[ASH] ASH #96 - Billions Served Part 4: Different Stages

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon Jan 19 13:32:22 PST 2009

     The cover shows Fury standing in the palm of Gauntlet's gauntlet, which
is oversized for symbolic and dramatic reasons.  She looks more angry than
afraid, however.  The entire scene has an orange tinge to it, although the
explosive energy corruscating around Fury's fists is yellow.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #96
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||       Billions Served Part 4 - Different Stages
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          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

[July 16, 2026 - Undisclosed Location]

     "Whoa, that one felt different," the green Pentaranger 3 shook his head
to clear it as he, Pentaranger 1, and the captive sorceror Akuryu arrived in
the cavern.
     "That would be because I 'hijacked' your rainbow transport beam,
Pentaranger," Chiaroscuro smiled as he stepped out of the shadows.  "The
meeting place coordinates I gave you were false...you'll excuse the melodrama
of a hidden headquarters."
     "So, this is the lair of the Impossible Five?" Pentaranger 1 glanced
about.  "Seems small."
     Chiaroscuro laughed.  "This is only one of our hidden bases, actually.
But it's a sign of trust that I let junior partners such as you into even
*this* place."  His eyes literally lit up as he glanced at the demon
sorceror, who was struggling feebly against his bonds.  "Ah, good...the
shackles Matrioshka constructed seem to be doing their job.  Thank you,
Pentarangers.  I foresee a long and profitable tenure for you as a franchise
of the Impossible Five.  But now, I have...business...to conduct with Akuryu.
You may teleport out, I'll guide your beam to a safe exit," he added, in
recognition of the limits of Pentaranger 3's power.  If the former Otakuza
didn't know where he was, he couldn't safely teleport long distances.
     Pentaranger 1 saluted, fist to chest.  "To profitable endeavors," he
said, then the pair left in a burst of multichromatic light.
     "/What do you want with me, sorceror?/" Akuryu demanded in archaic
     "I'm sorry, I don't speak whatever it is you're speaking.  Mother tried
to get me to pay more attention to my linguistics lessons, but," he shrugged.
"I find screams are a universal language, though.  And I'm sure you'll be
quite fluent in that tongue by the time I'm finished taking your shadows...."

               *              *              *              *

[July 16, 2026 - Mexico City, Federal Sector]

     "So," Sal said, closing the door.  "You've been putting off telling me
what happened the other day.  But we're alone now, and able to spend the
night in the same city, so spill."
     Arin sighed.  "That Walters is a cold one.  He didn't even blink when I
asked for a few minutes with Gauntlet.  I guess he'd made the same decision
JakZak did, though...better to let us deal with it now, rather than have it
explode on the national news later."
     "And did you?  Deal with it, I mean.  Gauntlet's still drawing breath,
     Arin snorted.  "Yeah, it's dealt with."

               *              *              *              *

[July 14, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     Alone at last.
     Arin's face transformed from the serene mask she'd been wearing all day,
showing why her codename of "Fury" wasn't just PR.
     "I.  Do.  Not.  Forgive," she stabbed her finger into Gauntlet's
chestplate, nearly hard enough to dent the composite armor.  "I don't forget,
either," she stepped back from the Alliancer.
     "I'm sorry," Gauntlet stammered.  "But I do.  Forget, I mean.  I don't
remember a lot of what happened that year."
     "Fine," Arin's rage abated slightly.  "That makes this a little easier,
then, assuming you're not lying.  You killed the old Arin, Josh.  The one you
grew up down the street from, the innocent and shy girl who always got home
by curfew and said her prayers and wanted nothing more than to become
someone's wife.  Might have even ended up your wife for real, who knows.
She'd been dying by degrees ever since her powers manifested, but you put a
bullet in her head when you put a baby in her belly.  I don't forget, I don't
forgive...but I'm not that Arin anymore.  I'm a new person, and I'd rather
let the old Arin rest in piece.  I'm not going to let her baggage drag down
my life.
     "But let me make a few things clear as long as I have you to myself for
a few minutes," the anger retreated into a cold, determined fire in her eyes.
"You have no rights to Chris.  Either Chris...so I'd better not hear of your
boss trying to recruit Timeslip for the Freedom Alliance.  He's my son, but
he'll never be *your* son.  Go make a new life for yourself, 'Gauntlet'.  Let
Josh Cole die like I've let the old Arin go.  And don't try to make the new
Arin a part of your life."
     She turned and walked out the door, adding over her shoulder, "It would
be a very painful part of your life if you did."

               *              *              *              *

[July 18, 2026 - Venusian orbit, Superior Conjunction to Earth]

     The swarm of glowing orange moths had grown since leaving the surface of
Venus, numbering in the millions, perhaps even the billions.  They fed on the
light of the Sun, using that energy to create more of themselves, like
locusts in a field of wheat.
     Now they stopped for a moment, having reached some pre-determined
destination.  Nearly massless, gravity had little hold on them, and they
spread their wings just enough that the solar wind held the photonic insects
in place, hovering far from the Sun.
     The mass spread out slowly, becoming a sheet, stretching along a
slightly curved plane that was like a sail to catch the solar wind.  Within
moments, the wavering cloud had become a disc, and the moths ceased their
movement once more.  A golden orb pulsed clearly at the center of the disc,
the essence of Goldmind that controlled the swarm.
     However, while the insects had stopped moving, the disc did not stop
growing.  New moths sprang into existence at the edges, inexorably adding to
the sheet.
     Within a few hours, the sheet had become a visibly curved segment of a
spherical shell.... 

               *              *              *              *

[July 21, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     Rex Umbrae read over the Omnipedia entries for the fifth time, frowning.
     Maria Incarnata noticed the scowl as she flipped a pancake.  She wasn't
a very good cook, but she'd decided to play at domesticity after watching
Telly Mobster's latest show, "Leave It To Jeanie."  Besides, wearing nothing
but an apron and pearls over her skinsuit turned her husband on.  "What's
wrong?" she asked.  "Don't believe the data our new recruits turned over?"
     He laid down the handcomp and leaned back in his chair, sighing.  The
chair groaned more loudly than the sigh...Rex was a big man.  "I'm having
trouble believing this is all they had in their Omnipedia about the
Impossible Five, yes.  Look, they have future technology, wouldn't data
storage be essentially free by 2112?"
     Maria giggled as she added the finished pancakes to a plate and brought
them over to Rex, giving him a peck on the cheek as she set the stack in
front of him.  "You know, dear, sometimes I manage to forget you were grown
in a lab, and never had to live like one of the little people," she smiled,
sitting down next to him and reaching for the syrup.  
     "Oh?  And what..."
     "Memory may be free," she interrupted him, uncapping the syrup bottle.
"But filling it," she poured syrup over the pancakes, "that costs.  Our
retro-future prog-rockers are admittedly small fish where they came from.
They probably got the cheapest possible edition of the Omnipedia, figuring
they could always upgrade if it actually made Mongo smarter.  Maybe they got
upgrades on current events, if they ponied up any extra cash."
     "And those entries would be pretty useless," Rex nodded.  "To us,
anyway.  Knowing the names of all the members of the Chicago city council in
2112 wouldn't really help me any, would it?"
     "Exactly.  We're lucky the bare bones edition had a few paragraphs each
on Chiaroscuro, Anhydra, Talos and Matrioshka," Maria picked up a fork and
took a nip at the pancakes.  "Um.  Might need more...something...next time."
     "Try adding blueberries," Rex shrugged.  "Still, interesting as these
entries are, it's probably more useful to have confirmation that the
Impossible Five is willing to throw their 'franchises' to the wolves whenever
it suits them.  Unsurprising, but useful."
     "So," Maria looked Rex straight in the eyes and smiled.
     "So, have you considered asking them to fork over the Omnipedia entries
on us?  You, me, the Cybernostra, Manhattan Autonomous Sector...see how
history remembers this all?"
     Rex took a bite of the pancakes and chewed thoughtfully for a long
moment before swallowing.  "Yes, I've thought about it.  And I've decided not
to ask.  If there were anything really useful, I suspect the Rush would have
offered it to ensure we'd deal with them.  Our entries are likely not much
longer than these," he tapped the handcomp, "and while I'm not a terribly
insecure man, I don't think I want to see how history sums me up in 100 words
or less."
     Maria nodded.  "About how I was thinking too.  Plus, what if the entries
tell about some horrible fate coming down the road, but don't give enough
details to do any good?  I don't want to know that so-and-so assassinates me
in 2029 if it's just some guy I already knew was gunning for me.  Or worse,
if it says a friend turns on me, but not why...I might drive her to treason
just by freaking out around her."
     "Exactly.  Omens and auguries can be worse than no information at all.
Myth and legend are full of people lured to their dooms by acting poorly in
the face of a prophecy, ironically causing the very situation they were
working so hard to prevent.  Of course, the arrival of the Impossible Five
tends to upset much of what might happen in any case."
     "Speaking of irony," Maria smirked, "the only entries we can really
trust are probably those four," she pointed at the handcomp.  "Anything else
may change now that time's been monkeyed with, but those at least represent
personal pasts.  And I doubt we could eliminate the Five by simply finding
them as babies and shoving 'em into a trash compactor."
     "No, that trick never works," Rex agreed.  "Although, according to this,
one of the four has already been born, and another will be born in a few
months.  It would be interesting to see the psychological effect it would
have on the Impossible Five were their younger counterparts to come to...

               *              *              *              *

[July 22, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     George opened the window and looked out at the dawn in the west,
smiling.  Dawn was Geode's favorite time of day, so it had become his
favorite as well...a lot of poets and writers would talk about how happiness
made their beloved "light up," but in Geode's case the dawn literally made
her glow, refracting through her quartz-like body.  Sure, George's own light
could, and often did, make her shine, but there was nothing quite like the
way the rays of dawn would hit her when they were alone and she could remove
the full-body costume that disguised her even here.
     And, this being Venus, it had been dawn for days now.  It was a good
time to be in Falcon Bay for Geode, which made it a good time for George.
     Behind him, Geode stood and stretched, gloriously unclothed and
shimmering in a mix of sunlight and the green shades that George was made
of.  It had taken a long time, but she finally felt no shame in being naked.
Her body didn't have quite enough detail to be any more "naughty" than a
normal human in a bathing suit, but her strict Moslem upbringing had had her
wishing her uniform was a burqa for the first few months after she'd taken up
her new identity.
     No shame...but still wariness.  There was always a chance that if the
wrong people back on Earth knew she was made of living quartz, having shown
up shortly after the "death" of the stony Base of the Pillar, they might put
the pieces together and realize who she really was.  That she'd once been
human, that the Base of the Pillar was a supernormal and not a rock brought
to life by Allah.  At that point, her parents' lives would be forfeit for
having spawned such demonic get.
     Iraq was a very unhealthy place to be paranormal these days.  Or to be
the parents of a paranormal.
     "Good morning," Geode sighed, walking over to the shaft of sunlight
streaming in the window.  The bungalow was at the westernmost edge of the
community, without a lot of the amenities of other houses, because it didn't
really need them.  Neither of the residents ate, or needed a bed to sleep, or
any of the other things people used a house for.  
     Other than privacy, George noted as he passed a fingertip through
Geode's forearm with a shiver of pleasure that her expression mirrored.  He'd
once joked that they could probably have sex in public since no one would
know what they were doing, but Geode was probably never going to be *that*
     "You're blushing?" George raised an eyebrow.  "That's new."
     "I am?" Geode put her hands to her face, a completely human reaction
that didn't do any good, since she no longer had blood that could rush to her
cheeks and make them feel warm.
     "Yeah," George stepped out of the sunbeam so that the light falling on
her was pure.  "You're a little orange-red.  I can barely tell, but I think
I've been getting more sensitive to your shades.  All the time we spend
together," he smiled.  Literally together, as they spent much of their
private time merged as one, his light reflecting throughout her crystalline
     "Odd, I don't feel any different than I usually do in the morning,"
Geode noted.  Her accent had almost completely faded, she apparently had a
gift for languages that she'd never been given the chance to exercise when
she was still made of flesh and bone.  "Maybe..." a frown crossed her
chiseled features, "...I'm with child?"
     George blinked, another of those human reactions that his current body
had no need for.  "I guess anything's possible.  It's not like our situation
was covered in ninth grade health class.  Or senior year optics," he
chuckled.  "Maybe we should see Howie about it, though.  He's got all that
spirit magic stuff, and could probably ask Inanna about it if he's stumped."
     Geode walked to the other side of the room to pick up her clothing and
start getting dressed.
     "Wait...now you're not 'blushing' anymore," George noticed.  "Stay
still, let me shut the windows and turn on the light."
     Nodding, Geode complied as the shutters were drawn and the overhead
light strip was turned on.  
     "Okay, no blush from that.  Now back to the sunlight," he opened the
window and Geode stepped tentatively into the beam.  "Annnnd the blush is
back.  Maybe it's not you, maybe it's the sunlight?"
     "We should definitely go talk to Peregryn, then," Geode went back to the
neatly folded blue and gold uniform and started to dress....

               *              *              *              *

[July 24, 2026 - Mount Olympus, Kingdom of Q'Nos]

     Simon Smith, the Vizier of the Kingdom of Q'Nos, slumped down in a
reclining chair off to one side of the grand hall.  Greco-Minoan style
thrones were fine for ceremonial purposes, but modern technology had a lot to
offer when it came to supporting tired old bones.
     "A rough one, boss?  Er, Vizier?" Polykaon asked.  The satyr was part of
the palace's tech support crew, and had been present to see off the latest
shipment of equipment to New Menuush, Q'Nos's Venusian colony.
     Simon nodded.  Expecting courtly manners from a satyr was like expecting
the Sun to rise in the West.  On Earth.  Besides, he was too tired to stand
on ceremony.  Or stand in general.  "New Menuush is near sunset, that seems
to make it hard to connect the bridge of Eos.  But it was even worse than
yesterday.  It felt...different.  Not just hard, but different."
     "That's what SHE said," Polykaon smirked.
     "Don't you have a server farm to get back to?" Simon sighed.
     "Yeah, yeah...another day of staring at the wrong kinda racks," Polykaon
trotted out of the hall with a clip-clop of cloven hooves.
     Dawn's light streamed in through the eastern side of the hall, left open
to the Sun in order to make the magic easier.  It also meant the hall
couldn't really be climate-controlled, and at this altitude mornings were a
touch chilly even in July.  But that's why recliners had built-in heat and
     Once his heartbeat returned to its normal rhythm, Simon contemplated the
rising Sun.  It looked perfectly normal now, but there'd been that strange
orange tint to the pre-dawn glow.  He'd made a note to check on it later, and
now it was later, so he pulled out his handcomp and checked the weather
     "No dust storms in Anatolia," he frowned.  That was the usual cause of
strange dawn colors, dust or smoke in the East.  The sort of thing he didn't
need to hack into military satellites to pick up, it'd show just fine on the
weather satellites that the Moslem Confederation had grudgingly allowed to
remain over their territory.
     Local atmospheric samplers showed clean as well.  The Xenochromes had
been behaving themselves, not sporing all over the place or trying to sneak a
little extra territory on the side of the mountain.
     "Nothing in the air to make the dawn orange," Simon pondered.  "Then
     Maybe today he wouldn't spend his time trying to figure out Talos.
Maybe today it'd be time to return to his long-neglected study of

               *              *              *              *

[July 25, 2026 - Amarillo, Texas Sector]

     "Nate's right, Boomer," Aaron Zander said.  "It's not a simple
     Nate "Netwalker" Walker, Mike "Boomer" Hodgson and Aaron "Contact"
Zander were all in civvies, sitting around a table outside a cafe in the
gentrified part of town.  The breakfast crowd was thinning out, and no one
had connected the faces of the three to their more public identities, so they
had some privacy.  Even without retro "secret IDs" it was possible to go
     "What's so hard about it?" Boomer countered.  "You save the world or you
don't.  Okay, I guess you could quibble about solo versus group efforts,
     Nate shook his head, cutting his former classmte off.  "It's more than
that, Boom.  Sure, no one's disputing that you helped save the world back in
May [ASH #82-83 - Ed.], but they're not all that obvious.  For instance, I've
killed off at least a dozen AIs who *wanted* to destroy the world.  A few
even seemed to have planned it out well enough that they'd have had a chance.
But how many could have pulled it off?  Do I get credit for all the wannabes?
Just the ones with plans?  Or did it have to get almost to the point of
detonation for it to count?"
     "Similarly," Aaron added, "what about the general class of bud-nipping?
To take an extreme example, maybe someone I put in jail would have eventually
gained enough power to be a global threat, but now we'll never know because
he's getting psychiatric help and is reformed?"
     "So, you're saying that saving the world is like porn?" Boomer grinned.
"Hard to define, but you know it when you see it?"
     Aaron and Nate chuckled.  "And there's usually some sort of climax,
too," Aaron added in Paul's voice.
     Nate shuddered.  "It still creeps me out when you do that."
     "It's just parallel processing," Aaron smirked.  "A computer geek like
you should be used to the idea."
     "Coming from a box, yes.  From a person, not so much," Nate shook his
     Whatever was going to be said next was cut off by a ripple of shock
through the customers as the sky dimmed.  But it was no cloud passing in
front of the Sun.
     "Holy shit," Boomer pointed at the Sun.  An orange halo had formed
around it, and the halo was getting brighter even as the Sun itself dimmed.
Within seconds, it was as if the Sun had turned into an orange giant, filling
much of the sky.
     "Well, that didn't take long," Aaron all but whispered.  "Only...it was
red when I saw it in Hlidskjalf."
     Paul's voice cut the silence, at least in Aaron's mind.  -+Does that
mean it's going to redden soon, or that this isn't the vision we had?+- [In
ASH #92 - Ed.]
     Blackcels and handcomps all over the cafe were sounding off, the first
hint of the panic Aaron could feel bubbling up in the psychic landscape.
     "At least I already covered the check," Boomer muttered as he clipped a
badge to his shirt.  "Go, Contact.  I've got crowd control, at least as much
as anyone can get it.  This strikes me as ASH business.  Oh, and this one's
definitely save-the-world territory...."


Next Issue:

     The Light Brigade has stolen the Sun!  Can it be recovered before Earth
dies?  And how do you destroy a self-repairing shell millions of miles
across?  Be here for the start of "Rising Sun" in ASH #97, "Plan Orange"!



     Okay, I admit it, this arc was never really meant to have an overall
plot, just a theme.  And a way to kill a little time until Rising Sun was
ready to go.  Only the fact that the Rush ended up on screen a lot longer
than initially planned gives the illusion of an arc plot.  :)
     A "superior conjunction" is when you're on the opposite side of the Sun
from Earth.  An inferior conjuction puts you directly between the Sun and
Earth.  In other astronomical notes, just a reminder that Venus has
retrograde revolution, so the Sun rises in the West and sets in the East.
But the day is slightly longer than the year, so dawn can and will last for a
few Earth weeks.
     Polykaon was mentioned in ASH #52, but this is his first physical
appearance.  Xenochromes are alien fungi that arrived on Earth in the 1990s
with a meteor, and are based on Lovecraft's "Colour out of Space".  They
played a tactical role in the events of ASH #46-48.
     The photonic shell was originally proposed by Tony Pi as a potential Big
Event a while back.  Aside from being dramatically cool, there's physical
reasons why no one saw the shell until it was Too Late, but those will be
expanded on in-story next issue rather than being relegated to an end note.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
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http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=academy+of+super-heroes (and an
Academy of Super-Heroes group on Facebook, too).


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