ASH/HCC: Coherent Super Stories #22 - In Vivo, Veritas

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Aug 12 16:44:25 PDT 2010

     [The cover shows a long-haired glowing blonde man manacled to a table
with a shadowy labcoated figure in the background.  The cover copy proclaims,
"That's No Lady!  So Who's The Doctor?"]

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #22 - In Vivo, Veritas
        Featuring Balder                 copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[October 20, 1994 - San Francisco, California]

     "You bet I did!  -KAFF KAFF-  Sorry, gallows humor.  What's the verdict,
doc?" the fair-haired superhero asked.  "Space plague?  Something whipped up
by a mad scientist?  It's gotta be nasty for me to feel this crappy...even
before I got my powers, I never got this sick."
     "While I can't rule out something magical being involved, Mr. Balder, it
appears you have a quite prosaic infection.  Unfortunately, that infection is
the Human Immumodeficiency Virus."
     Balder's jaw dropped.  "Wait.  I have AIDS?"
     The doctor shook his head.  "AIDS is what happens once HIV has gotten
established and started attacking your immune system.  It can take years to
develop.  No, your immune system seems to be destroying the HIV quite
handily, accounting for the flu-like symptoms you're experiencing.  So that's
the good news...odds are your superhuman immune system will win this battle,
and you won't develop AIDS."
     "The bad news is that I have HIV and feel like my namesake.  Who, you
know, is dead," Balder croaked.  Actually, he'd started to suspect lately
that tales of the god's death were greatly exaggerated, and it was more than
the luck of the genetic draw that he'd manifested the powers he had, but that
mystery wasn't exactly a priority at the moment.
     "And you're going to need to contact any sexual partners you've had
recently," the doctor added.  "At least one of them is probably a carrier, and
depending on how long the HIV lived in your system before your body noticed
and attacked it, you may well have passed it on."
     "I always use protection, though," Balder protested.  "Oh, not worried
about catching anything, I just don't want to be having any kids yet."
     "What about partners who can't get pregnant?"
     Balder blinked.  "Hey, I may look androgynous, but that doesn't mean I
swing both ways.  Okay, there was that one time in college, but that was
years ago, and...never mind.  That one time I did use protection just in
case, so not an issue."
     "And there's no change you were less careful due to intoxication any
time in the past few months?"
     Balder shook his head.  "Downside of superhuman metabolism.  I can get
buzzed, but not smashed.  And I don't bother with harder drugs, not enough
extra effect to be worth the trouble, so it wasn't shared needles or anything
like that.  Oh, wait," dawning comprehension flickered in his eyes.
Literally, given his power over light.
     "Yes.  If you didn't get infected by any of the normal vectors, it might
have been an attack.  After all, you do have something of a reputation for
sleeping around, if you were to die of AIDS a few years down the line, would
anyone be all that surprised?  Other than those who know you well enough to
know you always use protection, that is."
     "And the person behind this might not have known I'm more careful than
my rep suggests," Balder nodded, then collapsed into a coughing fit.
     "I recommend you get plenty of bed rest and fluids, Mr. Balder."  The
doctor was probably cleared to know his real name, but either hadn't availed
himself of the opportunity or didn't choose to use the name.  "Most of the
drugs I could prescribe would probably get negated by your own body before
they could do their job, so stick with the pallatives like cough drops or
mom's chicken soup.  And, obviously," the doctor frowned, "try to avoid
anything strenuous like superheroing.  If you feel up to it, work the phones
to try to doublecheck any of your sexual partners, just in case one of them
sabotaged a condom because they wanted a super-baby or the like.  And if
you're still on good terms with your old hero team, you might want to ask
them for protection.  If someone did deliberately infect you, they might
decide to change their mind about letting you die slowly...."

               *              *              *              *

[October 21, 1994 - San Francisco, California]

     "Yeah -KAFF- sorry about this, Erika," Balder wheezed into his phone.
"No, don't -KAFF KAFF- worry too much about me, I feel like hell but the doc
says I should be okay in a few days," he offered up the same white lie he'd
been telling other women all afternoon.  Truth was, it might be more than a
few days, and it might not be okay, but no need to worry them about HIM.
They had enough to worry about for themselves now.  "Just be sure you get
yourself tested, just in case.  Okay?  -KAFF- Bye," he hit the end call
button and slumped back in bed.
     Then the two men in matte black power armor burst in through the window
and Balder's world exploded in bright pain very briefly before going
completely dark.

               *              *              *              *

[Later that day, unknown location]

     As consciousness slowly returned, Balder decided that the one time he'd
been punched by Herr Stark hadn't felt this bad.  Of course, he hadn't been
fighting off HIV when the teutonic strongman gut-punched him.  Whoever the
two armored goons were, they weren't as strong as Stark, but they were strong
enough to do the job.
     "Ow!" Balder opened his eyes as something jabbed into his arm,
reflexively trying to swat at it and finding he couldn't move either arm.
"Whaddafu-KAFF- Gah!"
     "Finally!" sighed a nearby figure, who had moved just outside the range
of where Balder could see.  His head wasn't strapped down, but he was flat on
an inclined table of some sort, and the voice came from behind.  "Do you know
how hard it is to make IV needles out of mistletoe?  And then to have them
all shatter anyway?  I'm glad I had a backup collapsinum needle."
     Balder tried to laugh, but it came out as a coughing fit that made him
involuntarily strain against his metal bonds.  Once his vision cleared, he
could see through his tears the two armored goons, but still no sign of the
speaker.  "I'm not really the god, you -KAFF- know.  The only vulnerability I
have to -KAFF KAFF- mistletoe, ow my if a pretty lady's standing
under some."
     "Live and learn, I suppose.  At least the main part of my plan seems to
be working well enough.  And once I isolate the antibodies your system is
making to fight the HIV infection I'll be able to make a mint marketing a
cure to certain wealthy-but-careless individuals.  And another mint creating
a resistant strain to sell to other wealthy-but-ruthless individuals."
     "And you're telling me this be...because," Balder's voice started to
give out, so he paused and swallowed a few times.  "Because you don't plan to
let me live?"
     "Well, how do you expect me to create a super-HIV strain?  I'll just
keep mystically altering the virus until it kills you, then I'll know it's
nasty enough."
     "Good to know I'll be dying -KAFF- to help expand the frontiers of
knowledge," Balder croaked as sarcastically as he could.  "Who are you,
     "My trade name is Bacteriomage," the voice behind him replied.  "The
gentlemen who brought you to me are members of the Dark Brigade, on retainer
from the new Darkshield.  I felt that anyone equipped to deal with
Brightsword's strength and laser torch would be able to handle your powers as
well, especially if I waited for the virus to weaken you."
     "Full electromagnetic shielding and zero albedo," one of the armored
goons tapped the chestplate of his armor.  "And lens filters, so don't bother
trying to blind us."
     "I doubt he can do more than throw up on us right now," the other goon
chuckled.  "And our kinetic dampers should be able to handle THAT."
     "Wait...BACTERIOmage?  HIV is a virus, not a bacteria," Balder rasped.
     The figure behind him sighed.  "BacteriUM.  And I deal with all
pathogens, okay?  It's just that if you put 'virus' in your name these days,
everyone assumes you're a computer geek.  Which I am, but that's not the
POINT.  I tried 'Pathogenie' but no one took me seriously."
     "I don't take you se..." then Balder was seized with a massive coughing
fit, his entire body thrown into spasms.
     "Watch out, he's broken one of the restraints!" Bacteriomage shouted,
although Balder could barely hear him over his own coughing.
     Balder's back felt like it was going to burst into flame, but he had
both hands free, and quickly got his legs out of the restraints as well.
The Dark Brigadiers seemed taken aback by the coughing fit, despite what had
to be sealed systems they still had an instinctive aversion to getting
coughed on by a sick person.  Especially when that person had HIV.
     The IV had come loose on its own, and blood ran down Balder's arm for a
moment before the hole sealed itself.  He could tell he was healing more
slowly than normal, though.  Well, normal for him.  He flicked the blood at
the armored goons as they started towards him, and one flinched back again.
     "Let's see how -KAFF- good your armor is!" Balder fired a beam of golden
light from his fingertips at the mercenary who was still advancing, but it
was swallowed up like sand poured into a river.
     "Pretty damned good," his opponent sneered, gesturing and sending a wave
of magnetic force into Balder's body.  The water in his body tried to get
away from the field, and the effect was like being hit by a baseball bat
wrapped in a blanket...dull, more pushing than hitting, but still something
that would've been hard to ignore even if he'd been in tip-top condition.
     Somehow he doubted the physical side of the armor would give out from
punches before the two of them could batter him senseless.  And his main
attack power was useless against them...their electromagnetic shielding was
too good.
     "But your light is no mere scientific effect," a voice whispered from
all around.
     "What?" Balder looked about, wondering if Bacteriomage had returned to
taunt him.
     "I said, pretty damned good," the bolder of the armored mercs repeated,
and his partner had overcome his own squeamishness by now.  The two were
moving to bracket him, not quite a crossfire but far enough apart he couldn't
try to physically attack both at once.
     "It is the pure light of your own soul," the new voice continued.  "The
body may weaken, but the soul does not.  Believe in yourself, and their toys
will have no effect on your light."
     "Sorry, guys, I think I'm starting to hallucin-KAFF-ate," Balder gasped,
slowly backing up.  "I wouldn't want you to think I'm ignoring you."
     "I am no fever dream," the voice replied, still quiet and yet drowning
out whatever it was the armored figures were saying in response.  "Believe in
your light, and prevail."
     Balder's vision was starting to swim.  Maybe the voice wasn't a fevered
imagining, but reality itself was starting to go wobbly.  Still, what did he
have to lose?  All superpowers were supposedly magic on some level, maybe his
were more magic than he'd thought?
     "Feel the light of my soul!" he gasped, shining forth the brightest
white light he'd ever emanated, from his hands, his eyes, his heart.
     "I can't see!  Something's wrong with the helmet!" one of the Darkshield
agents shouted.  The other was simply screaming incoherently.  A moment
later, the two suits of armor crashed to the ground as their operators lost
     Balder joined them an instant later.

               *              *              *              *

[October 22, 1994 - San Francisco, California]

     "I told you to avoid superheroics," the doctor scowled.  Not really the
first thing he wanted to see and hear on awakening, but there you had it.
     "They started it," Balder whispered.  His cough was gone and he felt a
lot better, but he couldn't make his voice work above a whisper.  "Who
brought me back?"
     "New local hero, Brightsword.  She'd been tracking down Darkshield's
men, but when she got to the warehouse all she found was you and the two
armored mercenaries lying unconscious.  Then some sort of recall activated,
and the armors flew off on their own...she decided to help you instead of
chasing them."
     "Bacteriomage mentioned Brightsword, but I thought he meant the old
Second Age guy.  Got himself a female replacement?  Maybe I should thank her
personally," Balder mused.
     "AFTER I'm sure your system has cleaned out every last bit of that HIV.
And this time I'm not sending you home, you're staying here with DSHA guards
outside the door.  They have orders to stop you from leaving, not just to
keep others out."
     "Party pooper," Balder sighed, then fell asleep.


Author's Notes:

     Written for High Concept Challenge #12, "Under the Weather".  I'd
originally planned to set this story in 1990 or 1991, but once I decided I
wanted to have the Dark Brigade working as muscle I had to push it forward
a bit since I previously established that the new Brightsword and Darkshield
became active around 1994.
     The title is a pun, naturally.  It mixes "in vivo" (i.e. growing a
disease culture in a living organism, as opposed to "in vitro" where it's
grown in a glass container) and "in vino, veritas" (in wine, truth).
     Balder was one of the "blink and you miss him" player characters in the
original ASH campaign, I think the player used him once or twice before
making up a different character.  (The player also played Hellbound, which is
what Johnny Angel turned into after being trapped in a hellscape for fifty
years.)  Balder's other ASH Universe appearance was in WarStar #4, as part of
the "God Squad" version of ASH.  By 1998, he had fully embraced his nature as
Balder's avatar, gaining significant power by tapping into the old myths but
also picking up a rather inconvenient vulnerability to mistletoe that he
didn't originally have.
     Bacteriomage has been mentioned several times in ASH and CSV, and he
created the Ebola variant that was used as the core of the Anchor Plague.
     After I started writing this story, I read an article that revealed the
discovery of three new human antibodies that fight HIV (including VRC01), and
that might be the key to a cure.  The antibodies are rare, and almost no one
seems to manufacture enough to make a difference in the long run, but a
paranormal would certainly have a better shot at it.  So my handwave wasn't
quite so handwavy after all.  :)
     In Hero System terms, in this story Balder spent some saved up XP to buy
a new slot in his multipower, either a Mental Blast or NND (Mystic-based
defenses).  So the high ED and hardened Flash Defense on the Dark Brigadiers
didn't help them against it.  And they're just minions, their STUN scores
weren't that great.


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