ASH: The Reverse Engineers #2 - Forbidden Foo
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Tue Jun 17 21:11:23 PDT 2008
(Author: Andy Burton)
Cover shows a clean-cut man in the grip of two Chinese men wearing
martial arts robes. The view is over the shoulder of a figure in mandarin's
robes, who is crooking an imperious taloned finger at the clean-cut man, who
is cringing in terror. The mandarin is saying, "Send him to...DETROIT!"
.|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS An ASH Universe Story
'|` THE REVERSE | ESREVER EHT #2 - Forbidden Foo
ENGINEERS | SREENIGNE copyright 2008 by Andy Burton
Spaz...Samuel Patrick Zimmerman, when his mother was irritated...had a
lot of good memories of his family. There were memories of his mom and
himself. Those were memories of them playing when he was younger, the two of
them talking about his late father, and many more than he could count. There
also the memories of him and Scarlet, Harold, and every once in a while
Rachel. The time they'd gotten into trouble, discovered something new, and
often somehow combined the two experiences into one.
Then there were his memories of Doctor McKay.
Spaz had grown up with Doctor McKay. Lived in the same compound as him.
Learned almost everything he knew about science, magic, and being a good guy
from him. In many ways, Doctor McKay was a surrogate father for him; he
certainly thought of Doctor McKay in that way. However, the really good
memories he had of Doctor McKay were few and far between. The ones he had,
though...those were *memories*.
His favorite memory of being with Doctor McKay was the first time he'd
ever cast a spell...cast one successfully, anyway. There had been personal
experiments, laboratory tricks, and even a failed attempt or two. However,
that morning...it was a Saturday...had been the day when Spaz realized that
he could follow in his father's footsteps, and more importantly, Doctor McKay
would be there to help him.
* * * *
[October 4, 2008 - Detroit, MI]
"Sam," a voice whispered.
Spaz slowly opened his eyes. His room was still dark. There were no
windows in his room, but if it were morning, light from the hallway would
have illuminated his room more than it was currently. The voice whispered
again, this time accompanied by a touch to his shoulder.
"Sam," it called.
Spaz replied groggily, "What?"
"You want to go do a spell?" the voice asked. This caught Spaz's
attention, and instantly the sleepiness flushed from his body, replaced by
eager readiness. In the moments it took his to sit up and throw the covers
off, he realized the person speaking to him was Doctor McKay, who was already
dressed in his usual coat and tie outfit.
Spaz was about to cheer when he heard a sharp hissing from Doctor McKay.
"Don't!" he hissed, "You'll wake up your mother." Spaz nodded.
"Go on, get dressed. I'm going to get things ready in the garage."
With that, Doctor McKay exited the room, picked a direction, and disappeared
past the doorframe.
In a heart beat Spaz was out of bed, stripping out of his nightclothes
and into daywear. He went with a long-sleeved shirt, thick pants, and
whatever tennis shoes he could lay hands on first. Once dressed he took
stock of his room, looking for his backpack, which was sitting at the foot of
His backpack contained his wizardly tools; at least that's what Doctor
McKay called them. They were: a laptop he and Doctor McKay built together, a
pocket knife, an old Pascal programming book from his mother, a flashlight,
spare Ever-Charged batteries Doctor McKay taught him to make from one of his
father's older spells, and a handful of CD-ROM's filled with software and
technical archives. It wasn't very wizardly in the way wizards from stories
were...they tended to use potions and wands...but both Doctor McKay and his
mother, Moira Zimmerman, agreed that it was a good start as far as wizards
Spaz slipped the backpack around him, and put his arms through the
straps. It was a bit heavy for his nine-year-old frame, but he soon found
his balance. Once he was balanced, Spaz headed out of his room, toward the
He knew the way from his room to the garage by heart. He knew the way
from just about anywhere in the compound to anywhere else in the compound by
heart. There were hiding places in the mostly-underground building that he
wasn't even sure his mother or Doctor McKay knew about.
It had been his home for as long as he could remember.
To get to the garage, Spaz knew you went down the hall from his room,
past his mother's room, up the stairs to the family-room-slash-kitchen and
across to the heavy metal door that opened into the stairway that led up to
the garage. There was an elevator that could take you to any of the four
floors in the compound...bottom floor, living quarters; next floor up,
family-room-and-more; next floor up, the garage and Doctor McKay's
laboratory; and the top floor, the hanger bay...but Spaz knew it made too
much noise to use if he didn't want to wake up his mother.
Up the stairs he went, trying not to make any more noise than a mouse
might, or at least Prototype. Doctor McKay's robot didn't come downstairs
very often, but it happened enough that both Spaz and his mother learned to
sleep through the robot's clunking. Still there was no need to tempt fate,
so until Spaz reached the kitchen he tread as lightly as he could. Once he
was in the family-room-and-kitchen, it was a different story. Spaz put on as
much speed as he could, running across the kitchen and then up into the
He was panting a bit when he reached the garage, unaccustomed to
carrying his backpack as he ran up steps, but he still managed to let out a
gasp when he saw Doctor McKay sitting in the driver's seat of his hot rod,
Betty Rides. Spaz almost staggered as he reached the side of the car.
Doctor McKay never drove the light blue convertible; in fact, the only time
Spaz ever saw it as something more than a car shaped lump of tarp was when
Doctor McKay was polishing it.
"You're going to drive that?" Spaz asked.
"Unless you want to?" Doctor McKay replied.
Spaz's eyes goggled. "I can drive?" his voice was filled with disbelief
Doctor McKay thought for a moment, and not in the way Spaz knew his
mother pretended to think sometimes when he knew her answer was a "no."
Doctor McKay seemed to be considering it. "How about on the way back," he
offered. Spaz was about to reply, but was interrupted as Doctor McKay
continued. "You don't know where we're going, but if you ride and watch, you
will know how to drive back."
It made sense. "Okay," Spaz relented. The passenger door opened, and
Spaz ran around to climb inside the car, sliding his backpack off and setting
on the seat between him and Doctor McKay as he did. Once he was in and
buckled, he looked over to Doctor McKay. "On the way home, right?"
"On the way home," Doctor McKay agreed. He looked at Spaz, before
adding, "But I have to work the pedals, okay?"
That was good enough for him. Spaz nodded, offered thumbs up, and
* * * *
Their ultimate destination turned out to be an empty lot on the
outskirts of town. As far as Spaz could remember, it was the farthest from
home he had ever been. It was much farther than he ever walked with his
mother or Doctor McKay.
"What are we going to do?" Spaz asked as Doctor McKay cut the engine.
He waited until Doctor McKay began to unbuckle before following suit. Only
when Doctor McKay stepped out of the car did Spaz follow.
"I need your help to cast a spell," Doctor McKay answered. "Don't
forget your bag," Doctor McKay said before Spaz pushed his door shut.
"Oh, right!" As Spaz was grabbing his backpack, Doctor McKay pulled a
small, handheld computer from his pocket. He intently stared at the screen
for a moment, using his finger to tap at various times. "What kind of
spell?" Spaz asked. "I've been working on a couple of ideas. I've just
about finished a program that'll let me levitate."
"Actually," Doctor McKay said as he looked up from his computer, "I want
to work on a force field around the city." Spaz walked around to back of the
car, where Doctor McKay was waiting for him. The sun was just coming over
the horizon, but it gave off enough light that they could both navigate.
"A force field?" Spaz asked. He knew the idea behind force fields.
Doctor McKay actually had one in his lab, and it was really fun to play with.
When it was charged up, you could throw anything at the field, and it would
bounce off as the field flared up. Spaz tried to imagine what a force field
the size of the city would look like, as well as wondering how much you could
throw against the field.
Doctor McKay rubbed his chin. "Maybe not a force field, because we'll
still be able to pass through it." Doctor McKay leaned against the trunk of
Betty Rides, sliding himself back so he was sitting on the trunk lid. "Come
on up. Give me your bag."
Spaz slid his backpack off his shoulder and handed it up to Doctor
McKay. Then he climbed up on the trunk, using the bumper and tailfin as a
An hour passed as Spaz and Doctor McKay sat on Betty Rides' trunk and
discussed the magic spell he wanted Spaz to cast. Their discussion moved
from the spell towards the subject of circles. Doctor McKay talked about how
it was possible to use math to create a perfect circle.
As Spaz asked questions, the discussion moved toward demonstration, with
Doctor McKay pulling Spaz's laptop from the backpack, and showing him how to
write a program that drew circles.
That was when Spaz's attention truly caught on to the idea. He took the
laptop from Doctor McKay, studied the program, and rewrote his own. It was a
bit buggy, but with suggestions from Doctor McKay, it soon worked just as
well. From circles they went on to discuss spheres, and from mere
discussions, they went on to program a few of their own.
"That's how you're going to put up the force field," Doctor McKay
"By writing a program?" Spaz asked.
"Remember that day in the lab when we wrote a program that made
lightning shoot out of your laptop?" Doctor McKay asked. Spaz remembered it,
mostly because he and Doctor McKay had gotten a particularly icy look from
his mother when they almost started a fire. Spaz nodded. "I've got
Prototype and Experiment following the path of a huge circle around the city,
with some pontoons on Experiment for the water parts, making sure my
calculations were right. Once they get here, we'll combine the lightning
program with your sphere program and an invisibility spell of your dad's...."
"One of dad's spells?" Spaz asked, his eyes brightening.
Doctor McKay nodded as he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket,
handing it to Spaz. "It's a spell of his that makes whatever it gets put on
hard to look at...functional invisibility. We can write a program that will
put a field up around the city, with this spell built-in, and no one will
want to come here and bother us."
Spaz stared at the spell in his hands. Part of his was listening to
Doctor McKay, but the majority of his attention was on the paper that held
one spell created by his father, William Zimmerman, a man he only knew from
his mother's stories. As he absorbed all that he could from the paper,
memorizing the words, the shape of the handwriting, and the feel of the
"That would be better than a force field," Spaz said, mostly to himself.
He grinned and looked up at Doctor McKay, who was smiling back him in a way
that Spaz almost thought looked proud. "Because a force field would take a
lot of energy to keep people out, but this," he held up the paper, "makes
them go away under their own power."
"Want to get started?" Doctor McKay asked, "I can show how we can speed
up your sphere drawing program if you like." Spaz nodded, passing the laptop
back to Doctor McKay.
* * * *
[May 23, 2026 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]
Since erecting the first version of the Emo Field that surrounded
Detroit, Spaz and Doctor McKay had done several upgrades. The first had been
a basic power increase when several Anchors managed to enter the city. No
one really expected any spell, upgraded or not, to keep Anchors away, but
their presence had been enough to prompt some work on the field.
Scarlet and Ralph had helped subsequent upgrades along. Scarlet's
natural technopathic skills helped them make the code as efficient as
possible, and both Ralph's photonic control and uncanny knack for procuring
software from the Net allowed for upgrades that even seemed to deter some
weaker Anchors at a distance.
Since those upgrades, the field had been pushed back down on their to do
list. Other projects seemed to percolate to the top, and since the field was
working, there seemed no reason to mess with it. Until the day a group of
villains calling themselves the Tinker Team, along with their pet mecha,
Mechaclysm, came stomping into town.
"How'd they get in?" Scarlet asked. She was already suiting up, letting
the robotic arms build her matte gray hardsuit around her.
"No idea how," Spaz replied. He was watching several feeds on floating
displays, generated by his cloak, which floated in front of him. "Right now
our concern is getting them out. Perimeter defenses are holding the Tinker
Team at bay for now, but Mechaclysm is just brushing it off."
Another window appeared next to Spaz's display. This one was framed
around Doctor McKay's aging face. "Sam, have you seen what's going on?" he
"We're suiting up now, Doctor McKay," Spaz replied, answering to his
real name, which Doctor McKay still used. "I think if we can take out the
"Negative," Doctor McKay replied. "Rachel and the city's defenses will
handle them, Mechaclysm is your team's priority." Doctor McKay looked away
from the screen for a moment, and then his face was replaced by a photo
presentation of Mechaclysm from the ground. "People have been snapping
pictures of Mechaclysm since before they breached the perimeter. Watch how
his coloration and texture changes over time."
Spaz watched the photos of Mechaclysm, taken by Detroiters' phones and
goggles, and noticed the shifting scheme just as Doctor McKay mentioned it.
"He's absorbing mass as he attacks things," Spaz replied.
"It's a Grey Kai-Goo attack!" Ralph cried out from across the room. He
was tying a red bandana over his hair as he approached Spaz. "Their big
monster isn't just going to tear through Tokyo, he's going to absorb his mess
as he moves along. That's awesome."
"It'd be awesome if it was Tokyo," Scarlet said, "but not so much since
it's Detroit." She was suited up, wearing several hundred pounds of armor,
but still moving as quiet as a cat, a talent she'd picked up from years of
prosthetic usage. Her instincts to let the machine handle movement made her
a top-notch armored hero, even though Scarlet had a fully functional spine
now, and had for a few months....
* * * *
[December 24, 2025 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]
"What did you end up getting Rachel?" Scarlet asked. She looked up from
the box she was wrapping, glancing over the lenses of her glasses in a way
that always made Spaz feel like he was talking too loud in a library, even if
he wasn't talking.
"There's a place in Milwaukee, one of those TwenCen cosplay places,"
Spaz explained, "I've got reservations for the four of us on New Year's Eve."
"That's her present?" Scarlet asked, quirking her lip into doubting
Spaz nodded, "Yeah, I mean...it's not just reservations, it's a special
request. Our server is going to dress up like one of the old Lady Lawfuls
for her." Scarlet's quirk spread into a full smile. "Hey, shopping for her
isn't easy...or cheap. What about you? What did you get her?"
Scarlet held up a small box, roughly the size of one of Doctor McKay's
old CD-ROM jewel cases. "I made her a new mask, complete with a built-in
heads-up display, radio, and so on...all the best goodies for our Lady
Lawful." Spaz nodded approvingly. "And for Ralph?"
This time Spaz's grin came first. He reached into his cloak and pulled
out a tiny crystal. "It's a embeddable combat engine," he explained, "All
he's got to do is stare into this crystal for a minute, and it'll download
the greatest sword fighting techniques into his mind."
"Ralph...sorry...'Software Pirate,'" she air quoted the codename, "is
going to love that...and so do I." She rummaged around her gifts for a
moment, before pulling out a long, tube-shaped gift. "Because I got him a
Spaz let out a snort of laughter.
"Now, most importantly," she asked, "What did you get me?" This time
Spaz didn't answer. After a moment, Scarlet nervously continued, "I'm just
kidding, Spaz, you don't have to tell me."
"No, it's cool," he said, standing up from the floor. "It's probably
better this way. Come here." He stepped toward his worktable as Scarlet
stood up; her movement accompanied by the soft whine of her exoskeleton
leg-frames lifting her up.
"It's really okay, Spaz, I know we're supposed to wait until tomorrow."
Spaz picked a small, heart-shaped box off his table. He stared at box
for a minute before turning around. "I'm no good at long-winded speeches,
okay, but this requires something better than 'here.'" He offered the box to
Scarlet, who carefully accepted it. "I've been working on this for a while
now, I didn't want to give it you until it was perfect, but...I don't know
how...but if you don't want it, you can just choose 'No' when it asks."
Scarlet pulled the ribbon from the box, and carefully opened the lid.
When the top was cleared from the box, yellow, sparkling lights began to
filter out of the box, forming a cloud around Scarlet. "Requesting
connection," she read from her glasses, and then replied, "Okay." After
another minute, Scarlet harrumphed, "You wrote an end-user license agreement,
Spaz? What is this?"
"It'll fix your back," Spaz blurted out. Before Scarlet could say
anything, he continued, "It's a repair spell. It doesn't just patch over the
break...it's not a super-tech fix...if you want this to, it'll rebuild and
bridge the break in your spine...if you want it to do that.
"That's why it took me so long," Spaz continued, desperate to explain
himself. "I didn't want to give you a quick fix or a spell that some Anchor
could screw up. The mites," he waved at the cloud, "are a spell, but what
they do is real. They work on a principle of contagion, looking at the two
ends of a break and mystically binding materials together to be seamless. In
fact, as long as they're not being Anchored, the connection they make can't
"Collapsinum for the nerves," Scarlet said to herself.
"Mm-hmm," Spaz nodded. "Pretty much, although around an Anchor they'd
be no tougher than your natural nerves, but...look...I know you've got no
hang-ups using the exoskeletons...they're your thing, and...you know...if you
prefer them, I under..."
"Do you wish to continue?" Scarlet read aloud. For a tense moment, she
waited, watching as Spaz's face went from apology to curious and then back.
When she was sure she'd held the moment as long as she dared, Scarlet finally
Without any hesitation, the mites went to work.
* * * *
[May 23, 2026 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]
"Brute force isn't working, and that's all we're good at!" Ralph called
over the communication channel, a hint of black sarcasm in his voice.
"I'll have you know, I'm also good at inertial force," Scarlet replied.
Spaz saw a chunk of brick slam into Mechaclysm's leg, punctuating Scarlet's
retort. Unfortunately, punctuating Ralph's previous statement, the chunk of
brick began to melt into Mechaclysm's leg as the Kaiju absorbed the attack.
Ever since breaching both the Emo Field and the outer defenses of
Detroit, Mechaclysm had been growing with every step. Whatever ordinance was
fired at the monster was absorbed. It didn't matter the material...metals,
rocks, plastics, glass, and even fire...seemed to feed the Mechaclysm just as
"We need to regroup," Spaz broadcast, "meet me on top of the First
Detroit Bank...ASAP." Regrouping wasn't a plan, but it was as good as they
had at the moment.
"Any word from Rachel?" Ralph asked.
"Concentrate on Mechaclysm," Doctor McKay's voice injected itself into
"You heard the man," Spaz answered as he set down on the roof, his cloak
fluttering down to a mere shuffling as the anti-grav spell dissipated around
him. "We need to focus on the horror and now."
Scarlet was the next to arrive on the roof, her hard suit landing in a
tight roll that brought her up near Spaz. Ralph was there soon after,
climbing over the ledge. "Where's my jetpack?" he grumbled.
Spaz could almost hear the grin in Scarlet's reply, "You can have it
back when you learn to take care of it like a big boy."
Whatever reply Ralph might have made was lost when Mechaclysm let out a
loud, screeching roar. It sounded like a thousand lions and twisted metal.
It felt worse.
"This isn't going well," Spaz grumbled. He waved a hand in front of his
chest, bringing up an array of windows, each one showing some scanned aspect
of Mechaclysm. Most of the scans were passive; they were aggregated from
scanners and cameras placed around the streets, from Scarlet's armor, and the
majority were from Spaz's own. A few were active, bits of burped information
from probes that Mechaclysm absorbed.
"Spaz," Doctor McKay's voice spoke, "Listen. This thing is a golem."
That much Spaz already guessed. There was no discernable skeleton that
would indicate a traditional robot. It was also lacking the typical radio or
infrared noise Spaz had come to expect from nanomachine colonies. It was
obviously some form of golem.
"But it's not a normal one, it's a gestalt. There are several
elementals powering the body, it's how it can absorb so many different
"How do you...?" Spaz sputtered.
"Later. Anything thing else will tip my hand." And with that, Doctor
Developer's transmission cutout.
"'How do you' what?" Scarlet asked.
"It's a gestalt golem," Spaz barked. "I'm querying my database for
golem spells now, but we've got to brainstorm now. How do you stop a multi-
element golem?" Ralph and Scarlet looked between each other, then back at
Spaz. They both shrugged. "Yeah, me too."
"Ooh, ooh, ooh!" Ralph gasped, hopping back-and-forth. "Jan-ken-pon!
It's like that game. Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper
Spaz nodded, tapping a finger on his forehead. "We need to upset the
balance. Throw it out of whack enough that we can pick the pieces off
individually." Mechaclysm chose that moment to devour a small building by
absorbing it into his growing form.
"And I'm guessing we don't want to let him overstuff on buildings,"
Scarlet said. Spaz shook his head, looking at a new window that was floating
in front of him. Several spells scrolled through the screen, each one
explaining how to summon a specific golem. "Fire!" Scarlet cried, pointing
to a spell. "Do you still have that power amp spell?"
Spaz nodded, "I do."
"Cast it on Ralph," Scarlet explained, "If he can focus a strong enough
light burst on that big guy," she pointed to Mechaclysm, "that might disrupt
his fire or energy elementals enough give us an in."
"And if it doesn't work?" Ralph asked.
"Won't really matter," Spaz said, queuing up his spell.
* * * *
Doctor McKay watched Spaz, Scarlet and Ralph attack Mechaclysm on
screen. Ralph's burst of light blanked out cameras for several surrounding
blocks, making the screens glow white like fluorescent bulbs. After a
moment, as the light faded, he could see Mechaclysm staggering. He wasn't the
only one to notice it, as the three defenders launched into action to finish
off the monster. Content that Mechaclysm was handled, Doctor McKay switched
his feeds back to the area of the city where Rachel was fighting the other
members of the Tinker Team as Lady Lawful.
When the cameras found Lady Lawful, the scene was basically as Doctor
McKay expected to find it. Several of the Tinker Team were lying unconscious
on the ground. Large chunks of the surrounding property were damaged...a
non-problem once Spaz had a chance to better understand how Mechaclysm
worked. Along with what Doctor McKay expected to see was something that he
dreaded seeing: Lady Lawful was being carried out of the city by a pair of
drones, her belt draped over the shoulder of their controller.
"Doctor McKay, Mechaclysm is down," Spaz reported over their
communication's channel. "Ralph's going to finish chopping him up, but
Scarlet and I are ready to help Lady Lawful...can you give us a fix on her
On the displays screens, both the drones carrying Lady Lawful and their
master walked up to a gray-skinned woman wearing a yellow, checkered skirt.
As soon as they were within a few feet of her, the ashen woman held out her
hands, let them build up a charge, and then quickly drew them to her chest.
In a flash not quite as brilliant as Ralph's, the two villains, Lady Lawful,
and drones were gone.
"Doctor McKay?" Spaz asked, "Are you there?"
"I...ah...I am, Sam," he replied.
"Can you give us a fix on Rachel?" Spaz repeated.
"Ah, negative...she's been...they have her."
"What? We can go after them, we just need...."
"Negative, Sam," Doctor McKay snapped sharper than he intended. A deep
breath later, he continued, "Help Ralph, then the three of you come to me.
There are some things you need to know before we do anything."
The Reverse Engineers #3 reveals how "We Built This City"...but will the
Tinker Team tear it back down?
Um, ah. There are notes! Let me see. I know I had notes somewhere.
Is that...that is a hole in my pocket. Oh, no. They're gone. Look, I'll
find them, and have the notes ready for TRE #3.
The cover is my contribution, it's Doctor Huang Sheng in the role of
Dr. Klahn from the Kentucky Fried Movie.
This may be part of the notes Andy couldn't find, but the hex code for
the specific shade of light blue on Betty Rides is #deedee. :)
A bit of trivia: Detroit's motto is "Speramus Meliora; Resurget
Cineribus", which means "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the
Ashes." Neither Andy nor I wrote this until I was poking around Wikipedia
during the editing of this issue...but it's rather appropriate.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
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