ASH: ASH #82 - Timequake Part 4: The Furnace
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Apr 16 10:53:47 PDT 2007
The cover shows the planet Earth in a set of crosshairs on a monitor
screen. A hand is reaching on from the left as if to grasp and crush the
world. Cover copy shouts, "INTO THE FURNACE!"
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #82
// || \\ || || Timequake Part 4: The Furnace
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS ASSIGNMENT
-------- --------- ------ ----------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control MISSING
Meteor Sarah Grant-Taylor Superspeed 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 Henderson 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
[Note: you may want to pay attention to the dates on the scene headers
this issue. Lots of flashbacks.]
[May 5, 2026 - Near Earth Orbit]
The ISN Fornax wasn't an exceptional ship when she was built. Rare,
yes, that could be said. There wasn't too much need for planetary
bombardment craft capable of reducing the surface of a world to a charred
cinder...while useful under limited circumstances, they were woefully
undergunned for ship-to-ship combat for a craft of their size and cost,
meaning they needed to be protected en route to their target. The realities
of combat at several light-seconds' distance just made the Fornax a sitting
duck in standard tactical situations, given that her main weapon fired plasma
at subluminal velocities and her opponents all had missiles capable of faster
than light travel. Its captain, Commander Hektane, had been resigned to an
undistinguished tour of duty before putting in enough time to earn command of
a real warship.
But that was the reality in the 37th Century, where she had been built.
Now, nearly two millennia in his own past, Commander Hektane was confident
that even had the entire Planetary Confederation fleet been on hand, it would
have had trouble dealing with the Fornax...and he certainly planned to put
that theory to the test shortly. But right now, he had a more urgent target.
Home to humanity, cradle to the United Worlds, the main opposition the
Santari faced in his native time. And, perhaps more importantly in this day
and age, home to the wildly unpredictable supernaturals that had fortunately
been reduced to an insignificant number in his time.
"Sir, primary target one in firing range," the Dektos reported.
Primary target one was Khadam, the only real spaceport the planet had in
this backward era. There were others, little more than glorified Pranir
smuggling strips, and one had already been wiped from the face of the planet
by the Fornax's main weapon. Now it was time to erase the smugglers' main
"Fire!" he ordered, with grim satisfaction.
* * * *
[April 24, 2026 - Oort Cloud, Sol System]
"Do you have it operational yet, Smells-Fresh-Meat?" the Pranir shuttle
Barnes sighed. He'd been told that a descriptive Starname was an honor,
even though the Pranir were perfectly capable of saying his real name. But
while the Starname was a reasonable description of his paranormal talent to
detect the so-called Universal Donors...it made him a little too aware of the
final fate of those he fingered. He wasn't exactly squeamish, you didn't go
into organlegging if you were, but he liked to pretend he had some humanity
"I think so, Catches-Crosswinds," he told the owner and pilot. The
snakeowl fancied himself a sailor, and even kept a small dinghy packed up in
one of the Grubni's holds. It was an expensive affectation, since the Grubni
didn't have much cargo capacity to start with, being focused on delivery of
low-mass, high-value items and passengers. This was largely a data run, with
some genetic samples...and Barnes himself as supercargo. He'd been spending
time lately bouncing back and forth between Earth and one of the more obscure
border systems nearby where Santari scientists were trying to crack their
transplant rejection problem using their normal science. As a bonus, Barnes
also kept the supertech cloaking device on the Grubni working...organleggers
got a lot more heat than most smugglers, after all, and the outbound runs
from Earth always held...samples...for the research. Usually taken without
permission. Sometimes even taken whole.
"Good," Catches-Crosswinds nodded, his beaked head bobbing up and down
and his feathery crest rippling. "Activate the shroud once we have decoupled
from the external hull of our host." Small enough to slip past many
detectors, the Grubni was also too small to carry the sort of engines
required by hyperdrives, and very few Pranir smugglers could afford the
ultra-compact super-capacitors used by ships like the Galactic Warrior Corps
patrol craft to get around the problem. Catches-Crosswinds expected to be
able to join that elite crowd in a few more trips, though.
Barnes wasn't looking in the direction of the forward port, which was
why he was only momentarily dazzled by the sudden flare of light that marked
the deaths of Stealthily-Avoids-Patrols and his crew. Alarms started to
"What the grazz?" Barnes spat.
"Launching now! Engage shroud!" Catches-Crosswinds shouted, his natural
buzzing and clicking audible over the translator's vox. "Our host didn't
live up to his Starname this time, but we may yet escape!"
"Cloak up...I hope," Barnes tapped at the status screen, which glowed
green. "Power at full, we should have a good day's cover if we need it."
"Need it we will. Ship sluggish as armless old cripple at shroud-safe
levels," he snarled, slipping into a local dialect that the translator had a
little trouble with. The cloaking device may have had its own power source,
but using too much of ship's power could give off emissions that the device
couldn't mask. "Now pray to your two-arm gods we weren't spotted before we
shrouded. Whoever fired that shot not copulating around."
* * * *
[May 5, 2026 - The Citadel, Khadam]
Symbols carved into the walls next to the monitor bank glowed an angry
red of warning, pulsing like a heartbeat. Glyph ignored them, as they'd done
their job several minutes ago and now simply served as a reminder that the
danger they warned of had not yet come to pass.
She stood in a circle engraved into the floor of the specially prepared
chamber, deep channels outlining a confusing array of symbols. Valves
positioned at junctures snapped into place, sealing off some channels while
leaving others open.
Speaking a mixture of ancient human languages and tongues spoken by no
culture remembered by man, Glyph stepped to each of a dozen reclining forms
in turn, slitting their throats carefully so that the gush of crimson flowed
into a basin that fed a series of tubes. These were "squabs," cloned humans
with just enough spirit to count as sacrificial victims, but totally and
permanently innocent. A byproduct of research into isolating the Universal
Donor factor, they were considered failures by Khadam's geneticists...but
they served Glyph's purposes perfectly, as they once would have served
TerraStar's. Waste not, want not.
As their blood filled the tubes, a series of stopcocks opened
automatically to pour the fluid into the carved channels in the floor,
defining a mystic circle.
Then, as she finished with the twelfth and final victim, Glyph spoke one
phrase in plain English.
"Activate defense pattern aleph-daleth."
The undercity of Khadam was a sprawling, confused mess. To say it was a
squalid heap of human misery might be a bit of an overstatement, for there
was just enough money flowing into even the poorer parts of the undercity to
ensure habitable dwellings and access to utilities. But there had certainly
been no planning put into its expansion.
This was not, however, to say that there had been no planning involved
at any step. While adopting a fairly hands-off approach to the notion of
"zoning", Khadam's government had staunchly supported one particular urban
improvement initiative, an initiative put forth by the new leader of the
Conclave of Super-Villains.
And so, as Glyph spoke the command phrase, semaphor-like stations atop
buildings all across the undercity started whirring to life, spreading
colored metal flags or folding them away as commanded by the central
To what end, none of the residents knew. Nor did they value their lives
so little as to have asked at the time of installation. But as the fire from
the sky started to fall, most of them fervently hoped that the purpose would
save those not-valueless lives....
* * * *
[May 1, 2026 - The Citadel, Khadam]
"The thing was BIG," Barnes exclaimed. "Like, see-it-on-visual-from-
ten-lightsecs BIG," he held out his arms, as if to have a chance of
accurately describing its size with gestures.
Fortunately, he didn't have to.
"As you can see," Glyph said to the teleconference participants as she
sent across selected stills from the Grubni's sensors, "the ship is indeed
very large. And it is very likely the object that mysteriously appeared and
then vanished over Spain last month."
Visible on other screens in the conference room were Delta Rose of the
Galactic Warrior Corps, leader of the Central Asian Confederation the Western
Dragon, Q'Nos's Vizier Simon Smith, STRAFE's Dan "Grind" Tracey, and both
Meteor and Beacon of the Academy of Super-Heroes.
"It looks vaguely Santari in its design principles," Delta Rose frowned,
"but we don't have anything that big. I know that several of the Great
Houses have built secret private navies, and I suppose it could belong to one
of them, but I have a hard time believing that any of them could have hidden
something that big from the Corps. Or that they'd put that much into one
huge ship when they could have a score of effective battleships of the normal
size for the same cost."
"It could be a converted big cargo hauler or colony ship?" the Western
"Those still would have generated a hyperpulse of some sort on leaving,
even if it arrived via time rift," Grind countered. "Unless this is totally
unrelated to our sudden visitor from last month, which could be worse. That
would leave us with *two* gigantic unknown ships in the system."
"Nothing that size could have hypered in within a light-month of Sol
without tripping our detectors," Delta Rose replied. "Unless it's a slow-
boat, it got here through the rift, and then left without using a
"Damn," Beacon said, a look of dawning recognition on his glowing green
"What?" Meteor asked. "Do you know what that is?"
Beacon nodded. "Not specifically, but I still have some hazy memories
from my little trip to the future while I was dead...I'll explain later if
any of you need to be caught up on that," he added. "Nothing the Santari
build these days is going to be that big, especially not something capable of
accurately one-punching a Pranir smuggler ship like the one Barnes's tape
shows being hit. But it was pretty standard Imperial Santari Navy size in
the 38th Century."
Glyph hissed in shock, and her reaction was largely mirrored by the
others. "Do you know what type of ship it is?" she asked.
Beacon's brow furrowed with concentration. "It's nagging at the back of
my brain...everything that happened then feels like a half-remembered dream,
and it's mixed up with some memories I picked up from the man whose body I
was borrowing. But I have a sinking feeling that it's bad news. The shape
is wrong for most actual battleships, but it's too big to be anything but a
purpose-built warship." There was a short pause while everyone held their
breath. "I think...I think it's a planetkiller."
"Lovely," the Western Dragon sighed. "I doubt that, even if we
marshalled all our available spaceborne forces, we could put a dent in such a
"You couldn't," Delta Rose nodded. "I'll send Veturna to bring as much
help as she can, but the PC fleet is spread pretty thin these days, and might
not be able to stop a 38th Century ship even if an entire squadron gets here
in time. And before you ask, Star Knight's clear over on the other side of
the Planetary Confederation right now, it'd take a month or more for a
message to even get to him."
"That means infiltration. Try to get aboard the ship and stop it from
inside," Meteor proposed.
"Agreed," Glyph said. "But we will need contingency plans as well. I
believe I can delay them should they assault Khadam directly. Labyrinthe has
fortunately turned up on Venus after some irresponsible wandering, so he
should be able to help with the infiltration aspect, but I'd like to devote
my team's efforts to one of the backup plans."
"In other words, someone else takes the hard job," the Western Dragon
smiled winningly, her supernatural charm almost managing to project through
the teleconference link. "I nominate ASH for it, then. After the
depredations of the Impossible Five, they are the most intact team, and I
think this will require a group that has trained together, rather than an ad
hoc international team. I will cooperate with my neighbors in China in the
meantime, on trying to get our own orbital assets operational in time to make
"So, Labyrinthe can create a token, like his Worldmaze pieces, to
teleport a team from Venus onto the ship so long as we can get that token
onto the ship," Grind mused. "But how do we get the token aboard?"
* * * *
[May 5, 2026 - Near Earth Orbit]
"Sir! Target returning fire!" Dectos Vega shouted.
"Eva..." Hektane started to order, knowing it was useless. The Fornax
could no more evade plasma fire at this short range than it could perform a
festival dance. The ship shuddered as armor plating absorbed and refracted
most of the energy, but all sensors went black for a moment and the bridge
heaved like an irritated riding beast.
"What in the name of the five pits was that?" Hektane asked Vega. "And
get me a report on the effectiveness of our own attack, NOW!"
"Sir, I think that *was* our attack," Vega replied. "Preliminary scans
from our hardened backups are showing a ring of blast damage around primary
target one, but nothing inside that ring, and the signature of the blast that
hit us matches our own to four decimal places. Can't get anything more until
the main scanners are back online, and we've got hull breaches in five
locations. Damage control teams are already on it," he added.
"Status of our main gun?"
"Operational, but showing some nasty fluctuations," the gunner replied.
"I think we got some feedback up the spout."
Hektane cursed inwardly. Supernaturals! No wonder the Corps had tried
to exterminate this world more than once! "Fine. Emergency Twist, we can't
risk that Khadam will have something else they can shoot at us before we can
find a way around that reflection shield. Get us on the other side of the
main moon so we can effect repairs and make sure the main gun won't blow up
in our faces. I want us ready to return and try again in fifteen minutes!
XO, Tactical, my office. I want options."
On the hull of the ship, unnoticed by damage control teams, a small
limpet mine clung to the slightly deformed armor plating via gecko-like
sticky hairs. It had been planted quickly, during the seconds after the
"exchange" of fire in which the Fornax's sensors had been blinded, and the
ship that planted it was long gone at impossible speed.
The mine did not explode, not exactly. Instead, it seemed to ripple and
unfold like an origami flower, hot wind from the surface of Venus blowing
through the hole in reality thus created. A single figure in blue and white
armor emerged from the hole, which then folded back up as gracefully as it
Scorch carefully detached a small stone from the surface of the limpet
mine and stowed it in a compartment of his "god armor". Then he turned to
the task of slowly, steadily melting a path for himself through the thick
* * * *
[May 3, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]
The last time so many powerful people had assembled here, it had been a
far more joyous occasion...a planned wedding and an unplanned but not
particularly surprising (in timing if not in results) birth.
But now it was a much grimmer purpose that brought them together.
"So, everyone's clear on the first step?" Meteor looked around to the
assembled heroes. "Glyph promises us one hell of a distraction when the
Santari ship tries to attack Khadam, Lightfoot flies in *without* getting
fried by whatever the distraction is and plants the token that Labyrinthe is
crafting," she nodded to Yvan Viau, "and then Scorch goes in with his full
armor on and brings the token inside."
There were nods of assent all around. "I've got just the thing to make
sure it sticks to the hull, no matter what the thing's made of," Essay added,
cradling Rosa in her arms. The baby was a girl today, and looked mostly
human, something not guaranteed when raising a metamorph. "I still think I
should go along on this one. No offense, Boomer, but I'm better'n you."
Marshal "Boomer" Hodgson shrugged. "None taken. I think I'm more
Meteor nodded, with the tired look of someone who had hoped she was done
having that particular argument. "And it's because you're better that we
need you here, Essay. If plan A fails to destroy the ship, and all the
assorted plans B don't stop it while it's reducing Earth to a cinder, then
it'll come here next. You and the Viaus need to figure out some sort of last
ditch defense to at least ensure humanity isn't totally wiped out."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I just don't like waitin' around," Essay
"So," Scorch interjected, "once I'm inside, how do I let Labyrinthe know
to send the others through?"
"I will simply not close the gate entirely, I will leave a pinprick of
an opening," Yvan explained. "Once the pressure becomes more or less equal,
I'll know you're inside. If for some reason opening it immediately would be
bad, simply focus some flame into the token as a warning flare."
"Good enough," Meteor nodded. "Green Knight, Fury, Peregryn, Beacon,
Geode, Breaker, Boomer, Contact and I will be the strike team that joins
Scorch," she pointed to each of the named people in turn. "Lightfoot will
stay in the general area, but out of direct line of fire, in case a local
extraction is necessary, but we hope to be able to get you all back to Venus
via Yvan's gate. Most of us will be running interference...we may be using a
tank to swat a fly, but better to have overwhelming force and a lot of
options than the other way around. Once we find something explode-able or
otherwise vulnerable, Boomer will set up the briefcase nuke we're bringing."
"Why not just have me drop a bigger nuke inside and forgo all this
messing around?" Scorch asked.
"It's a damn big ship, and to them a nuke is pretty archaic tech. For
all we know, they have damper fields set up to prevent nukes from going off
inside," Meteor pointed out. "In that case, we'll also need to find any
countermeasures and disable them first. We're only likely to get a single
shot at boarding, better to go in with overkill than botch our first try and
not get a second."
"Okay," he acquiesced.
"I'm also bringing one of my rift-sealers," Boomer added. "This thing
fell through a huge-ass time rift, it might be carrying weird little pockets
inside it. If I pick up any rifts inside, I wanna seal 'em before we blow
the ship if possible, so we don't have to worry about tearing a planet-sized
hole in spacetime when we detonate the nuke."
"That would be bad, yeah," Fury smirked.
"What if we have the chance to take over the ship instead?" Green Knight
asked. "Instead of blowing it up, we could turn it into Earth's first line
of defense against the next time someone comes gunning for us."
"That's...under consideration," Meteor admitted.
* * * *
[May 5, 2026 - Beyond Lunar Orbit]
The token folded closed once more after Boomer stepped through with his
burden of scanners and other equipment hanging from his NAC Marshal uniform.
Green Knight, Fury, Beacon, Geode and Breaker already formed an outer ring of
defense, while Peregryn and Contact concentrated on using their skills in an
attempt to gather intelligence. Fury, Breaker and Contact wore borrowed
Marshal uniforms, which were sealed against environmental hazards and good in
a vacuum for a limited time. Peregryn relied on his talismen, while Beacon
and Geode had no need for extra protection. Green Knight was making do with
an air supply hooked up to his helmet.
Meteor, also wearing a Marshal's uniform, suddenly appeared as she
skidded to a stop. "Clear for at least fifty meters in all directions. We
picked a good place to pop in, I think all the crew are at duty stations or
on damage control. But odds are there's still some kind of security sensors,
so expect company soon. You getting anything?" she asked Peregryn and
"My spirits are still roaming the corridors," the mage shrugged.
"Nothing. I think there's some kind of telepathic jamming going on,"
Contact said, an annoyed edge to his voice. "It's not strong, I can still
pick up everyone else here, but as far as telepathy is concerned, we're alone
on the ship. Which I kinda doubt is true."
"Makes sense," Beacon spared a glance back at his psionic teammate.
"From what little I can dig up of Jenkins's memories, telepathy was one of
the few paranormal talents still reasonably common in the future. Will be.
Whatever. Anyway, they probably have countermeasures against long range
psnooping," he slightly pronounced the leading "p".
"At least I can still pick up anyone who gets close," Contact noted.
"Like the security detail that's on its way...just came into the edge of my
"On it," Meteor nodded. A quick burst of breeze filled the hallway, and
within a few seconds she was back, with a Santari bound hand and foot with
disposable plastic handcuffs. "Sorry I was so long, I had to make sure no
one would stumble over the other four."
"Hogging all the fun," Arin snarked. "These uniforms have all sorts of
goodies in the pockets, don't they?" she added, gesturing at the cuffs.
"I can get you some when we get back, if you want," Boomer replied, not
looking up from his scanners. "I'm picking up a strong tachyon signal, by
the way, but it's not a rift. If there are any rifts, they're being masked
by the big signal. Contact, could you pick the guy's brain, see if he knows
if anything on board would give off tachyons? Oh, and find me something to
"You techies and your explosions," Contact shook his head. "No
guarantees, he looks like a grunt, not a tech."
-+Wow, Santari mores are pretty decadent,+- Paul's voice echoed in
Aaron's mind. -+Now I know where we need to go on our next vacation.+-
+-I don't think our travel agent has packages to the future, but I can
always ask. Let's see...okay, he knows English, or something close enough
for jazz, but he doesn't think in it.-+
-+There we go, the word 'tachyon' is actually in there. I guess the
technical term got absorbed into Santari. Let's poke at translating what
it's attached to....+-
Contact broke his concentration after a moment and looked up. "They use
something called a Twist Drive for FTL. It converts the entire ship into
tachyons. That's about all he knows about that, but I'll keep digging. He's
a security guy, he should know about what things need to be protected from
insane techies and what countermeausres there are."
"Okay, everyone," Meteor ordered. "His buddies are bound to show up
soon, and I don't want Contact disturbed while he's looking. So let's spread
out along these corridors and keep everyone at arm's length until we get a
specific destination to go destroy things."
"You suppose we could just ask where the bridge is and seize the ship
anyway?" Scorch asked.
Meteor sighed. "Tempting, but no...."
* * * *
[May 4, 2026 - Canberra, Australia]
"No, trying to take the ship is a monumentally bad idea for a whole host
of reasons," Delta Rose insisted to those assembled in the virtual conference
room. "Our best bet is to just blow it to vapors. Even having large chunks
left over would be bad."
"The advantage of having it on our side, though, would be..." Meteor
countered, before being cut off by the Galactic Warrior Corps's
representative on Earth.
"...totally negated by all the disadvantages, even assuming you could
manage to crew it. Keep in mind, regardless of how user-friendly the tech is
intended to be for everyday use, it's a warship, not a pleasure yacht. It
will have systems that are dangerous and nowhere near goofproof. It will
require people with significant training to keep it running, and avoid
catastrphic malfunctions. Even assuming enough of the crew is subornable
that you could use them, keep in mind that it's very unlikely the ship's
designed to operate without support for extended periods. There's no
infrastructure available for refitting and overhaul...it'd be like trying to
maintain one of your main battle tanks using the resources of a medieval
castle. It might work for a while, especially if you fill in the gaps with
magic, but eventually...boom!"
"We could park it in orbit, power down, and simply study it," Glyph
countered. "Even in that condition, it would be a viable deterrent long
enough for us to raid it for the technology we need to bring ourselves up to
the level of interstellar power. Or are you afraid of an Earth capable of
meeting the Planetary Confederation as equals?"
"Damn right I'm afraid of you people!" Delta Rose spat. "But at least
I'm not stupid. There's people out there who are both afraid *and* stupid, I
know they'd try something. And it'd probably work, at least partially, since
you won't actually be able to run the ship properly. Nor could you hope to
keep it a secret once it shows up in Earth orbit. Look," she sighed, "one of
the missions of the GWC is to keep a lid on dangerous technology, that's why
we devote so much effort to an otherwise backward little mudball like this...
you're a breeding ground for dangerous tech. If even a tenth of what you
people make could work in the hands of normal people, we would have blown you
up ourselves long ago."
"You tried that already," Meteor pointed out. "Didn't take."
"We would have done it when you had no supernaturals around to stop it,"
Delta smirked. "Anyway, that ship represents the biggest source of extremely
dangerous tech we've seen in a long time, and I don't think anyone has the
resources these days to keep it from falling, bit by bit, into every pair of
wrong hands there is. Not to mention, despite the lofty sounding title of
the building where my office is, you're not really a United World yet. This
warship would be just the thing to set you at each other's throats as you
compete to be the first to unlock its secrets. Hell, even if it does get
vaporized, I'm sure some of you will have managed to loot it for a few things
along the way," she shot a significant glare at Glyph.
"Look," Delta sighed. "If my arguments don't sway you, keep in mind
that we've already decided once that it was worth trying to eliminate you.
You may have stopped the first planetkiller weapon we had in our arsenal, but
the Corps has been around for centuries, and one of the main things we go
after and keep well hidden in our vaults is planetkiller weapons. We have
dozens, and you can't stop them all. Don't make us empty our vaults at you."
"Very well, I will support the detruction of the ship, and I believe the
others will as well," the Western Dragon said, having stayed silent during
most of the debate. "But you may well regret one day that you chose to hold
that threat over our heads."
Delta Rose laughed bitterly. "The fact that the Santari need ships that
big in the future, and that this one seems to be sticking around with an eye
towards destroying Earth tells me that you're right. Obviously, you people
end up being an even bigger danger than you are now!"
* * * *
[May 5, 2026 - Near Earth Orbit]
"Internal sensors indicate that the intruders are on the move again,"
Dectos Vega reported. "The special detail only stopped them for a few
seconds," he added, sounding like a man reading his own death sentence aloud.
Hektane nodded, but said nothing. The special detail had been armed
with the powerful anti-supernatural weapons they'd found on the Pranir
smuggling ship, superior to anything the Santari normally carried. After
all, boarding actions just didn't happen in modern warfare. By the time you
could get close enough to board, you'd probably already managed to totally
annihilate your foe. It was vanishingly rare that a ship was only crippled,
especially given the lag times between shot and strike. By the time you knew
you had crippled an enemy, you had already sent several more salvos to meet
him, and that was usually the end of the story. Security forces were largely
internal affairs, for dealing with crew that got rowdy after too long in
And they were never meant to deal with supernaturals.
"Very well," Hektane sighed. "It looks like it has come to our worst
projections. Synam, initiate the Final Order. Comm, send the signal to the
crew. It's been an honor serving with you all."
* * * *
[May 4, 2026 - Oort Cloud]
"...and in the best case, that will reduce any possible resistance to a
level that we can largely ignore, letting us take care of the rest of the
sterilization at our leisure," Hektane finished outlining the main assault
plan to his junior officers. "Any questions?"
"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Commander Paraval raised a finger. "What about
the worst case? We're like an egg in here. A very strong-shelled egg, but
if anyone can get inside, we really don't have the means to fight off even a
well-trained marine unit, much less the sorts of freaks history tells us
infest Earth in this era. They'll scramble us."
"Yes. Worst case. They could get inside, possibly kill or enslave
every one of us," Hektane agreed. "Given enough time, they could even take
over the ship, learn to operate it, and use it to establish the very
interstellar empire we're trying to prevent. If it looks like there's even a
halfway reasonable chance of that happening, I will *not* be responsible for
handing victory over to the Terrans," he snarled. "We will enact the Final
Order if that happens."
The table was silent. No one asked for explanations, as everyone knew.
Anyone who served on a bombardment ship knew. In extremis, if all else
failed and the world had to be sterilized, if the enemy's forces were closing
in and it looked like the Santari would be beaten back, there was the Final
Order. The engines would be locked on full thrust, or as close to that as
possible, presuming they would likely have been damaged by that point.
Navigation would set a course for the planet below. The ship would become a
meteor, flaming death with enough mass and speed to ensure that even if there
were survivors of the initial strike, the planet would be unlivable for
"We know that during this era, the second planet in the system was
habitable, but it seems to still be very sparsely populated from what intel
we've managed to pick up," Hektane broke the silence. "Once the Final Order
is enacted, everyone who can is to go to the lifeboats and try to make for
the second planet. The navcomps are programmed with the destination, and we
have some good guesses as to where we can land with minimal interference.
>From there, we hide out and hope someone friendly from the Planetary
Confederation shows up to rescue us."
"And hope someone unfriendly doesn't decide we're war criminals and
execute us," one of the officers muttered under his breath.
"Even if they do, in the end it will have been worth it. The Planetary
Confederation may still tear itself apart, but there'll be no stinking
Terrans around to scavenge off the pieces," Hektane snarled.
* * * *
[May 5, 2026 - Over the Atlantic Ocean]
The heroes raced for the engine room, facing no opposition whatsoever.
"How much longer do we have?" Meteor asked, racing back and forth to
make sure nothing automated or suicidal lay in their way.
"We're not yet in the atmosphere," Boomer said, glancing at the quarter
strength overlay on his helmet visual. "But all the lifepods have ejected,
even the empty ones. We've got maybe two minutes before we have to bail or
go into the drink with this baby. I guess the future Santari are serious
about not liking Earth."
"Is this crazy plan of yours really going to work?" Fury asked.
"Well, the nuke certainly won't, not now," Contact put in. "It'd just
mean that lots of radioactive chunks hit Earth, instead of one big piece.
Not seeing much upside there."
"I can't change which way this ship's going," Boomer said, panting a
little as they entered the engine room. "And I can't slow it down enough to
make a difference now. But my rift-sealer does have a hyperdrive at its
core, and I think I can tap enough power from these engines with a little
help from you guys to make it work according to its original intention. At
least, long enough to hyper through the planet."
"There's the main coupling," Contact pointed, using the memories he'd
taken from a fleeing tech.
"Accessed," Green Knight grunted, shearing off the cover with his
"The electrical spirits have agreed to the task you proposed," Peregryn
nodded, making a small gesture that caused sparks to fill the air around the
Boomer had set down the rift-sealer and was rapidly making adjustments
to it. "I'm almost ready. Get the warp gate open, Scorch, and start the
evac. Fifty seconds until splash!"
The ship was huge, yet even that mass wasn't enough to completely
insulate them from the first howling screams of protest the hull made as
passage through the magnetic field of the Earth started to induce currents in
it and the very outer fringes of atmosphere tore at it.
Fifty seconds later, a massive explosion lit the sky of an entire
You'll want to be here for Timequake Part 5, "Aftershocks"! There's no
guarantee who will still be around to meet you, though....
Okay, I planned this as a four part arc, but this issue got a little
(okay, a LOT) bigger than I'd initially thought, plus I felt it would work
better to go out on the explosion. So now it's a five part arc. :)
Although you can be reasonably sure the entire planet hasn't been rendered
uninhabitable (although not 100% sure, since stories could continue on
Venus), there's still plenty of damage short of that that could have
While it was established back in Academy that humans in general are
pretty easy to use as transplant sources for Santari, some are better than
others. Any healthy human will work as a donor in at least some cases, but
if you're going to go to the expense and risk of illegally bodysnatching
people for involuntary organ transplants, it's a good idea to only grab those
for whom compatibility is maximum. These lucky souls are called Universal
Donors, a concept introduced in Warden #2 (the term actually came up in ASH
#7, but incorrectly claimed that all humans were Universal Donors, CSV #13
clarifying the distinction). They can be identified by genetic testing, but
it's a lot easier if you have someone like Barnes or Scry who can suss 'em
out on the spot, making spur of the moment snatches of opportunity easier.
In any case, Santari scientists in conjunction with Khadamite mad scientists
are trying to figure out how to use the UD markers to overcome the Santari
tissue rejection problem, either by modifying the Santari or by cloning
parts from existing UDs. Hence the squabs.
Had Stealthily-Avoids-Patrols survived this encounter, he might have
faced a challenge to his Starname. If you can't live up to your Starname and
some other Pranir wants it, they can mount a challenge. As it stands, once
news of poor SAP's death reaches the Pranir homeworld, the name will be up
for grabs. It should be noted that Savagely-Murders-His-Enemies rarely gets
challenged for *his* Starname, as the simplest defense is to savagely murder
the challenger. Then again, neither does Sleeps-On-The-Job get any
challenges to his Starname.
TerraStar's use for the squabs was established back in CSV #25. She
planned to use them as the necessary victims to fuel her transposition spell
that carried people back and forth from Venus. Glyph was a part of that
little conspiracy, so she was well aware of the resource they represented for
In case anyone's curious, here's some of the other defense programs
Khadam has set up, for different semaphor configurations to turn the city
into giant mystic sigils. Aleph-aleph protects against falling stone (in
case someone tries to repeat Rockfall), aleph-beth protects from light (in
case Doublecross returns), aleph-gimel protects against lightning (both
Tsaran blasters on particle beam mode, and just in case Sultry gets pissed at
Glyph or something). The Beth-series protections are lesser spells requiring
only one or two sacrificial victims, intended to blunt the effect of natural
disasters, such as sandstorms or swarms of locusts. Gimel-series spells
aren't actually protections, nor do they require blood sacrifice to work,
they're mainly showy visual effects used at times of celebration.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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