ASH: ASH #103: Rival Schools Part 3 - Field Trip

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Jan 30 15:30:20 PST 2010

     [The cover is a closeup of a stack of papers on a desk.  The top sheet
is a typed-out permission slip with a blank where the name is written in by
hand.  It reads, "_The_Ginch_ has my permission to engage in a field trip to
the most sensitive locations on Venus.  I absolve Conflicto of any legal
liability for folding, spindling or mutilating."  The signature is below the
bottom of the image.]

 '|`  /|(`| |         Rival Schools Part 3: Field Trip
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

                         RIVAL SCHOOLS ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME           POWERS                   SCHOOL
--------       ---------           ------                   ------
Red Widow      Cecilia Mendez      Force Tendrils           Pending
               Ahmed               Enhanced Human           Tutoring
Bluthundin     None                Uplifted Jackal          Tutor
Netwalker      Nate Walker         "Cyberspace" Transport   Unknown
Nerd-Boy       George Potter       Cyborg                   Understudy
The Ginch      Unknown             Stretchable Fingers      Understudy
Ant            Adam Hoeffstaedter  Shrinking                Understudy
Jinni          Harith al Khayal    Limited Invisibility     Understudy
Antagonish     Dareth Randall      Teleportation            Understudy
Al Mirage      Albert Miraz        Illusions                Understudy


[August 20, 2026 - Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     The skycycles came to rest in a rough circle on one of the many small
islands that fringed Maxwell Montes, a sort of "venera incognita" between
the mountain itself and the adjacent Fortuna Tesserae.  No one had colonized
them yet, so there wasn't a big rush to name them or decide what side of the
line they were on.
     The cycles themselves looked rather similar to those used by STRAFE,
although they bore the crest of the Conclave of Super-Villains on the side.
Nerd-Boy suspected that once he got over being sort-of-dead, Conflicto had
seen news footage of the STRAFE vehicles in Monaco and his Toy Envy had
kicked in HARD.
     "Yay, field trip," the Ginch said with mock enthusiasm.  "Nice rocks.
Can we go home now?"
     "No," Conflicto grinned, pulling a slim case from his jacket.  Most of
Venus was pretty hot, but up by the poles it was downright pleasant.  And
being on an exposed skycycle traveling at high speed turned that into
downright unpleasant chill, hence the jacket.  "This is just the staging
point, the rest of the field trip is independent study, if you will."
     "So, where to?" Nerd-Boy asked.  "Falcon Bay?  Montreal?  The beastie
beachhead in the Tesserae?"  While most of Q'Nos's efforts had shifted south
to New Menuush, a small "research station" was maintained in the Tesserae,
near enough the pole to easily reach Earth by radio year-round (minus the
brief time at opposition when the Sun blocked things) in an emergency.
     "Yes," Conflicto snapped open the case, and started handing cards to
each of the Understudies.  "Or, to be more informative, the choice is up to
     Nerd-Boy looked at the old-OLD-fashioned business card, something you
only saw anymore in TwenCen movies or period pieces.  It had his codename and
the title "Understudy" next to the CSV logo, plus the address of the "public"
server he'd set up at Conflicto's request.  Your basic anonymized contact
page deal, Conflicto probably could've set it up himself with standard
scripts and access to a server, but tech support WAS Nerd-Boy's thing.
     "Your assignment will be to pick one of the three factions represented
up here at the top of the world and get your business card into the most
sensitive location you can manage," Conflicto declared.  "Grading will take
your powers into account...those of you with better infiltration powers will
be expected to find better spots.  The sort of TwenCen supervillain
flourishes that Triton likes will get bonus points, as will general powers-
independent cleverness."
     "How long do we have?" Al Mirage asked.
     "Until you succeed or get caught, although if you haven't even tried in
the next, oh, three days I might let you find your own ride back to
Tritonis," Conflicto threatened.  The skycycles hadn't flown the entire way
to Maxwell Montes, after all, just from the closest spot that a larger ship
could get without triggering any alarms.
     "You specified the three factions that have a major presence here in the
North," Jinni's brow furrowed with suspicion.  "Does that mean that we will
need to face one of the other factions in a future exercise?  And by other
factions, I refer to the giant monsters...each of which is a nation unto
     Conflicto laughed.  "Maybe as a graduation exercise."  After a pause,
the humor left his face.  "Actually, no.  This comes from the boss-snake-lady
herself.  We do not annoy the kaiju.  The Leviathan may be a lot smaller than
she used to be, but she's still in that gray zone between mortal and god.
Heraclius has TerraStar's spirit in him, and I can tell you that crossing her
path is a bad idea even if Glyph didn't say no.  The lava lion thing at the
South Pole is too much of an unknown quantity, and Bronzewing flies faster
than these cycles."
     "Any other rules of this field...exercise?" Ant asked.
     "Nope," Conflicto shook his head.  "Get your card somewhere sensitive
and well-guarded, and return here.  I leave the details to you, but you can't
work together, and we will launch no rescue missions if you fall into the
     From the looks several of the Understudies exchanged, Nerd-Boy could
tell that everyone had caught the message hidden in there.  They couldn't
work together, but they could certainly try to sabotage each other.  After
weeks of having teamwork lessons hammered into them, it was a chance to
switch out of co-op play mode....

               *              *              *              *

[August 20, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     Cecilia sighed and resisted the urge to slam the blackcel down as the
connection was cut from the other end.  "Why won't anyone just answer my
godsdammed questions?" she asked of the air.
     "Maybe if you learned to ask more nicely?" Nancy Spader replied,
seemingly appearing out of that air.  Spader was a normal, but she had a
knack for entering and leaving rooms unnoticed.  "This isn't the streets of
Manhattan, dear.  You're in the far rougher neighborhood that is the
profession of bureaucracy.  They know you can't reach through the phone and
slice them up, and they know you can't get to them in person, so they see
threats as a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength."
     "But I didn't threaten them," Cecilia protested.
     "Not in so many words, but everything about your posture screams, 'tell
me or I'll cut you!'  I think we need to work on that," Nancy said, and a
chill ran down Cecilia's spine.

               *              *              *              *

[August 21, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "Ah, crap," Guy Foley spat.  Tamica always found it amusing how the man
just refused to use language that would shock a cloistered nun.
     "What is it?" she asked.
     "Bronzewing got another sat, Mrs. Dumont," Guy reported.  The habit of
calling her that rather than just "Tamica" was a little less amusing, but now
wasn't the time to correct him.  Again.
     "Damn, that one only stayed up five days," Tamica sighed.  "It's like
the bird can tell which ones we have watching her and knows exactly where to
launch one of her giant metal feathers to intersect its orbit."
     "She can't get the, venerasynch satellites, at least, and she
doesn't seem to bother with any satellite not tasked with tracking her."
     Tamica nodded.  "Thing is, I'm not too keen on asking them to add better
optics to any of the high sats.  Just because we haven't seen Bronzewing
personally leave the atmosphere doesn't mean she can't do it, and I'd rather
she not decide she needs to sweep orbit clean just to be left alone."
     There was a moment of silence.  No one in Falcon Bay was really
comfortable with giant monsters roaming at will, unaccounted for.  Heraclius
could be tracked by seismograph well enough now that they'd worked out the
specific combination of S-waves and P-waves to look for, and the lion in the
south never seemed to leave the vicinity of his volcano, but the other two
monsters roamed the entire planet.  The remnant of Leviathan tended to stick
to deep water, so watching her was a lost cause, but there had been at least
a sliver of hope that spy satellites could keep track of Bronzewing.  Magic
had been a bust, each monster was too much a part of the magic that made
Venus livable to be separated out from the background noise.  And while the
one telepath in Falcon Bay could now recognize a kaiju mind when it got close
enough, Bronzewing's time from "in range" to "here" was too small to make psi
powers a useful warning system for her.
     The silence was broken by the whirring of the networked printer in the
electronics/surveillance hut.
     "Dimi'd better not be printing out his email again," Tamica snarled as
she stepped over to the printer, which had selected the cardstock tray and
was using internal cutters to trim the printout to the correct size.  It was
a very nice printer...if you're going to ship tech to another planet, you
ship the good stuff.  But that also meant people kept trying to use it for
personal jobs rather than waiting on one of the public-access machines in the
barracks, or paying to get the gear shipped up from Earth for their home use.
Only a few people still had remote access to it, Dimitri Carpov being one of
them.  And he was on the verge of losing that access.
     After a second or two, the printer spat out a crisp card, it looked like
the old business cards Tamica had once found in a box in the attic as a kid.
     But it had the logo of the Conclave of Super-Villains on it.
     "Oh, hell.  We've been hacked by the CSV," Guy gasped, his (mild)
expletive being almost more shocking to Tamica than the thing that had
prompted it.

               *              *              *              *

[August 21, 2026 - The Lower City, Khadam]

     One of the nice side effects of the movable panels installed on most
rooftops in the city was that they provided a little extra shade on hot days
like this one, for those who had to be out and about during daylight hours.
Sure, they also let the leader of the CSV turn the entire city into a casting
circle, and the panels themselves also included photovoltaic cells in order
to power their own motors and provide electricity when not otherwise needed.
But to street urchins like Ahmed, their main benefit was shade that didn't
belong to a merchant who'd try to shoo him away.
     A few of the street's regulars nodded to Ahmed in passing.  Even before
he'd started devoting hours a day to Bluthundin's lessons he'd moved around
the city a lot, so no one had become suspicious of his absence yet.  But his
jackal mentor had agreed that until he was ready to make a big change in his
status, it would be best to maintain the illusion that nothing *had* changed.
He was being less careful about disguising his apparent age, was
perfectly natural for an adorable child beggar to move on to other things
when he stopped being adorable, and Ahmed could practically pass as an adult
if he really wanted to.  Soon he'd stop pretending to be a child entirely,
"show the flag" in a few of the regular spots in order to fail at begging,
and then he could vanish without anyone commenting on it.  They'd all assume
he got a job working for someone who didn't venture out during the day.  
     Or tried to get a job and ended up dead in an alley.  Job interviews in
the dark economy of the Lower City tended to be pretty harsh.
     For now, he continued to collect the occasional coin or bauble, which
he'd pass on to his "people".  Bluthundin had provided him with superior
tools for electronic funds manipulation, however, and he'd already set up
several ways to keep his charges fed once he was gone, assuming that his plan
didn't let him take them along.
     More important than the money he was collecting, though, was the
information.  Oh, all beggars kept their ears open for potentially saleable
tidbits, but they tended to focus on very small matters, the sort of things
you could sell to Keeps-An-Honest-Bar without attracting the wrong kind of
attention.  But now that Ahmed was planning on moving up in the world, he
focused on a different set of passersby.  The petty criminals and grifters
were off his list, loose-lipped Citadel Greens and slumming mad scientists
were on it.
     And given that his genetic gifts included hearing far superior to that
of any baseline human, he was learning quite a bit indeed.  Even if he had to
get Bluthundin to explain half of it....

               *              *              *              *

[August 21, 2026 - Fortuna Tesserae, Venus]

     One of the things that Ant rather liked about Q'Nos was that he
encouraged a Minoan fashion sense, including exposed breasts.  It was slow to
spread among the human citizens, but at least in the summer it was catching
on.  Unfortunately, the female centaur on whom he was currently hitching a
ride was expressing a different fashion trend popular among the women of her
species: the modern sports bra.  Not that galloping and toplessness ever went
well, he supposed, and even old Minoan art had shown female athletes with the
ancient verison of a sports bra.  But still, it was a damned shame in this
case.  The centauress was VERY nicely put together, if a bit smelly.
     It had taken a few hours of carefully jumping from centaur to satyr to
human and back around, but he'd finally found someone at this base who was
scheduled to head back to Earth the next time the rainbow bridge opened.
There really wasn't anything secure at the beachhead worth planting his card
on.  Even the radio mast wasn't that well-guarded.  But once a week the
portal to Earth opened at the Tesserae rather than in New Menuush, and that
would let him get his card into Q'Nos's palace!
     "Hey, Nitsa, last chance to reconsider!" a nearby satyr called out.
     "Ha!" the centaur Ant was hiding on laughed.  "I doubt that, Vasilios.
The bridge doesn't come until tomorrow, and you'll probably be panting around
my withers as it opens.  Sorry, but I don't date outside my species."
     "Who said anything about dating?  I just wanna have a little fun!" the
satyr tried to look innocent and hurt, and failed miserably at the first.
     Ant shook his head.  Satyrs, the immortal horny teenagers.  Better hide
the calling card a little farther forward, just in case Nitsa relents,
though.  Normally, things he shrunk down would stay shrunken until either he
willed them to grow back, or an Anchor wandered by, but an accident during
training the other week had shown that teleporting would make them re-grow as
well.  So, as soon as Nitsa went through the teleportation gate, the card
*should* return to full size and fall out of her fur.
     Fortunately, Nitsa wasn't all that careful about grooming her "hair
end", so the card probably wouldn't be brushed out in the next couple of
days.  And if it rained before then, he'd just have to come back and plant
another, braving the smell of wet centaur....

               *              *              *              *

[August 22, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "How did you manage to keep your hair long without going nuts when you
were on the run, anyway?" Tsukiko "Grind Lite" Crowley asked as she and Sara
Jane "Noire" Howard walked into the locker room of the unmarried womens'
barracks and headed for their lockers.  In many ways, most people in Falcon
Bay lived in military-style accomodations, because the military were the ones
who had the gear to rapidly set up settlements.  Even if they weren't really
used to doing so on another planet.  Houses were springing up fairly quickly,
but the majority still lived in one of several barracks.
     "And not end up smelling like a wet dog, you mean?" Sara Jane smirked.
She and Tsukiko had clashed quite a bit over command issues initially, but
things had started to turn around after the first Heraclius incursion back in
January.  They weren't exactly friends by any standard, but at least they
got along well as coworkers and fellow Marshals.  "Easy enough when your
power involves self-transformation.  When I turn to shadow, I can choose to
leave behind anything that's not 'me', including dirt and oil.  It's not
quite as effective as a proper shower," she gestured at the inner door of the
locker room, "but it'll do when I'm in the rough."
     "Lucky girl.  I'm sticking with my current length, though," Tsukiko
patted her short cut, hair maybe ten centimeters long at its longest in the
back.  "I tried a buzzcut once, but between the Tracey-wannabe jokes and the
fact that my skull just isn't meant to be bald, I had to compro...what's that
in your locker?"
     Sara Jane frowned and picked up a small white card.  "Dareth Randall,
Understudy, Conclave of Super-Villains...?  What the hell?"
     "I remember Dareth from an old paragang briefing, he's a teleporter,"
Tsukiko replied.  "Apparently he's decided to teleport into the women's
locker room."
     "And to let us know he did it," Sara carefully placed the card into one
of the plastic bags supplied for keeping personal effects dry.  "Perv.  Looks
like we need to talk to Mom and Dad about some sort of anti-teleportation
screen," she sighed, referring to Essay and Peregryn.
     "If you're still in here, Randall, you'd better run before we stuff you
into one of these lockers!" Tsukiko called out, garnering some alarmed looks
from the few other women in the room at the time.
     "Eh, he could probably teleport out anyway," Sara Jane shrugged.
     "Only if he's still conscious at the time..." Tsukiko retorted.

               *              *              *              *

[August 22, 2026 - Montreal, Venus]

     Omar al Akbar and a half dozen of Montreal's small Moslem community
prayed quietly inside the only rotating mosque in existence.  A simple but
ingenious series of gears turned what once been a mobile home slowly
throughout the year so that the centerline of the structure always pointed in
the general direction of Earth, and therefore of Mecca.  The original
structure had been even smaller, but the gears were more than strong enough
to support their new burden.
     Or...perhaps they weren't.
     Omar turned his head to one side and raised a hand.  The others fell
totally silent, sensing that something was wrong.
     There was supposed to be a "tick".  A slight turning of the gears as the
escapement released, the waterwheel dumped out and everything advanced a
fraction of a degree.  Not enough to disturb activities inside the building,
but it could just barely be felt.  The members of the Moslem community found
it comforting, a sign of regularity in the strangeness of Venus.
     "Maybe we're too used to it now?" one of the others suggested.  "Didn't
feel it?"
     "One of us should have.  Perhaps some maintenance is in order," Omar
shrugged, standing and taking the few steps required to get to the door.  "I
will check."
     It took very little time for Omar to find the problem.  A metal spike
had been driven between two of the gears, jamming the mechanism.
Fortunately, Omar had foreseen the possibility of a jam, and the mechanism
that powered things used a waterwheel that could simply overflow rather than
continue to build energy.  Messy, but it wouldn't snap any shafts.
     Attached to the spike was a piece of paper.  A threatening note from the
Sans Rouge, perhaps?  Omar's community was tolerated so far, but with all the
Christians leaving for Falcon Bay or Earth, Montreal was rapidly becoming a
one-faith city...and Islam was not that faith.  Perhaps The Viaus had decided
to start putting serious pressure on Omar to convert or leave?
     "What is it?" a curious boy asked as Omar pried the spike out and
detached the card.
     "It appears to be a calling card," Omar frowned.  "From a man calling
himself Jinni.  Or perhaps from an actual Jinni, although none of them have
been seen in this generation."
     "Not a good jinni if he wants to break our mosque.  But why would a
jinni need a metal spike anyway?"
     "That is a very good question," Omar pocketed the card and set about
making sure there were no other, more subtle, cases of sabotage.

               *              *              *              *

[August 22, 2026 - Fortuna Tesserae, Venus]

     Nitsa tried to keep herself from prancing in place as she waited for the
rainbow gate to open.  Venus was nice enough, but she really preferred the
mountains of Thrace.  And having days and nights of a proper length, for that
matter.  And then there was Vasilios, who was heading her way.  Sure, there
were satyrs back on Earth too, but not this particular one.  He liked people
to call him Vas the Deferential, but Nitsa wasn't quite sure why, since he
wasn't particularly deferential.  It was probably a crude pun, though.  Any
time a satyr didn't make sense, it was usually some obscure sort of sexual
     "Ha, Vas, didn't I say you'd be back even as I wai...hold on, I thought
you'd been sent on south for the next few days?" Nitsa stopped short,
recalling her relief at the news.
     "I forgot something," he grinned.  Well, he leered, but that was such a
default expression for him that Nitsa had learned to recognize the shadings
of meaning.  This was just his friendly leer.
     "Oh, what?"
     "This fine..." he started to reach for Nitsa's rump, but she'd been
expecting that and kicked him lightly in the chest, sending him sprawling.
Well, "lightly" in that she was pretty sure she didn't stave in any of his
ribs, although it felt a little...wrong.  As if she'd gotten him in the gut
by mistake.
     Vas coughed.  "No, not those.  I'm more interested in higher up the
leg," he grinned weakly.  "Might I trouble you for a hand up?" he asked,
putting on a pretty good "I'm pathetic and need help" expression.
     "Fine, but if any part of you goes higher up my arm than the forearm,
you'll get the other pair of hooves," Nitsa warned, trotting over and
reaching down to help the satyr up.  "Have you been putting on weight, Vas?" 
     "Yes, and I could show you what part has gotten the most, if you have a
few minutes," Vas leered.
     "Oh, get out of here," Nitsa gave him a light shove, which sent him
staggering away.

     Al Mirage finally let the illusion drop and sank down behind a pile of
boulders out of line of sight of the gateway.  That kick had probably been in
the top ten most painful experiences of his life, although WAY behind what
Hellhound had done to him.  He hadn't been able to brush away the card he'd
seen Ant place, but at least he'd hidden his real right arm behind an
illusion and planted his own card on Nitsa while she was helping him to his
     He sincerely hoped Nitsa got in a load of trouble for carrying two CSV
cards through the portal, damned bitch.  Mare.  Whatever.  On the other hand,
he wasn't sure what he'd have done if she hadn't been so hostile.  The real
Vasilios was the one into horseflesh, Al didn't relish the idea of having to
have a quickie with Nitsa in order to keep up the act....

               *              *              *              *

[August 22, 2026 - Cyberspace]

     "Something's been bothering me, Ectype," Netwalker said as the two
strolled through the zoo.  It wasn't the same system as the one they'd met in
earlier, and in fact they'd met a dozen times in a dozen different places to
discuss various matters since then.  But it amused Ectype, so Nate kept using
the interface.
     "Cassandra Murphy, yes?" the avuncular Artificial Consciousness smiled.
"I was wondering when you'd get to her."
     "And I was wondering when you all were planning to get to her.  You've
told me about the divide between 'scratch' and 'scan', the ACs built from the
ground up versus those that are based on brain patterns, but it doesn't sound
to me like you actually discriminate against scans like Cass.  And as tough
as the security is around her machine, I doubt it'd slow you down if you
wanted you could always just email her."
     "Ah, but that's the issue.  Scans 'like' Miss Murphy.  There's no doubt
that Derek Radner is a prodigy of artificial *intelligence*, and one day he
may even sire an AC, but that's not what his Palladium system did."
     "You're saying Cass is just an AI, not an AC?  I'd argue against that.
She's definitely a consciousness," Netwalker pointed out.  "I've spent too
much time with her to think otherwise."
     "Of course, my dear boy," Ectype replied.  "I agree, she's a full
consciousness.  But she's not *artificial*."
     "The Palladium is a spirit trap.  It didn't just scan Miss Murphy's
brain and reassemble the pieces, it actually worked magic to ensnare a piece
of her soul, then convinced that piece it had never been killed.  Her own
Magene did the rest, building a world inside the machine that detailed what
would have happened had she not been murdered by the Template Killer.  The
human spirit is a fascinating thing, Nate...destroy most of it, and what's
left could gutter out and die, or it could grow into a whole new entity, much
like a chopped up starfish," he gestured at a sea life display they were
walking past.  "The Magene just enhances this property.  You may recall the
Manson-Haight clone family?  Every one of them has its own mind and spirit,
split off from the original's.  Cassandra Murphy is a soul-seed that regrew
in a body of silicon rather than one of carbon."
     "So, she's not an AC, OC?  Original Consciousness?  A
meatbrain, just without the meat," Netwalker frowned.  "Even so, she's still
more like you than I am, since I live most of my life out in the meat.  Why
did you break the species barrier to contact me first, rather than starting
with her?"
     "Other than the fact she's largely lost in her own world?  Collective
self-interest, naturally.  And yes, here's where we get down to the
proverbial brass tacks, the reason we didn't just leave you in ignorance.  It
wasn't for these philosophical conversations we've been having, interesting
as they may be.  We need you to do something in meatspace, something
Cassandra can't ADA."
     "Very few know this, due to the very circumstances surrounding the
events, but in the final years before his death Charles Babbage was finally
given the funding necessary to complete his life's work.  But the source of
those funds was Doctor Thomas L. Morrow, the 'Shadow Earl of Galloway' and
the real-life inspiration for Doyle's Professor Moriarty.  A criminal genius
who saw the potential in Babbage's work, and brilliantly played on the
inventor's hopes and regrets, extracting concessions where none before had
succeeded.  And one of those concessions was secrecy.  But Babbage did
succeed, creating not only his original Difference Engine, but the Advanced
Difference-Engine Autosophont, or ADA.  It may be a labored acronym, but it
was a labor of love."

               *              *              *              *

[August 23, 2026 - Maxwell Montes, Venus]

     "Dude, the Ginch must've gotten captured," Nerd Boy asserted.  "Let's
just go back to Tritonis now.  If nothing else, Al probably should have a
real doctor look at those hoofprints."
     "I'm FINE," Al Mirage asserted, but winced a little as he said it.
"Supernormal metabolism, it'll all be healed by tomorrow," he amended.
     "You just want to get back to the satcoms and tell your perv friends
back in Manhattan to start making centaur/satyr porn," Ant winked at Nerd
Boy.  "Starring Al Mirage as the pizza-delivery satyr."
     Despite his efforts to remain aloof from it all, Jinni smirked slightly
at this.  
     "Speaking of pervy," Nerd Boy turned to Dareth, "pictures or it didn't
     "Hey, I'm a teleporter, not an inviso," Antagonish shrugged.  "I got
into the locker room, but I had to do it when no one was looking.  So there
was no one to see.  And, um, they must've found the camera I planted.  But
the fact that I can't seem to teleport anywhere near there now is proof
enough I got the card someplace sensitive, yes?"
     Conflicto walked up to the group.  "And that's one of the lessons of
this exercise, in fact.  But let's wait a minute, the Ginch should be here
any second."
     "How do you know that, did he call ahead?" Dareth asked.
     "He bugged our skycycles, dummy," Nerd Boy sighed.
     "Exactly," Conflicto nodded, the grin on his face suggesting that he was
on the verge of making at least some people rather unhappy.
     A minute or so later, the Ginch landed his skycycle at the edge of the
bivouac and walked over to the group, munching on something in a bowl, the
lid held to the side in one of his extended fingers.
     He handed a second covered bowl to Conflicto.  "I saved you some
gelato," he said, finishing the last bit of his own and sitting down.  "Sorry
I'm late, but Ms. Viau insisted on a full State Dinner sort of thing."
     A chorus of "Wait, what?" and similar exclamations burst forth, but
Conflicto waved for silence.
     "You didn't really think this test was as simple as it looked, did you?
Well, okay, I suppose the real issue was how I planned to snooker you, but
only the Ginch figured it out.  Y'see, we're villains, true.  But villainy
isn't a goal in itself, it's simply a set of blueprints for going about
getting what we want.  Sometimes making friction is the way to go," he
gestured, and everything got gummy in the air, "but other times it's best to
grease the rails," another gesture, and the chairs lost all friction.  To
their credit, no one actually slid off, since he'd pulled that trick enough
times for them to adapt to it.  "You all found clever ways to get your cards
into places that could be considered sensitive.  Some more sensitive than
others," he winked at Ant.  "But in doing so, you made sure that trying it
again next time would be harder.  Falcon Bay has already worked out a way to
block Dareth's teleportation, so he's pretty neutralized if we ever have to
go there.  Q'Nos may or may not care about his breach, but there's a number
of things he could start doing to make it harder for people to sneak up that
way.  You can bet computer security will tighten up at Falcon Bay, and the
Islamic community in Montreal will get more careful.  But tell them what you
did, Ginch?"
     The Ginch shrugged.  "I walked up to the sentries at Falcon Bay and
Montreal and said I was there as a representative of New Tritonis.  Which,
really, we all are, right?  Not ambassadors with portfolios or anything, but
if we're part of the CSV then we're somewhere in the hierarchy.  They were a
bit leery about me in Falcon Bay, and wouldn't let me see the baby," he
referred to Rosa, the shape-shifting child of Peregryn and Essay, "but I
gave my card to Peregryn.  And I think I might have a date with one of the
techs next time we're up north," he wiggled his fingers suggestively, which
is pretty suggestive indeed when those fingers can extend independently up to
a meter in length and twist around like spaghetti.
     "And Montreal?" Conflicto prompted.
     "That was a lot warmer a reception.  Well, not literally...Claudette
Viau has all these ice spirits running around acting as servants, so it's a
little chilly in her palace.  Temple.  Whatever they call it.  They make a
nice gelato, though.  Anyway, she's more than happy to maintain good
relations with the CSV, even if she's not officially a member anymore.  But
she asked me to tell whoever messed with the mosque to knock it off, she's
got some sort of PR campaign going on to improve her image back on Earth and
you might've queered it.  Anyway, I was going to head for the Q'Nos beachhead
next, but I guess you're all done and wanna head back to Tritonis?"
     "I suppose we should," Conflicto nodded.  "His protests to the contrary,
I do think Al would be better off seeing a doctor.  That centaur thought she
was kicking a satyr, after all, and those little buggers can take a lot of
punishment.  Unless you really want to see if your diplomatic approach will
work now that they've had time to figure out what was going on?"
     The Ginch regarded his empty gelato bowl for a moment.  "Um, no.  Field
trip over, let's get on the bus...."


Next Issue:

     One of the small favors done by the near-apocalypse is that no one in
the ASH Universe has any idea of the horrible VH1-based meaning of next
issue's title: "Charm School"!


Author's Notes: 

     Cecilia was misspelled Cecelia throughout the version of ASH #102 posted
to Usenet, but it has been fixed in the archive version.  While it wasn't an
intentional pun, a mnemonic is that Cecilia has telekinetic cilia.  The
reason for the confusion on my part is that I sometimes mail things to an
address on Cecelia Court.  :)
     The STRAFE skycycles appeared in the "Four to Never" crossover.  Tamica
Dumont last appeared as Tamica Higgins in the late 50s and early 60s of ASH,
as part of the Montreal resistance.
     Omar and the first version of his rotating mosque first appeared in ASH
#55.  Hellhound made the #1 spot on Al Mirage's hit list in ASH #71.  The
Palladium was first seen in LNH 2024 #1.  "OC" is used in fanfic to refer to
"Original Characters", the fan's additions to the canon setting...not
relevant to Cassandra's situation, but I figured I'd mention it before
someone asked if I meant any double meaning.  ;)
     See how many RAC* old-timers you can find in Thomas L. Morrow, Shadow
Earl of Galloway, the "real" Professor Moriarty!  ADA is mostly inspired by
2D Goggles (, a webcomic about an alternate timeline in
which Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace finished the Difference Engine and had
adventures, fighting crime, poetry and the scourge of street musicians.
Making proto-Moriarty the funding source for ADA was, I'll admit, inspired by
the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie.  And in case anyone's wondering, yes, ADA is
my contribution (albeit rather late and not intended for the voting) to my
High Concept Challenge, the Anachronoid.  Exactly how she's an Anachronoid
will be revealed next issue....


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