ASH: ASH #69 - Manifest Destiny 5: Beetle Battle

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Jun 24 22:34:45 PDT 2006

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #69
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||        Manifest Destiny part 5 - Beetle Battle
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows a minion beetle in extreme closeup, with a pair of
      human hands trying to force its mandibles apart.]

                       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           ACTIVE
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         ACTIVE
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              ACTIVE
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        ACTIVE

[January 27, 2026 - United World Complex, Canberra Australia]

     Delegates, assistants and reporters from around the world stared at
Janos Hrepic in stunned silence.  The ambassador from Q'Nos composed himself
with a slight shrug and a cough.
     "I repeat, the nation of Khadam has signed a treaty with my lord Q'Nos
regarding the disposition of territory on the planet Venus, a planet which
was terraformed via the efforts of his mother, the world serpent.  Khadam has
been granted an extraterritorial enclave encompassing the island known on
pre-2025 maps as Ouda Regio, which I am led to believe will be renamed
'Tritonis'.  In exchange, Khadam recognizes my lord's claim to the planet as
a whole, and also recognizes the current boundaries of the Kingdom of Q'Nos
on Earth.  Additionally, there have been other considerations and
compensations made, the nature of which will remain confidential for the
     "One rogue state supports another, typical!" one of the delegates from
the Eurasian Union shouted once Janos had finished.  The remainder of the
delegation remained silent, but their expressions showed they agreed with the
     "Gentlemen, the ambassador from Q'Nos still has the floor," the
sergeant-at-arms noted, having tapped into the sound system so that he could
be heard by all.  "Any further outbursts will result in the offending
delegate being removed from..."
     Suddenly, the room went silent again, although the sergeant-at-arms was
still speaking.  Janos had placed a small object on his podium and stepped
away.  Before the murmuring of the delegates could rise to a roar, the room
was greeted by yet another surprise.
     Chancellor Derek Radner of Khadam appeared behind the podium, looking
understatedly regal in his crisp white pseudo-military uniform with subtle
gold and green accents.  He gestured with a grin, his hand clearly passing
through the podium.  People tried to shout out in protest, but they made no
     "Greetings, ladies, gentlemen and et cetera of the world," the
holographic projection said, his voice carrying to every corner of the room.
"I'm sorry I couldn't attend these procedings in person, but I would like to
thank Ambassador Hrepic for making it possible for me to attend by proxy.  I
will keep my remarks short, since no doubt someone is working frantically to
isolate this transmission and cut it off.
     "Let me be frank.  While King Q'Nos and I have not made a formal
alliance and are unlikely to do so in the near future, we have agreed to not
be at odds over certain issues.  Issues including the disposition of Venusian
territory and the current borders of each of our Terran domains.  That means
that, for the foreseeable future, you won't be able to play us against each
other.  And since we both have our own means to reach Venus with relative
ease, it also means you probably can't drive us off by force in the event you
choose not to recognize the legality of our claims.  
     "But before I sign off and turn off the noise-cancellation technology
that is keeping you from interrupting me, I'd like to point something out:
Q'Nos has merely taken what you discarded or ignored, and made it worth
something.  And now that he has, you want to take it back.  His efforts are
making the dangerously unstable 'Shattered Hellas' liveable again.  His
mother turned Venus from toxic hell into tropical paradise.  I ask you, is it
not fair and just to let him reap some benefit from his efforts?"
     With a bow and a flourish, Radner vanished, and the room once again
erupted into sound and fury.

               *              *              *              *

[January 27, 2026 - Overlooking Lake Cleopatra, Venus]

     The polar winds blew across the escarpment, ruffling Peregryn's robes.
To be honest, it was a very comfortable temperature, reminding him of summers
at his cabin in northern Wisconsin.  The Sun rested near the horizon, sinking
so slowly that even the most patient of men would think it was fixed in the
sky.  Below lay the lake that encircled the transplanted city of Montreal and
its low Mount Royal.  The city was almost always in the shade of the
surrounding mountains of Maxwell Montes, but the purloined power of
Photosynth kept plants alive despite the lack of direct sunlight.
     And somewhere in those dozens of square kilometers was a single Anchor
bearing the legacy of a madman.  Innocenza Archangeli, daughter of Lorenzo
"Rebus" Archangeli and the paranormal inventor Gimble.  The two had been
spirited away to Venus some time shortly after the wedding of Triton and
Sultry, a wedding which had seen a brief visit to Venus by several of the
     All of this, Peregryn had been able to piece together from stories told
by escaped Montrealans and reports sent from Earth.  No one he had talked to,
however, knew what had happened afterward, or even how Gimble and her
daughter had penetrated the protective dome over the city to gain entrance.
An Anchor could pierce it, of course, but it would likely have totally
collapsed.  And any mystical means of transport were impossible precisely
because Innocenza was an Anchor.
     But now, Peregryn would use that fact to his advantage.  The spell he
was casting was a simple one, modified only to increase its area of effect.
It would expand outwards, an invisible wave, until it touched upon an
Anchor.  At that point, it would vanish like a soap bubble striking a pin,
and he would know how far away the child was.  Then he would move to a
different position and try again, triangulating like a form of mystic radar.
Simple, elegant, certain to find the child if she was still in the city.
     He sent out the first wave.

               *              *              *              *

[January 27, 2026 - Montreal, Venus]

     Claudette hissed.
     "What is wrong, milady?" Polaire asked, concerned by the sudden shift in
her mood.  The meeting had been going fairly smoothly up to that point, and
while no one liked the population drop the'd experienced in recent days, it
had not been catastrophic, and they seemed to be dealing with it fairly
     "Ripples in the tank," Lune chimed in.
     "Oh, shut up, Loony," Aigle signed.
     "No, she's right," Claudette Viau shook her head.  "Ripples.  Someone,
probably that damned Peregryn, just sent out a faint spell.  Over the entire
crater, as far as I can tell.  But it doesn't seem to really accomplish
     "Perhaps he is taunting you, demonstrating that he can use his power
with impunity?" Asphalte suggested.
     "Nooo..." Claudette pondered.  "He's an arrogant son of a bitch, but
taunting isn't really his style.  It almost feels like he's searching for
something, but it doesn't feel like divination magic."
     "Maybe he's looking for the Anchor child," Cirque suggested.
     "What.  Anchor.  Child?" Claudette turned to Nadine with tightly
controlled anger.  "I would think you would have informed me of such before
     "My apologies," Polaire bowed his head in contrition.  "During our final
consolidation of the city, we found a woman had given birth to an Anchor
after the city's transplantation.  We warned her to stay away from you and
the dome, lest the dome breach, and set her to work...she had a technical
background.  Frederic, do we know what happened to her?"
     Asphalte checked his handcomp.  "Kimberly Bell was the mother.  She's
one of the people on our 'missing' list, presumably she joined the Falcon Bay
settlement.  And yeah, we didn't even find her the first time until after the
brief CSV visit, she was one of the last to be rounded up."
     Claudette narrowed her eyes.  "A woman with a newborn babe managing to
evade discovery for several months?  Didn't that strike you as suspicious?"
     Polaire shrugged.  "Of course.  We naturally considered that she might
have arrived with the Conclave, but the babe was too old to have been born
after that event, much less conceived.  As an Anchor, it would have prevented
any sort of teleportation spell.  Also, Ms. Bell was quite good with
machines, it's within reason that she could have survived in abandoned
housing on the fringes.  Women gave birth before there were doctors and
midwives, I expect she had some uncomfortable days, but got lucky."
     "I'm not sure I want to write it off to luck.  Especially if Peregryn
wants this Anchor child and assumes it's still here in Montreal," Claudette
all but snarled.

               *              *              *              *

[January 28, 2026 - United World Complex, Canberra, Australia]

     Arin sat down on the park bench next to Aaron.  "So, how's it going?"
she asked.
     He shrugged.  "The Eurasian Union and the Moslem Confederation have
finally agreed that nuking Q'Nos wouldn't be a good idea, but that's about as
close as they've gotten to any diplomatic solution.  Our government isn't
happy with the situation either, but I think they're secretly relieved that
we get to keep some territory without having to sign any treaties.  SEATO's
following our lead as usual, but the People's Republic and the Central Asian
Confederation are leaning towards opening dipl..."
     Arin, who had been looking more and more exasperated, finally
interrupted.  "I meant how's it going with YOU, dummy.  You should know what
I meant, you're a telepath."
     "Well, there's dampers all over the place," Aaron pointed out, "and
you've been hard to read lately anyway.  But, well, I'm okay.  You?"
     "You're not avoiding it so easily this time, mister.  Since you seem to
insist on me spelling it out, I will.  You.  Gene.  Nookie?"
     Aaron laughed despite himself.  "Not as such, no.  She's available
again, in terms of not dating anyone right now, but she's also been spending
a lot of time down in Manhattan.  So even when I go up to MetaPsych for my
training sessions, she's usually gone.  And as a representative of the NAC
government, I'm not allowed to go to Manhattan myself, thanks to that
agreement with Rex Umbrae."
     "And she can, because MetaPsych is theoretically a private corporation,"
Arin nodded.  "So, she's hiding from you now.  That's the opposite of
progress, mister."
     "Eh, I don't think so.  MetaPsych has a pretty well-developed rumor
mill, and if she really was trying to avoid me, it would have gotten back to
me somehow.  It's a lot harder to keep juicy secrets like that in a room full
of telepaths.  I think she's just really interested in the Hellhound thing.
MetaPsych is convinced that Manhattan's resident vigilante is either a
telepath, or working with one."
     "All right, she said, playing along," Arin replied with a sigh.  "I'll
let you change the subject this time.  Do they have any idea which telepath?
There can't be all that many out there that MetaPsych doesn't have a close
tab on."
     "There's still nothing solid, but the smart money's on Jessa Dumont.
She's known to be in Manhattan, she has combat training, and she's probably
got some serious guilt to work off regarding her sister, Mr. Strings.  She's
been seen at her clinic several times during reported Hellhound activity,
though, so she can't be the only person involved, if she's involved at all."
     "Could it be a Paraganger?"
     Aaron shrugged.  "It's not impossible, and there's one or two former
paragangers on the short list, but whoever it is doesn't leak."
     Arin blinked.
     "Um, sorry.  Jargon," Aaron apologized.  "Most telepaths, regardless of
their power level or talent, tend to send out a lot of unintended signals
that other telepaths can pick up on.  We call that signal leakage, or just
leak.  One of the first things most people learn at MetaPsych is to stop
leaking, but it's not impossible for someone to self-train on it.  Or to be
one of those rare teeps who doesn't leak in the first place.  Anyway, Jessa
is highly trained, so we know she doesn't leak, while untrained paraganger
telepaths tend to leak like sieves.  Unfortunately, it's only indirectly that
there's any evidence Hellhound has telepathy in her one is 100%
sure of that angle."
     "What else do you know about Hellhound?" Arin dug an energy bar out of
her carryall and started peeling it open.
     "Not a lot.  She knows her way around a motorcycle and can shoot
electrical blasts, but that could just be a concealed Tsaran blaster with the
crystal removed.  Basically, everything she does could just be tech, or it
could be innate, no one knows for sure.  She keeps a fairly low profile,
operates on a pretty erratic schedule, and has never been caught as far as we
know.  As for media mining, Umbrae isn't exactly keen to let anyone outside
the city hear about her, since it implies he doesn't have everything well in
hand.  Goes against the marketing campaign."
     Arin took a bite of the bar and nodded.  The old "Decay NY" reputation
would take a long time to buck, but Rex Umbrae's publicity machine was
starting to make a dent in it.  Tourism actually existed there for the first
time in a while, and more people were moving in than moving out.  Not that
she could see for herself, of course.
     Arin swallowed.  "Maybe you should see if Jessa's free for a date when
we get back," she grinned.

               *              *              *              *

[January 28, 2026 - Vancouver, Columbia Sector]

     "Tammani, get your bony ass in position, you're next out!" Juliana
Silvestri commanded.  Running a show was like herding cats, only cats weren't
quite as vain.  And cats were a little less likely to vomit at inconvenient
times.  She couldn't wait for zaftig to come back into style.
     "Jude, hold it, your hair's coming undone in back," she shooed another
model over to the hairdresser station.
     Still, it was good to be working.  Working helped, especially now that
she'd gotten past what she hoped was the worst of it.
     She'd cried for hours.  Not even halfway through the scroll, and she'd
just broken down and cried.  And cried.  She still couldn't put a finger on
why, it wasn't like the scroll had...had much of anything of an effect that
she could figure.  A lot of common sense advice, stuff she already lived by.
Radical for an ancient Greek society, maybe...or maybe not, history was her
brother's hobby, not hers.  
     "Gogogo!" Juliana practically shoved another model onstage.  Maybe she
could look into getting robots built for this.  Wireframe models, given the
current fashions.
     Whatever the scroll had or hadn't done, and however much it may have
been cliche, a good cry had helped a lot.  She was still angry with herself,
with Scott, the whole ball of wax.  But it wasn't a massive weight on her
shoulders anymore, just an annoying buzzing in the back of her head.  She was
still a bit more snappish than usual, although that did help in her
professional persona.
     "Idiot!  Can't you tell you put the dress on her BACKWARDS?" she snarled
at one of her assistants.

     Half an hour later, the show was over and Julie had retreated to a small
office to decompress before hitting the party circuit.  The show had gone
well, critical response on the nets was good, and it looked like her company
would be nicely in the black again this quarter.  And she'd only had to
seriously threaten one model with painful death.
     Her phone chirped.  Since it was in "only accept calls from the super
secret private number" mode, a number she'd changed after Scott dumped her,
she picked up.  "Hello, Juliana Silvestri speaking."
     "Greetings," a deeply rumbling voice began.  "Ms. Silvestri, this is Rex
Umbrae, I believe you may have heard of me?"
     She blinked.  That may have been the stupidest question she'd heard all
day, and she'd been around models for most of that time.  Heard of him?  The
Khadamite crimelord who ran Manhattan?  Duhhh.  On the other hand, it was
somewhat shocking to get a call directly from him, rather than channelled
through an underling.  Despite her status in her own professional world, she
was most definitely *not* at the social level Umbrae inhabited.  She dealt
with the aides and secretaries of the powerful, not the movers and shakers
     "Yes, I do believe I've heard some passing mention," she replied, trying
to strike a balance between diva and "maybe I shouldn't annoy this guy".  All
while covering up her feelings of impending doom.
     "I would like to engage your services, Ms. Silvestri.  You have a
certain cachet among my associates, and a reputation for being able to deal
professionally with those of us who may...intimidate those who work for us,"
his deep voice rumbled with an edge of amusement.  In other words, people
knew she could work with supervillains without freaking out.  GREAT.  The
Radner wedding was haunting her again.
     "If I find the work professionally interesting, I might be willing,
Mr. Umbrae.  I do have a few weeks before I need to start work on the next
season in earnest, so you're in luck on that count."  She knew luck had
nothing to do with it, of course.  He'd called practically the instant she
became available...he may have called in person, but no doubt his underlings
had been very busy on the matter of when to call.
     "Very good.  I will send you the details now, but the summary is that I
am going to be getting married, and the wedding party will include a large
number of cyborgs.  The 'professionally interesting' aspect would involve
designs to complement a variety of cybernetic implants.  As well as making
sure my own accoutrements fit personal tailor is well versed in
serving the needs of the, ah, big and tall man, but I wish to have a visually
appealing integrated theme."
     "I'll look over the specifications at my earliest convenience, I should
have an answer for you in a few business days," Juliana promised.
     "Thank you.  I look forward to your response."  Umbrae then hung up.
     Cyborgs?  A political marriage to cement ties with the Cybernostra,
perhaps?  But....
     The image of Rex Umbrae marrying Sister Christian flashed across her
mind's eye.  

               *              *              *              *

[January 29, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     Kim closed up the case on the radar unit, satisfied that her
modifications would work.  Some of the more advanced functions of the system
had been put together by Essay, making them supertech.  And thus, making them
susceptible to Cindy's Anchor effect.  Kim's own supernormal powers may have
been damped because of Cindy's presence in the papoose on her back, but she
remembered enough real engineering without her powers to install a few
workarounds that would keep things functioning.
     Thus, she was right there when the alarms went off.
     "Unknown flying units approaching from the southwest," Kim shouted as
she dashed out the door and dodged around the regular operator who was
returning at that moment, summoned by the alarm.  There were too many jobs to
do and too few people to leave someone sitting at the screen all day.
     "You know the drill, everyone!" Beacon shouted as he took to the air.
His voice was a harsh, amplified roar, the usually undetectable buzz in the
simulated tones becoming blatantly obvious as the man made of solid light
cranked up the volume.  "Noncombatants to the bunker, everyone else grab your
     Given that the known neighbors included representatives of Khadam and
Q'Nos, Peregryn had spent a fair amount of effort shaping the earth to create
a number of underground bunkers to shelter the ever-growing population of
Falcon Bay.  Kim had been careful to stay far away when he did that, as she
knew that the greatest magics were the most susceptible to Anchor
     "Three incoming, strong radar signatures," the sensor tech called up to
Beacon.  "Pretty fast, but not jet fast."
     Kim decided it was time to get into the bunker herself.

     Beacon strained against conflicting desires.  On the one hand, he wanted
to dash out over the ocean and confront the bogies before they could get to
land, in case they were hostile.  On the other, if the three together were
able to beat him, he'd end up adrift in the ocean and there'd be one less
     Of course, anything that could beat Geode, Peregryn and Essay probably
wouldn't be deterred just by adding him to the mix.  He looked down to see
the other three supernormals: Peregryn seemed to be casting some sort of
divination, Essay was readying a rather large energy bazooka she'd been
building in her spare time, and Geode was standing near them in a combat
stance.  A rather assured stance, at that.  
     The targets, still specks in the distance, dropped down and landed on
the shore maybe two kilometers away.  Either they were tired, which he hoped
was the answer, or they were smart enough to get below the radar.
     A flash of motion caught Beacon's eye.  Someone was running off into the
woods...idiot.  The bunkers were a lot safer than hiding in the forest.
     Damn, no time for "unless", the things were eating up ground too quickly
on the shore, practically kicking up roostertails of pebbles.  "Here they
come!"  he called down to the others.
     "They have an elemental nature," Peregryn replied, gentle winds carrying
his words to where all could hear them.  "I have a sense that there is no
malice here, but there could still be danger."
     There was a pause, and then Peregryn added, "Geode agrees with me, but
she is not sure how she knows this."
     "Guys, you probably can't see this because of the debris, but they look
like giant stone beetles!" Beacon shouted.  "And they don't seem to be
slowing down!"
     "Do not attack," Peregryn calmly advised.  "Wait until they demonstrate
their intentions, or get within fifty meters of the settlement.  Essay,
Geode, move forward with me...if they only wish to talk, they will stop at
our position rather than continuing to the settlement."
     Several tense seconds passed, as the stone beetles sped forward like
miniature tanks, and the quartet of supernormals took strides of their own,
spreading out into a line.  
     "They're heading for Geode," Beacon warned.  "Close up on her!"
     Suddenly, the beetles rumbled to a stop, maybe ten meters from Geode.
Waving impossibly delicate stone antennae, they then took slow steps towards
her, ignoring the other three heroes.
     "Stop it," Geode whispered, trembling slightly.  "STOP IT!" she shouted,
and the beetles froze in their tracks.  "GO AWAY!" she added.
     The beetles turned, almost reluctantly, and took to the air, flying back
in the direction from which they came.
     "What just happened here?" Essay asked, powering down her weapon.

               *              *              *              *

[January 30, 2026 - Tritonis, Venus (formerly Ouda Regio)]

     "So, whatcha got for me, Manty?" Conflicto asked as he entered the
control compartment of the alien T!rir's spaceship.  "Any news on the big
rock bugs?"
     Mantissa made a gesture Conflicto had eventually learned was the
equivalent of a human nod.  "It was not easy to search for such small moving
objects over an entire planet, but after the Q'Nos representative gave me
permission to seed orbit with a satellite network, I was able to use fractal
processing and radar of several different frequencies to isolate a pattern
that seems to fit the few concrete sightings we've had."
     Conflicto just nodded.  He knew Mantissa was a royal tech geek, and
telling him to cut to the chase never worked.  To Mantissa, the technical
details *were* the chase.  Eventually he'd get to the boring old results that
everyone was waiting for.
     An image of Venus appeared in mid-air, holographically projected between
the two of them.  A number of lines started to appear, some thicker and
brighter than others.  They all seemed to converge on a single point.  "The
lithoptera have all come from this location, called Themis Regio on your maps
of the world.  And most of them have also returned."
     "What's that other line there?" Conflicto pointed to a differently-
colored arc that crossed Themis Regio once, but otherwise wandered far more
erratically than the beetle lines.
     "This is a different entity," Mantissa gestured and a blurry metallic
image appeared next to the planetary map.  "It appears to be a gigantic metal
     "Oh, crap.  We got kaiju."
     "I'll explain later.  Show me what's at Themis Regio, now!"
     The map image zoomed in on the small continent, finally revealing a
flattened hilltop at the center of all of the beetle paths.
     "Nothing's there?"
     "Nothing is there *now*," Mantissa clarified.  You wanted to see what
was there now."
     "No, I...never mind.  What was there, and can you tell me where it has
     "This is what was atop that hill.  I should be able to show you its
current location shortly."
     At first, it looked like the hill was simply larger.  Then Conflicto
noticed the legs.  And horn.  And EYES.
     "BIIIIIG stone beetle," he gasped.  "Please, please show me that it's
not coming to Tritonis?"

               *              *              *              *

[January 31, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "Damn, this fog sucks," Carlos snarled as he stared out into the gray.
"Dunno why they even have us out here lookin'."
     Marcia shrugged.  "Something in the fog is messing with the radar.  Now
shut up, we're not just watching, we're also listening."
     A few moments later, Carlos jumped back.  "What the hell?  The tide's
coming in!"
     "Dummy, there's no tides here, least none you'd...hey, yeah, the water's
rising."  She pulled out her radio.  "Central, this is Marcia.  We have
rising waters.  Any earthquakes or whatever?"
     "Let me check," came the slightly crackling voice over the radio.
"Seismographs are showing a little rumbling, but nothing that should cause a
tsunami.  Sending the wizard out to check, though."
     "Roger, I...DAMN!" Marcia screamed as the fog parted for an instant.
"We have a mountain coming this way!"

     And Heraclius rose out of the water, dispelling the mists around
himself, to better survey the place his children had told him would have what
he sought....


Next Issue:

     Where does a mountain-sized stone beetle sleep?  Anywhere he wants to!
But Heraclius won't be getting much sleep in ASH #70, "Morning Star"!


Author's Notes:

     OOPS!  All the datestamps in #68 were listed as 2025, not 2026.  I've
since gone back and fixed them, but if you run across ASH #68 in other
archives (such as the RACC Archive or Google Groups), know that the events of
that issue took place in 2026.
     "Decay NY" is an old Far Side joke, playing on the DKNY fashion brand.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to !

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