ASH: "Click!" One-Shot

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Aug 19 20:05:25 PDT 2010

     [The cover shows a hero unmasking in an alleyway, as seen through the
viewfinder of a camera.  The shadows in one corner contain a pair of glowing
red eyes, observing the event.]

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Story
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        "Click!"
                                        copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[August 12, 1992 - Lower West Side, Manhattan]

     "OhCrapOhCrapOhCrap!" Sproinger shouted to no one in particular as he
bounded across the rooftops.
     The most dreaded sound a masked superhero can hear.
     Sometimes it's the sound of a cocked pistol.
     Sometimes it's a trap about to be sprung.
     This time, though, it was the worst sort of click.  The others, he could
fight his way out of.  His superhuman leaping and bouncing skills made him
awfully hard to shoot.  And he'd gotten out of a few traps in his day.
     But there's a particular sort of click that only belongs to a camera.  A
camera that had to have been pointed at him as he started to pull his mask
off.  A camera probably in the hands of an innocent normal, he couldn't punch
or jump his way out of this one.
     Someone had taken a picture of his real face.  And he'd been pissing off
some really BAD people lately.  Bad enough that he doubted the NYPD Liaison
Department could keep all his friends and family safe.  He might look like a
light-hearted wise-cracking sort of hero, but the people he fought were as
bad as anyone who Black Opal or Pain Miser tangled was all part of
the act, after all.  When you got down to it, almost none of NYC's vigilantes
were all that brutal.  The DSHA and NYPD had ways to make things unpleasant
for people who crossed too many lines.  But some heroes liked to cultivate a
darker reputation, to scare opponents into cooperating.  Sproinger went the
other way, acting like a goof to lull his opponents into making mistakes,
failing to take him seriously.
     Now it was biting him in the ass.  If the shutterbug was actually hired
to catch him out, it wouldn't matter.  But a tourist getting a lucky shot?
They might be too scared to do anything with pictures of the Darkling, but
Sproinger?  Those pics would be at the papers, or worse, on the internet,
within hours.  Heck, in his secret identity, the Sproinger was involved in
the new field of website development.  "Fan pages" were already exploding,
and no fewer than ten sites in the greater NYC area were devoted to watching addition to the Usenet groups and mailing lists.
     Worse, Sproinger's face was actually fairly well known among the sort of
people who would be spreading the pictures around.  After all, he was a
computer geek too.  And a fan of supers before he became one.  He knew all
the tricks to throw them off his scent, but that assumed no one got something
as obvious as a photo.  He'd gotten sloppy.
     Click click click....
     "Wait," Sproinger turned towards the noise.  This wasn't an echo of the
shutter in his mind, it was more like claws on the rooftop tarpaper.  He fell
into a ready stance, trying to remember who might have hired a lycanthrope or
summoned a demon to go after him.  Worry about the photograph later.
     A metallic form emerged from the shadows on four paws, rippling into
sight as if it had been hidden by more than mere darkness.  "Hello,
Sproinger," the robotic wolf greeted him.
     "'re Louie, right?  Lupine Unit 61?" Sproinger fought back his
geek impulses.
     "Sixty-two now.  There was an accident, not well-publicized," the
robowolf ducked his head in an approximation of a shrug.  "Although not many
people even know about the sixty-one revision, Mr. Naismith."
     "You here to try to revive MASH?" Sproinger asked.  The Academy of
Super-Heroes team had founded a Manhattan branch a couple years ago, mostly
second and third stringers, but the team had fallen apart after a few
months.  Manhattan's super-scene was strictly low-key, and everyone had just
gone to ground until ASH got bored and reshuffled membership to Los Angeles
and the doomed Kansas City franchise.
     Louie shook his head from side to side.  "I've been a solo act lately.
Got tired of all the explosions, many of which centered on me.  Or in me.
The important point is, I saw the tourist take your photo, and it is being
dealt with."
     "What, you steal his camera while being a stealthed ninja wolf?"
     "Nothing so illegal.  But I *am* taking several pictures of you as we
speak, and using my onboard systems to create very convincing composites of
your body with various unmasked faces, including several other known online
super-groupies, *and* your real face."
     "Wait, WHAT?"
     "We call it chaffing, Sproinger.  I, and some like-minded superhumans
with major technical skills but a distressing tendency to become
incapacitated in combat decided that we could better serve the greater good
by protecting the lives and reputations of the ones who were more suited to
direct action.  It used to be that a good mask and some basic precautions
could keep an identity secret, especially if you had the authorities on your
side to help suppress things."
     "But now the internet is changing everything," Sproinger nodded.  "It'll
get really bad once the rumored consumer-level camera phones finally hit the
market.  The Liaison Department means well, but they can't keep all the
genies in all the bottles once people can start taking pictures with their
     "And that's where chaffing comes in," Louie nodded.  "For every genuine
piece of evidence that shows up online, we drop a dozen fakes, including
provable fakes that corroborate the real thing, thus helping make the real
things look like part of the fakery.  A lot of us are artificial
consciousnesses, and as the Internet matures our ability to go directly into
files and tweak them will improve, turning real things into fakes more
     "Wow.  If I ever decide I'm tired of getting shot at, I wanna join up
with you guys," Sproinger enthused.  "I don't suppose I could have an email
address for you?"
     "You already have one," Louie rattled one off.
     "That's YOU?" Sproinger goggled.
     "You know what they say, Peter...on the internet, nobody knows you're a
dog.  Or a Lupine Unit."


Author's Notes:

     Just a quick vignette expanding on an idea I had last week in response
to a thread on Livejournal building off my review of Adventure Comics #517.
One poster complained that the idea of trying to bring back the secret ID for
Ray Palmer was stupid, and that evolved into a general discussion of how hard
it is to keep a secret ID in the internet age.  I suggested someone (who I
called the Obfuscator) might be going around faking pics of various heroes
unmasking, in order to make it less likely that real evidence would be
     Since my main desktop was still in the shop for repairs and I couldn't
indulge my superhero jones with City of Heroes, I decided to turn the joke
into an actual part of ASH lore with a short story.  I picked most of the
names from Warden #10, plus used Louie on the grounds that he seemed the most
likely existing hero to be involved in something like this.  And because it
let me build to that last line.  I wanted to avoid making up entirely new
people for this story, and this sort of thing is why I maintain the various
rosters.  ;)
     Is Louie still around as part of the community of ACs that Netwalker
met?  Maybe, but probably not.  He actually had an "artificial Magene" of
sorts thanks to some Probability Capacitors scrounged up from another
reality, so he might've had to go bye-bye in 1998 too.  Or maybe he blew up
one last time.  He did that a lot.  Okay, a lot of characters in my ASH
campaign got blown to pieces, but the robots and cyborgs got it worse than
most, since they could be reassembled.


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