[ASH] ASH #92 - Kheper's Path IV - Newborn Dawn

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon Sep 15 13:02:12 PDT 2008

     The cover shows Gimble, in insect form, covered in blood spatters and
huddled on a dirty kitchen tile floor, weeping.  A gun is aimed at her head,
held by a male hand, but the rest of the figure is off the edge of the page.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #92
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||            Kheper's Path IV: Newborn Dawn
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          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

A Note To Readers:

     Yes, normally I do all the authorial comments at the end of the issue,
but this story involves some things that readers may find particularly
troublesome, and I felt I should warn you in advance.
     The way Magene powers work is that they're theoretically always
voluntary, which means that anyone with powers they can't turn off is
probably psychologically damaged in some way.  For instance, a telepath who
can't turn off his talent because he's paranoid and has a deep-seated need to
know if anyone's thinking of hurting him.  Or the case of the Base of the
Pillar, who probably could have turned human if she hadn't feared the
discovery that she *was* human (whether Geode could turn human is another
matter entirely, it's possible she's stuck that way no matter how well-
adjusted she eventually becomes).
     This issue looks at the events that made Gimble transform permanently
into an insectoid, forced to moult painfully on a regular basis and feed on
excrement.  As one might imagine, under her seemingly sane facade there have
got to be some serious issues, and some of those issues will come to light in
this issue.  Readers who think they might have trouble dealing with fictional
accounts of childhood trauma and abuse should skip the scene set in 2008.  I
hope to present it in a respectful way, but since I never had such a
significant trauma in my own life, I can't say for sure how "trigger-y" it
might be for others.


[May 16, 2026 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]

     Macy was shivering, her knees pulled up to her chest.  
     Doctor Reyes let the silence go on for several long minutes, before
finally asking, "What was it you remembered?  What was the firecracker the
trigger for?  Can you remember that for me now?"

               *              *              *              *

[December 25, 2008 - Manhattan, New York]

     "I want a new mom for Christmas," Petey sighed.  He was careful to say
it quietly enough that only Macy could hear it over the artificially manic
sounds of the holiday special showing on the television.
     Macy didn't say anything.  Mom was better than dad, at least to her,
even if she seemed a bit quick to give Petey a spanking when he did something
wrong.  Dad was mean, even if he never hit her.  But she didn't want to get
into a fight with her little brother, not on Christmas.  Maybe Santa was just
late.  Dad had said Santa went away with all the other super people ten years
ago, but he said that sort of thing all the time.  The sort of thing he knew
would hurt.
     "I don't like it when mom hits dad," Petey added.  "It makes dad sad."
     Well, that was fine, as far as Macy was concerned.  Dad deserved to be
sad, the way he treated Macy.  Even the worst bullies at school would get
bored and move on to picking on someone else eventually, but it was like Macy
was the only person dad *could* pick on.  She wished he'd at least pick on
Petey sometimes, instead of her.  Even being quiet and ignoring dad didn't
make him stop, and it usually worked on the bullies!
     Shouting started in the kitchen.  Macy sighed and grabbed the remote,
turning up the volume on the TV.  They'd almost made it to lunch without a
fight.  At least most days, mom and dad were both at work most of the day,
and Macy and Petey were at school, so they couldn't fight.  With each other,
anyway.  But "Christmas is for family," like the TV kept saying, and they'd
spent the whole day in the same apartment.  It was a pretty big apartment,
compared to the places Macy's few friends lived, but it would have had to be
gigantic to keep everyone far enough apart to prevent fighting.
     The kitchen door flew open and dad stormed out, followed closely by
mom.  He was wearing his coat and tugging on a hat, as if he planned to go
     "...you ignore me, Steven!" mom bellowed as she slammed the door behind
     "I'll pay attention when you ha...OOP!" dad nearly tripped over Macy,
then barely avoided stepping on Petey as he tried to recover his balance.
"Damn it, you little cockroach!  You almost made me hurt your brother!  Why
do you have to be underfoot all the time?"
     "Don't you use that tone of voice on my daughter," mom warned, a cold
fire burning in her eyes.  "She can't help it if you're...clumsy," she
     Dad *was* pretty clumsy, at least that was what she told her friends
when they asked about his occasional black eyes or bruised hands.  For a
while, she'd even believed that, but she'd seen mom hit dad too many times
now to accept the comforting lie.
     "Your daughter, and you're welcome TO her," dad spat back.  "I didn't
even want kids, but I thought maybe it'd bring out your maternal side and
make you stop being such a queen *bitch*.  If anything, it's made you worse.
Hell, I'd wonder if Pete's even mine if I thought anyone else would *have*
     "Oh, like you're anyone's idea of a prize," mom snarled.  "You barely
lasted long enough to squirt out your contribution to the runt, and you
probably had to sneak a little blue pill to manage *that*."
     By this point, Macy had tuned the argument out and gone back to watching
the TV.  She didn't understand most of what they were talking about, but it
was an old litany.  She could probably recite the next minute's worth of
argument from memory if she had to, even if she had no idea what it meant.
The hitting would probably start about the time the next commercial break
     Petey had the routine memorized too, but he hadn't grown the same hard
shell Macy had.
     "Mom, no!  Don't hit dad again!" he ran up between the two.
     "God, shut your whining hole!" mom shouted.  "You sound just like your
father!" she punctuated the last with a savage swing of her open hand,
intending to slap Petey across the face.  
     But he tried to dodge and moved just the wrong way to get a little
closer inside mom's swing.  Instead of an open-palm slap, he got smashed
across the forehead with the heel of mom's hand, a meaty THWACK that sent him
spinning to the floor like a ragdoll.
     Everything was silent except for the cheerful chirping of a cartoon
snowflake on the television.
     "Petey?  Son?" dad knelt by the unmoving little body.  He reached out
tentatively, then pulled his hand back and reached into his coat, pulling
something out and pointing it at mom.
     Macy blinked at the sudden noise.  Mom now had a ragged little hole in
her forehead, and an awfully surprised expression.
     "Merry FUCKING Christmas," dad told mom.  "I was wondering what it'd
take for me to work up the guts to unwrap this little present," he turned to
Macy and smiled, showing her what was very clearly a gun.  "The gift that
keeps on giving, cockroach.  At least, it keeps giving for thirteen shots,
plus one more if I keep a bullet chambered."
     "D-dad?" Macy stammered.  "Is mom...?"  When that happened to people on
TV, on shows Macy wasn't supposed to watch, they tended to not get up again,
unless they were super people.  Mom was strong, but teacher said there
weren't any more super people.
     "Your mom killed your brother, cockroach.  I suppose I could plead
self-defense, but what's the gods-damned point?  She killed everything in me
that was worth sticking around for, and Pete was the only thing keeping me
going, hoping I could divorce her and take him away.  You, though," he
pointed the gun at Macy, and she shrank back towards the couch.  "You're way
too much like your mother.  Oh, you're quiet now, but so was she when we
first met.  As soon as she knew she had me hooked, she started pushing, and
pushing, and hitting...oh, clumsy me, tripping and falling face first onto
her tae kwon do-trained fist.  Five times."
     The gun lowered and Macy started to relax, although that only let her
concentrate on the two bodies in the room, which made her whimper.
     "Fuck it all," dad sighed, standing up.  "You may turn out just like
her, but I can't shoot a kid.  But I'm not gonna be around to find out who
*you* push to the brink."  He put the barrel under his chin.  "Merry
Christmas," he grinned down at her, then pulled the trigger.

               *              *              *              *

[May 16, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     As Devlin Marx watched Macy Graves choke out the words via the remote
cameras installed in Doctor Reyes's office, he felt a pang of regret.  Yes,
it was probably for her own good to confront these issues, but doing so
carefully, slowly...that would be doing it *for* her, rather than *to* her as
was the case.  But it was a terrible gamble for Devlin himself, weighing down
his heart with the trial of Ma'at looming so near.
     He needed Gimble, whole and sane, or at least as sane as anyone in this
world could be.  His one slender chance at forestalling that meeting with
Ma'at rested on Macy Graves's shoulders.  And on convincing her that he'd
kept his word to protect her even beyond his own death, should the plan
fail.  "Kim Bell" couldn't hope to keep Innocenza safe if she couldn't
maintain the facade of her humanity, and she couldn't maintain that facade
once it became necessary to be separated from the child Anchor.
     Not unless Doctor Reyes could find a way to resolve the issues that left
Macy Graves trapped in the monstrous form of Gimble the beetle.
     "So far, so good," a female voice behind Devlin's shoulder observed.
"She's not bugging out...in a literal sense, I mean."
     "At worst, the placebo effect is remaining in place," Devlin nodded to
Jessa Dumont.  Doctor Reyes had never actually said he was an Anchor, and he
was not.  He'd merely phrased things in such a way that his patient could
choose to think he was an Anchor.  Graves had remained in human form on her
own for the entire session, despite Innocenza having been removed far from
the room.  "Although it's possible that the daughter of Rebus is already
strong enough to maintain an Anchor based on propinquity rather than
proximity, much like our departed Premier Xu could," he temporized.  Even
outside the boundaries of China, native-born Chinese paranormals had tended
to have their powers dampened by the incredibly strong Anchor who led the
People's Republic for the first quarter of the century.
     "Does she know her brother survived?" Jessa asked.
     "Yes," Marx nodded.  "But he took an unlucky hit and needed to stay in
the hospital for a long time.  The first foster family that took Macy in
wasn't prepared for a special needs child, so they were separated
'temporarily.'  Eventually the system just pushed them apart...it was still
rather broken as late as 2008.  As far as I know, she hasn't had contact with
him since shortly after their parents were killed, even by email.  Not," he
turned and arched an eyebrow, "that I expect his survival dampened the trauma
     "Fine," she shrugged.  "Let's assume this part of it works.  That Gimble
has the sort of recovery you only see one in a million times in actual trauma
treatment.  Or at least finds a new way to be neurotic about it that leaves
her functional and grateful.  She makes your gizmos.  I still don't think
much of the odds of my own side in this little Hail Isis play in case we have
to go to plan B," she smirked, tweaking Marx with a reminder of the
syncretism between his faith and Christianity.
     "We know it's possible," Marx shrugged.  "Maybe not for me, but it's
been done at least once.  And the alternative is quite inexorable, so I'm
willing to take the chance.  They may say that there are fates worse than
death, but I know exactly what death holds for me now...and there's not much
worse than that."
     "We all die eventually, Devlin."
     "Yes, we do.  But if this plan works, I might have enough time to
present Ma'at with a heart lighter than a feather after all...."

               *              *              *              *

[June 23, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     Despite the daunting task he'd set for himself today, Aaron's heart was
lighter than it'd been in ages.
     -+Specifically, in two years, ten months, twenty-two days,+- Paul chimed
in, "winking" internally.
     Aaron looked over at Gene, who was deactivating the security around
Hlidskjalf, Odin's "high seat" on Earth, left behind at the top of the south
tower of the World Trade Center.  She had her "game face" on, but even a
non-telepath could tell that she was practically glowing, her core happiness
shining through the surface concern.
     +-You know all those athletes and warriors who say sex before a big day
is a bad idea?  Utterly full of crap,-+ Aaron thought to his other side.
     -+Frankly, it was about damned time,+- the echo of Paul Mahler in
Aaron's mind shot back.  -+I was this close to giving up and working out how
to take control of our entire body just to end this dance you two have been
going through.  You didn't even have mourning as an excuse for the last bit
of it, just cliched high school drama crap.+-
     +-What can I say?  I'd never really done the courtship dance thing
before.  You and I just happened while I wasn't paying attention,-+ he
grinned, just as Gene looked over at him.
     "You're talking to yourself again, aren't you?  You hide it pretty well,
but I can tell," she smirked.
     "Guilty.  I was just berating myself for being such an idiot about us
for so long."
     "Well, there was plenty of that to go around.  A couple of relationship
idiot savants, we two.  Or three...not really sure how we should be counting
Paul," Gene shrugged.
     -+Hey, I'm no idiot.  And you may not have been paying attention back at
the Academy, but I was trying very hard to make us 'just happen', thank you
very much,+- Paul added, projecting so that Gene could hear.  He could have
spoken aloud, he'd always had that much control over the shared body, but it
wasn't really necessary.  Only the two...or three...of them were in earshot.
The Hlidskjalf tended to have a spectacularly unpleasant effect on nearby
telepaths when it went active.  And a lethally unpleasant one on any who sat
in it, at least so far.  Everyone else in the complex with an iota of
telepathic talent had retreated to shielded rooms or simply found reasons to
be out of town.
     "Aaron, I'm glad I waited for you," Gene said, her mask slipping.  "I
mean, to go all the way," she amended, alluding to the short relationships
she'd had with other men during the long "dance".  "I just hope this wasn't
the last time," she glanced nervously at the simple throne.  It didn't even
look like modern concepts of a throne, being of an ancient Norse make, a
backless bench with rudely carved armrests.  Such a simple thing to hold so
much power, so much death.
     "Me too," Aaron nodded, without expanding on it.  She knew what he
meant, after all.  "We're as ready as we're going to be, I think.  You'd
better get downstairs so you don't get caught in the fringes."
     "And so I don't have to feel you die," Gene said.  They both knew it,
and knew the other knew.  But she obviously felt this was one thing that
*did* need to be said aloud.
     "Not gonna happen.  It'll take more than seeing everything everywhere to
break us.  Well, maybe Paul will break, but I'll be okay," he winked.
     Gene smiled weakly, then resolutely turned and left the room, heading
for the elevator banks.
     Aaron waited several long minutes, and then his blackcel finally
chirped.  "I'm secure," Gene said when Aaron picked up.  Due to the high
security of MetaPsych's Manhattan installation and the large number of
psi-shielded rooms, even the telepaths carried the ultra-secure gene-locked
communications devices.
     "Right.  Talk to you later," he said, hanging up.  +-Time to sit or get
off the pot, I guess.-+
     -+Ow.  Odin should smite you for that.+-
     +-I hear he likes puns.-+
     -+Yeah, and you just committed a crime against punning.+-
     +-Everyone's a critic,-+ Aaron grinned as he walked over to the wooden
bench.  As he got closer, he could feel its power, its majesty.  A presence
that was barely contained by the physical object...in truth, Hlidskjalf was
no mere artifact, it was a protrusion of Asgard into Midgard.  When the
Barrier had been intact, it had surrounded the throne in an impenetrable
wall, but Peregryn had been able to access it once Devastator's plans had
weakened the walls between realities.  [Warden #7 - Ed.]  Since then,
however, none but Peregryn had been able to sit on the Hlidskjalf without
being driven mad or worse.
     He concentrated on the runic pattern Peregryn had taught him, and hoped
he'd gotten it right.  He hadn't the time to travel to Venus to learn it in
person, and Peregryn wasn't sure he was physically able to return to Earth,
so they had been forced to use radio contact with a several minute lag time.
     Then he sat.






               *              *              *              *

     Then Aaron saw the Scytharian energy-body attack units rush the cube and
shatter it.  He saw the cloud reach out for his teammates, saw it extend a
tendril towards Essay...and saw Paul struggle to his feet and throw Essay out
of the way, only to be enveloped himself.
     Aaron felt the life drain from Paul's body, felt the connection between 
mind and flesh weaken.  No!  He wouldn't let Paul die that way!  Aaron pulled 
up memories of several months ago in the Amazon, of how he pulled the young 
Cross's spirit from his body.

               *              *              *              *

     Aaron looked up and shivered.  The sky was filled with the bloated,
ruby-red image of the Sun, now larger than the orbit of Venus and looming
overhead like a death sentence.  Cold winds blew, but they weren't why he
shivered.  No, it was more than that.

               *              *              *              *

     Aaron stood over the body of a man he did not know, yet he did know.
Familiar minds hovered nearby, but he couldn't focus on them.  It felt
important, like the closing of a door, but he couldn't...

               *              *              *              *

     "Wakey-wakey," a voice rasped in Aaron's right ear.
     "You wouldn't want to sleep through your own death, would you?" a nearly
identical voice croaked in his left ear.
     Aaron didn't remember falling out of the Hlidskjalf.  In fact, he was
pretty sure there was a lot that had just happened that he didn't remember,
and that he was probably better off for not remembering it.  He opened his
eyes and sat up.
     He definitely didn't remember traveling to a blasted plain dotted with
gnarled and dead trees.  In one of those trees sat a pair of crows.
     "We're ravens, not crows," the one on the right sniffed.
     "Not that we really expect humans to remember the difference," the one
on the left added snarkily.
     "Or even think to ask," the one on the right nodded.
     "I take it you two are Hunin and Munin?" Aaron asked, standing so that
he was at eye level with the two ravens.
     "No, we're Heckle and Jeckle," the one on the left retorted.
     "Actually, we're both," the one on the right admitted.  "Someone at that
cartoon studio read a book on Norse myth at some point and a few ideas stuck,
even if he didn't realize it himself.  I'm Hunin, and my thoughtless brother
is Munin."
     "Actually, seeing newsreel footage of that hot Jotun the Nazis summoned
during World War II inspired Paul Terry to look into Norse myth, although by
the time he created Heckle and Jeckle in 1946 he'd largely forgotten about
it.  He even made us magpies, the indignity of it all," Munin sighed.
     "Actually," Aaron smirked, emphasizing the word that both ravens had
used, "I'm more curious why I'm here than about TwenCen cartoons."
     "ACTUALLY," Hunin croaked, "you've got a different question burning in
your brain, but I'll answer the semi-existential one first.  You were on your
way to a burnout, like all the other telepaths who tried to use Odin's
     "Poor bastards," Munin shook his head.
     "We've been keeping an eye on things since your pal Howie managed to
perform the correct rites to make it work for him.  And, um, you didn't learn
the rites right, pal," Hunin advised Aaron.  "Close, but no cigar.  But the
whole two-for-one thing caught our eyes."
     "We have this thing for duality.  Whodathunkit?" Munin smiled, a
disturbing effect on a non-cartoon bird.
     "Long story short, you amused us enough to save you from yourself,"
Hunin shrugged.  "The Hlidskjalf isn't for mortals, though, tell your
telepath buddies that.  Why the boss hasn't repo'ed it yet, we dunno, but he
doesn't tell us all his plans."
     "Or even many of his plans," Munin griped.  "He's worried we'll talk."
     "Of *course* we'll talk!  It's what he made us for!" Hunin sighed.
"ANYway, we're gonna send you back, and because we're swell guys and you've
been a lovely audience, you're getting one answer.  Go east, young man.
You'll find your villains at Camp Hero."
               *              *              *              *

     Aaron woke up, on the floor next to the Hlidskjalf.
     +-No kidding.-+

               *              *              *              *

[June 23, 2026 - Camp Hero Park, Montauk Point, New York Sector]

     The helicopter took a quick turn around the decommissioned radar antenna
that was once tasked with coastal defense and landed in a bit of cleared
ground just outside the fence around the AN/FPS-35 dish.
     "Detective Kelly, please hang back," Aaron warned.  "There's a good
chance there'll be some sort of defenses here, and even if there's an Anchor
involved, I'm still a lot more durable than you are."
     The NYPD detective nodded.  "I'm outside my jurisdiction anyway, this is
your case."  He didn't expand on that, because he wasn't entirely sure what
jurisdiction *did* apply...was this Contact's case as a member of the
Combine's law enforcement system, or Aaron Zander's case on behalf of the
semi-private institution MetaPsych?  Either way, he didn't want to get caught
in the gears.
     In fact, he really didn't want to be there at all.
     "I think we should turn around and go," Detective Kelly suggested,
putting a hand on Aaron's shoulder as the superhuman was about to disembark.
     "Yeah, I have a bad feeling about this place," the pilot nodded.  "But
I'm not sure it's my feeling," he frowned.
     "That's your training kicking in," Aaron told the pilot.  "Someone here
is projecting a strong telepathic 'Go Away' message.  Probably our missing
     "Can you stop it?" Kelly asked.  "I'm really not liking the fact that I
can't make myself get out of the copter...it's like a panic attack."
     "On it," Aaron nodded.  +-Let's go,-+ he added to his other half.
     -+Going.  She knows we're here, she's cranking up the brute force, but I
think she knows she can't get to us.  We'd better bail before she makes the
pilot do something unfortunate.+-
     "Everybody out of the pool," Aaron said, grabbing Kelly and the pilot
and hauling them out of the vehicle with his superhuman strength.
     -+She's leaking like a sieve now...I don't think she's at full strength,
and she had to push a bit too hard just now,+- Paul noted.  -+I've got a fix
on her location...and a really interesting bit of memory....+-

               *              *              *              *

[June 13, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     From the point of view of someone else's eyes, Aaron and Paul stand
between two couches, somewhere in a basement beneath the Cloisters.
     On one couch lies Devlin Marx, showing clear signs of the degenerative
disease that was killing him.  He's wearing some sort of headset, and the
phrase "pattern stabilizer" comes unbidden to Aaron's mind.  A catheter
hooked to the inside of his thigh is draining all the blood from his body via
the femoral artery, killing him slowly but surely.
     On the other is an unfamiliar figure, a young Chinese man with
unremarkable features.  He has no mind at all, and vague memories of scouring
that slate clean bubble around the edges of the current images.  It is a
clone, quick-grown using Santari technology from samples taken from Chinese
Anchors.  The clone does not seem to have an Anchor effect of its own,
     A medical monitor hooked to Marx pings, indicating that all vital signs
except brainwaves have flatlined.  The man is as dead as he can be allowed to
     The purloined memory flares white with overload for a moment.
     When the image clears again, there is an impression that several minutes
have passed.  The person viewing the scene is taping a small antimatter mine
to Marx's thigh, covering the incision made for the exsanguination.  The
blood has all been pumped back into his body, and it is being wheeled
upstairs to his office.
     Marx is positioned in his chair, and the timer on the mine is set.
     The memory ends....

               *              *              *              *

[June 23, 2026 - Montauk Point, New York Sector]

     Once Paul had ferretted out that memory, the telepathic attack stopped.
Dumont, for that's who it clearly was, had realized the jig was up.  It had
taken a few minutes for Aaron and Detective Kelly to make their way through
the underground passages of the decommissioned secret research base under
Camp Hero, but in the end it was almost anticlimactic.
     "You got me," Jessa sighed as the two entered the recommissioned
infirmary room.
     Lying on an examination bed, in a hospital gown, was the Chinese Anchor
clone from the memory.  He stared blankly at the ceiling, and when Aaron
focused his telepathy on the man he got a jumble of what felt like hissing
radio static.
     "It didn't work," Jessa shrugged.  "However you managed to copy over
Paul's memories, it must have been more than just telepathy.  Oh, Gimble's
device worked, all the brain patterns stayed stable long enough for me to
copy them.  But it's just a jumble of memories in there," she gently stroked
the prone man's forehead.  "No personality.  No *person*.  I was hoping it
was just transfer shock, and I'd be able to help put the pieces back together
in time, but that seems...unlikely now."
     "Gimble?" Detective Kelly frowned.  "What's she..."
     "Later," Aaron interjected.  "There's a LOT of loose ends and
revelations here, I think we'll be a while sorting them all out.  But let's
get the main point straight here.  Jessa, Marx was trying to cheat death
here?  Transfer his mind into a clone?"
     Dumont nodded.  "The ideal plan was to have Gimble create a device to
copy his brainwaves, so we could get Devlin Junior running while the alpha
was still alive.  We'd have had the copy appear with Marx a few times,
establish his cover ID, and make it a little more plausible that he'd be
inheriting Marx's empire.  There were some metaphysical issues with the plan,
but it seemed the safest overall.  But we didn't have enough time.  Devlin's
condition was getting worse, and fast.  So we had to...well, I know you
grabbed that memory.  Let him die, stabilize his engrams and then I could
copy them over once the Anchor effect faded.  They copied, but it was like
shoving a model ship into a bottle *after* building it.  All the pieces are
inside the bottle, but it doesn't look like a ship anymore.  It may
eventually look like a ship again, with a lot of careful work, but it won't
be the same ship."
     "And all the evidence pointing to various suspects in his 'murder' was
just icing on the cake?" Kelly frowned.
     Jessa smiled wryly.  "Waste not, want not.  Dev knew he'd be leaving a
corpse, why not set up a flashy murder and leave trails pointing at people he
might not have time to deal with later?  Even in his most optimistic moments,
Marx didn't give this plan more than a five percent chance of working, and he
said it'd lighten his heart to make sure some of this business got taken care
of.  I guess a series of 'to be opened in the event of my death' letters
wasn't elegant enough for him."
     "Something tells me you're going to have to write this one up as
'unsolved,' Detective Kelly," Aaron said.  "Unless you really want to figure
out how to deal with suicide-by-proxy of a man who may not actually be
permanently dead...."

               *              *              *              *

[June 24, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "Executive summary, please," Solar Max said.  He and Aaron were sitting
alone in the conference room of the main ASH HQ.
     "Marx is still dead.  His clone copy has documentation setting him up as
a legal heir, with Jessa Dumont as conservator, but it's unlikely that's
going to stand now, especially given that it may be years before the clone
develops a personality.  Ben Whitman will run things until the courts figure
out how to deal with the legal status of a mindless clone, and it'll take a
while since we have to keep the security clamped down pretty tight on this
one," Aaron shrugged.
     "Right, better to avoid inspiring any, um, copycats," Solar Max winced
at his own inadvertant pun.  "There's a lot of rich non-Anchors who might
think they can get away with this sort of stunt if they find out how close
Dumont came to succeeding."
     "On the down side, whoever provided the cloned body hasn't been able to
crack the whole Santari clone rejection problem," Aaron sighed.  "That'd put
organleggers out of business pretty quickly if they'd solved the rejection
thing.  On other fronts, the rocks that Marx kicked over in his fake murder
mystery are yielding all sorts of creepy crawlies, and not all of them have
managed to scuttle out of sight.  And it looks like we finally know who
Hellhound is...Paul managed to pick up a few other bits of information during
our initial psychic struggle with Dumont.  Hellhound is three different
women, one of them being Dumont herself, and another is one of our old
classmates, Beth Willot.  The third has an attachment to Warden.  That's an
issue I'm more than happy to kick up the ladder, though."
     "And I'm going to keep kicking it further up," Solar Max frowned.  "I
don't like the idea of outing one of the only people inside Manhattan who's
doing good and not under Umbrae's thumb, but I'm not comfortable with keeping
that particular secret from our bosses.  We'll let them decide how to play
this one, I'm sure they have more information about the situation on the
ground in Manhattan than I do at this point."
     "Finally, Gimble's vanished again.  Once she finished building the
gadget for Marx, she took her daughter and went to ground again.  Dumont was
able to block me from getting a clear look at her face in any memories, but
apparently part of her 'payment' from Marx included help in learning how to
return to human form without needing an Anchor around.  However, we should be
able to figure out what she looks like, since we know she was on Venus and
now, well, she isn't.  There weren't a whole lot of people there with infant
daughters, after all," Aaron concluded.
     There was a pause, as Solar Max pondered something.  Finally, he asked,
"Aaron, do you think there was ever a chance of Marx's plan working?  After
all, you got it to work...well, not the way you wanted it to, I know, but
still.  [As detailed in various parts of ASH #9-16 - Ed.]  And there's signs
that at least one version of Peryton was a successful clone.  Could Marx
really be in there, faking the scrambled state?"
     Aaron shrugged.  "I can't speak to Peryton's case, we don't even know
for sure what happened.  It could just be another Myriad faking it, all we
know for sure is that the one Rebus killed [in Capstone #2 - Ed.] was
genuine.  But in Paul's case, you have to remember that he and I were closer
than any two normal people can ever be, and we were that way for years.  When
I pulled his memories into my own brain, there was already a Paul-shaped
space for them to occupy.  To extend a metaphor Jessa used, my bottle had a
hole in it exactly the right shape for the ship to pass through unharmed.  In
a lot of ways, each of us already existed in the other's mind as a faint copy
before Paul died, all I did was flesh out the details of my copy of him.
With no pattern to follow, it would have taken a lot more luck than Marx had
left in order to just happen to slap all the pieces together in a useful
     "So, whatever eventually wakes up in that body won't be Devlin Marx."
     "Nope," Aaron shook his head.  "But he'll probably have all of Marx's
memories, which makes that a very dangerous person to leave loose...."

               *              *              *              *

[June 24, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     "See you next week, Mister Li," Maddy said as one of the Grocery Store's
regular customers walked out.  The store over the secret entrance to her
grandfather's old hideout [first seen in Warden #11 - Ed.] was actually a
profitable concern these days, what with the upswing in the island's
population and economy.  It seemed like every day she got another new regular
customer, and she'd had to hire several part-timers to cover things while she
was off on...extracurricular activities.
     To wit, the middle-aged woman who was only now approaching the counter.
She had the stamp of a mid-level government functionary, probably one of the
people Umbrae had brought in to help manage the increasingly "respectable"
city government.
     "I am interested in a dog," the woman said.
     "Er, this isn't a pet store," Maddy blinked.
     "Oh, I know.  But this is a very particular sort of hound, and I think
you can help me with it.  Especially now that your business partners may no
longer be able to take care of the hound, yes?  Miss Dumont has a few too
many eyes on her now, and Marshal Willot is far too busy with her day job."
     Maddy stepped back and started to reach behind her for a concealed
shotgun.  "What are you..."
     "Relax, Miss Chin.  I represent some interested breeders, if you will,
and I think I can help you find new partners with a bit more time on their
hands for taking care of animal control here in Manhattan.  People who aren't
under any...shadows...of suspicion, at that...."


Next Issue: 

     More of the cast comes back on screen as the franchises of the
Impossible Five start to get going and "Roll the Bones"....


Author's Notes:

     For anyone who didn't get the full symbolism on "Kheper's Path", this
might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khepri
     Of course, just because the Sun rises again every morning doesn't mean
that resurrection is easy, even if you have a scarab helping push.  Best-laid
plans gone agly is one of the themes of this arc, with Marx being oh-so-
clever only to have it all fail on him in the end...and at the same time,
managing to knock a bunch of other people's plans off the rails.  Of course,
Marx may have seen his own survival as mere icing on the cake, and the giant
middle finger to his rivals upon his death being the true goal.  Who can say?
Well, I could, but I won't.  ;)  He also managed to mess up a lot of his
presumed allies as well, so there may have been more of Set than Kheper in
the final results.
     My goals in this arc included getting Marx out of the picture, getting
Gimble out of her Venusian stasis, tying off that whole Pope thing that never
really went anywhere after we got Gimble offworld, and giving Contact the
spotlight for a bit.  I also managed a few other things that weren't goals
going in, but that tends to happen to me, a lot of playing by ear.

     Devlin Marx's passing reference to "the system" being broken in 1998
bears a little more explanation than would fit into the second scene.  You
see, in addition to the general chaos in the wake of the "False Rapture" on
July 6, 1998, there was a sudden spike in the population of orphans.  A child
old enough to be distinct from their mother (a point usually reached about
the time they'd have been weaned, as far as the rapturing effect was
concerned) but young enough to be incapable of truly worshipping any god
would be left behind.  Infants tended to vanish with a pagan mother, and
older children would often be sufficiently inculcated into their parents'
religion to be taken on their own, but that left a significant number of
toddlers as orphans on July 6, 1998.  Sadly, a great number of them died of
neglect before anyone got organized to seek them out, but most were saved by
neighbors or even good samaritan passersby.  And even considering that most
ended up adopted by their rescuers, just trying to keep all of *that* within
the legal strictures was more burden than most child welfare offices could
     The system simply broke down.  A lot of kids got "adopted" in ways that
would later be recognized as common law (a bill passed in the 2010s
retroactively made all these adoptions official), and the remnants of the
child welfare system did the best they could in a patchwork way.  
     By 2008 there was something resembling a national network of foster
homes and adoption agencies again, but it was still pretty obviously one of
those "spit and baling wire" affairs, and a lot of kids fell through the
cracks.  Keeping siblings together was simply not possible in most cases, and
priority was on getting kids settled with someone, with a wistful hope that
someday families could be reunited.  In the case of Macy and Petey Graves,
that reunion never happened.

     The dance between Aaron and Gene started in earnest in ASH #18, although
she was giving Aaron the eye on their first meeting in ASH #10.  That makes
this one of the longest-simmering subplots in all of the ASH Universe (Arin
and Sal started back in Academy #0, although one might argue it resolved a
while back).

     The first scene Aaron saw after sitting on Hlidskjalf was taken from ASH
#9, when Paul Mahler died.  The third took place later in this issue, as he
stood over the cloned body containing Marx's memories.  As for the second,
you'll have to wait and see.  Muahaha.

     The "hot Jotun" Munin mentioned is the mother of the first Rechtigkeit,
grandmother of Herr Stark.  Norse myth has a long tradition of Jotunesses
being extremely attractive, at least when young.  It's the original for the
sci fi trope of the alien race with uberbabe females and males who look like
something you scraped off your boot.  :) Oh, and Hunin is "thought" while
Munin is "memory," something I tried to evoke in their choice of words and

     Camp Hero was the site of the alleged "Montauk Project", a spinoff of
the Philadelphia Experiment.  In the ASH Universe, the Montauk Project was
real, but how successful it was has not yet been revealed.  At some point the
property ended up in the ownership of Devlin Marx, although whether it was
Anchor-owned as far back as the 1980s for Very Good Reasons would be part of
that "not yet been revealed" bit.  For those interested, more info on Camp
Hero can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Hero .

     The various references to Marx wanting a lighter heart go back to his
belief in ancient Egyptian myth.  Upon death, a person's soul is weighed
against the feather of Ma'at, goddess of truth.  If it is too weighed down by
sin, it gets fed to Amnut, a monster/goddess/demon with the front end of a
crocodile and the rear of a hippo (as happened to Rebus in Capstone #3).
It's entirely possible that a successful cloning would merely have given
Amnut one heart to eat and another heart to later get past.  Maybe Marx's
dying acts were enough to get him past Amnut, maybe they weren't...he had a
LOT weighing on his heart.  But I'd rather leave that particular mystery

     Apologies for the somewhat wordy "executive summary" scene, but I really
didn't want to push that stuff off into #93, and felt some of the vaguer bits
needed nailing down.  Okay, that may be a sign of lacking confidence in my
own storytelling, but better safe than sorry.  It's not like I have to fit
into 22 pages, and after my usual late summer hiatus I figured readers
deserved a nice big issue.


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and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

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