[ASH] ASH #68 - "Manifest Destiny Part 4: Legion"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sun May 14 17:50:48 PDT 2006

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #68
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||           Manifest Destiny part 4 - Legion
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

     [cover shows the Raging Mad Mountain Gorillas fighting against
      a swarm of stone beetles that are each nearly as large as a
      gorilla.  Sarge is holding the mandibles of one beetle apart
      with his bare (if cybernetically augmented) hands.]

                       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 16, 2025 - Basecamp Alpha, Ouda Regio, Venus]

     "Where's...my...bug...spray?" Sarge grunted as he held apart the stone
mendibles that encircled his waist.  His arms had been replaced by
cybernetics, but most of his torso was still organic, and even with
reinforcement had not been intended for this sort of strain.
     "I got a spray for 'em!" Grilla replied, as the flamethrower operator of
the Raging Mad Mountain Gorillas unleashed a gout of fire at another of the
stone beetles.  
     "This needs a lady's touch," Faye smirked, bounding over to her leader's
side and jamming her entrenching tool into the joint at the base of one of
the mandibles.  The mouthparts shattered under the combination of strains,
and Sarge freed himself from the deadly embrace.
     "Hey, bug boy," Flinger called over to the T!rir Mantissa, who seemed to
be fiddling with some device.  "Can't you talk to these guys?"
     "I am attempting to," was the calm reply.
     Flinger blinked, nearly dropping the grenade he was preparing to throw
into a concentration of the stone beetles.  "I was kidding," he said,
somewhat lamely.
     "Yes, you were attempting humor based on the surface similarities
between myself and these intruders, deliberately ignoring the fact that we
come from entirely different parts of the galaxy and would have no particular
reason to share a common tongue.  However, because I *do* come from an
entirely different part of the galaxy, I have a very good translation
program.  And I think they want to know how you taste."
     "THAT ain't good," Sarge said as he pulled out an oversized bowie-style
knife with a monomolecular edge.  
     "I hear we taste like chicken," Rae retorted, shoving one of the beetles
over onto its back.
     "I thought it was pork," Grilla opined, continuing to have little effect
on his own target.
     "Itastelikemetal," GoGo contributed as he hammered on a beetle's legs
with a ball peen hammer he'd liberated from somewhere in the camp.  Its legs
shattered like icicles, and it fell onto its belly.
     "They seem to be generally curious," Mantissa clarified.  "I am
answering their questions, at least those I think are reasonably safe to
reply to.  I believe that if you disengage, they will not pursue."
     "Awright, you apes!  Fall back on my position, defensive formation!"
Sarge shouted.
     As soon as the cyborg gorillas withdrew, the beetles started milling
around, some focusing on Mantissa, others starting to devour their own dead
and wounded.  
     "They claim to be scouts for something calling itself Heraclius,"
Mantissa said after a while.  "He is apparently a great power on this world,
but newly born, and in search of something to complete his existence.
Exactly what that is, however, he does not know.  So he is seeking to find
out all there is to know."
     "Seekers of knowledge can be the most dangerous of foes," Mighty Joe
Jung pointed out.  "They are often impractical and unrealistic, focused
monomaniacally on their goals.  While this offers many weaknesses for us to
exploit, it also means they will attack in situations where no one benefits."
     "LOVELY," Sarge sighed.  "Okay, let's get some beetle wranglers set up
and try to herd these things away from the base without starting the fight up

               *              *              *              *

[January 17, 2025 - Canberra, Australia]

     "What was with the evil eye the MC delegates kept shooting you, Arin?"
Tina asked as she, Arin Kelsey and Aaron Zander left the main assembly hall
of the United World complex.  Talks regarding the Venusian colonization issue
had ended for the day..."broken down" might be a more accurate term.
     "Yeah," Aaron added.  "At first, I thought it was just aimed at all of
us, a general 'infidel dogs' sort of thing.  But even through the psi static
generators they had set up in there, I could pick up some very focused, ah,
     Arin shrugged and quirked a half smile.  "Maybe they figured out my
little side project."
     Aaron groaned.  "You didn't..." he sighed, catching an unintended
telepathic glimpse at the thought behind the smile.
     "Did you create an international incident, Arin?" Tina asked, her
expression a mix of dawning horror and amusement.
     "Well, I didn't *directly* create one, no," she demurred.  "But I
suspected it might happen once I dropped the viral meme.  Remember that
scroll of Lysistrata that Peter gave me, Aaron?"
     The telepath nodded.  It had essentially been a Maenad heresy on the
topic of living "furiously", written by a woman so ahead of her time that
she'd been wiped *from* time by angry sorcerors.  Magical in nature, it
taught the reader to understand the language it was written in, a sort of
early literacy outreach.
     "I finally found someone who could make copies.  One of Sal's foundlings
in Mexico City, she's a minor mage and was on the verge of joining a paragang
before an augury told her she needed to go find the Green Knight.  Major
self-esteem problems, so I lent her the scroll, and she asked if she could
make her own copy.  Now she's churning them out as a hobby, and I'm helping
get them into circulation."
     "And this leads to hate from the Moslems how?" Tina asked.
     "It's obvious," Aaron sighed.  "At least one has made it into the
Confederation, and now they've got a brewing women's lib movement."
     "Oh, it's even better," Arin smiled with a look of innocence so complete
that "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth" as her grandma used to say.  "Most
of the scrolls are still just direct copies, but Esmeralda recently figured
out how to put them in other languages without losing the literacy spell.  I
got her an Arabic translation.  A lot of women in the Moslem Confederation
are illiterate in their own language, I figured this might kill two birds
with one stone."
     "Does JakZak know about this little side project?" Tina asked.
     Arin shrugged.  "Probably.  But not *officially*, so don't go telling
him in any way that he can't deny having heard."
     "Well, welcome to the International Incident Club," Tina smiled wryly.
"Aaron, it's now your duty to honk off the Australians, I think they're the
only country someone in ASH hasn't at least annoyed...."

               *              *              *              *

[January 18, 2025 - Themis Regio, Venus]

     Heraclius murmured contentedly atop his hill as he watched one of his
progeny flittering its way back to be reabsorbed.  "So, what news of the
world do you bring me, my little brittle beetle chattel?" he rumbled over the
course of about a minute, his voice a slow grinding sound that could be heard
for miles around.
     Suddenly, in a blur of shimmering metal, the scout vanished!
     Heraclius looked up to see Bronzewing gulping his minion down like,
well, a bird devouring an insect.
     "You harpy!  Unhand my child!" Heraclius screeched.  No minutes-long
discourse was this, but a primal scream in the language that the four
fragments of the Leviathan shared.  To any observer not of that brood, it
would have been an inarticulate howl.
     Bronzewing let loose with a warbling laugh, swooping past the titanic
stone beetle with a mocking flip of her tail.  "I have no hands, so I'll have
to decline," she chuckled in that same incomprehensible tongue.  
     "Soon you'll have no *head*!" Heraclius riposted, using a foreclaw to
bat a boulder into the air.
     "Too slow!" she cackled, unleashing a barrage of razor-sharp feathers
the size of greatswords.  The attack glanced harmlessly off the basalt
exoskeleton of her target, however.
     "Maybe this will be faster," he growled, his mighty horn beginning to
quiver.  The air shook as its hum turned into a scream and a beam of
distortion lanced out and struck his foe in the wing, ripping several flight
feathers away before she could wheel away.
     "A touch, I do confess it," Bronzewing snarled before turning tail and
flying away faster than Heraclius could react.
     "Wretch," Heraclius muttered before settling back down on his hilltop to
await more reports.

               *              *              *              *

[January 20, 2025 - The Academy, Wisconsin Sector]

     Old instincts came back to Scott as he threaded his way between the
throngs of students racing from one class to another along the spiral ramp
that ringed the Central Core of the Academy.  There were more students than
he remembered, but you had to expect that.  It had been two years since he
graduated, and with the Paragangs being reduced through recruitment, the
Academy was growing even more quickly than before.  The influx of baby
'gangers had also changed the feel of the student body.  It was a little more
anxious, on edge.  Schools always had factions, but it was more obvious now,
despite clear attempts to keep people from wearing any "colors".
     Even the faculty had some former 'gangers, although the one he was
heading to see had spent a few years out of the Cybernostra before coming to
work at the Academy.
     The door to Coulter's office slid open as Scott approached.  He might
feel self-conscious wearing a visitor's badge that tracked his movements, but
it did have its conveniences.
     "Come on in, Scorch," the reporter turned ethics teacher called from his
desk.  "Or are you here as Scott today?"
     Scott entered and made a point of shutting the door behind him.  "Scott
today.  Like I messaged you, this one's personal.  Well, it's kind of
professional too, but..."
     "Trying to keep the newsies off your back," Coulter half-smirked.
"Seems to me that you've been doing a pretty good job of that already.  Lots
of pictures of your ass, walking away, but no interviews."
     Scott sighed.  "I know.  Or flying away.  But I realized that even if I
stonewall 'em until they get bored and move onto something else, the problem
won't really go away.  Someone's gonna be at a press conference and ask me if
there was another woman, ten years from now.  And anyway, the harder I am to
talk to, the more they hound Julie."
     "So, you want me to tell you how to give them what they want, without it
hurting too much?"
     "More or less."
     "Well, that's the nub of it, isn't it?  They *want* it to hurt.  Give
them all sunshine and roses, and they won't believe a word of it.  For
instance: was there another woman?"
     "No," Scott almost snapped.
     "See, that's bad for two reasons.  Assuming you're telling the truth,
the truth is just not juicy enough.  And if you bit a newsie's head off like
that, it'd get used in the piece as proof that you're lying.  Methinks the
lady doth protest too much."  He paused.  "Hamlet."
     "I know, I know.  I don't suppose you know a friendly newsie I could
work through, who wouldn't try to twist things like that?"
     Coulter laughed.  "Not one who still has a job!  Fortunately for you, I
happen to know one who's in a different line of work now, but still has the
contacts needed to get a story published and is willing to do you a good
turn, in exchange for some back-scratching."
     "Who?  You?"
     Coulter tapped his cybereye while winking his real one.  "Got it in
one.  I'm going to be a slightly suspect source, given my background, but as
long as you're willing to open up a bit and let me take a few drops of blood
here and there, it should be good enough to at least avoid the 'ten years
later ambush questions' you're worried about.  And it might take some of the
heat off Ms. Silvestri, depending on what you have to say."
     "What's the back-scratching?"
     "Well, I'd want you to come talk to my class about this whole mess at
some point this semester.  Supernormal ethics aren't just about the
crimefighting stuff, it's also about dealing with being a celebrity.  Heck,
if you hadn't come to me, I was about to call you and ask you to come in
     Scott thought for a moment.  "Oh, all right.  I'll do it."
     "Should we do the interview now, or..."
     "Nah, give me a few days to send out feelers.  How I structure the
interview is gonna depend on who I sell it to.  And you're going to need to
figure out what you are and aren't willing to tell me.  Saturday afternoon
good for you?"
     "Should be.  Unless I get called to Venus or something.  Oh, that
reminds me...you told me a while back that Gimble would be on Venus.  But
there's been no reports of her...are the Sans Rouge hiding her that deeply
that *no one* can recall having seen an anthropomorphic beetle?"
     Coulter raised an eyebrow, with a "how dumb ARE you?" look on his face.
"Scott...her kid's an Anchor.  Probably a really strong one.  Why are you
even *looking* for a big bug?"

               *              *              *              *

[January 20, 2025 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     Peregryn closed down the viewer and leaned back in the chair in the
cramped quarters of the communications building.
     "Computer, notetaking mode," he commanded, and the machine bleeped
dutifully.  "After reviewing what we know about Geode, I have a theory about
why she felt compelled to visit Venus.  I believe that when the Leviathan
crushed her old 'The Base of the Pillar' body, what triggered the
metamorphosis into her, Geode's, new form was the absorption of some
elemental energy from the cthonic Leviathan.  A sympathy between the two
earth-based energies, if you will.  Not only did this energy change Geode
into what she is now, it also left her feeling a...resonance...with the
Leviathan, and an ever-growing impulse to reunite with the demigod.  There is
a spell I know of that could confirm this..."
     He was interrupted by an incoming message that the computer deemed
urgent enough that it broke into his dictation.
     The message was for him, from Scorch.  It was terse, but vitally
important.  "Gimble's child an Anchor, stop looking for a bug."
     Peregryn sighed.  In truth, he hadn't even been looking for Gimble, so
many other things had come up to occupy him.  "Scorch, do we know what she
should look like while Anchored?" he asked, hoping that the impetuous
pyrokinetic would still be at the comm when the message finished making its
several minute trip across space.
     In the meantime, he considered ways to sweep all of Montreal for an
Anchor, since it was likely the Sans Rouge would still be protecting Gimble,
as Coulter had indicated months before....

               *              *              *              *

[January 23, 2025 - Vancouver, Columbia Sector]

     Julie stormed into the bathroom, locked the door, turned off her phone,
and sat down in the middle of the lush carpet that stretched between the sink
and the oversized tub.
     "Useless goddamned fucking excuses for friends," she snarled under her
     The problem, she realized, with being a confident, in-charge sort of
person was that you tended to attract people who didn't want to be in charge
of their own lives.  Little moonlets orbiting her and basking in reflected
self-assurance.  So, when YOU were the one who needed someone to lean on, you
found that they folded like taffeta, with nothing better to offer than
repeating the latest daytime pop psych talk show host's advice.  The only
really strong people who had been close to her lately, as opposed to being
rivals, were Scott and George.  George was busy on another PLANET, and Scott
WAS the problem.
     She was furious, because the only alternative to anger was to break down
into a crying jag.  She needed time alone, but her life forced her into the
spotlight.  Even if she took a vacation, the newsies would find a way to
follow her at this point...the breakup was still too recent for them to have
been distracted by someone else.  And since Scott was doing a good job of
avoiding the press, they went after her with doubled ferocity.
     The anger was a brittle armor, though, riddled with cracks of doubt and
worry.  Should she have seen this coming?  Did she see it coming and ignore
the warning signs?  Was Scott lying about there not being anyone else?  Had
she really torpedoed things when she first slept with him?
     "GAAAAH!" she screamed, gripping the carpet in both hands and shaking
it, ripples traveling across its surface with whipcrack speed.  Then she let
go and fell back against the pile, splaying into a spread-eagle.
     For several long moments, she just lay there, gasping for breath and
trying her best to hold back the tears that were starting to well up.  She
just couldn't live her life always angry, the grief had to come out
eventually.  But she didn't want to cry her eyes out, cry her heart dry!
     Feeling a lump between her and the carpet, she fished a small scroll out
of the back pocket of her pants.  Tanya had given it to her today, said it
might help.
     "It's magic," Tanya had confided.  "I think I might be a really weak
Anchor, so it was all greek to me," she'd giggled in that way she had of
reinforcing all the stereotypes about beautiful blondes.  Julie doubted that
the model was any sort of Anchor, but stranger things had happened.
     Sitting up, she unrolled a bit of the scroll.  It was, in fact, some
sort of Greek.  But as her eyes moved over the freshly-copied ancient script,
they started to make sense.
     Fascinated, Julie kept reading....

               *              *              *              *

[January 24, 2025 - New Menuush (formerly Vifrum Regio), Venus]

     "I am pleased with your progress," Q'Nos boomed as he surveyed the
rapidly growing settlement.  Dozens of the native serpentmen worked alongside
the humans, centaurs and other citizens of his Earthbound kingdom in building
a temporary community that would be the core of a permanent settlement.
     Willie the satyr bowed, a somewhat awkward proposition given the build
of his legs.  "By the time the Sun rises here," an event that would take
place in nearly a hundred Terran days, "the first permanent buildings should
be completed, including the governor's palace.  Recruitment is going
smoothly, with our transplanted northerners convincing the locals that we are
the group to join...and those who have other opinions have already been
convinced to not oppose us."
     "Good," the man-bull nodded.  New Menuush was small as Venusian
landmasses went, but well-sited for his purposes.  Far enough north that it
would not be unduly oppressive for his Terran followers, far enough south to
be comfortable for the serpentmen, and small enough that any native tribes
foolish enough to oppose him would lack the numbers to be a serious threat.
A larger island would have proved more costly to tame as a beachhead.  "Show
me the site you have...wait, something approaches."
     As if reacting more to Q'Nos than to the external threat, the perimeter
alarms sounded.  Willie pulled out his handcomp.
     "We have three bogies coming in from the southwest.  Loud suckers, but
no heat signature to speak of.  Should be coming into view over there in a
few seconds," he pointed into a stand of uncleared trees that was already
starting to show signs of movement.
     "They feel...familiar," Q'Nos mused, unslinging his Collapsauron-coated
battle axe, the invulnerable golden layer shimmering in the electric lights
of the settlement.  He raised an eyebrow in surprise.  "They are part of my
mother!" he realized, lowering his axe slightly.
     Just then, a trio of man-sized stone beetles lumbered into the clearing,
slowing down as they emerged from the forest and waving their incongruously
delicate antennae around.
     "Bow to your lord, son of the mother," Q'Nos commanded.
     The beetles ignored him, continuing to spread out and examine the
     Q'Nos frowned.  "They are of my mother, yet...not of my mother.
Something has corrupted them."  He walked over to one and placed his hand on
its shell, then jerked it back as if burnt.  "Abomination!" he hissed.
"Someone has sundered my mother's spirit, turned her against herself!"
     With a quick swing of his mighty axe, Q'Nos split the beetle in twain,
ignoring the splatter of acid that was its life blood.  The other two turned
towards the obvious threat, but he slew them almost before they could move.
     "Someone will pay for this," Q'Nos growled.

               *              *              *              *

[January 27, 2025 - United World Building, Canberra, Australia]

     A swarthy man with slightly graying black hair stepped up to the podium
in the main assembly hall.  Despite the fact that the United World only
really represented a half dozen or so "super-nations", the hall was large
enough to accomodate several hundred people.  Representatives of member
states within the nations, aides, reporters and other assorted people of
consequence filled the seats whenever an event like this one took place.
     "I would like to thank this august body for agreeing to hear me," Q'Nos
ambassador Janos Hrepic opened.  He paused to allow for the translations of
his words into numerous languages to proceed.  "I know that the United World
does not officially recognize the Kingdom of Q'Nos, and would like to thank
those who supported our request to address you."
     In fact, the debate had been lengthy and contentious.  The Eurasian
Union, whose territory had been taken by Q'Nos, and the Moslem Confederation,
who had recently fought a war with the inhabitants of what once was Greece,
adamantly refused to allow the address.  The three Chinese states, however,
argued that dialogue was vital, and in the end the North American Combine had
voted with them.
     "The matter of the newly-habitable Venus has occupied this body for some
days now, with no real agreement aside from the desire to prevent
exploitation by the nation of Khadam," Janos continued.  "Existing
international law regarding the other planets in this solar system was never
meant to deal with a world that could simply be settled on," another pause
for translation.  "Rather, it assumed that the capital costs of colonization
would ensure a multinational effort.  However, we now have a planet that has
been rendered green and lush, and there is uncertainty how to proceed.  We
propose a solution."
     There was a murmur in the room, partly smugly satisfied, partly
worried.  Clearly, many delegates had assumed Q'Nos would offer a way out of
the diplomatic snarl...but some of them felt it would be a cure worse than
the disease.
     "It is very simple.  The planet was rendered livable by the efforts of
the mother of Q'Nos, the world serpent.  Her very essence suffuses the
planet, and hers is a power that predates any of the nations of mankind, even
ancient China.  Venus belongs to the royal lineage of Q'Nos."
     Now there was an uproar, and Hrepic stayed silent for a long minute
while the sergeant-at-arms attempted to restore order.  When it became clear
this would fail, Hrepic continued, stridently.
     "We are *not* heartless, we do not intend to evict the settlements
already present," he promised.  "Montreal and Falcon Bay will be allowed to
share their continent as extraterritorial enclaves.  The remainder of the
planet, including the Tesserae adjacent to the Maxwell Montes, will be under
the rule of Q'Nos.  Governments wishing a colony on Venus will need to
negotiate treaties with us for the privilege."
     The uproar returned, intensified, as everyone immediately realized that
one provision of any such treaty would be official recognition of the Kingdom
of Q'Nos.
TREATY," Janos finished at the top of his lungs, not waiting for the
sergeant-at-arms to do his work.
     Work that turned out to be unnecessary now, as the room was shocked into
silence by Hrepic's revelation....


Next Issue:

     The stone beetles come to Falcon Bay, while Peregryn searches for the
human beetle!  Meanwhile, the governments of Earth react to Q'Nos's
bombshell, in ASH #69, "Beetle Battle"!


Author's Notes:

     Outside the door to my office is a set of cubbyhole shelves repurposed
from the Biology department, and most of the original labels remain.  One of
those labels reads, "Beetle Wrangling tips".  Sarge could use some of those.
     The Scroll of Lysistrata first appeared in ASH #23, and has also been
brought up in #24 and #55.  I originally wrote Julie's scene before Arin's,
and decided that I was probably beeing needlessly obscure there.  So I
changed the focus of Arin's scene to make things less mysterious in Julie's.
I guess my original plans for Arin's scene will have to wait for another
     In case anyone failed to notice already, the air kaiju uses metal as a
weapon, and the earth kaiju uses sound as a weapon...complementarity is fun! 
     Collapsauron is the name for "collapsed" gold.  Collapsed metals are the
super-substance of the ASH setting, and while they require violation physics
or magic to create, they are stable afterward and can't be Anchored out of
existence.  So far, only gods and demigods have been shown able to create
Collapsauron, and only advanced extradimensional science or the forces of a
supernova have been demonstrated to create collapsed iron.  Collapsinum, or
collapsed aluminum, is the best Terrestrial supertech can manage.
     Kaliban was sent to Q'Nos as Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Khadam in
ASH #61.  As this issue shows, he has done a fairly good job of it.
     The map of Venus will be updated soon with new place names.  I will
probably wait until after Ouda Regio gets officially renamed before putting
in all the changes at once, though.


     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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