[ASH] ASH #75: Metropolis V - Eyes of Evil

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Wed Dec 27 15:43:29 PST 2006

     The cover is similar to that of #74, but with Rex Umbrae and Maria
Incarnata in wedding garb at the center of the picture.  Glowing red eyes dot
the shadows surrounding the couple.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #75
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||              Metropolis V - Eyes of Evil
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Comet          Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed, Ice Body     AMERICA
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              CANADA
Green Knight   Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   MEXICO
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        MEXICO
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      DIPLOMATIC
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              DIPLOMATIC
Essay          Sara Ana Rodriguez       Gadgeteer                VENUS
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           VENUS
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             VENUS
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           VENUS
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         TRANSIT

[March 7, 2026 - Washington, Federal Sector]

     "I wish we could have more time to let our telepaths go over these
guys," Solar Max frowned as he watched the cryotubes vanish into the hold of
the Galactic Warrior Corps prison transport.
     GWC Lieutenant Veturna Severa shrugged.  "Did you find anything on the
first pass?"
     "No, but..."
     "But that means that these guys were properly prepped for Terra work.
Any mission-sensitive stuff would have been compartmentalized into their hard
memory, with rigorous wetwiring to prevent bleedover.  And the hard memory
has been wiped better than any of your techs could hope to read.  We might
have a shot at it in a proper lab back at regional HQ, though, once we take
these scum apart piece by piece."
     Solar Max blinked, then said, "Take them apart?  Isn't that a little
     The GWC lieutenant shook her head, as if to say, "Poor dumb indig."
Aloud, she said, "We'll put 'em back together when we're done, minus all the
highly illegal and dangerous bits.  Then they'll be given personality
adjustments and sold for labor.  Standard deal for criminally-used cyborgs.
If we're lucky, we can get a lead on their owners and prosecute *them*.
Look, Mr. Taylor, you *know* about Santari views regarding artificial body
replacement, right?"
     "Of course," he nodded, thinking back to his first "case" with the grad
class at the Academy.  Pranir organleggers taking advantage of the fact that
most humans worked as universal donors for Santari, thanks to the mysterious
genetic similarity between the races.
     "Well, it's not just a social stigma.  Once you've reached a certain
threshold of artificial parts, you're no longer a person, you're property.
The exact threshold is something for lawyers to quibble over, but having
brain compartmentalization is almost always a trigger for being considered a
thing, since it means someone can program your behavior.  These guys," she
jerked a thumb in the direction of the transport, "either voluntarily gave up
their personhood, or they were criminals sentenced to brainchipping and got
bought by other criminals.  They're like very smart weapons, it's their
owners who are criminally liable for their actions."
     "Wait.  Does this apply to all cyborgs, or just Santari ones?"
     Veturna smirked.  "Yes, my boss is legally a thing, if that's what
you're driving at.  Mind you, even unmodified members of Delta Rose's race
aren't considered full citizens, but she's definitely property of the
Galactic Warrior Corps.  Fortunately, the GWC is a good master.  Plus, the
way we're organized, the pureflesh Corpsmen aren't exactly at liberty
anyway.  We're soldiers."
     Solar Max waved a hand.  "No, that's not what I was thinking of, but it
does cast her actions in a different light.  What I meant was, what about
Terran cyborgs?"
     "Ah, now I see," she nodded.  "That would certainly explain motive, too.
The CyberNostra are property under our laws, but this wedding that's coming
up would probably make them Rex Umbrae's property.  And if they ever hope to
expand off this one world...which I bet they do...they'd need a way to avoid
being claimed by any of the Scytharian or Pranir outfits that might have
supplied their tech.  I'll let you know as soon as we have a lead on their
owners," she once again gestured to the transport, "but with the wedding
coming up in a few days...."
     Solar Max nodded grimly.  "We're just going to have to hope we catch a
break here on the ground."

               *              *              *              *

[March 7, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     Julie opened her eyes, and immediately regretted it, moaning and rolling
over to bury her head under a pillow.  Medical science had found some pretty
effective cures to the cost of overindulging, but you had to be sober enough
to remember to take one.  Catch-22.
     Something was wrong, though.  Other than the little men with sledge-
hammers renovating her frontal lobe, that was.  The bed felt wrong.  She'd
been staying in her hotel room long enough to get used to it, and she wasn't
in that bed now.
     Peeking one eye open very carefully, she confirmed that she was not, in
fact, in her hotel room.  In fact, she could vaguely remember something
     ...going home with Monica?
     She sat bolt upright, clutching the sheets to her chest.  After she got
done TOTALLY regretting the sudden movement, she realized she was still more
or less dressed.  So, probably nothing happened.  Probably.  Julie didn't
swing that way, but she also generally didn't get quite so drunk as she had
last night.
     Monica chose that moment to make her entrance.  Fully dressed and with
that cheerful demeanor that said she never got hangovers, thank you very
much.  Probably a cyborg enhancement. 
     "Good morning!" Monica chirped.  "Sorry about not making you take a Good
Morning pill last night...I don't keep them around," she added, implicitly
confirming Julie's theory.
     "So, should I be expecting anything particularly embarrassing about me
to be circulating on the CyberNostra net today?" Julie half-whispered.
     "No, I expect all the traffic will involve the twins and their nude
bartop dance," Monica chuckled.  Then a look of sudden realization crossed
her face.  "Oh, you don't remember why you're here, do you?  Well, don't
worry, nothing...HAPPENED," she grinned.  Then she laughed as Julie failed to
hide her relief.  "That warning from Adams...yes, I recognized him too...was
on the money.  Someone sent a team to make trouble for us.  So once we were
done partying, no one went back to their own place, just in case there were
backup teams waiting there.  This is one of my safehouses...I'm afraid I'll
have to blindfold you for a bit when we leave, it's not somewhere I'd like
people knowing is inhabited.  The rest of the girls had their own boltholes,
but I could hardly let you go back to your hotel."
     "Well, I suppose I should be glad I'm not waking up in a Washington jail
cell, given what little I *do* remember about last night," Julie shook her
     "We did have backup plans in case that happened, too," Monica smiled

               *              *              *              *

[March 8, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     The old General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Building had never
looked so festive.  The desks had been pulled out and replaced by box
seating, with the boxes decorated primarily in red or white so as to create a
chessboard pattern when viewed from above.  Carpeting in vibrant crimson and
shimmering pearl in the aisles fleshed out the impression, and the walls were
decorated in themes evocative of stylized chess pieces.  The boxes of minor
guests had pawns as their theme, while progressively more important guests
were rooks, knights and bishops.  The king and queen, naturally, were
reserved for the groom's and bride's parties.
     Every so often, there would be a flurry of activity as it was decided to
reseat some group or another, requiring the movement of designator decor and
sometimes a complete cascade effect over most of the hall.  It was as if,
having gotten things mostly right with plenty of time to go, the planners
couldn't resist the temptation to make major changes that resulted in
vanishingly small improvements.  With six days to go, there was far too much
time remaining for the decorators to simply call it ready.
     Of course, the actual workers were too close to the floor to see the
grand design.  Only the planners, with their virtual reality floorplans and
multiple camera angles of the hall, could appreciate it in its fullness.
     Well, the planners and one other.  A silent viewer, hidden in the
ceiling between sensors, where no camera could find him.  Any who happened to
glance in his direction saw nothing, for their brains were told to ignore the
evidence of their eyes.
     After all, when one is not invited to a wedding, it doesn't do to ruin
the surprise of crashing the party, yes?
     So, through enough pairs of other eyes as to give him a clear picture of
the grand scheme, Warden bided his time.  There would be reason to move soon

               *              *              *              *

[March 8, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     A year ago, it had been just a section of mountainside where weakened
stone had sloughed away to create a vaguely concave hollow.  Now, however,
the south side of Falcon Bay formed a natural amphitheater that faced the
gently lapping waters of the planet's young ocean.  Through a combination of
magical coaxing and more mundane sweat and toil, it was being shaped into a
place where the settlement's hundreds could all meet at once, for a joyous
occasion that was a mere twelve days away.  Trees ringed it, diverting the
frequent rains that would have washed away the thick grass being grown on the
slopes.  A stony platform had been shaped from the scree at the bottom of the
hollow, and discrete electronics installed to enhance the already excellent
     For the most part, people would be seated wherever there was room.
However, a space to either side of the platform had been smoothed for the
placement of temporary seating.  To one side would be the groom's "family,"
mainly composed of his teammates and any official government envoys.  To the
other, the bride's actual extended family, which might well outnumber all the
other visiting guests, and would require at least two trips to ferry out from
     Stone to the front, sea to the back, and open to the sky.  It was as if
the bride's jesting invitation was being taken seriously by the planners, a
silent observer noted from behind the screen of trees.  And as the stone
beetle silently trundled off to a place of better concealment, TerraStar
noted that there would be at least one "giant monster" in attendance....

               *              *              *              *

[March 9, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     "What do you mean, the servers' uniforms aren't here?" Juliana Silvestri
demanded in full "diva" mode.  "They were supposed to be ready for fitting
     "We had to get the material shipped in from Japan," one of her
assistants replied, wincing.  The man had worked with psychotic paranormals
and cyborgs who could rip your head off with their pinky fingers, but he'd
never really been as cowed by anyone as he was by the totally "normal"
fashion designer.  "The regular blur fabric supplier hadn't been ready for
our demands, and ran short."
     "Is the material at least *here*?"
     The assistant nodded nervously, and consulted a handcomp.  He already
knew the answer, he just wanted an excuse to not look Juliana in the eye.
"The fabricators are working on it now, they should be ready for us to start
actual fitting late this afternoon.  Tomorrow morning at the latest."
     "Fine.  Since the servers are here anyway...SOME people can keep to a
schedule...get some updated measurements on them now and send them over to
the fabricators.  Any major changes we can avoid having to make will save us
time tomorrow, and yes, I'm assuming it'll end up being tomorrow," she said
with a disgusted snort as she waved the man off.  He left a little more
quickly than was seemly, but at least he was gone.
     Anatole Mabuse was at Juliana's elbow, as if he'd been there all along,
even though he'd just arrived a moment before.  "You seem to have the knack
of managing all sorts of people," he commented drily.
     She smirked, letting the diva mask slip a little.  "After working with
superheroes," she started ticking off points on her fingers, "having a show
crashed by Mr. Strings, and having to work around Conflicto of the CSV, it's
either get a 'command voice' going, or find another career."
     Mabuse chuckled in an understated, polite manner.
     "Speaking of unwelcome guests," Juliana's mask was back in place, "I
hope we won't have a repeat of the bachelorette party at the wedding?"
     The majordomo/security head frowned slightly, seeming more annoyed at
himself than at the question.  "Washington was outside my ability to control,
unfortunately," he sighed, sounding as if his long-term plans included
rectifying that deficiency.  "Manhattan, on the other hand, is well under
     "What about the Hangman Killer?  And Hellhound?  And the rumors of Wa...
other people?"
     "All are concerns, and all are being dealt with.  I can assure you that
while Hellhound is still an irritant, she has never managed to appear
anywhere that was actually under even moderately tight security.  I have the
Hangman issue well in hand, and 'other people' shouldn't be a problem.  I
have it on good authority that the rumors of our eyeless friend's recent
activities were a...blind, if you will," he allowed himself a thin smile.
"Misdirection on the part of another, who wished to make it appear that the
Warden was behind the Hangman killings.  Similarly with Cockatrice, or
Burnout as she goes by now, who I confirmed has been in Khadam the entire
time.  Someone has been seeking to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt.  None of
which plague me at the moment."
     "Must be nice," Juliana muttered before returning to the business of
herding well-dressed cats.

               *              *              *              *

[March 9, 2026 - Jersey City, New Jersey Sector]

     "Your 'highly recommended' strike team didn't even get into the same
*building* as that bitch, Circles-In-Back!" the hulking figure spat at the
commscreen.  Figurately, anyway...he no longer had saliva.  Or many organic
parts of any kind aside from his brain.  "And now they're in GWC hands!  This
could ruin everything!"
     "Relax, Supernaut," the synthesized yet still greasy voice of a gaudily
bedecked Pranir assured the full-body cyborg.  Only decades of experience on
the edges of civilization allowed him to avoid sounding like he was trying to
keep a mad dog from striking while he reached for a stick.  "Remember, this
was a very low-probability option in the first place.  This team was chosen
for their discretion rather than their power, since we expected them to fail,
     "Well, yes, but..."
     "But they don't even know you're involved.  They don't even know *I'm*
involved, and even assuming their memory wipes weren't 100% effective, by the
time the GWC can trace the deal through all of my cut-outs, it'll be far too
late for them to stop our main plan.  I know you're eager to get revenge on
Sister Christian for leaving you to die, but it'll just have to wait a few
more days, yes?"
     If a walking assemblage of metal and plastics could be said to pout,
Supernaut pouted.  "I want Maria back too."
     This time, the Pranir's jaded nature cracked a little, and he blinked
slowly.  He still couldn't figure out how Supernaut and Maria Incarnata had
been lovers...even before his agents had recovered the cyborg and rebuilt
him, Supernaut had been no more than ten percent organic.  Mentally shrugging
and chalking it up to a likely one-sided obsession, he smiled carefully.
"Don't worry, once you've killed Rex Umbrae, Maria will certainly realize
you're the only man for her."
     It was at times like these that Circles-In-Back was extremely glad that
his technicians had installed an explosive charge at the base of Supernaut's
brain, on top of all the other failsafes that came with the black market body
he'd put that brain into.  

               *              *              *              *

[March 10, 2026 - Ottawa, Ontario Sector]

     Terri Majors sighed at the newscrawl along the bottom of her computer
screen.  The issue of Laval was *still* up in the air, despite Montreal
having been located months ago.  But once it had become clear that there
wasn't going to be a magical re-relocation of the city, the debate about "New
Montreal" versus "Nouveau-Montreal" had reignited with all the fervor usually
reserved for such trivial matters like that.  Tempest, meet teapot.
     Her sour musings were interrupted by a knock on her door, and the
gray-haired federal functionary looked up.  "Come in," she said.
     "I got a message you wanted to talk to me?" Scott Handleman said,
opening the door and stepping through.  He was in civvies, but the security
badge he had clipped to his shirt read "SCORCH".
     Terri nodded.  "Have a seat.  We got an official letter for you via
diplomatic courier from the Autonomous Sector."
     "From Julie?" he frowned in confusion as he sat.  "I mean, who else do I
know in Manhattan that would have access to a..."
     "I'm sure she's part of it in some way, but no.  This is from the office
of Maria Incarnata.  Number two in the CyberNostra."  She pulled a crisp
white envelope out of a folder on her desk.  It was embossed with a stylized
cross and bells.
     "Is that a..." he looked at it like it was a snake rearing back to
     "A wedding invitation, yes.  We've already run it through all the usual
scans, it's perfectly safe.  Physically, anyway.  Politically, it's a real
     "No kidding," he slumped.  Reluctantly, he picked it up, opened the
envelope, and pulled out the lace-rimmed card.  "Scott Handleman and party
are cordially invited to the nuptuals of Rex Umbrae and Maria Incarnata, the
14th of March, 2026."
     "We did some quick and discreet inquiries, this is for real.
Previously, there had been no indication that any official presence from the
Combine was going to be invited or permitted at this ceremony, but now we
have an invite.  But it's also very clear that your presence is non-
negotiable.  Incarnata seems dead set on the idea of having you present."
     "So, it's my patriotic duty to attend a wedding of supervillains, where
my ex-fiancee will be in attendance?"
     "Not just in attendance, word is she's gotten made a bridesmaid."
     "Shoulda seen *that* coming after last Friday," he sighed.  "I suppose
you've already scheduled me for a tux fitting?"
     "Yep.  And it's fireproof, too."

               *              *              *              *

[March 12, 2026 - Delphi, Kingdom of Q'Nos]

     Simon Smith left his honor guard at the mouth of the shallow cave,
carefully stepping over some rubble left by a years-old explosion.  No one
had tidied up the Oracle, in part on his orders.  It was an old power, and
fading.  Any disturbance would diminish it, even one intended to be a
restoration.  Better by far to just leave it alone.  It would "die" soon
enough, and then it wouldn't matter how the place looked.
     The aged mage seated himself in the center of the cavern, feeling the
weight of a ponderous and torpid power pressing in on all sides.  The Oracle
was not a god, or even a self-aware spirit.  It was...an echo.  A place that
had been special to Apollo, and had absorbed some of his temporal diffusion.
That was one god who loved to travel through time.
     Troubling portents had been nagging at Simon's dreams lately, and they
seemed to focus on the wedding he was to attend the next day.  Simon couldn't
shake the feeling that unseen eyes were watching and waiting, eyes of evil,
eyes of madness.  He had tried various means to clarify the omens, but none
had helped much.  Divination was more of a hobby for him, not a profession.
But he had just enough time for this short visit before heading for the
Delphi airport and leaving the country.
     He concentrated, cleared his mind as best as he could.  He was too old
to be mucking about with drugs, so meditation would have to do.
     For several long minutes, nothing happened.  His mind started to wander,
thinking about the wedding, and what might happen.  Then, unbidden, an
exchange from an old movie came into his head.
     "I want to say one word to you.  Just one word," said a middle-aged man
in a suit.
     "Yes, sir," a young Dustin Hoffman replied.
     "Are you listening?"
     "Yes, I am."
     Simon opened his eyes.  That had been far more vivid than a simple
memory, especially since the last time he'd seen the Graduate was on cable
back in the 80s.  The pressure around him seemed to ease up, like the Oracle
was saying it was done with him.
     The Graduate.  Not a great omen for a wedding, no matter how you cut it.
But why that particular passage?  What did plastics have to do with the
unseen eyes that haunted his dreams?
     Well, at least it would give him something to ponder on the trans-
Atlantic flight.

               *              *              *              *

[March 14, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     For what had to be the tenth time, Scott glanced down at the program.
He'd been to weddings before, but this was his first full-blown Catholic
wedding ceremony, and it was about as loaded with rites and sacrament as the
stereotypes would have him believe.  There were *sixteen* steps to just the
*wedding* part of the Mass, and the wedding was mixed in with all the usual
parts of a Catholic Mass.  Every so often, though, there'd be little
differences tossed in to remind him that while the CyberNostra was more or
less Catholic, there was a "less" in there.  He was pretty sure normal
Catholic Mass didn't have any reference to the sacred trinity of hardware,
software and wetware, for instance.
     He glanced over at Julie, who was seated ahead and to the right, in the
White Queen's section...the bridal party.  At least Incarnata's sense of
humor hadn't extended to making him sit in the same section as her.  Instead,
the NAC party had been seated graciously in the Red Knight section,
apparently displacing a Pranir delegation to the status of Red Rook and
causing a general shuffle of the Red Pawns.
     "Do you, Rex Umbrae, come of your own free will to give yourself in
marriage?" the priest asked of the imposing Khadamite, who loomed over all
around him in his exquisitely tailored crimson tuxedo.
     Ah, they'd made it to the part called the "Nuptuals," first of the three
main ceremonies.  Scott suppressed a sigh.
     "I come of my own free will to give myself in marriage," Umbrae
assented.  There seemed to be a hint of amusement in his voice.  Of course,
the man wasn't Catholic, cyber-flavored or not, and appearances of the
ceremony to the contrary, had no plans to join the Church.  And from what
Scott had heard, Maria was hardly a Good Catholic Girl herself.  But, as his
father had once told him, the marriage ceremony isn't for the bride and
groom, it's for the spectators.
     "Do you, Maria Isabella Infanta Incarnata, come of your own free will to
give yourself in marriage?" the priest asked, turning to the bride,
resplendent in pearly-white shimmering cybernetics and armor.
     And then the floor exploded as a titan of machinery in the shape of a
man burst up into the central aisle, just short of the "sanctuary".
     "Of course she doesn't!" a synthesized voice boomed harshly from the
newcomer.  "This is all a sham!  A dodge to let Umbrae claim ownership of the
CyberNostra under interstellar law!"
     Despite the truly staggering number of powerful entities in the hall at
that moment, no one made any offensive moves.  Scorch could feel the hairs on
the back of his neck rise, and noticed an old man in the White Bishop section
raising some sort of mystical shield, but that was the most obvious anyone
had gotten.
     Umbrae and Incarnata, of course, had turned to face the interloper.
     "Who DARES?" Umbrae demanded, his voice filling the hall despite the
fact that he hadn't shouted.
     "Supernaut?" Sister Christian gasped from her position with the
bridesmaids.  "But...you died!  I felt your transponder go black!"
     "No, I survived your treachery, my former Code Sister!" Supernaut
snarled.  "And I'm here to save my beloved Maria from more of your games!
You would sell all who follow you into Khadamite bondage, and I will not
stand for it!"
     Around the edges of the hall, guards had leveled their weapons, but none
had acted yet.  Most of them knew Supernaut from the old days, and knew as
well that even back then he would have shrugged off anything their rifles
could do.  And he looked a lot bigger now.  None of the guests wanted to be
the first to attack either, since it was pretty clear that whoever got
Supernaut's attention first wouldn't live very long.
     "Supernaut, as I was ABOUT to say to the priest, I do come here of my
free will to give myself in marriage.  Of COURSE there's political and
financial considerations, you idiot.  But it was over between you and me long
before Warden pulled a King Kong on you.  If you'll kindly shut up and sit
down, we can talk about this after the ceremony," Maria chided the hulking
war machine as if he were a wayward child.
     "I will *not* allow this travesty to continue!" Supernaut roared.
"Maria, you're coming with me *now*!"
     She sighed, and looked down at herself for a moment.  "And I looked so
nice, too.  Oh, well," she shrugged.  Then the chest panels of her "dress"
popped off and a swarm of missiles hurled themselves at Supernaut, engulfing
him in tightly focused implosion bursts that ate away at his armor.  
     He screamed in rage and surprise and hurt, but didn't seem the least bit
physically impaired by the attack.
     Guests started to scatter, heading for the exits and blocking the lines
of fire of the guards.  Umbrae, for his part, opened a panel on the side of
the altar and pulled out what Scorch figured had to be a ship-mounted Tsaran
cannon, easily two meters long and over a hundred kilos, but the big
Shadowmonger hefted it like it was made of balsa wood.  The cyan bolt lashed
against Supernaut's pitted armor, setting off a few small secondary
explosions, but the cyborg didn't seem deterred in the least.  
     And now Supernaut was striding towards the bridesmaids, where Sister
Christian defiantly stood her ground...and Julie seemed to be momentarily
frozen in either fear or shock.
     "Damn," Scorch hissed.  Time to get involved.
     Leaping into the air with muscles stronger than any normal human's, but
still weak compared to Umbrae's, Scorch carefully triggered a burst of flame
that thrust him into the central aisle, behind Supernaut and clear of most of
the still-fleeing guests.  "Hey, Supernut!" he taunted, unleashing his most
focused flame at a spot that seemed at least a little dented by Maria's
implosion warheads.
     It had no effect.  Supernaut didn't even turn around as he sneered,
"This body is a decommissioned Ares suit, little man.  It was designed to
reduce entire planetary defense forces!  To re-enter atmosphere unaided!  A
little flame won't hurt me, nor will mere Class Three Tsaran cannons!  And
even with the main weapon systems removed, it's more than enough to kill
everyone in this room!"
     "How about me?" a lithe figure asked as it dropped from the ceiling onto
the altar.
     Umbrae stopped firing and turned to look.  "Warden?" he said, clearly
stunned.  "Does anyone ELSE want to drop in uninvited today?"
     "We're not on top of a skyscraper this time, Eyeless Face," Supernaut
laughed.  "And even if we were, this body can handle anything you can dish
out.  I'm much stronger than I was when we last fought!"
     "Oh, I'm sure you are," Warden hopped down from the altar and started
walking towards Supernaut.  "But you're not the only one with new tricks.
Or, at least, new applications of the same old ones.  And that shiny new body
you're in won't do you any good if I shut down all of your neural
     Supernaut didn't reply.  In fact, he didn't do anything.  How could he?
His world had just gone entirely black and silent.
     "Everyone down!" the old mystic Scott had spotted earlier shouted as a
shimmering mystic field surrounded Supernaut.  An instant later, there was a
blinding flash and a concussion that, even with the magical shield blunting
it, knocked everyone over and sent chairs flying.
     By the time anyone had recovered their wits, Warden had vanished, and
all that was left of Supernaut was a blackened but intact lump of armored
metal with numerous severed and smoking connections.

               *              *              *              *

     A few hours had passed, throwing a number of schedules out of whack, but
such was life in the fast lane, Scott noted.  Umbrae's right hand man,
Anatole Mabuse, had recovered Supernaut's braincase from the "black box" that
had been all to survive of the self-destructing Ares unit.  Apparently,
Supernaut had used his insider knowledge of the CyberNostra to bypass
security and hide himself in a room below the main hall.  He'd also been
killing Umbrae's security people, the so-called "Hangmen," if any got too
close to discovering his scheme.  Supernaut himself was going to be taken
away for safekeeping, and possible rehabilitation...Sister Christian publicly
promised to do everything in her power to help her former Code Brother
recover from what had clearly been a program of brainwashing by some enemy of
hers or Umbrae's.
     Umbrae's tailors had gotten his tuxedo back in trim in record time, and
Maria had simply refitted her chest plates and polished out a few scuffs.
The hall looked a little shabby in places despite a heroic effort by Umbrae's
people to repair the damage done in Supernaut's attack, but all in all it
still looked pretty good.  Scott wished he'd remembered to bring spare shoes,
though...that little burst of flight hadn't hurt his tux, but the shoes
hadn't been as lucky.
     The priest was now holding his hands over a cushion upon which rested
the wedding rings.  "I bless these rings as symbols of deep faith and peace,"
he said, without a trace of irony in his voice.  The man was good at his job.
     Rex Umbrae picked up the smaller of the two rings and placed it on
Maria's finger.  There was an audible click as systems within her artificial
hand locked onto the ring.  "With this ring, I thee wed," he said.
     Maria took the larger of the rings and placed it on Rex's finger, a
finger that was bigger than any two of hers put together.  "With this ring, I
*thee* wed," she smiled.
     The hall erupted in applause.

               *              *              *              *

     The reception hall, of course, had been untouched by the fighting, so
the worst that had happened there was that the caterers had been forced to
throw out some of the more time-sensitive foods and start over.  Brock star
Aoide was performing on the stage at one end of the hall, with a core of
dance-happy paragangers mostly moving in time to the music, plus the
occasional other guests drifting in and out of what was a somewhat hazardous
mosh pit.
     Another small crowd was permanently attached to the bride and groom, as
was to be expected, a combination of reception line and hovering observers.
A third knot of people had formed around Ethan "Dice" Kynes, a luck-powered
Road Rager formerly of the Basilisk Blacks.  Dice had recently been
officially sponsored by Umbrae as a competitor in April's "Prix Ultime," a
new formula racing event in Monaco open only to paranormals.  Granted, his
celebrity was purely local, but there were a lot of locals in attendance.
When Madison Square Garden is your reception hall, you can be liberal with
the invites.
     For his part, Anatole Mabuse was as content as he could reasonably
expect to be.  Things had gone well, if not smoothly.  There were still loose
ends to deal with, but those would wait for tomorrow.
     "For tomorrow is another day, eh, Anatole?" a low voice murmured behind
the majordomo.  He recognized the voice instantly, and didn't bother to turn
around...the speaker could easily be hundreds of meters away.
     "Indeed it is, Warden.  You didn't have to crash the reception, you
know.  I'm sure I could have arranged an invitation for you," he replied
     "Thank you, but no.  I'm not the sort to go where he's invited...and I
just wanted to congratulate you on a marvelous bit of improvisation," Warden
whispered in Mabuse's mind.
     Anatole nodded, sketching a bow.  "I thought it was one of my better
on-the-spot jobs.  It helped that Supernaut won't be able to deny anything.
He'll be lucky to remember any of the past year once we get done unraveling
whatever programming his backers stuffed into his gray matter...you don't put
someone's brain in an Ares unit, even a decomissioned one that's missing most
of its weapons, without a great many safeguards."
     "True.  In fact, one of those safeguards is what made it so easy for me
to shut him down.  Still, you're playing a dangerous game.  Sister Christian
may play at being an unfeeling witch, but she really does care about
Supernaut.  Like a puppy, I suppose.  If she finds out you framed him for the
Hangman killings...."
     "Pfeh.  She already knows who was really behind them.  As does Umbrae.
I needed to clean house without making it an obvious Night of Long Knives.
Too many of my people would object to such drastic removal of even the more
corrupt of their colleagues, and some of them who might otherwise be
trustworthy might turn on me.  So I needed a...patsy.  Be grateful, you were
one of my early choices to pin this on."
     "You would have found it very difficult to make such a frame stick to
me, Anatole," Warden warned.
     "Perhaps.  But I no longer need to, thanks to the person or persons who
pointed Supernaut at us.  I suppose I get to spend the honeymoon hunting down
whoever that was."
     "Have fun.  At least, you probably know what...circles...he travels in."
     And with that, Mabuse could feel the light psychic touch lift.  Warden
was gone.
     "I believe I do, at that," he chuckled to himself.


Next Issue:

     It's time for Earthside to get to take a breather, but another wedding
is almost upon us on Venus!  A number of long-awaited resolutions occur in
ASH #76, "Four To Never Prelude: Time Enough"!


Author's Notes:

     Okay, in case anyone didn't already figure it out, every issue title in
the Metropolis arc was taken from the name of a Fritz Lang movie.  Additional
Lang references include Maria herself, as well as Anatole Mabuse.  Anatole is
based on the insidious Dr. Mabuse, antagonistic star of several of Lang's
     While Anatole was not initially my pick for the one behind the Hangman
killings, I couldn't resist making him the villain once I got to the point
where I had to pick a person.  Yes, when I started writing this arc, I hadn't
decided who it would be, I just tossed out plenty of possibilities so that
the real one would be out there *somewhere*.  :)  And Mabuse certainly seemed
to be in the best position to fake being people like Cockatrice and Warden.
     In case anyone doesn't know, "wetware" refers to the organic bits of a
cyborg, and "wetwiring" to means of programming an organic brain and/or
nervous system.  It's a little more police a term than the also-common
     Supernaut was Sister Christian's enforcer back in Warden #12, and was
presumed killed.  His defeat convinced Coulter to get out of the life, and
may have also influenced Sister Christian in her decision to move closer to
Umbrae (since she had just lost her biggest "muscle").  The Ares unit was
created by Matt Rossi III for a story that has yet to appear.  It's a weapon
that the Santari use when they want to take a planet relatively intact, but
don't care too much about whether any of the native population survives.  One
is generally enough to kill everyone on the planet.
     I've recently taken to kitbashing Attacktix figures (Star Wars for now,
but I just got some Marvel ones that I have plans for) into ASH characters.
These figures, as well as all my other ASH kitbashes, can now be found at
http://www.dvandom.com/kitbash/ashgallery.html (man, it's kinda embarrassing
looking at some of those old Sculpey works now).
     Finally, "Four to Never" marks the return of the Conclave of Super-
Villains to publication under the "pen" of Writers of the Future winner
(second place, First Quarter 2006) Tony Pi!  CSV #26 will also be a Prelude
issue, catching up on what's been going on with the Conclavers since the
wedding of Triton and Sultry.  Then ASH #77 will be part 1 of the crossover,
CSV #27 will be part 2, ASH #78 part 3, and finally CSV #28 will be the
fourth and final part of "Four to Never".


     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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