[ASH] ASH #62 - Serpents in Eden

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sun Nov 20 22:26:53 PST 2005

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #62
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                  "Serpents In Eden"
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2005 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover is dominated by the planet Venus, with the Viaus standing at the
top, symbolically gigantic.  From the right, a space ship with Khadamite
markings flies towards the planet.  From the left, a chariot rides across a
rainbow that arcs down to the surface.  Below, also symbolically large,
Peregryn reaches up towards the Viaus.]

                       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 23, 2025 - Venus]

     Peregryn sat in the middle of a clearing, a spot where the mystical
conversion of the land hadn't gotten to an outcropping of basaltic stone.
Trees and understory growth surrounded it even more densely than would have
happened naturally, forming a solid barrier that protected and hid him from
the as yet unknown force that hunted him.  The rock itself provided a conduit
to the trapped spirit of the world, now overlaid with foreign life.
     "Photosynth," he addressed the once-human spirit that now inhabited all
plant life on Venus.  "I apologize if what I am about to say sounds like a
comedy routine, but I have good news, bad news, more good news, and more bad
     "Tell me," the leaves rustled.
     "First, I believe I have determined how to free you from the planet's
     "Then DO IT!" the wind roared through the trees.  "We must be pure
     He held up a forestalling hand.  "The first piece of bad news is that I
cannot do it here.  As I told you earlier, my spell of banishment merely sent
you to this world, it was the work of the Viaus that bound you to the flora.
I must be in close proximity to whichever one cast the actual spell if I am
to free you.  Their cooperation would also be...helpful, but not vital."  He
did not add that casting the counterspell without the aid of the Viaus would
be intensely painful for both Photosynth and him.  She would not care, and he
probably deserved it, penance for his carelessness.  And for the way in which
he misled her, even now.
     Before the ring of greenery could frame the question, he added, "The
other good news is that I can sense where the Viaus must be, where their
unique magicks warp the planet most strongly."
     After a short pause, the vines whispered, "And the other bad news?"
     "We are on a small continent near the equator, that I believe
astronomers named Beta Regio.  The Viaus are near the north pole, atop the
tallest mountain on Venus...Maxwell Montes.  It will be a long journey, even
with your help."
     "Then you had better get started," the trees spoke with finality.

               *              *              *              *

[December 24, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "I'm surprised to see you so graceful on ice," Julie smiled as Scott
skated backwards, facing her while also avoiding collisions with others who
were using the public rink.  "I mean, it's not really your element, is it?"
     Scott chuckled, doing a quick axel and landing confidently.  "I didn't
used to be, no.  But I took it up after I learned to, you know," he made a
"whoosh" motion with one hand.  While the two weren't taking great pains to
hide their identities, Scott was enjoying the public anonymity too much to
want to break cover.  "Anyway, it helps a lot with balance and keeping my
orientation during complex maneuvers."  
     Unspoken, but understood by both, was that being supernormal made one
generally better at any physical task, even if it wasn't your main "power".
It made learning things like skating depressingly easy...depressing for
Julie, anyway.  She'd spent a few years in childhood hoping to become a
figure skater before the fashion bug bit her, and here Scott was, as good as
she ever was and he hardly had to try.
     Dismissing the brown thoughts, Julie switched subjects.  "So, heard
anything lately from my little brother?  He's being awfully coy when we talk
on the phone..."
     Scott nodded.  "He hasn't told me much either, I think he's worried
he'll jinx it."
     "I hope things work out between him and Geode," Julie grabbed Scott's
hand and spun so that she was the one skating backwards for a change.  "After
all he's been through, and the thought that his new body might mean, well,
it's kind of sweet how he's found someone who may just complement him
physically, as well as in personality."
     "Me too, although..."
     Scott shook his head.  "I don't know.  Just something nagging at me.
Okay, she's already got a somewhat ominous past and all that, but I can't
help but wonder if she's been totally honest with us."
     "You mean, you think there might be something WORSE than the chance all
of Iran will try to crash their wedding and kill her?"
     Scott blinked.  "You think they're that far along?  I mean, for a
     Julie mentally slapped herself.  Scott had been on tenterhooks for
months about their own on-again-off-again wedding plans.  Even her best
suggestion, the Cloisters, didn't really ease his worries.
     Scott must have seen the pained look that flitted across her face,
because he pulled her in close.  "Sorry, Julie.  I know you want this all to
work out, but I'm just having trouble letting go of my professional
paranoia.  Sometimes I think there's nowhere on Earth we could hold the
ceremony without SOMETHING screwing it up.  Too bad we're both way too high-
profile to just elope, or I'd fly you to the Moon or something...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 24, 2025 - Barcelona, Spain]

     In theory, Ibiza had an international airport.  In practice, too much of
it was still too damaged to accomodate anything more than shuttle flights to
the mainland.  In theory, Chris could have been most of the way to his
destination by now.  In practice, he was in a jam-packed Spanish airport full
of tourists and their squalling brats, a dozen or more of which could be
guaranteed to be on any flight he could squeeze himself onto.
     Provided he could get on a flight in the first place.  December 24 was
not a great day to be trying to buy a ticket, even in his native time.
     "I tried to do it the friendly way," he muttered as he opened up his
portable computer.  "Now to do a hostile takeover of someone's seat."  He
scrolled through the passenger list of the next flight for Dulles, bringing
up data on ones that looked promising and hadn't checked in yet.  "Ah, here
we go.  A thoroughly unpleasant tool of the establishment investment banker.
Flying alone, on the company card.  Bumped!"  He grinned as he wrote himself
a ticket for the man's business class seat and cancelled the original.
     A few minutes later, he was checking his newly-acquired luggage and
answering the tedious questions they used to have to ask airline passengers
back in this day and age.
     "Do you have anything to declare?"
     "Some new wardrobe, here's the forms," he passed over a printout.
     "Reason for travel?"
     "Going home.  Had to cut my vacation short, family emergency."  In a
way, that was almost true.  And he'd made sure to book flights through to San
Diego, although he'd be diverting at O'Hare.
     The desk drone frowned.  "I don't see any record of your flight out
here, sir."
     Chris mentally cursed himself.  The delicate political situation in this
era made airport security more nervous than he was used to.  "I took a cruise
ship out," he explained, thinking quickly.  "There goes a few grand of
non-refundable trip back," he sighed.  One of the oldest rules of grifting...
if people thought you were losing money on a proposition, they were less
likely to look as hard at it.
     "Very well.  Here's your boarding pass and baggage check claims.  We
should begin boarding in about an hour."
     Two hours and some nervous moments in the security line later, and he
was on his way to the North American Combine.

               *              *              *              *

[December 25, 2025 - Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     Sara Jane wiped the cold sweat from her brow, pausing in her efforts to
erect temporary shelters for her growing band of refugees.  It was cool, like
an autumn day, something that still struck her as odd.  She'd felt Venus was
supposed to be hot and jungle-like, not like a Canadian softwood forest.
Then again, given that the Sun never seemed to rise far above the horizon,
she was probably in the arctic circle.  Further south it probably fit the old
sci fi tropical pattern.
     At least it didn't seem likely to snow here, unlike in Canada.  But it
rained often enough that they needed shelter, especially for the poor
bastards who'd been rescued from the prison farms, where the Sans Rouge were
working dissenters to death.  She suppressed a grim chuckle...no red blood
on their hands of the "without red", just quiet deaths by exhaustion.
     "Marshal, we could use a hand with this one," came a call from a few
dozen meters away.  Another tree was about to be dropped by the amateur
lumberjacks, and while her paranormal gift didn't run to superhuman strength,
she was strong enough to give a nudge to a tree that might fall the wrong
way.  As these did a LOT more often than she thought they should...it was as
if the trees were trying to take a few humans with them.
     "Coming, Luc," she called back.
     As she loped over to the cutting crew, she spotted one of those strange
rainbows again, just going straight up into the sky rather than curving.
Checking her watch, she confirmed that it had been about 24 hours since the
last one, which had happened 24 hours after the one before it.  Some weird
natural phenomenon of the new Venus, or something else?
     She sighed, "Probably something else," then filed it away as she
concentrated on helping with the tree.
     At least it made an interesting replacement for Christmas decorations.

               *              *              *              *

[December 25, 2025 - San Francisco, SoCal Sector]

     Green light danced off the living room walls of Geode's apartment,
little shimmering reflections and refractions of George's fingertips as they
passed into and through her own.  Neither of them saw the festive display,
however, as their eyes were closed in ecstacy.
     For several minutes they simply stood there silently, swaying gently and
making the patterns of light on the walls shift and change.  Finally, and
more than a little reluctantly, they broke contact.
     "Happy holidays," George smiled as he handed Geode her glove.
     "It's not my holiday," she demurred as she covered her crystalline
     George shrugged.  "It's not your religion, no.  Nor mine, really.  But
it's everyone's holiday.  When it's coldest and darkest, it's good to have a
celebration to remind everyone that there's still warmth in the world, in our
     "What about Australians?" she countered playfully.
     George paused for a moment, the light of his body dimming slightly while
he pondered.  "They need something to help them forget they live in
Australia," he grinned.
     "Naughty man," Geode chided.  "So," she shifted the topic slightly,
"what else is planned for today?  I believe there are presents for this
holiday?  Or did we just finish opening each other's?" she grinned, far less
shyly than she would have a few months earlier.
     "There's Christmas dinner with friends and family," he replied,
straight-facedly.  "In this case, at the ASH Chicago base, which is why we
have to stop fooling around and get ready to fly out there.  We'll do the
presents thing after dinner, presuming no one tries to blow up the world
while we're eating."
     Christmas had not, George reflected, been the best of holidays for his
circle of friends lately.  In '22 they were fighting the Burnout Killer, in
'23 Kasca had attacked them at the Chicago base.  Last year had been quiet
for a change, but they'd all been waiting for the hammer to drop regarding
Doublecross.  And reading about the exploits of the CSV, which was enough to
foul up anyone's holiday mood.
     "Let us hope not," Geode nodded as she bound her shimmering hair up into
a bun so that it would fit under her helmet.  "I would like to have some time
to talk with Mrs. Taylor, I have not gotten to see her much lately, and there
are some...questions I would like to ask her," she finished almost in a
whisper, the old shyness now showing through.
     George wondered if he should start hoping for ninjas to attack, or

               *              *              *              *

[December 25, 2025 - Ouda Regio, Venus]

     "All right, you apes, look lively!" Sarge Simian shouted as the cargo
hatch of the ship clanged open, before the thrusters had even cooled.  The
cybernetically enhanced mountain gorilla jumped to the scorched and steaming
earth, the boots of his pressure suit made of stern enough stuff to protect
his feet from the heat.  Not that his feet were particularly vulnerable to
heat...most of his lower body had been rebuilt to allow a more upright
     He was followed by the rest of his troupe, the survivors of yet another
Technomancer project that had been repurposed to support Khadam's foreign
policy objectives.  The handful of cyborg gorillas fanned out and left the
clearing formed by their earlier missile run on the jungle.
     A squad of Gold Citadellian elite troopers disgorged from the ship next,
their normally gleaming armor muted into jungle camoflage patterns.  Not that
an enemy close enough to spot them didn't know exactly where they'd be right
now, but it was good operational doctrine.
     Finally, in a variant of the Gold trooper armor bedecked with a small
pair of orange and blue opposing arrows, Conflicto hopped out and looked
     "What a lovely place to be spending Christmas," he sighed.  The
equatorial continent was far enough from Montreal that there was no real
chance they'd be spotted before they were ready, and with dawn in the west
still a few dozen hours away, they were able to sneak down to a landing in
what amounted to a smuggler ship with better guns.  "Eyes, report."
     The sensor tech of the Gold squad saluted.  "Confirmed breathable, if
unpleasant.  Current temperature fifty two Celsius, relative humidity ninety
seven percent, atmospheric pressure twelve hundred ten millibars."
     "Ick.  I'm not taking off this helmet until we have a basecamp set up.
     "None on sensors," the tech shook his head.  "Thermals are having a hard
time picking out anything against the ambient heat, though."
     "That's why we have the Raging Mad Mountain Gorillas," Conflicto
smirked.  "Sarge, we clear?"
     "Clear on our twelve," the simian non-com replied.  "Alright, apes!
     "Flinger, clear on our two!" the team's grenadier replied over radio.
     "Grilla, clear on four!" called out the flamethrower specialist.
     "There seems to be an oppressive ontological framework in place,
Sergeant, the nature of which defies ready..."
     "Can it!" Sarge shouted.  "Clear or not?"
     There was a brief sigh.  "Joe Jung, clear on six.  Physically, at
     "Fine," Sarge said, sounding like he was rolling his eyes.
     "Rae, clear on eight!" called out one of the troupe's two females.  Rae
was fairly butch, even for a gorilla, Conflicto noted.
     "Faye, clear on ten!"  Conflicto shuddered.  Faye was the other female,
and she tried very hard to look sexy by human standards.  It was one of the
most horrifying things he'd ever seen, and he lived in Khadam.  Even the
creepy-crawly who owned the ship and was piloting it for them was less
     "Gogoclearonwidesweep!"  Like a lot of speedsters, Gogo had trouble with
slowing down enough for slowpokes to understand, but a few applications of
zero friction had taught the gorilla to make the effort when talking to
     "Construction brigade, get on it!" Conflicto ordered.  "We've got a
couple of days until dawn, and I want this entire landing site sanitized and
camoflaged before sunup!"  Step one, establish a beachhead.  Step two, start
scouting locations for New Khadam.  Step three...profit!

               *              *              *              *

[December 26, 2025 - Mount Olympus]

     Simon Smith slumped towards his rooms with the aid of a sylph.  The
exertion of holding the rainbow bridge open was more than a man of his age
could be expected to endure without consequences, but endure it he would.
Today's brief window of transit saw the first technical team cross over to
the dawn star, now that a safe camp had been established.  Soon it would be
possible to communicate directly with the camp via radio, albeit with a
significant time lag...Venus may be at its closest to Earth, or near enough
to it, but that still meant several minutes delay even at the speed of light.
     As the sylph helped him into a heavily cushioned couch, Simon chuckled.
Matters of light and color did seem to follow him now.  Or at least they took
on greater prominence, now that he knew who he had been before Apollo had
ripped his power and his memories from him.  Bennett Rush, the original
Doublecross, accept no imitations or backup files.
     Had it truly been punishment for hubris, as so often happens when one
scales the slopes of Olympus?  Or had it been "tough love" from a god of
light who recognized insanity when he saw it?
     Whatever.  Doublecross had been mad.  Bennett Rush had been a subtle
plotter, a gray eminence who manipulated the world from behind the mask of a
humble government official.  Simon Smith would be far better served to follow
the example of Bennett than of Doublecross.  Especially now that the stakes
were not one world, but two!
     The new project had shaken Q'Nos out of his funk, especially once he had
learned that his mother was the spirit of Venus now.  He considered the
entire world his by birthright, and if they were very careful, Q'Nos could
potentially enforce that claim, even though Venus was a fairly open secret
     If nothing else, the relative inaccessibility of the planet cancelled
out Q'Nos's greatest weakness: lack of warm bodies.  The other great powers
of the world could simply pour soldiers into a problem...even if one of
Q'Nos's followers was worth twenty humans, there were a hundred humans
available to the task of defeating it.  But there was simply no way for
anyone to send large numbers to the planet.  Space transit was limited and
mostly borrowed or bought from the various interstellar powers.  No one else
had a mystic means of travel, although the fact that the rainbow bridge could
only be maintained for a brief period around dawn did limit it for Simon's
purposes as well.  It all came down to cowing or winning the loyalty of the
population already present on Venus, and Q'Nos had a clear advantage in
wooing the support of the children of the Leviathan....

               *              *              *              *

[December 27, 2025 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sector]

     Timeslip stood in the cold wind coming off Lake Michigan as he waited
with a small knot of other people at the taxi stand.  Two days wasted in
Washington D.C. had put him behind schedule, but not fatally so.  And the
delay had made it easier to get a legit ticket from O'Hare to Mitchell Field,
at least.  He was good at cracking systems, but no one could avoid detection
     The wind carried a snippet of conversation towards him.  "...not so sure
this is the right thing..."  The voice was naggingly familiar, and he
carefully looked around for its source, trying not to LOOK like he was
     He caught sight of a slender woman and a man who could have broken Moose
Jr. in half about five meters away.  They were headed for the rental garage
across the street, but walking slowly.
     "He's growing up fast," the large man replied.  "REALLY fast.  You may
have let Nancy adopt her, but it's not like you want him to never know his
real mother."
     "Oh, shit," Timeslip hissed through gritted teeth.  He added, silently,
"Why did they have to be here *today*?"

               *              *              *              *

[December 27, 2025 - Beta Regio, Venus]

     "You are nearing the shore," Photosynth whispered.  "How do you propose
to cross the seas?  My power there is limited."
     Peregryn pulled a small square of cloth from his beltpouch.  "This is
Skidhbladhnir, or a reasonable copy, at any rate.  The Svartalfwerk boat
given to Freyr, that can be folded up and kept in one's pocket.  It is also
quite fast," he added in a deadpan.  In fact, it could take him practically
anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours, presuming he didn't run into
trouble such as storms or sea monsters.  He didn't doubt that there would be
monsters.  He replaced the folded boat in his pouch, then pulled out a
shimmering blue-silver Chinese longsword.  "So, how many will there be
waiting for me?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "You dissemble poorly, Photosynth.  You have kept my mysterious pursuers
at a distance, but not driven them off entirely.  They will be waiting for me
once I leave the protection of your jungle...you may want me to succeed so
that I can free you, but you're certainly not above putting me in some
uncomfortable positions."
     "Five to the west, seven to the east.  They shouldn't be a challenge for
a mighty warrior mage such as you, should they?"  Childish malice colored the
voice coming from the crackling of twigs and swishing of leaves.
     He gently pushed the undergrowth aside with his sword, rather than
playing tit for tat and hacking through it.  It was time to face these unseen
warriors in any case.  They were a lingering mystery he would rather solve
before leaving their land.
     "Here I am," he called out, striding out onto the rocky shore, too young
to have sand, mystic terraforming or not.  "Face me!"
     The two groups Photosynth had mentioned emerged from behind boulders,
looking for all the world like ancient Greek heroes in bronze armor.
However, rather than the hide shields carried by those warriors of yore, each
carried a single immense scale that shimmered blue-green in the seemingly
eternal daylight.  As they came closer, Peregryn could see that their olive
skin was scaled, and what was visible of their faces under their helmets had
a reptilian cast to it.
     Then the children of Leviathan drew their swords and charged....


Next Issue:

     Timeslip reaches his final destination!  Everyone else reaches Venus!
The final days of 2025 tick away, and it's clear that big changes are in
store for 2026, in "The Land of Nod"!


Author's Notes:

     I have painted a map of Venus as it looks in late 2025, using the
altitude map at http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~soper/ImVenus/topol.gif for
inspiration.  Check it out at: http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/venus.html 
     Maxwell Montes is actually the tallest mountain in the Solar System, as
far as we know, exceeding even Olympus Mons on Mars (which still has the
title of tallest volcano).  However, the addition of oceans to Venus cuts
down the measured height of all its mountains.  Maxwell Montes is probably
about 5 miles tall above sea level now, give or take, not quite as tall as
Everest.  Comparable to Tibet in terms of air pressure, but a bit warmer and
     How can someone made of light and someone made of crystal close their
(transparent) eyes and not see anything?  As with a lot of supernormals, it's
a state of mind.  :)
     I may or may not write a Raging Mad Mountain Gorillas story for the
upcoming Ape Month at RACC, but if you'd like to tell one of their untold
tales for that event, contact me! 


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     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
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !


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