ASH: ASH #83 - Timequake Part 5: Aftershocks

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Mon Apr 23 11:49:10 PDT 2007

     The cover is a shot from space, with the Earth being maybe an inch
across at the center of the page.  A massive explosion nearly eclipses it.
At the bottom of the page is the text, "THE END?"

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #83
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||             Timequake Part 5: Aftershocks
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

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

[May 5, 2026 - Leaving Earth Orbit]

     On the scale of actual warships, a standard ISN lifeboat isn't much to
look at.  Each could hold a mere fifty or so men, the laser cluster could
barely penetrate a meter of armor at point blank range, and it didn't even
have FTL capacity, although it had good enough sublight drives that let it
use time dilation to its advantage in extremis.
     But, as Commander Hektane watched the ship once under his command streak
towards Earth on a path intended to destroy both ship and planet, he
reflected that the small fleet of lifeboats could still probably fight off
most comers in this backward age.  They'd have to be careful in the first few
encounters, since he really wanted to try to capture a hyperdrive-equipped
ship in order to get out of this system, but he wasn't too worried about his
subordinate's suggestion that they might be tried for war crimes by the
Planetary Confederation of this era.  With the superhumans of Earth no longer
in the picture, the crew of the Fornax should be able to make a decent way
for itself during these barbarous times of decay and collapse.
     "Give us some filtering on the viewscreen," Hektane told the rating
manning the lifeboat's sensors.  He didn't recall the woman's name, she was
from the engineering section.  Hektane had deliberately split his command
staff and bridge crew up among the lifeboats so that in the event of a worst
case scenario, no group would be without some command experience.  But it
also meant that the crew he interacted with most frequently, that he knew and
trusted best, were not with him at the moment.
     "Aye," she nodded, with that badly hidden tone of irritation that
technical people often got when asked to do the damned obvious by non-techs.
The screen image flattened as the brightest parts dimmed.
     Then the Fornax seemed to shrink.  The fireball just starting to form
around it as it entered the atmosphere didn't merely dim, something that
could have been an artifact of the filtering, it split into several smaller
pricks of light.
     Hektane had barely a second to take that in before two things happened
almost simultaneously.
     One, the smaller fireballs smashed into the planet, into what the
natives called the Atlantic Ocean, near the northeastern edge of a cluster of
islands roughly between the two main continents of that hemisphere.  He'd
seen enough simulations of bolide bombardment techniques to know that while
it would be a major disaster, it was nowhere near enough to destroy life on
Earth.  So he and his crew were probably in big trouble now.
     Two, just as he was registering the first fact, the entire planet went
black as the filters compensated for a brilliant explosion on the far side.
     "What was that?" someone behind Hektane spat.
     "Looked like a hyperdrive imbalance explosion.  Nasty stuff," an
engineering rating replied.  "One of my instructors at the academy saw it
happen once, an old Pranir cargo hauler was using a hyperdrive that musta
been a couple hundred years old.  It went into hyper leaving a starbase and
just went BOOM like that."
     Hektane nodded silently.  The Imperial Santari Navy hadn't used
hyperdrives in over a millennium, but they were cheaper than Twist drives,
and still used by some civilian craft.  He'd never seen one explode
personally, but he'd also learned about the dangers in the academy.
     But how did a hyperdrive get installed on the Fornax?

               *              *              *              *

[May 5, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     "The good news is, 'Plan A' seems to have more or less worked," Rex
Umbrae told his bride as he put down the blackcel.  "The planetbuster ship
has been destroyed, so we don't need to worry about whether they'd be
thorough enough to strip Manhattan down to bedrock."
     Maria shivered.  "Good.  I didn't like our odds of getting away in your
little space ship anyway.  Wait...more or less?"
     Rex shrugged.  "It looks like enough debris hit the Atlantic off the
Bahamas to create a significant tsunami."
     "Will we be okay down here?" Maria sat bolt upright, looking around the
bunker with alarm.  "I mean, we're below sea-level in these old subway
tunnels.  I'm sure everything's watertight and all, but I don't like the idea
of being trapped under a few million tons of water while we wait for things
to subside."
     Rex ran a massive finger over the synthskin covering Maria's shoulder,
chuckling.  "We can thank the often byzantine but sometimes brutally
straightforward nature of Khadam's political system for our safety,
darling.  Given the volatile nature of our dear Chancellor's wife, one of
the public works projects I put the paragangs on from the start was
construction of improved floodwalls, capable of withstanding the storm surge
of any, oh, random category five hurricanes that might just happen to wander
up to New York without any warning," he smirked.
     "Oh yeah, the weather bitch," Maria frowned.  As what amounted to a
princess of the realm, Maria often had to deal with Sultry in a social
setting, where physical claws needed to remain sheathed, but verbal ones
remained as sharp as ever.
     "The floodwalls are going up now, and the bridges have been closed.  I
expect we might lose at least one...a pity, we just got the last of them back
in operation after decades of neglect.  At least the tunnels should weather
this without trouble, we're far enough from the impact site that I doubt
we'll even feel the tremor."
     Maria grinned playfully.  "So, how do you propose we bide our time until
the waves pass?"
     "I was thinking...bodysuit fifteen?"
     "Again?" she winked.  "Mister Umbrae, if I'd known you were such a perv
before I married you..."
     " would have done it sooner?"
     "Damn straight," she grinned, going to fetch the requested synthskin

               *              *              *              *

[May 5, 2026 - Miami, Florida Sector]

     "The good news is, the world's not ending," NAC Marshal Rob Smythe told
his partner as he watched the glow on the horizon fade.  "The bad news is, I
think your day just started to suck about as badly as if it had."
     Marshal Jasmine Carruthers nodded, sighing.  "You go help with the rest
of the evac.  Even if it's at the bottom level of things, we're looking at
something about five times as bad as cat five surge.  Ten times as bad seems
more likely.  Your powers won't do much good until the aftermath anyway,
Sniffer," she used his unofficial codename.  More of a nickname between the
two of them, really.  He could detect living things as if he had some sort of
penetrating radar for it, which was very useful for a host of law enforcement
and rescue jobs.  But it didn't do much good against a wall of water several
stories tall.
     "You gonna be okay, Wetworks?" he asked in return.
     "No.  I am not gonna be godsdamnned okay.  I'll be really lucky to
survive this.  But this goes way beyond anything our evac plans can handle,
and unless you want me to let the biggest city on the southeastern seaboard
get totally washed away, I gotta do it."
     "Right.  I promise, I'll find you after..."
     "Just go," Jasmine frowned.  Her power was hydrokinesis.  Large scale,
but with little fine control, although she had kept working on that even
after graduating from the Academy.  But it meant she was a natural for
assignment in Hurricane Central once she got through with Marshal training.
She knew she could completely damp out the storm surge from a Category Three
hurricane, like the one that had hit Miami last season.  But this was
something beyond even her theoretical maximum.  A surge that could possibly
make it all the way across the peninsula if left unchecked.
     She opened one of the pouches on her belt and pulled out a sealed
bottle.  Emp.  Illegal as hell, because it resulted in unpredictable side
effects and had a tendency to be not only addictive but also lethal.  But,
thanks again to her official assignment, she was one of the rare people with
special permission to carry the power-augmenting drug.  She'd avoided using
it so far, even when the storm got really bad last year...but it looked like
she'd have to go for it this time.
     "Hell.  At least I had one last really good night with Jenny," she
sighed as she got in her patrol car and started heading for the shoreline.
After all, they'd expected the world might end, and neither had wanted to die
with any regrets about things not said or done....

               *              *              *              *

[May 6, 2026 - Canberra, Australia]

     Delta Rose looked up at the stars, mostly washed out by the lights of
the sleeping city around her.  Even at three in the morning, the
administrative center of the United World had enough going on to merit lit-up
causeways and buildings.  After all, it was always business hours somewhere
on the planet.
     Tonight, especially, with the threat looming overhead.  Business might
come to an abrupt and very permanent close soon...and it looked like some
people did, contrary to the human aphorism, expect that they might look back
from the afterlife and regret not spending more time at the office.
     "I'm one to talk," she snorted to the empty plaza.  Granted, her largely
artificial biology left her needing little sleep, and her native race rarely
got much rest on the windswept peaks of her homeworld, but she didn't have to
be in Canberra.  She could have been in a ship, ready to hyper out in the
event that all plans failed.  Probably should have, really.  But....
     Well, if Earth was destroyed, her career would probably be over one way
or another.  She'd made enough enemies that reassignment wouldn't work well,
better to just least, to the extent that a cyborg would be able
to retire.  And if the planet were destroyed, at least she wouldn't have to
worry about it again, regardless of whether she survived that destruction.
     Then the sky lit up with a scintillating shimmer of colors that went
beyond even the expanded spectrum her artificial eyes gave her access to, and
she was dazzled for several long moments.
     Her phone buzzed.
     "Delta Rose here.  Yes, I saw...not that I can see much of anything
right now, but I think I'd have seen this even if I were in the damned
basement.  Looked like a hyperdrive going sour and smearing a ship across
half a light-minute of interplanetary space.  YES, I'm sure.  I've seen it
happen, crippled smuggler ship trying to squeeze one last jump out and get
away from me.  Nothing looks quite like it.  Is the planetkiller still
around?  Then that must've been it.  No, I don't know how it happened, but be
glad it did.  This place lived to see another day," she hung up, her vision
finally starting to clear up.
     The planet survived. 
     But did any of the heroes of ASH manage to do likewise?

               *              *              *              *

[May 5, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "CloseitcloseitCLOSEITNOW!" Boomer screamed as he dove through the warp
gate and onto what had been the dancefloor of Peregryn's wedding reception.
     "I'm...trying," Labyrinthe grunted, as the hole in space rippled and
bucked but didn't seem to get any smaller.  "Something's interfering."
     "That'd be the unstable hyperspace transit," Boomer explained,
scrambling to his feet.  "Everyone, out of the way, get behind cover!"
     There was a general shuffle as both the recently returned heroes and
those left behind to wait tried to clear the area, but it was a little too
crowded for anyone to get very far.  The gateway started to glow ominously.
     "DOWN!" Peregryn commanded, as with a gesture he raised up a bowl of
stone around the warpgate.  No sooner had it risen from the ground than a
brilliant flare of all imaginable and unimaginable colors erupted from the
gate, channeled upward by the rock.
     Almost lost in the fury of the detonation, Yvan Viau began to scream.
     It was an incoherent, wordless cry of pain and horror, as if a piece of
Yvan's soul were being torn apart along with the gateway he had constructed.
     And then reality itself joined Yvan in his pain.
     "I'm falling!" someone shouted, as she rose into the air at an odd
angle, as if gravity had suddenly decided to point in a new direction.
     Another person appeared to fragment into pieces, as if viewed through a
piece of polished quartz.  And Beacon seemed to have been triplicated.
     Meteor raced towards the spatial mage to try to snap him out of it, but
kept finding herself reversing direction.  "Contact, try to get through to
him!" she shouted.  "No one else try taking a shot, no telling where it'll
actually go!" she added, in warning.
     -+I've got this one,+- the part of Contact's mind that still sometimes
thought of itself as Paul Mahler said.  -+You concentrate on keeping us from
falling into some sort of non-Euclidian space!+-
     +-Right,-+ the main part of Aaron's mind thought back.  What some might
call a grief-induced neurotic dissociation, Aaron considered a valuable
multi-tasking tool.

     The outside world vanished as "Paul" dove into Yvan's mind, which was
becoming as fragmented inside as the world was outside.  Between intentional
defenses and the rising tide of madness, it truly was a labyrinthine mess,
with Yvan's very identity folding back on itself and splitting into a maze of
twisty passages, all alike.  Just putting him to sleep wasn't going to cut
it, Paul realized...this fragmentation was going far deeper than the simple
conscious level.  He'd have to bring Yvan around, not put him down.
     -+But first, a little shift in paradigm,+- Paul said to himself.  -+I'm
not getting anywhere if I let him lock me into the idea of being trapped in a
maze.  Let's see if there's another way to look at this tangled skein.+-
     And just like that, Paul saw himself far above the fraying tatters of
the mage's mind, seeing it less as a labyrinthe and more as a woven tapestry
of terrible beauty and complexity, but with a number of places unraveling
before his eyes.  A number of threadbare patches were making things worse,
and seemed to be the places where most of the damage was radiating from.
     -+Those bits look familiar...of course!+- Paul smacked his notional
forehead.  -+They've been wiped clear of memory, just like on Timeslip,+- he
realized.  Some of the patches were old and overgrown, but others were quite
fresh, looking suspiciously like they covered the memory of Labyrinthe's
"irresponsible wanderings" of the previous weeks.
     Unfortunately, to save Yvan, not to mention everyone in his immediate
vicinity, Paul would have to scab over those patches in a quick and dirty way
that would probably prevent him from ever really knowing what had once been
there.  Given time, he might have been able to lift out some faint remaining
impressions, but....
     Staying within the paradigm he'd chosen, Paul pulled out a ball of
coarse wool and a needle and started making swift, ugly stitches across the
"runs" in the tapestry of Yvan's mind.  When he recovered, Yvan would no
longer have vague patches where he wasn't quite sure what had happened, he'd
have big glaring chunks of his memory overwritten by a single, simple
thought.  But he'd still be around to wonder why he now kept remembering the
phrase, "A stitch in time saves nine."

               *              *              *              *

[May 5, 2026 - Somewhere in New Mexico Sector]

     "My butt itches."
     "Shut up, Mongo, your butt isn't even organic anymore," Chain Lightning
snarled.  "So, big brain, when're ya gonna figure out a way to get us out of
these freebling cuffs?"
     Superconductor sighed and wished the guards hadn't thawed them out.
Well, that they hadn't thawed the other two out, anyway.  They were in some
kind of supertech restraints that managed to negate even future-era
cybernetics save for the bits necessary for life support.  Unfortunately,
neither Mongo nor Chain Lightning's cybernetics extended to their voiceboxes.
     "Our cybers are negated.  I kind of need my enhancements to make any
plan work.  So shut up," Superconductor lied.  In fact, he figured he could
crack these things if he had another half hour or so...but letting the guards
know that would be stupid.  The grandpas driving the van seemed distracted by
something or other, but wouldn't be so far gone to not notice something like,
"Oh, I'll have us free soon."
     "Are we there yet?" Mongo asked.  "I'm hungry."
     "Why didn't Presto listen to me and get you some brain boosts?"
Superconductor sighed.  "But noooo, he had to play to the cliche, and have
our strongman be thicker than a dreadnaught's armor plating."
     Granted, you never wanted your toughest member to be the smartest,
unless you wanted them to be your leader too.  But was average intellect too
much to ask?
     "We're almost there, big guy," one of the guards called back from the
front.  No one was actually in the sealed rear compartment with them,
probably so that they could just gas any rowdy prisoners without having to
worry about them taking weapons or gas masks off a guard first.  At least,
that was how Superconductor would have set it up.
     Suddenly, the van swerved as explosions shook the sides.  Escort
vehicles being destroyed, Superconductor guessed.  But who would be bothering
to break them out?
     "Hey, Presto found us!  He musta fallen outta a different hole in the
sky," Chain Lightning's mood brightened.
     "I don't think so," Superconductor mused as he tried to avoid being
thrown into Mongo by the van's evasive maneuvers.  "He would have transmuted
our transport into something whimsical by now."
     "Like a rubber ducky!" Mongo agreed.  "Them's whimmicasul, right?  I
like when Presto makes rubber duckies."
     There was a rending sound from the front, and the van started to slow
down.  Within seconds, it had stopped, and the rear doors were being torn
from their hinges by what appeared to be a pair of porcelain women.
Wordlessly, moving with a strange combination of awkwardness and grace, the
two women unhooked the trio from the anchorpoints in the van and helped them
outside...but pointedly did not undo their restraints.
     A third woman, identical to the other two, but seeming more substantial,
was waiting for them.  Once they got out into the desert sunlight,
Superconductor noticed that the pair who had brought him out of the van
seemed translucent, even hollow inside.
     The third woman had a small holographic projection on her shoulder, some
sort of imp or satyr.  As she gestured to them, it spoke.
     "Greetings!  I am Cronyx, and I speak for the mistress, Matrioshka of
the Impossible Five."
     "Did Presto send you?" Chain Lightning asked.
     "No," the daemon shook its tiny head.  "The mistress does not know this
Presto of whom you speak.  But she intercepted communications regarding your
arrival via the temporal discontinuity, and can now see from your chronal
signature that you are indeed not native to this era.  Tell us, are you
familiar with the Jesterling?"
     "Leader of the CSV in the mid-21st Century?  Who isn't?" Superconductor
responded.  "Why do you ask?"
     Matrioshka nodded sagely, and Cronyx replied, "The mistress believes she
knows why you emerged when you did.  You see, you likely are native to the
same timeline that spawned her, a timeline that has now been negated by the
actions of the treacherous Timeslip.  You could not return home from your
temporal sojourn, as home no longer exists.  At least, it is no longer
accessible via methods of simple time travel.  You are, like the Impossible
Five, refugees from a future that never will be."
     "That sucks," Chain Lightning opined, expressing Superconductor's
opinion as well.
     "So, now what?" Superconductor asked.  "You've freed us, but not really
freed us," he shrugged, to indicate that he couldn't move his arms thanks to
the restraints.  "I'm guessing you weren't merely homesick and wanted someone
from your timeline to talk to."
     Cronyx laughed, and Matrioshka held out her hand to reveal a small
golden object, that looked like five ankhs arrayed like the petals of a
     "We are seeking to take over this timeline, as compensation for the one
we lost.  To that end, we are them franchise managers.  We
will supply certain resources, such as these tattoos that act as
communication devices and emergency teleporters, in exchange for your group
working towards our goals.  We will also work to steer like-minded
individuals to your banner, and if this Presto you speak of appears, we will
help him reunite with you."
     All but the last appealed to Superconductor, but he expected these
Impossible Five thought it too would be an inducement.  "And if we do not
wish to buy into your franchise?"
     Matrioshka shrugged, closing her hand around the ankh-flower.  "Then we
will go our separate ways," Cronyx replied.  "I'm sure you can free yourself
quickly enough now that we have disposed of the Department of Super-Human
Affairs personnel.  And when you get captured again, we may even make the
offer again, although we would likely place you under the command of someone
who *did* accept our initial offer.  We're not the sort of lunatics who
believe in the 'join us or die' paradigm...the reality of your situation is
bleak enough without us in any case."
     "Will we get to nargle up some cops?" Chain Lightning asked.
     "Depending on what you mean by 'nargle,' most likely," Cronyx smirked.
"But if this is some sort of future-era sexual innuendo, please do not
explain in detail, the mistress has such delicate sensibilities."
     Superconductor spared a glance at his surroundings, which included
several guards who had been literally ripped in half.  Yeah, really
     "I'm in," Chain Lightning nodded.
     "I suppose it's better than the alternatives," Superconductor agreed. 
     "What's nargle?" Mongo asked.
     "Mongo is in too," Superconductor sighed.  "Now please undo these
     "Certainly," Cronyx smiled, as a third translucent woman peeled off from
Matrioshka to join the other two in undoing the supertech harnesses.  "And
may I suggest trying to make a base for yourselves somewhere in the eastern
Atlantic seaboard?  There's a great deal of chaos there right now, as a
tsunami crashes into the coast.  While this is bound to bring governmental
attention, it will also create numerous opportunities for profit.  And
perhaps even for nargling...."

               *              *              *              *

[May 7, 2026 - Washington, Federal Sector]

     "All things considered, we got off really lightly," Senator Okuma said
to the assembled politicians, heroes and a few "tame" reporters.  "Thanks to
all the tremors caused by the temporal disturbances, we'd already gotten most
of the coastal areas at least ready for quick evacuation, if not outright
cleared out last month.  There was some loss of life in the Bahamas and East
Indies, and I think we're completely missing some of the lower-lying islands
now, but it's not as bad as the Hatteras Incident of 1989.  Estimates are
still coming in, but financially the tsunami itself is not going to break the
bank.  I'm not looking forward to going over the disaster response budget
requests, though," he smiled wryly.
     "We can thank Marshal Carruthers for some of that," NAC Marshals
Director Kevin Farmer spoke up.  "Not just for her direct action against the
surge hitting Miami, but also because her actions during Hurricane Clarice
last year protected the stormwalls that took a lot of the punch out of the
tsunami.  The stormwalls are in total shambles now, but we should be able to
get them patched enough before the worst of the '26 hurricane season kicks
in.  We only had a few dozen deaths, all among emergency personnel who stayed
on the job.  No serious civilian casualties, just a few bruises in one case
where some idiot college students decided to surf the thing."
     "How is the Marshal?" Meteor asked.  She'd been a couple years ahead of
Jasmine in the Academy, but the two had crossed paths a few times and had
gotten along pretty well.
     "Critical but stable," Director Farmer frowned.  "She used her dose of
Emp, which probably saved the city from billions in damages, but it didn't do
*her* any good.  One in ten Emp users turn out to suffer stronger than normal
side effects, and Marshal Carruthers was one of that unlucky ten percent.
She'll probably pull through, but it may be a long time before she's ready
for active duty again."
     "In other business," Senator Okuma brought the focus of the meeting back
to himself, "our salvage scouts have reached the splashdown location.  A few
pieces of armor plating have been located and tagged for recovery, but
anything technological was totally destroyed during re-entry.  We might get
some useful metallurgy out of the armor, though.  Were your people able to
recover anything?" he asked Meteor.  
     She wondered if he'd have had the balls to even bring the matter up if
Delta Rose had been in attendance.  "Sorry, no.  Some general technical
information, but we were in a bit of a hurry, and didn't keep looking after
we found out where we needed to go in order to do what needed doing," she
kept the hostility out of her voice.  "Contact has already been debriefed,
and I'm told there's a few theoretical scientists out there who are already
wetting themselves over the prospect of trying to figure out how the 'Twist
Drive' worked, but that's about it.  I made the call to not gather souvenirs,
Senator...I felt that anything that distracted from the main mission might
result in the destruction of the planet."
     There were some raised eyebrows at that, especially from a reporter who
Meteor suspected might not be quite so tame as Okuma thought.
     "On the plus side," she continued, "as far as we can tell, there are no
longer any time rifts open anywhere in Combine territory, or the territories
of powers we're on speaking terms with.  And Marshal Hodgson assures me that
there's nothing big left open even in places we don't have access to.
Whatever the Impossible Five did to the timestream, it's done inflicting
damage.  For good or bad."
     "Bad" meaning that her time-displaced husband and the others with him
might have simply stopped damaging history by the simple means of having died
in the past....

               *              *              *              *

[May 7, 2026 - Southern landmass, Venus]

     Commander Hektane looked around him.  It wasn't a very hospitable place,
a sort of grassland steppe with a dry wind blowing off the volcanic mountain
range in the distance.  A bit warmer than he'd expected for a polar region,
even on a planet this close to its primary, but he chalked that up to the
     The lifeboats were parked together on a flat outcropping of dark stone,
carefully arranged with military precision so that there was no danger of
them damaging each other if a rapid take-off was necessary, yet close enough
together for ease of inspection.  While all fairly new, none of them had been
through a real atmospheric transit before, and once this assembly was over he
intended to have the engineering staff check over each and every ship.  They
represented his own remaining power in this place, and he wanted them in top
     Finally, he turned to the crew.  They had assembled on the grassy fringe
of the outcrop, where the prairie vegetation was not tall enough or thick
enough to hinder movement, and had started to erect a temporary camp.  Very
temporary, though.
     "Men, I know you're disappointed.  Even afraid.  Terra yet lives, and
with it the chance of our ancient enemies," he resisted a smirk at the irony
of the description, "giving chase and destroying us entirely.  But we left
them with enough damage to their world that I believe we have at least a
short time before they can come after us.  By that time, we will have
relocated to a somewhat more hospitable part of this world and concealed
     "But we are not crawling into a hole and pulling it closed!" he shouted,
pumping his fist in the air.  "We have the knowledge and equipment to convert
our lifeboats, mere transport in our era, into warships still fearsome by the
backward standards of this day.  We may have to cannibalize half the ships
for the parts needed to make the other half into interstellar craft, but the
engineering staff assures me that it can be done without having to wait for
the capture of any hyperdrive-equipped craft.  Then, we will try this the
long, slow and *hard* way.  We will return to Santar and find a Great House
willing to lead our people back to glory.  Within our lifetimes, thanks to
our knowledge of advanced sciences and military experience, the Santari
Empire will still...what's going on?" he nearly fell as the ground started to
tremble under his feet.
     He turned to look at the volcano on the horizon, but it didn't seem to
be spewing fire and smoke any more vigorously than it had been before.  So
why the tremors?
     With a roar not unlike an erupting volcano itself, a titanic lion of
flame and magma burst forth from the ground among the assembled lifeboats.
Easily twice the size of any of the ships, it swiped at one with its fiery
paw, breaking it in two and sending it tumbling through the ranks of Santari
ships.  Pouncing like a great hunting beast among a flock of sheep, it cut a
swath of destruction through Hektane's tiny fleet.
     Most of his men fled.  Giant monsters of fire were not something they
were trained for, and morale was brittle to begin with.  A few drew their
sidearms and fired on the beast, but if it even noticed their efforts, it
gave no sign.  Magma splattered every which way along with pieces of burning
wreckage, setting the prairie grasses least that one threat was
minimized by the crew's uniforms, which should protect them from mere burning
grasses.  But it did nothing to mitigate the terror that was spreading across
the steppe.
     Hektane stood his ground, only flinching once as a piece of landing
strut sailed mere meters from his head.
     Within minutes, it was over.  The land was burning, the ships in ruin.
Of the fleet that had landed a day earlier, now only a few ships sent on
mapping runs remained.
     The lion turned to face Hektane, lava dripping from its jowls like the
saliva of a hungry animal.
     "Be glad the Fathermage wishes you alive, little morsel," it growled, a
deep thrum that wasn't so much words as intent and emotion.  The words
themselves seemed to appear in his mind, as if by telepathy.
     Then it stalked off towards the volcano that Hektane suddenly knew was
the lion's den....


Next Issue:

     I don't know!  ASH will be going on a short hiatus (see explanation
below), and the exact nature of #84 will depend on where things stand in a
few months.


Author's Notes:

     Posting this today (April 23, 2007) partly in honor of International
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.  It doesn't yet have a central webpage or
even a Wikipedia entry, but googling on the phrase should get you a bazillion
or so hits already.

     No, I am not detailing what bodysuit fifteen is.  And nargling doesn't
really mean anything, Chain Lightning just keeps making up his own curse
words because he thinks it makes him sound cool.
     A short note on the effectiveness of disaster response, which seems to
be cleaning up after the quakes and tsunami and other things a bit quickly.
There's two factors to consider here.  One, the Combine government was formed
around the nucleus of FEMA during the horrible years after the "False
Rapture", when there were plenty of disasters to go around.  Two, FEMA in the
ASH universe is not the near-joke it has become in real's an
organization that spent more than a generation dealing with alien invasions,
supervillain machinations and dimensional funkiness before it took things
over in 1998.  Other world governments had similar disaster-response
organizations in place as well, with equivalent experience in dealing with
problems beyond anything the real world has had to deal with.  Suffice to
say, they know what they're doing.  

     And now, the hiatus I mentioned.
     Back when Tony and I were planning the whole Impossible Five thing, we
knew that he wouldn't be able to get anything written for CSV for a while
after finishing his side of Four to Never.  So, the plan was that I'd focus
on the "month of temporal chaos" for 4-5 issues of ASH, giving him time to
deal with real life.  Now, if I'd written at my normal pace of about an issue
a month, this would have carried me well into the summer, and Tony'd probably
be free again.  But noooo, I had to write five issues in two months and screw
everything up.  :)
     Rather than tread water in ASH and risk having the stories feel padded,
I'm going to take a break from the 2026 timeline and do a miniseries set in
the 1970s.  I haven't figured out exactly what it'll do, so it may be more
than a month before the first installment comes out...but I could also have a
brainstorm and end up cranking out an issue a week on that too.
     The 1970s were a heady time, the Second Heroic Age.  The rules of
paranormal stuff hadn't really been worked out yet (most of that would be
hammered out between 1976 and 1986), and most people involved in the heroic
lifestyle didn't know what little had been discovered.  Most powers came as
the result of supersuits or miracle serums, and often had negative side
effects.  No one was quite sure why their inventions only worked for them
(and maybe a select circle of allies), or why they sometimes just stopped
working entirely (again, Anchors would not become widely known until the late
70s).  Muddying the waters was the fact that various alien races had
discovered Earth, so you had supertech and advanced alien tech mixed together
with no clear idea why they seemed to work on wholly different principles.
     Anyway, that's where I plan to go for the next few months.  The time
when Delta Rose first found herself on Earth, when people like Ladyhawke,
Powerhouse, Dragonfly and the original Lady Lawful fought social injustice
and science gone wrong.


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

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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at !


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