[ASH] ASH #72 - Metropolis 2: Human Desire

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Thu Sep 28 06:37:37 PDT 2006

     Cover Image: An homage to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, depicting a
somewhat eerily-lit corner diner at night in Manhattan.  Rex Umbrae and a
veiled woman sit at one end of the counter, dressed in 1940s period outfits.
Juliana Silvestri is attired as the server, and is taking the couple's
order.  A mysterious figure with his back to the viewer broods at the corner
of the counter.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #72
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||             Metropolis II - Human Desire
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

                       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             DETACHED
Essay          Sara Ana Rodriguez       Gadgeteer                DETACHED
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           DETACHED
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         ACTIVE
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              ACTIVE
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        ACTIVE

[February 12, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     "And that brings us to a question that's rather close to you, Anatole,"
Juliana noted, tapping her chin with the stylus from her handcomp.
"Literally," she then gestured at his chest.
     Rex Umbrae's valet frowned, looking down at the blur suit he was
wearing.  "Indeed," he said, with only the faintest trace of disapproval.
Made from "negative index" materials, the blur suit didn't truly render the
wearer invisible, but it did make them much harder to see at any significant
distance.  The suits had been developed as camoflage in the early 00's, but
the return of paranormals capable of using supertech invisibility suits had
left them on the technological wayside.  Lately, it had been a fad among the
super-wealthy to dress their servants in blur suits, and Umbrae had
apparently found it amusing to follow the trend.
     "Will I need to take the blur suits into account while designing the
wedding party's clothing?" she asked.
     "I believe so," Anatole replied.  "As I will be a groomsman, I will not
be wearing this...accoutrement," he plucked at the material, creating a
strange rippling look.  "But there will be at least some staff in blur
suits."  He sniffed in the strongest expression of irritation Juliana had
seen escape the man to date.  "It is a sad statement on my profession that
anyone would have thought to employ blur suits," he confided.  "A proper
gentleman's gentleman should be capable of being inobtrustive even while on
fire.  And I, Anatole Mabuse, am quite the proper gentleman's gentleman."
     And if you're merely a Jeeves, then Rex Umbrae is Bertie Wooster,
Juliana thought, but she kept the retort to herself.  She'd met a few
spymasters in her career, and Anatole moved like one.  Juliana was willing to
bet that if Anatole wasn't the head of the Hangmen, he was at least very
highly placed in that enforcement arm.  The fact that he was fussy about
everything being "just so" was an asset in both sides of his job, although
she suspected Rex gave Anatole fewer headaches than the road-ragers did.
     "Fine, I'll need a list of who will and won't be in blur suits, and I'll
need to coordinate that with the decorator," Juliana made some notes on her
handcomp.  "There's a few patterns that look positively nauseating when
filtered through a blur suit's edges...."

               *              *              *              *

[February 14, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     A few people were actually trying to follow the steps of the dance that
went along with the Aoide song playing over the newly-built hall's speakers,
but most of the people at the party were sticking to that timeworn dictum
that said enthusiasm made up for lack of form.  Just as well, Beacon decided,
given how self-conscious Geode was about dancing in the first place.
     "What is that dance over there?" Geode suddenly asked, pointing to a
group of two men and two women who were definitely in the enthusiasm over
form camp.  "It is not like the groups," she noted, indicating the few
clusters of people engaging in the "official" dance.  
     "Ah," George realized, then paused for a moment before mentally
shrugging and deciding Geode would find out eventually.  "That's a 'poly'
group.  They're not dancing together because it's some specific step, it's
just that they're, well, a group."
     "Polyamorous," George explained.  "Monogamy is one man and one woman,
polygamy is one man and several women, polyandry is one woman and several
men.  Polyamory is however many men and women works for them.  I find
monogamy is complicated enough for my tastes, though," he smiled, not adding
that what with all the spirit-jumping of late, it was hard to really say he'd
been purely monogamous.  But he REALLY didn't want to think about all the
implications of the time he'd spent sharing space in Scott's body, and the
way it seemed to affect the relationship between Scott and George's older
     Wisely, he decided to shut up and dance.

     "Looks like Tom's found someone," Arin noted, glancing past Sal's arm.
To look over his shoulder would have required a crane.
     Sal nodded, dancing far more lightly on his feet than anyone would have
expected from the towering mass of muscle.  "Ekaterina Templeton, one of the
pilots attached to the Marshals.  A norm, but good.  They started out just
talking shop, but scuttlebutt is they've already joined the mile high club."
     "Pshaw," Arin smiled wickedly.  "Our Tom?  He may be fast in other
things, but not that.  I wouldn't be surprised if they haven't even gotten to
first base yet, unless she's really aggressive.  Still, tonight's definitely
a night for pairing off," Arin gestured vaguely, taking in the room.  "Even
the people who are planning to come back on the next shuttle with us tomorrow
don't seem to want to be alone tonight."
     "With a few exceptions," Sal half-agreed.  "Ms. Bell over in the corner
seems to be a bit of a wallflower, for instance.  Although, I suppose the
little one is still young enough to excuse her."
     Arin hmmed.  "I have to say, I haven't really talked to her, that I can
recall.  She just never seems to be around."
     "Ditto.  I hear she's friendly enough, but something of a workaholic.
And a tech geek...so I guess she's not really a social butterfly.  More of a
social pillbug."

     As the latest song, a fairly fast number, echoed away into silence,
Essay jumped up on top of one of tables and silenced the music with a touch
at her wristband.  
     "Hey, everybody!  Lend me yer ears for a minute, Howie and me got an
announcement to make!" she shouted, then turned to pull Peregryn up onto the
table next to her.  Despite not being the one of the pair who was visibly
pregnant, Peregryn was the less graceful.  Perhaps because he was clearly
preoccupied with something.
     "Ah, yes," he said, without his usual gravitas.  In fact, he seemed
downright flustered.  "As most of you know, Sara and I have been, ah,
involved for some time now...."
     The crowd snickered as Essay smirked and patted her belly.
     "And we have decided, that is to say, um...."
     "We're gettin' married!" Essay beamed, holding up her left hand to show
off a ring that looked like a rippling band of white fire.  "I mean, we've
set the date, too!"
     Peregryn nodded, blushing slightly.  "We will be wed on the twentieth of
March...what would be the Vernal Equinox back on Earth.  But the wedding will
be here, on Venus, that is.  And it won't be the Equinox here for many years,
due to..."
     "Anyone not going back to Earth is invited," Essay broke in as Peregryn
mumbled to a halt.  "Heck, the giant monsters are invited if they can behave

               *              *              *              *

[February 16, 2026 - United World Building, Canberra, Australia]

     "The ambassador from Eurasian Union member state France has the floor,"
boomed a voice that was translated into a dozen or more languages for the
convenience of the listeners.  The usual translation lag was minimized by the
fact that the translators knew what was going to be said in this case.
Speedier machine translation technology existed, of course, but after a few
notable...and "funny if it didn't almost cause a war"...incidents it had been
decided to go back to human translation.  At least there was someone to blame
if things went wrong.
     Henriette DuChamp cleared her throat, perhaps a bit dramatically, and
favored the delegates with the warm smile that had helped her in no small
part as she had moved up through the political machine of France.  "As we are
all painfully aware, the edenic Venus has been revealed to have a serpent in
it, as well as a giant stone beetle, a metal-winged ibis and possibly other
megafauna.  This has put something of a wet towel on notions of colonization,
     "But, leaving aside finger-pointing on the matter of how this situation
became public," she paused for effect, knowing that a great many fingers had
pointed at Khadam in recent days, "I don't believe the matter is
unsalvageable.  There have been analyses made," she said, which was
diplomatic code for "someone else made the analyses and our spies got their
hands on 'em", "suggesting that the megafauna may be intelligent and capable
of negotiation.  Indeed, as likely natives of the planet, the megafauna
represent a potential legitimate government of Venus, and an alternative to
dealing with Q'Nos on this matter."
     There was a low rumble that filled the room at this suggestion.  No one
was keen to treat with Q'Nos, especially now that he had entered into a deal
with Khadam, but were giant monsters really an acceptable alternative?
     "Of course, my esteemed colleagues from the North American Combine would
better be able to assess the likelihood of such negotiations," DuChamp
continued, still smiling, "given their recent dealings with one of the native
megafauna.  But it does, I believe, put the matter of territory on Venus back
on the table, yes?"

               *              *              *              *

[February 17, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     "Hey, 21," Gorilla nodded to the Manson-Haight clone.  While not an
actual gorilla, the heavyset and hairy paraganger had come by the nickname
fairly.  And almost no one knew that his actual power was a sort of psychic
invisibility, which was the way he liked it.  Best to let them think he was
just a low-grade muscleman.
     "Could be better," the pod-racer shrugged.  "24 got scragged the other
     "Wait, didn't 24 get killed last year in that thing with the defective
after-market Ihi booster?" curiosity glinted in Gorilla's beady eyes.
     21 shook his head.  "That was the old 24.  We made a new one.  And gonna
have to make another 24 soon, looks like."
     "Any idea who?" Gorilla tried to lounge nonchalantly on a park bench,
but it creaked too loudly and spoiled the effect.
     21 shook his head, turning the gesture into a quick scan of his
surroundings.  "Mebbe Hellhound, mebbe a Hangman.  This 24's been a bit of a
troublemaker, coulda been either.  Or neither, I guess...he mighta just
pissed off the wrong person."
     "I thought all you Haights had some kinda mental link?"
     "Yes and no," 21 temporized.  "Hellhound can cut it, and Hangmen are
just so goddamn sneaky that they take you out before you know it's happening.
And not all us higher numbers are that well connected in the first place," he
shrugged, having decided the matter wasn't really that much of a secret these
days.  No one was totally sure, not even other Manson-Haights, but the
original Manson-Haight had probably died years ago...clones of clones of
clones led to some watering down.
     "Damn.  I hope it's Hellhound or the Hangmen," Gorilla snarled.
     "Otherwise there's a third factor out there that can take out one of you
guys without being picked up on.  Otazuka making another move, maybe?  The
whatever-damn-color-Eye-this-month ninjas?  STRAFE?"
     24 sat down next to Gorilla and whispered, "Word is there's someone
taking down Hangmen.  Doesn't make sense that Hellhound would start doing
that now, so a third factor sounds like just the ticket.  But then there's
the fourth factor."
     Gorilla blinked.  "Huh?"
     "Remember ol' Coulter, the reporter?"
     Gorilla nodded, the motion making the bench creak again.
     "He's supposedly coming to town to cover the big wedding.  Cybernostra
don't forgive and forget that easy...maybe he's a double agent?  Or triple?
Never did trust 'Kid Rebus' myself."
     Gorilla shuddered a little.  A lot of Cybernostra had a single cyber
eye, but Coulter's association with the CSV had made the fact he shared that
characteristic with Rebus a little too creepy.  And he'd been around during
the whole Odin dodge Rebus ran on Manhattan.
     "I am so glad I'm just a grunt," Gorilla finally sighed, standing up to
the bench's eternal relief.  "There's so many angles here it'd give Mister
Maze a headache."

               *              *              *              *

[February 18, 2026 - Toyama, Japan]

     [Note: dialogue in this scene is translated into English from a sort of
coded "cant" derived from Japanese.]

     "Approach, Mr. Serizawa," the figure cloaked in shadows commanded.  "We
are told you have concerns you wish to bring to our attention."
     Serizawa Yutaka bowed and stepped into the circle of light at the center
of the room.  "I believe you are aware of all of the details of this matter,
I simply wish to convince you to support my arguments against the other
Otazuka chieftains."
     The shadowy figured nodded, his features coming tantalizingly close to
visibility.  "Yes, I am.  But I should like to hear you present your case, to
measure your clarity of thought."
     Yutaka nodded, hiding his nervousness.  "Very well.  In recent years,
the situation in Manhattan has stabilized significantly under Rex Umbrae, to
the point that there are very few avenues left to us in that market.  As
paragang chaos subsides and legitimate business returns to the so-called
Autonomous Sector, it becomes less and less likely that we will be able to
garner more than a token benefit from this market, at least within the
projected five year plan.  However, the formalization of the alliance of
Umbrae with the Cybernostra via marriage to one of Sister Christian's seconds
could close all doors to us immediately.  On the other hand, should something
disrupt this marriage and the concomitant alliance, the environment could
become far more favorable to our endeavors."
     "On the gripping hand," the shadowy figure countered, "such chaos may
erupt without the proactive stance you have argued for in council, Serizawa.
You can rest assured that other powers are no more pleased by the prospect of
this alliance than we are, and it is more...elegant to help put those players
in a position to take direct action.  For instance, were I to tell you that a
certain Pranir House seeks to cause Rex Umbrae to lose face, would it not be
better to supply the aliens with a means to do so?  Or were I to mention that
the Warden still lives, and needs only have his path to Manhattan smoothed?
Or even the whispers that there is dissention in the ranks of Umbrae's own
     Yutaka swallowed hard.  He felt like a schoolchild being lectured by a
prefect.  "My apologies," he bowed.  "I mistook the attitudes of my peers for
indolence and excessive caution.  It did not occur to me that the Otazuka had
already taken steps to deal with the problem."
     "Do not fret, Serizawa.  In truth, we have taken no such steps, merely
determined that none are needed.  The longest journey may begin with a single
step, but it is far better to send an enemy on in your stead."

               *              *              *              *

[February 19, 2026 - Miami, Florida Sector]

     As the last synthesized notes of the power fugue glistened across the
amphitheater, Aoide took her last bows and swirled off the stage with an
energy that merely human performers would envy.  While she was only a
low-level paranormal, and her main talent was musical rather than physical,
just about everyone with the Magene enjoyed certain benefits, and Aoide
pushed hers to the limit.
     "Great show, Tammy!" her manager effused, handing her a towel.
     "Thanks, Harry," the singer accepted it, wiping some of the sweat from
her nearly ebony face and platinum blond hair.  Both features were natural,
or as natural as anything could be when it came to paranormals.  Between her
appearance and her impossible vocal range, it was as if she'd been born to be
a rock star.  And "the Muse of Brock Music" was certainly on her way to
fulfilling that birthright.
     "You've got someone waiting in your dressing room," Harry added, a bit
     "Harry, you know what I told you about letting the fans in," she half-
teased.  But she could hear the worry in his voice, and it put a significant
damper on her previously buoyant mood.
     "This one ain't a fan.  Well, maybe he is," Harry temporized, "but he's
here on business.  Big leagues business."  Fear warred with anticipation in
his tone and his expression.  The big leagues.  The kind of patronage that
could ensure that a one-hit wonder made the transition to mainstream
     "Well, let's not keep the gentleman waiting," Aoide put her stage face
back on and strode towards the dressing room, the cheers of the crowd still
echoing behind her.
     Once there, she found a slender man in an impeccable suit and subtle
cybernetic enhancements waiting for her.  "Miss Tamiqua Shaw, I represent an
important personage who would like to engage your services for a private
     Aoide stopped cold.  Almost no one knew her proper first name.  In fact,
she'd legally changed it to Tammy as soon as she turned 18...and most people
only knew her by her stage name.  "Yes?" she replied, turning her iron
control of her voice to a non-musical use to hide her concern.
     "I believe you are familiar with the general shape of the political
situation in the Autonomous Sector of Manhattan, yes?" the visitor asked.
When she nodded, he went on, "Rex Umbrae, as you may have heard, is getting
married next month.  His bride is a fan of your music, and would be very
appreciative if you would consent to perform at the wedding reception."
     Aoide blinked.  Umbrae was both famous and infamous, and his wedding was
likely to get a LOT of press coverage.  Even if he wasn't the sort of patron
she wanted in the long run, she'd come to the attention of a lot of much more
promising prospects.  And while her rep might take a temporary hit if she
worked for what amounted to an international crimelord...well, her rep needed
a little "bad girl" spice anyway.
     "Harry," she turned to her manager.  "I think I'd like to accept this
offer.  Could you take care of the details?"

               *              *              *              *

[February 20, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     The woman had been electrocuted, that much was obvious.  The surge had
been so strong that carefully concealed cybernetic enhancements had burned
through their coverings of synthskin, and the result was a stench that made
Gorilla glad that enhanced senses weren't among his paranormal talents.
     It wasn't the first corpse he'd seen, of course.  Even with Manhattan
calmed down a lot since the wild and wooly early days of the Paragangs, there
were still fights that ended with lethal applications of powers.  
     It was, however, probably the first Hangman corpse he'd seen.
"Probably" because their very nature meant you could never be sure if someone
was a Hangman or not, but even without the hemp noose the killer had draped
over the body, this woman struck Gorilla as a likely candidate.  The
cybernetics had been first-rate, but hidden.  Cybernostra never concealed all
of their upgrades...conspicuous cyborging was their bag.  And very few others
had access to the good stuff, leaving Umbrae's secret police as the most
likely candidate.
     Gorilla was frozen with indecision.  There were a lot of ways he could
turn this discovery to his advantage, but even more ways that it could blow
up in his face.
     Then the decision was taken from his hands as the nondescript automobile
pulled into the alleyway and Gorilla was forced to go into stealth mode,
bending light while also sending out a mental "ignore me" command.
     "Electrocuted," one of the men sighed as he stepped out of the car and
looked at the corpse.  "Ten to one the onboards were fried very thoroughly,
so we won't get anything on who did it."
     "My money's still on that bitch, Hellhound," the second member of the
group snarled.  Gorilla quirked an eyebrow...that didn't seem to make sense,
like 21 had mentioned the other day.  Hellhound went after the ones who made
messes, not the janitors who cleaned up after 'em.  Or was that just what she
wanted everyone to think?
     "Whatever.  Full spectrum recordings, then bag her up and bring her back
for forensics," the first man ordered.
     That was Gorilla's cue to leave, as the recordings might show him to
some later observer that his powers couldn't convince to just ignore him....


Next Issue:

     In ASH #73, we see that "Hangmen Also Die".  But who's killing them?
With more suspects than victims, and a wedding coming up, will Manhattan go
from a slow burn to a bonfire again?


Author's Notes:

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nighthawks shows the original of the
painting referenced on the cover.  You may have noticed a change in the
order, with the cover image coming before the logo.  This was done because
the RACC @ WilsEgo site excerpts the first few lines of a story, and kept
getting ASCII hash.  :)  (http://www.wilsego.com/racc for reference.)

     Each section was based around something that people desire (if not
always blatantly): power, order, knowledge, love, territory, fame, etc.
Sometimes what they desire is good for them, sometimes it isn't.  And
sometimes it can really muck up the works.

     Negative index materials (that bend light away from the centerline) are
real, and it's possible that there would eventually be an application such as
the blur suit, although it's unlikely such a thing would ever really be
effective for combat use.  They also seem more effective at microwave
frequencies than visible light at the moment.

     Before the classical nine Muses were codified, there were a few trios
out there.  The oldest was Aiode ("song"), Melete ("practice") and Mneme
("memory").  I decided to go with Aiode rather than one of the better known
nine, since the Muses from that group most closely tied to song are really
patronesses of styles of poetry, and didn't quite do what I wanted.  Aoide is
a more general Muse of song, not as specialized as Polyhymnia or Calliope.


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