ASH: ASH #60 - "The Truth Comes Out"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Tue Jun 28 21:26:07 PDT 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #60
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                 "The Truth Comes Out"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows Premier Niu, Prime Minister Liebre and the Western
      Dragon standing on a hilltop, watching as a mushroom cloud rises

                       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

[August 12, 2023 - Tibet, People's Republic of China]

     "Show a man at the brink of chaos a glimmer of order, and he will batten
on it," a figure said in a tongue not heard on Earth for decades.
     "What was that, brother Ox?" another responded in the same language.
     The aging but still massively-built Niu Jijiang turned to his nervous
companion.  "Oh, merely musing on how simple it was to reassign almost all of
the guards outside our sister's cave, brother Hare.  The government may still
be in turmoil despite General Hsieh's best efforts, but when a clear and
distinct order *is* given, it is still followed without question.  Even if it
comes from the governor of a province hundreds of miles away."
     "Could you not draw the Anchor away as well?" Arturo Liebre twitched,
clearly not looking forward to a fair fight.
     Niu shook his head.  "The Anchor is of the Conclave, one of their
so-called 'Fetters'.  He knows what our sister truly is, and would never
leave on orders from a mere governmental official.  He answers to the Eye of
Horus, now that our Premier is no more.  We must deal with him in a purely
mundane fashion...but the lack of support will make this simpler.  Especially
if our recently restored spells can eliminate the remaining handful of
mortals first."
     "Fine.  Let us act now, brother Ox, before I lose what little nerve I
have managed to work up."
     Niu chuckled like a rumble of thunder presaging a storm.  "Very well,
brother Hare.  Let us."
     Liebre scampered away, using the sparse cover of the mountainside to
work his way closer to the barracks that were built partially into the rock,
next to a natural cave that was sealed by a most unnatural vault door.
Repaired cracks in the stone around the door suggested that some very
powerful force had attempted to open the vault at one time.
     Once Liebre had reached a point of concealment above the barracks, Niu
simply strolled up the narrow mountain road, the hood of his heavy coat
pulled up to conceal his face.  Nothing could conceal his bulk, but there was
no help for that.
     "Halt!" the guard posted in a small and unheated shack next to the road
challenged him in modernized Mandarin, stepping out with his rifle aimed
squarely at Niu.  "This is a forbidden area.  Return to your village."
     Niu stopped, and slowly raised his arms while starting to turn.  And
then squeezed his left fist to fire the drugged dart at the sentry.
     The sentry slapped at his arm, thinking some sort of insect had bitten
him.  By the time his brain processed what he was seeing and told him that it
was no gnat, he was already slumping limply to the ground.
     Of course, the remaining guards had come to attention when they heard the
sentry challenge Niu.
     Of course, they were watching, either through windows or on security
     Of course, they went on alert and emerged from the barracks to deal with
this presumably dangerous stranger.
     Of course, this was what Niu and Liebre wanted them to do.
     "Seventy-two form multiplication!" Liebre shouted, and then there was a
small horde of copies of the short man, vastly outnumbering the soldiers and
subduing them in seconds.
     Which was fortunate, for they vanished a mere eyeblink after the last
soldier was down.  Niu felt the magic abandon him, leaving him trapped in his
current form once more.  Fortunately he had been a human when the Premier
came to power, or he would have lived the past twenty-odd years as an ox.
Either body was permitted by nature, but the change between them was not.
     Standing in the doorway of the barracks was the man responsible for
this, wearing the badge of an Anchor in service to the People's Republic of
China.  Not that this was where his true loyalties lay.
     He said nothing.  He simply acted.  To him, this was another in a long
string of assaults on government installations by newly-awakened Paranormals,
which had been happening all over the nation in the month since the Premier
died in the atomic destruction of Beijing.  Drawing an automatic pistol, he
fired at Niu while trying to determine what hidden foe had created all of the
duplicates that his Anchor had removed from play.
     Niu jerked slightly at the impact of the bullets, but the Santari-made
kinetic weave under his clothing protected him as expected.  Had the Anchor
used an alien weapon such as a Tsaran blaster, it might have been trickier,
but Niu knew the official policy regarding weaponry...except when
specifically called for by a mission, always use that which can be maintained
with mundane, terrestrial resources.  And a Glock 28 was very easy to
maintain.  But not so useful against alien body armor.
     An extremely mundane and terrestrial noose of hemp dropped from the roof
and settled around the Anchor's neck, snapping tight before the man could
react.  He fired wildly as he was strangled.
     "Pass...code!" the man gasped.  " her...with...out...
     With the Anchor dead, Niu felt his full strength flood back.  Casually
strolling over to the vault door, he sneered, "I need no pass code, Anchorite
     Bracing himself, he tore the massive door and part of the mountainside
away, sending them tumbling down into the valley far below.

     The Western Dragon stretched luxuriantly across the ruined barracks,
basking in the summer sunlight, her dozen meters of serpentine coils looping
around posts and tumbled stones.  "It is SO good to be free of that cave.
Thank you, my brothers.  But...what took you so long?"
     Niu, who had assumed his natural form of a bull ox for this
conversation, ducked his head in an approximation of a bow.  "A powerful
Anchor held the entire Middle Kingdom in thrall for two decades, sister.
Only last month did circumstances make your rescue possible."
     "And, no, we did not kill the Premier," Liebre added.  He had retained
his human form...he was already unhappy with how much smaller he was than the
other two, becoming a rabbit would only make that worse.  "Someone else
decided to play politics with nuclear weapons.  We do not know who, exactly,
but we think that General wouldn't know him...was involved.  He
was mysteriously called out of Bejing shortly before the explosion, and
seemed awfully well prepared to deal with the, ah, fallout of the incident." 
     "So, we have a usurper on the much-diminished throne of China?" the
Western Dragon arched one frilled and elegant brow.  "The Mandate of Heaven
is not with this one, I think.  And as the only representatives of the
Heavenly Court currently on this side of that infernal Barrier, I think we
should act to express our displeasure."
     Niu shook his head, flapping his ears at the flies that had started to
come to feast on the corpses of the soldiers.  "No.  As powerful as we are,
we are but three.  I know what you are thinking, but there are still many
Anchors in the government, a direct attack would end with our deaths."
     "Then why bother to free me, if I am not to act?" she demanded.
     "Ah, but we have a different plan, sister Dragon," Liebre smiled.  "A
game we have been playing in small ways for years, and now see a way to play
in larger ways.  And it will bring the justice of Heaven to General Hsieh
along the way...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 1, 2025 - Chang'an, PRoC]

     "And so, I returned to my province and began working my way up the
corridors of power.  Liebre returned to the Phillippines and started rallying
the region against China, and the Western Dragon stayed in the west to foment
rebellion," Niu explained, speaking English for his listener's benefit.
"Within months, I had laid down the means to become the new Premier, and
Hsieh and his cabal were dealt with by various means once we found proof that
they had collaborated with the one known as Devastator to destroy Beijing.
All quietly, of course.  And under the cover of the military voluntarily
returning power to the civilian government."
     Tina nodded slowly.  While she had suspected much of the general outline
of what Niu had told her, having it confirmed still put her a bit off-
     "So once we dealt with Hsieh," Niu continued, "we decided to continue
the game.  See who could run the best nation, according to their preferred
philosophy.  Hare chose to seek a powerful patron in the Combine.  Dragon
leads a cult of personality.  And I choose to invoke the traditions of this
nation, throwing off these shackles of occidental culture that so chafe our
national identity."
     "Dismantling the remnants of communism and having yourself declared
Emperor, I presume?"
     Niu smiled beatifically.  "Of course.  Communism was always an ill fit.
The Empire was eternal until caught sleeping by the West.  It can be eternal
again.  But before we continue what looks to be a grand philsophical debate,
I would like to gather in your cohort, Mister Tracey.  He is on his way now
in the custody of the Western Dragon, and brother Hare is traveling to
Chang'an in secret as well.  We must"

               *              *              *              *

[December 3, 2025 - Kingdom of Q'Nos]

     Simon Smith carefully stepped around a bit of scrub brush and peered
into the jagged cliffside, searching for that telltale glimmer of divine
power.  In one hand he held a box made of carved amber with dull iron
fittings, specially enchanted to hold its shimmering contents.  Slung from
his belt was a set of amber tongs held together with an ivory pin.
     "Ah, there you are," he muttered as he spotted a sliver of green that
was never part of a plant of animal.  Gingerly, he took the tongs from his
belt and reached into the crevice to pluck out the shard of Eos's rainbow
that had fallen there a generation ago.  The workings of the gods could be as
ephemeral as gossamer or as hard as adamant...and sometimes they were both.
     So, much care was needed.
     He held the verdant shard up to inspect it.  It was pure, like only the
light of the gods could be, unsullied by decades wedged in a crack in the
rocks.  It had a certain ineffable beauty, even though it was merely a
shattered fragment of its former glory.  But even a fragment was enough for
his purposes.
     Then there was a sudden gust of wind, and the shard started to tumble
out of the grip of the amber tongs.  
     Reflex made Simon grab for it, even as his mind tried to tell his hand,
"STOP!  Dangerous!"
     The lightning war between his mind and body came to a stalemate, his
hand brushing against the shard without actually grasping the lethally sharp
piece of rainbow.
     But it was enough.  It was too much.
     When Simon woke up, he found himself tangled in brush several meters
from where he had been standing.  The shard was visible nearby, and his tools
were thankfully undamaged.
     His watch told him he had passed out for only a few minutes.  His body
told him he'd hit the ground fairly gently, although he knew he'd ache in the
morning.  And his memories told him....
     What did they tell him?
     Touching the rainbow shard had not been a mere shock of power, there had
been *memory* in it as well.  His own memories?  Memories of the time in
recent days when gods walked the Earth?
     Simon decided he would need to hold back some of the pieces of Eos's
rainbow bridge, if he could do so without failing in his duty to Q'Nos.  They
were clearly important to him, somehow.  Personally.  Had Eos been connected
to his old life, the one he could no longer remember, the one that ended in
those days when the gods walked the Earth?
     Carefully, Simon picked himself back up and went to retrieve the
shimmering shard of rainbow....

               *              *              *              *

[December 2, 2025 - San Francisco, California Sector]

     In the previous century, the Muir Woods National Monument had been a
fairly tamed bit of nature.  About five hundred acres of redwoods and other
forest growth cut through by wheelchair-accessible paved trails, with an
activity center, regular programs, and over a million visitors a year.
     Then a lesser wood spirit "reclaimed" the area as the center of her cult
in 1998, eliminating all of the works of man and only allowing visitors who
wished to worship her.  Her departure later that year did not undo the
changes, however, and re-paving a bit of forest was suddenly not a huge
priority as humanity struggled to recover from nearly ceasing to exist.
     Of course, it was still a National Monument.  People still visited it.
But not many, and not of the same type of tourist.  People visited Muir Woods
to get away from others, from civilization...just not so far they couldn't
walk back.
     This evening, a greenish glow suffused one corner of the woods,
accompanied by the occasional sound of dead branches cracking underfoot and
the crunching of frost-rimed needles.  If anyone was near enough to notice,
though, they either prudently stayed away, or were there to inobtrusively
make sure people stayed away.
     "I have never seen trees so tall and straight!" Geode looked about in
wonder.  "I am told the cedars of Lebanon are as these trees, but I never saw
those with my own eyes.  And home was not given over to forests."
     George drifted alongside Geode, nodding.  "These are supposed to be a
thousand years old.  Some of the oldest living things in the world."
     Geode hugged herself and shivered a little.  
     "Cold?" George asked, a little puzzled.  While still able to detect
temperature extremes, Geode had demonstrated in the lab that she didn't feel
discomfort at anything short of arctic conditions.
     She shook her head.  "No.  I just...feel small.  Allah made trees like
this so that we would not see ourselves too mighty, I think."
     Floating around behind the literally statuesque woman, George folded his
arms around hers.  They just stayed that way for a long moment, staring up at
the trees, lit by stars from above and George's own green glow from below.
     Geode slowly pulled off one of her gloves, then placed her crystalline
hand on George's arm, pushing very slightly into the solid light that made up
his body.  He felt a warm tingling rush, like a kiss but...not.  It was
something they had discovered purely by accident several weeks ago, and it
turned out each felt something unique when they touched.  Different for each,
but pleasant for both.  
     She'd been shocked when she first recognized the implications of what
they were doing, but had deliberately pushed away that reaction, saying it
was too much of what she was trying to get away from.
     Still, shallow contact was all they had risked so far.  Neither knew
what would happen if they tried merging more deeply.  It was possible George
could end up trapped within Geode like light in a fiber optic cable.
     Suddenly, Geode's posture stiffened and she broke contact.  
     George let go and landed in front of her, concern on his face.  "What's
     "I...don't know.  It's not you.  I felt something strange.  Like a shout
from the other side of the world."
     George frowned.  That could mean almost anything, but odds were it meant
something he'd have to deal with sooner or later, in a professional fashion.

               *              *              *              *

[December 5, 2025 - Chang'an, the People's Republic of China]

     Three of the most politically powerful beings on the planet sat across
the conference table from Tina and Grind, and it gave Tina a little shiver
of...anticipation? fear? consider that she would likely join those ranks
in some way or another within the next decade or so.
     "Thus, that is our position," the Western Dragon concluded.  While she
looked no older than Tina or Grind, she was clearly the eldest of the trio of
spirits, and they gave her due deference in many small ways.  Even if they
seemed to be at each other's throats in large ways.  "We believe the Mandate
of Heaven has placed us in a position to rule the mortals for the foreseeable
future.  The military coup General Hsieh launched with the aid of Devastator
would've led to much suffering and likely to a global war as Hsieh would've
been forced to seek external enemies in order to unite China."
     "High-minded talk," Grind noted, "but you're still playing games with
the lives of hundreds of millions.  Rather deadly games, I might add...even
if all the attempts to assassinate each other were merely feints, or intended
to embarrass rather than kill, it doesn't change that many people died in the
process.  Killed by exploding robots, by spies, by enraged giants, even some
killing themselves to protect your secrets."
     Niu shrugged.  "Yes, it's a game to us, and we are all very competitive.
But we are mainly interested in attacking concepts and assets, not people
themselves.  And if they get killed in the crossfire...well, it's far less
than would've died had we not taken over.  Yes, yes," he waved a hand
dismissively, "that's justifying a small evil by comparing it to a large one.
I agree that someday you should probably do something about us.  Put power
back in the hands of mortals, end our meddling in your affairs.  But for now,
do you not agree that we aren't the greatest threat you face?  Q'Nos matches
us in power, and is open...naked, his aggression.  Khadam is a
festering boil on the buttocks of the world.  And despite recent setbacks,
there is still much agitation within the Moslem Confederation for war.  And
we may simply get bored and move on before you solve your other problems,
     "There's something I've been wondering, though," Tina ventured.  "Now
that the Barrier has been weakened, why haven't you simply returned to the
heavens?  Not that I can't see any reasons for you to stay, but which reason
was it?"
     Liebre shrugged.  "The Barrier may be weaker, but it's still there.
Even the Western Dragon is a rather minor spirit as such things are
measured...we lack the raw power needed to be able to leave.  I wanted to go,
personally.  Running an alliance is hard work, and dangerous even without my
brother and sister taking the occasional shot at me," he looked nervously at
the others, who wore expressions of Buddha-like serenity and innocence.
     "To some extent, this is also enlightened self-interest," the Western
Dragon added, smiling slightly.  "If we must live in this world, we want it
to be one in which missiles aren't raining down from the skies."
     "What if we blow the whistle on you three?" Grind challenged.  "Assuming
you don't change your mind about the trouble it would cause to simply kill
     Niu smiled.  "Then I win our little game.  Revealing that the Western
Dragon is a spirit will put her in an uncomfortable position, as everyone
wonders if they only follow her because of her magic.  Revealing Arturo's
origins paints him as a hypocrite and will likely ruin his political career.
But it causes me no particular pains.  Which is why it is against the rules
for any of us to simply 'out' the others, although we're allowed to try to
trip the others up."
     "By sending Anchors to rallies," Tina surmised.
     "Exactly," the Western Dragon replied, frowning briefly at Niu.  "But
directly revealing our natures to the world will leave the People's Republic
in a strong position, while likely throwing SEATO and the Central Asian
Confederation into chaos, at least for a time."
     "It all comes down to perspective," Niu spread his hands, taking in all
those at the table.  "Is it more important to deal with us harshly in case we
are a threat later, or to let us be and hope that our motives are
insufficiently vile to ever make us a threat?  Would you serve a short term
justice that may cause long term chaos?"

               *              *              *              *

[December 8, 2025 - The Citadel, Khadam]

     Kaliban ambled into the throneroom.  This was to be a matter of
official, above-board politics, no doubt, else the place of conference would
have been less public in its nature.  Decorum would demand a more somber
stride, but his rough-hewn form made a mockery of such.  So with an ape's
gait but a Primate's dignity, he approached the throne of the Chancellor of
     "How may this humble brute serve, o lord in the sky?" Kaliban inquired.
     Chancellor Radner quirked an eyebrow.  "No iambic pentameter, Kaliban?"
     "The limitations of form chafe after a time, and as I need not walk on
my feet, neither must I speak with them," Kaliban replied, placing his palms
flat on the floor and crossing his legs in the air.  "Fear not, lest you
require scansion and rhyme from me.  My verse may be free, but ever your
servant I shall be."
     Radner chuckled.  "Very well.  I'm sure your newly expanded poetic
sensibilities will serve you in the position I am offering you.  I would like
you to act as Khadam's ambassador to the court of Q'Nos.  They aren't too
fond of 'normal-looking' humans there, I'm afraid.  Apart from the Vizier,
that is."
     "So, I am to be a spy by other names, my illustrious liege?"
     "Of course," Radner nodded.  "It's been said that diplomacy is the art
of saying 'nice doggy' until you can get a bigger stick, but it's also the
art of saying 'nice doggy' while you case the joint.  I have discovered that
Q'Nos's Vizier is working on a project to find a way to travel to Montreal,
on Venus.  Naturally, Montreal belongs to me, or will as soon as I find a
more reliable means to travel there than Cockatrice and a traitorous
sorceress.  I need to know more about what Q'Nos is up to, and even a few
crumbs picked up in the course of diplomacy could be the key I need."
     "Well, I am certain the court of Q'Nos will welcome a fellow creature of
legend and myth.  I accept the appointment and must away to ponder my staff."
     "What legends?" Radner frowned slightly.  "You're a product of science."
     "Why, the legends and myths that I will leave in my wake for posterity
and the edification of the young of future generations, of course!  Life
itself is an epic poem, and I am the meter to mete it out."
     Laughing, Kaliban cartwheeled out of the throneroom.

               *              *              *              *

[December 10, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "I'm REALLY not thrilled at the idea of more of the world being ruled by
godlings," JakZak drummed his fingers on the table in irritation.  "Q'Nos is
a big enough threat as it is, and he only commands a fairly small nation of
subjects who knew who and what he was from day one.  These three hold sway
over more than a billion people, who have no idea they're being ruled by
     Murmurs of assent could be heard.  The only people in the headquarters'
conference room were active members of ASH, plus Grind.  No one was present
who would feel obligated, by chain of command, to report this to anyone.
That was the point, after decide if anyone *should* be told.
     "On the other hand, they did save the world, in a way," Grind pointed
out.  "Hsieh would almost definitely have taken China to war by now, or his
successor would have in the event of a purely military series of coups and
counter-coups.  Instead, the territories formerly under Chinese hegemony are
largely peaceful and even prosperous.  If they present a threat to the world,
it's an economic one, as was being predicted before things all went to hell
in '98."
     "So, you're saying we should keep this secret?" Sal asked.
     Grind shook his head.  "Not entirely.  I don't think we'll gain anything
in the long run if we hide this from *everybody*.  But we have to be careful
who we tell.  The Senate, most likely.  A few people in the United World
hierarchy.  It would probably also be a good idea to let EUROPA and their
immediate handlers know, since the EU shares several borders with the new
Chinese nations.  But it shouldn't be made public, not for a while.  I expect
the Dragon and Liebre will start taking steps to insulate themselves from any
fallout, since I doubt they trust us to keep it completely secret, but we
need to give them time to make the impact soft."
     "Tina, what do you think?" Scott asked.  "You're the only one here who's
been inside all three nations.  Do you think it's a mistake to let this go
     She looked around the room, gathering her thoughts and impressions
before speaking.  Scott, and to a lesser extent JakZak, was in favor of
blowing the whistle.  Sal and Sarah seemed to side with Grind's more cautious
stance.  Arin, Essay and Aaron didn't feel comfortable with doing nothing,
but didn't like the obvious fallout from telling the world.  And the rest
were just uncertain in general, clearly waiting for something that could help
them make up their minds.
     Finally, she spoke.  "I think it's *vital* that we 'let this go on', at
least for a while, Scott.  And it's not that I'm being more trusting than
you, more like the opposite.  Those three are right now making whatever short
term plans they think they need to, in order to both protect themselves and
to *get revenge*.  As long as we don't kick over their anthill, I think
they'll play it safe, assume we're watching, and try to be on their best
behavior...having to be circumspect is still a lot better than losing
everthing and going on the run.  But if we blow the whistle, I'm sure that
the two who are likely to lose out are perfectly ready to go down kicking and
screaming.  And all three fragments of the old bloc have at least some
     She paused to let that sink in.
     "I have to admit, for most of my life I've been afraid of China.  They
were the big bad boogeyman of my childhood.  But now that I've had a chance
to see the reality and not the shadow-monster, I'm afraid *for* China.  If we
take things slowly and carefully, we might be able to pry the spirits loose
with a carrot instead of a stick...maybe find a way for them to go home, for
instance.  But simply blowing their cover is likely to get messy.  And
lethal.  No matter how calmly they seemed to accept the idea of the game
ending, back when Grind and I were talking to them in Chang'an, I doubt that
they'd be so calm if things really did blow up in their faces.
     "I say we go with Grind's plan.  Quiet and slow.  Look for ways to
reveal the truth without causing mass chaos.  Maybe even find that we can
trust the spirits as allies against the more obvious horrors creeping in
around the edges of the world."
     In the end, even Scott agreed to go along with it.
     A new day was dawning, and Tina had a good feeling about what the day
would bring.  Even if it would most likely be the "interesting times" of the
Chinese curse....

               *              *              *              *

[April 21, 2048 - Ibiza]


     "Hey, 'Slip!  You coming?" came the shout from outside Timeslip's
beachfront bungalow as the morning Sun started to peek in through the
     "Later, Carl," he shouted back out the window.  "I got somethin' I gotta
take care of right now."
     "Okay, see ya when I see ya, I guess."
     Timeslip waved to Carl, then settled down into the meditative pose he'd
been in before the interruption.  He needed total concentration and
confidence if he was going to pull this off.
     He'd "slipped" forward a few times with no problems.  And slowing things
down was also easy for him now, as easy as speeding them up.  He could even
go faster than Old Man Tom now, although to be honest, the guy was past his
     But now he was going to slip *back* in time.  For the first time.  And
he had to get it right, or everything could just...unravel.
     And then he vanished....

               *              *              *              *

[December 12, 2025 - Venus]


     After long, dark dreams, the traveler awakened.  Winds swirled
protectively around him, keeping at bay the encroaching jungle that swayed
menacingly overhead.
     The Peregryn stood, his body stiff from inactivity and slim from
privation.  He peered up at the cloudy sky, trying to determine where he
was.  Or when.  Banishment is a tricky business, he knew.
     He cast a glance at his surroundings, but found them uninformative.
There were millions of square kilometers of jungle on Earth, and while he had
studied herbalism and plants in general as part of his researches, he was no
botanist or ecologist.  
     The ground around him was slightly damp, as if it had recently rained.
Overhead, the clouds seemed to be thinning, so perhaps they would soon break
and give him a glimpse of the Sun.  He could hear little over the whistling
of his protective air spirits...but the fact that they had not retreated to
their home in his amulet told him there were dangers still about.
     "Well, I have done all I can for the moment with my eyes and ears," he
muttered.  "It is time to consider my inner eyes and ears."
     He concentratated on what appeared to be a fairly old tree, one that
would likely have a strong sense of place and belonging.  "Where am I?" he
asked it.
     <<HATE YOU.  LEAVE.>>
     Peregryn blinked.  
     "Why do you hate me?  Is it something I did, or do you hate all men?"
     <<HATE YOU.>>
     He turned to another tree, and another, and got the same message of
hatred from them all.  In the same voice.  It was as if they shared a single
spirit, a spirit that loathed him for reasons he could not determine.
     Then he spotted a snake draped around the upper branches of one of the
nearer trees.  And it spotted him.
     "Ssssslayer!  Dessspoiler!" it hissed at him in his mind, and this time
he knew it to be the spirit of the Leviathan.  A small piece of that spirit,
rather.  Much diminished by its separation from the Earth, but somehow
hanging on.  Looking more carefully, he saw that a number of small reptilian
forms lay broken and dead or dazed in a circle around him, no doubt battered
by the wind spirits that loyally protected him.
     The clouds finally broke open, and Peregryn blinked at the incredibly
strong sunlight.  The Sun seemed to *loom* overhead, larger than it should
     He knelt down and placed his hand on a bit of bare rock, careful not to
touch the moss growing over most of it.  It didn't feel like the Earth he
knew, but at least it didn't exude the hostility he was feeling from all the
living things around him.
     <<SO COLD...>> the rock whispered, yet it was no cooler than the rest of
this steaming jungle, and rapidly heating now that the Sun shone directly on
it.  He felt the oddly pitted and glassy surface, and realized it had been
exposed to something terrifically corrosive at some point in its recent
     He nearly fell over under the intensity of the psychic shout that came
from all the plants around him next.
     "Venus?"  He focused to clear his head and looked around at the jungle.
"But how?"


Next Issue:

     A new arc, "Time and Space", starts up as subplots from recent issues
evolve into front-line plots.  Be here for ASH #61, "Genesis Climber"!


Author's Notes:

     And thus ends the longest planned arc I've done in ASH to date.  Planned
the basics in early August 2004, took until June 2005 to bring it to fruition
(although it's not really *over*, since the ramifications of ASH's decision
will be felt for a long time to come).  "Time and Space" is not planned to be
quite that long, although I've been foreshadowing it during pretty much all
of "Romance of the Three Republics".  :)  

     I'm not sure I ever gave General Hsieh a name before now, but if I did
it was purely in email conversations or private notes, because I can't find
any reference to him in the relevant issues of ASH.  In collusion with
General Hsieh, the Family was able to smuggle a nuclear bomb into Bejing as
part of Devastator's plot to use the sudden flood of paranormal energies in
China to weaken the Barrier (ASH #5-6).

     While writing this issue, I posted a trivia question to the Yahoo group
(see below).  It was, "There have been at least five cities destroyed by
atomic devices in the ASH universe.  What are they?"
     Here's the answers:

     1945 - Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  WWII still happened roughly the same way
as in our reality, as the paranormals of the day weren't very powerful, and
largely cancelled each other out.
     1991 - Wichita.  A result of the hardliner coup in Moscow being aided by
a mind-controlling KGB agent, a few dozen nukes were launched.  All but one
were stopped.
     1998 - Jerusalem.  The concentrated assault on Israel in the wake of the
Godmarket forced the nation itself to retreat to Cyprus, and a decision was
made to REALLY scorch the earth.  In fact, it's implied that a big percentage
of the Holy Land is now slag.
     2023 - Beijing, as detailed above.

     It's possible that India and Pakistan had a limited nuclear exchange in
the late 90s or early 00s as well, but that has not been revealed yet.  Also,
there have been several non-nuclear city kills, such as the asteroid pulled
to Bosnia in the mid 90s by an insane supernormal, or the cities swallowed up
in Shattered Hellas or in Australia's Dreamtime.


     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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