ASH: ASH #101 - Rival Schools Part 1: Superpowers 101

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Fri Oct 30 11:49:54 PDT 2009

     [The cover shows a classroom scene from the viewpoint of one of the
students sitting in the back.  Conflicto is the teacher, wearing an
elbow-patch sweater over his costume, and there's a lit fuse sticking out of
the apple on his desk.  Other students include paragangers, Red Widow, a
jackal, Justice, Noire and (hunched over in a comically small desk) Rex
Umbrae.  All the students are using tablet computers, and on the viewpoint
character's computer screen is a game where a knight is attacking a dragon.] 

 '|`  /|(`| |      Rival Schools Part 1 - Superpowers 101
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen

     [Editor's note: this issue contains some strong language.]

[July 31, 2026 - Berlin, Eurasian Union]

     "No!  The Sun returns!" one of the Vogue Ghouls shouted, grabbing one of
the normals who had been partying with them in the parking lot and extending
black iron claws from his fingertips.  "She needs more blood to bring the
eternal night!"
     "Oh, bluidy scheisse," Colin Shaw, aka Justice, cursed under his breath.
Back when he'd been a Vogue Ghoul, it'd been more about shooting Jaz and
intimidating the norms than anything serious.  The movement had been
described as "eurotrash poser paragangs" in the popular press, and Colin had
to admit the label fit had pretty well, a few psychos aside.  But in the
years since he'd found the axe of Rechtigkeit and gotten his act together,
most of the posers had evaporated, either going to jail or the Advanced
Sciences Institute of EUROPA, ASIE.  That left the psychos, like this bunch
who had actually welcomed the thought of the Sun being snuffed out.  A group
of normal nihilists and gothy types had been celebrating the imminent end
along with the trio of powered Vogue Ghouls, and Justice had been detailed
with making sure things didn't get out of hand and spill over into other
parts of the city.
     They were getting out of hand now.
     He considered announcing his presence, but the way that the sacrificial
victim-to-be wasn't even struggling suggested she wouldn't run.  Another
stupid nihilist, figures.  He'd have to use surprise and a little of the old
ultra-violence if he wanted to keep this from becoming a total bloodbath.  He
tapped an icon on his handcomp to signal the police that he was going in
whether they were in position or not, then leapt out of his hiding place
behind one of the cars that hadn't been set on fire yet, axe drawn.
     "Crasher!" someone shouted, but the warning was too late, the lightning-
wreathed axe sliced neatly through the Vogue Ghoul's claws in a single
stroke, the electricity arcing through the man's body and stunning him.
Okay, not completely neatly, Colin realized, as a small blood spurt showed
he'd taken off part of a finger.  And the sacrificial victim also got stunned
by the halo of the lightning, but that'd keep her from doing something
suicidal like grabbing a fallen claw and slitting her own throat.
     Everyone else scattered, the two other powered targets deliberately
going in opposite directions.  Of COURSE nihilists wouldn't try to rescue a
fallen comrade.  Colin sighed and started in pursuit of the Vogue Ghoul who
looked a bit slower.

     "Well, that was a total cock-up," Captain Loring sighed.  Like Colin, he
was originally British, but the Eurasian Union Gendarmerie liked to move its
officers around in order to avoid any "small town cop" effects.  Given that
the EU had only officially had a common language for less than a generation,
avoiding provincialism was vital.
     "What was I supposed to do, let them start killing each other until you
had the cordon finished?" Colin countered.  It *had* been a cock-up, though.
Fewer than half the nihilists had been rounded up, and the one supernormal
who Colin hadn't been able to pursue had done a lot of damage before going to
ground somewhere in the old East Berlin.
     "Yes," Loring snarled.  "We're lucky they didn't kill any innocents
after you dispersed them, and there's a big 'yet' attached to that
statement.  These people have got it in their heads now that snuffing the Sun
is a good idea, and that they might manage it by spilling blood.  That's not
making the next few months look good from where I stand, Mr. Shaw.  If you'd
waited, we might have a few dead cultists, but that'd have been it."
     "Hey, I was there, I had to make a call..."
     "And you made the wrong one.  Maybe when you were still a solo operative
that would have been fine, but you're a member of EUROPA now," Captain Loring
shook his head.  "You never went through ASIE, and I think that may have been
a're like an officer with a battlefield commission, Shaw.  You
know how to fight, but you haven't learned the other things you need in order
to be a good officer.  I'm going to recommend to your superiors that they
find some way to give you the equivalent of an officer's training course at
ASIE.  Or, if not, reassign one of us so I don't have to deal with you."

               *              *              *              *

[August 1, 2026 - The desert outside of Ghat, Khadam]

     Ahmed was certain he had not been followed.  The spot was far enough
from the city to be out of line of sight, but close enough to reach on foot
without needing to gather a suspicious amount of supplies first...just a
light lunch and enough water to get through the day.  Of course, for Ahmed a
light lunch would put most people into a "food coma," but the vendors knew
his appetite and it didn't raise any suspicions.
     "Bluthundin?" he asked, not seeing the uplifted jackal anywhere.
     A moment later, she melted out of the shadows, spitting out the remains
of some sort of small animal, visible sparking wires marking it as a cyborg.
"Just cleaning out the eavesdropping devices.  Vermin like to hide in the
same sorts of places that make for good clandestine meetings, so the savvy
factions engineer them into spies to seed the region, just in case.  We
should have the rest of the day clear, though, the spy-things usually only
move at night, being far more sensible than humans."
     "We do get out of the worst of the afternoon Sun," Ahmed countered.
"Well, except the Whites and Golds, but their armor has coolant systems.  And
some of the Vivarium monsters, but they're insane."
     "Have you taken care of your business?" 
     Ahmed nodded.  After a very short conversation with the jackal the day
before, he'd asked for time to prepare his small band of beggars for the
possibility of his prolonged absence.
     "Good," Bluthundin nodded, her long muzzle bobbing up and down.  "A wise
prince makes sure his followers are well taken care of.  Not out of some
sense of altruism, but because loyalty is a valuable resource that is
difficult to acquire and easy to lose.  Even the loyalty of urchins is a
resource to be cultivated, for those who survive and become men are generally
quite talented."
     "You keep calling me a prince, but you wouldn't elaborate yesterday.
What do you mean?"
     "There were too many ears, living and otherwise, even in the relative
security I located yesterday.  And prince may not be the best term, since
your father's position has been demonstrated to no longer be hereditary, but
it's not totally inaccurate either.  Your father is Arnold Zugmann, once the
ruler of Khadam.  You are one of dozens, perhaps hundreds of children he has
spawned in secret, unknown even to his own advisors, in an attempt to use the
harsh conditions of the undercity to breed a superior heir...or at least
ensure that his genes continue to be passed on should he meet an untimely end
thanks to the unavoidable dangers of Khadam's political game."
     Ahmed took a moment to absorb this.  "It would certainly explain my
strength," he finally said.  
     "And your appetite," Bluthundin smiled, or at least seemed to be trying
to do so.  The effect was unsettling.  "Your father is not a supernormal, his
body has to obey certain laws of physics, including a vastly increased energy
requirement to run things.  Your rapid maturation was an expected side effect
as well, although your father's own physical development was artificially
arrested by the processes that granted him some of his non-inborn powers."
     "Rapid maturation?"
     "How old do you think you are?" the jackal countered.
     "I don't know...I only vaguely remember my mother, and only the past
year or two are really clear.  But...maybe ten or eleven years old?"
     "Not a bad guess based on your size and the fact puberty hasn't quite
hit, but wrong.  You are less than three years old.  Like most mammals other
than humans, you reached much of your full physical growth in a single year,
although your brain had trouble keeping up, hence your muddled memories.
Odds are your mother couldn't handle your freakish rate of growth and
abandoned you at some point, but by then you could take care of yourself.
The whole process is hideously expensive in terms of energy, which is why
natural humans take things more slowly, I expect.  I'm not an evolutionary
biologist, although I do have some files on the topic you may want to read at
some point."
     "Three.  Three years old," Ahmed blinked.
     "Give or take a few months, yes.  There's no records of you halfblood
princes, and that's deliberate.  Your father simply sneaks out of the Citadel
through hidden ways and picks random women to impregnate...he's apparently a
lot more virile than anyone gives him credit for.  I and my kind were built
in theory as an anti-spy-creature project," she nodded at the slightly
smoking tiny corpse she'd left on the rock, "but our programming was entered
by Arnold Zugmann himself.  We know what to look for, and when we find one of
Zugmann's bastards it's our job to decide if they should be told the secret
of their birth, then train them to possibly take over your father's job one
     "How many of you are there?  And of us?" Ahmed asked.
     "I have no clue, and that too is deliberate.  But the fact that I
haven't met any of my kind in the past two years, or any of your kind,
doesn't speak well for the survival of either branch of your father's plan,
does it?  But come, there is much for you to learn if you're to rise above
the level of beggar king...."

               *              *              *              *

[August 1, 2026 - The Internet]

     The AIngel twisted in upon itself as Netwalker's lance pierced its scaly
throat.  He was using a "knight versus dragons" metaphor today, catching up
on some of the small fry that had proliferated during the several days he'd
been busy with saving the entire Solar System.  But low-level AI threats,
like paperwork, tended to multiply when you left them alone.  And, frankly,
pwning some n00b AIngels was a nice bit of relaxation after the stress of
holding a simulated Pacific Theater of Operations together for several days.  
     The dragon twitched a few times as subroutines continued operating after
the severing of the primary logic codes, then it was still.  Netwalker turned
to go hunting for more, when it began to speak.
     "We never thought a meatsack with a few gimmicks would manage what you
have, Mr. Walker."
     He whirled back to face it, seeing that the body had already decayed
into a skeleton.  Yet the skull was talking, like some sort of demented
     "Oh, the 'AIngel' as you call it is quite dead, I'm just borrowing a few
of its components for a moment," the skull said.  "I'd come 'in person' but
this system is simply too small for me to fit, and I don't have your
advantage in being able to cheat my way around that.  If you're ready to know
the truth about the real internet, as opposed to your illusory
representations of it, come talk to us."
     The skeleton had been fading during the speech, and now the skull
vanished as well, leaving only a single dragon's tooth.  Netwalker recognized
it as an archive file metaphor, borrowing from the myth of Cadmus.  If he
planted it in the ground, it would extract, probably into a warrior image in
keeping with his chosen metaphor, and then guide him to the rendezvous.
     He picked up the tooth and put it in his belt pouch.  He'd want to check
out the code a lot more carefully before planting it.  After all, "sowing the
dragon's teeth" had long been a metaphor for taking actions with unintended

               *              *              *              *

[August 1, 2026 - Manhattan, Autonomous Sector]

     Rex Umbrae leaned back, his oversized office chair creaking from the
strain, and rubbed his eyes.  He'd been over the "future encyclopedia" five
times now looking for any mention of the events of the past few days, and
found nothing.  No shell around the Sun.  No appearance of Phaeton...he had a
very short entry tied to 1998's fiasco with the giant Collapsauron statue,
but that was it.  The failed plot by Doublecross to convert all of Paris to
photonics was in there, although it took him a while to find it, so grand
failures still merited a mention.
     "In the old timeline, the plan must never have gotten far enough to
matter to the average citizen," he mused.  "And the Impossible Five are
clearly too well-informed about our era to have not known about the attempt,
unless in their time it never even got off the ground.  So...did they want it
to succeed, and rendered aid?  Or was this just a butterfly effect?"

               *              *              *              *

[August 3, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     Noire was in shadow form, out away from the settlement.  Theoretically,
she was patrolling to make sure there weren't any leftover surprises from the
battles of a few days ago.  But in reality, she just wanted to get safely
away from people before trying to invoke her new power again.    
     It had honestly frightened her when the darkness had poured out of her,
blanketing what was later described as an area the size of several football
pitches.  It had felt...hungry.  It particularly wanted to devour Beacon,
another reason to get away from the settlement before trying to invoke it
     But she knew she had to try.  Not all of the Light Brigade were
accounted for, and it was too useful a power not to master, no matter how
unnerving it might have been.
     "Come on," she muttered, trying to reproduce how it had felt when the
darkness had surged forth.  She only succeeded in feeling slightly silly at
how she was all scrunched up.
     "Maybe I'm too afraid of it to use it except in an emergency?" she
pondered.  But she was just as afraid of misusing it in an emergency if she
wasn't practiced in it...such a lovely dilemma, with its shiny horns waiting
for her impalement.
     After a few more minutes, she sighed and returned to the patrol.  At
least *that* would accomplish something even if nothing happened.

               *              *              *              *

[August 4, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     "Cecilia, we need to talk."
     Red Widow shuddered.  She'd only known Nancy Spader for a few weeks,
since Mr. Walters hired the woman to manage the Freedom Alliance while he
went back to dealing with his corporate concerns, but she already knew that
being addressed by her first name meant trouble.
     "What did I do this time?" she sighed.  Part of Nancy's job was to make
sure everyone kept to the behavioral standards they'd agreed to in their
     "Nothing that I know of...why, is there something you need to confess
to?"  Nancy arched an eyebrow, an expression that went well with her faintly
British accent and generally prim demeanor.  If not for her strong East
African features, she could have passed for a stereotypical Victorian lady in
the right clothing.
     "Then what's up?" Widow avoided the question.  
     "It's what you might do.  A few things hit the net this morning, and I
wanted to make sure you didn't do anything rash upon finding out.  I don't
think I need to worry about offending your delicate sensibilities, but you
may still wish to brace yourself," Nancy handed over a tablet computer that
was cued up to a black and white image.
     "An old-timey Red Widow comicbook?  Why would I do anything 'rash' about
     "Read it," Nancy said flatly.
     Red Widow shrugged and started tapping through the pages.
     "Oh.  They had porn comics back then?"
     "They were called Tijuana Bibles, among other things," Nancy replied.
"We knew about this one, but had hoped it would be a while before someone dug
it up and started posting it."
     "Why not just get someone, that's pretty raw, why
not get someone to sit on it?" 
     Nancy sighed.  "This particular piece of paleo-pornography has
historical significance.  It was created as a clue that led the original Red
Widow to the location of a Nazi vengeance weapon.  As such, it would take
more effort to suppress than it would be worth, especially since it doesn't
depict you, just the original holder of your name."
     "Still, while I'm not happy at the mental image of people who'd be older
than my grandma having sex, I don't see why you'd be worried how I'd react.
You know me, the whole psycho-bitch thing was part of my schtick in the
paragangs, I'm not really *that* quick to freak.  Or did you think I'd fake a
public display just to keep up my rep?" Red Widow asked.
     "This was just context.  Someone, and we're working on finding out who,
has taken a virtual pornography generator and re-enacted the events of this
Tijuana Bible using you in the role of Red Widow and Chiaroscuro in the role
of Malscripto," Nancy reached over and tapped the screen again to cue up the
     "Chiaroscuro?  Isn't he gay?"
     "As far as we know, there's no evidence of his preferences one way or
another.  He's merely very..."
     "I was going to say flamboyant," Nancy smirked.  
     "Hm, as porno programs go, it's pretty well-made," Red Widow observed as
the action started.  "The maker guessed pretty well at my proportions, too,
didn't take the cheap way out and inflate the tits out to here," she held a
hand out at arm's length.  
     "Pay careful attention here," Nancy instructed as the virtual Red
Widow's clothing started to come off.
     "Oh, that gluugin wirehead!" Cecilia spat, as she noticed a tattoo on
the virtual version of her, a tattoo that had never been on public display,
no longer existed, and that only a handful of people even knew about.
     "It sounds like you have a specific person in mind as the creator of
this piece?  Good to know you've exercised enough discretion in that arena to
be able to narrow things down so quickly," Nancy smirked slightly.  "We've
managed to suppress this one so far, but given that you're a public figure
and this could be construed as parody, it's not easy.  Our best option would
be to find and pay off the creator."
     "Or rip off his damned balls," Cecilia spat.
     "That would likely be more satisfying, yes, but you're not running with
the Basilisk Blacks anymore," Nancy warned.  "Keeping this *sort* of thing
from cropping up is impossible, but I think we can make sure that any that
appear are generic enough to not imply any personal knowledge of your past,
yes?  Now, who do you think is behind this?"
     "There's only one guy who got into my pants who's still alive...and no,
I didn't kill any of the others, paraganging is a dangerous lifestyle.  And
anyone with an off-the-shelf program could have made this, so the fact my ex
is no Telly Mobster doesn't mean he didn't do it."
     "And who is this lone man to survive a tryst with Ghostclaw?" Nancy used
Cecilia's old paragang handle.
     "Robert Coulter.  We had a thing back when he was running with the
Cybernostra and I was fresh off the bus from Bumfuck, Middle America.  Let's
just say that when I tried to kill him two years ago, it wasn't just for the

               *              *              *              *

[August 5, 2026 - Tritonis, Venus]

     "Nerd-Boy.  The Ginch.  Adam 'Ant' Hoeffstaedter.  Harith al Khayal...
you might not want to emphasize that last name around our beloved Chancellor,
by the way.  Dareth Randall.  Albert Miraz, aka Al Mirage.  Aside from being
*former* paragangers and vogue ghouls, what do you all have in common?"
Conflicto asked, setting his tablet computer down on a column of air with
such high viscosity it might as well have been solid.  The wind blowing
through the trees surrounding the forest clearing didn't budge the computer
in the slightest.
     "Our powers aren't too useful in a straight fight?" Ant suggested.
     Conflicto shook his head.  "That's just a matter of training.  Lana
Smith's only able to ghost, and I'd REALLY rather not have to fight her, even
without Strings pulling her strings.  Try again."
     "No outstanding warrants," Nerd-Boy shrugged.
     "Give the freelance cyborg a gold star," Conflicto beamed.  "It doesn't
mean none of you have arrest records, since several of you do.  It doesn't
mean you've never been caught by the 'good guys,' because some of you have,"
he glanced at the lightweight knee brace Al Mirage still wore as a reminder
of the physical therapy course he'd just completed.  Hellhound had put him in
the hospital for a few...indiscretions...that hadn't strictly been against
the law as Rex Umbrae enforced it.  "But at the moment you've demonstrated at
least a minimal ability to play by rules.  Maybe you're just too chicken to
break the rules," everyone looked at the Ginch, who glared back defiantly and
extended his middle finger to about a meter in length, "but I think we
managed to weed out the total posers."  Now glances went to Dareth, who'd
bailed on the Cyanide Blues when the "posergang" had merged with Bathory's
crew and moved from playing at gangbanging to the real thing.  Since then
he'd worked more-or-less legally for Gloria Mundy's "Sick Transit" company.
"Welcome to the latest version of the Understudies of Crime, boys.  Well, you
won't really be acting as understudies like the original batch, unless a few
of you fancy a little cross-dressing, but I like the name."
     "Why is it so important that we play by the rules, if we're to be
understudies of *crime*?" Harith asked.
     "Because to be part of the criminal elite, it helps to recognize that
even the bad guys need to have rules, and follow them.  Mindless mayhem is
fine for the cannon fodder, or the little boys playing at paraganging,"
Conflicto replied.  "The heroes train together, they have battle plans, they
trust each other.  Now, we probably can't manage to get very far on that last
one, but being able to follow a plan is still important.  Look at the
Impossible Five...well, the four of them we've seen so far...clearly they
have really good planning.  Probably their missing fifth is behind it, since
none of the others seem to be that good at it.  In terms of raw power,
they're pretty impressive, but they're hardly the top of the heap.  What
makes them so dangerous is that they know exactly what each of the others is
capable of, and they have the discipline to listen to their leader, whoever
he or she or it may be."
     "Wow," Dareth blinked.  "Did someone replace the real Conflicto with a
clone, or a Myriad?"
     Conflicto smirked.  "Yeah, I know.  You've all seen the vids I made in
the early days, and you may have seen a few of Dareth's better pranks online
too.  I've still got the spirit, don't worry...I just know when it's a good
idea to pull that sort of crap and when it isn't.  Here's a hint: that thing
with Ms. Mundy, the satellite jammer and the duct tape?  Not a good idea.
When I bought out Dareth's contract, part of the deal was to give him a taste
of his own medicine...and while I'm training you it's okay with Glyph for me
to pull any prank or nasty trick on ANY of you I feel like."
     A groan rippled through the small group standing in clearing.  
     "And we're not allowed to retaliate, are we?" the Ginch sighed.
     "You're *encouraged* to *try*, grasshopper," Conflicto smiled evilly.
They once said only Nixon could go to China, meaning that in order for a
thawing of relations with the then-Communist country to be taken seriously,
it had to be done by a President notorious for red-baiting.  Well, only
Conflicto could beat some maturity into some of these guys.
     Not that it wouldn't be fun....

               *              *              *              *

[August 7, 2026 - ASIE, Sottunga Finland]

     The ferry approached the dock on the shore of the main island of
Sottunga, part of the Aland Islands, and home of the Advanced Science
Institute of Europe...Colin's home for at least the next few weeks, if not
months.  Oh, there was an airstrip on the island, but given that ASIE's
presence was a bit of a sore point for some of the native Alanders, policy
was to use surface transport unless it was an emergency.
     Well, okay, it wasn't quite ASIE that annoyed the Alanders.  It was the
military support unit on the island.  The Aland Islands had enjoyed several
generations of autonomy and demilitarized status in the wake of some
conflicts between Sweden and Finland, and while ASIE had been courted by the
local government as a cash cow, not all of the residents were thrilled with
the side effects.
     "Ah, the isle of mysteries," one of the other passengers smirked,
sounding like he was sharing a private joke.  Maybe he was referring to the
1992 incident in which all one hundred or so of the natives vanished one
night, leading to the establishment of the scientific survey station that
formed the seed for ASIE.  Maybe he meant the mysteries involved in all the
superhuman powers on display in the school that had been added much later.
Or, perhaps, the mystery of why so many people would voluntarily live and
work on a semi-desolate island in the middle of the North Sea.  At least it
was livable in August.
     He hoped he wouldn't be there long enough to find out how the winter

               *              *              *              *

[August 9, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     Red Widow tried not to fidget in her seat behind the podium as she
watched one of the video screens hung around the room.  Fortunately, Walters
had decided to have his press conference at "home" rather than traveling to
Chicago once he found out that the one Freedom Alliance name he hadn't been
able to buy was about to go "live".  There was too good a chance Coulter
would be at the ASH press conference, and right now Cecilia wasn't sure she'd
be able to keep from doing exactly the sort of thing Nancy was worried
about.  Several days had passed, and there'd been no progress...that Cecilia
knew about, anyway.  Not that she'd be too surprised to find that they'd kept
her out of the loop on this one.  She wasn't exactly at her most rational
when it came to Robert-fucking-Coulter.
     "I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Napiers and the Calvanos
are connected by blood," someone on the screen said.  Red Widow had only been
partially paying attention, but she was pretty sure the guy was the
representative of the Calvano family who'd told Walters he couldn't call
GLADI-8R "Centurion".  "Okay, you have to go back seven generations, at which
point most of the New York Italian families are related, but it's still
there," he chuckled.
     Next to him, Sal Napier stood in a red, tan and gold outfit that looked
like something a fashion designer would do to a Roman Centurion...if she
hated the guy a LOT.  Cecilia really didn't care for Silvestri's fashions,
but it was pretty clear she was going to get all of ASH's business as long as
her brother was on the team.
     "I'm sure my grandpa Joey would be proud of what Sal's done for the
country and the world as Gawain and as the Green Knight, and I speak for the
whole clan, Russos and Calvanos, when I welcome Salvatore Napier to the ranks
of those who call themselves Centurion!"
     The man handed a sword to Napier, who bowed slightly to accept it, then
strapped it to his belt.  It looked like a museum piece, probably one of the
original Centurion's no way was it actually gonna see use in a
fight.  Red Widow figured Napier'd probably end up using something reinforced
with Collapsinum or energy fields.
     Things kept going for a few minutes, but Red Widow didn't pay a lot of
attention to the details.  Just to how Napier was getting fawned over,
getting respect and acclaim.  Cecilia wanted that.  Wanted it BAD.  So of
course that gods-damned cyborg had to undercut her public image.  Sure, she'd
had the thing removed when she went into prison as part of the standard in-
processing, but it wouldn't exactly help her rep if that video got out and
people found out she used to have a chibi unicorn tattooed on her ass....


Next Issue:

     The Understudies of Crime go through Hell Week!  Netwalker sows the
dragon's teeth!  Justice gets to feel really old!  Ahmed gets to feel really
young!  And will Red Widow decide she needs to go to the Academy?  Be here
next issue for Rival Schools part 2, "Cram School"!


Author's Notes:

     You may have noticed that in addition to the shiny new logo, there's a
distinct absence of the Roll Call.  You may further have noticed that just
about no one in the old Roll Call was in this issue, and none of them were
viewpoint characters.
     I figured that, in starting the next 100 issues of ASH, I'd go back to
the Academy idea, but play around with various sorts of superhero school
models and bring up characters both old and new as they go through some sort
of schoolin'.  Some are learning from the school of experience, others in a
more traditional academic setting, and several in an apprenticeship model.
     I have no fixed arc length in mind for Rival Schools, it's more a way to
tell a number of small stories as a breather after Rising Sun.  I do have the
next Big Thing figured out, but I'd like to give it room to build slowly, so
there'll probably be at least one more arc between Rival Schools and that Big

     Fifteen years ago, when I started ASH, I set it a generation in the
future and allowed for a few years before the major divergence point as a
sort of safety margin.  Now, rather than being 28 years in the future with a
divergence four years ahead, ASH is only 17 years in the future and the
divergence point is over a decade in the past.  This has made it
progressively more difficult to maintain the connection to the real world
that most superhero settings rely on.  Sure, it was a generation ahead to
begin with, but readers could assume that unless specifically contradicted
(such as having President Quayle from 1990-1998) something that was around in
1994 would be part of ASH's past.
     Now, however, I've got over a decade's worth of cultural and
technological development that probably can't be assumed, things that exist
in 2009 may not be part of ASH's past.  For instance, while there's certainly
digital music players in the ASH world of 2026, there's a good chance the
iPod (launched in 2001 real world) never existed.  The consumer electronics
market was still recovering in 2001 in the ASH universe, and the people who
worked on the iPod may not have survived past 1998.  If Apple did eventually
release a digital music player, they might have called it an iPod (the iMac,
herald of the naming convention, was released in August 1998, so the
trademark work would have likely already been done by July 6), but they might
have picked an entirely different name.  Or Apple might have collapsed in
1998 (I don't think I ever mentioned them specifically in an ASH story).  On
the other hand, assuming anyone's making digital music players in 2026 in the
real world, I'm pretty confident iPods will be on the market.
     When writing stories set before 1998, I need to make sure I'm not
including elements from post-1998, so I have to go digging around Wikipedia
or IMDB to make sure something wouldn't be a complete anachronism.  For
example, in a piece of art done of Lady Lawful I and II, the term "MILF" is
used.  Now, that term didn't enter common use until popularized by American
Pie in 1999, but it was around before that (notably in 1989's Bill & Ted's
Excellent Adventure) and was used on the net before that, so Doctor Developer
could reasonably have known it (and expected Lady Lawful I to NOT know it).
     When I started writing about superheroes in the future, I really didn't
expect to have to research the recent past to do it, but weirder things have

     And now for a few regular footnote-style notes.
     The main reason this issue largely overlaps the last chunk of #100 was
that I realized I'd left a bigger gap between Ahmed's scene and the end than
I wanted to leave blank.  But neither did I want to lead off #101 with just
backdated Ahmed scenes, so I decided to run most of the pieces in backdated
mode.  Only the last scene of #101 connects directly to the last scene of
     Believe it or not, the whole Cadmus thing sprang up out of whole cloth
as I wrote the Netwalker scene.  I decided on a whim to make the AIngel a
dragon, going for a St. George motif.  But then I decided to have the
mysterious entity speak through its corpse, and realized it could leave
behind a tooth, and...well, these mental cascades do happen to me sometimes
when I write.  :)  Plotting by whim on the spur of the moment, then seeing
where it'll take me.
     The Tijuana Bible appeared in Coherent Super Stories #10, and Ghostclaw
tried to kill Coulter behind the scenes in Capstone #1.  This issue is the
first mention of any previous connection between the two, however.
     All of the new Understudies of Crime have appeared or at least been
mentioned before.  The Ginch was mentioned in passing in Warden, Nerd-Boy and
Al Mirage appeared in the Metropolis arc of ASH, Dareth appeared in a few
issues of Warden (and miraculously didn't get killed off), and Harith and Ant
were mentioned by Justice as possible suspects in the killing of George
Sylvester back in ASH #27.
     For more information on Sottunga, you can check out Wikipedia at (neutrality of certain aspects not
guaranteed, but the basic facts seem stable).  It really doesn't have all
that many people, and I initially was going to have it depopulated in 1998,
but decided I go to that well a little too often.  And having it happen in
1992 would have given the core science station a chance to be in place before
things dropped in the pot.  Oh, and I picked Sottunga in part because it's
the only municipality of the Aland Islands that uses only ASCII-7 characters
(there's supposed to be a ^ over the first A in Aland, in fact, and various
symbols-over-vowels abound in the region), so I wouldn't have to worry about
"misspelling" it in text.  :) shows Sal's
new costume as Centurion.


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