ASH: Coherent Super-Stories #4 - Hard Landing

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Jun 28 11:57:48 PDT 2007

     The cover shows Dragonfly and Ladyhawke standing at the grave of Robert
"Bobby" Baines.  Instead of the normal dates of birth and death, the
headstone simply says, "THE END OF AN ERA".

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #4 - Hard Landing
        Featuring Dragonfly               copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen

[January 8, 1976 - Lansing, MI]

     Everything was wrapped in a sort of padding made of equal parts mist and
pain.  Modern amputation wasn't the sort of hacksaw nightmare of Civil War
battlefields, but even with the best anaethesia and surgical skill, loss of a
limb HURTS.  Below mid-thigh, my left leg was just gone.
     The doctors told me the main tumor was in my shin, but there was some
spreading already, and they had to take part of the femur to be on the safe
side.  They also told me to expect "phantom limb" sensations.
     I think I giggled something about Fantom while I was still pretty doped
     "Bobby?" Amy's face appeared in the door, a nurse behind her.
     "H'Am," I slurred, as close as I could get to "Hi, Amy."
     "Just a few minutes," the nurse warned Amy.  "He shouldn't try to force
himself to stay awake for too long right now."
     Amy nodded and entered, sitting at the chair next to my bed.
     "You didn't embarrass yourself," was the first thing she said, and a
knot in my belly unclenched.  That was our agreed-upon code.  It meant that I
didn't say anything under anaesthesia that would give away our superheroic
identities.  "The surgeon did ask what you meant about 'ghostworld,' but I
told him about that haunted house in Ann Arbor."
     I nodded.  At least, I tried to.  I'd first met Fantom as Bobby Baines,
not as Dragonfly, so that was safe enough.  "An'yu?" I mumbled.
     She nodded.  "There's good news, and...guardedly good news, I suppose,"
she smiled.  "The good news is, I'm clean as far as the oncologist can figure
out.  Granted, they can't test for every kind of cancer before it happens,
but I have no lumps or shadows or weird blood markers that he can find.  And
he was pretty sure that the sorts of cancer I might have gotten from those
mini-nukes...I did tell him we did some AEC-sanctioned work at the lab...
would have shown up by now."
     "Well, I checked with an OB/GYN too, what with," she lowered her voice
to a whisper, "where the nuke was strapped," she smirked.  "And...we're
     I couldn't help it.  I smiled.  I could see what she meant by "guarded"
good news, but I really wasn't seeing the downside to this one, as long as
the baby came out healthy.  Oh.  That would be the potential downside.
     She saw my smile come and go.  "Right.  I don't have cancer, but there's
always the chance of birth defects.  I'll need to see my doctor pretty
frequently to make sure we catch anything right away...but at least my health
shouldn't be an issue.  It does mean I'll need to take a bit of a leave of
absence, though."
     Damn right she would.  Dragonfly was definitely out of action for a
while, but now so was Ladyhawke.  The world would just have to do without us
for, oh, a year.
     Too bad the world wouldn't wait that long.

               *              *              *              *

[May 25, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     "Remember, let *me* handle any rough stuff," Weapons Master looked over
his shoulder at me.
     "Eyes on the road," I countered.  My wheelchair was strapped down in the
back of WM's conversion van, and every time he swerved I could feel lunch
trying to come out and sightsee.  Chemotherapy, to be blunt, sucked.  I might
not have been experiencing the full spectrum of negative side effects,
probably because of my superhuman nature, but I was still too subject to
nausea to even *think* of flying.  I had plans on the shelf for a cybernetic
leg I could wear if I ever felt up to suiting up again, but the thought of
barfing inside my helmet tended to keep those plans *on* the shelf.  At least
Amy had had some company with the morning sickness while it lasted.
     "How's the signal?" Weapons Master asked as he focused on the task of
     "Z-tector's still giving me really weird and intermittent readings.  I
don't think we're actually seeing any Z-lian activity here.  Just something
similar.  Maybe there's a Dimension Q out there that's acting up?"
     "As long as they're sliceable, I'm game," I could see his smirk in the
rear view mirror.  "Hey, people are looking sure Ladyhawke's not
coming along on this trip?"
     "Pull over," I ordered, then muttered something about installing a
sunroof in the van.  "Maybe the Q-lians can fly."
     "Does this mean we're gonna have to rename everything with a Q?" he
asked as the van came to a stop, bumping the curb slightly.  Master of
martial arts, not exactly a master of parallel parking.
     Unstrapping as quickly as I could, I rolled the chair to the back of the
van.  Weapons Master was already there, opening the door, but I didn't need a
ramp.  I might not feel up to flying, but I'd already added some hovering
capacity to this wheelchair...just enough to get over bumps or compensate for
the large number of staircases I'd started to actually notice of late.  I
felt like one of those saltshaker-shaped robots in that BBC show.
     "Who's that?" Weapons Master pointed up.  
     I could see a single figure in blazing red armor hovering tentatively
over the city, maybe a hundred yards up.  There was also a strange blur next
to him, as if he were casting a shadow on the air, but it kept moving in ways
a shadow wouldn't.
     "Wow, new supers all over today!" a bystander commented, tearing his
eyes off the sky and looking straight at me.  I wasn't in costume, obviously,
but I figured it'd be best to conceal my identity, so had quickly repainted
an old Dragonfly helmet prototype.  My hovering wheelchair looked weird
enough already, although I had plans to make the same mods to my "regular"
chair and conceal them better.
     "Careful, citizen," Weapons Master said, enjoying the chance to ham it
up a bit.  "We don't know who the flying person is yet.  Mister Q and I are
here to check him out with the Q-tector," he smirked.  Great.  I had a new
     "Attention, flying supernormals!" I shouted, my voice amplified by the
helmet's speakers.  "We would like to talk to you!"  Okay, maybe not the best
idea if they were hostile.  Amy would probably accuse me of gaining a
deathwish when I lost my leg.  But it's not like there was a handbook for
this kind of situation!  And if they were really hostile, they would probably
have already been acting upon that intention by the time we arrived.  They
seemed more confused than anything else.
     The man and his shadow quickly landed next to us.  The shadow rippled
into visibility as a long-haired woman with deeply tanned skin and a somewhat
tattered uniform of some sort.  It looked vaguely like a naval dress uniform,
with a black jacket and lighter pants.  A few discolorations suggested that
there had been patches on the jacket until recently, but they'd been yanked
     As for the man, he was quite imposing.  If he was a man at all.  In that
bulky red armor he could have been anything.  Even a robot.  A yellow and
orange sunburst pattern ran along a stripe on one side, and the helmet seemed
almost insectile.
     "This is going to sound really stupid," the armored figure addressed
me.  The voice was male, at least.  "But what year is this?"
     "It's between 1974 and 1980, I think," the woman frowned, looking at
Weapons Master.  "I don't recognize you at all," she nodded in my direction,
"but I've read about this one," she jerked a thumb at Weapons Master while
facing the armored man.
     "Time travellers?" I asked.  "That would explain the weird readings I'm
getting, I suppose.  I think we should get out of the public eye, though,
before we talk any further."
     "Of course," the armored man nodded.  "Still groggy, not thinking
straight.  Sorry.  Gah, hate time travel," the last was barely audible.

               *              *              *              *

[May 25, 1976 - Lansing, MI]

     It had been a somewhat tight fit in the van, but fortunately it also
kept everyone concealed from prying eyes until we made it back to my house.
In the secret part of the basement where I worked on Dragonfly's and
Ladyhawke's gear, I made introductions.  The armored man had removed his
helmet, revealing a perfectly human face.
     "Amy, these are JakZak Taylor and Jen Kleinvogel, time travellers from
fifty years in the future that we found flying over Detroit.  Well, *a*
future, but I'll get to that in a minute."
     "Is JakZak the sort of thing people are naming their kids in the
future?" Amy quirked an eyebrow.
     JakZak blushed slightly under his deep tan.  "Not exactly.  My parents
named me John Zachary.  JakZak is a nickname...I've probably outgrown it, but
you know, habit..." he trailed off.
     I had no grounds to criticize, given that I still went by "Bobby."  I
decided to rescue him, and broke in, "JakZak, Jen, this is my wife Amy
Baines.  You probably know her from your history books too, if you know this
goofball," I smirked at Weapons Master.
     "Of...course," Jen nodded, clearly biting her tongue.  I could see the
questions in Amy's eyes, bursting to be asked.  Would the baby be okay?
Would *I* be okay?  "Dragonfly and Ladyhawke.  I can see why you retired
about this time," she nodded to Amy's visibly bulging belly.  She was just
into the third trimester now, and everything looked as good as it could be,
     "Well, that answers one question I was trying not to ask," Amy smiled.
"No, I don't need any more details.  I mean, we've never had to deal with
time travellers before, but I've given it some thought, and, well...headaches
     "Actually, it may not matter," I countered.  "Like I said, they're from
*a* future.  They were stuck in the past, and were trying to get back to
2026, but something went wrong and kicked them out here.  They also show up
on the Z-tector..."
     "Q-tector!" Weapons Master grinned.
     "Quiet, you," I frowned.  "Anyway, they show up, but not as Z-lians.
And not steadily.  I think they somehow got diverted into a different
timeline, which kicked them out of whatever means they were using to move
forward.  So our future is no longer their future, and nothing they remember
is guaranteed to happen.  Maybe the divergence point was today, maybe it
happened months ago but they had some sort of 'inertia' that kept them going
for a ways past the splitting point.  I really can't say yet."
     "I do remember that you were involved in some of the early cases of
interdimensional activity," JakZak pointed out.  "I don't suppose you could
help us get back onto the right track?  Once we're in our home timeline, I
could get us the rest of the way home myself, assuming no more divergences,"
he had a sour look, as if he had some idea who was behind the split in time.
And that it was someone other than himself.
     "I might.  That armor you're wearing is full of sensitive electronics,
I'm guessing?  Right.  I could analyze it and get some idea of the signature
of your proper timeline.  Then, with what I learned from the Dimensional
Inverter, I might be able to build something that would just invert a small
volume around you two and pop you back into the right place.  But it'd take a
while, and I'd need to keep the armor with me."
     "Hey, at least we didn't get dumped in the middle ages," Jen smiled.  "I
can stand waiting a while for a trip home.  Especially since we don't have to
keep watching our backs for the others anymore."
     "So...what do we do in the meantime?" JakZak asked.  "I don't think the
IDINS exists yet.  Um, Interdimensional Immigration and Naturalization
Service," he explained.  "Are you even equipped to deal with dimensional
     "Well, the DSHA has some policies, I think.  I still don't have a new
liaison yet, but I could ask Bennett Rush...what?" I asked.  JakZak's and
Jen's faces had gone pale as soon as I mentioned Bennett.  "Oh, damn.  Future
that bad for him?"
     "Let's just say that the late 70s weren't kind to many people in our
line of work," JakZak shrugged.  "Please don't tell him, though.  I'd rather
not mess around with your future until we're sure it's not our future.  This
would be a really bad time to find out that the Many Worlds theory is wrong."
     "Actually, I have an idea for one thing you two could do while we wait,"
Amy smiled.  
     I knew that smile all too well.  It meant she was about to suggest
something totally insane, but in a way that sounded totally reasonable.  I
braced myself.
     "If I *am* retiring for good, it'd be nice if Bobby and I had some
really plausible deniability.  You know, keep any old enemies from tracking
us down a year or two from now and getting some payback.  Jen's about my
size, and assuming JakZak's about as big inside that armor as I think he is,
well, you two could put in a few appearances as Dragonfly and Ladyhawke.
Nothing major, we don't want to divert the timeline, just time it so it's
obviously not me or Bobby in the suits.  Heck, if you can already fly on your
own, it won't even matter if our gear works for you, will it?"

               *              *              *              *

[June 11, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     "TV2 news was first on the scene today after Dragonfly and Ladyhawke
made their first appearance in months," the chirpy anchorwoman reported.  She
was wrong on two counts, but I wasn't going to write the station a letter to
inform them.  Those two weren't really Dragonfly and Ladyhawke, and it was
actually their third outing in our suits.  It was just the first one to hit
paydirt.  And, of course, I had been sitting here in this very public
restaurant, chatting with fellow "pseudoscientists" during a conference when
it all happened.  
     "While they did not stay behind to talk to reporters, the captured
villains Arc Wielder and Wanda had regained consciousness and had a few
things to say to our news team before the police arrived to take them away,
and I quote, 'Man, they got a lot stronger since last year!  Musta been
building new gear.'"  Several at my table snickered at the anchorwoman's flat
delivery of the notoriously foul-mouthed villain's statement.
     "I wonder how many edits they had to make before it could be aired?"
Professor Wilkins smirked.
     "So, you help the local hero with his 'new gear,' Baines?" Professor
Evans asked, arching an eyebrow.
     "Hey, guys...respect the privacy of the mask," I demurred.
     "It's a helmet," Wilkins countered.
     "Same difference.  But if you want to know any more, you'll just have to
wait for my paper tomorrow."  Okay, so I couldn't cut all ties between myself
and Dragonfly, at least not in the eyes of people who knew my research.  But
at least I'd shifted from the wearer to, at most, the builder.  And some
probably thought that the "real" Dragonfly did the heavy intellectual
lifting, and I was just fronting for him.  That rankled a bit, but it also
meant my family was just that little bit safer from vengeance-minded old

               *              *              *              *

[July 4, 1976 - Lansing, MI]

     "So, they teach carpentry in superhero school?" I asked as I rolled out
into the back yard.  JakZak and Jen were well along in building a respectable
storage shed out back, what they were calling their baby shower present to
us.  The house was big enough that I didn't really need the extra space, even
with the two of them as guests, but maybe they were thinking ahead to a
second or third kid.  It was a hopeful thought, think I had enough
years ahead of me that we'd really need the space.
     JakZak put down the hammer and chuckled.  He made a show of wiping
non-existent sweat from his brow, for the benefit of any neighbors watching.
In truth, he was neither particularly tired or hot, given his superhuman
stamina.  "Actually, there is an elective, since some people end up going
into construction trades.  In fact, most kids at 'superhero school' don't end
up in the heroing biz.  But I picked this up," he hefted the hammer, "post
graduation.  Sometimes it's make your own or do without, especially when
you're time-traveling."
     "Guys, come on in!" Amy shouted from the kitchen window.  "You'll want
to see what's on the news!"
     We all knew from her tone that it wasn't some piece of holiday fluff
that was normally midday news fare on the Fourth, and hurried inside.
     "...signal seems to be coming from the mad robot himself, who is not
actually taking over any networks, Sam.  Rather, he's making it available on
every network's standard feeds, and trusting that we'll want to run it," the
reporter's voice could be heard.  On screen was an image right out of my
     Antiochus V was leading rank upon rank of mechanical men up the Mall in
Washington D.C.
     "Okay, *now* he seems to be taking things seriously," Amy muttered.
"So, future-folks, who's gonna show up and stop him?  Obviously, we didn't do
it this time," she patted her belly.
     There was no response.
     "Uh oh," I broke the silence.  "This is a divergence, isn't it?"
     Jen nodded.  "From what I remember from history class, Antiochus V
vanished in 1975 and wasn't seen again until 1993, although there were rumors
he had popped up in the late '80s only to get grabbed by Devastator for
unknown purposes.  By '93, he'd grown himself some sort of semi-organic body,
and ended up giving the Raiders some trouble before vanishing again.  He's
the only 'big bad' of the TwenCen that's still completely unaccounted for in
our time, although it's possible his Lysias-13 bodies were superhuman and,
well...anyway.  No need to go into that."
     "Would this be the divergence that knocked you out of the timestream?
Seems pretty big," Amy noted.
     JakZak shook his head.  "Nope.  Well, maybe the divergence involves
Antiochus, but as far as I know, the timeline would have to have split before
the point where we were kicked out, or *at* that point.  Not after.  No, I
think we caused this one."
     "How so?" I asked, although I had a sinking feeling I knew the answer.
     Jen sighed.  "Antiochus V is your arch-villain.  When we started
masquerading as you two, he probably decided it was worth one more throw
against you before going into hiding for the better part of twenty years.  In
our timeline, you just quietly retired, and he probably figured it best to
focus on his long-term goals.  But with us seeming to be an upgraded version
of Dragonfly and Ladyhawke..."
     "His ego couldn't let him stay in hiding," I nodded.  "I know you two
are tough, but if Antiochus V is bringing an army to play, it's going to take
more than just you.  We're going to have to pull together a team for this.
I'll call Weapons Master and Delta Rose...and I think I can get ahold of
Fantom too."
     The phone rang.  
     "Bet it's Chuck," Amy said, reaching for the receiver.  "Hello?  Who is
this?  Yes, I'm watching the news...WHAT?  How...okay, whatever.  Right.
We'll pick you up on our way out.  Sure."  She hung up, looking a little
     "Not Chuck?" I asked.
     "It was Powerhouse.  He knows our identities, and he says he wants to
help fight Antiochus V.  In fact, he's in Lansing right now, downtown."
     "Fine," I shrugged.  "Weird day all around.  How do we get everyone to
Washington in time to do any good, though?"
     "Just make sure the van's in good shape for a little lift and carry,"
JakZak smiled.  "I might be able to teleport us too, but that's always dicey,
and might screw up my dimensional I'll just haul Chuck's

     Anyway, that brings my story up to the present, where you came in.
JakZak flew everyone out to Washington except Fantom, who was close enough to
get there himself.  Fight on the Mall, "gravity bomb", and so forth.  Near as
anyone could tell, Antiochus V didn't escape this time, although who knows if
he hid a copy somewhere.
     The next part of the story really belongs to JakZak, so I'll let him
tell it.  I can't wait to hear how it turns out.

               *              *              *              *

[July 4, 1976 - Washington D.C.]

     Okay, I was cheating a bit.  Dragonfly never invented a gravity bomb,
all I tossed down was one of his "stinger" weapons.  But, frankly, the
situation was getting out of hand, and trying to play it completely as
Dragonfly would have let too many of the robots loose to rampage around the
nation's capital.  So I just cut loose with a full power gravitational smash.
     "Showing off much?" Jen muttered as she flew close, her gravity sheath
making her hard to see even in the bright sunlight.  Antiochus V's disruptor
pulse had taken out our borrowed tech, and it showed no sign of rebooting on
its own.  That's what you get for using fifty year old stuff.  "I suppose
we're not worrying about divergences anymore, right?" she added.
     I shrugged.  "Divergences might even help us right now, as far as I can
figure.  If this timeline skews farther away from our own, it'll be easier to
tell the difference and send us home."
     "So, why not go whole hog, then?" Jen asked.  "We may not be able to
prevent everything nasty coming down the pipeline, but there's a lot of
things we could fix pretty easily, right?  As long as we're not stuck on
'non-interference' anymore."
     "You've got a point..." I mused.

     "The nation thanks you all," President Ford beamed.  He was a pretty
imposing figure in person, and really didn't deserve the reputation that had
come down through the decades showing him as a klutz.  "There's definitely
going to be some sort of medals in your future, if you'll accept them.  And
if there's anything else I can do...?"
     "Well, Mister President," I ventured, catching myself before I could
call him Chancellor, "there's the little matter of my friend Bennett Rush.  I
don't know if you heard about his situation, but I think he'd serve the
country better out in the field than running a warehouse."
     Ford's eyes darkened slightly.  "Yes, I'm familiar with the case.  Agent
Rush really doesn't deserve to get out of this unpunished, but I do think the
Senator's been a little too eager to see 'justice' done.  I think I can
arrange to get Rush back in the field fairly soon.  I presume you'd like him
to be your liaison again?"
     "We'd appreciate it," Jen nodded.  "It would certainly...lighten our
burden," she suppressed a smile at the private joke.
     "And what about me?" Powerhouse looked at the Secret Service agents
warily.  "Suppose there's anything in the wizard's bag for me?"
     "He did help out a lot here," Weapons Master admitted.  "And for a crook
he's not a bad sort."
     The President hmmmed.  "I'd be the last one to say a pardon's out of the
question, I suppose.  But normally, they're reserved for people who have
served at least some time in prison, to demonstrate their contrition.  After
all, you're not unjustly accused of your crimes, are you?" he asked
     "Most of 'em, no.  I never killed nobody, though, that one's trumped
up," the supervillain insisted.
     "Well, if you turn yourself in, I'll put in a word with the judge, that
should lighten your sentence significantly in addition to any plea bargaining
you manage on your own.  Then, once the election's over one way or another,
we'll see about a pardon too."
     "I guess I'll take it.  I ain't exactly in a great position to tell you
to stuff it, am I?" he looked around at all of us.  He'd taken a big gamble,
coming to Dragonfly to offer his help in the Antiochus V crisis.  Maybe he
figured he could always escape again afterward if he needed to, the real
Dragonfly and Ladyhawke had never managed to catch him.  But he knew Jen and
I weren't the real thing...and we might not be as likely to give up the
chase.  Or as easy to elude.
     "I'd recommend agreeing with the President," I said, smirking behind the
mask.  History showed that in my own timeline, Powerhouse went straight
anyway, at least this way he could do it with a chance at a clean record.
And who knows, maybe he could also get some help with the negative side
effects of his alchemical super-serum...I'd read that withdrawal had nearly
killed him.
     And thinking of who in this era might know something about alchemy gave
me another idea....

               *              *              *              *

[July 10, 1976 - Florence, Italy]

     "Yes, this is clearly the place," the Romanian mage nodded as we came in
for a landing near the crumbling church.  "You say that Iago Montessi was
buried in this graveyard?"
     "Near as I can figure, yes.  Some tales," I temporized, "place his
entombment closer to his estate, but he must have been moved here later, when
the church was founded.  Consecrating the ground on top of him," I nodded to
the faded marker on the church showing it had been built somewhat after when
Montessi "died".
     The Wanderer nodded.  "It would have helped bind him, if what you've
told me about Montessi's successful alchemical transformation is true.  But
this church is falling to neglect...while not deconsecrated yet, its
protective aura is much diminished.  In a generation or two, Montessi may be
able to awaken, if nothing is done."
     "Which is why I've spent the past few days tracking you down and
bringing you here.  Montessi must not rise.  The alchemical transformation
drove him mad, and should he awaken again, the world would suffer."
     "I still do not understand how you know this," the Wanderer arched an
eyebrow.  "From what I have heard of your exploits, you are purely of a
scientific bent, not mystical."
     "Don't let the costume fool you, sir.  I'm filling in for the real
Dragonfly, but I come from a divergent future."
     "One where Montessi was unleashed, I take it," he nodded.  "Very well,
it will be a relatively simple thing for me to create a new binding that will
hold Montessi for another few centuries."
     "Thank you.  There's another matter of concern," I handed him a small
notepad that I'd spent an evening carefully filling.  I wanted to give the
Wanderer enough advance warning of the Godmarket to find a less drastic
solution, but without just blabbing everything.  Allowing divergence is one
thing, triggering an early confrontation with the gods and ending up with a
worse result was another entirely.  "These notes should help you prepare for
another storm that is coming.  You were instrumental in my timeline in
averting complete disaster, but hopefully you could prevent things from going
as far here as they did in my history."
     The Wanderer took the notebook and stowed it in his beltpouch.  "If that
is all, then, I will begin the binding ritual."
     "Oh, one more thing.  Once you're done here, should you end up in
America, there's another alchemist who could use your help, who goes by the
name Powerhouse.  Just a small, personal thing, help a man overcome the pain
caused by his own work."
     The Wanderer smirked.  "You say that as if the pain of one man is less
important than the pain of the world.  Trust me, they are one and the same.
I will do what I can.  You would be surprised at how changing the life of one
soul can change the lives of all.  Or," he paused, giving me a significant
look, "maybe you wouldn't be surprised in the least."
     No, I guess I wouldn't.  Antiochus V, Doublecross and Lord Ebon had
already been dealt with, that just left me one other soul to touch in my
mission to change this world.  
     But not Archangeli...I wasn't going to try that particular life again.
Even if I could find the young Pino, I doubted anything short of death could
bend the branches of that family tree.  And I'd long ago decided I couldn't
take that step.  I'd just have to hope that I could change the world enough
that Lorenzo would never become Rebus.  Or maybe even never be born.
     Still, there was one other person I could save from his own future
without costing me my own soul....

               *              *              *              *

[July 20, 1976 - Lansing, MI]

     "Doctor Baines, I'd like to introduce Eric Harris," I said, ushering the
wide-eyed college student into the small academic office.  Being seen as
Dragonfly in the company of Baines would help solidify the new "explanation"
for any links people might have noticed between the two, which was why I was
doing this in public, and not going back to the Baines house under cover of
     "Hello, Eric," Dr. Baines nodded.  "I hope you don't mind if I don't
rise to greet you," he quirked a slight smile.  "To what do I owe this visit,
     "Eric here is majoring in physics at CUNY," I explained.  "He's set to
graduate in December, and I thought he might make a good graduate student for
you.  An apprentice, if you will."
     "I double-majored," Eric blurted out, a little embarrassed.  "That's why
I didn't graduate in the Spring.  I've read a lot of your work, Professor
Baines, but..."
     "But you didn't think you had a shot at getting into an R-1 grad school,
right?" Baines nodded.
     "Not with a City University B.S., not as an out of state student, no,"
Eric admitted.  "I was hoping to get into one of the SUNY schools, though.
But then Dragonfly showed up and told me he thought I'd be able to get into
Michigan State and work with you!" he finished excitedly.
     "Don't put CUNY down, young man," Baines admonished, hiding a faint
smirk.  He wasn't exactly old himself, after all.  "Did Dragonfly show you
the main office on the way in?  Good.  Why don't you go down there for a few
minutes, talk to the secretary and get some application materials.  I'd like
to have a moment alone with Dragonfly."
     Eric nodded and backed out of the office, nearly stumbling before he
turned around and headed down the hall.
     "Okay, so what's this one about?" Baines asked me.
     "That eager beaver kid, if time is allowed to unfold as it did in my
history, becomes Devastator, the worst villain known to modern times," I
     "WHAT?  And you want him to become my grad student?"
     "Sometimes you win more fights with an open hand than a closed fist,
Bobby," I pointed out.  "Eric tried to follow in your footsteps in the 1980s,
doing groundbreaking work on gravitics, both normaltech and violation
physics.  But he was always a little too eager, and he had an accident.  It
unlocked his dormant Magene, but also blinded him and drove him mad.  He
became convinced that humanity was a blight on reality, and sought to wipe us
all out...came pretty close a few times, too."
     "And you figure I can channel his enthusiasm into something less likely
to cause his accident?"
     I nodded.  "Some history is inevitable, but a lot is what they call
contingent.  I don't think Eric would become Devastator if he can avoid that
trauma.  And, frankly, working with you will be an object lesson in the
danger of inadequate safety measures."
     "Ow.  But point taken.  Wearing portable nuclear reactors ranks up there
on the 'Stupid Things I've Done' list.  Even if I get out of this wheelchair
again, there'll always be a solid reminder for anyone I mentor," he patted
his leg.  "Hey, and if he does have the...Magene, right, I remember reading
the term in one of Blair's papers...then he really could pick up on my work,
couldn't he?  It'd be nice to have a grad student who can actually do
Violation Physics," he mused.

               *              *              *              *

[July 26, 1976 - Lansing, MI]

     The basement hummed with power, much of it provided by various batteries
and powerpacks, to keep from blacking out the neighborhood.
     "Jen, stick close to JakZak," Baines cautioned.  "I'm pretty sure the
inverter field will extend a full meter from the armor, but that's plus or
minus about half a meter."
     Jen clamped onto me with a smirk, and I groaned.  "Think of Sarah," I
     "Right," Baines nodded.  "When I surge the power, the dimensional traces
lingering on your armor, and the smaller traces remaining in your bodies,
should make you swap spaces with whatever's in your home timeline in this
space.  Since you helped me dig out this addition to the basement last month,
that should just be dirt.  Try not to shock the other me into a heart attack
when you burst out of the ground," he smiled.
     "We'll be as sneaky as we can manage," Jen promised.  "And my daddy
taught me to always replace my divots."
     The world turned inside out, and Jen and I left the world we'd spent a
few months getting to know.
     Hopefully, we left it a better place.

               *              *              *              *

[April 1, 1979 - Detroit, MI]

     They call me Weapons Master.  I'm a superhero, in large part due to
     The first man to wear the Dragonfly suit died today, and in some ways
that ends an era.  But a new era began two and a half years ago when his son
was born, and I'm sure that Rodney Baines will grow up to make daddy proud.
     The second man to wear the Dragonfly suit came from another world, and
told me that in his time, I was known as the last hero of an age, holding the
guttering candle of justice against the darkness until the bitter end.  It's
nice to be known to history for something, I suppose, but screw that.  I've
got other ideas.
     The third man to wear the Dragonfly suit, Eric Harris, is growing into
the role nicely.  He's already mastered all the science and technology that
Dr. Baines had to teach him.  And while no one has picked up the Ladyhawke
legacy yet, it's only a matter of time.  Besides, we have plenty of company
     "Dragonfly, Powerhouse, Wanderer, Fantom, Delta Rose...sensors have a
fix on the Freemason's base now!"  I jump into Rocinante, the flying car Don
Quixote used to use, and that I'd had upgraded a few times since then.  The
non-flying heroes join me in the leather seats of the Quality Motors
Caballero, and I gun the engines.
     "Alliance of Super-Heroes, let's do this one for Doctor Baines!  ASH is


Next Issue:

     A one-shot showing the origins of the Second Age's first hero, the
patriotic Brightsword, in "Lighting The Torch!"


Author's Notes:

     My original plan was to end this issue with Bobby Baines's obituary, a
real downer to match the way the Second Age ended.  But then I realized...
this isn't the main timeline anymore, thanks to the divergence point that
caused the arrival of Solar Max and Jen Kleinvogel.  So why does it all have
to fall apart again?  Why not diverge MORE?  Why not let JakZak try to give a
gift to this alternate world?  It might all end in 1998 anyway, but the
twenty years leading up to it could be better if certain people were removed,
or better informed.  After all, a hard landing isn't exactly a crash.
     In the main timeline, Dragonfly and Ladyhawke announced their retirement
via letter to the media in June 1976, and were never active again.  Their
son, Rodney, discovered vast powers over radiation in his teen years, and
joined the original incarnation of the Academy of Super-Heroes as Rad.
Dragonfly died on April 1, 1979 in both timelines.
     JakZak's "knowing" references to Lord Ebon are tied into his first
(maybe) time travel jaunt, in which he may have ended up living with Iago
Montessi for an extended period...or maybe he just hallucinated it.  Either
way, is the story where it happened,
and where he felt he failed to make a difference.  This time, he got to find
a little redemption, even if it's not his own lifetime that will be affected.
     To see more about the Second Heroic Age, check out the Coherent Super-
Stories Sourcebook, which should become available on the ASH webpage (under
Resources) about the time this story posts!


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

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