[ASH] ASH #71 - Metropolis I: Journey To The Lost City
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Aug 18 22:03:49 PDT 2006
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #71
// || \\ || || Metropolis I - Journey to the Lost City
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen
[cover is in grayscale. Juliana Silvestri, dressed in clothing
vaguely evocative of 1920s styles, is walking down a strangely
empty city street, with art deco skyscrapers towering over her
in a worm's-eye-view shot.]
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 DETACHED
Essay Sara Ana Rodriguez Gadgeteer DETACHED
Peregryn Howard Henderson Jr. Elemental Mage DETACHED
Lightfoot Tom Dodson Velocity Control ACTIVE
Breaker Christina Li Telekinesis ACTIVE
Fury Arin Kelsey Concussion Blasts ACTIVE
[February 4, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
The two road-ragers were pretty evenly matched as they tore through the
southern edge of Little Italy in the lonely hours of the early morning. The
current leader drove an older machine, a '24 Ihimaera Badger, but the
whispered silence of the motorcycle's engine bespoke extensive modifications
and a great deal of personal care. The other participant rode a Haiku TR06,
a jet turbine affair that could probably leave the Ihimaera in the dust if
the rider dared to open it up.
But he didn't dare. Not with the Hangmen clamping down on "rogue"
racing. Running silent was the only way to have a chance of getting away
with it. Oh, it wasn't that the Hangmen were so easy to fool...the secret
enforcers of the peace in Manhattan were simply willing to allow a certain
level of discrete rulebreaking. Especially in Little Italy, turf claimed by
the CyberNostra, especially right now. The mood was celebratory, not
combative, and if a few remade men wanted to blow off a little steam with a
race, the Hangmen were willing to exercise forebearance.
At least, that's what the racers sincerely hoped. Maybe they weren't so
willing. But if it was totally safe, why bother? Risk was the spice of
life for any paraganger, and it was the main course for a cycle-riding road-
Suddenly, as if it coalesced from the air and shadow, a black motorcycle
with blood red flames decorating the body appeared between the two
competitors. A custom job, with bits and pieces of different models spliced
together into one sleek and dangerous machine, it was immediately
recognizable by reputation, if not by any particular detail of its ever-
The Hellhound had joined the race, for her own inscrutable purposes.
Windows shook as the rider of the Haiku poured on the power and shot
away, clearly more willing to risk the Hangmen than Hellhound. Hellhound did
not give chase, however, as her victim seemed to be the driver of the
In the early days of road-raging, around the time the Warden had
vanished, it had been hazardous to life and property, with crashes sometimes
resulting in death or setting buildings afire. The Hellhound had broken up
many races back then. But now that things had become more formalized, and
the Hangmen enforced rules of conduct with their hidden blades and stealthy
ways, Hellhound instead used the races as opportunities to deal out justice
to those who had committed other crimes. How she knew who was guilty was
unknown, although most racers were guilty of *something*.
The Badger maneuvered frantically, unable to beat the Hellhound's
cycle on pure speed, trying to buy time for someone to interfere.
To no avail.
Hellhound pointed a gauntleted hand at the paraganger, and a bolt of
electricity leapt from her to the Ihimaera's electric engine, stalling it and
sending the flywheel into wobbling convulsions. The finely-tuned machine
simply tore itself apart, sending the rider flying through the air at over
thirty meters per second. The road-rager slammed into a lamppost, bouncing
off with several body parts at angles never intended by nature, to land in a
And Hellhound was no longer anywhere to be seen.
Gene Clark continued to watch the fallen paraganger on her screen for
several long moments after that. Assuming the bike hadn't been sold or
traded lately, the rider was one of the Basilisk Blacks, so probably wasn't a
cyborg. He would be if he survived this, though.
Casting a glance over at Odin's throne, the telepath sighed. If only
she dared use the High Throne, she could figure out who Hellhound was in an
instant. But it worked too well for telepaths, overloading them with so much
information that it almost literally cooked their brains. But you also had
to be a fairly powerful paranormal to get it to work in the first place, so
using the non-telepathic staff at the MetaPsych base was out of the question.
Combine that with the terms of the treaty with Rex Umbrae, and the only
people on the island who could use the damn thing were Umbrae's own people,
who she didn't really want to allow into the Trade Towers. Of course,
MetaPsych maintained the illusion that they *could* use the High Throne,
which had helped keep various factions off their back.
Still, extremely good cameras mounted atop the Towers gave them a
technological substitute for the High Throne. Gene reviewed the few seconds
of footage she had gained of the Hellhound. Nothing useful. The gauntlet
could be a modified Tsaran blaster, any number of which were floating around
the black market thanks to Pranir weapons merchants. Or it could be a fake,
covering for someone with natural lightning-casting abilities. The cameras
had once again failed to catch where the Hellhound's motorcycle came from, as
it both appeared and disappeared while blocked from view. Not just Gene's
view, but also the view from Umbrae's seat of power in the World Building.
Hellhound knew who her watchers were.
Smoke and mirrors, and at least some real powers. A telepath, almost
definitely. Either Dumont, or someone she'd found and trained. A gadgeteer,
probably, or teamed up with one. A lightning-caster, maybe. If not for the
definitely feminine figure, Gene would think that Triton was slumming as a
* * * *
[February 4, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
Contact slowly pulled out of Geode's mind, opening his eyes. It wasn't
that he needed to close them during a telepathic scan, but if he didn't close
them he also tended to forget to blink, which was uncomfortable and creeped
"I have good news, bad news, and interesting news that may or may not be
bad," he declared to the assembled heroes.
"Is she clear?" Beacon asked. Without specifying what sort of news he
thought that would be, Contact noted.
"Yes. There's a few echoes of her mental guest, but nothing on the
level of a Strings imprint," he assured everyone. It had been a bad few
months a while back, where you couldn't turn around without finding someone
else had been turned into a puppet of the telepathic Mr. Strings. MetaPsych
now had a special training course to help psis identify those sort of traces.
"Nothing above the level of subconscious memory, and even those are fading
fast. I doubt Geode will even dream of it."
"Anything useful in those echoes?" Solar Max asked, his stance radiating
concern of a different sort. Beacon was worried about Geode, Solar Max was
worried about the rest of the world. Worlds.
Contact nodded. "I think I got those impressions before they totally
faded. The bad news is, it was TerraStar. Whatever made her vanish in the
wake of Triton's wedding, she managed to hitch a ride on Geode's body
"A lot of that going around," Essay noted, glancing over at Beacon.
"The worse news is, she's now riding around in that giant stone beetle.
At least we have a name for it, there's some remnants of her conversation
with it. It's called Heraclius, and it's apparently a fragment of the
Leviathan," Contact revealed.
This caused a frown to crease Peregryn's forehead. "I had hoped that
granting Photosynth's power to the spirit of this world would allow it to
simply destroy the Leviathan, but I was clearly being too optimistic. The
reports of other giant monsters must also be the result of the Leviathan's
"Speaking of optimism," the Green Knight interjected, "given that
TerraStar's main beef is probably still with Triton at this point, we might
at least not have to worry about Khadam's presence on Venus too much longer."
Contact nodded. "Or her priorities could have shifted. At the least,
though, the fact that Heraclius left after merging with her means that her
goal wasn't our immediate destruction."
"But she just may want to do that later," Solar Max replied, a scowl
obvious in his tone....
* * * *
[February 5, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
As a globe-trotting fashionista, Juliana had crossed numerous national
borders in the past few years, and they all had a certain sameness. The
names and the languages and the details of the procedures may change, but
there was always this sense of dreary half-vigilance. Of guardians who were
underpaid and undermotivated, but just effective enough to do the job
correctly. Whether talking from behind pasted-on smiles or more honest
scowls, the people who checked her documents were always just doing jobs. It
wasn't a career, it was something they did to put food on the table.
The checkpoint at the Holland Tunnel was different. At first glance, it
was simply at the bright and efficient end of the usual border station, with
regular visitors driving past smoothly, their credentials and vehicle
registrations read automatically by sensors flanking the opening. But the
people who met newcomers, such as Juliana, were much more like front office
receptionists at a major corporation. Their smiles were pasted on much more
firmly, and backed with the conviction that they might well be Noticed by
Someone Important and promoted upstairs, if they just did their jobs really
Of course, in some ways, this *was* the reception desk for the giant
corporation that was Manhattan. Not everyone on the island worked for Rex
Umbrae, but enough did. Not every building was owned by Umbrae, but enough
were. By treaty, the island was under the jurisdiction of the King of
Shadows, and his company acted as the municipal government for all practical
matters. It was even largely self-governing in all other civil and criminal
affairs, something that wouldn't even have been possible under the old United
States Constitution, as far as Juliana knew.
But, like any other gated community, it was generally orderly. Despite
being run by what amounted to a coalition of criminal organizations, it was
far from lawless. The paragangs had simply grown up enough to realize that
there was more money in legal enterprises than there was in preying on an
ever-shrinking population in a decaying city. Of course, it helped that Rex
Umbrae was there to play the role of Ward Cleaver. With a very *big* cleaver
held in each hand.
And now, here Juliana was, to help Ward get married to June. She
wondered if pearls and high heels went with cybernetic killcannons?
* * * *
[February 5, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
"Ah, nostalgia," Devlin Marx sighed as he hung up the phone. Then he
reflected on the irony, given that almost no one had a phone that could be
literally hung up anymore. Even Devlin's phone simply turned off at the
press of a button, rather than being hung on a cradle...but he still thought
of it as hanging up.
Still, the conversation with young Mr. Coulter had brought back memories
of the old days with the Conclave. Full of code phrases and small talk that
concealed the true meaning...to the point that neither could be totally sure
what the other was saying. In other words, deniability.
He walked to the window and looked out over the stone courtyard of the
Cloisters, frowning. What could not be denied was that the Archangeli Heir
would be revealed very soon, if she hadn't already been found. Coulter was
able to confirm that much, given that he had given ASH the clues himself.
Marx wished that the secret could have been kept a little longer, but agreed
with the ex-CyberNostra's evaluation of the situation. Gimble would not be
able to keep her identity secret for too much longer, given the opening of
Venus, and of all the factions that could stumble onto her, ASH was probably
the least troublesome.
Still, it would be better to at least try to spirit Gimble away before
anyone found her, and that would require getting a trusted agent onto Venus.
Conflicto's little monster movie show had definitely created openings in the
colonist list that Devlin could exploit, but who to send? Marx had more
agents available than he had a year ago, but still not many. Jo Ridley was
competent and trustworthy, but also known to ASH. Perhaps, though....
"Alexey," he said, the intercom's smart systems activating immediately.
"Get ahold of Agent Ridley for me, please. And then there's some other
arrangements I'd like you to make...."
* * * *
[February 7, 2026 - The Academy, Wisconsin Sector]
Beth Willot fell backwards onto her dorm bed with a sigh of relief. On
the one hand, being in one of the later cohorts of the graduate program at
the Academy meant a lot of the bugs had been worked out. On the other hand,
the reduced urgency meant there was no hurry to rush everyone through in a
single semester, so all sorts of additional programs were being put in place
that no one had time for back in '22 or '23. She felt like she was getting a
PhD in superheroics...a lot longer on theory than the "professional degree"
earlier classes got. Of course, her occasional trips to Manhattan to don the
Hellhound suit helped her get some of the more practical experience she was
missing out on in school, but she had to sandbag it in class so as to not
seem suspiciously experienced.
It hadn't been all tedium, though. Dating Tom had been fun, when he'd
been able to get away from work, and he'd gained a lot of confidence while
they were together. The relationship hadn't lasted, but they'd expected that
She cleared her mind. It was just about time for her "conference call"
with Jessa and Maddie. Jessa was officially still a "closed fist" telepath,
barely able to sense thoughts directed at her from close range, although
MetaPsych suspected she had at least a few fingers of ability back. Truth
was, she was back to what would be considered a "psight" telepath, if not at
the power level she had been before she spent most of her strength sealing
Mr. Strings away. She could contact people she was familiar with over
distances of hundreds of miles, and her psi tracking ability was starting to
return as well. Scry had been back in business for months, helping the
Hellhound collective figure out who needed a bit of rough justice.
++Beth?++ came the mental whisper. Focusing her attention like Jessa
had taught her, Beth tuned in.
--Here, and clear,-- she replied. --How's Jimmy?--
++He's fine, and wondering when you'll be back. He's getting tired of
fixing the blaster glove for Maddie.++
Beth chuckled. Her brother wasn't a paranormal, or even really a
mechanical type. He was a martial arts teacher, which was how he'd gotten
mixed up with Warden in specific and the crimefighting scene in general. But
he and Maddie Chin had picked up a lot of tinkering skill lately. It helped
that Planetary Confederation field tech tended to be simple to fix and
modify, even if neither of them really understood the theories behind it. A
lot of soldier tech was like that, though. And Maddie had a head start, what
with studying a lot of the gadgetry left behind by her father, the Black
Opal. But bringing Jimmy in on the Hellhound secret helped a lot. Maddie
had to be the field operative most of the time now, leaving Jimmy to do the
support techie jobs.
--So, did the Wednesday thing go smoothly?--
++Yes,++ the mental voice shifted slightly, letting Beth know that it
was Maddie speaking through Jessa's mind. ++Your tactical tips were very
helpful. We got that scumbag Basilisk Black with one shot, and got away
without anyone seeing how we did it. Had to seal up the exit ramp, though,
I'm pretty sure at least MetaPsych was watching us, and probably sent people
out to discreetly scour the area.++
--Good. Al Mirage needed to be taught that you don't go doing that sort
of thing to young girls even if you are a big bad paraganger and the Hangmen
are willing to look the other way.--
++Amen,++ the voice was back to Jessa's. ++Things'll probably be quiet
for a little while now, between that lesson and the upcoming wedding.++
--Just as well. I've got some ideas for something bigger, but I'm gonna
need some time to work out the details. I'll let you know when I've got
enough firmed up so you can start looking for targets.--
++Right. Signing off.++
* * * *
[February 8, 2026 - Lakshmi Planum, Venus]
A body lay face down on the rocky beach. A casual observer might be
forgiven for thinking it had washed up there, but for two things. One, it
was several meters from the line of marine growth that marked the highest the
water level ever got. Two, it was so filthy and covered with dried blood
that it could not have been immersed in water any time recently.
The slow rise and fall of the figure's back also indicated that life yet
remained, despite the punishment suffered by the flesh.
Inhuman eyes regarded the figure from the shallows. And eyes more
inhuman still saw through the creature that lurked just off-shore, directing
its actions. And now the puppetmaster directed the puppet to rise up.
"Awaken, fallen goddess," the creature hissed as water streamed off its
serpentine head, a head which was large enough to swallow the mud-covered
figure in a single bite. Although small for its breed, the sea serpent was
many times larger than any human.
The figure stirred, but did not roll over to look at the serpent. "Go
away," she said, for the rasping voice was recognizably feminine even if the
body no longer was. "I'm trying to decide how I want to die. Unless you
want to give me another possibility?"
The serpent chuckled with the sibilant voice of its mother and master.
"Giving up so easily, when there is still revenge to be had? And the
possibility of regaining godhood?"
Photosynth rolled over, slightly less dirty where the wave-smoothed
stones had rubbed away the dirt and caked blood, but still presenting a
shocking appearance. She blinked to clear the crusts in her eyes, but did
not seem frightened by the beast before her. "Who are you, who could make
The serpent ducked its head as if bowing. "I am but a mouthpiece for
the great mother, creator of all life on this orb. She who was ousted and
shattered with the help of the power stolen from you by our mutual foe, the
human mage Peregryn."
"Can she give me my power back?" Photosynth asked, a spark of hope
glimmering in her eyes for the first time since she had regained those eyes.
"She can offer you sanctuary, time to mend and regain your strength. As
for power...that goes to those with the strength and will to seize it. If
you can show you still have the will, she can help you regain the strength.
And you can help her destroy the goddess who has humbled us both."
* * * *
[February 9, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
"Now, just walk towards me, slowly," Juliana told the slim and wiry
cyborg, who was to be one of the ushers. His name was Salvatore, which
amused Juliana every time she thought about it...the other Sal she knew could
wrap this one around his fingers, cybernetics or no. Well, maybe not...the
cyborg Sal was probably one of the Hangmen, and thus much more dangerous than
the run of the mill CyberNostra.
"Good, good," she held up a hand to indicate Sal should stop. "I'm
getting a good mental picture of how you move, and how your visible
prosthetics mesh together. A traditional tuxedo would look almost like a
parody on you, but I've got some ideas I think might work better."
Sal looked slightly relieved, although he was professional enough to not
make any obvious gesture. He probably hadn't been looking forward to how
he'd look in a tux.
The beginnings of an idea were gelling in her mind. The bride was the
Queen, and her party would be her Knights, Pawns and so forth. Silver and
white, perhaps with some accents in red. The King of Shadows would also have
his pieces, in black and dark gunmetal, with hints of green. It would be a
grand chessboard, where the game led up to a Mate of a different sort.
Of course, the red queen might well crash the party. From what she'd
gathered, the Hangmen were actually letting the various paragangers run a
little more wild than normal, in hopes of drawing out Hellhound, perhaps even
trying to draw the vigilante into crashing the wedding itself. That would
certainly be dramatic, and upstage Radner's nuptuals.
Perhaps red wouldn't be the best accent color for the bride's side....
* * * *
[February 10, 2026 - Johannesburg, South Africa]
"For God's sake, help me!" shouted the man thrashing about in the muddy
runoff pond. It was barely deeper than he was tall, but as he seemed to be
made of a kind of living metal, he was having great difficulty keeping his
head above water. Apparently, metal still needed to breathe in this case.
"You can help yourself," the man standing at the edge of the pond
replied. His duster was ripped in several places and bore enough fresh
bullet holes to explain why the area was littered with unconcious thugs.
"Just turn back to flesh and blood, and you'll be able to swim out."
"Then you'll kill me!" the man in the water protested. "Like you killed
"Nonsense," the stranger replied. "The only dead men within a mile of
here are those killed by 'friendly' fire. The ones I took down may *wish*
they were dead, but they'll recover fully. Pain is a powerful tool...hurt a
man enough and you don't actually need to injure him. But I expect a tin god
like you knows all about that, given the way you kept order amongst your
slaves in this little mining operation." He smiled slightly at the joke.
Paranormals had been setting themselves up as gods in the less civilized
parts of the world for a few years now, but this one was literally made of
tin. He was also, unfortunately, unable to feel pain while in that form, and
it had taken way too long to maneuver him into the pond. Time during which
some of those friendly fire victims had died for lack of attention, unneeded
The tin man swore loudly in Afrikaans and was once more flesh and blood,
swimming quickly for the far shore of the small pond. His opponent waited
patiently until the mine "owner" was able to stand up on the bottom of the
pond, then leapt across the expanse and kicked him in the head, felling him
like a poleaxed steer before he could switch back to metal.
He pulled the tin god out of the water and made sure he wouldn't wake up
for a while, then strolled over to the slightly dilapidated building that
acted as the mine offices. The mine had been a legit concern back in the
twencen, but dried up around 1993. The new owner apparently had an affinity
for the earth that let him find a smallish new vein of diamonds, and his
ruthlessness did the rest. They weren't "blood diamonds" per se, but anyone
who would buy from this mine was likely to need a bit of justice sent their
way, and the records in the office might give him a new destination for his
After a few minutes of searching the records with the help of a grateful
ex-slave, he smiled. "Rex Umbrae. Now there's a name I haven't run across
in a while. I wonder what he wanted diamonds for...I suppose I should pay
him a visit and ask, once I've gotten things cleaned up here," Warden
"Metropolis" continues in ASH #71, as things are complicated by "Human
Road-raging was introduced in Warden #13, with everyone driving various
Ihimaera models, such as the Badger, the Tick and the Scavenger. Yes, the
bikes were named after RACC writers. The Ihimaera line comes out of New
Zealand, while the new Haikus are a Japanese competitor, introduced to the
CyberNostra by the Otazuka and starting to make inroads in the road-raging
For those just joining us, the World Trade Center is intact (more or
less) because on July 6, 1998 there was a nearly world-ending event, which
represents a bigger historical divergence than you'll see in most comics.
However, in the ASH Universe, the Trade Towers have their own horrible
tragedy. Odin took them as his seat of power during the Godmarket in 1997-8,
culminating in a gathering in of his faithful to add them to his army of
slain warriors. The building became an abbatoir, as thousands were slain and
their spirits gathered. Some have posited that the later "dark rapture" on
July 6 resulted because the other gods felt Odin's methods were too
As for Odin's chair...let's just say it's finicky about who gets to use
it, and that Gene doesn't necessarily know all the rules. :)
And now for some other character references, since we're getting back to
a LOT of CSV and Warden supporting cast this issue. Jo Ridley's significant
appearances include the first several issues of CSV and ASH #22. Jessa
"Scry" Dumont also first appeared in early issues of CSV, and temporarily
lost her powers in CSV #21. The Willots show up on and off through the
Warden series, as does Maddie Chin. The Black Opal appeared in WarStar #2.
Hellhound first came on stage in Warden #15. The relationship between Tom
Dodson and Beth Willot did not really show up "on camera", although its
beginnings were shown in ASH #14 and it was alluded to once or twice after
http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Solar is a simple online orrery,
and reveals that mid-to-late January 2026 had Venus in opposition to Earth,
so straight-line communications would be tricky and travel times at their
greatest. Presumably all interested factions had established relay
satellites in trojan orbits leading or trailing Venus by then, though.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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