[ASH] ASH #57 - "Bigger Problems"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Thu Mar 31 06:57:14 PST 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #57
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                   "Bigger Problems"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover is seen from Breaker's point of view, with her left arm in
      the shot, held up in a warding-off pose.  She is being charged
      by a Chinese man in a labcoat who is brandishing a ceramic knife.]

                       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

[November 8, 2025 - Singapore, SEATO]

     "YAAAAAAA!" screamed the Anchor has he ran at Breaker, his ceramic knife
held to slash at her neck.  
     In a quick motion, she pulled off the...whatever it was called...that
was wrapped around her upper body in lieu of a cape.  Her mind was a little
too busy to remember what it was called, after all.  In a spinning, almost
dancing motion, she wrapped the hexagram-patterned length of cloth around her
attacker's extended arm and jerked it aside.
     The Anchor looked a bit surprised that Breaker had foiled his strike,
but lost no time in swinging up a leg to kick her in the arm, loosening her
grip enough that he could snake free.
     "So, not so weak without your powers after all," the Anchor hissed,
warily circling her.
     Breaker smiled silently.  Her opponent may have been briefed on her, but
obviously didn't know that she'd spent most of her life under the Anchor
effect of the former Premier of China, as did any other supernaturals who
were born in China and moved away.  She'd honed what powers she had, and
concentrated on the martial arts and improvement of her body, hoping she'd
get to be part of one of the superhero teams everyone had known would be
formed eventually.
     She swung the cloth at her opponent's arm again, the ballistic weave
being little protection against a knife but still weighting it down enough to
be an effective weapon.  He jerked his blade out of the way, only to widen
his eyes in surprise as the loop changed direction and tried to drop around
his neck.  Only a panicked duck and roll kept him from being ensnared.
     "Not so without-my-powers, either," Breaker grinned as the two
disengaged and resumed wary circling.  No sense in letting the Anchor know
that it had taken all of her strength to perform that little trick.  The
casual Anchoring she'd grown up in was powerful, but not as strong as having
the full attention of a trained Anchor.
     She jumped up in a TK-boosted leap and then hinked in mid-air to land
next to the Anchor instead of behind him, but the man was no fool, and she
landed right into a powerful kick that sent her skidding across the floor.  
     Breaker rolled to her feet, wincing in pain.  The kinetic absorption
fibers in her uniform were supertech, so they didn't work very well against
direct contact with someone who could enforce natural law.
     The Anchor pulled out a handful of smaller ceramic blades and hurled
them at Breaker, but she managed to swat them aside with her loop of
ballistic cloth.  One of them stuck in the weave, and she pulled it out.
     "Here's something my classmate Teller taught me!" she flicked the blade
back to its owner, accelerting it and guiding it with what little telekinetic
force she could muster.
     He's going to catch it, Breaker realized.  He has my measure, he's
better than me, and he's going to catch that blade and make me eat it.
     Whether he would have or not would never be known, however, because just
then the door burst open and a security team crowded in.
     "Do not move!" the squad leader ordered, distracting the Anchor just
long enough for the blade to sink into his shoulder.  
     "Thank you for opening the door," he snarled, throwing down a small
object that burst in a brilliant white flare.
     Breaker's goggles automatically polarized, but they always took a couple
of seconds to depolarize and she tore them off just in time to see the Anchor
going out the door over the toppled forms of the security team.  Their
attempts to get back to their feet kept Breaker from getting through the door
herself for crucial seconds.

     "We know he went out the south entrance, since we found an unconscious
guard there, but he could just as easily have doubled back in any direction
and fled into the streets," the security director told Breaker in an
apologetic tone. 
     She nodded.  "Don't feel too badly about it, you probably saved my
life.  And the Anchor failed in his mission," she held up a small gray
capsule about the size of the last joint of her thumb.  "Microchip says it
would have interfered with our tests on the merlion, and resulted in a
'control' device that would probably have just driven any other merlion
insane with rage."
     Nearby, the tiny hero was outside his human-sized armor and rooting
around in the equipment, probably to see if there was any other sabotage.
     "What worries me, though," the security chief countered, "is that the
Anchor had valid codes and ID for entering this facility.  Codes that were
changed only a week ago when it was decided to capture a merlion and study
it.  If you hadn't been here unexpectedly late to notice an Anchor nearby, no
one would have discovered the break-in until it was too late."
     "It worries me too," Breaker nodded.  She didn't add that it probably
worried her for different reasons entirely.

               *              *              *              *

[November 10, 2025 - Mexico City, Federal Sector, Mexico]

     Sal sipped at the tiny cup of insanely strong coffee that was the
specialty of the cafe.  He didn't really like the taste, but...well, it was
something one was expected to drink slowly over the course of a long time.
It helped him look normal, fit in with the people of the city.  Well, as much
as a towering mass of muscle could.
     What would his legions of adoring fans think if they knew that he could
no longer eat or drink large amounts, nor did he need to?  The last time he'd
tried to chug a mug of beer, he'd thrown up almost immediately.
     And there'd been blood mixed with the beer.  There was blood in his spit
now too, and in what little other...stuff...came out of his body.  It was as
if he was turning permanently into that bag of blood that Caprice had made
him during the Battle of Montreal.  
     Once, he'd even tried to see if he could will the blood in a glob of
spit to return to his body, like he'd willed his arm back together once.
He'd stopped when it oozed towards him a little.
     Sal took another sip of the almost syrupy beverage.
     He was going to have to talk to someone about this.  Soon.  

               *              *              *              *

[November 11, 2025 - Singapore, SEATO]

     "So, what does the sonar say?" Commando asked over the shoulder of the
technician monitoring the test area.
     "Nothing bigger than a fish for the past twenty minutes," came the
reply.  "During the control measure yesterday at the same time of day, there
were seven times when merlions swam through this section of the river.  We
may not be able to control the things like the Chinese did, but I think it's
safe to say we're keeping them away."
     Breaker nodded in satisfaction.  "That's really all we need.  Set these
up in the harbor itself, and on pilot ships to protect craft coming up to the
harbor, and you can protect shipping without harming the merlions much.
Better than trying to round them all up and put them in a zoo, too."
     "Congratulations are in order for everyone," Mayor Hsien clapped his
hands as he stepped into the shaded equipment shack.  "Miss Li, I have an
invitation from Prime Minister Liebre to extend.  He would greatly appreciate
it if you would spend a few days as his guest in Manila, so that our alliance
can publicly show its gratitude."  His smile was a bit too plastic, his
stance a little too tense.  He had that look of a politician who had been
hoping to milk a situation for personal gain only to find that the cow had
been taken away by his superiors for their own milking.
     "Of course, Mayor.  Tell the Prime Minister I'd be honored."  If they
were intent on putting on a show for her, she reasoned, best to watch it.
What they said might be useless drivel, but what they avoided saying or
showing would probably be interesting.

               *              *              *              *

[November 12, 2025 - Montreal, Venus]

     Jacques Dumont winked at Etienne as he ducked out of the community room
of his apartment building.  Everyone was supposed to attend the "nightly"
social gatherings supervised by the Sans Rouge, but it was an open secret
that Jacques had a lover in the next building over.  Even Etienne, the Sans
Rouge rep, gave a nod and a wink to Jacques's absence once in a while, as
long as he wasn't gone too often.
     Tamica Higgins got out of her apartment building with the same excuse,
and she met up with Jacques a few minutes after he slipped into the orangely-
lit evening.  It was only night by consensus, after all...the sky glowed all
the time, through the acidic clouds kept at bay by the Twins.
     The designation of "night" wasn't the only fiction, though.  Jacques and
Tamica weren't lovers at all, although they were careful to act like it when
seen together.  No, they weren't running off to some private place to screw
each other...they were doing it to screw the Sans Rouge.
     "Break the pillars," Jacques whispered when the two reached the door of
an abandoned house.  The Sans Rouge had tried to gather as much of the
surviving population together as possible in apartment buildings and other
complexes, the better to conserve resources and keep and eye on the
citizenry.  Many of the houses on the island had already been stripped of
resources, but it would be years before they got to every place, which left
the resistance plenty of choices for meetings.
     The door opened, and Jacques and Tamica entered quickly before it was
shut by the doorman.
     Fortunately, there were no telepaths among the Sans Rouge, or the
resistance would have been ferreted out long ago.
     "I think that makes everyone," Bonhomme Richard said.  It wasn't his
real name, of course, but no one used real names here if they could avoid it.
It would at least slow down captures if the Sans Rouge ever decided to get
serious about cracking down.  "A few of our number let it be known through
the grapevine that they wouldn't be able to attend, those of you who are
their contacts know who they are and will be responsible for making sure they
get this information as soon as feasible."
     Jacques nodded.  He only knew Tamica by name, but there were some
missing faces.  The entire resistance didn't meet like this very often, since
it was insanely dangerous, but it had done so often enough that he knew most
of the major figures.  Richard was the nominal leader, but dressed in such an
outlandish costume at the meetings that there could have been a dozen men
taking turns filling the role, including one of the "missing" people.
     "Our friend in the shadows has let me know some interesting and
potentially world-shaking information," Richard's grin was visible below his
half-mask.  He was referring to the NAC Marshal, Sara Jane Howard, who had
been in Montreal at the time of the Great Shift.  She didn't come to meetings
herself, and spent a great deal of time hiding from the Sans Rouge.  They
might take the resistance lightly, but they hated Howard and the government
she represented.
     "It seems that our recent temblors have not had anything to do with
subsidence," Bonhomme Richard continued.  "Our friend has spent as much time
as she dares outside the dome, and nothing looks substantially different.
Something else is causing the quakes now."
     "I thought Venus was tectonically inert?" one of the women in the
audience interjected.  "No earthquakes, no magnetic field, and so forth." 
     Tamica nudged Jacques, looking at his watch.  It was a sports model with
a built-in compass that had been pretty useless since Montreal moved to
Venus.  Not that he'd really gotten much use out of it before.
     He held it up to the light and checked the needle.  It was pointing
firmly in one direction, rather than lazing around as it usually did.  The
abandoned house had no power, so there shouldn't be any magnetism caused by
the wiring.  Still, he started moving around as conversation continued, to
see if someone had a magnet on their person.
     "Excuse me, but what are you doing?" Richard asked Jacques.
     "Hm?  Oh...well, if we have earthquakes, maybe Venus isn't inert
anymore?  So, maybe there's a magnetic field too?"  Jacques didn't really
know much about geophysics, but he was eager to contribute something to the
mystery.  "And, um, unless there's a really strong power line nearby, I think
there's a magnetic field now."
     There was much hubbub as those with more scientific background than
Jacques took over and started examining his compass.  They said things like
"planetary dynamo" and "magnetopause" and other things he didn't really
follow, but they were all rather excited.
     Something was happening to Venus.  Something big.  Maybe even bigger
than the Viaus.

               *              *              *              *

[November 13, 2025 - Mount Olympus, Kingdom of Q'Nos]

     Atop a hill there stood two gods, surrounded by a throng of mortals.
Athena was resplendent in her armor, and Poseidon terrifying in his robes of
storm and sea.  Oddly, however, Athena's spear was made of living wood, with
tendrils and branches twining around it and up her arm, sprouting green
     "We will found a city here," the leader of the mortals called up to the
towering gods, "and we wish a patron.  O mighty Athena, o powerful Poseidon,
which of you will bless our city with prosperity?"
     "A city needs a source of water, and that is mine to give or withhold,"
Poseidon proclaimed, striking the rock with his trident.  A torrent of water
gushed forth, quickly forming a river that swept down into the valley.  A
great cheer went up from the mortals.
     "Do not be so impressed," Athena countered.  "Try to drink that water,
and you will find it brackish with salt.  For Poseidon only rules the water
of the seas, not the water of rivers.  My gift will grant you true
prosperity," she added, touching the ground with her vine-covered spear.
     An olive tree twisted up out of the stone, crackling the rock into first
shards and then sand and finally soil as it grew.  More trees sprouted
nearby, and then even more, until the hillside was covered in gnarled growth.
The crowd roared even more loudly, for they could see that the oil of the
olive would be of great use and worth.
     "Hold," Poseidon held up a hand.  "Before you declare my niece's the
greater gift, I have not get finished."
     The mortals surged back in terror as a tremendous serpent rose from the
saltwater river.  With a quick slash of his trident, Poseidon opened it from
head to tail, its blood rushing out into the river.  Yet, the river did not
run red.
     "The water is now sweet and fresh as any mountain-fed stream," Poseidon
announced.  "Build your city here, and you need never fear lack of water in a
time of siege or drought."
     "This is indeed a great gift, wave-girded Poseidon," the mortal leader
admitted.  "But so is that of battle-wise Athena.  How are we to choose?"
     "Why choose?" Athena countered, smiling like a parent to a confused
child.  "Is it so hard to worship two rather than one?"

     Simon Smith awoke with a start, the dream clear in his memory.
     "That's not how the myth ended," he muttered to himself.  "Was this a
     He slept no more than night, as he sat up in his bed and tried to make
sense of the dream.

               *              *              *              *

[November 14, 2025 - Manila, the Phillippines, SEATO]

     Tina got off yet another plane, feeling like a traveling sales rep.  In
a way, she was...she was selling the North American Combine.
     And boy, was Manila buying!
     Sure, you could find the occasional Spanish or Tagalog on signs around
the airport, but it was clear that they'd been revamping the concourse
recently to make English the most prominent language.  With, of course, the
occasional "Engrish", she noted as she passed a sign advertising "Heir
Cuts".  Sounded painful.
     "Breaker!  Breaker!" 
     A no doubt carefully orchestrated spontaneous rush of teenagers appeared
out of nowhere, waving NAC flags or even old American flags.  Many of the
girls and some of the boys had bleached and dyed their hair in an imitation
of Tina's own style, or were wearing buttons with the hexagram Breaker used
for an insignia.  One particularly frantic girl had the hair, the buttons,
two flags and a set of goggles.
     Giantess, who was walking next to Tina, looked more than a little
     "Don't sweat it, it's all choreographed for the cameras," Tina whispered
in an aside.
     "Sweat what?" Giantess hissed back.  "I'll still be here long after
you're gone and forgotten."  Despite the obvious venom in her tone, the
former beauty queen never let it touch her veiled face, which held a smile as
artificial as her looks had once been.
     Oh yeah, this was going to be a fun trip, Tina thought.

               *              *              *              *

[November 14, 2025 - Hyperspace]

     He awoke from another session of speed-learn, one of the last useful
inventions his people had come up with before settling back and letting the
younger races take over.  It only worked on T!rir, of course, but his people
needed it badly, just to keep up on the rapid changes of the warmbloods.
     "Earth," he said experimentally.  The word sounded strange to him, but
no stranger than the Santari language he'd learned three molts ago.  His
mouth wasn't really built for the softer tones of a warmblood palate, but he
could make do.  And since the inhabitants of Earth couldn't hope to speak the
T!rir language without mechanical aid, it would be far easier to satisfy his
curiosity if he could speak in theirs.  Well, some of theirs.  Like many
barbaric civilizations, they lacked a unified language, although there were
three or four contenders for that title, which was progress.  English,
Chinese, Eurolac and Arabic seemed to be the most useful, although the tonals
of Chinese gave him fits.
     He checked his instruments again, although the solidly and stolidly
built T!rir craft could be relied on to perform flawlessly.  The Santari may
have invented the hyperdrive, but the T!rir could certainly understand and
reproduce it.  They'd just never been in enough of a hurry to consider that
the speed of light could be outraced.
     "And that's the problem," he clicked to himself in his native tongue.
"Once something works well enough, we stop.  One in a million might be
curious enough to push farther, and one in a million of those might have the
talent needed to do something important alone."
     He had no illusions...he was a good technician, but he was no inventor.
But he *wanted* innovation.  And where better to find it than on Earth, an
planet that had not only drawn sanction from the Planetary Confederation, but
*survived* it?  Maybe not all of their inventions worked according to sound
scientific principles, but even the fanciful "magic" items could inspire
someone in search of inspiration.  And he would find one of those inventors
and introduce himself.
     Hmm.  But as what?  His own name was as unpronounceable as any other
word in T!rir.  He mentally skimmed through the new words he had learned....
     "Mantissa!  An excellent pun, if I understand the concept," he clicked
his arms together in amusement.  In the numerical system that had evolved on
Earth, it meant the fractional part of a number, what was left over that did
not fit into the nice, neat integer world.  As one of the few T!rir
younglings to be born in the past century, he certainly fit that definition.
He wasn't just another integer fitting into the mold, nor was he yet...whole.
And the fact that T!rir bore a vague resemblance to the Earthian creature
known as a mantis made it what they called a pun.
     "So, Earth...Mantissa is coming to visit," he buzzed in English.

               *              *              *              *

[November 15, 2025 - Manila]

     Pilar Quintero, better known as Giantess, put away her palmcomp and
pretended to pay attention to the hot air being blown by the Prime Minister.
A big "thank you" to little Miss Li and her "invaluable" help.  
     The Assembly would have figured out the same plan soon enough without
her help.  This was all just political sucking up, trying to get the mighty
North American Combine to take us under their wing like helpless ducklings!
And she had to smile and act like this was all wonderful.
     At least she had Joachim to talk to.  She had to be careful about what
she said to him online, because she didn't want anyone knowing who she was,
but even without going into details she could vent a lot.  And he understood,
more than the counselors she had to see did.  Stupid counselors.  Trying to
convince her she had inner beauty and all that psychobabble garbage.  She'd
certainly never told the counselors about Joachim!  Joachim understood that
it was what was on the outside that people saw, and if you wanted to only
have your inner beauty seen, you stayed inside and lived online.
     Not that Pilar had that option.  She was a big hero now, she had to go
out in public and have everyone see her.  Flat chest, big nose, different
colored eyes...things she'd had fixed, but now had to just try to cover up.  
     Her eyes swept the crowd.  Signs were being held up all over the place,
most of them probably issued at the door.  Lots of Miss Li, of flags, et
     Wait...there in the cheap seats.  Was it...?  Yes!  Someone was holding
up a picture of Pilar!
     As she looked before her powers manifested.
     Beautiful.  Perfect.  A testament to the surgeon's art.
     He was mocking her.
     Mocking what she'd become.
     A roaring filled Pilar's ears as she saw the crowd shrink away below
her.  Maybe it was screaming.  She didn't care.  She'd teach people to mock


Next Issue:

     The other shoe has dropped, and it's a size 130EEEEE!  Be here for the
final issue of the SEATO leg, in "Big Break!"


Author's Notes:

     http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/gallery/breaker.GIF shows Breaker's
costume.  The orange bit isn't really a poncho, or a stole, but I don't know
what the proper term is.  :)

     Mantissa is another of those foreshadowing things, he's not going to
play a part in the main plot of the Romance of Three Republics.  And I found
I really wanted something to separate the last two Manila scenes, this popped
up in my (literally) fevered mind. 
     The ! in T!rir is a click, and the "rir" sounds more like a grinding
engine noise.  It's pronounceable by humans, unlike most words in their


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