ASH: ASH #100 - Starslayers: Chapter 2 of 3

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Aug 6 12:13:10 PDT 2009

                                 CHAPTER TWO

     The splash page shows the "Space Battleship Musashi" flying low over
Okinawa, from the perspective of the ground, gunfire raining down on fleeing
American soldiers.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #100
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||            Rising Sun Part 4 - Starslayers
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen

[April 15, 1945 - Okinawa, Japan]

     The Imperial Japanese Naval vessel Musashi flew through the skies over
Okinawa, wrapped in a golden halo.  It showed no signs of the months it had
spent underwater, much less of the damage that had sent it there in the first
place.  With every surface either freshly painted or polished to a mirror-
like sheen, the Musashi looked better than it had when it first launched.
     And, of course, there was the small matter of the elements that the
battleship had lacked on the day of its launch.  A number of narrow wings and
stabilizers emerged from the hull, more for guidance than any lift they might
have provided.  The frightening 18-inch cannon turrets had been modified to
depress further, and smaller turrets studded the flanks to provide coverage
of targets beneath the ship.  Most ominously of all, a wide opening at the
bow suggested a new weapon had been mounted along the very spine of the
flying battleship.
     The new weapon remained silent for now, but the Musashi unleashed such
fury with its 18-inch guns that this seemed scant blessing.  Across the
island, shells with the mass of automobiles slammed into buildings,
fortifications, or even just patches of ground that happened to hold enough
Allied soldiers to be considered worthwhile targets.
     Civilian buildings repurposed as barracks or command posts simply
disintegrated.  Those few fortifications that had been captured sufficiently
intact to use survived a few seconds longer, but they too were reduced to
rubble by a second salvo.  Fuel and ammo dumps detonated in secondary
explosions that were almost enough to rock the Musashi, but its golden aura
seemed to protect it as well as propel it.
     Hasty return fire arced upwards, but the flying battleship's hull was
too thick for antiaircraft fire to penetrate even when a round didn't veer
off as it entered the aura.  Heavier guns simply weren't designed to fire at
targets that far up, although a few Howitzer crews were gamely sighting in on
it as if it were a mountaintop fortress.
     The more successful crews were rewarded for their talent with an 18-inch
     Within minutes, the mopping up of Okinawa had turned into a defensive
operation that seemed doomed to failure....

               *              *              *              *

     "What the hell can we do against THAT?" a soldier nearby gasped as he
let his rifle hang by its shoulder strap, about as useful against the Musashi
as the strap itself would be.
     Lady Lawful sympathized with the soldier's sentiment.  Never mind how
the Japanese managed to recover the sunken battleship, re-outfit it, or teach
it to FLY.  It was there now, and hung like a vengeful dragon over the
island, spitting fire and death at the Allied forces, exerting China's will
on the world.
     China's will?
     Lady Lawful shook her head, trying to clear it.  She could feel a second
voice at the back of her brain, a second person almost.  It was talking about
China, rather than Japan.  Was she going insane like poor Cosmo had?  An
inevitable result of wearing the Enhancement Belt rather than Dr. Kirby
making a mistake the second time around?
     "No," the voice whispered, female and maddeningly familiar.  "You need
to wake up.  The paradigm is being broken, like Netwalker said it might.
You're not who you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can."
     With that, the golden aura that surrounded Lady Lawful flared up, as it
had a few times in the past, and she knew this time it was no fluke.
Reaching out with the glow, she wrapped it around an as-yet unexploded ammo
truck and pictured it flying through the air.
     The two and a half ton truck rose, with agonizing slowness at first, but
soon it was rocketing through the air at the Musashi.  It struck one of the
small turrets on the underside of the hull squarely, exploding in what looked
to be a tiny pinprick of light from Lady Lawful's position.  Maybe the turret
had been disabled, but she couldn't tell for sure.
     "Good job, LL!" Johnny Angel said, suddenly at her side.  "Come on,
we're regrouping and taking the fight to the Japs!  That flying battleship
may be a tough nut to crack, but the Freedom Alliance is gonna get inside and
kick some of those nuts!"

     It had taken a few trips, since the hull had been reinforced with
something that made it harder for Johnny to get through, and the sickening
lurching feeling was worse than usual.  It felt like Johnny was actually
speeding up and carrying Lady Lawful at high speed, then coming to a sudden
stop, even through she'd actually transported Lady Lawful through a solid
     Fortunately, she'd recovered from the side effects quickly, since
internal security wasn't asleep at the switch, and she'd had to beat up a
number of IJN sailors and marines to keep the "landing zone" clear while
Johnny brought the rest of the Freedom Alliance aboard.
     "Anyone else getting a strange sense of deja vu here?" Gauntlet asked.  
     "You mean, feeling like I've teleported onto a giant flying war machine
in order to assault it from inside once before?" Lady Lawful asked.
"Strangely, yeah."
     "Me too," Red Widow frowned.  "The war's been getting weirder lately,
but I'm pretty sure I've never done this before...but I can't shake the
feeling that I *have*."
     Everyone was nodding in mild confusion except Centurion, who shrugged.
"No day-sha voodoo fer me."
     "Enough woolgathering, people," Corporal Red gestured down the hallway.
"Assuming they didn't radically change the layout of the Musashi when they
refitted it, the engine room should be this way.  Probably our best bet at
stopping this thing is to take out whatever mad science gizmo they've
replaced the boilers with...because you KNOW it can't be running on oil and
doing what it's doing!"
     "Mad science gizmos break easier'n boilers, too," Gauntlet observed.
"Well, usually."
     The next several minutes were tense.  Once in a while the battleship
would shudder slightly as some outside force attacked it, but those moments
were growing fewer and fainter.  Even though there seemed to be no Bakajin
aboard the Musashi, it still took time to fight past determined normal humans
who had the advantage of being able to dog hatches shut, at least until Lady
Lawful figured out how to snake her aura through the wall and undog them.
     "That belt just don't run outta tricks, do it?" Centurion raised an
eyebrow in appreciation.
     "Well, it was supposed to channel the power of all sorts of old gods and
spirits," Lady Lawful explained as she carefully opened the last hatch
standing between them and the engine room.  "I should probably be surprised
it's taken me this long to do more than hit things and bounce bullets."
     The hatch sprang open, and she got to demonstrate that second talent as
8mm bullets spat through the opening, a few pinging off the golden aura that
surrounded Lady Lawful before whining down the corridor.  The Nambu pistols
were answered by the the .45 rounds from the M3 submachineguns carried by
several of the Alliancers, plus a burst of flame from Gauntlet's hands and
one of those strange explosive bursts the Red Widow had recently started
throwing from her bare hands.
     Like every other fight as they'd worked their way through the ship, it
was over quickly, with some dead, some dying and some merely unconscious, but
all the casualties being on the Japanese side.
     "I think we found the dingus," Johnny Angel pointed at a glowing golden
orb suspended in mid-air between a pair of giant electrodes.  Every few
seconds, a blast of electrical power would emerge from the sphere and strike
an electrode, and the room smelled of ozone even over the stench of gunpowder
and lubricant oil.
     "Get that door sealed," Corporal Red ordered.  "And any others you can
find.  Once we've got that done, Johnny can start sending us back down.
Johnny can set off the charges," he hefted a backpack and gestured at the
orb, "just before he's the last one off the ship.  Hopefully nothing
important is right under us right now...."

               *              *              *              *

[July 29, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     Like a battleship crashing to the ground, Heraclius ended the fight by
the simple expedient of letting his legs go limp and dropping his half-
kilometer-long stone body to the pebbled beach.  The shockwave knocked
everyone still standing off their feet, and by the time the dust settled
there was no longer any sign of the attacking photonics.
     "The rig's still stable," Essay called out from the still-standing hut
that held Netwalker's "net.thingy."  "Whatever the litebrites did before
Noire zapped 'em doesn't seem to have been permanent, but Nate looks like
he's got one hell of a headache."
     There was a low background rumble that often followed Heraclius around,
and Solar Max had his armor recording it.  The monster was apparently very
chatty, but his words came out at such a slow rate that it was almost
impossible to engage him in conversation.  "Sounds like he's expressing
regret that he arrived too late to stop the photonics from using his
'children' against us, but the way he talks it could be tomorrow before he
gets to the point," Solar Max told the others.  Even talking at a human pace,
the beetle would have taken several minutes to get around to what he really
wanted to say.  Chatty, verbose and rambling.  And big enough to be visible
from orbit.
     The rumbling was puncutated by the occasional boulder detaching itself
from the underside of Heraclius's carapace and unfurling into a meter-long
miniature copy of the giant.  These "children" mainly wandered around
exploring, acting as the eyes and ears of the slow-moving but ever-curious
Heraclius.  But one of the boulders seemed to be different as it fell.
     Rather than simply sprouting legs and a horn and remaining otherwise
round, it uncurled and rapidly shifted into a humanoid form.  Within seconds,
it had become a sort of hybrid of woman and beetle, but where Gimble managed
that combination in a hideous "beetle standing up on two legs" fashion, this
looked more like a marble statue of Athena with beetle-motif armor and a
Hercules beetle's horn protruding from her forehead.
     "TerraStar, I presume?" Solar Max landed a few meters from the beetle
     "An avatar, yes," she nodded.  "Once this is over, we really need to
negotiate over the disposition of my real body.  I know you have it on Earth,
it finally emerged from Triton's trap."
     "If this is over the wrong way, there may not be anything to negotiate,"
Essay pointed out, joining the small group gathering around TerraStar.  "No
Earth, no body."
     TerraStar laughed, a surprisingly delicate sound to come from a stone
throat.  "No Earth, and I can't complete the task my father set before me, so
it won't matter in what body I spend my exile.  This immortal stone beetle is
rather more powerful, after all, and if I can't continue the dynasty I really
don't need a flesh body, do I?  But I didn't take this form to talk about my
homeworld's politics.  I came with a warning: I believe the photonics are
attempting to recreate Doublecross."
     "You mean collect the scattered energy and reform it?" Essay asked.
"It's been way too long for a shell even this big," she gestured at the
orange-tinged horizon, "to catch it.  Even assuming his soul's still around."  
     "Oh, the Doublecross you fought in Paris had no soul, not in the way the
original did.  It was more of a...golem, I suppose your mages would call it.
Soulless but with spirit.  As much spirit as any collection of regular light
might have, though."
     "It *was* a copy held in a computer," Solar Max noted.  "Freed back when
Rebus killed the Las Vegas Anchors on New Year's Eve in '23.  So I guess that
makes sense.  You think Irrlicht is plotting to use all this power to build a
new Doublecross from scratch?"
     "New and improved," she nodded.  "Maybe she thinks it'll be the real
thing and not a copy of a copy, but the delusions of one of the Gifted can
become reality when fed enough power.  And the entire output of the Sun over
the course of days or even weeks?  They could rebuild Doublecross as a god,
no less powerful for all that he'd not be real."
     "Sometimes it's the gods that are not real that have the most power,"
Peregryn observed.  
     "You," TerraStar pointed a finger at Solar Max, "and any other space-
capable assets you have need to be ready to move the instant the power is
drawn in.  They can't expect to maintain the shell forever, nor do they
really need to.  At some point, it will collapse and the power will be fed
into creating the new Doublecross.  If you fail at your current task," she
nodded towards the building holding the unconscious "Freedom Alliance"
members, "they may maintain it longer than they need to, just to 'cull'
humanity a bit, but remember that the photonics want to convert humanity in
keeping with their god's goals.  Devastator would destroy humanity, Lord Ebon
enslave it, Antiochus V replace it...but Doublecross always wanted to 'save'
humanity after his own twisted fashion.  My father made sure to know all he
could about those who would oppose his conquest of your world, you see, and
not all of his opponents were 'heroes.'"
     "And what do *you* want with this world," Geode finally spoke, although
she'd been glaring at TerraStar throughout the entire discussion.
     "Ah, but that would be telling," TerraStar smiled.  "By the way, I'm
disappointed you haven't done anything with that body I left you.  Oh, I
don't expect gratitude...true, without my wandering spirit you'd still be a
pile of rubble on a south sea island, wondering why you couldn't die.  But I
repaired your body for purely selfish reasons, turning it to my needs.  I'm
curious why you haven't changed it to better suit your own needs, though,
unless you have such simple needs?"
     Geode frowned, her golden mask flexible enough to show the emotion.
"You're the petramancer, not I.  I'm merely made of crystal."
     TerraStar laughed again.  "Merely?  Does mere crystal move?  Talk?
Perhaps I overestimated you...without me you might not even be aware enough
to wonder why you weren't dead.  You really don't know how your Gift works at
all, do you?  Perhaps some day I can teach you, but not today.  I can only
remain separate like this for a short time, and that time is nearly up."  She
turned around to address all the assembled defenders as she finished,
"Heraclius and I will be nearby, watching for another attack.  He doesn't
really mind if you fail and Earth dies, but I have my own plans for your
world and they would certainly be derailed if the planet becomes a lifeless
iceball.  Until we meet again!"
     With that, the stone woman crumbled into pebbles, then sand, then blew

               *              *              *              *

[August 6, 1945 - Okinawa, Japan]

     "You know, I almost thought we'd make it without something like this
happening," Johnny Angel sighed.  After the destruction of the Musashi,
several weeks had passed without any major action by either side, as if that
one battle had exhausted forces that weren't even present.  On the plus side,
resistance had essentially collapsed after the Musashi did, so the
construction brigades were able to work undisturbed to rebuild the runways in
preparation for the planned raids on Japan.
     But today was the Big One.  The Enola Gay was set to take the Allies'
"secret weapon" and drop it on Tokyo, beheading the Japanese military in one
stroke.  And clearly they knew it was coming, as the cloud of incoming craft
     "That's a lotta Bakajin," Centurion muttered as they started to bail out
of their experimental rocket sleds, vehicles clearly intended for one-way
trips.  Anti-aircraft fire was keeping them from making kamikaze runs on the
runway or the Enola, but it couldn't stop them on the ground.  That was up to
the marines, and the Freedom Alliance.
     "Is it just me, or do they really all look alike?" Red Widow frowned.
"I mean, it's a bad cliche and all, but these guys all look the same."
     "They must be cloning their few remaining successes," Corporal Red
frowned.  "I don't think it's very stable, though."
     As if to prove his point, one of the onrushing bakajin suddenly stopped,
energy flaring from every inch of his body for a brief, horrifying moment as
he melted into a puddle of smoking rendered flesh and charred bone.
     "That's a nasty design flaw," Gauntlet noted as he fired an electrical
arc at one of the few that had gotten past the gun emplacements.  His target
ignored the bolt and kept running for the Enola Gay.
     "It's not a bug, it's a feature," a Marine major whose uniform tag read
"WALKER" said, chomping on a cigar in between directing the fire of his men.
"Walking bombs, that one just triggered bad.  When it works right, I'm
guessing they can surge enough power to blow up an airplane and walk away
from it to recharge and try again."
     "Gotcha.  Don't let 'em near anything important," Centurion nodded,
jumping out from behind the sandbag barrier around the command tent and
entering the fray.  
     Bakajin, wearing numbers on their uniforms rather than names, were
slipping past the outer defenses by twos and threes, relying on standard
submachineguns and pistols to kill any Americans that got in their way rather
than wasting their "bomb power" on regular soldiers.  A few anti-aircraft
guns had been deemed important enough to get electrically fused, but the only
Bakajin to survive this use of his power was quickly gunned down while still
     "You know, I bet there's a way to get these guys to blow up without
hitting them," Lady Lawful mused.  "A radio signal or something.  Maybe
that's why the Japs didn't use them earlier in the war, since they figured we
might work out the trigger and just make them detonate in their barracks."
     "Maybe," Minuteman fired another deadly-accurate shot from his M1
Garand.  "Speculate later.  Fight now."
     "Oh, no you don't!" Centurion shouted as he noticed a Bakajin darting
towards a fuel dump.  It was ignoring the small arms fire from the airmen who
were desperately trying to defend the fuel tanks, taking the occasional
bullet and shrugging it off.  This one couldn't be counted on to melt down
early, that much was obvious.
     Centurion had shed most of his armor over the months in the tropics,
switching to a simple Army uniform, but he'd kept the Roman-style helmet and
sword.  Catching up to the zig-zagging Bakajin, he put the sword to its
intended use, driving up and into the gut of the superhuman clone.
     "Ha!" Centurion crowed, and started to pull the spatha out of his
target's body.
     "I...may not live the day out, gaijin," the Japanese supersoldier gasped
as he placed both hands on Centurion's sword, heedless of the cuts to his
palms.  "But neither...will you!"
     Electrical power surged from hand to sword to hand and the air was rent
by a thunderclap!  The Bakajin was hurled backwards, but Centurion wasn't
treated so gently.  His entire right side was vaporized by the release of
energy, and much of what remained of his corpse was scattered.  His helmet
flew from his head and rolled to a stop in front of the stunned airmen who'd
just been saved.
     The battle seemed to pause for a moment as the sound of detonation
faded, although in truth most of the combatants barely noticed.
     Airman Napier picked up the helmet, strangely unbloodied, and donned it.
     "Ya made a mistake, Bakajin," he declared as he walked over to the dying
Japanese, seeming to swell as he moved, becoming larger than life.  "Mebbe
the Centurion is just human, and dies like any a' the rest a' us.  But me?  I
think he's an IDEA.  Mebbe it gets fergotten fer a while, but it's jest
waitin' ta be remembered.  And ya can't kill an idea."
     Napier grabbed the hilt of the sword.  The Bakajin tried to muster the
strength for another jolt, but he'd spent himself too completely.
     "The Romans had a lotta centurions, and I guess we Americans do too.  As
long as someone's willin' ta step up ta da plate and do what's right,
Centurion won't..."
     He lifted the sword, Bakajin and all.
     Napier leaned back, muscles tensing.
     And then Centurion swung his sword with full force, hurling the Bakajin
from the blade and through the air, nearly clearing the end of the airstrip.
Whether from the forceful withdrawal of the blade or the impact with the
metal grid that stabilized the strip, the Bakajin was dead.  
     And would stay dead.

               *              *              *              *

[July 30, 2026 - skies over the Kingdom of Q'Nos]

     It no longer took any effort to cloak himself in shadows to the point of
vanishing.  In fact, Chiaroscuro was far more "oscuro" now, the shadows
hungering for any light that they could touch, and it took an effort to be
seen at all.  Soon the hungry shadows would be sated, however, gorged on the
"setting Sun" that approached the peak of Mount Olympus.
     Phaeton was still a god, for all his reduction in status, so Chiaroscuro
had needed to wait until his victim was spent by the day's exertion, and
before he could revive himself by drinking in the worship of the ever-growing
population of the kingdom.  Hardly sporting, but even at his weakest Phaeton
would likely defeat the temporal exile.  Only the hunger of his shadows drove
Chiaroscuro to attempt such a suicidal action.
     "Now!" he hurled himself into the sky.  Phaeton was descending, his glow
dimmed to the point where a mortal could bear to look upon him, but he was
not yet in range of the fixed defenses of Olympus, defenses that could prove
remarkably effective if Chiaroscuro were unable to spare any attention to
     "What effrontery is this?" Phaeton demanded as he noticed the shadowy
blot growing towards him out of the orange glow of the setting true Sun's
prison.  "Is that bitch sending her avatars after me again?"
     Chiaroscuro had no idea what Phaeton was talking about, but grinned and
decided to play along.  Sun gods and shadow or night gods frequently
quarrelled, and letting Phaeton think he was an agent of some Titan of night
might cause the godling to keep looking about for a second attacker,
distracting him enough that Chiaroscuro might survive.  Maybe even enough to
let him win!
     "She wants the world to die in darkness, Titan!" Chiaroscuro boomed in
his best theatrical villain voice.  "Succumb to the shadows, you only
embarrass yourself here!"
     Planes of shadow lashed out from Chiaroscuro's hands to slice at the
Titan, but were dissipated by a pulse of light, a casual exercise of power.
Even "tired" from the day's work, Phaeton was hardly a panting, exhausted
victim.  A second pulse tore through the shadows enveloping Chiaroscuro,
sending him tumbling towards the distant mountainside.
     "If you survive the fall, tell your mistress I am insulted by your
pathetic attack," Phaeton sneered in Chiaroscuro's mind, as he was already
too far away to be heard normally.
     The gnawing hunger of the shadows had abated, if only for a short time,
and Chiaroscuro knew that he had to retreat.  He couldn't even make Phaeton
take him seriously, damn it!  He'd have to find another way to balance out
his light and shadow.  At least he could get out quickly, since he no longer
worried about the teleportation system being detected.
     "Cronyx, emergency teleport, make sure the momentum dampers are on
     In a flare of light that triggered dozens of alarms across Mount
Olympus, he was gone.

               *              *              *              *

[August 6, 1945 - Tokyo, Japan]

     Far below, air raid sirens blared.  Much of Tokyo had already been
destroyed by firebombing and other aerial assaults, but it remained the seat
of the Empire, the gleaming Golden Palace untouched by bomb or shell until
now.  Probing attacks had been thrust aside to ruin a residential
neighborhood here or a shrine there...losses, to be sure, but the core was
     Now, however, a single bomber flew overhead, making the air raid alarms
seem misplaced unless you knew that this one bomber held more destructive
power in its bomb bay than dozens of planes could carry all together.
     This one device now fell from the bay of the Enola Gay and dropped
freely for a moment before deploying a parachute to slow its fall.  The
bomber turned and ran as quickly as it could, the pilot praying that he could
reach a safe distance in time, that the parachute on the bomb would delay the
detonation long enough for the Enola Gay to escape.  
     Moments later, in a flare of green light, Tokyo ceased to exist.




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