ASH: Coherent Super-Stories #3 - Turbulence

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sun Jun 17 16:14:02 PDT 2007

     Cover shows Dragonfly in a view from above.  He's falling towards the
city below, his wings tattered and his costume shredded.  A few hawk feathers
also swirl around near him, but Ladyhawke herself is nowhere to be seen.

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #3 - Turbulence
        Featuring Dragonfly               copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[May 12, 1974 - Detroit, MI]

     Even from where I was flying, I could hear something snap as the man in
the green outfit was thrown against a wall by Graybar.  A career criminal
turned into living pigiron by the experiments of an unscrupulous prison
doctor, Graybar had clearly only been annoyed by the sword I could see
glinting from among the rubbish in the alleyway.
     And he was expressing his annoyance in the only way he knew to express
anything...with his fists.
     "Everyone...has a weak spot!" I heard the man in green gasp as I dove
towards the fight.  He pulled out some sort of dagger-looking thing from out
of a chop-socky movie and jammed it into Graybar's ear.
     The once and future inmate howled in pain and lashed out, but this time
his opponent was actually able to evade the blow.  Good thing, since when it
connected with a nearby wall, it crushed a foot of cinderblock.
     "Some more than others, mister," I quipped as I finally reached the pair
and grabbed the man in green, pulling him out of harm's way.  Even being
careful about likely broken bones, I could see him grit his teeth in pain.
     "Dragonfly!" he said, a trace of awe mixing with the pain in his voice.
"I've been...ow...hoping to run into you!  I'm Weapons Master."
     "Good to see another new face," I replied, setting him carefully on a
rooftop.  "Haven't been a lot of newbies lately."  In fact, while a couple of
heroes would surface a little later, Weapons Master was the last one to start
a career in the so-called Second Heroic Age, as near as anyone could tell.
Of course, two years ago when this all happened I didn't know that.
"Would've been one less newbie if I hadn't come along, though.  You really
know how to pick a fight, Weapons Master."
     "I'd have...oog," he swayed a little.  "Okay, maybe I wouldn't have.
Who was that guy, anyway?  Other than big and tough?"
     "He goes by Graybar, as in graybar hotel.  I've got a little something
that should take care of him, though...been saving it for a different dance
partner of mine, but it should work," I pulled out a small box and peeled
away a strip of paper from one side.  "YOU stay HERE," I pointed to the
rooftop's gravel for emphasis.
     Taking to the air, I could see that Graybar had recovered from that
ear-poke trick and was starting to run away with the bags he'd stolen from,
well, wherever Weapons Master had caught him being a badguy.  Unlike
Powerhouse, Graybar wasn't quite smart enough to realize that as soon as I
showed up, the smart move was to go into the sewers.  Or maybe he just
worried he'd sink.  Either way, he was a sitting duck.
     "Heya, big guy!  Come on up, the view's great!" I mocked as I swooped in
and used my tail laser to cut away the bags where he was holding them.  They
dropped, spilling a large number of what looked to be portable 8-track
players.  "Huh," I said as Graybar turned around and snarled at me.  "I
prefer vinyl myself.  Warmer sound."
     "Go eat a bug, hero!" Graybar shouted.  "Yer lightshow can't hurt me any
more'n that punk's pigstickers."
     "Oh, I know that.  You're not the only invulnerable skel out there,
though, and I used to be a Boy Scout.  Be prepared!"
     With that, I dove down, narrowly avoiding his flailing fists, and
slapped my special package on the small of his back.  Right where he couldn't
reach it.
     The telltales on the box started to blink.
     "What was that?  A limpet mine?  HA!  I eat anti-tank shells fer
breakfast!" Graybar boasted.
     "Yes and no.  Limpet mine, more or less.  But not the exploding kind."
     "Huh?  What's that suppo...HEY!  Let me down!" Graybar shouted as he
started to float up into the air.
     "Antigravity limpet mine.  Now you'll just drift there until someone
comes along with your special magnetic restraints...I've already called the
police, so you shouldn't have long to wait.  Ta!"
     And, as Graybar tried in vain to reach the limpet with his overmuscled
arms, I went back to check on Weapons Master.
     "That was cool," he said, nodding towards the floating criminal.  "I
don't suppose I could get some of those from you?"
     "Actually, that might not be a bad idea," I nodded.  "First, though,
what's your power?  Or powers...innate knowledge of weaponry or something?"
     Weapons Master shook his head, wincing at the pain the motion caused.
"No powers.  Just a lot of training under Eastern masters of the esoteric
fighting arts.  And, fortunately, some training in dealing with pain," he
added, fishing a roll of medical tape out of one of his beltpouches.  "Mind
helping me tape up these ribs?  Pretty sure Graybar cracked one."
     Nodding, I went to work on the first aid.  Lord knew I'd done it enough
for Amy, and she for me, over the years.  "There could be a problem, though.
If you really don't have powers, you might not be able to make my gadgets
     "How so?"
     "Well, I've been doing this for a while, and while I'm not sure yet how
it all works, it seems like people with powers have something special going
on for us in general.  We can make stuff work that shouldn't.  For instance,
I've tried lending my flight harness to regular folks before, and it either
works poorly or not at all.  And some people...just being *near* 'em makes my
gear break."  No need to go into details of how I knew, or throw out the
technical jargon being developed by people like Wilson Blair, Lady Lawful's
husband.  "But you're definitely going to need an edge against people like
Graybar, people who aren't cuttable."
     "I've got a few other tricks up my sleeve for that," Weapons Master
grinned.  "Unfortunately, most of them don't work so well when my opponent is
ten times heavier than I am...."
     "Well, *that* I can help you equalize," I grinned behind my helmet,
jerking a thumb towards the still floating-and-cursing Graybar....

               *              *              *              *

[September 29, 1974 - Lansing, MI]

     "Okay, how did Bingo get loose?" Ladyhawke asked as we swooped over the
Potter Park Zoo.  Fortunately, we'd both been on campus and had the radio on,
so we caught the news right away and had manageed to get out to the nearby
zoo before things had gotten totally out of hand.
     "I don't think that's Bingo," I pointed out.  "My Z-tector is going
nuts.  That may look like an elephant, but it's almost definitely one of
Quixote's aliens!"
     "Well, I hope Bingo's okay then," Ladyhawke frowned.  The zoo had gotten
Bingo, its first elephant, only a couple years ago, and it was something of a
local celebrity.
     "We can check on that later.  Now we need to keep our pal from Dimension
Z from hurting take snatch and grab, I'll see if any of my
weapons can stop 'Zingo' here."
     Ladyhawke nodded and started diving low over the small Sunday afternoon
crowd to help get the small and the slow out of harm's way.  "Too bad we
don't have Quixote's magic sword here," she added over our radio link,
setting a child down while I tried burning the Z-lian's hide with my laser.
     "I don't know if we'd want that this time," I replied.  "It makes the
Z-lians permanently assume their false form while killing 'em, and then we'd
have to explain the dead elephant.  Not everyone believes in Dimension Z yet,
after all."  In fact, most didn't.  Even most of the other heroes thought I
was nuts for believing in Quixote's least Lady Lawful believed
me, but she'd retired the month before and wouldn't be much help now.  "We
have to stop it AND make it assume its true form, if we can."
     "Lotsa luck with you go, sir," Ladyhawke split her attention
between me and the old man she was rescuing.
     "Let's see if you like to fly," I dropped down and tossed one of my new
antigrav stingers at Zingo, a more throwable version of the limpet I'd used
on Graybar a few months prior.  Demonstrating both impressive agility and
quite a bit of intelligence for an elephant, it turned and swatted the
stinger away before it could land on the beast's body.  It hit a trashcan
with a gluey CLANG, and the can started to drift upward.
     "But I think I will have seen everything, when I see an elephant fly..."
Ladyhawke sang over the commlink.  "Maybe I could lend you my magic feather?"
she joked. 
     "Okay, Plan C," I sighed...

     In the end (and after I'd gotten to Plan G), no one died or was even
seriously hurt, but Zingo fled back to Dimension Z where we couldn't follow.
     Not that it would have been a really good idea to have tried, as we
later found out.

               *              *              *              *

[February 2, 1975 - Saginaw, MI]

     In the temporary solitude of a warehouse rooftop, Amy splinted my left
arm.  Definitely broken this time, but at least we'd cultivated a reputation
around campus for engaging in high-risk sports, so it wouldn't be too hard to
explain how a professor got his arm busted.
     I'd just leave out the part about the robots.
     "Is it just me, or was Antiochus V not really trying that time?" Amy
frowned as she tightened a bandage around the splint.
     "Would you rather he tore my arm off entirely?" I winced.
     "No!" she scowled.  "I mean, though...what was up with this one?  Even
his first couple of shots at world domination were better thought out than
this one.  It's almost like he's, I dunno, BORED with it all.  Just going
through the motions."
     I sighed, moving my arm a little at the shoulder to make sure nothing
else had been broken by the impact.  "Sometimes, I think we all are these
days.  It's just anymore."
     "Would it have been more fun if he did tear your arm off?" she shot
     "No, no...but don't tell me this all isn't feeling more like a job.  I
know I'm actually looking forward to giving my big classroom lectures now,
because it means there's at least that hour where I'm out of touch and can't
hear about something that needs Dragonfly."
     Amy sighed as well.  "Maybe I'm not *that* bad off, but yeah.  I mean,
we're doing good.  And I think we're really making progress proving that
Dimension Z is real, which could end up saving the whole world if Quixote's
right about their intentions.  But.'s not as fun anymore, no.  Even
the flying isn't.  The novelty's worn off, and I never thought I'd say that.
Ha!  Flying becoming boring and run of the mill!  But it's the few times we
get to do *normal* couple things these days that I really look forward to.
Shopping for furniture.  A quiet evening out at the movies.  Hell, yardwork
is more appealing than this," she gestured around the rooftop.
     I chuckled wanly.  "As much as it scares me, I have to admit you're
right.  Weeding the yard looks pretty attractive right now, although I'll
have to wait for this to heal," I nodded at my arm.  
     "Shirker.  Why, my granddaddy plowed the back forty with both arms
broken and a case of rubella!"
     "I thought both of your granddaddies were shopkeepers."
     "They were.  But one of 'em supplied his own shelves with produce,
according to how he told it anyway," Amy smirked, then pulled her cowl back
up.  "Come on, police should be showing up any minute now, we don't need
anyone knowing Dragonfly got a broken arm the same day Bobby Baines busted a
wing...what, rollerskating?"
     "Rock climbing, this time, I think...."

               *              *              *              *

[October 30, 1975 - Detroit, MI]

     In retrospect, testing the Z-ruptor on Devil's Night could be considered
Asking For It.
     Oh, it worked.  It worked great.  The Z-tector told me there was a
Z-lian in the area, so I sent out the cancellation pulse derived from my
analysis of the waves given off by Don Quixote's sword.  It seemed simple
enough: if the sword forced its target to permanently become that which it
was disguised as, some sort of inversion of that effect would turn the
disguise off.  There were five distinct Fourier transforms that seemed
promising once I'd studied the waves, and...well, no need to bore you with
more details.  I used 'em all, just in case.
     Thing is, we didn't really expect there to be half a dozen Z-lians in
the middle of downtown.
     Nor did we expect them to be so BIG.
     "Faster, Don!  Two of 'em are catching up!" Ladyhawke shouted over the
rushing wind.  Quixote's modified muscle car was fast, but so were the giant
aliens, and they weren't nearly as concerned about things like traffic or
lampposts or pedestrians.  She and I could have escaped easily enough, as far
as we could tell the undisguised Z-lians couldn't fly.  But we needed to run
interference for Don and Sancho, and try to keep innocents out of harm's
     Besides, while they were definitely smart enough to know I was behind
the Z-ruptor, Don Quixote was their ancestral foe...they were really after
him.  Me, they'd save for later if I ran.
     "I am letting them, my friend," Quixote replied over radio.  I suppose I
shouldn't have been surprised that he had the private and scrambled frequency
Ladyhawke and I used.  We'd been working together on and off for months,
after all.  "But we're almost to the right spot."
     "What...oh, I see!  The WJBK studio!" Ladyhawke realized.  "You want
them caught on camera!"
     "Exactly.  I have a trick under my hood that should let us defeat these
two, but I want them in position first," Don Quixote replied, grunting as
Sancho pulled them tightly around a corner.  "Sadly, it will not fool them
twice, so we will have to flee in earnest once we have accomplished this
     Moments later, the big green TV2 logo came into view.  I could see a
camera crew stumbling out onto the street, no doubt alerted to the chase by
panicked phone calls by people along our route.  
     "We're live!" I shouted.
     "And IN the air!" Don Quixote whooped.  "Do it, Sancho!"
     With a roar, the gold and red car leapt off the road, extending stubby
wings made of memory plastic for guidance.  "I hope you do not mind my
borrowing some of your technology, Dragonfly!" Quixote apologized as the car
executed a loop that put it right over one of the giants.
     As the giant paused in stunned surprise, Quixote jumped from the
passenger side, driving his sword right between the invader's eyes.  Before
his target could begin to fall, Sancho buzzed the other, distracting it just
long enough for Quixote to trigger an antigravity belt much like the one I'd
made for Weapons Master and bound over to the other giant.
     All was silent for a moment as the two titanic aliens slowly toppled to
the street.
     A collective gasp went up, and I could hear someone shout, "DAMN!  He's
not crazy after all!"
     "Ah, sweet vindication," Quixote said over the radio as he jumped back
into his car.  "Now, if we can just live long enough to savor it.  Let us

               *              *              *              *

[October 31, 1975 - Detroit, MI]

     It felt rotten to be in hiding while the city burned, but there were a
lot more Z-lians out there than even Quixote had suspected, and they'd all
pretty much given up on disguise.  We needed a plan, and we needed allies.
     We'd run into Weapons Master on the way from the TV station, and I'd
managed to find a phone and call Delta Rose, but I couldn't get in touch with
anyone else I knew in the superhero community.  To judge from the news on the
radio, though, Detroit wasn't the only place with Z-lians popping out of the
woodwork and going on a rampage.
     "This place should be safe enough for now," Don Quixote assured us,
opening the door of a warehouse.  "I own it indirectly through several shell
layers, so no one should suspect I'd be here.  We can plan here, and wait for
Senorita Rose to arrive."
     "Just the five of us against all of those, though?" Weapons Master
raised an eyebrow.  "Sorry, Sancho...just the six of us?"  Don Quixote's
driver and partner didn't seem bothered by the omission.  He seemed to prefer
being ignored...maybe he still just found the job a little embarrassing even
     "Seven," came a voice from inside the warehouse.
     "Quien?" Quixote drew his sword and hit the lightswitch by the door.
     Standing in the middle of the half-empty building was one of the more
incongruous things I'd seen that day, and it was already an odd day.  She had
long black hair and a definite Latin cast to her features.  Maybe South
American.  But her garb was that of some sort of Wagnerian character, better
suited to someone with much paler skin, preferably with blond hair and blue
eyes to go along with it.  In one hand she held a massive spear with a wavy
bladed tip, and in the other a shimmering shield with a golden face embossed
on it.
     "You may call me Valkyrie," she answered, a faint hispanic accent to her
speech.  "And I have been fighting these giants in my own way for some years
now, on the other side of the wall between worlds, at the behest of my lord,
Odin.  While I cannot tell you all I know, what I will tell you is vital to
defeating them and keeping them from destroying this world!"

               *              *              *              *

[October 31, 1975 - wilderness, Dimension Z]

     Dimension Z was a real hole.  Literally, in some respects.  
     Our own reality is, in theory, infinite.  In practice, there's only a
finite amount of stuff filling it up, so anything beyond the farthest reaches
doesn't really matter, but the empty space is there if you want it.  And the
volume filled with stuff is always expanding.
     Dimension Z takes that idea and turns it inside out.  The ground you
walk on is the boundary of the universe.  "Up" is towards the center, and we
were told that at night you could even see across to the other side.
Periodically, the world would shrink just a little, compressing the air and
making it catch fire at the center, creating a temporary Sun that cast a wan
and unfriendly light over all the land.  The shrinkage also made the land
itself crumple into ever-taller mountain peaks, and the oceans flowed in
between them, splitting the world into a vast network of fjords...a landscape
that fit the harsh cold of the world.
     "If it weren't for the fact everything looks like it's in a bowl, I'd
feel right at home," Delta Rose sighed as we all flew over a stretch of sea.
Valkyrie's rune gate had put is near where we needed to be, but she claimed
that the defensive magics of the Z-lians kept her from dropping us right in
their midst.
     "So, you're Norwegian?" Weapons Master asked, drifting alongside me.
Gravity was just a little weaker here, so his jump belt let him stay airborne
as long as someone towed him.  Quixote and Sancho were being pulled along by
Ladyhawke and Delta Rose, while Valkyrie was using some sort of magic to fly
along with us.
     Delta Rose's mask crinkled up with a smile.  "Something like that," she
replied.  "Mountains, wind, cold...I wonder if the Z-lians are interested in
renting out for vacation homes?"
     "They're more interested in a little real estate deal in Michigan,"
Valkyrie replied.  I'd finally managed to place her accent as Argentinian.
Given the political problems I've heard of happening down there, it wasn't
surprising to find someone from there so far from home.  She hadn't, however,
explained how she'd ended up working for a Norse god, and didn't seem
inclined to go into her personal life.  "This world shrinks a little bit
every day.  Soon it will begin to heat up, as the distance from ground to sun
gets smaller and smaller.  The mountains will get too tall to sustain
themselves, and will crumble.  The world will break and all in it will die.
Before that happens, the inhabitants hope to use what they call a Dimensional
Inverter to save themselves.  This unnatural mix of science and magic will
require a great deal of spiritual energy to power, so I do not believe that
can attempt using it more than once...if we can destroy or even disrupt it
now, it will save millions in Midgard."
     "Couldn't we work something out with them?" Ladyhawke asked.  "From what
you told us, this whole dimension is about the size of a medium state.  We
could help them invert the dimension somewhere else, where it wouldn't land
on top of human cities."
     Valkyrie shook her head.  "These...creatures...come from a lineage older
than humanity, and are full of wild hatred for us.  They do not merely seek
to save themselves, they wish to destroy us.  Destroying Detroit and all the
land around it would only be the first step.  Their ocean would flood the
Great Lakes and kill millions more.  They would ride it down the St. Lawrence
Seaway and conquer the most populous portions of Canada before taking the
Eastern Seaboard.  And their agents in San Francisco are prepared to use
mighty earth magics in conjunction with the shock of the inversion to trigger
quakes that would destroy much of the Western Seaboard.  As Don Quixote has
discovered on his own, they have also sought to assassinate key persons who
they thought could organize government and industrial response to their
     Daylight dimmed slightly.
     "The Sun's going out!" Weapons Master's eyes went wide.
     "Day's end," Valkyrie nodded.  "We are almost to the complex where the
Dimensional Inverter is kept.  Darkness will help cover our entry, and the
fact that much of their might is in Midgard preparing the way will also aid
us.  But these are canny old giants, masters of both magic and science.  If
we fail, we will not be granted a second chance."  After an ominous pause,
she added, "Nor will Earth."

               *              *              *              *

[October 31, 1975 - Dimensional Inverter, Dimension Z]

     The door slammed shut.
     "I didn't see anyone out in the hall," Sancho grunted.  "We probably got
a couple minutes."
     "Have you deciphered the controls?" Valkyrie asked, sketching a rune on
the door that was doubtless intended to reinforce it against any Z-lians who
might be coming.
     "I think so," I nodded.
     "These guys bought some second-hand T!rir systems through a Pranir
trader," Delta Rose pointed out.  "There's a lot of their own operating stuff
loaded on top of it, but between the two of us I think we've got it
     "Hashed out," Ladyhawke muttered.
     "The good news is, the Dimensional Inverter is designed to use the
natural universal contraction at 'dawn' to run things.  If we can turn it on
before dawn, all it'll do is shred the immediate vicinity.  Blow itself and
this complex up really good." 
     "Then fire it up!" Weapons Master insisted, pulling one of his depleted
antigrav spikes out of a fallen Z-lian.
     "And then there's the bad news," Delta Rose frowned behind her mask.
"The magic part of it requires someone here to operate it.  Might be a
failsafe, might just be a design flaw that they never saw a need to fix."
     "I could probably find a way around it if I had, oh, an hour or two," I
said immodestly, "but even I can't pull it off in the time we have left
before enough Z-boys show up to break down the door and take us down.  It's
times like this I wish Ladyhawke and I still used atomic power packs, I could
probably rig a mini-nuke to blow this room up."
     "No, switching to batteries was the right move," Ladyhawke shook her
head.  "Antiochus V got way too close to cracking my containment back in late
     Don Quixote quirked an eyebrow.  "I will not ask how you even acquired
such things in the first place.  But, if one must stay behind to activate the
device, it shall be me."
     "No, boss, I'll do it," Sancho insisted.
     Quixote held up a hand.  "I know where this is about to go.  Everyone
will volunteer, pointing out why they are the most expendable, or the most
likely to succeed if left alone.  But that is all missing the heart of the
     He unstrapped his sword and handed it to Sancho.  "You have all been a
great help as allies in this battle, but it has been my family's sacred trust
for over five hundred years to face these giants.  I have known since my
father left me this sword that I might die in prosecution of my duties, and
have always lived my life prepared for such an ending.  Sancho...Joaquim...
you know what to do.  It will be easy enough to have me declared dead as just
another casualty of the brutal invasion.  I trust you to decide which of my
children to trust with the blade, should my actions today be insufficient to
stop the giants for all time."
     Sancho hung the blade reverently from his own belt and nodded sadly.
     "Dragonfly, each have the other to live for," Quixote
declared.  "Go home and help the world rebuild.  Delta Rose, Weapons Master,
I know you think you are also prepared to die, but I know enough about how
this mad world works to say with confidence that you could not make the
device function.  My faithful Sancho is also, sadly, a normal man, if brave.
Bravery enough is not sufficient to the task.  And Senorita
might have as strong a claim as I do in this matter, but I can see in your
eyes that you have your own geas that you may not yet lay down."
     "We'll...make sure the world knows what you did, Don," I promised.
     "HA!  Do that, my friend!  And tell all who will listen...tilting at
windmills may be a fool's errand, but for some errands only a fool will do!"

               *              *              *              *

[November 12, 1975 - Lansing, MI]

     There was a knock at the door.
     "I've got it, honey," I shouted up the stairs as I limped to the foyer.
I'd gotten beaten around quite a bit in the aftermath of the Z-invasion.
Valkyrie had had no problem erecting her rune gate out of the complex, and
we'd escaped just ahead of Don Quixote bringing the whole place down around
himself.  But that dropped us back into a city swarming with dozens of angry
giants who knew they'd lost and meant to take out their frustrations on
humanity before retreating.  I couldn't remember getting hit in the leg hard
enough to still hurt weeks later, but it had been a hectic day.
     "Coming," I said as the knock was repeated.  I opened the door.
     "May I come in?" Bennett Rush asked.
     "Of course," I nodded, pulling the door wide and motioning for him to
enter.  The storm door banged hollowly behind him, and I made sure it has
latched before closing the main door.  It was windy out, and I didn't want
the outer door banging around.
     "Things finally settling down?" I asked as Bennett walked into the
living room and slumped down on the couch.  "Honey, Ben's here!"
     "Pretty much," Agent Rush nodded.  "No more Z-lians around as far as
anyone can tell.  It looks like Union Label will survive, but he's told his
DSHA contact that he and Flower Power are retiring for good now.  Ford's
signed some emergency orders that are helping with the rebuilding, but
Detroit's gonna have a hard winter ahead of it, a lot of people are being
temporarily relocated to Akron and Flint.  I hear at least a hundred thousand
are just giving up on the rust belt entirely and spreading out across the
     "Sounds like things are going as well as can be expected," Amy said as
she came into the room.  She still had a bandage on her forehead from where a
bit of debris creased her brow, but she'd otherwise gotten out of it pretty
well.  Weapons Master was still in the least Rush had managed
to keep them from unmasking him.  "So why the glum look?"
     "Personal crash and burn.  It hasn't made the news, what with bigger
stuff going on, but it'll come up eventually.  Especially since the Senator
in question's up for re-election next year," Rush frowned.
     "Oh, THAT doesn't sound good.  You piss in someone's Wheaties?" Amy
     "So to speak.  I've...been involved with a married woman.  Your basic
Washington trophy wife."
     "Oh, hell," I hissed.  "And you got caught?"
     "Not exactly," Rush made a sour expression.  "Trish nearly got killed
during the invasion, got missed by a bit of flying building by a few yards.
She got all scared about the state of her soul and confessed everything to
the Senator.  Now he wants my balls on a spit, but since I'm one of the
heroes of Halloween thanks to my 'selfless duty' against the Z-lians, he
can't have 'em.  So he's settled for the old Roman trick, 'Let him be
promoted and thereby removed.'  I'm now in charge of our supertech depot in
Nevada, Warehouse 51.  On paper it's a promotion, but it gets me out of the
field, out of Washington, and out of the Senator's sight.  It also means you
two are getting a new liaison, and don't bet on the Senator not trying to get
back at me more by appointing someone unfriendly.  Make your life hard just
to get a little petty shot in at me.  You might want to consider retiring...
there's a lot of that going around anyway.  Not so many supervillains around
anymore, and several of 'em got killed off by the Z-lians as possible rivals.
A couple died trying to save their cities, in fact.  Maybe they weren't such
bad guys after all, maybe they just wanted to keep the turf to themselves.  I
think Graybar was just being really don't want to see what they
did to him."
     "I'll think about it, Ben," I nodded.  "I'm out of action until my leg
heals up anyway, and Amy's still getting dizzy from her head wound, so she's
not good to fly.  Sorry about your promotion, though.  I know how it feels,
to be honest.  Not the getting caught cheating thing," I hastily clarified,
looking at Amy, "but sometimes the worst thing that can happen to someone in
my sort of day job is to get promoted to administration.  A lot of my older
colleagues miss doing the actual work they trained for, they spend all their
time managing grants and herding grad students.  The fact that your promotion
is clearly meant to be punishment only makes it worse."
     "Maybe it's time we settled down and thought about having a family," Amy
sighed.  Joaquim Panza, AKA "Sancho", had introduced us to Don Quixote's wife
and kids the other day.  The story for now was that we'd been too late to
save him from a Z-lian...they'd get told the truth eventually.  I was pretty
sure Mrs. Quixano knew already, but the kids were too young yet.  In any
case, meeting the kids had gotten Amy thinking about our own legacy.
     "You might want to do that.  From what I hear, it's too late for Union
Label and Flower Power to do that now, given the nature of his injuries,"
Bennett frowned.  "Anyway, fair probably won't see me again for
a long time, unless you have business out in Nevada.  Senators have long
terms and longer memories, I don't think I'll be back out in the field

               *              *              *              *

[January 1, 1976 - Lansing MI]

     It was a new year, full of new hope.  The Bicentennial.  Two hundred
years of America, and everyone was looking forward to finishing up the
rebuilding and moving forward into a glorious third century.
     Of course, you know how disappointingly that turned out.  We didn't go
back to the Moon.  There were a few more flags around than usual, but the
only big thing to happen on July 4th was...well, where you came in on my
little story.  Antiochus V and his robot army marching on the Mall in
Washington today.
     But, on a personal level, the hopes of the year got dashed against the
rocks pretty much right away.
     "Bobby, phone for you.  It's the doctor," Amy said in a worried tone.
My leg hadn't gotten any better, so I'd seen a doctor.  Then another.  Then a
specialist.  Then...most oncologist.  A cancer doctor.  And if
he was calling on New Year's Day...?
     The conversation was short, to the point, and hit me harder than
Powerhouse's diamond fists.  I hung up, feeling my stomach clench.
     "Bad news," Amy said flatly.
     I nodded.  "Bone cancer in my leg.  He thinks he can save my life, but
he has to operate immediately."  I paused, not wanting to say the next word,
but Amy deserved to know.  "Amputate."


Next Issue:

     Dragonfly's story comes to an end, as he comes in for a "Hard Landing"! 


Author's Notes:

     And here we see the other half of my answer to the question, "Why isn't
a world with superhumans completely unrecognizable after a generation?"
After all, with all the super-scientists running around in the 60s and 70s,
you'd expect that everyone would have jetpacks and personal robots by the 90s
(well, everyone with enough cash).  
     The Magene is the first half of my answer, but it doesn't completely
deal with the issue.  After all, just because Joe Normal can't use
Dragonfly's flight pack doesn't mean he can't benefit in some indirect way.
In Watchmen, for instance, the country has moved to an electric car economy
in part because Doctor Manhattan was able to create enough lithium to make
high density batteries economical.  So, maybe Quality Motors can't sell a car
that uses Widget X due to its supertech nature, but what if Widget X isn't
something they sell, it's something they use to make manufacturing cheaper
and faster?  Then they only need a couple of people capable of making Widget
X work, and everyone benefits.  And what if Beacon had made more of his work
on lasers public?  The ASH Universe might have skipped 8-tracks entirely and
gone to CDs in the 1970s.  
     The other half of the answer is events like the invasion from Dimension
Z.  Sure, there's lots of indirect benefits of having superhumans around, but
there's also lots of direct penalties.  A few details may be shuffled about,
but for the most part things develop at about the same average rate in the
ASH Universe as in real history, at least up until the mid 1990s.  For every
normal-usable advance there's also an invasion or half-successful doomsday
device to deal with.  People who are directly involved in construction or
manufacturing would notice more of the differences in worlds, but the average
person living in a city without heavy superhuman activity would see things
pretty much the same as in the real world.  Maybe their TV was built using
highly advanced tech, but it costs the same because of the rebuilding cost
hidden in everything.  Maybe they get slightly better gas mileage, but the
fact that Devastator blew up that refinery means their total fuel budget is
going to be the same.  And so forth.
     On the plus side, this also meant that when the big disaster hit in
1998, the world was already somewhat accustomed to the cycle of destruction
and recovery.  Losing 2/3 of the world's population in one stroke would
pretty much end civilization for centuries if not permanently in the real
world, but in the ASH universe it was just a bigger version of what they were
already geared up to deal with.  A critical blow, but not a fatal one.

     Thanks to Wikipedia for little things like Detroit TV stations in the
1970s and the bit about Bingo at the Potter Park Zoo (I've been to the zoo,
but if Bingo was still alive in 2001, I don't remember seeing him).
     I came up with the bit for how Dimension Z's Sun worked as I was writing
the scene in which I mention it...I'd initially planned to have "their Sun
will also be tossed into low Earth orbit" as part of the looming disaster,
but I liked the compression-ignition idea better once I had it.  :) The
contracting universe also helped tie several other things together, and I ran
with it.  Look for the upcoming CSS Sourcebook (to be posted after CSS #4)
for a bit more about the secrets behind Dimension Z.


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and more, go to !

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