[ASH] Coherent Super Stories #6 - Immortal Evil

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sun Aug 12 19:41:17 PDT 2007

     The cover shows a slightly gray-haired Jiang Sheng standing alone on a
strangely empty city street, looking up at the sky and screaming.

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #6 - Immortal Evil
        The End Times Part I              copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[July 6, 1998 - San Francisco, CA]

     "Stand away from her," Jiang said flatly.  There was no hint of threat
or anger in his voice, simply the tone of a reasonable request that one
expected the listener to comply with.  He was a reasonable man, after all.
Few who wear the robes of the Shaolin are unreasonable.
     The three figures arrayed around the cowering women were, however,
neither reasonable nor truly men anymore.  Their features were distorted,
taking on aspects of a great cat in ways that suggested magic and not simple
tattooing or cosmetic surgery.  Nor did their unsheathed claws seem to be
affectation or artifice.
     "Leave, uncle monk," the largest of the trio snarled, the split in his
upper lip giving him a slight speech impediment.  "This street belongs to the
Tiger Tong."
     Jiang raised an eyebrow slowly at that claim.  "Once it may have," he
replied, showing no fear or even concern that he was facing men who had
clearly traded their souls to one spirit or another in exchange for power.
It was, sadly, all too common in these debased days.  "But the Tiger Tong was
broken nearly a quarter of a century ago.  I should know, I was there."
     The smallest of the trio snarled derisively.  "Do not brag about your
age, monk," he spat.  "And don't think that your kung fu can do anything
against us.  We're a lot tougher than any posers who might have called
themselves the Tiger Tong back in the chop socky days."  The other two
chuckled along with him, and all three started to shift.
     What had before been merely evocative of a tiger now became a true
trait.  Fur sprouted from their orange and black tinged skin, their ears
lengthened, their faces stretched into fanged muzzles.  Within moments, they
were transformed into a sort of halfway point between man and man-eater.  The
woman they'd been menacing screamed and then fainted.
     "You should break your bargain with whatever spirit empowered you, my
sons," Jiang warned.  "Such pacts rarely turn out well for mortals.  Tiger
spirits in particular are dangerous to treat with, there is too much of the
cat's playful cruelty to them."
     "You're the mortal that this won't turn out well for!" the smallest of
the weretigers retorted, but he was the last of the three to lunge at him.
Jiang mentally marked him as the most dangerous, for he seemed to have at
least half a brain.
     Making a leap that his graying hair suggested was impossible, Jiang
grabbed onto a balcony and swung over the charging tiger-men.  Twisting
about, he turned his momentum into a powerful kick to the back of "shorty's"
head.  A human would have been instantly killed, but Jiang didn't expect it
to do more than stagger his opponent for a moment.
     The other two turned to try to swipe at him, and barely avoided
attacking each other.  Good, they were still sane enough to care about that,
but not well-trained enough to avoid it easily.
     Jiang took a calculated risk and grabbed the tail of the largest one,
pulling hard.  His target yowled in pain, flailing about behind him on
instinct and rage.  Jiang dropped and swept the weretiger's feet out from
under him, turning the spinning attack against his foe and leading him to
sink the claws of one hand into the just-recovering small one.
     Taking advantage of the momentary shock this bit of "friendly fire"
caused, Jiang slammed a fist into the throat of the third tiger, feeling the
larynx crack under his assault.  Again, a move that would likely kill or at
least cripple a normal man, but would only buy him time against a spirit-
ridden one such as this.
     There was a moment of near-silence, broken only by a faint retching
sound as the one with the crushed throat tried to speak and failed.
     A police siren broke the moment, and an armored cruiser came into view
at the alley mouth.  All eyes shifted to the woman, who had opened her eyes
and was clutching a small keychain device in one hand.
     "Panic button!" one of the tigers snarled.  Just one of the little
things to come out of telecommunications advances in a world full of
supernatural threats, the panic button would alert the police much like a
call to 911, complete with GPS tracking of your location, and was much less
expensive than a mobile phone.  Lately, stores couldn't keep them on the
     "We'll be back for you, old monk!" the small one added, clutching his
quickly healing wound.
     The three leapt for the rooftops and vanished.  Jiang breathed a sigh of
relief...he probably could have defeated them, but it wasn't was easy or as
sure a thing as it once had been.  He may have looked and felt much younger
than his age, but that age was nearly eighty.
     Now, it only remained to calm the victim and give the police an accurate
description of this new Tiger Tong.  They were much better equipped than in
his day, and could be trusted to deal with the threat.  He was, after all,
merely a contemplative monk now, not a hot-blooded vigilante....

               *              *              *              *

     "How is the world outside?" Brother Qi asked as Jiang entered the hidden
underground monastery.
     "Continuing to remind me why I spend most of my time in here," Jiang
chuckled.  He pulled a small packet out from under his belt, a number of
envelopes bound with a rubber band.  Withdrawing one of the letters, he
handed the rest ot Qi.  "But neither sleet, nor snow, nor rampaging tiger
spirits will...well, you know.  I think most of these are from Xiaoming's
family," he added.  The newest of the cloistered monks still maintained some
ties to his brothers and sisters, via the post office box the monks
maintained.  While keeping the world at arm's length, they did not go so far
as some sects and attempt to wall it off entirely.
     "Rampaging tiger spirits?  What has the world come to...?" Brother Qi
muttered to himself as he walked off to distribute the mail.
     What indeed, Jiang thought to himself.  The duty of leaving the cloister
had once been a rotating job, but in recent months it had been decided that
only those best able to handle themselves in a fight should go.  The Tiger
Tong was only the latest manifestation of the many ways in which the world
was going mad.  Old gods returning, new ones claiming to be born, and the
same old superhumans sticking around in the mix.  Jiang half expected Buddha
himself to descend from the heavens to put a stop to the insanity, but such a
thing had not happened yet.  Nor had the God of the Christians or the Moslems
gotten involved, not in any way that was certain.
     Shaking his head, Jiang turned to the letter he held in his hands.  It
had no return address, but the postmark put it in Boise, Idaho.  As he knew
no one who lived there, it had to be one of his many wandering friends,
posting mail from wherever they happened to be at the time.  
     "Hey, J.S., long time no write!" it opened.  Ah, even if the handwriting
weren't obvious, only one man addressed him by his initials.  Chuck Morse,
once known as the Weapons Master.  Like Jiang, he was a man with no
supernatural powers, and he lacked even the genetic enhancements that Jiang's
father had provided.  As a result, he looked every bit of his nearly fifty
years, if not older in some ways.  But he was a tough scrapper, and he had
roamed the highways of the nation for most of his life, helping out those who
were "below the radar" of the supernatural defenders of mankind.
     "Enjoying a few days in the 'Big City' after a long stint in Montana
helping a family of ranchers deal with some kind of ghostly presence.  Wasn't
one of Fantom's loose ends, though...probably an actual-dead-people sort of
ghost.  Still not sure what ended up working, but things stayed quiet long
enough to feel okay moving on.  I got one of those satellite phones now,
though, so they can call me up if the boogeyman comes back.  It's not
supertech, so it's kinda clunky, but that's okay.  I've been seeing this
Anchor lady on and off lately, so I wouldn't be able to keep using a
superphone even if I had one."
     Jiang quirked an eyebrow, then read on.
     "Oh, yeah, I didn't mention Carla in the last letter, did I?  I guess I
didn't wanna jinx it.  She's got some kooky religious views, worships a guy
named Horus (ain't he one of those Conclave of Super-Villains guys?) and
stuff, but once we agreed to not talk about gods and the like we got along
great.  Neither of us is the settling down sort, but we might just try out
one of those long distance relationships.  But what about you, J.S.?  You're
not getting any younger either, much as you might not look your age!  And I
doubt there's a lot of dating opportunities in that barrel of monks you call
home these days!
     "Anyway, I might be coming down your way in a week or so, if you can get
to a phone, gimme a call and we'll have drinks (okay, tea for you) and
reminisce about how the crazy old days were downright tame compared to what
the kids are up to these days.  Maybe I'll find you a lady, too."
     A phone number was scrawled under the signature, and Jiang made a mental
note to try it next time his duties took him outside.
     He set the letter on his nightstand and thought about Chuck's
admonition.  Should he consider marriage, or at least siring an heir?  There
had been that woman Morgan Adams introduced him to back in '95, but that had
gone nowhere.  He knew that, barring violence or accident, he would likely
live another century, so there was no great urgency in the matter of founding
his own family, but it was still a matter to consider.
     Jiang's reverie was interrupted by a pounding on the door.  Loud,
insistent, and not the knock of someone requesting entry.  No, it was the
sound of the door being battered in!
     He sprang for the hallway, joined by several of the other brothers.
Some had picked up weapons, and one had the forethought to bring a heavy bar
that could be placed across the door if need be.
     Jiang got into the foyer just in time to see that forethought rendered
moot, as a clawed fist smashed through the heavy wooden door in a shower of
     "We've come for you, old monk!" a familiar voice snarled from the other
side of the rapidly collapsing door.  "We don't forget a scent, and yours was
easy to track!" the smallest of the three Tiger Tong members he'd faced
earlier shouted.
     With that, the door finished falling to pieces, and a quintet of hairy
man-beasts swarmed into the foyer, with more visible behind them.  There was
a brief moment of tension, as the Tigers flexed their claws and the monks
tightened grips on their weapons.
     Then the Tiger Tong vanished in the blink of an eye.
     "What...what happened?" Xiaoming asked, nearly dropping his spear.
     "I don't..." Jiang started.  Then he doubled over as his world became
pain and fire....

               *              *              *              *


     As the flames faded, Jiang found himself in a familiar room.  It was the
throneroom of his father, Doctor Huang Sheng, as it had been before Jiang
broke with his father and left the castle in flames.  A mix of mystical and
technological trappings, all overlaid by late-Manchu court finery.
     "What trickery is this?" Jiang demanded of the empty throne.  "A
teleporter, perhaps?  Did you want the Tiger Tong for your own purposes,
father, and simply realize I could be had in the same stroke?"  
     "Plausible, would it not be?" his father's voice echoed from all
around.  "I have certainly done a great deal of work with human-animal
hybrids recently, such as in Project: Onslaught."  The voice started to
localize at the throne, and Doctor Sheng faded into view seated on it, in his
finest robes.  "But, no.  I cannot claim to be behind whatever happened to
your furry playmates.  Nor am I truly your father.  Nor, might I add, are
either of us truly here," he gestured at the throneroom.
     "An illusion, then?"
     "In the sense that it is all in your mind, yes.  I am all in your mind
as well.  You might call me the technological ghost of your father...he has
met with an unplanned end, and I have been activated."
     Jiang clutched his head.  "An implant of some sort?"
     The false Doctor laughed.  "Nothing so crude, my son.  I have had access
to alien nanotechnology for over a decade now, and after our clash in
Tanzania I decided to make use of it while I had you captive.  You see, I
never really wanted you dead, no matter how far you strayed.  You represent
my future, after all, and there was always time to bring you back to the
proper path."
     "I would never willingly join you...or my real father, 'ghost'.  You
should know that."
     The technospirit shrugged.  "Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But science offered
an alternative to the patient path.  I, a simulation of your father's mind
and experiences, was insinuated into your body while you lay in that cell in
Tanzania.  Then Adams and Preston were simply allowed to rescue you.  Every
so often, I arrange to have an agent transmit updates of my memories into
your brain, and a clever neutrino-based signal ensures that no matter where
you or I may go on this planet, my lifesigns were being constantly monitored.
Now, sadly, I have died or otherwise departed the mortal world, and this
program has gone active as one of many, MANY contingency plans."
     "There is nothing sad about the demise of my father," Jiang gritted his
teeth.  "Unless he brought down innocent lives in the process."
     The nanotech infection laughed again.  "Ironic that you might say that.
I do not know the nature of his...my death, and as the last update was
several weeks ago I cannot even make an educated guess.  But at least one
innocent will die.  YOU," he pointed a bony finger at Jiang.
     "You are welcome to try!" Jiang fell into a fighting stance.
     The simulacrum turned the pointed finger into a dismissive wave.  "It is
already done.  Your mind...your spirit, to be superstitious...is trapped in
this virtual castle.  You will not be burning this one down, oh no.
Eventually you will simply fade away.  Or perhaps you will be re-educated and
given a new body, should my whim decide.  But you are talking to a mere facet
of my being, the nanotechnology has by now totally usurped control of your
body.  Huang Sheng is reborn!"
     "My brothers will stop you!"
     "Those pathetic monks?  They will not even know what happened.  Do you
think I'd be foolish enough to try to impersonate you without retaining full
access to all aspects of your memories and personality?  And, once they have
outlived any use I may have for them, the monks will simply be disposed of,
or used for experimental subjects."

               *              *              *              *

[July 8, 1998 - San Francisco, CA]

     "Brother Jiang awakens!" came a voice from across the room.
     "Jiang, are you..." Qi started to ask.
     Jiang sat up.  "Yes, I am whole.  It seems my little scrap earlier in
the day took more of a toll than this old man is willing to admit to," he
smiled wryly.  "And then the stress of the second attack, and the mysterious
vanishing...but I will be fine.  Do you know what happened?"
     Qi shook his head.  "The attackers are all gone.  The city above is in
chaos, it seems that a significant portion of the population simply vanished
without warning...vehicles crashed, the power grid went briefly offline, and
there are riots breaking out among the remaining population.  The brothers
are split...some think we should go above and render aid, others that we
should reinforce our doors and wait for things to calm down.  What do you
think, Jiang?"
     "I think...I need a bit more rest.  But, if a telephone can be reached
safely, call this number and ask Mister Morse on my behalf for whatever he
knows about the situation," Jiang gestured to the letter, still resting on
his nightstand.  "Now, please...leave me for an hour, so I may collect my
     Brother Qi nodded while picking up the letter, and the monks in the
small room with him left behind him.
     "So, mass disappearances, not just the Tiger Tong?" Huang mused aloud in
Jiang's voice.  "Interesting.  There had been mutterings that the so-called
Godmarket would come with a steep price, and perhaps this is it.  But I never
followed one of those hopped-up godlings, so that does not explain my own
demise.  Not directly, in any case."
     He crossed to the other side of the cell, where a small octagonal mirror
was hung.  "My son has taken good care of this body, at least.  But I will
need to have the nanomachines reshape it before I can resume my position
among the Technomancers.  And I can't do that while the monks are here...oh,
be silent, my son.  I can hear you begging for their lives.  And, to be
frank, I find I have little taste for killing them.  Perhaps the conscience
is in part genetically determined?  How revolting, but definitely an
interesting avenue for my work.  Yesss...a conscience-altering retrovirus
would be very useful.  But come, for now I will let you be my better angel,
as the westerners say.  And once matters here have been resolved to my
satisfaction, we can travel to Khadam.  I take it you have no qualms about
finding whatever son of a dog killed me and meting out some justice?  After
all, anyone who could kill your dear, departed father has got to be an even
bigger monster...."


Next Issue:

     The End Times continue with a look at what Chuck Morse was doing with
his life on that fateful day, in "Drifter"!


Author's Notes:

     I was thinking about the Shengs one morning while in the process of
writing CSS #5, contemplating what Jiang's fate might have been, and how
Huang could have undone his Magene.  Then I turned to the thought, "Why would
Huang Sheng have denied himself such an advantage?"  After all, it's not like
there was a whole lot of warning about what was coming, and just doing it so
that Anchors would have no sway over him seemed a weak reason.
     Then it came to me in a flash.  Losing the Magene wasn't the main
purpose, it was merely a side effect.  Huang uploaded his brilliant mind into
a body without the Magene, an emergency failsafe to be activated in the event
of his untimely death.  I toyed with the idea that he cloned Jiang at some
point, but decided it would be more dramatic if he took over his actual son,
fighting for control of the body.  Unfortunately, in CSV #19 it was clear
that Huang was the one who won such a struggle, so no happy ending for
Jiang.  Or, as it turned out, much of a struggle....
     This was originally going to be a one-shot story, but after writing the
letter from Chuck I realized there was a story there too.  And why not try to
flesh it out into a proper arc, focusing on where various Second Age people
were at the end of the Third Age?  At the moment, The End Times is planned
for three issues total...there were more than three Second Age survivors
around on July 6, 1998, but most of them share a very similar ending (and
Doctor Developer's story is Andy's to tell, not mine).  So, Part II will see
things through the eyes of another survivor, and the final part (Part III at
the moment) will finally show what happened when the Barrier went up...from
the point of view of one of the superhumans who sacrificed everything to
create it! 


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