[ASH] ASH #55 - Some Assembly Required

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Jan 31 17:52:54 PST 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #55
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||               "Some Assembly Required"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows a quartet of new heroes fighting against an 
      unusually large merlion: a man with a gun, a flying lightning-
      caster in robes, a giant woman and some sort of powersuited
      person.  Cover copy shouts, "HEROES ASSEMBLED!"]

                       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

[October 23, 2025 - Singapore, SEATO]

     Commando fired his alien-manufactured energy carbine at the monster, but
the spray it was kicking up diffused the beam to the point of uselessness.
     "Watch where you are shooting!" Giantess shouted at the Myanmari hero.
She stood at her full height of twenty meters, wrestling with one of the
larger Merlions, and not having much luck.  Her ultra-elastic costume was
starting to show a number of tears from exertion, although not enough to
threaten modesty.  Still, the towering filipino was clearly irritated at the
whole situation.
     "I'm doing the best I can with the boat rocking like this," Commando
shot back, his red and blue uniform drenched and his short black hair
plastered to his head.  "It's not like I can fly and get closer like the
     Thunderer guffawed, a sound that rumbled like his namesake phenomenon.
The robed Cambodian pointed his iron staff at another merlion and loosed a
lightning bolt at the creature, but the mineral-rich river water was
conductive enough that the monster barely felt the attack.  "Flying is no
guarantee of success, Commando," he added.
     The merlion leapt from the water, snapping at Thunderer with its leonine
jaws, only to be rewarded with a swat across the nose with the hero's staff.
The charge conducted by the staff was enough to stun the creature, which fell
limply back into the water.  
     "It is sometimes necessary to get up close," Thunderer chuckled.
     "I've got it," Microchip chimed in, flying over to the stunned merlion
and firing a net on the end of a cable from one of the boxes strapped to his
green and gold armor.  He started pulling the merlion towards shore.  "Try
not to hit any others so hard, Thunderer," he advised.  "We're supposed to
capture these things alive."
     "Tell that to THEM!" Giantess snarled, finally giving up and letting go
of her merlion, which had started to dig its claws into her flesh.  Swearing
in Spanish, Giantess took two mighty steps to shore, then shrank down to her
normal height of just under two meters.  The injuries faded to faint red
lines, and her previously skin-tight uniform was now baggy and flowing.
     Suddenly, a mighty tail surged out of the water and smashed into
Thunderer, knocking him past Microchip and high over Commando.
     Microchip cut his line and tossed the end to Giantess.  "Take this!
I've got Thunderer!"
     "Wait, I need a minute before I can grow again..." she started to
protest, before being almost yanked into the water before she could let go of
the cable.

     The video display paused.
     "I take it that things didn't get any better?" Tina asked Minister
     The representative of SEATO shook his head sadly.  "No one was
seriously injured, but neither were any of the merlions captured.
Unfortunately, as you can see, our Assembly of Heroes has not yet..." he
paused, searching for a word.
     "Assembled?" Tina offered, with a smirk.
     "Well, I think I was going to say 'gelled', but the irony is palpable,
yes.  The members of the team were only finally chosen a few months ago, and
while they are aware of each other's capabilities, awareness is not the same
as being able to work well as a team.  I would have preferred to not send
them into action at all before the end of the year, but the public was
clamoring for a solution to the merlion issue."
     Tina nodded.  The most popular theory was that the merlions were
leftovers from the Nineties, true-breeding offspring of one of the greater
mythical monsters.  The People's Republic of China had devised a control
mechanism [STRAFE #4 - Ed.] but had taken it with them when Singapore broke
away from Chinese hegemony.  Unfortunately, they were still living examples
of the city-state's national symbol, so the easy way out of killing them was
not an option.
     "So, what do you expect me to do?  Show them how it's done?" Tina asked.
     Tina paused, biting down her reflexive response.  She was supposed to be
a diplomat here.  "How, exactly?"
     "Miss Li, we do not have a tradition of supernormal teams here in SEATO,
having spent the last generation under the fringes of the Chinese Anchor
Effect.  Plus, most of our more promising heroes prior to that emigrated to
the United States or Japan.  We have attempted to adapt military training to
the problem, but it is an obvious fact that a supernormal team does not
function in the same manner as a ranger or airborne squad.  You may well
protest that your experience is limited in the matter, but ours is non-
     "I'm honored, but I don't think I can commit to the months of training
this is going to take," Tina replied.
     Minister Chiang shook his head.  "I am aware of that.  But in the wake
of this...debacle," he gestured at the paused video display, "the Assembly of
Heroes needs to 'get back on the horse' as Americans say.  If you can help
them work together to succeed in this one thing, it will go a long way
towards their development as a team."  After pausing for a beat, he added,
"And it will also earn the North American Combine the gratitude of the
SouthEast Asian Treaty Organization."
     Tina tried not to sigh.  "All right, I'll see what I can work out with
them."  The arguments made some sense, she thought, but were they really that
unable to figure out how to do this on their own?  Or was this just an
attempt to suck up to her, and through her, the Combine?

               *              *              *              *

[October 24, 2025 - Istanbul, Turkey]

     "I kept meaning to visit some of the places mentioned in Lysistrata's
scroll [seen in ASH #23 - Ed.]," Arin mused, "but I never got around to it.
And now it's too late."
     She, Aaron and Peter were on the shore of the Dardanelles, looking west
at the increasingly fortified border between Turkey and the Kingdom of
     "Not all missed opportunities are lost forever, Arin," Aaron countered,
a smile tugging up at the corners of his mouth.  "Give it time.  Q'Nos may
fall.  Or he may even surprise us all and become a responsible tyrant,
normalizing relationships with the rest of the world."
     Peter cleared his throat.  "Ah, I wouldn't bet on that happening any
time soon."
     The two supernormals turned to look at the satyr.  "I don't suppose you
have any inside information on the matter?" Aaron asked.
     "Well, y'see, it's like this," Peter avoided making eye contact with the
others.  "Q'Nos was trying to blackmail me inta being a double agent.  And
his people are still putting pressure on me about it.  Not exactly a
friendly, responsible sort of thing."
     There was a silent pause, that Arin finally broke.  "How does someone
blackmail a satyr?  Were you caught being chaste?"
     "Ha ha," Peter sneered.  "A little thing called statutory rape, and my
not knowing that there isn't a national age of consent in your patchwork
     The humor drained out of the situation.
     "They were eighteen.  The sector said it had to be nineteen.  I've
talked to a lawyer, though, and it looks like the sector's in violation of
some clause or other in the Combine Constitution.  So I ain't goin' to jail
over this, but I'm told the publicity wouldn't be too great fer you guys,"
Peter explained.  
     "So...what now?" Aaron asked.
     Peter shrugged.  "Q'Nos's guys'll probably lay off now, since there's no
real threat they can hold over my head.  But they might go ahead anyway, just
to dig at you guys.  The lawyer lady suggested I stop spending time on ASH
property, just in case."
     "I don't know if that's really necessary," Arin countered.  "I mean, the
people who are going to be riled up by this sort of publicity are already
about as offended as humanly possible just because you exist in the first
place.  Trust me, I grew up with that kind of person.  I grew up AS that kind
of person."
     "Well, the lawyer was more worried about the perception that I mighta
given in to the blackmail at some point.  Especially since I'm one of Those
Kind," he jerked a thumb in the direction of Hellas.  "It ain't the bluehairs
I'm worried about, it's the paranoid military types.  With guns."
     Arin smiled and tousled Peter's curly hair as if he were a small child.
"Well, I guess you'll just have to wait it out.  Good thing you're out of the
country, right?"
     And if she was worried that Peter had possibly betrayed her before
coming clean about it, she didn't show it.

               *              *              *              * 

[October 25, 2025 - Montreal]

     There was a faint "tick" and Omar al Akbar al Hajj felt the floor
shudder a little.
     "Success!  Glory to Allah," he smiled.  The dozen or so men and women in
the small mosque cheered.
     It had taken months of work to create the movable mosque, geared to
slowly rotate and always point towards Mecca...and Earth itself.  And they
had only been able to start the work once it had been learned from a small
number of visitors that they were even off the planet in the first place.  In
the early months, after the chaos had subsided, Toronto's Moslem community
had thought they were merely trapped under a dome, that east was still east,
and their prayers still directed towards Mecca.
     But now, thanks to months of careful observation of the brightness that
filtered through the dome, astronomers had been able to compute where on
Venus they were located, and from that the direction of Earth.  A pole set
inside the mihrab bay opposite the entrance had a small blue sphere that rose
and fell to indicate the exact direction, at least when Earth was above the
horizon, but the kibla, the center line of the mosque itself, was sufficient
for daily prayers.
     "Our city has endured much," Omar addressed the group after the cheering
died down.  "Tens of thousands dying of starvation before crops could be
planted.  Of thirst before the pumping stations could be restarted.  Of fire,
as men driven mad by the unknown sought solace in destruction.  But we
survivors have placed our lives in the hands of Allah, and now we can once
again properly give Him thanks for what He has granted us."
     True, the project was not complete.  Omar envisioned semaphore stations
placed around the edges of the dome, with flags raising to indicate the
direction of Earth, but even with the help from unbelievers, it would be
months yet before that was completed.
     But the faithful had reason to believe now that they could no longer
merely survive...they could thrive.

               *              *              *              *

[October 25, 2025 - Singapore, SEATO]

     Tina mentally reviewed the files she'd read on the Assembly before
stepping into the room where they waited for her.
     Commando was nominally the leader, mainly because the shining hero of
Myanmar was the only one with significant military training.  He really had
been part of a commando unit before his Grind-style powers had manifested.
Unfortunately, he had all the leadership skills of a rock.  The fact that his
uniform incorporated elements of Myanmar's flag (including the rather busy
seal of an ear of rice over a cog surrounded by stars) indicated they they
wanted him to be your basic patriotic warrior hero, and he was trying his
best.  He just didn't inspire.  He'd been outfitted with a Pranir-made Tsaran
carbine, a knockoff of a standard Santari weapon, but had been promised
something better.  Eventually.
     Giantess might have a better shot at being an inspiring leader if she
wasn't so fixated on her appearance.  When she grew, she added mass from some
unknown source, but when she shrank back down her body kept the "best" of the
matter, healing most of her injuries in the process.  But it keyed on her
DNA, and the first time she used her power it undid extensive plastic surgery
she'd had on her face and breasts.  Not that she was ugly now, but Miss Teen
Plastic Surgery Beauty or whatever her title was from 2021 couldn't stand to
look plain.  So, even though her mask didn't always stretch properly,
blinding her for crucial seconds after she grew, she insisted on wearing it.
Anyway, she had the charisma and force of personality to be an inspiring
leader, she just needed to get over herself.
     Thunderer was a weird case.  According to the files, the blustering
"happy warrior" thing she saw on the video was all an act.  The Cambodian
ex-monk was painfully shy and uncomfortable outside of the monastery, but
managed to put on a good game face when "on stage".  Force him to interact
socially rather than in combat, and he'd have trouble not curling up into a
little ball.  Worse, his anxiety would interact with his minor weather
control powers in unpredictable (but usually bad) ways.
     Finally there was Microchip, who by all accounts was remarkably well-
adjusted, if a major tech geek.  Remarkable, because he wasn't wearing a suit
of powerarmor like people thought he did.  When the Premier had died,
Microchip had shrunk immediately and permanently to a height of ten
centimeters, something you'd think would involve some serious emotional
issues.  He rode in the dome-like head of his suit, piloting it more like one
of those giant robots popular in Japan a generation ago.  Microchip was also
the most comfortable with the situation of this mission, since he was a
Singapore native.
     Of the four, Microchip was probably the only one close to having the
right temperment to lead, but historically it was a bad idea to put the
team's techie in charge.  It tended to lead to elaborate plans with horrible
     Tina sighed.  There were millions upon millions of people in SEATO.
Couldn't even ONE of them developed both powers and a leader-style
personality?  Maybe they did need her after all, and it wasn't just a dodge.  
     She stepped into the room.
     "Good afternoon, everyone," she addressed them in English, which SEATO
had settled on as an official second language.  "My name is Christina Li, but
my codename is Breaker, and that's what you'll be calling me from now on.
Your government asked my government for help in whipping you into shape to
pull off at least one successful mission, and that's what I'm going to do.
Or break you in trying."

               *              *              *              *

[October 27, 2025 - San Francisco, California Sector]

     "Why are we here?" Geode looked around the outdoor cafe in obvious
discomfort.  "I do not eat, you do not eat."
     Beacon chuckled.  "And if we weren't celebrities, the management might
have a problem with that.  We're here to be seen in public, just socialize
and keep people from thinking that we all just hide in our fortresses and
come out only to fight villains."
     "You are celebrity, maybe.  I just want to hide in my fortress," Geode
     "Hiding in plain sight is a time-honored tactic.  The privacy systems at
this table, plus the widget I brought with me, will make sure we're only
seen, not overheard...perfectly normal for celebrities.  And, to be honest,
anyone with powers is a potential celebrity here.  I'm just helping you get
used to it in small do...what's that?"
     The elegant and totally untouched glasses of water on the table started
to shake.  People around them, their voices muffled by the privacy systems,
murmured in concern.  A few seemed disdainful of those who were reacting more
strongly to the now-obvious earthquake.
     If Geode had an expression behind her blank gold mask, though, you
couldn't have guessed it from how she sat stock-still for those moments of
trembling ground.
     Then things settled down, and everyone went back to what they had been
     "Good thing it was just a small one," Beacon relaxed.  "Quake cleanup
wasn't really the sort of publicity I wanted to get you," he joked.
     "Yes.  It is a good thing it was not worse," Geode agreed, her tone

               *              *              *              *

[October 31, 2025 - Rheinlander, Wisconsin Sector]

     A Hodag strolled past Tom, a cup of punch clutched incongruously in one
of its bull-like horns.  Some shapeshifters just enjoyed Halloween too much,
he reflected.
     "It's good to get off the rez," Boomer Hodgson slapped Tom on the back.
"So, how's your semester going, old man?"
     Tom smirked.  Biologically, Boomer was a year or so older than he was.
And the fact that he was dressed up as Einstein made him look even older than
that.  "Nice and slow.  Nothing's come up to call me back to active service,
so I'm actually all caught up now.  Another semester like this, and I should
be able to get my Bachelor's.  Not that I'm counting on things staying quiet
for that long."
     "It never does, you lucky dog."
     "You still doing that Net.Hero thing?" Tom asked before finishing off
his soda.
     Boomer shook his head.  "Nate's gotten obsessed with the alternate
reality he has in his box, but the rest of us are sort of drifting away,
getting ready for our own graduations next semester.  AJ's looking at the
Marshals plan, Tawny's naturally getting ready for some advanced training at
MetaPsych, and I'm trying to get an 'in' with STRAFE's Tesla Branch.  Say,
what are you supposed to be dressed up as, anyway?"
     "Gravitrak...he was in ASH for a while before I joined.  I figured it'd
be an easy costume, just add a cape and chest symbol to my own Safsuit."
     "Way to be obscure, old-timer.  Well, see you later, 'Gravitrak'."

               *              *              *              *

[November 1, 2025 - outside Lost Angeles, California Sector]

     Dia de los Muertos.  The Day of the Dead.  A day when it was traditional
to visit the graves of your departed loved ones and celebrate their lives.
     But what if there were no graves?
     Los Angeles had suffered significantly when the Big One hit over a
decade ago, and many of the dead were still buried in rubble that no one had
wanted to pay to clear out.  Even today, parts of the city tended to collapse
or shift without provocation, making it too dangerous to be worth reclaiming.
     So people had, over the years, built what amounted to an unofficial
memorial park, here at the edge of the devastation.  It was too close for
anyone to want to rebuild, but far enough to be safe.  Well, safe enough.
     The remains of the Rodriguez clan and extended cousins and friends had
staked out their usual spot on the hilly grounds, although Sara Ana would
have been a lot more comfortable with a different location.  Say, any place
that didn't provide such a good view of the skeleton of the Renaissance
Building, the place she'd been crucified by the Revanche [ASH #23-24 - Ed.].
Maybe, once everyone else had gone home, she'd do something about the fact
that the partially-completed building still stood.  But for now, she had
other issues.
     "I still think you should say a prayer for your young man, Howard,"
Essay's mother insisted. 
     "He's not dead," she growled for the fifth or sixth time that day.  "He
said he'd be back, and I believe him."  Even if he WAS dead, he might be able
to keep that promise, a little voice in the back of her heart told her.
     Of course, for the fifth or sixth time that day, her mother countered,
"If he is still alive, it can't hurt, no?  And if he's dead, he needs all the
prayer he can get."
     Yet another family argument, Essay sighed.  Howie wasn't Catholic.  In
fact, he was pretty unabashedly pagan, dealing with spirits and stuff.
Witchcraft.  Mama was sure he'd go to Hell and drag her down with, which was
why she hadn't told Mama that their relationship was...not chaste.  Mama
would probably explode and leave a bigger crater than Arin could.
     Maybe she should say a prayer for him, just in case he was trying to
fight his way back from the other side of life and death.  It was certainly
the day for it.
     But what do you do when there's no grave, no body, and no way of even
knowing if he's alive, dead, or somewhere in between?  What was the prayer
for that?


Next Issue:

     It's time to take another shot at the Merlions, and the SEATO government
expresses its gratitude in the story that might end up being titled "Eager to


Author's Notes:

     You may have noticed that the title promised for this issue in the "Next
Issue" block of #54 is not the one I ended up using.  I decided I wanted to
start #55 with some action, and that shuffled things around so that the stuff
the title referred to wasn't going to kick in fully this issue.

     I came up with the entire Assembly of Heroes while driving around on
errands one afternoon, then sketched up their costumes during a seminar the
next day.  :)  In case it wasn't obvious, they're based loosely on the
Avengers roster as of Avengers #4, although two Avengers are combined in one
Assembler, and some genderswaps happened.
     Giantess's costume presented an interesting challenge, because I've
never established any sort of "unstable molecules" type of material.  All the
giant sized characters in the setting have either been magical, used photonic
constructs, or I just didn't give their costuming any thought.  I toyed with
mesh, holographic cheaty costumes, and finally took someone's suggestion to
figure that those puncture-resistant garbage bags currently being marketed
could be adapted.  Giantess still wants something that does a better job of
hiding her face when she's tall, though.

     I got the terms for mosque design from _Mosque_ by David Macaulay.  You
need to read his books.  The kibla is a line that runs down the center of the
mosque and points towards Mecca.  The spot in the back wall where the kibla
passes through is the mihrab, and there's often a small nook at that point,
the mihrab bay.  The entrance is also along the kibla, opposite from the

     Hodags are a legendary critter of northern Wisconsin.  The original was
a hoax made from wood and metal bits and kept in a pit, but the thing has
become something of a mascot of Rheinlander and its surroundings.
     Gravitrak was one of the characters played by the real Tom Dodson in my
original ASH campaign.  He was later revealed to be a failed clone of

     Finally, I typed this entire story with a band-aid on my left index
finger, my left thumb, and my right pinky (which, admittedly, rarely hits the


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