[ASH] ASH #88 - Coming Home Epilogue: The Next Morning
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri May 16 16:13:52 PDT 2008
The cover shows the foot of a bed, with the sheets in disarray and
various bits of Solar Max's and Meteor's costumes scattered about. Cover
copy reads, "Home is where the heart is...."
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #88
// || \\ || || Coming Home Epilogue - The Next Morning
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS ASSIGNMENT
-------- --------- ------ ----------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control AMERICA
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 12, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
The red halo of friction-heated air subsided as Solar Max brought his
and Jen's speed down to a reasonable level, and the two separated. D.J.'s
transport had whipped around Earth in a quick hyperbolic orbit and was
already likely back in hyperspace, the fact that Solar Max didn't need a
re-entry craft meant that the Galactic Warrior Corps transport wasn't
required to waste fuel on landing and launch. They'd send Jen's borrowed GWC
spacesuit on to Canberra later.
"I'm meeting Dan for some debriefing," Jen said over commlink. "Don't
take this the wrong way, but I think we need to see other people," the smile
was apparent in her voice.
"No kidding," Solar Max replied, arrowing away towards the ASH HQ in
downtown. "I've got some debriefing plans of my own. Derek can wait until
morning, and it'll take the higher-ups a while to digest the report we
transmitted from orbit, so I figure I've got at least the next eight hours or
so to take care of personal business. As Mr. Green said in that old movie,
I'm going home to sleep with my wife!"
* * * *
Jen stepped out of the shower, alone. Dan had left the STRAFE-rented
apartment half an hour ago, naturally citing work...the man might be good at
helping Jen with her physical needs, but he was about as emotionally
fulfilling as a mechanical sex toy sometimes. And this had been one of those
times. The vulnerability he'd displayed back during the hunt for Rebus
[STRAFE #14 - Ed.], the hole in his armor that had let her in, was gone
again. He was sufficient unto himself, if not an island than a pretty
isolated peninsula. And Jen wasn't sure she deserved that, not anymore.
For all his wariness and clear desire not to be unfaithful to Sarah,
JakZak had been a LOT more emotionally available during their shared years of
exile than Dan ever had been. She wanted someone who could be more like
that, even if it meant letting go of what she finally could admit to herself
was a schoolgirl crush on the class hunk.
She sighed as she wrapped a towel around her hair, one of the new
nanofiber types that would wick the moisture out of even *her* mane in under
a minute, and checked the time.
"9:23 PM" the display gleamed helpfully.
"Clock, Tibetan time, please."
The "PM" blinked and became "AM". Tibet had been part of PRC Standard
Time for decades, an awkward hour or so out of synch with the Sun, but the
recent breakup of that super-state into three smaller nations had changed
timekeeping. The Central Asian Confederacy now uniformly observed GMT -7,
and since the Combine still used Daylight Savings Time out of bureaucratic
inertia, that put Chicago and Lhasa 12 hours apart in the summer.
Not exactly convenient for talking, unless one happened to have the rest
of the evening free and a bad case of space lag...ship time was on Santari
days, which weren't the same length as Earth days, and she'd waken up that
day at about noon, Central Daylight Savings Time as a result of the
constantly shifting synch between ship time and Earth time. A Galactic
Warrior Corps ship didn't care too much about keeping in synch with a
backwater non-Confed planet, even a dangerous one like Earth.
Her hair now dry, Jen pulled on a fresh uniform with the efficiency of
long practice and headed over to the secure communications system set up at
the desk. The apartment was a sort of "home office" for STRAFE agents
temporarily on business in Chicago, which usually meant it was Dan's place,
given all the times he had to work with ASH.
Fortunately, that meant that it already had all the protocols installed
for making the call she wanted, and her authorization was theoretically equal
to Dan's. Oh, it was currently under review pending confirmation that she
wasn't a clone, a cyborg impostor, or any one of a hundred other
possibilities, but it didn't balk when she placed the video call.
"You have reached the office of Resplendent Phoenix," the intelligent
receptionist program announced, in flawless Standard Chinese, displaying a
stylized image of a phoenix. Jen knew the system could have addressed her in
English, but Dan must have set the defaults for this connection to Chinese to
be diplomatic. After all, it's not like he had trouble with languages, even
leaving aside his translator implant. To Jen, though, it sounded odd...as
she suspected Modern English would to someone from Shakespearean times.
"I would like to arrange to speak to the Western Dragon," Jen replied.
She did so, however, in the ancient version of the language that she had
learned while stranded in the past. She suspected it would get her a quicker
Less than a minute later, the virtual receptionist pinged. "The
President has an opening in her schedule now," it announced. President?
Well, the CAC was all about change and trying new things, it shouldn't have
surprised Jen that the Western Dragon had a new title. "Do you wish to speak
with her now?"
The phoenix vanished and was replaced by the face of a breathtakingly
beautiful woman, the dragon masquerading as a human who went by the name of
Western Dragon...and who Jen had met a few months into her personal past and
nearly two millennia ago as the calendar reckoned it as "most serene dragon
of the Western mountains."
"Major Kleinvogel, to what do I owe the pleasure of your call, and in
such a nostalgia-invoking dialect at that?" she asked, and Jen almost blinked
in surprise. It had been so long since anyone had used her official rank
that she'd almost forgotten it herself.
"I had a question about matters long past," Jen replied, using the
ancient tongue she'd been speaking until a few months ago. She wasn't
worried that the connection was secure...the fact that Dan ever deigned to
use it to contact government officials meant that it'd probably require
someone knowing about the call and putting immense resources into play to
crack the encryption in time to hear anything. But speaking in Han Dynasty
Chinese helped set the mood she wanted. "Specifically, the matter of the
great demon Devastation."
The dragon narrowed her eyes. "Do you refer to the Third Age villain
"No. I refer to the demon unleashed during the Later Han Dynasty. I
wish to know what the cost was to defeat it," Jen insisted.
"The cost was very high," Western Dragon sighed. "Perhaps more than
this world was truly worth, for it meant the death of many great mortals I
had counted as friends."
"Did Seven Winds survive?"
Western Dragon shook her head. "None of the Secret Masters lived past
that day. They bought me the opening I needed to strike, and I nearly died
as well. The Heavenly Consort in Silk used her dying breaths to spirit me
away to my cave to heal, and I did not awaken until 1997, when roused by my
brother spirits. But how do you know of Seven Winds? Or Devastation?"
"I'm afraid I need to consult with my government before releasing
details, but the short form is that the Monaco incident left me stranded in
the past. The distant past, on a mortal scale. And I knew Seven Winds quite
well...I mourn his passing."
"Do not mourn too deeply," the Western Dragon smiled. "The old wizard
was no Immortal, he would not have lived to meet you again in any case. And
he died fulfilling his life's purpose, his feet firmly on the Path even as he
flew through the clouds."
"Your ten o'clock appointment has arrived," the voice of the artificial
receptionist broke in, faintly.
"I'm sorry, but I must go," the dragon apologized. "Perhaps we can talk
more once you have consulted your superiors and know what you can and cannot
tell a foreign head of state," she grinned. "It's certainly my day for
talking to Americans, though."
"Oh, really? Anyone I know...that you'd be at liberty to tell me about,
"Only if you study Twentieth Century history, Major," the dragon gave
another of her almost serpentine sly smiles. "I'd say you wouldn't recognize
him, but due to a recent...adventure...Mister Morse may rather more closely
resemble his images in the history books now."
"That wouldn't be *Chuck* Morse, would it?"
The Western Dragon chuckled. "And I think perhaps you told me more
about your travels than you had planned to, yes? We will talk some other
With that, the screen shifted to an image of a coiling dragon.
* * * *
[June 13, 2026 - The Citadel, Khadam]
Slowly the storm subsided, trailing off to just wind and clouds over the
normally desert-bound nation. Those who knew how to read not just the moods
of the weather but those of she who was its mistress relaxed.
Derek Radner had little enough weather-eye, but he thought he knew his
wife pretty well, and he lay back in the elegant four-poster bed and let out
a sigh of contentment. "Yes, it's good to be home," he declared.
"And now I *know* you were faithful," Angeline smiled over at him.
"You've obviously been saving *that* up for a while."
Derek shrugged. "I may be a villain, but I'm no cad. Of course I was
faithful." No need to mention that it wasn't too hard keeping to his vows
while in Ancient Rome...sexually transmitted diseases predated effective
prophylaxis by quite a large margin, and of the many things he was prepared
to "get used to" if truly stranded in the past, random itches and burning
sensations weren't even close to being on the list. The time hiding in El
Dorado was a little tougher, especially since there were enough women willing
to throw themselves at the Great One that he almost literally had to beat
them off with a stick, but he'd managed.
"How long can you stay?" Angeline asked, suddenly serious. "And no
evasion, I know you're a target for those horrible people from the future,
and if you already had a way to destroy them you would have done it before
announcing your return."
Derek sighed again, but not in contentment. "I should be able to at
least spend some time with Kitty and Xander," referring to their twin
toddlers, Catherine Victoria Croft and Alexander Yvan Radner. An elegant
solution to his wife's desire to remain a Croft...their sons would be Radners
and their daughters would be Crofts. Already the naming convention had
caught on among Khadam's elite and would-be-elite.
"You missed their first words...written words, that is," Angeline
quickly corrected herself. The twins had been speaking by the time they were
12 months old, and now were over 18 months.
"Oh?" Derek sat up. "What have they written?"
"Xander started with what can charitably be described as 'me' although
the M had too many humps and the E was backwards. Catherine wrote 'Eugene'
but I suspect she was heavily coached. Both are up to about twenty words
now, mostly in English."
Derek smiled. "I suppose it's safe enough letting Conflicto be an uncle
for now." Then he started to laugh.
"What is it?" Angeline asked.
"Oh, just a bit of irony," Derek wiped away the tears starting to form
in his eyes from laughter. "One of the things I was working on in my spare
time before the whole time travel thing was picking out educational
programming for the twins. Some classic TwenCen stuff, some newer material,
and I was even writing some of my own. I never got the chance to give it to
them, but I found a good use for it anyway, and it looks like Xander and
Kitty did fine without it."
"What use did you find for old children's programs?"
"Oh, I merely educated a nation...."
* * * *
Yrni poked his head out from under the blankets and gave Viktor a
meaningful look. "So. What now?"
"I don't know," Viktor sighed. He supposed he could have given the El
Doradan an innuendo-laden rejoinder, but he knew what Yrni meant. As the
silence stretched on, he looked up at the vaulted ceiling of his room,
probably the largest room in all of El Dorado in use as living quarters. In
fact, it had once been storage, with two floors' worth of gridwork filling
the space. Even as large as it was, it made Viktor feel cramped.
Yrni, on the other hand, despite the usual psychological screening El
Doradans went through to prevent such problems, was a bit agoraphobic. He
didn't break down in panic when in larger caverns, but he had trouble
sleeping under such a high ceiling, tending to stay under the blankets even
when the lights were out. He claimed he could *hear* the size of the room in
the dark, and Viktor was inclined to believe him.
"You're free to go," Yrni pointed out. "Now that the Gr...that Triton
has revealed your and our presence to the world, there's no need for you to
hide here anymore. You can go back to your old life." Unspoken, but clearly
understood by both, was that Yrni simply couldn't be a part of that old life.
The surface held no attraction for him, only deep-seated fears. He could
overcome them for a while, with effort, but having to live like that
was...unpleasant. The fact that the surface world still retained virulent
pockets of reactionary anti-homosexual sentiment didn't thrill Yrni either,
especially since he considered himself reactionary in his homosexuality.
Different social engineering, different results.
"My old life ended when my Fetter was killed and I turned into a monster
in the middle of a party," Viktor countered. One of many things he owed
Rebus for, and could never exact vengeance...as part of the Anchor Killer
conspiracy, Rebus had robbed him of the life he'd cherished. He'd never
known he was a paranormal, thanks to the Conclave's influence in keeping him
constantly Fettered by the man he'd considered to be his manager.
"The wings and horns are only there when you want them now, though,
thanks to your rebirth," Yrni countered, running his fingers through
Viktor's blonde hair, past where the antlers could sprout at will. "And even
if the specifics of your old life are lost, you could still go out there and
find yourself a man who isn't stuck in a hidden pit."
Viktor sighed again, closing his eyes. "Maybe I could, Ernie," he
admitted, tripping over the linguistic shift for what had to be the
thousandth time. El Doradans took their names from the media files Triton
had left them millennia ago, but centuries had passed since the original
player had died, and there had been inevitable alterations to names and
words. They'd gotten most of their language back in synch with English since
resuming observation of the outside world, but names had largely stayed
"Will you?" the El Doradan asked.
"I don't know," Viktor shook his head. "You know I used to be a model,
and I wasn't even particularly deep for a guy in that profession. I'm still
pretty shallow, although knowing you've been snatched from certain death and
dealing with the fact that you're a copy does tend to force a little self-
examination. The old me, the runway star, wouldn't have stayed with you past
a single night. And the Peryton that was copied would have been too bound up
in self-pity to even let you get close. I like to think I'm a bit more grown
up now, but that doesn't mean..." he trailed off.
"You have wings, and you must be free to soar," Yrni nodded, pulling
the covers up a bit, but leaving his face exposed. "At least we had some
time together before the cage door was opened."
* * * *
[Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
Rex Umbrae smiled as he watched his wife get dressed. At the moment,
she didn't even have most of her skin in place, a sight that most people
would probably have found disturbing. But the King of Shadows was not most
people by any stretch of the imagination, and he found a certain grace and
even vulnerability in Maria Incarnata's exposed cybernetics. Oh, he liked
the artfully designed skin suits she wore as well...for all the oddities in
his background, he still had most of the usual male preferences as well. But
one did not rise to a high position in the Cybernostra and stay there without
being a very tightly-guarded individual. Even with Rex, Maria rarely took
off the emotional "skin suit" she wore, so seeing her stripped down even past
the bare essentials was even more emotionally intimate than it was
"So, if you're done ogling my actuators, what's on the docket for
today?" Maria asked, casting a look back over her shoulder as she started
pulling the leggings of her "dress casual" skin suit on.
"Obviously, Radner's little bombshell got bumped to the head of the
list, and I'm sure Mabuse has been up all night re-examining his assumptions
about our poachers in light of it," Rex replied, getting out of bed and
heading to his own walk-in closet. In his own way, his wardrobe was as
specialized as his wife's, although his needs could still be met by a mundane
tailor. He just needed about twice as much cloth as most men, being the
product of Khadamite genetic enhancement experiments that left him taller and
more muscular than even the vaunted Green Knight, if nowhere near as strong.
"Any chance at all that Marx is behind the poaching?" Maria asked as she
selected a practical armorset from one of the racks. "I mean, the
paragangers who've been de-rezzing aren't really the goody-goody types
Devlin's more likely to be trying to hire away from us, but you never know
what that crusty old Anchor might be planning."
The fact that most Cybernostra used alien technology rather than
Violation Physics meant that the old Conclave had been forced to take more
inventive measures when dealing with Maria's people back in the wilder days
of Manhattan's paragang scene, and Rex thought it sometimes left her a little
paranoid about what the old man might be up to. "Mabuse has been keeping a
very close eye on Marx lately," Rex countered, referring to his secretary by
day, enforcer by night. "Mainly trying to prove links to Hellhound, but just
generally being 'Antoine' about it. And if anything, he's of a mind that
Marx is just sliding gracefully into retirement from the power elite. He
might be sliding money to Hellhound under the table, but that's about as much
as he could be doing, as closely as we're watching him. No, I agree with him
that the 'Impossible Five' are probably the root of our problems. But we
still have to take a second look at it today, because it's now possible that
Radner's been sneaking our missing people out to this El Dorado place in the
past few months as part of his brand new power base."
"Seems unlikely, given that he's theoretically your boss and could have
just asked," Maria shrugged. "But he's certainly a twisty enough guy to do
an end run around his own chain of command just to score a few style points.
The man's just way too in love with the stereotype of the mustache-twirler
for my comfort."
Rex chuckled. "You should know by now that Khadam doesn't have a chain
of command to speak of. It's *all* 'end runs' from top to bottom and side to
side. And despite nominally being at the top of the messy heap, Radner knows
better than to ask me to do anything he doesn't think I'm willing to do. If
too many people tell him 'no' he runs the risk of losing his job and his
head. Still," Rex pondered as he buttoned his silk shirt, "he hasn't even
been sending out feelers along those lines. Granted, he's supposedly been
trying to keep the Impossible Five from finding out he survived Monaco, but
there's half a dozen ways he could have indirectly gotten me a message in the
past few months if he was doing something that required action in my city."
Maria clicked the last piece of armor home and stepped over to her rack
of wigs. "How about Dumont? We *know* she's getting money from Marx for
those clinics of hers. And she's so charmingly positioned as the 'repentant
villain' type...even if Marx is getting out of the game, he may simply be
handing his markers over to Dumont. Regardless of whether her telepathic
talents have returned, she's got roots in the paragangs as deep as ours and
could be hiring away old organlegger partners who are interested in going
more legit. Or just as not-legit but with a different boss."
"Possible," Rex nodded, selecting a subdued burgundy tie with thin gray
stripes. "And odds are that her telepathy has returned, at least partially.
She's just been a little *too* good at evading Antoine's people to pass it
off as just instinct. Oh, and I should probably mention this now, so you
have time to mull it over before I need to make a decision...I'm thinking of
inviting ASH in, should it turn out that the Impossible Five are involved in
"Wait. What? How does that help us in the least?" Maria paused halfway
into snapping a short blonde wig into place over the sockets of her metal
"Firstly, because if the Five are active here, I doubt ASH will respect
treaty for very long, even if they believe our protestations of innocence.
Secondly, because we *are* trying to remold the old paragangs into a genuine
political force, and that means we eventually have to establish something
like diplomatic relations...something I've been working on indirectly via
MetaPsych and ASH's resident telepath. And thirdly, because we can insist on
placing one or two of our own people on any team that gets sent in.
Establishing goodwill and cooperation is a good idea on its own...and when it
gives you the chance to get inside their defenses and learn more about people
you may have to fight one day, all the better."
"Ah, my twisty-brained husband, you know just what to say to get me all
hot and bothered," she stepped over and reached up to give Rex a peck on the
cheek. "Too bad we have a schedule to keep."
"There's always the option for a long lunch," Rex winked.
* * * *
[Chicago, Illinois Sector]
JakZak propped his head up on one hand and looked down at Sarah's
contented face. "So...where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?"
"I seem to recall you were the one doing the interrupting," she grinned,
eyes closed but crinkling up at the edges. "Timestream, I think."
"Right, right," he nodded. "It's not like I've got a LOT of experience
time traveling, even if I've got more than just about anyone I know, but
there was something different about it. For one thing, I didn't black out.
And then there was that voice, which I presume was one of the gods...I'll
need to remember to ask Howie if he knows of any who'd be taking an interest
in us. But at least that whole thing looks like something we can worry about
later, now that there *will* be a later. So, we dropped off the monster and
plopped down into the mid-1970s Detroit superhero scene, which was a blast,
even if it *was* winding down."
Sarah opened her eyes and frowned slightly, looking at her husband.
"Detroit had a superhero scene? Ever?"
"Sure!" JakZak smiled, a "you're kidding, right?" expression on his
face. "It was one of the major hubs for the Second Age. And...hm, I think
it had some small time action in the Third. Come to think of it, we covered
this all in history class, didn't we?"
Sarah snorted. "In one ear and out the other if it didn't have to do
with combat training, I'm afraid." She paused, thoughtful. "Still, it's
kinda weird to think back on college and realize what stuck and what didn't.
It wasn't even that long ago. I can still remember how to conjugate a whole
bunch of irregular Spanish verbs, but if we ever even talked about Detroit's
superhuman scene, damned if I can remember it."
"It was a little longer ago for me now," JakZak grinned. "Okay, now I'm
curious," he reached for a handcomp that had miraculously not been knocked
off the small table next to the bed. "Lessee...yeah, Detroit was totally
minor league in the Third Age, aside from the Godmarket months when
everywhere was majors. Your basic 'bar band' level super stuff. Anyone who
had any real power ended up heading for Chicago or New York or even
Columbus. Most of what stayed behind was techies...oh, Lord. 'Mistah
Mekanique?' Who could have possibly thought that codename was a good idea?"
"How many Q's in that name?" Sarah grinned.
"Just the one. And a K. Hm, that's odd. Detroit's a Contract Town."
Sarah sat up, starting to pull the sheets up with her and then just
mentally shrugging and letting them go. "What's so odd about that? A lot of
major cities went under outside contracts during the rebuilding. Remember,
my folks worked for one of the bigger rebuilders when I was little...I
must've lived in five different cities in two years before we settled down,
mom and dad running around helping put the computer infrastructures back
together for local governments."
JakZak shook his head. "Not odd that it ever was one. That it still
Sarah grabbed the handcomp away faster than JakZak could blink and
started scrolling through the city data. "That can't be right! The last
Contract Town got ceded back to national authority in, what, 2008? The
executive order allowing Contract Towns isn't even still valid...that's one
of the reasons ceding Manhattan to Umbrae was such a big deal [the city was
ceded to Umbrae's control in STRAFE #12 - Ed.]."
"Definitely something worth looking into, but it's starting to depress
me a bit even thinking about a 'lost' city like that, and this is supposed to
be a happy day," JakZak started running a finger down Sarah's bare side.
"Let's table that issue for now, eh?"
"Table it? The bed not good enough for you?" she giggled, dropping the
handcomp into a pile of rumpled clothing at the side of the bed....
* * * *
[Mexico City, Federal Sector]
"Wake up, sleepyhead," Arin lifted up one end of the sheet and tickled
Sal's feet. He yelped and fell out of bed with a yelp and a flurry of
tangled cloth. "We need to be up in Chicago by two for the big meeting, and
then the whole 'welcome back' party after."
"What time is it?" Sal mumbled as he carefully disentangled himself. He
could have just shrugged and turned the bedclothes into so many random
threads, but that would have been a waste.
"Time enough for me to give you a good scrubbing down," Arin replied,
shedding her robe and heading into the fairly large bathroom attached to what
was officially just Sal's apartment, even though she spent more time in it
than in the rooms that were officially hers. The bathroom had to be large,
not so much to accomodate two people as to handle the hulking "Green Knight".
The shower alone could hold two or three football players...admittedly a
bit larger than it really had to be, but it had been decided that more room
meant less chance of a sleepy superhuman accidentally putting an elbow
through a wall at 5 AM.
"Fine, fine," Sal finished peeling the covers off, satisfied that they
weren't bloodstained. One of the odder side effects of his evolving powers
was that blood found its way into just about every fluid his body produced,
including tears and sweat, but he was getting better at controlling when it
did and didn't emerge. Ever since Caprice had turned him temporarily into a
mobile pool of blood in Montreal [CSV #15 - Ed.], life had just gotten
weirder and weirder. "I can get myself clean, you know," he added a bit
"And I can get clean just by pulsing," Arin replied, referring to one of
the more finely-tuned applications of her explosive powers, "but that doesn't
make a good hot shower stop being FUN," she pointed out. "Oh, and your
combat togs should be back from the cleaners before we leave, but today's a
dress uniform occasion anyway, and you haven't worn that since that thing the
mayor threw three months ago."
Sal entered the bathroom, where Arin was already undressed and fine-
tuning the shower's temperature. "Your domestic side seems to be in
overdrive this morning," he observed. "I'm guessing you talked to Chris
before waking me up?"
She nodded, picking up a long-handled brush and using it like a baton to
direct Sal into the shower. "He's really coming along great," she beamed,
clearly proud of her son. "Both of him, actually. I was a little concerned
about it when Grind suggested it, but future-Chris is like an uncle to his,
um, alternate past self. Little Chris's language skills are almost up to a
match with his apparent age, since big Chris remembers what used to give him
problems growing up," she said, scrubbing the expanse of Sal's back.
"So, I take it the location is still secure?" Sal asked. The future
version of Chris Kelsey had been the catalyst for the arrival of the
Impossible Five, and while his memory was still swiss-cheesed from something
they'd done to him, the man from the future potentially knew the weaknesses
of his former companions. They wouldn't exactly be eager to let him stay
"*I* don't even know where they are," Arin replied, working her way
around his side with the brush. "We've got some mystically encrypted
communications software from one of Peregryn's contacts, though, so we should
be okay for now. As far as we know, none of the I5 is really a 'true' mage,
just a bunch of really potent focused supernormals. Matrioshka's the only
one we're really worried about breaking security, and our supplier seems
pretty confident that he has her number," she added as she reached the front
and worked her way down Sal's chest, her mid-length red hair plastering
across her face as the shower streams hit the back of her head.
"Good, good," Sal smiled. "A little lower, if you could. Lower...there
you go," he grinned widely.
"Yes, I can see that you need a good scrubbing there, don't you? This
could take a while," Arin leered back.
"We can always have breakfast on the jet...."
* * * *
[Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]
Aaron looked out over the somewhat gap-toothed skyline of Manhattan from
his guest room on the 78th floor of One World Trade Center. One of the side
effects of Umbrae's stabilizing influence on the city was that deconstruction
of many of the less-iconic skyscrapers had shifted into high gear, buildings
that had been under-maintained for decades and were too hazardous to be worth
reconditioning. It felt like a metaphor for something, but he couldn't quite
put it to words.
-+Don't get all angsty on me,+- Paul's voice chuckled. Aaron had known
for more than two years [since ASH #16 - Ed.] that the voice was really just
part of his own mind, a part that acted and sounded like the dead Paul
Mahler, but he'd come to terms with that, and realized that there were enough
advantages to being split two ways mentally that he'd declined offers to help
re-integrate his personality. In his case, it was more a feature than a bug,
as programmers would say.
+-Fine, no angst this morning. Especially since last night went so
well,-+ Aaron agreed with himself.
The phone rang. You'd think that in a building full of telepaths like
the MetaPsych station here, phones would be quaintly redundant. But so many
rooms were technologically *and* electromagnetically shielded that hard line
phones were necessary.
"Hello?" Aaron picked up the receiver. He got just enough telepathic
leakage to tell it was Gene Clark on the other end, and she was agitated.
"I'm just about ready to go for our 8 o'clock meet..."
"That's cancelled," the young omnipath cut him off. "Or, really, it's
changing into something else," she corrected herself.
"Why? What happened?"
"Devlin Marx has been murdered."
Devlin Marx has been murdered, and the list of potential suspects would
be longer than this entire issue! But a man as connected as Marx doesn't
simply die, he pulls a big chunk of sociopolitical real estate down with him,
and Contact's the lucky guy on the scene to try to deal with the carnage!
The "old movie" mentioned in the opening scene is "Clue" (1985), the
line spoken by Michael McKean's character in one of the many alternate
How does homosexuality count as reactionary in El Dorado? Well, until
reliable birth control methods were invented, social support of homosexual
relationships was one means of keeping birth rates at a level that could be
sustained in an essentially closed underground society that had managed to
get infant mortality under control. Even in 2026, several generations after
it stopped being economically dangerous, flagrant heterosexuality is seen as
a little shocking by the "old fogies". :) People are people, and are always
going to find something to get offended by, usually something related to
Oh, and Yrni's first boyfriend was named Bhirt. Just so you know.
Chuck Morse is also known as Weaponsmaster, and has appeared in several
issues of Coherent Super Stories. Antoine Mabuse figured in the "Metropolis"
arc of ASH (ASH #71-75). Jess "Scry" Dumont first appeared in CSV #1/2 and
has probably shown up in every Fourth Age ongoing title by this point. :)
Mistah Mekanique is a recurring character in LL&DD. Chris Kelsey (future)
arrived in the "present" during the "Time And Space" arc, ASH #61-64, and his
abuse by the Impossible Five took place in "Four to Never" (ASH #76-78 and
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at
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