[ASH] ASH #70 - Morning Star
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Aug 7 20:46:43 PDT 2006
[I coulda sworn I posted this back on July 18 when I finished it and put
it up everywhere else, but apparently it never showed up if I did.]
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #70
// || \\ || || Manifest Destiny Part 6 - Morning Star
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen
[cover shows Heraclius charging towards the viewer, with Geode
as a tiny glittering figure interposing herself between the
daikaiju and his goal. Cover copy, "DESTINY MADE MANIFEST!"]
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS STATUS
-------- --------- ------ ------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control ACTIVE
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 DETACHED
Lightfoot Tom Dodson Velocity Control ACTIVE
Breaker Christina Li Telekinesis ACTIVE
Fury Arin Kelsey Concussion Blasts ACTIVE
[2200 UT, January 31, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
The mists parted, revealing for all to see that a stone beetle the size
of a small mountain was slowly moving ashore. The motion of its bulk rising
out of the sea on improbably thin legs set waves crashing against the
normally placid shore.
Carlos and Marcia, who had been patrolling the shore, were now running
inland as quickly as they could manage. The pebbly beach combined with the
abnormal surf to give them horrible footing, and each tripped several times
in the mad scramble for an elusive and possibly illusive safety at the
settlement of Falcon Bay.
One huge yet delicate foot came down on the beach, sending up a rippling
wave of pebbles and water spray. "GAAAH!" Carlos shouted as he lost his
footing once again, nearly landing face-first in the slick stones. Marcia
was still standing, but paused in flight, frozen with indecision. Go back to
help, or keep running?
"Run! RUN!" Carlos waved Marcia on, desperately. He could barely hear
himself over the rumbling roar coming from the monster, Marcia certainly
couldn't hear him at all...but still he shouted. "GO!" After a heartbeat's
hestiation, in which another titanic tread came down on the beach, Marcia
nodded and ran.
Carlos risked looking back. The monster seemed to move ponderously,
deliberately. But a single step took it forward a hundred meters and it was
moving faster than he could run at this point, despite looking like it was
practically standing still. A small part of his mind noted that he was
clearly over-analyzing the situation in order to avoid breaking down and
gibbering. In fact, gibbering still seemed like a pretty good idea. A
rational reaction to a clearly irrational situation.
Carlos finally unfroze and got back to his feet, nearly getting knocked
right back down by another of the beast's footsteps. It was so close now
that he could barely focus on all of it at once. Glancing to see that Marcia
seemed to be far enough away to have a chance, he started running along the
beach, at a right angle to the monster's path. He couldn't outrun it at this
point, but he could sure as hell get out of the way!
As long as it didn't decide to chase him, that is. Carlos tried to push
that thought out of his head, and ran.
* * * *
[2203 UT, January 31, 2026 - Lakshmi Planum, Venus]
Photosynth wiped the blood out of her eyes so she could see. Behind her
was the forest, in front of her a vast veldt, tall grass dotted with shrubs
and the occasional forlorn and twisted tree. She was barely able to keep
from breaking down and sobbing.
"I'm still too close!" she choked, feeling the mix of sweat and blood
trickle down the small of her back. Most of her clothing was gone, but dirt
and caked blood covered her like a second skin. Her shoes were still intact,
but black with her own blood.
Snarling, she commanded a vine on a nearby tree to reach out and lash
her about the shoulders, breaking open dirty scabs and letting the blood flow
freely again. "Must become pure, get rid of the meat," she muttered as she
considered her options.
She'd only been running for...she wasn't sure, actually. But she could
still run, so it couldn't be that long. The Sun always squatted on the
horizon like a toad, useless for telling the passage of time. And no one let
her have hard things, like watches. No, she'd been a prisoner, both of her
own body and of the damn mage. They were going to send her back to Earth for
humiliating imprisonment, forever separated from her godhood...but when
everyone was distracted by the arrival of agents of the Enemy, she had
escaped. Run. Kept running.
She could even vaguely sense that the Enemy had arrived itself in the
general vicinity, making it even more important to keep running. But with so
little cover, could she avoid being spotted running across the veldt?
"No choice, no choice," she snarled. "Run. Hope I hear them before
they see me, so the green can hide me."
And so she ran.
* * * *
[2210 UT, January 31, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
Beacon took careful aim at one of the monster's eyes and intense green
light flared out, striking Heraclius. To no effect. "Damn," Beacon buzzed.
"At least when I was shooting at the Leviathan it did *something*, even if it
wasn't really useful. Wait...I think it noticed me. This may not be a good
Peregryn rode the winds up into the air, coming alongside Beacon. "I
don't think this entity is necessarily evil, any more than the smaller
beetles were. Not that this will stop it from flattening the settlement if
it continues on its present course."
"So we get to try to convince it to pick a new path," Beacon nodded,
firing his laser beams at one of the knee joints. "Nothing," he sighed, a
sound like radio static.
FFFSSSSSSSSSHHHHHBOOM! A missile arced through the air, striking the
same joint Beacon had been attacking. The leg wobbled slightly, but the
giant beetle's pace neither slowed nor altered. "Maldita!" Essay cursed,
tossing aside the portable launcher. "A little help, Howie?"
Peregyn shook his head. "I have been trying to get the ground to part
beneath his feet, to trip him up in some way, but the stone will not listen
to me. I believe this," he gestured at the beetle, as if it were possible to
mistake the subject of the conversation, "is an elemental spirit of some
sort. Or at least, one with a special link to the element of stone."
"Maybe some sonics will crack him up," Essay muttered as she started
reconfiguring the launcher's tube and adding various components pulled from
her backpack. "Gimme a few seconds....I should have this working before he
steps on me."
* * * *
[2210 UT, February 1, 2026 - Canberra, Australia]
Faint city lights filled the hotel room with a light shadow-mottled
grayness. While Canberra never truly slept, it dozed now, and the only sound
in the room was the breathing of the two inhabitants.
"Mmmmm," Arin nuzzled Sal's bare chest, pulling the covers up around her
shoulders. "I love the feel of your heartbeat...it's so strong, even when
"That's me, all heart," Sal smiled down at her. "Frankly, you're a lot
more comfortable with my body than I am, lately."
Arin didn't respond to that right away, just closing her eyes and
pressing her cheek more firmly against the smooth expanse of muscle.
Finally, she said, "It's a comfortable body, at least from this side," she
grinned, lifting her head to look him in the eyes. "When did you start
shaving your chest, though?"
Sal winced, and Arin knew she'd stepped in it. She rolled away a
little, to give him some space. "Not shaved, then?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Just fell out a few weeks ago. So far, I don't
need a toupee, but...just another fun side effect of my powers, as I go
through my second puberty. The first one was bad enough!"
Arin resisted the brief, impish temptation to check elsewhere on Sal's
body. "Anything else happening you want to tell me about?"
Sal shook his head. "That's the only new thing. Still have blood
coming out places it shouldn't, still healing almost instantly when I get
cut. Still able to make my blood move when it's not even in my body, which
freaks the medtechs out about as much as it does me. Compared to all that,
looking like I shave all over is nothing. Heck, people expect it of big
musclemen like me." He flexed one immense bicep and smiled weakly.
"Well, I'm glad you could come out here for the weekend, big guy," Arin
patted the bicep. "Someone has to remind you that you're still loveable.
And loved," she practically climbed up to plant a kiss on his nose. "And
that when you're ready to go beyond snuggling, I'll still be waiting."
Sal chuckled. "I'll try not to keep you waiting too..."
"Crap. Yours or mine?" Sal fumbled for the lamp, while Arin's hand shot
out and picked up a handcomp from the bedstand.
"Mine. Yours is more of a tweerp sound," Arin said as she opened up the
dustcover over the screen. "Emergency mobilization. Tom's picking us up in
ten and we're off to Venus. Giant monster attacking...which I guess had to
"Good. I think I'm in the mood to hit something really hard to take my
mind off of...stuff," Sal threw off the covers and reached for his uniform.
"Hope there's something left by the time we get there."
"Yeah. Especially on our side," Arin nodded.
* * * *
[2215 UT, January 31, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
"Okay, I admit the sonic cannon was a bad idea!" Essay yelled as she ran
headlong towards the settlement, a swarm of meter-long stone beetles in
pursuit. Her cannon had shaken loose a minor avalanche, but every boulder
had grown legs and wings and a really cranky attitude.
"At least I can hurt these," Beacon noted as he blew the legs off one
side of the beetle closest to Essay. It went into a tumble, knocking over
nearly a dozen of its brothers. "Yay, fratricide kills!" he pumped a fist.
"Too bad they'll get back up in a minute."
"Kids, don't try this at home!" Essay shouted, unrolling a metallic disk
and tossing it to the ground on the path ahead. With a two-footed stomp, she
landed on the center of the disk, which immediately exploded, hurling her
into the air! "HOOOORAAAAAAAAH!" Essay whooped as she sailed over the
secondary defense line that had been set up while she and the other supers
had been, well, making the monsters mad. Most of her more powerful devices
would only work for supernormals, but the "death frisbee" worked for anyone.
It just took a supernormal to survive the device working.
Peregryn gestured and the wind whipped up around Essay, slowing her fall
enough that she landed without breaking anything. "Thanks for the catch, now
I can save the airbags for later," she patted a series of pouches on her
"Fire!" Marshal Howard gave the command, and a dozen rifles spat armor-
piercing rounds at the incoming beetles. Designed to defeat advanced ceramic
armor like that worn by Khadamite troops, they were reasonably effective
against stone as well. Most of the shots struck at glancing angles, cracking
the granite exoskeletons but not penetrating. But a few hit legs and
shattered them, or hit at a steep enough angle to break through, sending the
target into a hissing death roll, highly compressed air screaming out through
"They're coming for me..." Geode muttered as she watched the horde
continue its advance despite the hail of gunfire from the squad crouched in
front of her. "They want ME, not the settlement!"
"Don't be..." Beacon started as he flew down to add his firepower to the
NAC soldiers' efforts.
"She's right," Peregryn countered, hovering above the battlefield.
"They're narrowing down far more than they would need to for an attempt to
get past our line. Narrowing down to seek out a specific target."
Essay unstrapped her improvised sonic cannon and checked it for damage.
"So what do we do? Have Geode run off-path to see if they follow her? And
what if the big guy's still headed for town, just sending his little ones on
a side job?"
"NO! They won't have me! I'll destroy them first!" Geode roared and
plowed past the line of defenders, nearly causing friendly fire injuries in
the process. Diving into the midst of the beetles, she started smashing
everything within reach, whether it was still moving or not.
"Get out of there!" Sara Jane Howard ordered. "We can't hit them
without hitting you!"
"Maybe you can't," Marshal Crowley snarled, squeezing off several shots
at the fringes of the beetle wavefront. "Aim for the flanks...if rock head
is going to insist on beating on beetles, we can at least channel 'em into
her range," she added.
Sara Jane shot "Grind Lite" a dark look. The two had been clashing
since the relief squad arrived. Sara'd been given command as the senior
Marshal on site, but it was Crowley's squad originally, and she occasionally
"forgot" she wasn't in overall command anymore. Still, it was as good of a
plan as they had right now, so Sara Jane nodded and concentrated her fire on
the left flank.
Geode's bodysuit was starting to shred, both from direct attacks and
from the shrapnel created when she smashed a beetle's shell. The quartzlike
mineral underneath was harder than whatever the beetles were made of, and she
was a lot stronger than they were. Whatever minor advantage they could
muster in numbers against a single target was completely countered by the
defensive ring of slain comrades that was building up around Geode. And if
it looked like a beetle was about to get around behind her, it was quickly
subjected to a devastating barrage of focused light.
"At least, if I get a little too close, it won't hurt her," Beacon
explained to the backs of the Marshals.
"We got about two minutes before big daddy catches up and it won't
matter anymore," Essay pointed out.
"Anyone got any clever plans?" Marshal Howard asked.
For once, Crowley stayed silent.
* * * *
[2223 UT, January 31, 2026 - Vancouver, Columbia Sector]
For the first time that day, it was blessedly silent. Well, not sensory
deprivation silent, but there was only the low murmur of the other patrons of
the trendy cafe. No newsies hounding her for juicy details of her breakup,
thanks to one of the things that made the cafe so trendy: very good physical
and electronic security and a guarantee that patrons wouldn't be bothered by
papparazzi. It was nice to be free of those nuisances without having to hide
in her hotel...it was public enough here to allow the illusion of freedom to
those who gave up the real thing as a price of fame.
She took a sip of her coffee and considered that. The newsies were
backing off a little as they drifted off and found other people to bother,
but it was going down a lot more slowly than she'd hoped.
On the one hand, there were several veiled references in Umbrae's job
offer to muzzling the newsies. Manhattan was, strictly speaking, private
property now, wholly owned and run by the King of Shadows as an estate of
sorts. So the press was only as free as he wanted it to be, and that was
significantly less free than even blowhards like O'Ryan claimed it was in the
Combine. If she took the job of designing for the wedding between Rex Umbrae
and his "mystery" bride, she'd have a few weeks away from the newsies.
On the other hand, it was entirely possible that the reason some rags
were still interested in her was because Umbrae was paying them to be
interested. He had a reputation as being rather Machiavellian, and she
certainly wouldn't put it past him to try to sweeten his offer by making
anything else she tried to do go a little more sour.
A waiter was standing across the table from her as if he'd always been
there. Like all good waitstaff, he'd mastered the knack of being invisible
until he wanted to be seen. "Miss Silvestri?"
She looked up at him. "Yes?"
"You may wish to observe one of the major network feeds," he gestured at
the screen built into the table, which could rise up at the touch of a
She sighed. "More gossip?"
"No, ma'am. But your brother is engaged in battle, I thought you might
wish to follow the action."
Julie blinked, then reached over and brought up the screen. Before she
had dated a superhero, she had been related to one, and George had been a big
part of her rise to prominence. That extra added cachet of contacts within
the Academy of Super-Heroes, the fact she designed uniforms for several of
them, had helped a lot.
"They have newsies on Venus too?" she asked, even as the question was
answered for her. The crawl along the bottom of the screen called it an
anonymous feed, and it was clearly some sort of spy satellite picture. The
resolution wasn't enough to make out features, but the green spark darting
around the...giant beetle...couldn't be anyone but George. She turned up the
volume, acoustically tuned to be audible to her but not to others at nearby
"...still don't know who is inserting this imagery into the general
feed, but our experts believe it is authentic, fantastic as it may appear.
Members of the Academy of Super-Heroes, as well as several North American
Combine Marshals, are fighting what appears to be a giant stone beetle
approximately five hundred meters long, although its size seems to fluctuate
slightly as it moves across the peninsula. The settlement at Falcon Bay,
currently home to hundreds of refugees from the lost city of Montreal, is
directly in the path of this monster's advance. Nothing seems to be slowing
it, although the smaller spawn it released earlier have been mostly
destroyed. Wait, what's that flare of green light...?"
* * * *
[2221 UT, January 31, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
"I think the big one is angry now," Geode noted, having finally calmed
down now that she was practically walled in by beetle carcasses and no more
living ones came near her. Unfortunately, Heraclius himself had nearly
reached her, ignoring the ever-increasing fusillade directed against his
impenetrable shell by the assembled defenders.
"How can you tell?" Essay asked, firing another glass capsule filled
with carbolic acid at the monster. "He have some sort of face I'm not
"No, she's right," Peregryn said, applying a spell of contagion to the
acid to increase its efficacy. "Before, I sensed mainly curiosity, then mild
irritation. But now we have made him mad."
Sara Jane spared a glance at Crowley. "You got anything? I can
shadowmeld, so I'm safe, but that's not gonna help anyone else."
The other Marshal shrugged. "Nope. The only plans that come to mind
right now involve running away very fast, or getting stomped into paste.
Well, I don't *plan* to get stomped, but it's the only likely outcome of the
"I have a plan!" Geode cried out in a moment of inspiration. "George,
come to me!" she held out her completely bare arms to Beacon. In fact,
almost her entire body was bare now, a crystal statue of almost
Impressionistic beauty. "If you channel yourself through me, we may be able
to hurt it!"
"Ah..." Beacon paused. "Are you sure you want to do that? You know
what...oh, hell. If it doesn't work, at least we'll die happy," he shrugged,
flying straight at Geode and fully entering her transparent body.
A tremendous flare of green light blinded anyone not wearing eye
protection, and even Heraclius paused in mid-stride.
"I AWAKEN!" Geode shouted, in a voice that was neither hers nor
"I am Heraclius. Who are you, and how have you come to this notional
plane of existence? I had thought only we who are gods or fragments of gods
could reach this place, and even I cannot do so easily."
A human female figure stood before him on the conceptual layer, still
small compared to his bulk, but many times larger than a human should be.
"I am Polla, the TerraStar. I am not of this world, or even of the
reality in which our bodies stand."
"Ah...you must be what drew me so far to the north. That missing piece
of my soul, the hole left by my separation from the whole. Ha, my unwhole
hole, indeed. You have a strong connection to the ground, yet not to Earth.
Banished from Earth am I, and I do not truly connect with this world. You
could be my bridge. Do so, and I will be content. Or, at least, it may be
possible for me to be content, which is as much as I can hope for, yes?"
"Rather garrulous, aren't you?"
"Ha. I suppose that might be the price of my proposition, wouldn't it?
I do so love to talk, and it would also give me someone to talk to who could
understand me. My siblings can understand, but we do not get along at all,
so our conversations tend to consist of throwing boulders and flinging
blades, hardly a civilized discourse. But what say you? I can see that you
are without a body to call your own, but also smell the faint connection to
that body. I may be able to help you find a way back to your flesh and sinew
"We have a bargain, then, mighty Heraclius. We will each help the other
find what has been lost. I warn you, though, my body may well be beyond your
"And my hole may be larger than you can fill," Heraclius countered.
"Thus, we each have a challenge before us if we are to fulfill our pact. And
what is life without challenge?"
Slowly, like a felled redwood, Geode toppled over. The brilliant green
glare faded and slowly...oozed...from her, forming into the unconscious form
of Beacon next to her.
The mountainous insect, for its part, slowly turned and started to walk
back to the sea, its pace leisurely by comparison to its earlier charge
"Looks like it was a good plan," Crowley noted. "Now, could someone
explain to me what it *was*?"
* * * *
[0213 UT, February 1, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
"As best as I could tell, there had been an elemental presence of some
sort within Geode," Peregryn explained to the gathered heroes. On one side,
the battered and still weary participants in the running battle. On the
other, the newly-arrived reinforcments, who had been too late for the fight
but were preparing to help with the recovery.
"And that presence jumped out of her and into the big beetle when Geode
and I merged? How does that work?" Beacon asked, hovering protectively near
Geode, but not touching her exposed crystalline body.
Peregryn shrugged. "That's why I asked Constact to attempt a memory
probe as soon as Geode feels comfortable with the idea. I think someone or
something had been hiding inside her spirit, much as you did with Scorch
after your apparent demise. But whoever it was could not directly control
Geode, except perhaps when Geode was unconscious or otherwise distracted from
the world around her."
Beacon turned a slightly darker shade of green, in what amounted to
blushing. When he and Geode merged it wasn't exactly sex, but it was close
enough for jazz. And certainly distracting. "So, this rider gave Geode the
idea for the big plan today?"
Geode looked a bit sheepish. "The idea just popped into my head. That
sort of thing happens sometimes, I thought it was just...intuition. Maybe it
was a voice other than my own?"
Peregryn nodded. "Likely. Once in complete control, this presence was
able to jump to what it must have seen as a preferable host. Perhaps it now
controls the giant beetle, perhaps they came to an agreement, I do not know."
"I'm just glad it left," Carlos sighed, his arm around Marcia's
shoulders. Both were a bit rough around the edges and wore their fair share
of bandages, but they were alive. And that counted for a lot.
"Hopefully that mystery will be solved as easily as the issue of who
leaked the satellite footage of the battle," Solar Max said. Behind him, The
Green Knight, Fury and Contact exchanged somewhat exasperated glances, while
Breaker simply rolled her eyes. "Once we figured out the angle was wrong for
anything we or Delta Rose had put up, that left Khadam. And since our spooks
are pretty sure Conflicto is here on Venus as part of the colonization
effort, it doesn't take a lot of brainpower to put two and two together and
"He probably thought it'd be fun to broadcast giant monster action to
everyone," Essay sighed. "Pendejo."
"Don't underestimate him," Peregryn warned. "He may play the buffoon,
but it's clear he's not the idiot he pretends to be. Consider that Khadam
wants as little competition as possible for the resources here on Venus.
What better way to do that than to convince any potential colonists from
other nations that Venus is far too dangerous?"
Solar Max's eyes narrowed behind the bug-eyed lenses of his helmet.
"The problem is, Venus really may be too dangerous...."
The focus finally moves back to Earth, specifically New York City, with
a new arc, "Metropolis"! Gene Clark tracks down the Hellhound, Warden is
STILL missing, and how DO you keep a bunch of cyborgs and paragangers from
ruining the property values? Be here for issue 71, "Journey to the Lost
Sometimes I let a plot point simmer for a rather long time before
revealing what's actually going on, and this is one of those times. Two
years ago, while plotting out ASH #50, I decided that The Base would survive
being crushed because TerraStar's spirit had entered her after escaping the
warp bubble trap Triton had placed her in (CSV #25). While she was
effectively comatose from trauma, The Base was not in control of her own
body, and TerraStar managed to set her on the path to the Combine. When The
Base did awaken, TerraStar was pushed back to a tiny advisory role again,
until she could arrange matters to fully distract the renamed Geode. As she
did this issue. But...will Geode ever learn these facts? Only time and the
shifting vagaries of my whimsical plotting will tell.
"UT" is Universal Time, another way of saying Greenwich Mean Time, more
or less. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_time picks a few more nits
than I feel like going into here. I simply decided I needed to timecode
things a little more finely than usual this time. There's also a bit of an
International Date Line burp for the Canberra scene.
I freely admit to stealing the "huge thing speaking so slowly no one can
make it out" bit from Zander Cannon's short-lived Chainsaw Vigilante comic
from the 90s (spin-off from The Tick). The sped-up quotes read, "Greetings,
small ones!" and "Um, excuse me? Stop that!"
Yes, the threatened tribute to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (the movie being
set in 2026) will start next issue, one way or another. Muahahaha. But
don't worry, I won't be totally dropping the Venusian threads any more than I
completely abandoned the Terran plots during "Manifest Destiny". They just
won't get as much screen time.
Finally, I'm posting this on July 18, 2006, my 36th birthday. Exactly
two years after ASH #50. I'm not quite averaging monthly, but I think I'm
managing pretty well overall.
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
More information about the racc