers right now, it might make the warp
bubble boil over before he could get to the source.  So he ran as fast as he
could down the cold residential street.  He knew at least one person had
noticed his strange behavior, but it didn't matter anymore.  Nothing else
mattered but getting to that kid before he could rip Milwaukee out of the

     "Is something wrong, Nancy?" Arin asked, looking up from playing
pat-a-cake with her son.  The nurse and Anchor seemed to be straining.
     "Oh, it'll pass.  Chris is trying to do something with his powers, but
I've got it under control.  Don't wo..."
     Then the window exploded into shards, the armorplas fragments turning
into powder and filling the room with a blast of cold and white, snowy
     "DOWN!" Sal shouted, stepping to block the window, his instincts
overriding the sure knowledge that with Nancy less than two meters away, he
could get killed very easily by whatever was at the window.
     Before the flurry could settle, a figure leapt in through the window,
evading Sal and knocking Nancy out with a swift kick to the head.  Then he
started moving faster than the eye could follow, scooping Chris up in his
     "Let go of my son!" Arin screamed, firing a blast of concussive rage at
the man's head.  He flickered like a candleflame, and the blast simply passed
through him harmlessly.
     And then he was gone.
     With Chris.

               *              *              *              *

[December 28, 2025 - Guinevere Sea, Venus]

     Despite being merely a mortal sorceror's copy of the svartalfwerk boat
of legend, the mystic longboat carrying Peregryn over the waves of Venus's
oceans made very good time.
     He stared at his own shadow on the uneven deck.  "Getting close to the
top of the world," he mused.
     Struck by an idea, he reached into his beltpouch and pulled out one of
the few non-magical items in it.  To all appearances, it was a mobile phone,
of a design popular about a year ago.  But Sara had put some special
modifications on it.  "No way I'm giving you an excuse not to call, Howie,"
she'd said when she gave it to him shortly after their days together at the
cabin.  "This thing could punch a signal through from MARS."
     Wrong planet, but same principle.  It still worked on *some* normal
science, so it would take several minutes for the signal to reach anyone on
     He turned it on.
     "Searching for signal," the screen read, like a normal phone would.
Unlike a normal phone, however, he knew it would look for *any* sort of
broadcasting rig, and was also sending out an active "ping".  If he had line
of sight on Earth or any off-ecliptic communications satellite, he'd find out
     Moments passed.
     Peregryn sighed, turned off the phone and put it away.  He was still too
far on the wrong side of the planet, apparently.  He would try again later.

               *              *              *              *

[December 28, 2025 - Fortuna Tessera, Venus]

     "So, where do we put down?" Lightfoot asked the team leader, Marshal
Tsukiko Crowley.
     "The Tesserae, right there," she replied after a pause, pointing at a
spot on the map display.  "I want to be over the horizon from that strong
radio signal, but close enough to scout it out in our helijets."
     "I could do a quick flyover," Lightfoot suggested.
     The young paranormal who had been nicknamed "Grind Lite" at the Academy
shook her head.  "The chipheads think they can decode the signals given a day
or so...Earth day, that is," she chuckled flatly.  "I'd rather get as much
SigInt as I can before risking a face to face.  Even as fast as you can fly
us, they might have something that can shoot us down.  Especially if that's a
Khadamite landing party."
     "What about the secondary signal?"
     "The ping?  As far as Ears could tell, it's out in the middle of the
ocean.  Probably a scouting expedition of some sort, and almost definitely
moving.  If it pings again, we may go take a look-see."
     "This is sounding more and more like I'm not getting to go home for a
while," Tom frowned.
     "Buck up, old man," Tsukiko patted him on the back.  Biologically, she
was a couple of years older than he was, but thanks to the joys of Special
Relativity, his calendar age was older than her father's.  "It's not like
it'll take you more than a day to get home once we let you go.  You'll be
back in time for classes to start up."
     "Joy to the world.  Worlds," he sighed.

               *              *              *              *

[Outside of Time and Space]

     The child's scream cut off sharply as the world resolved itself once
again around them.  It was still the same house, in the same city...but it
felt ghostly, like it wasn't really there.  But that wasn't it at all.  The
house existed quite solidly in space.
     Time, however, was another matter.
     The lack of a flow of normal time was what had quieted little Chris
down.  It was as if the noise of passing events had finally been silenced,
and it was quiet for the first time he could remember.
     Timeslip didn't have to guess at this, though.  After all, he'd lived
it.  Lived for unmeasurable non-time in this ghostly city, where no one else
moved or breathed or thought, until he had learned to control his own powers
and extend bubbles of time in the timeless space.  Until he'd stopped being
Christopher Kelsey, and started being Timeslip.
     "Hello," came a voice from behind him.  He turned slowly to meet it,
being was his younger self, and he had been expecting it.
Even the somewhat childish attempt to startle his then older self.
     "Hello," he addressed a figure who was physically identical to the child
he had kidnapped.  "Good to see me again," he smiled.
     "And I see I brought me as well," he gestured at the child-in-mind, who
was still goggling incredulously at all the nothingness in time.  "Hm, this
is going to get confusing, pronouns and all."
     Timeslip nodded.  "Let's keep it simple.  This here is One," he laid a
hand on the youngest version of himself.  "You can be Two, I'll be Three.
Four should be arriving soon, if I recall correctly."
     Two quirked an eyebrow, an expression that looked strange on a three-
year-old's face.  "How many of me are going to be at this little meeting?"
     "I only expect four total, although it's not like you need to be a
gracious host and find places for us all to sit.  It should be over pretty
     With that, a gray-haired and limping version of Timeslip stepped through
the door into the bedroom.  "Hello...wait, I don't remember this many of me
here.  I came to see YOU," he pointed at Two, "and teach you how to get out
of this limbo.  You other two shouldn't even be here," he accused.  "I mean,
I thought of coming here once before, but..."
     "You decided you didn't want to risk the paradox," Three smirked.  "Time
travel's a bitch, though, isn't it?  There's not a lot of supernormal powers
that break reality more completely, and there's always the chance reality
will decide to break you right back."
     "Exactly," Four nodded.  "So take the tyke back to where you grabbed him
from.  What happened next was bad, but it happened.  If it doesn't happen, I
won't exist.  You won't exist.  He won't exist," he gestured to Two.
     "Ah," Three wagged a finger, "but we're outside of causality at the
moment.  All of us exist.  Nothing that happens inside the timestream can
affect us.  If we can prevent One here from ganking Milwaukee, he gets to
grow up with people who love him, rather than all alone in a ghost city."
     "I'm not ALL alone," Two interjected weakly.  But his expression made it
clear that his exile had not been kind.  
     "And I don't end up with the stigma of having killed a city.  And
whatever the hell happened to you," Three pointed at Four's injuries and
haggard appearance, "probably won't happen either.  We've been outside of
time, our spirits are no longer tied to causality, we'll still be ourselves
no matter what changes we make to the timeline."
     "Bullshit," Four spat.  "You know by now as well as I do that erasing
someone from the timeline is wht the old gods did to each other as an
assassination plot.  The victim would still live, but no one would remember
them, and they might as well be dead."
     "Did Beacon ever tell you about Baal Samin?" Three countered.
     Four blinked.  "Baal who?"
     "See?  You aren't my future anyway.  There's been a divergence
somewhere, that let Beacon remember his meeting with one of the lesser gods.
Yet we're both here, face to face.  And if you'd heard the story, you'd know
that all that those timeline wipes did was take away worshippers...sure, that
was nasty for gods in constant struggle with each other, but it's not exactly
a hindrance for us."
     Two interjected.  "So, what you're saying is, you can change it so that
I don't have to be trapped in this living hell, and all it'll cost is that
you two won't be remembered by anyone?  Pardon me for being selfish, but what
do we have to do?"
     "This," Three grabbed Two by the shoulders, and concentrated.  Two
vanished in an unpop of nonspace.
     "What the f...!" Four spluttered.
     "If he's still here when you do what we need to do, he'll still have
lived through all this," Three gestured at the ghostly house.  One was
starting to look scared.  "Now, I need you to take his powers away," Three
pointed to One.  "Once I put him back in the timestream, with no powers,
Two's life will map onto the new timeline.  I know you can do this, you
mentioned it to Two when you came to him originally."
     "And then I die," Four said flatly.
     "Only if you want to.  Stay here until after I put One back into time,
whatever 'after' means here, and you can join me as a rootless wanderer,
freed from the chains of destiny.  Or go back first, and you'll become part
of what I hope will be a better life.  A normal life.  I just need you to
lock this little one out of...whatever it is we access to control time.  Then
make your choice.  As for me, as the man once said, give me liberty or give
me death.  I'm taking liberty with both hands."

               *              *              *              *

[December 29, 2025 - Montreal, Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "Well, that was a waste of time," Polaire sighed.  The gigantic face of
Claudette Viau remained unblinkingly impassive, as it had been since the day
the city was dropped into a hell of heat and poison.  She had grown to
titanic proportions to hold up a mystic dome that kept out the death that was
Venus's atmosphere, just has her brother and multiplied himself into a wall
to keep in the life-giving air and water of Earth.  The ile de Montreal was
fifty kilometers from east to west and 16 kilometers thick from north to
south at its widest point...both dimensions were greater than Claudette's
tremendous height, but nothing else in the city came even close.
     They had flown to her eyes, to her ears, even to her mouth, and shouted
entreaties.  Pleaded for her to wake up and lead them, or even just to give a
sign that she knew what was happening around her.
     "Still, it's a nice view now," Aigle commented.  "The mountains outside,
I mean," he added quickly, lest he be thought to be commenting on other
titanic parts of the Quebecois mage.
     "Yes, it is," Polaire mused.  "Someday, it will all be ours.  A new
Quebec, free from the tyranny of the old world.  Still, that is the future.
The present is still a problem."
     "We could just tell people that she spoke to us?"
     "A false prophecy, you mean?" Polaire narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.
" would inevitably rebound on us.  Especially if she IS still aware of
her surroundings, simply incapable of devoting effort to responding.  Perhaps
she knows something about the outside that we don't, and refuses to let down
her guard."
     Aigle hmmed.  "There's the spin we could put on it."
     "What, phantom threats?"
     "We don't *know* they're phantoms.  If Claudette refuses to relax and
let down the dome, maybe she *does* know something we don't.  Maybe the
paradise outside if an illusion, or at best, temporary?  And if she were to
open the dome now, she might not be able to save us all again, spread out as
we would be?"
     "You may have something there, Aigle.  But let us bring it to the rest
of the council first...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 29, 2025 - Lakshmi Planum, Venus]

     Peregryn had to wade the last few meters to the shore, as the copy of
Skidhbladhnir shuddered and collapsed around him, its magic spent.  It would
recover in a fairly short time, but he was glad to have solid land to rest on
while it did...unlike his previous experience a day ago.
     "Hello," a cluster of reeds whispered in the wind.  "You are near the
twins.  You will free me from them!" Photosynth demanded, with the impatience
of one who knew liberation was near, but not guaranteed.
     Peregryn carefully folded the magical boat up and put it in his
beltpouch.  "Yes, Katri Villella, I swear I will free you from you bondage as
soon as I am able to."
     "Katri was the meat," the reeds snarled, but made no further argument.

               *              *              *              *

[December 30, 2025 - Ouda Regio, Venus]

     Sarge grunted and gestured, using the Old Speak, from before he'd been
cybernetically modified and "uplifted".  It was handy for situations like
this, a battle language that sounded just like stupid animals, and would
therefore be ignored.
     Grilla, Flinger and Faye spread out.  They were in the vicinity of the
footprint Gogo had spotted on his wide sweeps.  Rae and Joe Jung were back at
the basecamp, in case it was part of a ruse to lure the Raging Mad Mountain
Gorillas away.  And Gogo was...wherever he was.  Damn hyperactive ape.
     The footprint had been clearly reptilian, and about man-sized.  They
hadn't seen any native life larger than a football so far, which meant that
this big'un was hiding pretty damn well.  Sarge didn't like it.
     His nostrils flared.  The scents of the jungle were still strange to his
nose, but he was starting to pick out individual odors, and everything seemed
"normal", whatever *that* meant here.
     "At ease," he said.  Aloud.  Which was the pre-arranged signal for
making it look like they were lowering their guard, without actually doing
so.  Grilla and Flinger could both fire from the hip while looking like they
were lounging around, and Faye's primping mirror was useful for scanning over
her shoulder.
     The attack didn't come immediately, of course.  The enemy wasn't that
     But it did come.
     Bursting out of the scant cover offered by the jungle foliage, a mass of
what looked like velociraptors with humanoid riders charged the gorillas!
The riders held spears over their heads as lances, ready to run Sarge and his
crew down and skewer them on bronze barbs.
     A gout of flame from Grilla's weapon quickly broke the charge.  One
rider screamed in agony as liquid fire poured into every seam in his bronze
armor, and his mount quickly threw him into the bole of a tree.  The
remaining attackers scattered, but a clump of three of them stayed together
just long enough for one of Flinger's concussion grenades to bowl them over.
     "Hey, watch it!" Faye shouted as she put a high powered rifle slug
through the head of one of the other raptors.  "That grenade was a little too
     Flinger chuckled as he pulled out his carbine and blew away the rider of
Faye's target.  "What, did I muss up your wig?  I mean, your hair?"
     "Can the chatter," Sarge barked, then he turned to see a riderless
raptor leaping at him.  With no time to bring his rifle around, he simply
slugged the beast in the snout with the bionically amplified power of his
mighty right arm.  It went down, stunned, and Sarge grabbed its jaws in both
hands and *tore*.  There was a hideous snap as the jaws pulled farther apart
than they'd ever been intended to go, followed by a second crack as Sarge
twisted the head around and finished the job of breaking its neck.
     That was enough.  The few remaining riders broke away and fled.  Faye
pulled out a small, oddly shaped pistol and fired it at one of the retreating
     "Got it," she smiled, then flipped open the cover of a small box.
"Tracer signal's strong."
     Sarge nodded, wiping the raptor spittle from his hands.  "Give 'em a
while to decide no one's following 'em, then we go to the nest.  Now put that
fire out, we don't need ta burn down the whole damn continent."

               *              *              *              *

[December 30, 2025 - Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     Near the top of the world, the jungles Peregryn had seen upon first
awakening here were replaced by a temperate forest, and those were giving way
to evergreens as he climbed up into the tallest mountain range on Venus.
     "Strange," he muttered aloud.
     "What is strange?" the branches whispered.
     "How the pattern of plant life echoes Earth so closely, when there's no
reason it must.  Did you do this intentionally?"
     There was a long moment of silence as Peregryn continued to walk.
Finally, reluctantly, "No.  I was not truly awake until you arrived."
     "Then it must have...wait.  Someone else is here."  Peregryn scanned the
woods, looking for signs of attackers.  "Does this continent have serpentmen
as well?" 
     "Yes, but none here," Photosynth sussurated.  "I feel...a shadow?"
     With that, the darkness around the base of one of the trees separated,
stood up, and resolved into a human form.
     "Marshal Howard," she said, saluting.  "You have no idea how glad I am
to see you here, Peregryn."

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2025 - Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "We no longer serve the Mother, why should we serve the Son?" the leader
of the small cluster of serpentmen spat.  Fortunately, Chirocles the centaur
understood the old tongue the "natives" used.
     "Q'Nos is strong, he is a good lord to serve," Chirocles replied.  "And
we are not the only ones on this are not strong enough to survive
on your own."
     "Why would I want to survive in this cold hell?  If the Mother saw fit
to punish others by sending them here, that does not make them worthy of our
loyalty either."
     The centaur considered that.  He found the climate in the mountain
valley rather homelike, himself, but could see how a snake-like man might see
it as inhospitable.  "Other parts of this world are much warmer.  We could
transport you to one of these places, in exchange for you acting as our
     The serpentmen exchanged whispers for several long moments.  "Very
well," the leader finally said.  "We will come back to meet your leader.  But
if you lie, we will feast upon your hair end while you watch."
     Chirocles nodded, shivering momentarily at a sudden gust of wind.  Yes,
it was the wind that made him shudder.  Certainly.

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2025 - elsewhere on Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "...and then I zipped past a squad...herd?...of centaurs on my way
back.  They were talking to some of those scale-soldiers the Leviathan shed
when we were fighting it."
     A couple of Marshals in the group nodded knowingly at Lightfoot's
report.  Many of them had seen their first real action since graduation
fighting against those soldiers.
     "Any idea whether the scaleys were siding with the Q's?" Marshal Crowley
     Tom shook his head.  "Nope.  Couldn't afford to linger and risk getting
spotted.  I figured it was more important to get back here with the big
     Crowley nodded.  "Yep.  Damn...if I had to guess where Montreal went, I
don't think I'd ever have figured on Venus."
     "It all fits together, though," Tom countered.  "Peregryn was going to
try to send the Leviathan wherever Montreal went, and the scale-soldiers
pretty much confirm that he succeeded.  If we're really lucky, he's somewhere
on Venus too.  And in one piece."
     "Right.  Anyway, let's get into orbit for a bit," Crowley ordered.  "I
want to send a report back home before doing anything else, and we can get a
clearer signal up there.  I'm inclined to go take a look-see at Montreal
after that, but the bosses might have other plans...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2025 - Outside the Cleopatra Crater, Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "Walk that direction about fifteen minutes, and you'll just be able to
see the top of the dome," Marshal Howard explained, pointing into the
forest.  "We try to stay away from that direction, though, since at least one
of the Sans Rouge can fly, and someone standing at the edge of the crater
would stand out like a sore thumb."
     Peregryn looked around the small encampment.  There were only a few
dozen so far, carried out one or two at a time by the Marshal in her shadow
form.  "Are you prepared to move?" he asked.
     "Not really," she shook her head.  "Unless it's to get evacuated back to
Earth.  About half our number are still too weak from the work camps to move
very far."
     Peregryn gestured, and the dirt at his feet rearranged itself into a
relief map of the planet's northernmost continent.  "Start preparing.  I have
sworn an oath that requires I awaken the Viaus as part of its fulfillment.  I
expect you will be joined by a large number of hale men and women at that
point, enough to help transport your weaker fellows.  Here," he pointed to a
bay perhaps two hundred miles to the south, "would be a good place for a
longer term settlement, far enough from Montreal to avoid harrassment by the
Sans Rouge."
     "But..." Sara Jane sputtered.
     "But what?  By your own count, there are still tens of thousands of
people in Montreal.  Evacuating them to Earth is far beyond our capabilities
in the short term," Peregryn pointed out.  "It will likely take years, even
if only a fraction of the people want to leave.  Until then, you will need a
place to live, an alternative to being under the thumb of the Sans Rouge.  I
might be able to convince Yvan Viau to help transport people back to Earth
over his sister's likely objections, but..." he shrugged.
     "Why don't you just wish everyone back to Earth?" was her angry retort.
He'd told her the truth on the way back to the camp, but left it up to her
whether to tell the others yet.  
     He shook his head.  "This was an unintended consequence.  I could only
deliberately banish two souls, I failed to anticipate the depth to which they
had sunk their roots into Montreal.  Also, I merely banished them, their
destination was their own doing...I evicted them from Earth, their own powers
took them, and all of you, here.  It was a combination of powers that have
been exhausted, in a situation that cannot be replicated.  If nothing else, I
cannot rescind the banishment, so the Viaus could not repeat the feat of
carrying the city to Earth."  Unspoken was another fear: that Earth would
reject anyone who had accompanied the Viaus.  But that revelation could wait.
     "So...what now?" she demanded.
     "Take this," he handed her the special telephone Essay had made him.
"If I do not return in a day, and the dome remains in place, start trying to
contact the Combine.  It will work better if you can reach the nightside
first, however."
     "And if the dome falls but you don't come back?"

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2025 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sector]

     Nancy Balzer stood at the door of Chris's bedroom and sighed.  The
window had been replaced already, and all of the scans the police could think
to make had been taken.  She'd swept up the armorplas remnants, removed the
dresser that Arin had shattered...kept busy so she could try to avoid
thinking of how little she could really do to try to bring her adoptive son
back from wherever that man had taken him.  
     She gingerly touched the plastiskin over the cut on her forehead.
Whoever had taken Chris had known she was an Anchor, attacking her instead of
the two world-famous supernormals.  So that she wouldn't be able to stop him
from teleporting out.  Damnit, she was a *nurse*, not a soldier...she
shouldn't have to be able to defend herself from cheap shots like that.  But
the world was like that, she decided.  Maybe she should renew her self-
defense training.  If nothing else, it would help her burn off some anger.
     Nancy turned to go to the kitchen for some coffee.
     Whirling, tears streaming from her eyes even before she saw the person
who spoke, she faced little Chris, standing in the middle of the room.  She
didn't even remember crossing the room to sweep him up in her arms.

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2025 - Lake Cleopatra, Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     Skidhbladhnir bobbed slightly on the placid surface of the lake formed
in the Cleopatra Crater.  If Peregryn had wanted to, he could have reached
out and touched the wall before him, formed from a myriad of Yvan Viaus, that
held back the waters of the St. Lawrence seaway.  But he did not reach out,
not yet.
     A few meters above him, the wall gave way to a clear and irregularly
shaped dome, defined by Yvan but not made from him.  It was held up above
even the top of Mount Royal by the titanic form of Yvan's sister, Claudette.
The symbolism was not lost on Peregryn...Yvan protected humbly, barely seen
by any of those he had helped save.  Claudette protected with the vainglory
of one who would think herself a god, and who had taken on the stature of
one.  Although the tallest of the three peaks was nearly two hundred meters
high, Mount Royal itself was a mere stepstool to her.
     Yet both were trapped in their roles as defenders, even now that they no
longer held out a hostile, acidic blast oven atmosphere, no longer held in
precious, life-giving water.  It was like a pleasant late spring day outside
the dome, and while the level of the lake would change with the removal of
the barrier, it would be minor.
     Well, except to someone right next to the wall.  To Peregryn, it would
be like a crashing tsunami.  But that was hardly the greatest of the risks he
was about to take.  He glanced at the small seedling he carried in the boat,
its roots wrapped in a piece of cloth.  It was Photosynth's representative,
for this spell involved her as well.
     Peregryn drew out Azure Lightning.  "Yvan, Claudette, I am truly sorry
for what I did to you," he apologized.  "That I believed it was necessary to
save the world does not make it any less cruel.  That I knew you were largely
blameless, Yvan, made it a sin.  Adding the lives of this city merely tipped
the balance had already gone past the critical point when I
damned you.  I cannot undo what I have done, but I can undo what you were
forced to do to yourselves, to survive and to protect."
     He drew the mystic blade across his left palm, adding yet another scar
to the faint tracery of white that criss-crossed his hand.  Then he carefully
replaced the sword in his pouch before continuing.
     "By my blood, I keep an oath.  By my blood, I atone for a sin.  By my
blood, I free you!"
     He pressed his bloodied hand against the Viau Wall, then seized the arm
of one of the nigh-infinite copies of Yvan.
     And PULLED.
     It was like unraveling a garment by pulling on a single thread.  The
wall started to flicker, as it came undone at tremendous speed.  His mystic
craft rowed itself quickly away from the wall, as water began to leak through
the failing barrier in small spurts.  A chain of Yvans trailed from the one
Peregryn gripped firmly in his left hand.
     Peregryn dropped a dazed and ghostly copy of Yvan into the boat and
picked up the seedling with his still-bloody hand.  Yvan flickered, his
essence still split among all the other copies connected to Skidhbladhnir by
a rope of bodies.
     "LET ALL BE FREE!" he shouted.

     The shadowed crater lake lit up as if the Sun had risen over the rim.

     The wall of Yvans crashed into the water like a chain that had been
unlocked, ahead of a wave that swept outwards in all directions from the
displaced city.

     The dome cracked like an eggshell, the shards vanishing into glittering
color as they fell.

     Claudette Viau slowly, majestically fell, her eyelids fluttering like
one just awakening.  As she fell, she shrank, quickly dropping out of view.

     The seedling glowed green and grew, changing as it grew, until it had
been replaced by Katri Villella, naked save for the bits of dirt and cloth
that had protected the now-vanished plant.  And she was human.

     Somewhere, deep within the core of Venus, the spirit of the planet felt
a rush of green, as the power that had once belonged to the entity known as
Photosynth became part of the world spirit, strengthening it and ensuring
that the nightside would not die away.
     And the Leviathan, scattered as she was across the entire world, howled
in frustration....


Next Issue:

     What, you thought the whole Venerian situation would be totally resolved
at the end of this arc?  Ha!  This is only the beginning!  Be here next issue
as things start to swirl together in the wake of Peregryn's samson smash, for
the start of a new arc: "Manifest Destiny"!
     Also, before ASH #65 comes out, look for the origins of the Raging Mad
Mountain Gorillas in Time Capsules #7, "Memoirs of a Kong"!  January 2006 is
Ape Month at RACC!


Author's Notes:

     Well, I'm now at the point where "in story" time is pretty much exactly
twenty years ahead of real world time of posting (give or take a day), ain't
that fun?  When I started ASH back in 1994, the story was 28 years ahead of
the calendar.  It hasn't been a smooth contraction, of course, so there's no
real way to predict when/if I'll be posting a story that takes place on the
day I post it.  :) Leaving aside historicals like "Ash Wednesday", of course.
     "SigInt" is short for Signals Intelligence, what you can gather from
listening in on someone's communications.  It's a complement to HumInt, or
Human Intelligence...going and talking to people, basically.  Yes, I read a
lot of military SF.
     For those just joining us, Lightfoot was a member of the original ASH
team in the early 1990s.  As related in ASH #4, he was forced to push his
powers to the utmost to get a planetkiller weapon off Earth, reaching a
significant percentage of lightspeed.  But his powers didn't compensate for
time dilation, and by the time he felt it was safe to stop, he'd gone
lightyears from Earth in a subjective few minutes.  He came back at a
slightly lower speed, and arrived on Earth in 2023.  He's one of a very small
number of supernormals from the 1990s to not vanish in 1998, along with the
original Solar Max (who was elsewhere in the galaxy), Devastator (who was
trapped between dimensions), Doublecross (whose situation was...complicated)
and Delta Rose (who is not a human supernormal in the first place).
     Before the invention of the stirrup, lancers held their spears above
their heads, because holding it underarm was a good way to get unhorsed.  The
serpentmen don't have saddles for their raptors, so they go with the overhead
grip.  This bit of trivia brought to you by me watching way too much History
     Finally, I was going to wrap up with some exposition explaining what
Peregryn did in the last scene, but decided to push that off until next
issue.  Such a tease am I.  :)
     For reference, ASH #55 was the first issue I put out in 2005, so that
makes ten issues in twelve months.  Not too shabby, especially since I lost a
three or four month chunk to various causes.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to !

     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 !


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