ASH: The Pyramid Trap (one-shot)

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Jun 17 14:35:23 PDT 2010

     [The cover shows Doctor Developer in a Kirby-style harness surrounded by
a nimbus of energy.  The outer edges of the nimbus form vague grasping energy
hands that seem to want to crush him.  In the left foreground, Lady Lawful
struggles to get closer.]

 '|`  /|(`| |               "The Pyramid Trap"
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[June 5, 1997 - Alliance of Super-Heroes HQ, Chicago]

     "It's a trap," Doctor Developer broke in, causing a momentary hush
around the table.  After a moment, Lady Lawful snorted, as if at a private
joke.  He ignored her for the moment, and continued.  "Look, I know the only
reason I'm even at this 'summit meeting' is that you heroes wanted to talk to
Clockwork Ibis, and neither side trusted the other enough to show up at less
than full roster strength...although, speaking of trust, I see you didn't
trust Set or Valkyrie enough to let them in on this."
     "What part of it, exactly, is a trap?" Dragonfly asked.  One of several
"legacy heroes" in the Alliance, he was one of the three team founders around
the table.  The unpowered Weapons Master was the most veteran of the heroes,
but he let Dragonfly run things when there was talking to do.  And the Romany
mage known only as the Wanderer tended to stay silent as a matter of habit.
"And how do you know this, when your own leader doesn't?"
     Doctor Developer shot a nervous glance at the Clockwork Ibis.  Since
Tinker Tom's death, the Ibis had been the most frequent "leader" of the loose
agglomeration of science villains that called themselves the Tinker Ten
regardless of how many members there were at the moment.  But Ibis seemed
more curious than angry.
     McKay took a deep breath.  "Okay, before I start, just let me say that,
um, head games aren't my thing.  I like to trap people, yes, but I stick with
physical peril.  So if I tell you I think something's a trap, ah, it means
I'm not just trying to trick you.  And it also means I probably know what I'm
talking about.  Lady Lawful has had some experience from before she joined
the Alliance, she can vouch for me."
     Lawful snorted again.  "I don't know if I'd 'vouch' for Deedee in
general, but...yeah.  If he thinks it's a trap, it probably is.  And he's not
just jerking our chains.  No pun intended."
     "Thank you, I think."  Developer suppressed a sigh for what might have
been.  For a while, he'd fooled himself into thinking that there might be
more to their relationship than the hero/villain dynamic, but then she'd
joined the Alliance and some of her teammates had a lot less patience for his
"antics" and he'd backed way off.  "As I understand it, you think that the
Great Pyramid at Giza contains an ancient mystic machine designed to project
a soul into the afterlife, but that after five millennia of gathering power
without being used, it could potentially vault the
status of godhead.  A very useful weapon if what you say about the returning
pagan gods is true."  
     "We've had warning from...privileged sources...for a while now,"
Dragonfly said.  "The Wanderer and his apprentice are continuing to research
other ways of fighting the gods, once it reaches crisis point, but if we
could get someone on our side up to their power level it would be another
tool in our toolbox."
     "The specific ritual is almost definitely among the materials Napoleon
recovered during his Egyptian expedition," the Clockwork Ibis added.  "I
spent years trying to track those relics down, and I'm almost positive that
the book I...we need is in the Vatican's secret archives.  Obviously, you don't
trust me enough to perform the ritual myself, but I'm sure we could negotiate
a mutually beneficial arrangement...there are other Egyptian artifacts in the
Vatican's hands that I would be willing to take in trade for helping elevate
one of you heroes to godhood so you can get killed.  Cameron, is that what
you mean by it being a trap?  Because I am fairly certain that any new god so
elevated would be quickly defeated and destroyed, being at best a useful
distraction from whatever real plan the immortal Romany is hatching."
     "I hadn't thought of that, actually," Doctor Developer admitted.  "But
that just makes it worse.  No, I'm talking purely from a design viewpoint."
With a few keystrokes he called up a rotating 3-D wireframe of the Great
Pyramid on the conference table screen, with several pieces that were
highlighted as he talked.  "Look at the pyramid.  Deadfalls, stone blocks,
painstakingly constructed tunnels that go nowhere useful.  It's one of the
classic examples of a tomb deathtrap, designed to keep anyone from
interfering in the afterlife of the Pharoah.  From what I've picked up from
the Clockwork Ibis over the years, Egyptians of that time believed that their
bodies had to stay safe in order for their afterlife to be uninterrupted, so
the idea was to keep everyone out.  But none of those traps would slow down a
paranormal with the right powers, would they?  And, here's the key point...
why build a power accumulator on that scale that would only be used once and
then would continue to gather power forever after FOR NO REASON?"
     "Whoa.  I think I get it," Weapons Master nodded.  "You'd only need to
keep building energy if it was supposed to run a magical deathtrap.  But why
weren't the archaeologists killed by magic zaps?"
     "Not that kind of trap, I suppose.  Maybe the spells that would have
done that wore off.  Maybe the first archaeologist to get in there was
actually an Anchor.  Maybe someone set off the trap a few hundred years ago
and got vaporized, but the trap didn't reset," Doctor Developer shrugged.
"But I think this was an ego trap.  Most paranormals back then were seen as
wizards or priests, so you could pretty much count on them to want to gather
more power if they thought they could, right?  So, if you have someone with
the skills to break into your tomb, you don't want them doing it to desecrate
your body.  You want a nice shiny lure, so that even if disturbing your rest
was their initial goal, they'll go for the lure first.  All that power
building up, just begging to be taken...while standing in the middle of a
device that's designed to shove souls into the afterlife.  We normal people
have a phrase for going into the afterlife when you don't want to go: getting
     The Wanderer, who had kept silent throughout, finally spoke.  "I believe
the man is onto something here.  Although, if someone knew it was a trap,
they could certainly devote a portion of their purloined power to resisting
the effect.  At least, long enough to prepare themselves for the journey,
lightening their hearts so as to pass the test of Ma'at."  
     The Clockwork Ibis nodded in agreement, his bronze beak bobbing up and
down almost comically.  "By now, though, the stored power has got to be so
great that it would take only the smallest exercise of will to hold off the
trap," the Ibis added.  "Still, our sacrificial hero would need to be someone
with sufficiently strong focus to maintain concentration even while fighting
gods, or he'd find himself before Ma'at in her place of strength.  I expect
the original designer of the trap anticipated that anyone engaged in grave
robbing would arrive before Ma'at with a heart much heavier than a feather,"
the Ibis chuckled darkly.  The fate of those who failed Ma'at's test was grim
     "There's a way out of any trap, though, right?" Lady Lawful pointed
out.  "We have about a year to make this all work, according to those
'privileged sources,' so maybe we can find a way to grab the power without
the hook getting in our cheek?"
     Doctor Developer shook his head.  "Don't let our history fool you," he
said.  "For many traps, the only way out is to never go in.  I find that sort
of trap to be, ah...unsporting, let's say.  But when your eternal life is on
the line, you do NOT give a sucker an even break.  Anyone arrogant enough to
try to take the stored power will trigger the monkey's paw and find it
increasingly hard to resist the tug of the afterlife.  More and more power
and attention would have to be devoted to holding the transport effect at
bay, until it became impossible.  An exponential trap.  At least, that's how
I'd design it if I were a mage five thousand years ago."
     "Wait, wait," Dragonfly looked like he'd just been slapped.  "Could that
really work?  Wanderer, could someone craft a spell that was truly
exponential like that?  If you fed more power in trying to resist the effect,
it would just turn that power around on you until you were forced into the
afterlife?  Without limit?"
     Wanderer tilted his head.  "Are you thinking of trying to establish a
feedback loop?  Use the pyramid trap to let one person absorb power beyond
what's in the pyramid and then face the gods on their territory with enough
strength to defeat them?  That sounds as fatal as...the other solution," he
caught himself before giving too much away.  "To give one man the power to
fight the gods would require the sacrifice of perhaps more souls than exist
on this world."
     Dragonfly slumped back into his chair.  "Yeah, I guess you're right.
     "Still, you're on the right track," a grin spread across Doctor
Developer's face, an evil, devious grin that sent shivers down more than one
spine.  "The gods aren't all-knowing.  They can be tricked.  They can be

               *              *              *              *

[July 6, 1998 - The Great Pyramid, Egypt]

     In the end, it had to be him.
     It had to be a normal, or an Anchor, or there'd be no way to pull out of
the trap before it slammed shut.
     It had to be a genius, someone who could juggle the necessary variables
on the fly, someone who could understand the structure of magic even if he
couldn't use it himself.
     It had to be someone that hero and villain alike could trust.  They
might not trust him with their computer passwords (not that he really needed
those, he could always ask Software Pirate for that), but they didn't think
he'd try to take the power for himself and bail.
     It had to be someone for whom setting and springing the trap was the
only goal, who would give his life to do so if it came to that.  And while a
number of heroes were on that list as far as the villains were concerned,
none of them met all the other requirements.  And only one villain was
palatable to the heroes, one who might willingly die in service of setting
off the ultimate trap.
     "Deedee, if..." Lady Lawful started, as Doctor Developer finished
checking all the connections.  He was in a lash-up of technology and
mysticism designed to let him, a non-mage, trigger the pyramid trap in a very
specific way.
     "If it doesn't work, I doubt either of us will live long enough to worry
about wasted time," he shrugged, a motion made difficult by his harness.
"And I doubt we'd go to the same afterlife, even assuming my spirit isn't
shredded to nothingness by angry gods."
     "Don't think like that," she frowned, turning away.  In the last year, a
lot of those "might have beens" from their early days had started turning
into "might still be's," even if they were still officially on opposite
     "But," he said, "if this works, I'm pretty sure everyone involved will
be willing to let bygones be bygones.  I can walk away from the Ten without
repercussions, and without having to go to jail.  I might even join the
Alliance if I decide this 'hero' thing is rubbing off on me.  But either way,
if it works, we can see where...where we go from there.  I love you, and I
think you love me.  That should be enough if we can save the world first."
     There.  He'd said it.  Funny how it had taken more courage to admit how
he felt about Jennifer to her face than it was taking to fight the upcoming
apocalypse.  His heart certainly felt lighter than a feather now, so even if
he didn't get out of the trap he'd pass Ma'at's test!  He might not survive
the wrath of all the other gods, but at least Amnut the Eater wouldn't be the
one to kill him.
     And when you got down to it, failure with the trap meant everything was
over for him.  Failure with Jennifer meant far worse, he now realized.  And
by her nervous smile, he could tell that he'd avoided that fate worse than
     "Then you'd better save the world, Deedee.  Otherwise, I'll find a way
to kick your ass, even if I have to get you a new one first!"
     With that, she turned and left to stand guard outside the chamber.  A
few of the Egyptian gods had sent minions led by former Alliance member Set
to protect the pyramid on general principles, although they didn't seem to
realize exactly what the uneasy alliance of mortals was up to.  Lady Lawful
and the others had to keep everyone else out of the pyramid long enough for a
lone normal human to do what needed to be done to save the world, and she'd
be the last line of defense against anything that slipped through to the
tunnels.  She'd wanted to stay even closer, he could tell, but that would
have been dangerous for other reasons entirely....

     Several minutes later, he finally reached the end of the long spell.  It
was based on the text found in the Vatican archives, but modified by the
Wanderer and Tymythy Twystyd with advice from the Clockwork Ibis to fit the
flowchart Cameron had devised.  The long-stored mystic power was now moving
into accumulators positioned around the tomb chamber.  Over the crackle and
hum of the techno-mystical gear, he thought he could hear a fight in the
tunnels.  Something had reached Jennifer.
     But he couldn't spare her even a moment's worry.  A pricking at the
edges of Doctor Developer's thoughts told him that the gods had started to
notice, but much of the pyramid's power was now devoted to defensive wards
that even the gods would not be able to pierce casually.  They would have to
focus on Cameron if they wanted to get at him.  At which point, all of their
rivals would notice that focus, for the gods were long experts at infighting
and politics.
     Even in these blatant times of the "Godmarket," only the most subtle of
godly machinations could go unopposed.  And it would require unsubtle actions
to stop Cameron McKay from becoming the newest god on the block.
     Power flowed from the accumulators into the harness, and his nerves
started to burn!  So much power, so close, but not actually
was more than a normal human could bear for long.  But it didn't have to be
long, and if he died today it would be for other reasons.
     "Hear me, so-called gods!" he shouted, even if no mortal ears could hear
him over the din of battle outside.  "I'm coming to stop you, not to join
you!  Your day is past, we mortals request you not let the doorknob hit you
on your immanent backsides on the way out!"
     Instantly, godly power reached out to grab him and yank him out of the
pyramid, into an appropriate place of punishment for his hubris.  It came
from all knowable and unknowable directions, as everyone wanted to be the
one to brag about smashing the pretender.
     But little mortal Cameron was practically invisible against the glow of
the power in his harness.  Power that the gods quite reasonably assumed he
had absorbed so that he could fight them.  Power tainted with a spell that
turned it into history's largest tar baby, a Chinese finger trap for the Hand
of God.
     The gods pulled against the power and against each other.  More and more
joined in the tug-of-war, turning what had been a small matter into yet
another piece of infighting, a chance to show up the other gods.  If only one
of them could pull a little harder, or find a deeper hook into this
presumptious mortal, or....
     Cameron's hand had already been on the quick-release when he spoke, but
it seemed like an eternity before it triggered and he dropped out of the
     "This is the part where I run away very fast," he muttered, diving for
the exit.
     By now, the gods realized what was going on, but it was too late.  The
trap worked exactly as Cameron had was not strong magic on its
own, but it fed on the power that tried to feed on it.  With gods trying to
pull on it, it could pull back with godly force.  No one god alone was strong
enough to withdraw, and none wanted to let go and see a rival find a way to
turn off the trap and gain all the power they'd already invested.
     "Come on!" Lady Lawful grabbed Cameron and hustled him out as the
pyramid started to shake ominously, her superhuman speed a definite asset
even if she wasn't as fast as her teammate Lightfoot.  Almost all of the
power being expended was immediately channeled into the trap itself, but even
the minor "leaks" were almost unimaginable in magnitude by this point.
     Suddenly the world exploded into light and flying rocks and Doctor
Developer was pretty sure he lost consciousness at least for a moment.  His
next clear memory was lying face down on top of Lady Lawful.  He felt as
battered and tattered as she looked.
     Her eyes opened and she glanced down to see exactly where his face was
placed on her torso, then muttered, "You should buy a girl dinner before
trying to get to second base..." before they both passed out again.

               *              *              *              *

[July 6, 1999 - Chicago, Illinois]

     "Congratulations," Sam Morse, aka Weapons Master, clapped Cameron on the
shoulder.  "A whole year, pretty impressive."
     He nodded absently, adjusting his tie for the tenth time.  "We haven't
seen a single godly power since springing the pyramid trap.  Everyone who'd
been given powers by the gods lost those powers, permanently as far as we can
tell.  A few lesser spirits who were neither godly nor directly god-powered
are still around, but that's fine.  And while no one really knows why the
gods left, most people seem to be buying the official theory that the
Godmarket was just a cover for some elaborate game of the gods.  When the
pyramids exploded, that was a signal that someone won, or lost, or it was
halftime...whatever.  As long as they're arguing about the details and not
howling for my head on a stick, I'm satisfied.  The only real downside is
that dimensional travel is pretty much one-way can't get out of our
reality without immediately following the current of energy into the Egyptian
afterlife, at least as far as the Wanderer can tell.  The energy of the gods
themselves is keeping them out of our world, and is likely to continue doing
so until they can learn to work together well enough to disentangle
     Sam snorted.  "Yeah, that's impressive too, but that's not what I
     "Oh," Cameron blushed slightly.  "Yes.  Thank you."
     For just a moment, Sam's posture shifted and he looked every one of his
nearly fifty years, one of the Old Guard of the superhuman community.  "When
are you going to ask her?  I mean, I can tell, and I'm notoriously thick
about these things, ask anyone.  And I'm pretty sure Jennifer can tell.  But
she's waiting for you to say it."
     Cameron reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small jewelry
case.  "Tonight, actually.  I, ah, thought today would be appropriate, um,
because a year ago today was sort of our first date.  This time, though, I'll
be buying her dinner first...."


Author's Notes:

     This wasn't actually a planned story, it was spur of the moment based on
some discussions online the night before, about "What If?" stories in ASH.  A
friend challenged me and Andy to each come up with several What Ifs and then
write a story based on one from the other person's list.  While this story
isn't exactly the same as one of the seeds Andy suggested, it's in the spirit
of his list.  

     I started from the premise of opening with the "It's a trap" line and
then somehow figuring out how to turn it into their version of the Barrier,
and the first draft pretty much wrote itself over the course of an hour or
so.  I had to make sure that I wouldn't automatically contradict anything in
The Pyramid Scheme, since the divergence point between worlds was in the
1970s and not the time the pyramids were one presumes that Rebus
figured out the trap as well and was concentrating on keeping it at bay until
he was sufficiently distracted by Grind's plan.

     The Alliance of Super-Heroes are in an alternate ASH that diverged in
Coherent Super-Stories #4 due to the actions of time-lost Solar Max (JakZak
Taylor) and Jen Kleinvogel.  There, the Second Age never ended, large teams
became the norm earlier, Eric Harris became Dragonfly II instead of
Devastator, and people in the know had over two decades of advance warning
regarding the Causality Wars, so they could try to find a solution less
drastic than killing all the paranormals.  It's one of those What If style
universes where things actually turn out brighter and shinier overall, even
if individual lives are negatively impacted here and there.  

     Of course, the reason What If stories so often end horribly is that the
default Marvel Universe is one where the world is always saved in the end,
and changing important details often means un-saving it.  But the default ASH
setting is a generation after 2/3 of the world's population vanished, so
there's plenty of room for more favorable outcomes...even if they don't offer
as many story hooks.

     I originally titled this "Somebody Else's Crash" (a reference to the
common caption of "Somebody Else's Detroit" or whatnot found in Matt
Howarth's Post Bros. or Savage Henry comics), but that was before I really
had any idea where the story was going, so I renamed it during the revision

     Lightfoot is still around in 1998 in the Alliance timeline, because the
atmosphere-destroyer weapon he stopped in the main timeline by his desperate
flight outward from the Solar System either never got built, or was stopped
some other way (say, by Dragonfly II).

     Oh, and finally, in case it wasn't clear from context, Deedee landed
with his face in Lady Lawful's bosom after the pyramid exploded.  And not,
you know, lower.


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