[ASH] CSV #27: Four to Neve Lap 2 - Time Bombs

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Jan 29 18:00:59 PST 2007

     The cover shows a bloodthirsty Aegis trying to hit Triton while Jen
Kleinvogel and Solar Max hold them back, respectively.  Emblazoned in glowing
red letters is the phrase, "An Uneasy Alliance!"


.                 Blackbird & Countinghouse Presents:
  ( )                 CONCLAVE OF SUPER-VILLAINS               ( )
   I          An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic         I
   I       copyright 2007 by Tony Pi and Dave Van Domelen       I
                     #27 - FOUR TO NEVER: Lap 2
                            "Time Bombs"

 TRITON        Derek Murdock Radner        Gadgeteer/Electricity
 SULTRY        Zuri Angeline Croft         Weather Control
 CONFLICTO     Eugene Kwan                 Friction/Viscosity Control
 MYRIAD        Alpha Rho Fourteen          Shapeshifting
 GLYPH         Zephirah Reuben             Magical Sigils
 KALIBAN       Kaliban Kalibos             Monstrous Strength
 TIARA         Princess Ursula of Monaco   Master Thief
 BURNOUT       Trish Catrall/Tyra Dumont   Ash Elemental
 LIGHT ERRANT  Petra 'Irrlicht' Hollander  Wispform, Hypnosis
 LABYRINTHE    Yvan Viau                   Spatial Magic
 CARYATID      Claudette Viau              Magic

 TERRASTAR     Polla Hectrix Termiddo      Earth Control
 CHALLENGER    Robert Coulter              Cybernetics
 SPIRAL        Anya Kirova                 Telekinetic Torque


     [Editor's Note: Be sure to read Lap 1 of "Four to Never" in ASH #77
first!  All events take place on April 15, 2026.] 

[Skyhaven, Meeting Room ::TIMELINE PRIME::]

     Chancellor Derek Radner never thought the day would come when he would
*invite* Jonathan Zachary Taylor and Dan 'Nose-To-the-Grindstone' Tracey
aboard his prized airship.  As foes in a battle royale, perhaps, but in
cooperation?  Never.  However, to save their teammates, Monaco, and even
Earth itself, there was no other choice.
     Thus it was that members of the world's four greatest teams - CSV, ASH,
STRAFE and EUROPA - convened in the Meeting Room aboard Skyhaven.  Even
though they had sealed up access to all but a few areas in the airship, it
did not put Derek's nerves at ease.
     He stood at the fore end of the long table, his beloved wife Sultry
seated to his left and the current team leader, Glyph, to his right.  Sitting
by the starboard windows were the three representatives from the Academy of
Super-Heroes: their team leader Solar Max, Fury, and the Green Knight.
Across from them were their counterparts from EUROPA: the icy Ymir, magnetic
Oni, and the photonic Llyr.  Finally, sitting directly opposite him at the
far end of the table was Grind - still Nose to Derek - flanked on either side
by Jen Kleinvogel and Jay Teller.
     Derek cleared his throat.  As the man who understood the situation the
best, it was up to him to explain what must be done.  "Imagine space-time as
a twisted rope.  It's made of smaller strands twisted together, giving it its
strength."  A holographic image of a rope hovered above the meeting table.
"Now imagine undoing the rope from the middle, by forcing the strands apart.
That's what's happening to time and space around Monaco.  The rope is coming
apart, separating into four fragile timelines.  And the separation is
growing."  The hologram demonstrated his point.
     "What would happen if we can't stop it?" asked Sultry, taking her
husband's hand.
     "If we do nothing, time and space itself will continue to unravel,
engulfing the Earth, splitting it into four parallel worlds.  However, each
time-strand is fragile.  There's no telling what would happen if we don't
restore the integrity of space-time," said Derek.
     Solar Max nodded.  "If the Earth survives even that long.  Gravitational
distortions are growing exponentially as the radius of the effect increases.
We'll see earthquakes of ever increasing magnitude, continents might even be
torn apart like paper.  We have to do something now or billions will die."
     "Agreed, but what about our teammates?" asked Oni, her worry plain on
her face.  "What's happened to them?"
     "They're no longer part of our timeline, but exist in all four time-
strands," said Derek.  "Four versions of Arc, four versions of Lightfoot, and
god-help-us, four versions of Conflicto.  I wish I could say that they are
safe, but not according to one of the messages we managed to receive.  In at
least one time-strand, Conflicto and Lightfoot are dead, although the partial
message we intercepted *from* Conflicto indicates he's not dead in all time-
     Fury thumped the table with a balled fist.  "We can't give them up for
dead.  How do we bring them back?"
     Sal Napier, the Green Knight, comforted Fury.  "There's always hope,
     "Why here?  Why now?" asked Teller.
     "I will accept a part of the blame," said Derek.  "On February 14, 2025,
TerraStar betrayed the CSV, trying to use the AstroSpear to destroy Monaco.
To stop her, I used the dimensional gate abilities of the AstroSpear to trap
her in a space-time pocket.  Unfortunately, I did not expect anyone to find a
way to use that space-time rift to their own end."  He punched up four small
holographic images, each showing a golden sarcophagus but in four different
locations.  "Thanks to various transmissions in all four time-strands, we
know there is a sarcophagus-device in each.  They seem to be responsible for
forcing the time-strands apart."
     "To what end, and why?" said Ymir.  "Who but the CSV?"
     "I don't know, but we are not responsible," insisted Derek.  "We do not
destroy that which we wish to rule.  There's two leading candidates that come
to mind, assuming it's someone we've met before.  TerraStar, trying to get
her body back, and," he paused for dramatic effect, "Rebus."
     Whatever sour retort Ymir was waiting to deliver died on his lips.
     "Oh, ffff..." Llyr bit off his exclamation.
     "However, while three of the four strands seem to think it's Rebus, I
don't put too much weight on that possibility," Derek grinned, obviously
enjoying the discomfort of the others at least a little.  "First off, the
fact that I'm neither dead nor being horribly tortured suggests it's not
Rebus.  Nose there being hale and hearty as well reinforces that.  If Rebus
were free to act on this sort of scale," he gestured at the silvery dome on
the viewscreen, "he'd certainly have spared some effort for his favorite
people, yes?  Secondly, the theories proposed by those inside the dome are
based on significantly incomplete information: they don't know they're only
one of four time strands.  So they're asking the wrong question."
     "That being?" Ymir asked.
     "That being, 'Who could make Anchors vanish?'" Grind replied.  "When, in
fact, it was everyone *else* who vanished."
     "Exactly," Derek nodded.  "The unfortunate part is that the Anchors
vanished from all four strands, so there isn't an obvious 'prime' timeline
that three other strands split away from.  The Anchors are either in a fifth
strand we haven't been able to detect, or they were stranded in a timeless
void when reality was ripped out from under their feet.  I hope for the
latter, honestly.  If there's a fifth strand we can't find, it makes the job
of fixing things a lot harder."
     "And you wouldn't shed a tear if a few Anchors were horribly slain by
being dropped into the void," Ymir snarled.
     "Believe what you like," said Derek.  "It doesn't change the fact that
we are here to brainstorm a solution together."
     "For once, Radner is right," said Grind.
     "I'm always right," snapped Derek.  "I propose that Solar Max and I work
on the space-time physics of the Sphere.  Glyph and Green Knight will contact
our mystical allies on Venus and pick their brains on magical means to
reunite the timelines, and also to see if TerraStar seems unusually
preoccupied.  Llyr and Grind can work on enhancing the images that we did
receive, so we can figure out what the devices do or who invented them, and
maybe find a fifth strand.  Sultry will monitor the expansion of the Sphere,
while everyone else will continue to handle evacuation and disaster
management on the ground.  Use the following frequency for communication," he
gave out the number.  "What are you waiting for?  Go!"

               *              *              *              *              

[Tokyo, Japan  ::TIMELINE PRIME::]

     "So, aren't you glad Sensei insisted you not race in the Prix Ultime?"
Red asked in that Kyoto accent that always grated on Yellow's ears.  She was
the third Red Senshi to pass through the role since Yellow had joined the
elite Sentai team that served as the Otakuza's primary "muscle".  And,
ironically, also as Japan's sole home-grown "superhero" team.  Ironic, since
they were also criminals, strictly speaking.
     "Well, I'm glad I'm not trapped in that thing," Yellow shrugged,
gesturing at the television screen, "but I still think I could have won the
race.  Anyway, where's the big threat to Nippon that Sensei foretold?  He
didn't keep me here to save me from that, he wanted us to be ready to fight
against some sort of 'divine wind' that was blowing."
     "Maybe they're related," Blue suggested, brushing a dyed strand of azure
hair out of her eye.  "Although if that grows big enough to get all the way
here, I dunno what we could do about it."

               *              *              *              *

[French Riviera  ::TIME-STRAND 1::]

     Every time Lightfoot tried to run southwest through Nice, he found
himself turned around a hundred-and-eighty degrees.  "This is nuts," he
muttered to himself.  "Where's the other half of the city?"
     He spun around and tried again, perhaps managing five more steps, before
the world twisted around as before.  "If I can't go to Nice...."
     He sped across Monaco, heading northeast towards the town of Menton.  In
a burst of speed he raced through the seaside town, but the same effect threw
him back the way he came before he could reach the French-Italian border.
     Even stranger, birds seemed to appear out of nowhere from the other side
of the spatial anomaly.  Perhaps more positively, though, very few people
seemed to be showing up at the borders, and there were signs of hasty, even
messy evacuation attempts.
     Frustrated, Lightfoot tapped his communicator.  "No go, Arc.  It's the
same on the east side.  How's the north?"
     "No better," said Arc.  "We're trapped."
     "Damn.  Any luck with the sarcophagus, Scorch?" asked Lightfoot.
     "Can't move it, can't burn through it," answered Scorch.  "It's out of
our league."
     "Problem is, we might be the only league left," said Lightfoot.

               *              *              *              *

[Skyhaven, Triton's Lab  ::TIMELINE PRIME::]

     It galled Glyph that she could not fathom the depths of the Sphere with
her magic, even with the purloined powers of the World Serpent's rainbow
     "Think it's Rebus?"  The Green Knight whispered to Glyph as they entered
Triton's lab.
     Glyph shook her head.  "I agree with Triton, this plot lacks his
signature.  It might be TerraStar, though.  If she's inside Heraclius as you
say, she will have demigod-levels of power."  Bitch, she thought but didn't
say aloud.  "And Caryatid says Heraclius has been acting more strangely than
usual lately, so this could be TerraStar trying to free her body.  Still, I
don't see a mage's hand in this."
     "I think we have it," said Llyr, calling from a corner of Derek's
laboratory where he worked with Grind.  "They aren't four identical
sarcophagi, even though they look similar.  Their sizes are different."
     "I think they stack like a Russian nesting doll," added Grind.
     "We came to the same conclusion," said Triton, studying the holographic
wireframe constructs floating over the projection pedestal.  "The largest one
is the one in the Jardin Exotique, where I imprisoned TerraStar."
     Sultry's voice over the emergency channel interrupted them.  "Nice is
gone, and a quake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale has just hit Cannes."
     "Roger that," said Meteor's voice over the channel.  "Breaker and I will
see if anyone there needs assistance."
     "Glyph, what do you have to report?" asked Triton.
     She hated when Triton acted like he was still leader of *her* team.  "We
contacted all three mages on Venus via sigil magic," she replied.  "Peregryn
suggested our failure to probe inside the Sphere with magic is possibly due
to the Earth's spirit being weakened by the fracturing timeline, making
sorcery unreliable.  Caryatid is investigating whether TerraStar is
responsible for the attack.  Labyrinthe believes that in a worst-case
scenario, he can protect Venus against the spread of the effect, if he has
mystical assistance from his sister and Peregryn."
     "Let's hope it won't come to that," said Solar Max.  "So, what do we do
about the sarcophagi?"
     Grind stroked his chin.  "Stack the dolls back together to burst the
bubble, of course.  The problem is, it's too obvious."
     Triton nodded.  "A trap.  Problem is, given what we've observed of the
phenomenon, the sarcophagi are each encased in a space-time pocket.  It's
like a gravitational lock.  Only someone able to manipulate gravity will be
able to move it."
     "So, if I enter the Sphere, I will split into four versions of myself,
right?" said Solar Max.  "I can then move the devices together."
     "Won't work," said Triton.  "Once you split into four, you become part
of the problem, not the solution.  What we need to do is to seal a rescuer
inside a similar space-time pocket *before* sending them into an individual
time-strand.  We're going to need four people to retwist the timeline."
     "What happens when we merge the timelines back?" asked the Green Knight.
"If Tom and Conflicto are dead in one, will they survive?"
     Triton sighed.  "We can't be certain.  However, if I can somehow
recharge the AstroSpear, I might be able to use it to anchor the time-strand
I enter as the repaired timeline.  Hopefully when they merge, Conflicto and
Lightfoot will be alive."
     "You're going in, Derek?" asked Glyph.
     "I have to," said Triton.  "I made this mess, I'll clean it up."
     "But how will we enter the right time-strands?" asked Solar Max.
     Llyr piped up.  "Fortunately, Challenger sent us those images.  I was
able to isolate four distinctive quantum signatures."
     "Thank you, Llyr," said Triton.  "I can make devices that will allow a
gravity-manipulator to tune his space-time pocket to the right time-strand.
That leaves only two problems.  First, I'll need to recharge the AstroSpear
if I am to tap into its singularity.  And don't even suggest another solar
flare, Zachary."
     "Didn't you use Doublecross as a source, once?" asked Llyr.  "Well, I am
nowhere near his power-level, but I can give you a hefty dose of my energy
for a one-shot."
     "That might just work," mused Triton.  "Second problem: we need two more
people besides Solar Max and I who can manipulate gravity.  Kleinvogel just
barely makes the grade.  However, that exhausts our stable of gravitational
manipulation.  We just don't have the time to track down Star Knight, or see
if there's any Chinese gravity-powered people."
     "You can't invent something on the fly?" Solar Max asked.
     "Not something of that magnitude, not in time," said Triton.
     "There is one possibility," said Grind.  "Aegis.  He could mirror and
augment Jen's powers, giving her finer control over antigrav.  He will have a
copy of her powers too, and it should fade slowly enough for him to play the
part of the fourth."
     Triton looked uneasy.  "You sure he'll cooperate with us?  I am
responsible for his brother's death, after all."
     "But if this works, Triton, you'll be saving Rome," said Grind.
     "Or be indirectly responsible for destroying it," muttered Triton.
     "You don't have the final say, Triton," said Glyph.  "I do.  We need
Aegis."  Because if they saved Rome, they also saved the secret texts in the
vaults of the Vatican that she still desired....

               *              *              *              *

[Skies over the Mediterranean  ::TIMELINE PRIME::]

     Cas Ierulli-Kiris, Aegis of Vatican City, never forgot his brother's
death or the man who killed him.  Though he and Pol were born to different
parents hundreds of miles apart, they were twins in body, mind, and soul.
And now Pol's murderer, Triton, needed him to save the world.
     When Jen Kleinvogel first came to him, updating him on the disaster in
Monaco, he adamantly refused.  "Manage without me, Jen," he said to her.  "He
murdered Pol and destroyed my life.  Force me to work with him and I swear
I'll tear him apart with my own hands."
     "For the sake of the world, Cas, put aside your feud for one day,"
pleaded Jen.  "For Rome.  For Arc."
     "Claire's in there?" asked Cas.  He hadn't known.  It had been two years
since he confessed his love to Claire, and he still remembered his vow to
her.  **I love you, Arc.  Don't say a word.  I know already that I have not
yet earned your love, and that you may never love me.  I just want you to
know that I would risk my life to save you at any cost.  But I swear to God
that I will change, and perhaps then you will find room in your heart to
forgive me.**
     Had he changed?  Had these years of repentance in the service of God
made him a different man?  A little, for the better.  But his love for Arc
never changed.  At least he could be truthful about that.
     "Then I'll come," he said to Jen.  "For Claire and for the Vatican."
     He concentrated and magnified Jen's power, taking a copy for himself.
His skill had improved over time, now that he knew what his true power was.
They soared through the sky, faster than Jen alone could have managed.  To
the naked eye they were invisible, but Cas could sense Jen's antigrav sheath
and followed her towards Monaco.
     The black specter of Skyhaven appeared on the horizon, the profane
golden ankh seemingly mocking Cas.  Jen guided him through an open bay door
where Triton, Llyr, Solar Max and several others awaited them.
     Jen and Cas landed and revealed themselves.  Triton, sealed in his armor
and holding the AstroSpear, extended a hand.  "Welcome to Skyhaven, Aegis."
     Cas did not shake Triton's hand.  Instead, he swung his fist at Triton's
helm.  Triton dodged, but Cas extended a sheath of anti-grav, catching Triton
within it and sending the man flying weightlessly into the ceiling, before
cancelling the field.  Triton fell and dented the metal floor.
     "I do not come to socialize, killer," said Cas.  "Give me my task so we
can end this fast."
     Triton struggled to his feet.  "I couldn't agree more.  But *try* to
remember the meaning of truce, hm?"  He extended the AstroSpear, and three
tooth-like units popped out of hidden slots, each roughly the size of the
palm of his hand.
     Solar Max took one, as did Jen and Cas.  The units were fitted with a
small map display screen and could be strapped on with armbands.
     "These 'Teeth' are pre-tuned to a specific quantum signature.  Wear them
to tune your space-time pocket correctly.  When you enter the Sphere, head
for your assigned sarcophagus, which will show up as a blue dot on your
screen.  When you reach the device, use a gravitational field to move it to
the Jardin Exotique.  You'll see a red dot on your monitor.  Superimpose the
blue on the red.  When the dot turns white, you have it in the right place."
     Cas strapped on the unit onto his forearm reluctantly.  "What would
happen then?"
     "Then, I will activate a new program in my Spear and stack the four
sarcophagi back together," said Triton.  "Llyr, would you do the honors?"
     Llyr stepped forward.  "Good luck, everyone."  He placed his hand on the
AstroSpear and turned his body photonic.  The brilliant yellow EUROPA member
then shunted his energy into the Spear, until he was a pale, almost
translucent replica of his physical self.
     Two tines of golden light flared into existence, turning the spear into
a trident.
     Sultry came up to Triton and kissed him on his helmet.  "Come back safe,
     "I will.  Give Cat and Zander all my love," Triton said.
     Grind stepped forward.  "Be careful.  Putting the sarcophagi back
together is exactly what our mystery foe expects you to do."
     "Point taken," said Triton.  "Let's hustle!"  He leapt out the bay door,
flying on anti-grav boosters towards the Sphere.  Solar Max and Jen chased
after him, and Cas followed last of all.
      The walls of the mirrored sphere loomed before them and swallowed them

               *              *              *              *

[Monaco, Casino  ::TIME-STRAND 1::]

     Solar Max landed on the front steps of the Casino Monte-Carlo and
entered the lobby.  The sarcophagus itself was visible from the door,
standing neatly between a pair of low-stakes Baccarat tables.  The
iconography seemed to be a mix of grim Anubis and laughing Pan...and right
now, it seemed more mocking than sober.  Tiara, Scorch, Challenger and Spiral
gathered around the sarcophagus.
     Tiara spied him first.  "Mister Taylor!" she said.  "Welcome to Monte
Carlo.  I hope you enjoy your stay, because it appears no one is leaving."
     "JakZak!" said Scorch, coming up to him.  "You can't believe how glad I
am to see you!  What in blazes is going on?"
     "Hard to explain," Solar Max replied.  "Where's Lightfoot?  Is he okay?"
     "Yeah," said Scorch.  "Why wouldn't he be?"
     Solar Max decided against telling them about Lightfoot's death in one of
the other time-strands.  Why burden them with more worry?  "No reason.  All
the same, I'd feel better if he was...."
     A whoosh of air heralded Lightfoot's arrival.  Tom Dodson stood in front
of Solar Max, pumping his hand vigorously.  "I'm here!  JakZak Taylor!  What
a sight for sore eyes!"
     "Good to see you too, Tom," said Solar Max.
     "So the outside world *does* still exist?" asked Challenger.
     "More or less.  Let's hope it stays that way.  In the meantime, we have
to move this contraption," said Solar Max.
     "We've tried," said Lightfoot.  "But not even Arc with the kinetic
strength of a locomotive could budge the blasted thing."
     "Allow me, then," said Solar Max.  He stood behind the sarcophagus and
regarded the space-time curvature with his gravity sense.  As he and Triton
theorized, there was a strange space-time distortion.  What he would have to
do is to push the sarcophagus's pocket of space-time and not the sarcophagus
itself.  It was like a maze game where you tilted the whole playing field to
move the marble into the proper hole.
     "Stand back, everyone," said Solar Max.  He gently pulsed a
gravitational wave behind the sarcophagus, moving it towards the door.

               *              *              *              *

[Monaco, the Palace  ::TIME-STRAND 2::]

     Aegis met Tiara, Arc, and Challenger at the Palace in Monaco-Ville,
where the sarcophagus was resting incongruously in a corner of the kitchen.
     He bowed, even though his previous encounters with Tiara had often left
him bruised or unconscious.  She was the ruler of Monaco, after all, and he
had to accord her proper respect as any envoy of the Pope should.  He didn't
count Khadam or Q'Nos of course, as they were godless mockeries of true
nations.  "Good evening, Princess Ursula, Claire.  Forgive my intrusion, but
there are some things you have to know."
     "This is hardly time for formalities, Aegis," said Tiara.  "Tell us
what's happening."
     "As you wish."  Aegis looked up and met Claire's eyes.  After all this
time, his desire for her was still there and still burning strong.  His
throat went dry.  "It's been a long time, Claire."
     Arc nodded.  "Good to see you too, Cas."
     "Has the same thing been happening in Rome?" asked Challenger.
     "No," said Aegis.  "It's worse than you think."  He proceeded to explain
his unholy alliance with Triton.

               *              *              *              *

[Monaco, Jardin Exotique  ::TIME-STRAND 3::]

     Triton descended upon the very spot in the Jardin Exotique where he
imprisoned TerraStar a year ago.  Gathered around the strange technological
sarcophagus were Tiara, Conflicto, Coulter, and Spiral.
     It was virtually an old-school CSV reunion, Derek thought.
     Conflicto was hopping up and down with glee when he saw Triton.  He held
up a gold medal hanging around his neck.  "Woohoo!" he screamed.  "Look,
Tritey!  First Frickin' Place!  Eat that, Lightfoot!"
     Derek landed and thrust the bottom end of the AstroSpear into the
ground.  "Pipe down, Eugene," he commanded.  "We're in a world of trouble.
Remember my wedding last year, and how TerraStar tried to destroy Monaco?"
     Tiara buried her head in her hands.  "Don't tell me she's trying again."
     "Maybe, maybe not," Derek replied.  "Either way, someone's exploiting
her imprisonment.  Time has fractured into four."
     "Hey!  You mean I get four medals?" said Conflicto.
     The excitement of Eugene's win was turning him back into a clown.  Derek
decided to nip it in the bud.  "Conflicto, wise up.  In one of those
timelines, you're dead.  If you want to live to celebrate your win, pay
attention.  Here's what we know...."

               *              *              *              *

[Monaco, Racetrack  ::TIME-STRAND 4::]

     Jen Kleinvogel found the sarcophagus by air, and flew straight to it.
Crowded around the device were Tiara, Challenger, Spiral, Scorch, and her own
teammates Lana 'Fadeaway' Smith and Tony Drake.
     "Jen!" cried Lana.  "Oh, Jen, Tom and Eugene are dead, and I couldn't
save them."
     "It's all right, Lana," Jen assured her.  "Only in this time-strand."
She explained the situation in broad strokes.  "So, if Triton's able to fix
the timeline, Lightfoot and Conflicto should be fine."
     "But you can't be sure of it," said Challenger.  "What about us?  Will
we remember what happened in this timestream?  Or will it kill these versions
of us?"
     Jen didn't have an answer.  "I know this isn't what you want to hear,
and I can't believe I'm saying it myself, but we have to trust Derek knows
what he's doing.  Everyone, go to the Jardin Exotique and wait for me there.
I need to move this thing there."
     As the group left, Jen focused on the anti-gravity sheath that enveloped
her.  She had had her power magnified that one time on Ibiza, when Challenger
hit her with an Empowerment dart.  However, this feeling was different.
Aegis had boosted her control so fine, it felt like she could shape the
sheath however she wished.  It must be akin to what Breaker did with
     She fashioned a large hand out of the anti-grav sheath and grabbed the
space-time pocket holding the sarcophagus, starting to tug the strange device
through the air to its final destination.
     Upon her arrival, Jen glanced at the monitor.  The red dot was
approaching the blue.  "Stay back at least ten meters," she shouted to the
others, and adjusted the positioning of the sarcophagus until the red and
blue dots became one glowing white circle.

               *              *              *              *


     Robert Coulter
     ...watched Solar Max maneuver the floating sarcophagus into place,
recording the events through his cyber-eye.
     ...watched Aegis maneuver the floating sarcophagus into place, recording
the events through his cyber-eye.
     ...watched Jen Kleinvogel maneuver the floating sarcophagus into place,
recording the vents through his cyber-eye.
     ...watched three indicators on Triton's AstroSpear flash white.  "The
sarcophagi are nested.  Here goes nothing," said Triton, and pressed a stud
on the rod.  The yellow tines of light arced towards the sarcophagus and
enveloped it in a sheath of light.
     The world became four thin slices of reality superimposed on each other.
Coulter could see multiple ghostly versions of Tiara, Spiral, and even
himself with his normal eye, but not through his cybernetic eye.  Strange
memories started to flood his head, things he couldn't have experienced in
the past few hours and yet they seemed so real.
     Suddenly, the eyes of the Anubis-Pan sarcophagus flashed ruby red, and
scarlet beams sprayed forth from its eyes and struck Solar Max,
disintegrating him into dust.
     ...and struck Aegis, disintegrating him into dust.
     ...struck Triton, disintegrating him into dust.
     ...Jen Kleinvogel, disintegrating her into dust.
     A woman screamed...
     ...or was it four?
     The world seemed to spin, and Coulter thought he saw five sarcophagi
now, the largest in the midst of four others.  The smaller ones began to

               *              *              *              *

[Skyhaven, Bridge]

     As the mirrored Sphere vanished and Monaco reappeared, at least four
different alarm klaxons went off on the bridge of Skyhaven.  A strange ripple
accompanied the burst of the space-time bubble, shaking the skyship.
     Sultry shouted to Burnout.  "Report!"
     Burnout checked the sensors.  "These readings don't make any sense!"
     Grind rushed to the monitor board and called up a visual of Jardin
Exotique on the main viewer.  "Five sarcophagi, and they're opening," said
Grind.  He quickly counted everyone he could identify.  "Tiara, Spiral,
Coulter, Scorch, Fadeaway, Drake, and Arc.  Lightfoot and Conflicto are down,
but I think they're breathing.  No sign of Jen, Triton, Aegis or Solar Max,
but the Astro Spear is embedded in the ground next to the largest
     "What do you mean, no sign of Derek?" shouted Sultry.  She aimed the
ship towards the garden and gunned the engines.  There was the rumbling of
distant thunder.
     "Who are those?" asked Llyr, pointing at the figures emerging from the
     There were four of them, each fitting an earpiece marked with an ankh
into their right ear.
     The tallest of them was like a classical bronze statue come to life, an
impossible ideal of male power in all ways, clothed in golden metal cloth.
The air itself rippled around him like a mirage.
     A bald woman with cracked red skin had her body mostly wrapped in white
mummy-like dressings.  In lieu of hair, medusa-like tendrils of black dust
writhed like a mystic crown.
     A blond man in a cloak of shifting light and shadow, his face hidden
behind a mask of darkness, hovered into the air.
     Finally, a woman with porcelain skin marched forth, her features as
stiff as her movements.  She turned and regarded the sarcophagus she just
     "I don't know and I don't care," growled Sultry.  "If they've hurt my

     The porcelain woman spun around and pointed at Princess Ursula.  A layer
of her skin seemed to detach from her and fly towards the princess.  Ursula
tried to leap out of the way, but the skin-thing was faster.  It snared her
inside a translucent mockery of the porcelain woman like a suit of armor.
     At the sign of aggression, Scorch raised his hands and sent a blast of
fire towards the porcelain woman, but she simply stood there and took the
heat.  Five more copies of her shed off, becoming clones of the woman.  The
clones jerked forward and piled on top of Scorch, beginning to beat him.
     Grind barked an order.  "Sal, see if you can raise our people on the
comm-channels, stat!"
     "On it!" shouted the Green Knight.
     Arc seemed to say something to Tony Drake, who nodded and slammed her in
the back.  She didn't flinch, presumably absorbing the kinetic force of the
blow to fuel up her own strength.  She sped forward to engage the bronze
thing, but when she punched him, it didn't flinch either.  However, Arc drew
back her fist quickly.  Burn marks were on her flesh where she touched him.
Before she could dodge out of the way, the bronze monster grabbed for her.
     Tony Drake leapt between them, bearing the brunt of the damage that
otherwise would have sent Arc to the burn ward.  His clothes caught on fire,
but he wouldn't be injured by the creature's intense heat.  However, it
seemed to be hot enough to inflict pain on the man.
     "Link back up!" shouted the Green Knight.

     Grind shouted into the communicator.  "Teams, retreat!  Get everyone out
of there, Co...Meteor!  Fadeaway, get Scorch!"
     On the monitor, Spiral tried to spin the bald, dusty woman into
unconsciousness, but a tendril of dust snaked forth from the woman, coiling
around Spiral's feet.  As soon as the dust touched, Spiral cried out in pain
and fell to the ground.
     A streak of green and gold snapped up Spiral and carried her off, away
from the dust tendril.
     "Llyr, can you blind them from here?" shouted Grind.  "Llyr?"
     But Llyr had already gone.
     "Look!" said Burnout.
     On screen, a yellow photonic being streaked towards the Jardin Exotique,
manifesting hard-light hooks to drag the unconscious Lightfoot and Conflicto
out of harm's way.
     Off to the side, a ghostly figure pulled Scorch out of the dirt.
Fadeaway had rescued him from beneath the pile of porcelain clones.
     Challenger grabbed Arc and helped her away, spraying plastiskin on her
     The rescues left only Tony Drake and Tiara in their power.
     Sultry's eyes cackled with electricity, and storm clouds began to form
over Monaco.  "Let me fry them."
     "What about Tony and Tiara?" asked the Green Knight.
     "We leave them, for now," said Grind.  "Tony can take the punishment,
and they could have killed Tiara...but didn't."
     "You can't be serious!" said Sal.
     "They're not all we're up against," said Grind.  "Look."  He called up
subscreens, showing all manner of strange events: a column of Nazi panzers
rolling into Poland, a massive fleet of what looked to be ancient Chinese
ships approaching modern-day Japan, and most ominously, a simple tear in the
sky that vented foul gases over Dallas.
     On the main screen, Tony Drake finally slipped from the bronze
creature's grasp, but stumbled to the edge of the cliff overlooking the city.
He teetered and fell.
     "No!" shouted Sal.
     A streak of yellow light sped and caught Tony Drake by the hands, and
lifted him skyward.
     The one in the cloak of light and shadow gestured, and a lance of
crystallized shadow shot forth from his hand towards Llyr.
     The deadly bolt skewered the man made of light.
     Llyr turned back to flesh, Tony Drake slipping from his hands, and the
two of them tumbled towards the ground....




     The fight against the four mystery foes continues in ASH #78, "Four to
Never Lap 3: Time Slips"!
     Then the crisis comes to a head in CSV #28, "Four to Never Lap 4: Time


Authors' Notes:


     [Tony has no comments this time.  I will point you to his Livejournal,
http://wistling.livejournal.com, for updates on his other writing, though.]


     Because of some things I came up with as I was writing ASH #77, I needed
to add a few segments to the already-written CSV #27, in addition to the
minor blanks Tony left me to fill in as far as descriptions went (which
turned out to be unnecessary, since I didn't describe the sarcophagus
locations in enough detail to contradict anything).  Hence the cowriting
credit at the start, rather than just co-plotting.  :)
     In ASH #77, I didn't want to label the strands, in order to preserve
some sense of mystery about what the heck was going on.  Instead, I kept the
viewpoint consistent within each strand, so here's the key to that: strand 1
was Dice Kynes, strand 2 was Arc, strand 3 was Conflicto, and strand 4 was
Ursula.  This issue, since the strands were explicitly labeled, we didn't
need to stick to those viewpoints.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !


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