ASH: Corps of Discovery #1 - Tesla Boys!
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Tue Dec 14 21:44:07 PST 2010
[The cover shows a Greco-Roman stylized hand holding a flaming torch
against a background of darkness and thunder. Underneath the color layer,
the flames, the torch, and the hand are made of newspaper clippings from the
An island in the North Atlantic, 200 miles from Newfoundland. On an
uncharted mass of land in international waters, scientists have found traces
of human habitation. Whetstones, metalworking tools, oil lamps...and a great
iron door, set in the ground and inlaid with runes.
After hours of deliberation, half-hours of bickering and minutes of
fistfighting, the scientists decided to pass the buck. Their superiors at
the Institute, in turn, decided that responsibility was best placed in the
hands of their government funders. And as it turned out, they knew just the
right men for the job.
Thus, one week later, a seaplane touched down at the island's makeshift
dock, and out stepped a man named Jack.
Jack Ripley smiled and shook hands with the members of the expedition.
He introduced his assistant, a slight young man named Tom, who hauled over a
pack of carefully-engineered tools. The scientists stepped back, clearing a
wide circle around the door.
The assistant went over the door with a Geiger counter, an electro-
magnetic field meter, and a forked stick, being careful not to touch the door
directly at any point. He gave Jack the thumbs-up.
Jack pulled on a pair of heavy gloves, sewn with strips of magnetized
iron. He gripped the ring mounted in the door and gave it a heave. A rusty
creak echoed across the island, and inch by inch, the door was raised.
Within, there was a small, square object made up of wood, metal, smoked
glass and natural crystals. Each surface was carved with intricate runes,
and there was no trace of rust or rot. Jack picked it up in the gloves,
holding it at arm's length, turning it this way, then that. He nodded and
held it up to his assistant. Tom examined it and nodded as well.
Jack turned to the scientists. "It's a Norse artifact dating to about
the time of Erik the Red, to judge from the style of the runic writing. It's
been buried in this chamber since then, and, well...it's a radio."
COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS - IN ASSOCIATION WITH PREHISTORIC PRODUCTIONS
The scientists of the CCCCCC
Edison Project discovered CCC CC
the power that breaks the CCC C OOO RRRR PPPP SSSSS
laws of the universe! CC O O R R P P SS OF
CC O O RRRR PPPP SS DISCOVERY
Yesterday's tomorrow CCC C O O R R P SS
is in their hands! CCC CC OOO R R P SSSSS
Copyright 2010 by
Andrew Perron #1 - Tesla Boys!
[2:30 PM, June 21st, 1950 - Edison Project HQ, location classified, southwest
"...so I brought it back here," said Jack, standing in a small airfield
next to a nondescript group of buildings whose very existence was a closely-
guarded government secret.
The man before him nodded. He sat in a wheelchair and age was taking
its toll, but his spine was straight and his gaze was clear. "Good job,
Jack. I'll put my boys on it. Are you going to be in town long enough to
finally take me up on that dinner offer?"
Jack chuckled. "Sorry, Harry, I'll have to cut another rain check. The
life of a field agent for the finest weird-stuff organization in the country
is a busy one."
"Well, don't think we don't appreciate it." Harry Parker, the man once
known as Beacon, took the package with the "radio". "You should at least
come in and meet the new fellow."
"New fellow?" Jack followed the wheelchair into the complex. "Oh, is
this the wunderkind you were talking about?"
Harry nodded. "Comes from the Hawaiian territory. Graduated from the
university there at the age of sixteen. He just got here yesterday, in fact;
today's his first day in...the...." He had stopped, staring into a room. It
was filled with great gray boxes, all part of a bigger machine; and in the
middle, a young man had popped a cover off and was deep in the machine's
"Jim..." said Harry, his voice carefully walking the razor edge between
shock and anger, "*what* are you *doing*?"
The teenager slid out from beneath the technological wonder. "Oh, hey,
Dr. Parker!" He grabbed a rag and wiped the dust off his vaguely Asiatic
face. No matter how clean they tried to keep the computing room, dust was an
inevitable consequence of being sited in the hardpan desert. "I walked in
and I saw this lovely lady and I had to take a peek! She's along the same
lines as CSIRAC in Australia, isn't she? Mercury delay line memory? What a
beaut!" He replaced the cover, cheerfully gushing all the while. "Did you
know there's a fairly simple cross-wire you can do to get the control unit up
to one cycle per instruction? Should 'bout double efficiency. Oh, hi
there!" He took Jack's hand and pumped it up and down. "Jim Peterson, at
your service. 'Round the lab, though, they all call me Jim Smiley."
Jack blinked. "Er, yes, I can see why."
"Yes, and Jim, this is Jack Ripley, the Edison Project's top field
agent...and it's still working, is it?" Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Sure, sure! Hey, you didn't think I'd break your million-dollar
megabrain? Not intentionally, anyway. So what's cooking, Mr. Ripley? I
assume a field agent out of the field brought back a neat souvenir."
"Well, Mr. Parker's got that in hand," Jack replied, "and I'm sure he'll
tell you all about it. Meanwhile, I really have to take off...."
"All right, all right," Harry laughed. "Have a safe flight."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Ripley!" said Jim. "Don't take any wooden
Jack smiled and waved, turning to whistle a tuneless melody as he left
"So, then, Jim," said Harry, "ready to solve a mystery?"
"Am I ever!" His eyes shone with intellectual excitement. "But we
should get the rest of the research staff involved, right? I've heard so
many rumors! Is it true that we're working with the same aliens that gave
Gauntlet his powers?"
Harry sighed. "Son, we're going to have to give you a nice long
briefing. Later. You're right, though; let's see who can spare a moment off
their current project." He took off down the hall, the cunning
electromechanical motors of his chair barely audible. It had been years
since he was physically up to the task of using the leg braces he'd invented,
but much of that technology was applicable to less bipedal modes of
transportation. "Meanwhile, why don't you tell me what you already know
about our operation here?"
Jim took a deep breath. "The Edison Project is a research arm of the
United States government attached to Division 13 of the Office of Strategic
Services. Founded in 1942 to research Nikola Tesla's work on the theoretical
'death ray', its role was expanded to the mechanics behind superhuman powers.
After the end of the war and the disbanding of the OSS, it moved underground,
and nobody is supposed to know that it still exists."
Harry nodded, wheeling himself along. "Very good; that's more thorough
than the usual briefing."
"Ah, well...half of it came from the driver on the way in."
"Hm. He deserves either a commendation or a pink slip. Well, that's a
good overview, but let me fill you in on some of the details...details that
can't go beyond the doors of this complex."
Eyes wide, one James Peterson nodded his assent.
"Tesla went beyond simply theorizing on how special abilities worked; he
postulated their cause: a trait held by certain individuals which gives one
the ability to do, well...Tesla started off by describing it in the
scientific terminology of the day, but in the end, he called it what it is.
Jim's jaw dropped. "Magic? Really? I mean...I remember Johnny Angel
and Malscripto and all of them, but I figured it was a smoke-'n-mirrors job!"
Harry shook his head. "It's very real. Some humans have what we
believe is an inherited ability to affect the laws of reality. Physics,
chemistry, probability...that is the secret of the Edison Project: that magic
exists...and that America is determined to harness its power."
The old man seemed lost in reflection, and Jim stayed silent, walking
alongside his wheelchair. Eventually, he shook himself out of his reverie
and continued, "Well, after that revelation, anything else will seem
anticlimactic. But, since you were so interested in Gauntlet...why don't we
go meet him?"
"!?" Jim blinked. "You mean..."
Harry laughed. "That's right. Just inside that door, in fact." He
gestured down the hall, and Jim sprang forward to pull it open.
Inside, a great engine disgorged a mess of wires, and a man somewhere in
the midst of middle age was up to his elbows in them. Jim walked past him,
looked left, looked right, looked straight, but there didn't seem to be
anyone else in the room. The wheels turned, and he looked first at the man,
then at Harry. "So this...."
He nodded, chuckling, and the man looked up curiously. "Heya, Harry.
What's all the ruckus?"
"Kevin, this is Jim Peterson, the newest member of our crew. Jim, this
is Kevin Bakker, AKA the mighty Gauntlet."
Jim shook the proferred hand with gusto. "Nice to meet you! Um...."
Kevin laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkling in merriment. "Lemme
guess: I looked younger in the newsreels, right?"
Jim nodded, rubbing the back of his head. "Sort of."
"Well, that's 'cause I am. One aspect of the powers I have causes my
body to age at an accellerated rate. I'm actually only...what, seven years
older than you?" He looked up at Harry, who nodded.
Jim whistled. "Say! That's amazing! But you don't look too broken up
Kevin grinned. "I'm light as a feather 'cause I have a new lease on
life!" Pushing away his chair, he did a little jig until his joints cramped
and he fell back into the seat.
Harry said, "Mr. Bakker's condition has been one of our big research
goals, but we've finally cracked it. He's basically a great electrical
generator, and in the past, we'd had limited success in slowing it down by
draining the electrical charge."
"That's what fueled my powers," Kevin noted, "not aliens."
"But this time, we've used a machine that interferes with the
polarization of the iron in his body, completely disrupting any electric
currents that might form. It's slowed the aging to normal speed."
"Even more amazing!" Jim tilted his head inquisitively. "So does this
mean that aliens don't exist, or...?"
Harry shrugged. "We haven't been able to find any direct evidence of
non-Terrestrial lifeforms interacting with humanity...between you and me,
though, there's enough circumstantial evidence that I wouldn't rule it out.
Especially with the rumors coming out of northern Africa. But for now, mum's
Jim nodded, wide-eyed. Harry tousled his hair and set the 'radio' on
top of the wide linoleum table. "Here's our latest puzzle."
He explained the provenance of the object. Kevin nodded, scratching a
spot just behind his left ear. "Mighty interesting. But y'sure you wouldn't
want one of the PhDs working on this? Heck, I haven't even finished my
Master's yet, and even if I had, I'm only a tinkerer."
Harry shook his head. "You're not just our prize guinea pig, Kevin. I
don't need another theoretician here; I need someone who can take something
apart and see what makes it tick."
"Hey, I've only got a bachelor's!" Jim averred.
Kevin snorted. "Okay, okay, I get the picture. Just...don't blame me
if we get little green men popping up out of nowhere or something."
They set their noses to the mysterious technological grindstone. The
box was opened with the utmost care, parts discreetly laid to the side as
they were removed. Circuity was studied and crystals were analyzed; diagrams
were drawn and functions were hashed out. Components were carefully labeled
and tiny marks that seemed to be pre-existing labels were reproduced with
exacting fidelity. Finally, they set aside their voltmeters and milli-
ammeters and little tiny pliers.
Kevin wiped his brow. "Well, Jack was right when he said it was a
radio, but it's not the kind of radio we would think of. It's some kind of
primitive transmitter. It's meant to take one charge of electricity, deliver
one great pulse, and then blow out."
"But why?" queried Jim.
"Perhaps it was all they knew how to build, especially if the goal was
to create the strongest possible signal in a portable device." Harry stroked
his chin thoughtfully. "Or perhaps someone didn't want it to be reused...."
"Well, it would be simple enough to generate a pulse of the same
strength and frequencies," said Kevin. "Heck, I've got something..." he
leaned down, thrusting his hands into a rat's nest of cables, and pulled out
a heavily modified transmitter, "...right here that could do it. The
question is, should we?"
Jim shrugged. "It's just radio. What's the worst that could happen?"
Harry laughed. "You're going to learn not to ask that question around
here. Still...." He rubbed his chin. "Why don't we keep the power low - so
it doesn't go past this room, or at least this building? We can hook up a
receiver and spectrograph and see what we get."
Consensus was reached, and they went back to work. Kevin set up the
precise patterns of circuitry. Harry put together two sets of equipment at
opposite sides of the room. Jim helped out, floating all the while in a daze
of hero worship and curiosity satiated.
"All right, it's ready." Kevin put his thumb over the switch.
"Crossing fingers!" said Jim, giving a double thumbs-up.
"Three...two...." The switch was flipped...and a thump! echoed through
the halls. They jumped to their feet as a momentary rumble shook the floor.
"...that wasn't supposed to happen, right?" Jim asked.
Shouting came from down the hall, and the sound of running feet. Kevin
opened the door and stuck his head out. "What's all the ruckus?"
A man with a thick German accent shouted, "Something just blew up in
The three looked at each other and ran down the hall, toward a door with
billows of smoke pouring out of it. A rather weedy man was on his knees,
taking big gasping breaths of air.
Kevin knelt down. "Richter, what happened?"
The man replied in an odd, overdone, undentifiable accent. "Well...
dude..." he gasped, "I was studying...that kooky rock...and it just
Jim raised his eyebrows. "Is that...Z-Man?"
Harry nodded. "Zukunftmensch, Man of the Future. Or Hermann Richter,
Nazi scientist brought over by Operation Paperclip."
"So he has magic powers too?"
"In a way."
As the smoke cleared, Kevin stepped through the doorway, waving off the
last wisps. Bits of rock were scattered throughout the laboratory, a few
shards embedded in the walls. Knocked onto the floor was a strange object;
twisted metal, colored by soot but with an odd reddish gleam shining
through. A few shards of quarts clung to the metal, blackened and cracked.
As Kevin took a pair of soot-stained gloves off the wall, the others
warily entered. He lifted the mysterious, gnarled thing onto the blasted
countertop, and they stared in amazement.
"Did *we* do that?" gasped Jim.
"What *is* it?" Kevin breathed.
Harry stayed silent, hands folded in his lap, staring intently at the
object. After a minute's worth of contemplation, he turned to the others.
"Well, gentlemen, what do we think it is?"
Jim pointed a finger and proclaimed, "An alien spaceship! For, um,
"Like, a crystal computer!" theorized Richter. "Blue screen of death,
"Some sort of natural formation, a geode with metallic ore inclusions?"
mused Kevin. "But why would it have reacted to the signal...."
"Well, then. Jim?" Harry gestured to the young man. "As Edison Project
Scientific Administrator, I'm assigning you an open-ended long-term research
subject: the composition, provenance and function of these artifacts."
Jim's jaw briefly unhinged. He snapped it shut and replied, "Uh um wow!
Tales of strange adventure that will make you quiver with suspense and
gasp in astonishment! SEE the teen of tomorrow! FEEL the shadowy hand of
military might! And WHO or WHAT is...CODE NAME Z?
Can't say I'm *completely* satisfied with this; it seems like it could
use some punching-up of the sense of wonder. But hey, it introduces the
characters, the setting, and the concept, and I got some good lines and a
spiffy ASCII logo in there.
Z-Man was the front man for a lot of Nazi supertech experiments,
claiming to be from a future where Germany conquered the world. He used bits
and pieces of information brought back by Oberstleutnent Schmidt after his
brief stay in 2026 (see ASH #79-81) to bolster those claims. But since
Justice kept Schmidt from returning with any hard documentation, Richter had
to make do with what dribs and drabs had caught Schmidt's attention while
flipping through books and listening in on commercial radio.
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