[ASH] ASH #90 - Kheper's Path Part II: Jaws of Apophis

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Jun 23 06:30:50 PDT 2008

     The cover shows an interrogation room, over the shoulder of the person
being interrogated.  Detective Kelly and Contact are angrily confronting the
prisoner, who seems fairly impassive.  However, on the back of his neck is a
digital timer counting down....

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #90
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||           Kheper's Path II: Jaws of Apophis
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Meteor         Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed               AMERICA
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              CANADA
Green Knight   Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   MEXICO
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        MEXICO
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      DIPLOMATIC
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              DIPLOMATIC
Essay          Sara Ana Henderson       Gadgeteer                VENUS
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           VENUS
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             VENUS
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           VENUS
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         TRANSIT

[June 13, 2026 - Manhattan Autonomous Sector]

     Contact watched through the one-way glass as the deceptively frail-
looking man talked to a nervous-looking paraganger.  The paraganger was
leaking random thoughts and worries in every direction, but his questioner
might as well be an Anchor for all that Contact could pick up.  The 'ganger's
thoughts did confirm Contact's suspicions, though...the questioner was one of
the notorious Hangmen.
     "So, what's the procedure here?" Contact turned to the other man in the
observation room, Detective John Kelly Jr.
     "Once Umbrae's boy is done explaining to 'Roger Boom' there what the
situation is and why he should try *very* hard to cooperate, we'll get our
turn," the detective whispered.  "Try to be quiet."
     "I am," Contact smiled.  "You wouldn't even be able to hear me if I
weren't using a few sending tricks.  And you can talk quieter if you want, I
don't need to read your mind, I can fine-tune my hearing to pick you up as
long as you make any sound at all.  Anyway, I couldn't help pick up Boom's
mental screaming about Hellhound...what'd he do to get on her radar?"
     "Honestly?  No idea," Kelly shrugged.  "Normally, no one would pay
attention to him.  He's a para, so we poor normal schlubs in the NYPD try to
stay out of his way while we deal with mundane criminals.  The Hangmen police
the paragangs, and they don't generally bother with penny-ante stuff.  You
cross the wrong line and you get disappeared to some vivisection lab in
Khadam or whatever, but otherwise they leave the 'gangs alone.  Looking at
the datacube Hellhound left with Boom in there, while the guy's theoretically
broken a lot of laws, it's nothing that'd get the Hangmen interested."
     "And Hellhound?"
     Kelly shook his head.  "She's got her own set of lines, stuff the
Hangmen don't bother with but that offend her sensibilities.  She's either a
telepath or has a specific 'find guilt' power, because everyone she's gone
after has turned out to be guilty of something nasty...and even if we weren't
allowed to ship 'em off to the Cavity, Hellhound usually managed to exact her
own punishment, often poetic justice.  Especially on the rapists," Kelly
winceed a little at the thought of that.
     Contact nodded, recalling a bit of graffiti he'd seen on the way to the
84th Street precinct house where Boom was being questioned.  It was an
artist's conception of Hellhound, a pair of flaming...spheres...in her hand,
with the legend, "NO MEANS NO!"  "But Roger Langridge isn't a rapist."
     "No.  The only way he'd be interested in a woman would be if she
     -+Too bad for him Arin's taken,+- Paul smirked in Aaron's mind.
     +-I don't think he's her type anyway,-+ Aaron replied to the "ghost"
that lived on in his brain.  "It begs the question, then," he said aloud,
"why did Hellhound bring him in?  And why just tag and bag him for the police
instead of finding some poetic punishment?  Did she know he was involved in
the Marx killing?"
     Kelly nodded.  "That's where the smart money is.  Ah, looks like
Umbrae's guy is done reading Boom the riot act," he gestured to the
interrogation room, where the thin man was straightening his suit and
motioning for the guard to open the door.
     Contact and the detective stood and headed for the hallway as well.
     "He's all yours, gentlemen," the Hangman smiled a thin smile.  "He knows
to cooperate fully, since Mr. Umbrae has asked that all reasonable help be
given in the matter of this investigation.  Feel free to leave him locked up
for a few days after you question him, or fine him for some of the violations
on the list our little vigilante provided, it might do him some good."
     It didn't take telepathy to tell that Detective Kelly was biting back a
sarcastic reply.  All he said, though, was, "The Department is grateful for
your support in this matter."
     The Hangman's smile increased a fraction, he mimed tipping a hat, and
then walked past them on his way to the exit.
     "So, Roger, ready to play ball?" Kelly asked as he led the way into the
interrogation room.
     "Yes, sir, mister police officer sir," the Jolly Molecule tried to put
on a facade of arrogant sarcasm, but he was still too shaken by the Hangman
for it to be even remotely convincing.
     "Right now, we've got you on a lot of little things, and even have
permission to prosecute you on a few of them, but the main issue is whether
you're an accessory to murder one," Kelly explained, sitting down across from
Roger Boom.  Aaron remained standing behind the detective.  "You cooperate,
and we don't find any other evidence suggesting you knew what was going to
happen, and the charge doesn't happen.  If I think you're holding back,
though, I'll just have to ask the Hangmen to dig deeper on my behalf.  I even
hear that some of Doctor Sheng's test subjects survive these days."
     "Yeahyeahyeah, I got it, sheesh!" Boom shuddered.  "So, I'm guessin' y'
want me ta peach the armordude, right?"
     "For now, yes," Kelly nodded.  "All the other sales you could remember
were to people we can check into."  
     In fact, the thin Hangman was likely doing that right now, Aaron
     "Well, lemme tell ya, that was the ginchiest power armor I've rezzed in
a long time," Roger smiled, letting his tech-geekdom come to the fore.
     "Ginchiest?" Aaron furrowed his brow.
     Kelly shrugged.  "One of the Jollies has a pirate broadcast going, too
low power for the three-cee," the Combine Communications Commission, "to get
involved.  He found a stash of old sitcoms and has been running them in
holographic upconversions."
     "Telly's got plans ta use vactors ta mix and match, too!  I can't wait
ta see the Beav on Gilligan's Island!" Roger Boom enthused.
     "Back on the topic," Kelly sighed.  "Aside from being 'ginchy', what can
you tell us about the armored buyer?"
     "Totally vodered vox, kept the faceplate down, no clue who or even what
was inside.  Paid in Santari chipware, just wanted two antimatter booms.
Said if the first one didn't work, I'd find the second one rammed up me
sideways and percussion-detonated like a cherry bomb in a frog," Roger
explained, nervously.  "Didn't say nothin' about peachin' him, though, so I
guess I'm okay if'n that one did make with the big boom."
     "He being straight with us, Contact?" Kelly asked over his shoulder.
     "Yep.  Lovely mental image with the frog, by the way.  One of your more
cherished memories, I notice," Aaron smirked.
     "Wait, he's a teep?" Roger started to panic.
     "Relax, I'm just scanning surface thoughts and making sure you're not
lying," Aaron replied.  "And I got a very clear mental image of that 'ginchy'
armor from you, thanks for being so tech-obsessed."

     A few minutes later, with Roger escorted to a holding cell, Kelly asked
Aaron, "Well?"
     "Looks like this particular chain of evidence runs over your pay grade,
Detective Kelly," Aaron shrugged.  "The armor worn by our mystery buyer is of
Santari make, a kind of advanced suit that's not even legal to sell to
Interdicted planets like Earth."
     "So, we have an interstellar criminal here?  Yeah, that's above my pay
grade all right," Kelly sighed.
     "Not necessarily interstellar.  I know of one organization on Earth that
owns a number of these suits, but I'm afraid even knowing why I think they're
possible suspects is information you might be happier not knowing."
     "Fine, don't tell me, you're probably right.  We'll keep following
what's left over here, and I think I'm going to put a few more men on the
Hellhound case...the fact she knew to bring Boom in suggests she knows
something about the Marx case.  What about you?"
     "I need to start the bureaucratic wheels turning so I can go talk to
that organization, but I'll be in touch," Aaron shrugged.  "Something tells
me that things are going to get murkier before they get clearer, though."
     "Unless they're clear from the outset, that's usually how it works, kid,
darkest before the dawn and all that," Detective Kelly smirked.  "Except that
they don't always get any clearer.  Sometimes the giant critter of your
choice eats the Sun."
     Aaron winced.  Given that he'd been staying at the World Trade Center,
the complex that had once been Odin's worldly seat of power, the Fenris
imagery wasn't really something he needed.
     -+Remember, the Egyptians have a Sun-eating monster too,+- Paul pointed
out.  -+The snake, Apophis.  Doubly troubling given where that armor seems
     Aaron mentally nodded.  +-To the only person we know for sure has access
to advanced Santari bodyguard armor, one of the last remaining politically
powerful followers of the Egyptian gods...the ex-Conclaver known to a very
few as Light-Over-Egypt, but to the entire world as Pope Paul VII.-+

               *              *              *              *

[May 12, 2026 - Between Venus and Earth]

     Given how little she'd socialized, "Kim Bell" was a bit surprised at how
many people seemed sorry to see her go.  Granted, some of that was probably
just the fact that they'd miss her technical expertise...even with her
superhuman gadgeteering skills constantly suppressed by the presence of her
Anchor daughter, Kim's years of experience as an underground "fixer" in
Manhattan had taught her how to squeeze the most use out of the least
possible resources.
     But even leaving aside the ones who'd miss her for selfish reasons, it
seemed like an awful lot of people were genuinely sorry to see her go.
     "That section is restricted, miss," a man in red and white body armor
held up an interposing hand, startling her out of her reverie.  
     "Oh, sorry...I was just sightseeing," she stammered, and little Cindy
babbled something in "babytalk" that indicated she'd picked up on the change
in her mother's mood.
     The Galactic Warrior guard, probably a Santari, chuckled.  "Not a lot to
see here.  You've seen one bulk transport, you've seen...oh, but I guess
you've never even seen one before have you?"  He had that tone of a city boy
talking to the hick tourist that Kim knew well.  She'd even used it herself
on occasion, even if Manhattan hadn't ever really counted as a "big city"
during her lifetime.  "Anyway, this section is holding prisoners, please head
back to your cabin."
     Kim nodded.  The ship had been sent to pick up the remnants of some
Santari warship...something had happened last week, but neither she nor Jo
Ridley had been able to find out much.  [They're the stranded future Santari
last seen in ASH #83 when the giant magma lion Infernion destroyed their
ships - Ed.]
     As a side effect, since the ship the Corps sent was pretty big, there
was spare room to let the owners of the commandeered transport pick up some
cash on the side by shuttling most of the remaining "uncolonists" from Falcon
Bay back to Earth.  Of more importance to Kim and Jo, since it wasn't a
shuttle run by Lightfoot of ASH, the odds of anyone recognizing Jo from her
experience as a brainwashed tool of Rebus [as seen in ASH #21-23 - Ed.] were
greatly reduced.
     "This porkat of a civvie ship is pretty slow outside hyper," the
Corpsman shrugged, "but we should be able to get you people onto re-entry
shuttles in about," he seemed to be consulting a display inside his helmet,
"fifty minutes, your time.  On the good side, being a porkat means you don't
have to worry about any sudden deceleration when we hit orbit, even if the
compensators aren't up to standard."
     "Thank you, sir," Kim nodded, then headed back the way she'd come.  Too
bad she didn't have longer, and access to the engine room...a place like this
would have lots of interesting ideas for her to play with once she resumed
the curse of her powers, something she knew she'd have to do as part of the
price for Jo Ridley's...and Devlin Marx's...help.

               *              *              *              *

[June 15, 2026 - Manhattan Autonomous Sector]

     "A good Monday morning to you, Detective Kelly," Aaron nodded as he
stepped into the doorway of the man's office.  "I said I'd be in touch."  
     "Aren't you supposed to be flying off somewhere to check on that armor
lead?" Kelly looked up from his computer, scowling slightly.
     Aaron shrugged.  "Diplomatic red tape.  Hope to get out there by the end
of this week, though."
     "Ah, need to get your credentials?"
     "Nope," the telepath shook his head.  "Tina...Breaker...and I both
already have full diplomatic status.  Officially, we're 'Cultural Attaches'
attached to no fixed embassy."
     Kelly chuckled.  "Someone's been reading too many TwenCen spy novels.
The KGB agents were always listed as 'Cultural Attaches' to give 'em some
inconvenient-to-the-hero diplomatic immunity.  So, what *is* the hold-up?"
     "The nation in question has reason to not trust Combine superhumans,"
Aaron admitted.  After STRAFE's running battle with Aegis and the Helvetican
Guard in the streets of the Vatican two years ago [STRAFE #15 - Ed.], the
Vatican wasn't happy to have any outside superhuman assets walking around.
"And there's some fallout from Chancellor Radner's re-emergence that's got
their diplomatic section in a bit of an uproar, so I'm not exactly on the top
of their to-do list."  Specifically, finding that Aegis had re-emerged at
Radner's side had been an unpleasant surprise, since he nominally led the men
who wore the Santari-made Helvetican Guard armor, and had generally helped
the Vatican keep outside supernormals at arm's length for the past few years.
     "And I take it from the way you're mincing around the issue that I'd
*still* be a lot happier not knowing exactly which nation is in question,"
Kelly nodded.
     "Precisely.  While I'm cooling my heels, though, is there anything you
can share with me that might knock some ideas loose?" Aaron asked.
     Kelly tapped his computer screen, but didn't turn it to show Aaron.
"Preliminary autopsy's in on the residue and the partial corpse.  It was
definitely Marx's body, not a body double or shapeshifter.  We were able to
get his sealed medical records and run a genetic match.  None of the other
DNA found in the room rises above the levels you'd get from someone who'd
been in the room recently."
     "In other words, Jessa Dumont either wasn't in the room, or was
vaporized with improbably high efficiency," Aaron concluded.
     "Any chance the body was a clone?  We know that Radner managed to
somehow fake the death of EUROPA's Pollux by swapping in a cloned corpse,"
Aaron asked.
     Kelly shook his head.  "Unlikely.  I don't know about the Pollux
situation, but our new lab boys were brought in by Umbrae, and they've got
access to the latest Khadamite tech in that regard.  There's ways to tell a
clone from the original, apparently, and as an Anchor Marx wouldn't be
susceptible to things like outright magical copying."  There were a number of
superhumans who could at least make temporary copies of things, but as far as
Aaron knew they were all accounted for and on the side of the angels.
"Besides, it looks like cloning wouldn't have helped Marx anyway."
     "One of the things we got from his sealed files...and understand that
this bit of info is still being held secret, just in case," Kelly explained.
"Marx had a genetic condition called DeMarco's Syndrome.  I'd never heard of
it, but the docs say it was only named in 2009.  There haven't been enough
victims to get a good read on what triggers it, but once the genes go active
you're pretty much doomed.  System-wide genetic mis-coding, leading to a
rather painful and lingering death within a year.  No cure's been found via
normal science, and the new crop of super-geniuses hasn't gotten around to
looking at it yet.  It looks like Marx's DeMarco had gone active a few months
     "So, we can't rule out suicide at this point, then," Aaron narrowed his
     "Well, yes and no.  It's possible he arranged this to give himself a
painless death and get everyone running around on his behalf, but he had to
have had an accomplice.  He couldn't have safely handled the antimatter mine
that Roger Boom made, assuming that really was the thing that killed him.
And since New York never passed an assisted suicide law, we've still got at
the least an *accomplice* to murder out there somewhere, if not an actual
murderer.  So it's still a criminal investigation even if we decide it was
suicide.  Especially since this was such a dramatic means of death that even
if a judge accepted a plea of assisted suicide, there's reckless endangerment
to boot," Kelly explained.  "On the other hand, Marx may simply have gotten
reckless with death looming, and he pushed one of his many enemies too far.
Even with someone with Marx's reputation, it's best to look for the simple
explanations first."
     "Once the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains, however
improbable, must be the truth," Aaron quoted.  
     -+Actually, it's '...when you have excluded the impossible, whatever
remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'+- Paul corrected Aaron.
     +-Close enough,-+ Aaron thought back to himself.
     "That works in the books, Mr. Zander, but in homicide cases I've found
that almost all the time it's the probable and obvious that's right.  Even
notoriously devious people like Marx are still human."
     Unspoken was the caveat, "But not everyone involved in this case is
necessarily human...."

               *              *              *              *

[June 15, 2026 - Jersey City, New Jersey Sector]

     "Isn't it a little early for you boys to be up?" Marshal Beth Willot
smirked behind her helmet as she created a focused electromagnetic pulse to
scramble the poorly shielded cybernetics of the trio of Rust Brothers.  "Why,
it's only noon!"
     Two of them made no response, as their voices were purely synthesized,
and the pulse had scrambled those systems.  Fortunately for them, none had
any vital organs replaced by cybernetics...even the disreputable bodmod shops
that catered to the wannabes in this paragang had limits.  An arm or a leg,
sure.  Replace the voicebox with a voxbox that could literally turn someone
into a human beatbox?  Not a problem.  But they tended to shy away from any
mods that would leave their clients dead in the event of failure.  Oh, it
wasn't really ethics...just economics.  A living Rust Brother was a potential
upgrade customer, a dead one wasn't.
     "Reduce the levels on your hostility mix, Jane Law," the third one
grunted as he fiddled with the settings on his cybernetic arm using his
remaining organic one.  "I an' mine weren't lookin' t'mosh."
     "Maybe not, Grindcore Joe, but you've got a few outstandings for drunk
and disorderly, and with things unsettled across the bridge," Beth nodded in
the direction of Manhattan, "word's come down to haul in anyone on the list,
on general principles.  And they'll probably want to ask you some questions
and inspect your cybers for illegal mods, but you'll probably be back on the
street for the weekend's parties."
     Joe frowned, but Beth knew he was smart enough not to argue.  The plus
side of being based in Jersey was that Umbrae tended not to try to run your
life as much as he did for the Manhattan-based paragangs.  The minus side was
that you were under full Combine law...and if you acted up too much they
could call in enough Marshals to totally ruin your party.  You wouldn't end
up dead, like if you crossed the Hangmen, but you could end up stripped of
mods and dumped out with crappy TwenCen prosthetics.  To CyberNostra wannabes
like the Rust Brothers, that was almost worse than death.
     "Say, didn't your circle have a couple more in it?  Or are they still
sleeping off the weekend?" Beth asked, calling up some rap sheets on her
helmet display.
     "Ah, those two went retro and joined some new circle gettin' set up on
the South Jersey Shore.  Some kinda godtimer cover act," Grindcore shrugged,
finally getting his cyber arm to work well enough to accomplish that much.
     "Fine," Beth nodded.  "Be sure to tell the nice men back at the precinct
what you know about that cover act."  She didn't really like the idea of even
a posergang branching out down the coast, but it was out of her jurisdiction.
     Of course, Manhattan was out of her jurisdiction too, but that didn't
stop her from sneaking over there every so often to give Maddie and Jessa a
hand as part of the Hellhound collective.  Now that she wasn't a student
anymore it was harder to find the time, for all that she was stationed just
over the river instead of based in Wisconsin Sector.  Her family home on the
island had given her an excuse to come visit over the various breaks and
holidays, but Marshals didn't get week-long vacations, nor were they welcome
into the Autonomous Sector even when off-duty.
     As she led the grumbling but unresisting cyborg trio into the waiting
van, she spared a thought for Jessa.  None of the ways Beth had for
contacting the telepath had panned out, and she was just as in the dark about
Dumont's whereabouts as the NYPD was.  She was confident that Jessa wasn't
the one who killed Marx, but on the other hand she knew that Jessa was a much
bigger target than anyone in the official law enforcement establishment
suspected.  And Beth herself was almost as big a target, depending on who was
doing the shooting....

               *              *              *              *

[June 17, 2026 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]

     Fifty years ago, Detroit had had a really bad reputation.  Not only had
it spent several years as a hub of supervillain activity, but among regular
people it had the dubious honor of being considered the murder capital of the
United States.  Rightly or wrongly, in the 1970s people just didn't want to
go to Detroit.
     +-I really don't want to be here,-+ Aaron thought as he looked around
the office of Magnum Industries in downtown Detroit.  It was really just a
"for tax purposes" sort of office, with just a receptionist and a part-time
sales rep, who had the day off.  Magnum had factories in Detroit as well, but
the main corporate offices were in Indianapolis.
     -+Yeah.  Odd, isn't it?+- Paul replied.  -+I mean, this goes beyond the
usual 'This town sucks' sort of thing, doesn't it?  And considering we came
here from MANHATTAN, which on paper sucks a LOT harder than Detroit, it makes
me wonder.+-
     Aaron leaned over and caught the receptionist's eye.  "Any progress?"
     The receptionist smiled with his most professional smile and shook his
head.  "Still waiting on Doctor McKay.  He needs to shut down an experiment
safely before he can come to the videophone."
     "Fine, fine...say, what do you think of Detroit?" he asked.
     The smile didn't falter.  "Oh, it's rough around the edges, but I've
lived here my entire life, and it's no worse than any other big city in the
Combine.  In fact, it's a little quieter than most.  I guess some of that is
because we don't get a lot of people moving in, so we've gotten to be more
like a small town...everyone's gotten to know most everyone else by now, or
at least knows what to expect from people they haven't met."
     "No...sense of dread and doom?" Aaron pushed the matter.
     "Only around tax time, like everyone else," was followed by a
professional chuckle.
     Aaron nodded and stepped back, pretending to examine one of the art
prints on the wall.
     -+It's not a psionic effect, as far as I can tell,+- Paul concluded.
-+No rogue telepath is consciously or unconsciously broadcasting 'go away'
vibes.  And this guy's not lying, even if he's as insincere as they come in
general.  He really doesn't have any problem living here, other than the
music scene being a bit weak.+-
     +-Well, unless it has a direct bearing on the Marx case, I guess for now
it's somebody else's problem,-+ Aaron mentally shrugged.  [Curious?  Check
out The Reverse Engineers #2! - Ed.]
     "Doctor McKay will speak to you now," the receptionist turned an emitter
so that a free-standing holographic screen sat over the top of the
"Receptionist's Wall" around the desk.
     -+Impressive tech for a branch office,+- Paul noted.
     "Ah, hello...Contact?  Or should I call you Mr. Zander?" Doctor McKay
asked, a bit tentatively.  He had that air of a lifelong lab geek thrust into
upper management and not quite sure how he was supposed to do the job.
     "Either is fine, Doctor McKay.  I was actually hoping to meet you in
person, but your receptionist tells me that you're currently working on a
project that requires your physical isolation," Aaron managed to keep the
suspicious tone out of his voice.  It was far more likely that McKay simply
didn't want to be in the same room as a telepath.  Even if the man had access
to effective psi dampers, he might have realized that telepaths have so much
more experience linking the thoughts of people to their expressions that they
become quite good at reading people the non-powered way.  And by limiting the
interaction to just a floating head (which could even be computer generated)
it concealed a lot of those cues.
     "Yes, I apologize, Contact.  I've been dabbling in some biotech, and I'm
afraid my own biometric readings need to remain within certain bounds during
the time the experiment is running, or I'll have...well, I don't suppose you
really care about the details.  What *do* you care about?" he asked, his
expression so carefully neutral that Aaron was growing convinced it was a
computer generated face.  Maybe even a fake voice too.  No one had *that*
blank of a stare naturally, right?
     "I'm chasing down some odds and ends about Devlin Marx while I wait on a
lead to develop," Aaron explained.  "And one of them was his connection to
Magnum Industries.  Back in the 1990s, Marx made his bankroll working for
Magnum, and when it collapsed in 1998 he founded Marx Industries from the
wreckage.  But a little digging revealed that he re-founded Magnum via
several shell companies in 2015 and used it as a bolthole for resources,
resources that he used to rebuild after Lorenzo Archangeli wiped out the rest
of Marx's fortune.  It took some significant digging by a friend who's very
good with computers, but the trail finally led to you as the one who did the
spadework of setting up the new Magnum Industries.  It is, in fact, one of
the major industrial employers of Detroit right now, and while you're not
officially on the board of directors, the company does seem to answer to you
as Marx's proxy."
     "And this is a motive for murder?" McKay asked, looking vaguely
offended.  "If your friend did his research correctly, he'd have found that
while I may have a checkered past, I do not kill."
     "No, I don't think you do...Doctor Developer," Aaron arched an eyebrow.
"But you do seem a little defensive, yes?  Still, I do have a few questions
or requests regarding matters you may be able to help with."
     "Ask away."
     "First, I'd like permission to set our forensic data analysts loose on
Magnum's books.  Since Detroit is still a Contract Town for some reason, it's
a lot easier if you say yes."
     "I'll have my lawyers look into it, but I don't see any reason why I
wouldn't say yes.  Next?"
     "In the documents that *are* in the public record, I saw that some of
Magnum's industrial processes involve violation physics.  But there's no
public record of any employees who could implement those processes, at least
not until fairly recently, when you accepted a pair of Academy graduates from
our techie track.  While we have a very likely suspect for the creation of
the supertech murder weapon, I want to be able to rule out anyone at this
end.  Could you arrange for your other paranormal employees to be
     McKay shrugged.  "They're currently a bit busy with a bit of
troubleshooting, but I'll see when they can fit it in.  For the most part
they're too busy here in Detroit to engage in any, ah, extracurricular
activities.  In fact, the last time they even left town for any significant
amount of time was when they spent New Year's in Milwaukee.  Heh, and Moira
says *I* need to get out of the lab more."
     "Thank you for any assistance you can render, Doctor McKay," Aaron
     "It probably won't be much," the gray-haired man warned.  "Marx was very
careful with his secrets...a lot of them never left his own head, and even
there he probably didn't sleep easy all the time.  Sometimes two men can keep
a secret only if *both* of them are dead," he twisted the aphorism.
"Although," his face took on a thoughtful cast, "it's too bad you weren't on
the scene at the time of death."
     "Oh?  Why is that?  Other than the obvious, that I might have prevented
     "You might have been able to read his mind, Mr. Zander."
     "There's some Anchors I could do that to, Doctor McKay, but Devlin Marx
could keep me out while in a coma," Aaron assured him.
     The long-reformed supervillain shook his head.  "I've been studying
Violation Physics for literally longer than you've been drawing breath,
mainly looking for loopholes and ways I could exploit it despite my handicap
of being a 'normal,'" he grinned wryly, as if the idea of being considered
normal in any way was a private joke.  "As near as I can tell, Anchors follow
the same rules for the spirit/body duality and mind/spirit duality as
everyone else.  But their Anchor effect is tied to the spirit, *not* the
mind.  And it's possible to telepathically examine the mind after the spirit
has departed, at least until the patterns start to decay, yes?"
     -+He's got us there,+- Paul noted.  His own spirit had already been
devoured by the Arcanovore before Aaron had done a full copy of his mind.
[As seen in ASH #9, although Aaron didn't realize the spirit had been
devoured until ASH #16. - Ed.]
     "Unfortunately, by this point, information entropy alone would have
scrambled everything, even if the physical matter of the brain had been
prevented from decaying," McKay seemed faintly disappointed on a clinical
     "Hm, I think you may have helped me more than you expected to, Doctor
McKay," Aaron deliberately duplicated the other man's earlier thoughtful
expression.  "My people will be in touch about the records searches, though,
Marx may have deliberately left some information hidden in plain sight to be
found in the event of his death."
     "Certainly," McKay nodded.  "Do you need anything else?"
     "Not at the moment," he shook his head.  "But your receptionist gave me
an email address I can use if I have any other questions."
     "Good, good.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I should probably check in on
my, ah, experiment.  Good day, Mr. Zander?"
     "Good day."

     An hour later, back at the hotel room, Aaron finished the last of the
electronic paperwork needed for authorization of the data forensics.  McKay's
lawyer had replied promptly and in the affirmative.
     -+So.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking?+- Paul asked.
     +-I think so, Brain, but where are we going to get a rubber chicken the
size of Tokyo Tower?-+
     Aaron's head jerked to the side as Paul briefly appropriated enough
muscle control to simulate a smack upside the head.
     +-Yeah, yeah.  I think we need to ask the autopsy crew some new
questions, in light of what McKay brought up.  Not to mention...oops, there
goes the handcomp.-+
     Aaron picked up the small device and checked the flatscreen, not
bothering to engage the battery-sucking holographic emitters.
     +-Looks like our ticket to the Vatican just got punched.  I'll send off
those questions to New York, then we can get packed.-+
     -+What does one wear for an audience with the Pope, anyway?+-


Next Issue:

     Contact travels to the Holy See and confronts one of the most powerful
men in the world!  Gimble takes a journey into the darkest time of her life!
Things come to light in the darkness in Kheper's Path III: Crossing Midnight!


Author's Notes:

     It's worth taking a moment to clarify some of the distinctions between
the types of paragangs.  While it's never been fully established how
paragangs got their start, it's fairly safe to assume that the first ones
were in it for the "normal" reasons one forms a gang.  With much of the
population gone from Manhattan, there was plenty of space for squatters to
move in, and that sort of populace lends itself to extragovernmental
hierarchies...aka gangs.
     Either paranormals emerged from existing gangs or paranormals showed up
and drew people to them from the gangs.  But these were essentially criminal
organizations, engaged in the usual rackets, plus organlegging and worse (The
Oblivious were big into organlegging).
     By the time Warden woke up in 2022, however, paragangs had started to
generate a mystique of sorts.  Gangs with purely or at least majority
paranormal membership existed by 2022, helped along by the fact that some of
the superhumans were "created" beings (like Bathory's animalistic minions or
the "remade men" of the CyberNostra).  And this drew rebellious powered teens
from around the Combine, who largely played at being paragangers.  These are
the posergangs and thrillgangs, of which the Rust Brothers and Cyanide Blues
were early examples.
     A posergang is really just in it for the style points.  Being a
paraganger is cool, a sort of semi-manufactured rebellion for the paranormal
set.  Posergangs generally survive by not pissing anyone off enough to be
worth the effort to crush, but the more hardcore members often get recruited
away by the real paragangs.  Posergangs often attract members purely because
they're seen as a safe "learning experience" for people looking to become
real paragangers, although dedicated members of groups like the Rust Brothers
aren't too keen on their role as farm teams.
     Thrillgangs are a bit more dangerous, as they're composed of people who
are in it for the chance to do illegal stuff.  They may not be cold-blooded
killers, but they're looking to hurt people, or at least Tamper In God's
Domain a bit.  Most thrillgangs either get serious (like the Cyanide Blues
did), get crushed, or find some niche that lets them avoid "growing up" yet
keeps them from being someone worth the effort to kill off.  The Jolly
Molecules, who are really just interested in weird science, are one of the
few thrillgangs with any longevity, although they tend to be seen as the
equivalent of the geek fraternity house.  The real paragangs may sneer at the
Jollies or even push 'em around some, but no one really wants to give up the
shot at getting the toys that the Jolly Molecules come up with, and the
Jollies have at least enough sense to not push things far enough to be seen
as a true threat.  True threats have to become real paragangs or they die
fast.  Or both.
     The Vogue Ghoul scene hasn't been much explored, but the general
impression given by their few mentions is that the vast majority of Eurasian
Vogue Ghoul gangs are posergangs, with a few thrillgangs.  On the other hand,
while typically seen as growing out of the Vogue Ghoul phenomenon, the
Otakuza have become something beyond the normal ideas of paragangs, and for
all their silly trappings they're taken quite seriously.  Just as a few of
the more serious Manhattan paragangs have turned into something of a
governmental force, the Otakuza are rising into a similar role in Japan, if
only because they're the best-equipped to deal with supernatural menaces.


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