[ASH] ASH #94 - Billions Served II: Counterparts
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Thu Nov 20 08:44:02 PST 2008
[The cover shows Solar Max and Meteor being pushed aside by the new
Brightsword and four shadowy figures that trail behind him. Brightsword is
saying, "One side, old-timers. America has a NEW team!"]
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #94
// || \\ || || Billions Served Part 2 - Counterparts
// || \\__// || || 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
[July 6, 2026 - Newport News, Virginia Sector]
Meteor tugged at the borrowed Marshals uniform, its heavier armor cloth
a bit of a nuisance. Okay, so it wasn't really borrowed, it only felt that
way. Every member of ASH had been quietly made a Marshal so that they could
issue orders and be in the chain of command, so the uniform was really hers.
But she'd never worn it since the fitting session.
It was the role that felt borrowed, to be honest.
Sure, on paper she was a Marshal. On paper, all Combine law enforcement
was a single sprawling organization, from local sheriffs to the CBI all the
way to ASH. In practice, it was even fairly well held-together...the seams
may have been pretty obvious, but they held. But ASH was promoted so heavily
as a Superhero Team separate from the Marshals that she tended to buy into
her own press.
Today, though, it was a handy "second hat" for purposes of mousetrapping
the Rush. She and her husband were in their Marshals uniforms, helmets on,
so it just looked like five Marshals waiting for five cyborgs to show up,
odds even enough that the Rush would probably give in to overconfidence and
stick around long enough to be truly stuck.
"Are we there yet?" Marshal Hodgson sighed over the helmet comms. The
helmets themselves had active sound cancellation turned on, so that no one
without a comm could hear it.
"Pay up, dear," Sarah smiled as she patted JakZak on the shoulder. "I
wasn't the first to get impatient with the wait."
"Boomer" Hodgson snickered despite himself. "Cute. Anyway, are we ever
gonna be there yet? I know the CBI's pet mathemagician said there was a
sixty five percent chance the Rush would hit this electronics store within
the next twelve hours, but even magic is susceptible to GIGO. [Garbage In,
Garbage Out - Ed.] Or false trails. I have trouble believing that these
guys would be so Second Age as to leave an ego signature."
Marshal Willot snorted. "They may be from the future, but they're still
paragangers. And as smart as Superconductor is supposed to be, he still
thinks like a 'ganger, and like someone from his own time. No, they're not
carving glyphs from Rush album covers into the sites of their crimes, but
once you know to look it was pretty obvious. They cover up the wrong sorts
of clues, steal things that aren't valuable in our time and leave things that
"Indeed," the fifth member of the ad hoc squad nodded. Marshal Jackson
had been close friends with Hodgson at the Academy, and was well aware of the
man's blind spots. "They seem to have some sort of device that prevents them
from leaving any DNA traces...but the ones with human hands didn't even wear
gloves, so we got fingerprints once we dumped the data from recent unsolved
crimes into the Combine-wide search system. It was so low-tech they didn't
even realize they should care about it."
To Jackson's chagrin, the local police he worked with didn't routinely
do that with something as low-tech as fingerprints, they only auto-checked
*DNA* against the national database. Oh, they took fingerprints out of
habit, but only checked them against local sources. Obviously, that policy
had now been changed. And Sarah intended to make sure that the word got
around the rest of the Combine too...this wasn't the 1980s, there was plenty
of bandwidth and processing power available to let them routinely check all
forensic evidence against national databases.
"Of course, the vintage record store jobs were a little more obvious,"
JakZak noted. "Although that was originally chalked up to retro Rust
Brothers looking for vinyl to scratch."
"Perimeter alert," Boomer snapped to attention as the heads up displays
in his heavily customized helmet flashed. "Profiler was right, they have
some sort of cloak, advanced normaltech. Makes 'em hard to see in
artificially-lit environments like this place's security uses, looks like it
works best against the specific wavelengths put out by fluorescents."
"Remember, all we need to do is get them into position over the
reinforced section of floor," Solar Max cautioned. "I don't want a running
firefight taking out big chunks of the store's inventory if I can avoid it."
"What, did they start docking your pay?" Willot chuckled.
"Not everyone can play vigilante and hide from the consequences of their
collateral damage," Sarah shot back, instantly regretting it. Leaving aside
the fact that Beth didn't deserve the dig, they did *not* need to be going
into a fight with bad blood brewing over a stupid comment.
"Cut it, they're here. And I think they've figured out someone's
waiting for them," Jackson pointed out. As the only local Marshal, he still
had overall command of the operation on paper, despite the fact pretty much
everyone outranked him in general terms. But he'd used that nominal
authority to insist on taking the dangerous job. Point.
The young man once nicknamed "Dervish" stepped out into the light.
"Members of the Rush, you're under arrest for crimes against the North
American Combine." The other four then stepped out to flank him, holding up
heavy rifles with armor-piercing ammunition. They were pretty sure it'd
pierce even Mongo's plating, if they had to actually use the things.
"I suppose it's time to go back on tour," Superconductor sighed. "You
should have brought more than five Marshals, though, if you hoped to actually
capture us. And don't try to bluff that there's more in the wings, I know
there aren't. As it is, we'll just beat on you until we get bored, like last
time, and then leave."
"And maybe do more than beat you up," Chain Lightning leered at Beth,
electricity starting to arc along his forearms. "I bet we could really make
the sparks fly."
"Permission to be disgusted?" Beth asked silently over the comm.
"Granted," Solar Max and Alaric Jackson chorused.
"At the rate you're going," Jackson added on external speakers, "you'll
get back to your own time the old fashioned way...rotting away in prison the
"Perhaps," Superconductor conceded, "but you'll be rotting in a grave
long before that. Have some fun, boys, I'll take care of the shopping list,"
he waved the other four cyborgs forward.
"Wait for it," Boomer muttered, watching an overlay of the building's
schematics as the members of the Rush leapt into the fray. "Now!"
A shocked expression flashed on Superconductor's face as he was suddenly
pushed into the midst of his compatriots by Meteor, who had the job of making
sure there were no stragglers. This was followed by a satisfying CLANK as
Solar Max locally increased gravity by a factor of about fifty. The store
was in a building that had once held heavy machinery, and that section of the
floor was reinforced to handle extra weight...although from the looks of
things it'd still need some repair work when they were done.
Sensitive components shattered under their own weight, and Chain
Lightning grunted as power arced internally, shutting down his particle
blasters. Superconductor tried desperately to find a way to redirect the
energy, but whoever had been supplying him with additional tech hadn't
expanded his energy control to gravity. Hand and Fist simply collapsed in
the middle of attempting to combine.
Mongo kept coming, if only barely.
"Hold that pose," Boomer smiled, pointing a device of his own creation
at the hulking cyborg. "Smile for the pretty birdy!"
"Where's the birdy?" Mongo blinked, confused.
"Flying around your head in a minute," Boomer replied, then activated
the disruptor. Not much good against a moving target, it shorted out enough
systems after about ten seconds that Mongo finally dropped.
"Very...clever..." Superconductor gasped. "I'd hoped not to reveal our
bonus track yet, but I suppose I must...."
With that, the five vanished in a faint burst of cyan light.
"Well, they certainly picked an appropriate day for vanishing
mysteriously," Boomer opined, referring to the day twenty-eight years
previously when most of the population of the planet had disappeared.
"Tacky, Mike," Willot sighed.
For her part, Sarah just wished she could say this was the worst July
6th she'd had, but it wasn't even close.
* * * *
[July 7, 2026 - Somewhere on Venus]
"It's a pity Squadron died," Petra shot a glance at Daggermoth, "he
would have been particularly useful in implementing the plan Goldmind's come
"We couldn't have trusted him," Daggermoth countered. "He was too
attached to the meat. I heard him talking to himself when he thought he was
alone in the master's throneroom, thought that being trapped in Rebus's
damnable cat's cradle meant I was deaf and blind. As far as he was
concerned, all true life was merely puppets, like his own false bodies. I
think he seriously believed he could eventually take control of even mighty
Doublecross. I did us all a favor by destroying him. Besides," she held up
a hand, in which an orange butterfly manifested, "he's not the only one who
can create independent lightforms."
"Yes," hummed Goldmind from his nested crystal sphere, "but Squadron's
bodies have human intelligence, rather than insect intelligence. I can slave
the hive to my thoughts, but it creates more vulnerability in the matrix.
Or, rather, it leaves me as a single point of failure, rather than
distributing the load across multiple minds capable of handling it. As dim
as our departed comrade may have been compared to me...or to most anyone you
might meet...his cognitive matrix was adequate to the task. He merely
"At worst, we could have killed him once we had enough of his bodies to
make the reaction self-sustaining," Whiteout noted. "Or do I misunderstand
the nature of the plan?"
Goldmind wobbled, which was as close as he could get to shaking his
head. "No, you have the nub of it. At some point along the way, Squadron
would have become surplus to our needs."
"But Daggermoth's right about his untrustworthiness," Petra pointed out
before the orange photonic could make the connection Goldmind was alluding
to, that she might eventually be "surplus" as well. "And he WAS dim. Dim
enough that he might have decided we were surplus to *his* needs before we
could safely dispose of him. So I suppose Daggermoth's colonies will have to
serve the purpose."
"Speaking of people we need to safely dispose of," Whiteout ran a hand
over the back of the invisibly crouching form of Oblivion, "when do we deal
with Chiaroscuro? He's obviously just using us for his own ends, and he's
already as much as proclaimed himself the Photonic Messiah. He's not
Doublecross, though, and never will be, so at some point he's going to get in
our way, just as I'm sure we'll get in his."
Petra chuckled. "Sometimes I forget you used to be Derek Radner's
number one fan, Whiteout. Then you throw out something like that and remind
me how you used to try to be him. Trust me, I know he intends to dispose of
us. All of us," she patted her still-flat belly for emphasis. "I don't
think he's really worried about a paradox anymore at this point. But I've
gotten a strong impression that our current plan lines up with his interests
well enough that we can wait until it succeeds...or fails...on its own merits
before turning our attention to the matter of backstabbing...."
* * * *
[July 12, 2026 - Savannah, Georgia Sector]
"I'm BORED," Chain Lightning groused. "This backup hideout smells like
a cat pissed all over it, I've already played all my games five times, and I
actually got desperate enough to try to have a *conversation* with Mongo this
"If you succeed, see if you can convince Mongo to stop feeding the
strays. A large number of cats *have* pissed all over this place,"
"That's why our olfactories..." Hand started to say.
"...have off-switches," Fist finished.
"But I like kitties!" Mongo protested. "I don't even smoosh 'em anymore
when I pet 'em," he added, somewhat guiltily.
"Okay, now we *are* having a conversation with Mongo," Chain Lightning
sighed. "Can I please go out? At least get something to eat besides
delivery crap from the three places willing to send guys out to this flooded
out part of town?"
"Nuh-uh," Hand shook his head. "We tried ta tell yinz..."
"...the cops know what they're doin'," Fist finished.
Superconductor nodded. "Clearly, we got overconfident. This may be
practically the dark ages as far as cybernetics are concerned, but the police
still have working brains. And if their computers are slow and pathetic,
they can still find what they're looking for if they've figured out what it
is. Now that they're on our tail, we have to avoid leaving any clues that
would let the authorities know to even look for us in Savannah. And we're
too conspicuous in general. Even with the optical cloaks."
"Can't our sugar momma get us some disguises?" Chain Lightning
suggested. "I mean, I doubt she goes around all the time looking like a
china doll, and that little daemon of hers is a hologram, so she's got to
have access to holodisguises."
Superconducted nodded. "I thought of that, but one of the annoying
things about this cell structure is that I have to wait for her to contact
me, not the other way around. And I suspect she knows all about our problems
and is simply amused..."
Suddenly, a section of the warehouse's wall was torn away, letting in
the late afternoon sunlight!
"Surrender to the all-new, all-different Freedom Alliance!" a faintly
digital voice boomed.
"Who the fardlesnap are you?" Chain Lightning demanded, firing a bolt
from his built-in particle cannons into the dust cloud and striking the
"Kzzzk! That tickles!" was the only response.
"We're not ready for another fight," Superconductor hissed. "Bugging
out now, everyone!"
The dust started to settle.
"Why're we still here?" Mongo asked, more curious than confused. "You
want we should leg it, you mean?"
At this point, five figures stepped confidently into the gap in the
wall, a pair of hovering drones zooming ahead of them and seeking hiding
places in the corners.
"You can't escape American justice, cyborgs!" proclaimed the lead
figure, who wore red, white and blue armor emblazoned with a downward-
pointing crimson sword.
"The Freedom Alliance, led by the latest heir to the Brightsword legacy,
is here to bring you in," the original speaker noted. He seemed to be clad
in powered armor fashioned after that of a gladiator. Or, rather, elements
of several different gladiatorial styles, mashed together. "And I'm the
Globally Linked Advanced Digital Intelligence, 8th Revision...but you can
call me Gladiator!"
"Screw this," Chain Lightning snarled. "Mongo, back door!" With that,
he launched another barrage of lightning.
A man in bronze and olive green armor stepped in the way of the attack,
which was absorbed by his armor like water into a sponge. "Please, give me
more of your false lightning...my suit feeds on it as well as the true
thing," he raised a hand and fired a beam of brilliant blue light back at
Chain Lightning, nearly severing the cyborg's left arm.
"Let's hear it for Gauntlet," Gladiator said, sounding like a
sportscaster. "He's a whole lot of no fun at parties, but handy in a
firefight...or a lightningfight!"
Meanwhile, the other two members of the Freedom Alliance had taken
advantage of the distraction to work around to the sides of the warehouse.
Neither wore heavy armor like the other three, but they did wear full
bodysuits of material that suggested at least some protective value in the
way it moved. One was a woman in red with a black hourglass motif, the other
a man in bright green and gold with a sort of W pattern.
"That looked like it hurt," Mongo observed. "Oh, right...back door!"
He took off at a run towards the only side of the warehouse not currently
covered by heroes, intent on crashing through the wall. But a tendril of
energy lashed out from the fingertips of the red-clad woman and caused the
hulking cyborg to trip with a crash that scattered the crates that the Rush
had been using as furniture.
"The lovely Red Widow sure knows how to make a man fall for her, right
folks?" Gladiator kept up the color commentary. "You'd almost forget she
used to be a member of one of the notorious paragangs of New York!"
"Hey, that's Ghostclaw!" Hand realized.
"And I think we're on Candid Camera," Fist replied.
"Eyes front, boys," the man in green chided as he did a handspring using
one shoulder of each as supports. As he landed, they found themselves
starting to drift into the air.
"He's attached some sort of antigravity limpets," Superconductor
shouted, looking like a trapped animal. Things were going so badly so
quickly that he didn't really know what to do...Presto had always been the
one to make the decisions in a fight.
"Can't quite..." Hand struggled to grab the device and crush it.
"...reach 'em!" Fist finished.
"Let's hear it for Weapons Master, the only 'true' legacy in our little
group! Chuck Morse Junior...he hates being called Junior, though!" Gladiator
smirked, the faceplate of his armor folding up in an eerie approximation of a
smile. "Now it's my turn!" the smile widened into a manic grin as panels in
his chest flipped open, revealing a missile rack. "Thumbs down!"
"Christ!" Red Widow spat as she ran for cover.
"Don't take the Lord's name in...oh, damn!" Gauntlet shifted gears as he
realized that the guidance on the missile cluster had gone awry and at least
one of the projectiles was turning around and heading for him.
"Can I file a bug report?" Weapons Master grinned as he made an
antigrav-assisted leap to grab hold of one of the camera drones and ride it
out a window as the drone's controller saw which way the wind (and the
shrapnel) was blowing.
"Weapons safe! Weapons safe!" Brightsword shouted as a few of the
missiles impacted on his armor, battering it but leaving him relatively
"Override accepted," Gladiator replied, flatly. Almost sulkily. In any
case, the missile barrage stopped, although it was possible that Gladiator
was simply out of ammo.
"At least all the badguys seem to be out," Brightsword sighed. "Do you
think we can fix this in editing?"
* * * *
[July 12, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]
"I trust this was a satisfactory public debut?" the holographic figure
asked. It was vaguely humanoid, a flickering shadow that emerged from a
small tablet that Sam Walters held in his palm. To anyone else, it looked
like he was reading a handcomp, the hologram was only visible from his angle.
"It'll do. Fortunately, the Rush really weren't ready for a serious
fight, or we might have had trouble. The team still needs time to gel, I
suppose...patriotic zeal will only take you so far. And the only two on the
team with real fighting experience aren't exactly team players," Walters
"Well, that's to be expected, when you're working with the people that
neither ASH nor the Marshals wanted," the shadow shrugged. "Although I do
like the secondary 'redemption' theme your PR people have worked into the
team, on top of the primary patriotism one. Very modern, and a good contrast
to most of ASH...although it'll make it hard to attack them for their own
"Making a virtue of necessity," Walters shrugged. "Strictly speaking,
Cole and Mendez are on work-release, and I had to make that information
publically available. At least the power-taps in the Gauntlet armor are
keeping Cole from drifting off into delusion-land, and Mendez is following
orders and keeping her energy tendrils blunt. McGee's problems are too high
profile to quash, although we're playing that more as an excess of patriotism
and less as a lack of self-restraint. And Gladiator's reverse-engineered
from an evil robot from the future, it won't take long for the nets to figure
out his design specs. Morse doesn't quite fit the redemption theme, but the
fact that his father didn't marry his mother can be milked for something.
Actually, he worries me a little, since his record looks a little too faked,
especially since the original Weapons Master probably had access to the kind
of people who could work up documentation. My people are guessing that
'Chuck Morse Junior' isn't even related to Chuck Morse Sr., we're talking a
quake adoptee or something."
The shadow nodded. "We have also done our homework on your team. Do be
warned, for the most part they are *exactly* what they seem to be, for good
"Which would be a refreshing change," Walters frowned. "I still don't
know who you are, and I don't buy that you're in this purely out of
ideological grounds. You've provided technology and information, but the
devil always wants his due."
"As does the daemon," chuckled the figure. "Let's just say I represent
parties that dislike the increasing move towards a one-world government, and
would like people to have an alternative icon to look up to. A strong
America means, at least in the short run, a weak Combine and a weak United
World. In the long run, our goals may diverge if it looks like America will
simply supplant the UW as a single world government, but you'll just have to
decide for yourself when it's time to try to break off our relationship."
With that, the hologram bowed and vanished, leaving Walters to wonder if
he'd already passed the point where it was too late to disentangle himself
from these people?
* * * *
[July 12, 2026 - Savannah, Georgia Sector]
Sueprconductor awoke to the distinct sensation of pins and needles, and
realized someone was attempting to remove his cybernetic arms!
"No! Get away!" he panicked, trying in vain to lash out at the
technician who was standing over him.
Then the world vanished, and reformed around him. He was in another
mostly-abandoned warehouse, somewhere else on the Atlantic coast. Slowly
looking around, he saw the unconscious and partially-dismantled forms of his
"Whatever was blocking the teleporter isn't anymore," he mused aloud,
directing self-repair routines to reconnect what the technician had
dismantled. "Convenient. And suspicious. I think we might be getting used
as an opening act while being told we're the main event...."
ASH meets the Freedom Alliance! Superconductor acts on his suspicions!
And the Light Brigade moves closer to whatever their grand plan is, in ASH
#95, "Test for Echo"!
Sarah's worst July 6th would probably have been in 2023, when she (along
with the rest of ASH and STRAFE) failed to stop the atomic destruction of
Beijing, in ASH #7.
Poor Rush. They got jobbed twice in one issue. At least they
survived...2020s-era paragangers tend to die when this sort of thing happens
to them. There's a reason why the "dead" and "paragang" tags are seen
together so often on the ASH Wiki (http://ash.wikidot.com).
GLADI-8R is based on a Boomer. Yes, the Bubblegum Crisis robots. In
the original ASH campaign, the Boomers came back from an alternate future and
caused a fair amount of trouble. They even specialized their bodies to fight
superheroes, including models based on gladiators. Max and Dex inhabited two
such bodies at one point. I still haven't decided what, if anything, they
called themselves in this particular version of ASH, since they can't be
Ghostclaw had a brief appearance in Capstone #1. When I was casting
about for "legacy" characters I decided I wanted the new Red Widow to be a
former paraganger who'd cleaned up her act, and while searching the ASH Wiki
I stumbled across Ghostclaw, whose powers were perfect for the role. Her
real name was not revealed in Capstone, but she has a last name now.
Yes, Gauntlet is Joshua Jeremiah Cole, father of Chris Kelsey and major
villain during the late teens issues of ASH. I'm not really giving away any
secrets to say he'll be the biggest source of friction between ASH and the
new Freedom Alliance.
Brightsword III got his intro last issue, but here's what he looks like:
Finally, the new Weapons Master. If you've been reading ASH stories
faithfully, I really don't need to say anything about him, eh? If you
haven't been, I'll likely clear things up in-story soon enough.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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