ASH: Coherent Super Stories #7: Drifter
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Thu Sep 13 08:46:18 PDT 2007
Cover shows a middle aged, weathered man with graying brown hair and
wearing a tattered and faded green leather jacket and holding a katana in
each hand. Arrayed around him in a darkened forest are shadowy forms that
look like nightmare versions of wolves.
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #7 - The End Times Part II: Drifter
Featuring Weapons Master copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen
[July 6, 1998 - North Fork of the Willamette River, Oregon]
"Looks like this little detour's gonna make me a lot later than I
thought, J.S." I muttered under my breath as the antlered Huntsman grinned
his inhuman smile and gestured for his beasts to finish me. "I'm getting too
damned old for this," I added.
But, then again, getting any older didn't look like it was gonna be a
big problem for this semi-retired superhero anymore.
* * * *
[July 1, 1998 - Corvallis, Oregon]
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You probably wanna know how I got
involved in this in the first place.
The nice thing about advances in telecommunications and banking and all
that stuff was that it's a lot easier now to pick up my monthly check from
"Sancho" than it used to be. No matter where I am, whether a big East Coast
city or a sleepy little college town in the Pacific Northwest, the money
finds me and I find it...although that might be about to change. Anyway, Don
Quixote's former sidekick had kept busy with one thing and another since the
old days, but he was never too busy to keep an eye out for old friends and
support 'em in whatever whacked out lifestyle they might choose to lead.
Especially my whacked out lifestyle. Ten'll get you one that for all the
money and comfort Mr. Panzo had as the head of whatever business he was
running this month on behalf of Quixote's family, he'd drop it in a minute to
join me playing hero on the road if it weren't for his sense of duty. So,
instead, he made sure I could follow that dream, and lived it a little
So, anyway, I was coming out of the local branch of Megabank Number Two,
whatever actual name mergers had left it with most recently, when I was made.
"Weapons Master!" the kid gasped. Okay, young man. College student.
Yeah, I'm getting old enough to think of anyone under thirty as a kid, so sue
"That's what they used t' call me," I nodded. I don't wearing a mask
anymore, unless you counted a motorcycle helmet or sunglasses, but I haven't
completely let go of the old costume game. Not a lot of people wear kelly
green leather jackets with gold letters "W" and "M" interlaced on the back,
after all. Well, I'm not the only one, Sancho's been keeping an eye on my
merchandising residuals for me, since I never did sign up with the DSHA for
that deal. But most of the people buying jackets like mine aren't quite as
old as me.
"You here about the cult in Westfir?" the college student asked. Of
course it was a college student, I'd been around long enough to tell a
student from a townie, it really didn't matter what city you were talking
about, the difference was pretty clear. Besides, colleges were thick with
kids who'd grown up on comics and cartoons and probably knew more about my
early career than I can remember myself.
I pulled my shades down a bit and looked the kid in the eye, stealing a
move from about a million cheesy TV dramas. "Can't say as I am. What cult?"
I vaguely recalled Westfir was something of a tourist town, mostly catering
to river fishing and stuff like that. End of the road before the North Fork
of the Willamette went up into the Cascades. Well, end of the good roads,
anyway. Yeah, yeah...I know I'm telling you stuff you already know, most of
you anyway, but lemme tell the story my way, okay?
The kid shrugged. "A bunch of pagans," he practically spat the word,
marking him as one of the shrinking reserve of Christians who hadn't thrown
in their lot with the self-proclaimed gods, "set up a commune up near
Westfir, and now fishermen have started to disappear. My roommate's cousin
knew a guy who went there last month and never came back."
I'd lifted my shades back up, so he couldn't see when I rolled my eyes.
Friend of a friend, one of the sure signs of an urban myth. Still, with the
old fashioned kind of myths wandering the Earth these days, who could say if
his roommate's cousin wasn't onto something?
"I take it the cops haven't done anything? None of the flashier
superheroes gone in?"
The kid shook his head. "The way things are these days?" he asked,
shrugging. "It'd take a lot more than a few sport fishermen going missing
before it'd even get on anyone's radar. But...."
I let him trail off, smirking. The secret to having lasted so long as a
superhero without any powers was knowing my niche. Leaving the big, splashy
stuff to the people who could toss planets around, leaving the mundane crime
to the cops. Take the little, weird stuff that the cops don't take seriously
and the supers don't have time for. The kid knew my current career pretty
well too, it seemed. Just because I wasn't super didn't mean I'd given up on
being a hero.
"You know, it's nice weather to do a little fishing, don'tcha think?" I
* * * *
[July 1, 1998 - Westfir, Oregon]
As I pulled into Westfir, I decided it really was nice weather for a
little fishing. Even if this all turned out to be nothing...ha, I wish...an
afternoon or two spent on the Willamette with a rented rod and reel would be
a nice change of pace.
What, a man of action like me wouldn't enjoy some fishing? Don't forget
that before I put on a costume and started running around Detroit looking for
trouble, I wandered the Orient training under a bunch of masters. You don't
get very far with that sort of sensei and sifu if you lack patience and the
ability to savor quiet and calm. Besides, after as many years of action as
I've had, the occasional serenity is nice. Oh, I probably won't actually
hang up the sword until someone hangs it on my tombstone, but a few days off
are always welcome.
"Downtown" is maybe three blocks long, and dominated by tourist trap
stuff and gear rental stores, about what you'd expect from a town out on the
edge of the map that made its living on sportfishing these days. There were
a few remnants to tell me of how it had once had a different sort of economy,
but most of those buildings had been made into museums or hotels. Part of
why I'd stopped for lunch in Willamette City instead...I'd rather get a feel
for the town before paying tourist money for meals, no offense meant to the
town. Hey, Sancho was generous, but the cheaper you can eat, the more you
have left for motorcycle repair or medical bills, eh?
Still, for the height of the summer tourist season, things looked pretty
quiet. There were decorations up that promised July 4th fireworks, and all
the usual trappings you'd expect, including some brand new storefront
displays flogging the class 4 whitewaters up in the North Fork. But there
just weren't a lot of actual tourists to be trapped. Word had clearly gotten
around about the cult.
"Welcome to Westfir!" a genial man with thinning brown-gray hair and a
bushy beard said as I parked my motorcycle. He wore a flannel shirt and
bluejeans, but his outfit had the look of a uniform nonetheless. Some sort
of town official, probably. Or maybe just a businessman who took a big
interest in local affairs. Well, that's the impression I got, anyway.
"Thanks," I nodded. "Thought I might stop for a little fishing on my
way down to San Fran. Visiting an old buddy," I explained. I could see him
eyeing my jacket, as well as the long bundle strapped to the side of my Hog.
"I'm the Mayor," he added, his tone a little more serious now. "Clement
Jackson. And I'm guessing that," he pointed at the bundle that held my
swords, "isn't a rod and reel?"
"Can't be too careful these days," I grinned. "Don't worry, it's all
licensed and legal, and I'm not here to cause any trouble. Way I hear it,
actually, I might be able to help you with some trouble you already got."
Mayor Clem fell into what I thought of as Shifty Politician Stance
Number Five. Yeah, I've dealt with enough local politicos that I've started
classifying their moves. It's almost like martial arts styles, in a way.
Anyway, the old Number Five meant he was torn between begging for help and
not wanting to scare away the tourists by admitting there was actually a
problem. Even though I was obviously not the scare-able tourist type, you
don't get to run a tourist town without some deeply ingrained habits about
projecting a sunny attitude in the face of impending disaster. You know,
like in that shark movie. Any shark movie.
Finally, he settled on the variant I think of as Stance Five-A, stepping
closer and pitching his voice low so that none of the non-existent other
tourists on the street could hear us talk. "A bunch of weird cultists moved
in on public land a few months ago. They don't come into town, keep to
themselves, and whenever I send the sheriff up to talk to 'em, they seem
friendly and harmless enough. Hippies, really, but without the drugs, as far
as we can tell. They're squatting on designated scenic land, but the game
warden's had no luck getting 'em to vacate, and the feds aren't about to
divert the resources to evict what looks like a bunch of peaceful flakes when
there's so much else going on these days."
"But we've had some sport fishermen vanish up around where their camp
is. No evidence that they're involved, of course, and it's not like we never
had missing persons cases before this. But it's starting to spook people.
Steve Hanson, that's his store down the street, went to check things out
himself last week and he hasn't come back yet. We're starting to get
"Yeah, I can see where you would," I nodded. "Well, let me get settled
in here, I'm guessing you know the best place to stay? Right. I'm gonna
spend the rest of today talking to anyone local you think I should, and
tomorrow morning I'll go upriver to have a chat with your new neighbors...."
* * * *
[July 2, 1998 - North Fork of the Willamette River, Oregon]
I'd left my Harley back a ways, which meant I could smell the cult's
compound before I could see it. Oh, the Hog could've handled the rough trail
through the forest, I wouldn't be caught dead on any dainty street rocket
that couldn't handle a little off-roading once in a while. But it seemed a
little too confrontational to bring a gas-belching beast into what everyone
said was your basic granola-eating hippie nature commune, especially if they
weren't to blame for any of the local weirdness.
"Hullo the house!" I called out with a laugh as I smelled the patchouli
smoke wafting on the breeze. Rule number two of not making a bad impression
on strangers...don't let them think you were trying to sneak up on them. I
mean, sneaking up on them was certainly an option, but either do it and don't
get caught, or don't do it and don't even look like you were trying.
"Well met, stranger," a long-haired woman said as she practically melted
out of the woods in front of me. The fact that her hair was blond meant that
these people hadn't completely gone back to nature...not a lot of natural
blondes with Chinese features. "I am called Rhiannon...do you come to join
A name like "Rhiannon" is another thing not usually found alongside
Chinese features, but she might've been from L.A. or Vancouver, it wasn't
just bored white kids who ended up in communes in the 60s and gave their kids
weird names. Or the name could be as natural as the hair.
"Name's Chuck," I held out a friendly hand to shake, which she simply
bowed over. Pulling my hand back and trying to look a little surprised, I
continued, "I'm just pokin' around and lookin' for good places to fish, and I
smelled the incense. You got folks living out here?"
Rhiannon nodded serenely. "We are the followers of Aengus, we have come
here to escape the distractions of modern life and find our way closer to
"Huh. Followers of Angus? I mean, I like AC/DC as much as the next
guy, but...oh, come on, don't give me that blank look. Angus Young? Never
mind, I'm feelin' old enough already."
She laughed brightly. "Aengus," she carefully pronounced the name,
emphasizing the Gaelic character of it. "The hero-god of love and poetry."
"Oh," I shrugged. "Whatever works for you, I guess. What works for me
right now is to get away from the 'distractions of modern life' to do a
little fishing. You seen anyone angling up around here? Do any yourself?"
Rhiannon shrugged. "We do catch fish for sustenance, but we have not
seen any fishermen not of our group in the time we have been here. We chose
this location because it is further upriver than the sportfishers generally
come, you see. At least, that was what we had heard. We have only been here
three months, I suppose we might see a few more anglers like you before the
end of the season."
"Well, I'll try not to disturb y'all," I nodded, affecting a bit of
nervous discomfort. "Maybe I'll go try the Middle Fork instead, since you've
been eatin' the fish here. Then again, it's not like I fish to catch
anything," I grinned weakly, then left.
I hadn't learned much, but I'd learned enough for a first meeting,
confirming what the sheweriff had told me. I'd be back later, but I'd have
to be really careful. If Rhiannon's little "appear out of nowhere" trick
wasn't unique to her group, they'd be hard to sneak up on....
* * * *
[July 4, 1998 - Westfir, Oregon]
"Well, Mayor Clem," I said as a nice bit of supertech-based pyrotechnics
went off overhead, the sparks forming into a spinning globe briefly before
fading, "they seem harmless enough. And I did some sneaking around later, it
looks like they're pretty much what they say. They worship a poetry and love
god, and seem to spend most of the time either doing general commune chores
or, well, love and poetry. Not necessarily in that order."
"Nothing suspicious at all?" the mayor asked.
"Well, I heard some wolf howls, seemed a little odd. Have you had
trouble with wolves in the past?"
Clem shook his head. "Not since I've lived here, no. I mean, there's
wolves up in the Cascades, but not so you'd notice as long as you don't do
"Well, this might be a case of the gods favoring the stupid," I tapped
my temple and made a hollow clicking sound with my tongue. "Your cult
deliberately moved beyond where people normally go, they might have disrupted
a pack's hunting range. But, since there's a good chance their god really
does favor them, they'd be magically protected from the consequences of their
actions. Leaving hungry wolves wandering places they don't normally go.
Hungry and annoyed wolves."
"What, you think our missing people were killed by wolves? Maybe the
tourists, but Steve took his shotgun, I doubt wolves would've gotten him
before he could get off a shot, and that sort of thing echoes down to town
I shrugged. "It's a possibility. I might just have to play bait for a
few days and see what bites."
* * * *
[July 6, 1998 - North Fork of the Willamette River, Oregon]
Me and my big mouth. "See what bites" me right in the ass, I shoulda
It made a certain amount of sense. You have a bunch of wannabe back-to-
nature hippiedippies from the big city, out in the middle of the Cascades,
trying to sustain themselves on love, poetry and catching fish. They weren't
exactly in good farmland up there, though, so they couldn't put in any crops
to help stretch the fish, and I bet they'd had a few hungry days here and
there. But they were already worshipping one god, so why not throw a little
prayer to one of his relatives? Like, say, a hunting god who could help 'em
bring down some deer or small game? These were pagans already, I'd let my
old fashioned monotheistic viewpoint blind me to the fact that polytheism is
no big deal to these guys. Sure, they liked Aengus most, but that doesn't
stop them from liking Cerunnos too.
So...he gives them good luck in the hunt, but doesn't stop there, no.
Of course not. Like any god worth his salt, he sends these guys a genuine
avatar, to demonstrate how cool he is and how they really should be
worshipping mainly him, with a side order of Aengus.
And if the avatar of Cerunnos takes down a few nonbelievers once in a
while, if he gets a little wild? Well, duh. It's all part of the portfolio
for the master of the Wild Hunt.
All of which is a long way of saying that I ended up really wishing that
my old jump belt hadn't been broken back in '85. None of the trees near me
had branches low enough to jump to without an assist, and Mr. Avatar had a
pack of mystically enhanced wolves currently circling me.
"You have provided better sport than the 'sportsmen' I have hunted so
far, mortal!" the avatar declared.
"Hey, you may be all godpowered and stuff, but I bet I was kicking butts
while your momma was diapering your butt!" I retorted, swinging Quixote's
sword in a wide arc.
Yeah, Sancho gave it to me a few years ago when it was obvious none of
the Don's kids had the mojo. It might not do much for me either, but it was
effectively unbreakable and never dulled, which made it really useful even if
I couldn't make it banish mystically transformed beasties.
The wolves snarled amongst themselves, almost seeming amused. They were
keeping back, but I knew that even a normal wolf could jump farther than my
reach. They had me run down, and were playing with me.
"I'm tempted to let you go, so I can run you down again," Cerunnos
mused. "Although, by the way you're breathing, *old man*, I doubt the second
chase would live up to the standards of the first."
I couldn't argue there. Hell, 46 isn't that old, all things considered,
but only if you don't consider running from the Wild Hunt. Then it's way too
"Looks like this little detour's gonna make me a lot later than I
thought, J.S." I muttered as the avatar gestured for the wolves to strike.
"I'm getting too damned old for this," I added, bringing my tale back to
where I oh so dramatically kicked it off.
And then the avatar of Cerunnos vanished.
No, I don't mean he left in some dramatic and villainous way, preferring
not to watch while his minions tore me to shreds. He was clearly a "stay and
watch" kinda guy. He just went away....
* * * *
[July 7, 1998 - Westfir, Oregon]
"And, well, you can probably guess what happened to him, at least in the
broad strokes," Chuck told the small knot of assembled townspeople and the
few remaining tourists. "The wolves were disoriented by him going all poof,
so I was able to take care of them. They didn't vanish, unfortunately. But
when I checked the camp, all the Aengus-cultists were gone too, signs were
they'd just vanished at the same time. I had to put out a small fire, in
fact...someone had vanished in the middle of carrying a bundle of kindling
and it fell against a cookfire."
"What happened, though? To everyone?" one of the Westfirans asked,
gesturing as if to emcompass the world. "The couple of channels we can still
pick up aren't saying anythin' useful, just a lotta panicked people running
Chuck shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe the gods all decided to pull up stakes
and move on, taking their people with 'em. Any devout Christians vanish?
How about people who seemed to be burning a little incense on the side?
Yeah, far as I can tell, anyone who followed one of these gods is just plain
gone, at least around here. Maybe it's the same all over."
"God finally got pissed off enough to do some smiting," Mayor Clem
Chuck shrugged. "Ain't for me to say. But you folks seem to be doing
okay now, at least. You might want to barricade the road once I head out,
just in case. And it's gonna be a tough winter if things don't settle down
and the delivery trucks start up again."
"You think these are the end times?" someone asked.
"If they are, we'll see soon enough. I always figure it's best to
assume life will go on, though. Take care of life, death'll find you
eventually without you laying out the welcome mat," Chuck put his jacket back
on and picked up his motorcycle helmet. "But, like I said, I'm heading out.
There's bound to be places I'm needed more than I am here, at least right
now. You take care, all."
"Still the superhero, eh?" Clem smiled as Chuck revved up his Harley.
"I dunno about being super," Chuck put on the helmet. "But you don't
need to be a *super* human to be a hero. Just a good one."
The erection of the Barrier...as seen from the inside! Be here for "The
End Times Part III: Reunion"!
Yes, my choice of locale for this story was inspired in part by the
"Dies the Fire" series from S.M. Stirling. Although Corvallis is trying to
get a research group in my specialty put together....
Anyway, given that I named him "Chuck Morse," should it really surprise
anyone that I ended up turning the latter-day Weapons Master into a sort of
Walker, Texas Ranger sort of hero? He may even still be alive in 2026, but
since he'd be in his mid-70s there's no way he'd still be active. And
something tells me he didn't make it to the 21st Century...too many lost
causes to fight for during the bad years right after the "Pagan Rapture".
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