[ASH] ASH #86 - Coming Come Part 3: Infiltration

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Feb 18 13:14:34 PST 2008

     The cover shows Dragonfly and Ladyhawke fighting the hordes of Antiochus
V, as seen in Coherent Super-Stories #1 and #4.  But they're looking at each
other with a puzzled expression, and Ladyhawke is saying, "What, again?"

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #86
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||          Coming Home Part 3 - Infiltration
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Dragonfly      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        MISSING!
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Ladyhawke      Jen Kleinvogel           Flight, Stealth          MISSING!


[May 25, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     "...is your WDTR news for May 25.  With the Bicentennial celebrations
only weeks away..." the inexperienced-sounding announcer was saying over
Jen's radio earpiece, only to be interrupted by a stentorian amplified voice
from below.
     "Attention, flying supernormals!  We would like to talk to you!"
     "Or we could go ask the nice man down there with the bullhorn where and
when we are, I guess," JakZak said, making that almost imperceptible motion
Jen had learned to recognize as the best he could manage for shrugging in the
bulky beetle-like armor he wore.  
     Jen nodded.  The newsman hadn't given a year, but if they meant the
American Bicentennial, that would put them in 1976.  Still, it could have
been the city's bicentennial, and the other clues she had to go on didn't
narrow things down all that far yet.  After pushing the demon Devastation
into the timestream, JakZak and Jen had coasted along for a while before
being unceremoniously dumped out over some TwenCen city.  
     She followed JakZak down to ground level, belatedly thinking to remove
the identifying patches from her uniform jacket.  She wasn't sure what a
TwenCenner would make of the Combine flag, but she didn't really want to
create some sort of time paradox if someone saw it, liked it, and trademarked
it or something like that.
     "This is going to sound really stupid," JakZak opened after the two had
landed.  In front of them were a man in a helmet and a modified wheelchair of
some sort, and a figure Jen recognized from history classes.  "But what year
is this?"
     "It's between 1974 and 1980, I think," Jen added, having dropped her
gravity sheath to become fully visible.  "I don't recognize you at all," she
nodded at the man in the wheelchair, "but I've read about this one," she
added, pointing her thumb at the man who was dressed as Weapons Master.
Mentally, she chided herself for being rude...rattled from the time jump, she
decided.  However...if Weapons Master was still in costume, that narrowed the
end date down by a few years.  Word was that he'd never really retired,
unlike most of the Second Age heroes, but he'd gone "plainclothes" by 1978 or
     "Time travellers?" the man in the wheelchair 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," JakZak agreed, nodding.  At least Jen wasn't alone in
having her brains not working at full capacity...he sounded as chagrined as
Jen felt.  "Still groggy, not thinking straight.  Sorry."  As a mumbled
addition, he added, "Gah, hate time travel."
     "You and me both," Jen agreed, subvocalizing over their radio link.
"Any idea who the guy in the wheelchair is?"
     "Nope," JakZak replied, having cut his external speakers while the two
natives showed them into their van.  "I don't even know who the green guy
     "Weapons Master.  One of the few Second Age guys that we're sure was
purely normal, rather than being a low-level supernormal," Jen replied.
Aloud, she added, "Where's the seatbelts?"
     "Um, this model doesn't come with them standard for the back," Weapons
Master apologized.  "I had to hack together the restraints for Mister Q's
wheelchair.  You can sit in the front seat, though, miss.  That's got a
     "Never heard of a Mister Q," Jen added on subvoc as she slid forward
into the "shotgun" position.  "Anyway, Weapons Master was actually still
active post-1998, which is why we know he's a norm.  In this era, he mostly
worked with...oh," she stopped.  "You're Dragonfly, aren't you?" she asked
"Mister Q".  "I see it in the helmet now."
     Mister Q nodded.  "Retired, for pretty obvious reasons," he patted his
lap, which had that not-quite-symmetric look that told her he was missing a
significant part of one leg.  "Your arrival tripped some automatic sensors,
though, so Weapons Master came out to help me look into it."
     "I'm just glad it's not more Z-liens.  Or Q-liens, for that matter,"
Weapons Master grinned.  "Oh, and it's 1976, by the way.  May 25th."
     "Time to be REALLY careful," JakZak warned over the commlink.  "If I
remember my history, we're a few months from the official end of the Second
Heroic Age.  An ending marked by Dragonfly retiring in about a month.  Now we
know why he retired, but it looks like he's back in action because of us."
     That didn't answer Jen's main question, though.  Why had they been
kicked out of the timestream at such a crucial point in history?  Anything
they did now could radically diverge things, but might they have been ejected
because of something that already diverged, either due to their own actions
or due to Radner's mysterious plans?

               *              *              *              *

[June 11, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     Acting as stand-ins for Dragonfly and Ladyhawke had been fairly easy,
all told, Jen thought.  Once it was clear they had fallen down a timeline
that had already diverged [See Coherent Super Stories #4 for details of that
discussion - Ed.], it only made sense to help the Baines family out by
concealing their respective conditions...Dragonfly's cancer and Ladyhawke's
pregnancy...to help them protect their secret identities in advance of
     It felt strange to fly with technological support, though.  Of course
the rig would work for Jen, it probably worked even better for her than it
ever could have for Amy Baines, since Jen's Tesla Index was undoubtedly
higher.  Not that anyone in this time could have performed the tests to
determine that.  Heck, almost no one *used* the term yet, although Amy and
Bobby knew about it, thanks to Bobby's "day job" as a Violation Physics
researcher.  Well, the day job he would normally be at given that it was the
lunch hour, but he was on medical leave.
     Suddenly the police band scanner in the Ladyhawke helmet crackled to
life.  "We have a silent alarm from First Independence Bank, 44 Michigan
Avenue.  They've hit the black button, people, so hold back until SWAT can
     Dragonfly...the real thing...broke in, calling in from his basement
laboratory.  "Black button means there's a supernormal involved.  How soon
can you get there?"
     "I can see the Cadillac Tower from here, 44 Michigan is just a couple
hundred meters west, right?" JakZak asked over the radio.  Jen smirked at the
note of frustration in his voice...he'd gotten too used to the advanced
navigational computers in his own armor, and was having a tough time going
back to orienteering by landmarks while wearing the "advanced for its time"
Dragonfly suit.
     "Yep," Dr. Baines replied.  "Be careful, remember you need to make this
look like it's the real Dragonfly and Ladyhawke...try not to break our poor
benighted and primitive supervillains too badly."
     JakZak's borrowed wings hummed audibly as he powered towards the source
of the trouble, and Jen swooped gracefully past him.  "I'll recon," she
offered.  She'd found it easier to hold back to the "correct" speed than
JakZak was managing, and he tended to overcompensate and go more slowly than
he should have been able to.
     She dipped low and caught a quick glance at a street sign to confirm she
was on Michigan Avenue, then streaked quickly past the bank.  "Two perps I
saw.  Black overalls, welding masks, big backpack rigs.  One a big guy, the
other either a skinny guy or a woman," Jen reported.
     "That'd be Arc Wielder and the second...no, Amy tells me the third
Wanda.  Arc Wielder is a low-power type with a penchant for incendiary
weapons, a shadetree gizmo guy.  One of Lady Lawful's sparring partners, I
thought he was still in jail after LL caught him in 74.  Wanda's just your
basic henchwench, no powers...probably.  Arc isn't prominent enough to
attract a supernormal partner, Wanda is more of a witless minion with
benefits.  But this might be a completely *fourth* new Wanda, and you never
know who might end up with powers these days," he warned.
     "Rubber crutch?" JakZak suggested over the radio.
     "What?" Dr. Baines sounded confused.
     "Nickname for a standard battlefield maneuver they teach us where we're
from.  Neutralize the focus, or crutch, of a gadget-dependent opponent, but
do so in a humorous way if possible.  Oh, Essay hated being the target of
that training exercise...I think it's why she started pumping iron," Jen
     Old Academy training came back easily, despite being years in their
past, and JakZak and Jen swooped down on Arc Wielder and Wanda in unison.
The two villains were caught by surprise, since their welding masks gave them
huge blind spots and Arc Wielder had apparently never thought of the idea of
a helmet-mounted display system like the ones Baines built into the Dragonfly
and Ladyhawke rigs.
     Jen's razor-thin wing sliced through first the tip of Arc Wielder's
torch, severing the pilot flame, and then swung back around to cut both the
straps holding the fuel tank to his back and those holding his coveralls up.
She was particularly proud of the fact she managed to avoid drawing any
blood as she "pantsed" the villain.
     For his part, JakZak used his cybernetic tail's laser on wide dispersion
to blind Wanda and simply pinched the nozzle of her torch shut, using a
little gravity warp assist since his raw muscle power wasn't quite up to it.
Then he tossed one of Dragonfly's antigravity darts at Arc Wielder's fuel
tank, causing it to rise up and away into the summer sky.
     Without even needing to exchange signals, the two masquerading heroes
switched foes, and Jen tied Wanda up with her own fuel hose while JakZak
simply punched Arc Wielder as hard as he could, dropping the big man like a
poleaxed steer.  
     "For your sake, I hope he was worth it," Jen smiled before hitting Wanda
with a nerve strike that rendered the woman unconscious.  Her smile turned a
little bitter at the reminder that Arc Wielder and Wanda weren't the only
supposed couple on the scene...while Dragonfly and Ladyhawke hadn't revealed
their identities to the world, they *had* revealed their marriage.  Far more
than dealing with artificial flight, that was the most awkward part of this
impersonation, at least as far as Jen was concerned....

               *              *              *              *

[July 7, 1976 - Ann Arbor, MI]

     Maybe it was the time spent as a covert operative, followed by hiding
out in ancient China for a few years, but the parades that had consumed the
past couple of days made Jen profoundly uncomfortable.  She was glad to be
able to take off the Ladyhawke rig, put on some delightfully retro (to her)
civvies and just bury herself in the University of Michigan libraries.
Summer term saw them used pretty lightly, and Bobby had gotten both her and
JakZak student IDs as visiting grad students, presuming anyone bothered to
     Still, it was a nice "going away" present to the couple, to help make
them famous and beloved for saving Washington D.C. from Antiochus V.  [Again,
see Coherent Super Stories #4 - Ed.]  Especially since it was probably
JakZak's and her fault that the mad robot had come out of hiding in the first
place...in her own timeline, Antiochus V had gone dormant in '74 or '75 and
hadn't come out until the early 1990s.
     But now it was time to work on the future, by researching the past.
JakZak was off on a mission to leave this divergent twig of the Way a better
place, so it was up to Jen to work out what made things go differently in the
first place.  But researching current events without the benefit of a
computer was *hard*, karma coming back to smack her around for her enjoyment
of JakZak's navigation problems.  She'd been at it, on and off, for over a
month now, and still hadn't found anything that was at odds with her
knowledge of TwenCen history.
     She loaded in the spool of microfilm labeled "New York Times: March
1976" and started spinning it.  This was the latest set they had on
microfilm, if she didn't find anything on it she'd have to go through stacks
of ink-covered paper...ick.  At least they had copies of major papers here,
and she wasn't limited to the locals.  Although, if she struck out on the
Gray Lady, she might need to check the local papers, or even chat up someone
at the TV stations to ask about archival footage.  Maybe the divergence
happened in Detroit, hence their emergence in both time *and* space.  She
hoped not, though...her history classes at the Academy hadn't gone into that
much detail.
     Scroll, scroll, scroll....  "Is it too much to ask for a search
function?" she snarled under her breath, earning a few confused glances from
nearby students.
     "That's what they make grad students for, honey," another young woman
whispered from a few readers over.  "Once you get your degree, you can make
some other poor schmuck do the fiche-ing expeditions."
     Jen snorted in bitter amusement, then went back to her reading, which
went for several minutes before she found something with possibilities.
     "RED CHINA GETS BLACK EYE!" proclaimed the headline, large by Times
standards.  It was near the bottom of the front page, but it *was* on the
front page.  March 12, 1976 late edition.  There was no photo, of course, the
Times was infamously restrained in its use of pictures back in the TwenCen,
but a couple of words caught her eye as effectively as any picture.  Two
words worth a thousand pictures, if you would.
     "Western Dragon."
     Jen blinked her eyes to clear them, then read on.
     "AP LHASA TIBET - Today the last of the Red Chinese army was driven from
Tibet by a rebellion spearheaded by the enigmatic Western Dragon.  Claiming
to be inspired by the example of Western superheroes, this powerful and
charismatic young woman organized a revolt that started in 1972 with several
spectacular strikes against the Chinese army, and has finally succeeded in
freeing the Kingdom of Tibet from the yoke of Communism.  See TIBET page A12"
     She carefully scrolled over to where the story was continued, and saw a
small, grainy photograph.  It wasn't much, but it was enough.  It was the
Western Dragon who, in her own timeline's 21st Century, ran a third of China.
And who had never been active in the Second Heroic Age as far as she
knew...and certainly not as the vanguard of a successful Tibetan rebellion.
Tibet had remained under Beijing's thumb until the 2020s, when the Central
Asian Confederation broke away from the PRoC.  Looked like in this timeline,
the Western Dragon had set her agenda in motion fifty years early.
     "Bingo," Jen smiled, pulling out a notebook and copying down the details
found in the continuation of the article.

               *              *              *              *

[July 15, 1976 - Lhasa, Tibet]

     Jen soared over the newly liberated nation, a shadow in the cloud-
dappled sky.  Under her own power, it had taken her a little over two hours
to fly from Calcutta, where the commercial flight had brought her.  If the
lack of security at the University of Michigan libraries had been amusing,
its near absence on international flights was downright frightening.  And if
she remembered her history correctly, it had been even laxer only a few years
before!  Granted, supernormal terrorism didn't really start until the Third
Heroic Age, and it wasn't like the technology existed to stop supernormals at
the gate.
     But still...it brought her own life back in 2026 into pretty harsh
contrast in a way that living in First Century China couldn't.  It was so
familiar, yet so strange.  She'd come to understand the rantings of people
like Thom O'Ryan a lot better in the past few months, now that she had
personal experience with the kinds of personal freedoms that she'd never
had and never missed in her own time.
     Suddenly a powerful wind kicked up, driving her towards the ground.  A
decidedly unnatural wind.
     "Oh, hell...I've been made," she snarled as she fought to turn a forced
crash into a controlled landing, leaving her in a fighting crouch on what
looked to be a military parade ground on the outskirts of the capital city.
She could see men in a motley mix of uniforms and civilian clothing
approaching in WWII-era jeeps, pointing an unfriendly number of rifles her
way.  Not, she decided, that there was a friendly number of rifles to point
at someone.
     "Confront amiable!" one shouted.  At least, that's what her translator
implant told her.  Her hard-learned knowledge of archaic Chinese didn't fare
much better, and while her implant was current on the form of Chinese spoken
in 2026 Tibet, that was fifty years into a totally different future.  Still,
the meaning seemed clear enough.
     She lifted her hands, and called back, "Tell the Western Dragon that Jin
E wishes to talk to her!"
     There was some muttering between the people in the lead jeep, and Jen
reflected on how the old saw about England and America being "divided by a
common language" applied doubly to China in the TwenCen and before.  Everyone
literate wrote the same characters, but the actual spoken language tended to
vary quite a bit until the PROC got serious about standardization.  A process
that hadn't gotten too terribly far by 1976, apparently.  Leastwise, not in
     After a few nervous moments, they seemed to agree on what she'd said and
how to deal with it, and one was saying something into a handy-talky.
     There was another gust of wind, and a slender figure rose from behind
some buildings and flew over to land next to Jen.
     "Jin E?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow in amusement.  "The years have
been kinder to you than to most," she addressed Jen in Han-era Chinese of the
dialect Seven Winds had favored.
     "It helped to skip past most of them," Jen smiled as she replied in the
same tongue.  It aided in establishing her bonafides, plus was probably hard
for any eavesdroppers to puzzle out.
     "Ah, yes...did you have to bring Devastation so far before the Jade
Emperor noticed?"
     Jen shook her head.  "I don't know who noticed, but the demon was taken
from us and we simply kept going until we hit a block and fell back into
time.  We are not yet home, sadly.  We are now preparing for what we hope to
be one last jump, but we fell onto the wrong branch of the Way on our
journey, and need to leap to the correct branch before moving on."
     The Western Dragon waved to the soldiers, indicating they should go back
to their billets.  "And your visit to me is part of those preparations?"
     Jen shrugged.  "A consequence of them.  We needed to know where the
branches had split, and I think you are the reason.  In our history, you did
not...act in this generation," Jen gestured to take in the mountainous
nation.  "Rather, you rose to prominence in the eyes of mortals in my own
time, generations hence.  I'm curious how things may have changed...or,
rather, why."
     The Western Dragon motioned for Jen to take to the skies with her, and
they flew up above any possibility of being overheard.
     "In truth, the ritual of sealing required much of my strength, as did
helping the surviving Secret Masters destroy the demons left behind," the
dragon admitted.  "And confounding the memories of those who witnessed the
destruction was even more taxing.  I retreated to my palace to sleep and
heal, only waking one a century to determine what had transpired as I
slumbered.  Once I saw what had been done by the Communists, I resolved to
free the people I had once been charged with protecting, and I started with
Tibet.  China's western provinces will follow, and in the fullness of time I
may yet topple this corrupt regime of men who deny the gods."
     Jen nodded, a bit taken aback at the intensity of the dragon in human
form.  There was a power in her that Jen had never seen in the future leader
of the CAC, a truly godlike presence beyond the supernatural charisma that
"her" Western Dragon commanded.
     "I only regret that I hadn't waken a generation earlier and been able to
prevent this all, but I was careless and thought the Manchu dynasty would
remain stable, despite the regrettable interference of European powers," the
dragon added, chagrined.

     A few hours later, Jen said her farewells and headed back to Calcutta.
She was glad to hear that Seven Winds had lived another thirty years and died
peacefully in his sleep, according to what the dragon had learned after her
first century of sleep.  Tien and Master Li had been slain in the late stages
of the battle, possibly even before Devastation had been pushed outside of
time, but it was a war they'd trained to fight in.
     As she soared across the international border into India, Jen decided
she'd come up with a plausible theory about the divergence.  Without the
actions of "Red Beetle" and "Golden Swan," the Western Dragon's initial plan
to seal Devastation away would have been the only option, and the dragon had
been too weak to emerge in the 1970s of Jen's history.  Instead, ready or
not, she would have been roused by her old allies when the Godmarket arrived
in 1997, then trapped by the Chinese Anchors until the 2020s.
     Part of Jen was still shouting dire warnings about deliberate
interference with time.  Even small beneficial changes could snowball into
horrendous consequences.  But it was too late to back out now that the
timeline had already been diverged: in for a penny, in for a pound...but the
Western Dragon was a pretty big penny, geopolitically speaking.  And now that
Jen had warned her about the boy who might some day become the Anchor
Premiere of China, the Western Dragon was an even bigger penny....

               *              *              *              *

[July 26, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     All the pennies and pounds having been strewn throughout this new branch
of the Way, it was time to leave.  With Bennett Rush restored to good graces
in the government, he might never become Doublecross.  With the Wanderer
warned of the tomb of Iago Montessi, Lord Ebon might never emerge.  Eric
Harris had been put under the wing of Dr. Baines, which would hopefully keep
him from ever becoming the madman Jen's world would fear as Devastator.  Even
the Anchorite Conclave, which Jen only knew bits and pieces about, had to
have been damaged by the possibility of the Western Dragon taking her own
actions against the one who would grow up to be the most powerful Anchor ever
(unless you counted the brief time between Rebus's apotheosis and his
forcible removal from reality).  Of course, a locus point could force any or
all of those menaces to emerge anyway, but you did what you could and prayed
for the best.
     Now Jen and JakZak stood in a roughly finished underground lair, power
conduits attached to his armor and the room humming with barely-contained
     "I still wish we could come out somewhere less conspicuous," Jen
sighed.  "I don't want to re-diverge the timeline and have to start all over
     Dr. Baines shrugged.  "There's not a lot of places we could draw this
kind of power undisturbed, at least my lair is already equipped for it," he
gestured to the batteries that had been slowly storing power over the past
few weeks by sipping from the electrical mains.  "Plus, like I told you
before, the Z-tector trips occasionally because of the ambient antigravity
pockets created by my own research.  My counterpart will be alerted by your
arrival, and find the sudden displacement of earth puzzling, but in the end
he'll write it off as a pseudoscience 'flashback' and the timeline shouldn't
be disturbed.  I can be pretty certain my counterpart will be asleep at this
hour in the morning...I definitely should be!" he smirked.
     "I know, it's just that things have been going too smoothly lately," Jen
replied.  "Murphy's out there, and just waiting for another shot at us."
     "Nothing I can do about that," Baines smiled.  "Jen, stick close to
JakZak.  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."  The Dimensional
Inverter had been reconstructed from technology the "Z-liens" had used in
their attempt to bring their pocket reality into the Earth realm a while
back.  The original had been destroyed, but Dragonfly had seen enough to be
able to recreate it on the small scale.
     Jen smirked and wrapped herself tightly around JakZak, enjoying his
     "Right.  When I surge the power," Baines explained, "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, although the plan was
for no one at all to see them at three in the morning.
     "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, nearly as bad as the last time, but a
corner of Jen's mind was still coherent to note that JakZak had been right.
It wasn't quite as bad the second time around.  Still sucked, though....

               *              *              *              *

[July 26, 1976 - Detroit, MI]

     Jen was still disoriented when they arrived, the bubble around them
displacing several cubic meters of soil and rock.  The unsupported dirt above
immediately started to rain down on them, but JakZak recovered his senses
first and hauled Jen out of the hole and into the night sky.

     A few hours later, as the Sun was rising over Lake Michigan, they
stopped flying a few miles south of Sheboygan in Wisconsin to take stock.
The time in the air had gotten most of the dirt off of them, and JakZak's
armor shone brightly in the first rays of morning.
     "So...where next?" Jen asked, pulling a chunky 70s-chic comb through her
hair to get the last of the twigs out.
     "Well, we're back to having no official identities," JakZak mused.  "The
Baineses gave us enough cash to hang around a few days if we have to,
although no flights to Tibet," she could tell he was smirking behind that
helmet.  "Probably best to just rest up and try another time jump."
     "I'm not too keen on that idea," Jen frowned.  "The 1980s and 1990s were
full of interdimensional and transtemporal turmoil...we tap-danced across
that minefield on the way back to Pompeii, but it wasn't exactly by choice.
And then there's the Barrier...you say we should just skim over it, but what
if we slam into it this time?  Every supernatural on the planet vanished when
that went up, we might not survive the experience."
     "You think we should do this Tom's way?" JakZak referred to ASH member
Lightfoot, who had been on his way out to the stars at near light speed in
1998.  When he'd finally gotten turned around and came back, he'd lost nearly
thirty years. 
     "It's more controllable, less worry about running into something nasty
out in the middle of interstellar space, and we'd definitely be far enough
away from Earth to be safe in 1998.  Tom was only, what, four light years
away, so it's not like you had to be at the Galactic Core like the first
Solar Max was," Jen tapped the chest of JakZak's armor, an artifact brought
back from that coreward journey.
     "But it does require a ship that can do very high STL," JakZak
countered.  "Earth's tech isn't up to that level yet."
     "But we know someone on Earth right now who *does* have the tech," Jen
riposted.  "And she might have some other ideas for letting us get away with
not having to live all fifty of the intervening years."
     "Oh, I see.  That...could get tricky.  Especially if we have to trust
her future self not to totally bone us...."

               *              *              *              *

[July 27, 1976 - Chicago, IL]

     Finding a working payphone in Chicago had been an adventure in itself,
especially since they had to stick to out-of-the-way locations to avoid being
spotted by too many people.  At least Jen had learned *about* payphones in
the months spent in the Other Detroit.  Oh, she'd known they existed in the
past, but she'd also known people once used slide rules and drove horse-drawn
buggies.  It didn't mean she knew how to use either.
     "Rose DeLatimer?" JakZak asked.  He'd taken his helmet off and was
holding the receiver, but since his armor hadn't fit into the booth Jen had
done the dialing.  "No, you don't know me, but I need to talk to you on an
urgent matter.  I'd rather not say over the phone.  Okay, maybe this will
convince you I'm serious...I know what the terms 'Santari' and 'Scytharian'
mean, and how they apply to you.  Yes, I thought that might do it.  What's a
good, out of the way place for us to meet?  I'm somewhat conspicuous, and I
expect you won't want anyone watching anyway.  Yes, I'm sure I can find that
place.  One hour, then?  Fine.  Goodbye."
     JakZak grinned, then covered it by putting his now-blue helmet back on.
When he'd mentioned the idea of getting some blue spraypaint to disguise the
armor enough that Rose wouldn't remember having seen it before when it
cropped up in 2001 or so, it had suddenly turned blue on its own...a function
its previous owner had never seen fit to mention.  "We have some cosmic irony
going on here."
     "The location for our meet is an abandoned warehouse in 1976.  In 2026,
the grounds are part of the ASH HQ complex," he chuckled.
     "Well, resist the temptation to bury anything to find later, okay?" Jen
warned, half-jokingly.  "How do you think she's going to react when we show
     "Our Rose would probably wait for us to arrive and then nuke the site
from orbit, but she's gotten paranoid in her old age.  We may have
sidestepped realities, but we're still going to be meeting the cheerfully
bizarre undercover alien we fought alongside a few weeks ago against
Antiochus V.  So it'll be a piece of pie."

     An hour later, Jen wasn't so sure JakZak's assessment had been correct.
Delta Rose arrived not in her public costume, but in a outfit that had a
harder, more utilitarian look to it.  It was still white, red and shades of
pink, but this wasn't a superhero suit...it was a Galactic Warrior Corps
uniform.  She also seemed a lot more on edge than the happy-go-lucky airhead
Jen had last seen.
     "Who sent you?" Delta Rose demanded as she landed inside the dusty
warehouse.  "Which House decided that the chain of command wasn't good enough
for them?"
     Jen winced.  Apparently, Santari internal politics were nearly as bad in
1976 as in 2026, if not at the near-civil-war levels they were approaching in
her home era.
     "I said I knew what a Santari was," JakZak said as calmingly as he
could.  "Not that I was one.  You can call me the Blue Scarab, and my partner
sometimes goes by Golden Swan," he added, not exactly lying, but certainly
shading the truth pretty heavily.  Best not to give Rose any real codenames
or identities decades before those names would be chosen, after all.  "And
we're human...well, Terran, anyway.  Superhumans, or we wouldn't be dressing
like this."
     "Did you just get your powers?" Delta Rose asked dubiously.  "I've been
keeping pretty close track of all human paranormals, and I've never heard of
     "There's a simple reason for that," Jen replied.  "We haven't been born
     Delta Rose hissed something that a human mouth couldn't have come close
to uttering, no doubt in her native tongue.  "I'd really been hoping you
people wouldn't figure out time travel.  My superiors warned it might happen,
given how you seem to have so little regard for the rest of natural law.  How
far have you come?  And no, I won't ask for details of the future...if you
know what I am, you know the Corps is about protecting the Planetary
Confederation from mad science, not indulging in it."
     "About fifty years," JakZak admitted.  "But we've come the long way, and
we didn't exactly 'figure out' time travel, or we'd be home already."
     "I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse," Rose sighed.
     "To cut to the chase," Jen stepped forward slightly, "we don't really
want to keep bouncing around time and space and risk breaking things
further.  We were hoping you could help us reach our home in a safer way,
without having to live through all fifty years the long way.  Perhaps a high
speed slower-than-light craft so we could take advantage of time dilation?"
     "In any case, we need to be away from Earth during the intervening
years, to avoid accidentally altering the timeline," JakZak added, leaving
out the more personally important matter of needing to be as far away as
possible to avoid dying in 1998.  No need to warn anyone in this timeline
about it, after all.  They'd warned the Wanderer in the other timeline, since
with a generation to prepare he might be able to find a less drastic solution
to the problem than whatever he enacted in Jen's own 1998.  But this timeline
had to suffer near-destruction, or it wouldn't be Jen's home anymore.
     Rose thought for a moment.  "I don't think we have anything that can
reach more than a tenth of lightspeed, and even those ships are all ancient
T!rir slowships.  Hyperspace just made it pointless to develop that
technology any further," she shrugged.  Hyperspace was a sort of parallel
reality where the physical constants were just different enough that the
entire universe was only a few lightyears across, but every point in it
mapped to a point in realspace.  Entering it and traveling for a few days
at easily-attained speeds would let you emerge a lightyear or more away in
realspace.  Unfortunately, it had its own speed limit, which meant that it
could take half a year to get from one side of the Planetary Confederation to
the other, no matter how good your ship was.
     "How about suspension?" Jen suggested.  "I know that Scytharian cyborgs
are stowed in a sort of hibernation, does that work on non-cyborgs?"  The
Third Age hero Blitzkrieg had been such a cold-storage cyborg, freed from
Khadam by the Wanderer and his then-teammates in the Raiders.
     Rose nodded thoughtfully.  "It's a bit hard on unmodified Santari, but I
expect you're hardier than that, yes?  I'm just a rookie in the Corps, but I
could arrange for you to get slapped in a tube and stuck in a corner of some
depot for fifty years.  But why should I do anything?" she asked, narrowing
her eyes.  "Why not tell you to go buffer off to a desert island and get used
to growing old together?"
     Fortunately, Jen and JakZak had been expecting to have to answer that
sort of question.
     "Like I said," JakZak countered, "we haven't really 'figured out' time
travel.  I have no idea what would happen if I end up too close, spatially
speaking, to my younger self once I do get born.  It could get messy in a
spectacular way," he added.  Of course, he and Jen both knew from their
schooling that the very powers that let one warp reality and travel through
time also laughed arrogantly at the idea of paradox, but it still made a good
     "And just killing us to prevent that isn't a good idea either," Jen
added.  "Leaving aside how hard we are to kill, getting rid of us now might
cause a paradox as well, if we were supposed to do something fifty five years
from now that's important to the timeline."
     "Your best option for doing your job and protecting the PC from us
scofflaw time travellers is to help us," JakZak concluded.  "Stick us in a
tube, set the timer for 2026, and then forget about us.  Literally, if you're
equipped with memory modification systems."  
     Jen really hoped she'd buy that part of the plan...given how often
humanity would be a pain in her surgically-altered ass in the 21st Century,
there'd be a strong temptation for her to wait until 2026 and then dump their
suspension tube into a star.  All of their efforts at disguising their
identities probably wouldn't work against someone as perceptive as the young
Galactic Warrior, and Jen really didn't want to trust that Rose wouldn't
realize that the Blue Scarab was just Solar Max in a blue color scheme.
     "Yyyyes," Rose frowned.  "I don't like it, but I have the capability to
edit my memory and lock certain things away for either a set amount of time,
or until unlocked by a superior officer.  It's one of the reasons the Corps
likes cyborgs for field agents...if we're captured by criminals, it can be
very difficult to get any secrets out of us.  But I'm not too happy that you
know about it.  Best case, it means you're someone the Corps trusts, of
course, but worst case it means our secrets are not so secret anymore in
fifty years.  I'd...better lock that particular speculation away too," she
     "So, how long will this all take to set up?" Jen smiled winningly, doing
her best to conceal her sense of relief.

               *              *              *              *

[Galactic Warrior Corps Depot, date unknown]

     All things told, Jen decided she preferred emerging from the timestream
to waking up from hibernation sleep.  Her head was pounding, and she had pins
and needles sensations running all over her body.
     Experimentally, she opened one eye a crack...the lighting seemed pretty
bright, but not painfully so.  The coffin-like suspension tube had been
opened, though, and now that the cottony feeling was leaving her ears she
could hear someone moving around with heavy steps.  
     "Jzzk?" she said, the closest she could come to "JakZak" just then, with
a tongue that felt like it was made of vulcanized rubber.
     The lights flickered...or did she blink?  Her eyelids felt numb, maybe
she blinked and didn't feel it.
     Then, despite her hazy state, she definitely felt something make the
entire room jump slightly.
     "Whadafk?" she mumbled.
     There was another flicker, and suddenly a huge man with an obvious
cybernetic eye, like some sort of half-mechanical version of the Green
Knight, was looming over her.
     "Good morning," he said, his voice gravely but oddly high pitched.
"Sorry to have to wake you up early, but this whole depot is about to get
reduced to debris unless I can find a way to stop an Ares unit.  I don't
suppose you've got super armor-blasting powers?  Oh, by the way, your file
says you're Terran, on Terra I used to go by the name Blitzkrieg.  How do you
do, Miss Swan?"


Next Issue:

     It's hard to believe, but after all JakZak and Jen have been through,
they're about to face..."Escalation"!


Author's Notes:

     Okay, now I've had a single scene shown from different angles in three
different stories.  Coherent Super Stories #4, Time Capsules #11, and now

     There's always a temptation, when doing time travel stories, or even
backstory-fill stories, to explain away every little odd detail of older
stories.  For instance, having JakZak run into a young Dave Van Domelen in
1976 (the ASH universe's version of me would have been 13, the real me was 6)
and thereby explain why the Professor later took JakZak under his wing and
made him Solar Max II.  Or have JakZak run into Solar Max in 2001 out in
space, during a stop-off on the way home, for the same end result.  But that
way lies self-fanfic along the lines of the later Pern novels, and I'd rather
avoid it.  :) The Professor picked JakZak precisely for the reasons that
appeared to be the case back in the Academy, he saw potential in the young
man who was under his tutelage.
     To that end, I am trying to limit any time-travel-based "explanations"
for events to things that have not yet been revealed.  In other words, while
you may see fallout from this time trip in post-Timequake stories (especially
the results of whatever Nefarious Scheme that Triton's been enacting), I have
tried to avoid using JakZak's and Jen's activities to explain anything that
wasn't originally intended to have been due to them when I wrote it in the
first place.  If that makes sense.  ;) 
     Okay, then, here's a counter-example.  Originally, before all the time
travel stuff, the Baines family did not have a time capsule buried out in
their yard, it was simply hidden behind a false wall in the basement.  JakZak
and Jen emerging from and creating a hole in their yard this issue meant the
time capsule got shifted to the new hole.  Cabbage versus rutabaga sort of
change, but something intended from the time it was introduced to be a result
of time travel.

     Perceptive readers may have noticed that when he's in armor, JakZak is
almost always referred to by codename (Solar Max, Red Beetle, etc), not as
JakZak.  That's because it's how he thinks of himself, putting on the
identity along with the outfit.  But to Jen, he's still just JakZak, the guy
she went to school with.  And since this issue is written from her viewpoint
(last issue kinda bounced between the two, but was mostly JakZak's), her
perception of him is what we go with.
     "Confounding memories" magically is my little way of explaining why no
one seems to know the date of Consort Song's demise...the whole year's been
muddled up to keep people from remembering Devastation.  ;)
     Oh, and "buffer off" isn't a typo.  It's just Delta Rose having trouble
with idioms again.  I was inspired by Pomru from the Dynamo Joe comic when
deciding how Rose would cope with idiomatic English.  "Piece of spam, Sarge!" 


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