ASH: ASH #109 - The Office Part 3: TGIF

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Wed Oct 27 07:48:30 PDT 2010

     [The cover shows a beige office-style printer, sitting alone in a field,
clearly having been smashed repeatedly with a baseball bat.  A discarded ID
badge is just visible in the lower right corner, the name obscured by blades
of grass.]

 '|`  /|(`| |        The Office Part 3 of 3 - TGIF
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Meteor         Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed               AMERICA
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              CANADA
Centurion      Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   MEXICO
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        MEXICO
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      DIPLOMATIC
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              DIPLOMATIC
Essay          Sara Ana Henderson       Gadgeteer                VENUS
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           VENUS
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             VENUS
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           VENUS
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         TRANSIT

[September 30, 2026 - The Multiversal Office, Chang'an Level]

     "GO!" Solar Max shouted, gesturing at the door.  "Get Li Fan 8410 out,"
he ordered, and Lightfoot grabbed both the Chinese bureaucrat and his
teammate Breaker and raced for the door that led from the Office to somewhere
in the capital city of the People's Republic of China.  Li Fan himself was
probably authorized to open the door as well, but he was too deep in the
metaphorical hunger of the Office to want to leave.  Or, rather, like an
addict he *wanted* to give up the endless filing of forms, but couldn't make
himself.  So far, that siren song had yet to become irresistably strong for
the ASH team.
     They had their own problems, though.
     "Do we follow?" Scorch asked.  "What if we wink out like ... did?"  He
paused for a moment, puzzled.  The name he had meant to say had come out
garbled, like several words all run together and trampling over each other. 
     "Too much chance for a diplomatic incident," Breaker replied as
Lightfoot returned her to the group after they'd shoved Li Fan 8410 out the
door.  Hopefully the man would recover his senses on the outside and not try
to get back in.
     "..." the same garbled mess, "was a special case, I think," Solar Max
frowned.  "If we're lucky, though, he just got booted back to the Home
Office.  Let's backtrack as fast as we can, though.  Breaker?"
     She nodded and pressed the elevator button.  Of the remaining four
people, she was the only one authorized to interact with the Chang'an office,
thanks to a cover identity she had established some months ago.  A bit of
luck on their part had left that identity's credentials intact.  
     A thought occurred to Breaker.  "Actually, I might be vulnerable as
well.  The ID that I used to get my government job in China was a fake.
Either it's a really good fake to be fooling the Office this long, or it was
such a bad fake that they were on to me from the start and issued the
authorizations in my real name so they could see how much rope I'd buy before
hanging myself.  Either way, I think I'm pressing my luck staying here," she
finished, stepping into the elevator as it opened.  
     "Why wasn't the elevator already here?" Lightfoot mused as they got in.
"I mean, if there's really just this one bank of elevators to serve a
theoretically infinite complex, the cars would almost have to be generated at
need or they could take years to arrive."
     "Expectations game, probably," Scorch shrugged.  "Or maybe there's a
regulation somewhere about the maximum time someone's to be kept waiting for
an elevator, and the Office just makes it take that much time, every time.
We getting a signal from the breadcrumbs?" he asked Solar Max as the doors
     The leader nodded, as telemetry from the microbots seeded throughout the
various Combine-related levels they'd visited started coming in again.  While
they'd been in the Chang'an branch, they'd been cut off from the signals.
"None of them report seeing ... though.  I think.  It's hard to even issue
the query.  But they didn't see anyone appear, nameable or not."
     The elevator opened to the Pentagon level.
     "Anyone home?" Breaker shouted, deciding to not bother trying to
pronounce the name that the Office had decided was invalid.  But there was
only silence, the acoustic tiles and cubicle walls didn't even allow for an
     "I'm making a command decision, guys.  We're out of here," Solar Max
declared.  "If we go blindly searching for you-know-who, we could all end up
vanishing.  We need to regroup and do a better job sanitizing our paperwork
so the Office doesn't decide, for instance, that Lightfoot needs to be
artificially aged a few decades so that his physical age is more in line with
his birth date."
     Lightfoot's eyes widened behind the goggles he habitually wore.  "Crap.
I didn't even think of that.  I guess the Office does have protocols for time
travel, though, or it would have happened already."
     "You hope," Scorch was out in the lead of the group as they exited the
elevators, and within moments they were back into the relative comfort and
absolute safety of the Pentagon....

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - Serengeti Plains, Africa]

     Vicente nodded to Cristovo.  It was time for another lesson, the humans
were once again spreading a little too close to the family's lands, as
evidenced by the small party setting up camp.  As long as they merely drove
out in the day and went back to their towns at night, the human patrols were
tolerated.  After all, the family understood that they weren't the only ones
who had the right to defend territory.
     But staying for the night implied that the humans were considering
*adding* to that territory.
     Cristovo shrugged one shoulder, shifting his rifle slightly, and cocked
his head questioningly.  Vicente shook his head.  No guns, not for this.
Father had been very clear on that point: if the humans found gun-killed
corpses, they'd assume it was an incursion from other humans on the far side
of the plain, and come in force.  If they thought it was just more of those
"damned freakish lions," they were more likely to back off.  Perhaps berate
whoever had ordered the patrol to travel so deeply into the family's range,
assuming this wasn't done on the orders of one of the men in the patrol.
     You couldn't berate a corpse, after all.
     The two watched the humans for a time, waiting for them to let their
guard down.  Cristovo explained the situation to the young male lions that
had accompanied them, at least as well as the lions could understand it.
These lions were not quite as smart as their forebears, the magic in their
blood was thinner, but they still were useful in situations like this.  And
it made the females especially canny hunters, doing their best when
coordinating with Vicente and Cristovo's birth-mate Maria.  As the last
children, the three of them got what father called the "scutwork" while their
older siblings spent more time learning the human language and science,
preparing to carry on once age or injury took father as it had taken mother.
     Finally, a change came over the camp, imperceptible to any but a trained
hunter or assassin.  While the guards set at the edges of camp still appeared
alert, they had become satisfied that no threats were coming.  Shadows
lengthened, but sunset was not yet close enough to put them on edge.  Now was
the time to strike!
     Once it had begun, it was over very quickly.  Only a few shots were
fired, none finding a mark in flesh.  They were careful to restrain the
lions, gutting the humans but not eating.
     "Don't eat that, you don't know where it's been," was father's usual
joke about eating humans.  But his point was well-taken.  Humans were simply
not as safe to eat as four-legged prey.  Especially the sort of humans who
willingly entered the plains of the family.  They tended to be tainted by
poisons of one sort or another.  
     Let the scavengers feast, they were better suited to dealing with the
filth that might be found in a human's flesh.  The scavengers worked quickly
here, by the time the campsite was discovered by the next patrol, there would
be nothing out of the ordinary, save perhaps for the lack of dead lions.  And
that only increased the "psychological warfare" impact that father advocated.
     "Their bullets are the right size, I think," Cristovo lifted an
ammunition pouch.  "We should be able to take a few without it being
     Elder by a few minutes, Vicente was the defacto leader of the group, and
he nodded.  "Father did say that this was a 'sorry ass excuse for an army'
and didn't keep very good track of its supplies.  I think if we take a few
bullets from each of the pouches, no one will notice the loss.  But leave the
pouches themselves."
     Cristovo bent to the work of carefully looting the camp of ammunition
and a few other small things they knew from experience would never be missed.
Lions had no use for cigarette lighters, for instance, but most of the self-
poisoning humans carried more than one, and could be expected to simply throw
away the empties.  And lighters were very useful for teenaged catmen who
needed to travel light....

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - The Pentagon, Federal Sector]

     "Okay, even if we assume the Office pays attention to regular business
hours, the local day started an hour ago," Solar Max told the small group
assembled outside the unassuming door.  "If cleaning up Sal's paperwork was
all that was required to get him released, he should have walked out on his
own by now."
     The past two days had been a grind of bureaucracy, nailing down all the
nagging little loose ends that any real organization will let slide in the
name of keeping things from stalling out entirely.  Unfortunately, there were
no established procedures for a lot of things when it came to the temporally
displaced, owing to the relatively small number of them at any given time, so
Lightfoot was being left behind.  Sarah was replacing him for any speed
needs, and they'd made sure to rectify all of her bureaucratic loose ends in
the process.  It turned out there was one system in which she was still
labeled as deceased, which could have had...unfortunate...consequences.
Breaker and Scorch would be coming along again, although each had gotten
their records scrubbed as well as they could manage, and they'd try to avoid
going into the Chang'an level just in case.  Arin was there because, well,
there was pretty much no way to say no to her.  Not with Sal lost somewhere
behind that door.
     "The more I think about it, the less confident I am that this is any
sort of elemental plane," Netwalker peered suspiciously at the door,
preparing to enter with the others.  "I mean, given the briefing Peregryn
gave on Tuesday, there's just too many elements that suggest a deliberately
crafted dimension, rather than a naturally occurring platonic form."
     "Which is part of why I leaned on Director Farmer to lift your
suspension long enough for you to come along," Solar Max nodded.  "It might
be more like your pocket realities, resonating with the concept of paperwork
in the way yours resonate with the concept of the internet.  In which case,
you might be able to exert some control over it, or at least recognize
telltales that we'd miss."
     "Plus, you might be able to remotely hack the workstations in there
without falling into the pitcher plant," Scorch shuddered at memories of Li
Fan's frantic insistence that he be allowed to fill out just one more form.
     "The breadcrumbs we left behind are still there, at least they were when
the door was opened an hour ago to ping them," Solar Max noted.  "They've
spread out and finished mapping the levels we visited in the Combine section,
although the amount of detail is better on the Pentagon level since we spent
more time there and spread out more breadcrumbs."
     "Nothing particularly interesting or useful, though," Arin frowned at
the screen of her handcomp.
     Netwalker shifted into IT Geek mode, "The breadcrumbs are pretty much
just passive recorders in their current design.  No AC...artificial
consciousness...involved, just a fairly basic drone program.  Assuming that
the Office does grow new things when called upon to do so, it would still
only have the things they saw when they were in it on Wednesday.  The
breadcrumbs are too dumb to ask for things like, oh, a directory sign or a
direct phone to the boss."
     "On the other hand, they're probably also too limited to feel the hunger
for paperwork, so the Office hopefully hasn't suborned them as it might have
done to an AC," Breaker added.  "The map they made is still useful, though.
It provides a baseline, and we can program the breadcrumbs to alert us if
anything changes.  We might trigger something that's not visible from where
we happen to be standing, after all."
     "Time to go punch the clock," Solar Max reached for the doorknob and
opened the way into the Office.
     "And they'd better hope that's all I have to punch," Arin said, darkly. 

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - The Hague, Eurasian Union]

     People tended to assume Oni's sometimes distant and aloof appearance was
simply a result of her powers.  Maybe she seemed to be ignoring you because
her mind was inhabiting a magnetic ghost miles away, her body running on
autopilot.  But Justice knew that Saori really was just that sort of person,
even when her mind was in her body.  She'd let people run off at the mouth,
waiting for what she considered to be the right time to interject something
important.  If she didn't think you'd listen to what she had to say, she
didn't bother saying it.
     As a result, Colin had a lot of one-sided "conversations" with his
teammate.  He didn't really mind, though.  Sometimes he just needed to run
through a rant until he ran out of steam, and if Oni did interject he could
be pretty sure it wasn't just because she felt socially obligated to say
something.  It'd be something worth listening to.
     At the moment, though, he was starting to run out of that steam,
repeating himself, and Oni hadn't made a peep.
     "...been here since breakfast, boring hallway in a boring building in a
boring city," Colin groused.  "I could be wasting my time chasing down shadow
cultists, at least I'd be getting exercise.  Okay, they've been mostly
harmless since the parade, and I know this door," he pointed at the one that
had appeared in the basement of an unremarkable part of the Union Court
building a few days ago, "is important und so weider, but either send us in
or let us go do something else!  Assign some paper-pushers to guard duty,
since about all that's likely to come outta that thing is paper."
     "Are all of *your* papers in order?" Oni asked, not turning to look
Justice in the face.  "You spent several years living at the edge of the law,
if not completely outside it.  What if the Office decided your paperwork was
faulty and decided to do to you whatever it did to Centurion over in the
Combine?  I expect the paper-pushers are busily pushing those papers around
with the expectation that whoever has the cleanest records will be going in
soon.  Do you really think we're just going to let the Combine do all of the
exploring?  And they want us available as soon as they're sure who can be
sent in." 
     That served to defuse what little righteous annoyance Colin still had
left, and the hallway fell silent for a while.

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - The Multiversal Office, Pentagon Level]

     "Nothing," Netwalker finally admitted, after about fifteen minutes of
trying to exercise his powers.  "They look like computers, and they're
definitely hooked up to some kind of network, but it's nothing that my powers
recognize as one.  And given that I've gotten into a Babbage machine," he
blushed slightly at this, his current suspension from active duty was a
result of that particular adventure, "I'd have to say that these things are
VERY unlike what we think of as computers."
     "Looks like the only way to interface with them is to use the keyboards,
then," Solar Max sighed.  "I wish we had a telepath available with good
enough clearance, someone with enough training to resist the mental effects
of thost terminals.  But Aaron's status is just too weird to risk bringing
him in here, Director Clark's powers might make her *more* vulnerable not
less, and no one else could be pushed through the process before next week
without leaving possibly fatal gaps in the paperwork."
     Meteor shivered a little, and Solar Max recognized that look.  The
Office reminded her of her parents, emotionally distant "wage slaves" who had
put in ten hour days at the office not because they had to, but because it
was their way of hiding from the horror of 1998.  A lot of people who
survived had just buried themselves in work, using the excuse that the nation
needed everyone to pitch in if things were going to avoid collapse, but
really just trying to shut out the voices that told them that the world had
already ended and they had been abandoned by God.  Sarah had been getting
better at dealing with reminders of that lately, using her super-speed to
help pick up the slack on the virtual mountains of paperwork that ASH
leadership seemed to generate, but it was still...uncomfortable for her.  
     "I'll give it a shot," Meteor said, breaking Solar Max's reverie.  "I
might be able to get off a query before the pitcher plant effect kicks in."
     "Or maybe not," Netwalker countered.  "It might be the amount of
interaction that does it, rather than the time taken, in which case you could
get trapped faster than any of us could react."
     "Ow, good point," Meteor winced.  "And I certainly get bored with
paperwork faster than anyone can react."  She's once joked that filling out
forms at ten times normal speed didn't make it take any less time from her
point of view, it just meant she had more time to recover from the
     "Arin, I want you doing this," Solar Max decided.  "If it looks like
you're starting to lose it, Meteor can get you out before you get too deep
in.  And you have a pretty strong motivation to avoid getting sidetracked."
     The slender young woman nodded, and stepped into the nearest cubicle,
smirking at the motivational poster hung on one wall.  "Don't just hang in
there, kitty...climb up."
     She started typing, navigating various directories and help files.
"This is surprisingly, well, *helpful* for a help system," she said after a
few minutes.
     "I'd expect it to be," Netwalker smirked.  "It's users and their
conflicting and inane demands that screw up systems, and this place hasn't
had any users in a long time."
     "Any system works fine so long as no one expects it to do anything,"
Scorch riposted.
     "Exactly," Netwalker nodded, not a trace of sarcasm to be found in his
     "Well, this one seems to be doing something," Arin looked up.  "Sal has
been remanded to the Human Resource's Department.  With an apostrophe in
Resource's," she added.  "All inquiries to be addressed in person."
     "Well, let's go see if the elevator has a button for that," Solar Max
gestured for the group to head for the elevator banks.
     With a slight glance over her shoulder at the workstation, Arin came
along with the others.

               *              *              *              *

[October 3, 2026 - United World Complex, Australia]

     Delta Rose stared balefully at the closet door in her office.  It was
after midnight, and while the complex never truly shut down for the night
things had certainly settled down enough that there was no one around in that
particular wing to wonder why she was contemplating a door.
     No one really wondered why she was in her office in the first place, of
course.  Her species didn't have the luxury of extended sleep cycles on its
chaotic homeworld, and the synthetic frame that let her counterfeit the
appearance of a Santari (or a human) was built to work for days on end
without a significant break.  So it was perfectly normal for the alien
"ambassador" ("minder" might be a more accurate term) to be in her office at
any and all hours when she wasn't needed elsewhere.
     Still, staring at a door like she wanted to drop it into the Sun wasn't
normal, even for her.  After all, it was just a storage closet, rarely even
used in the past decade.  It was there because the architect was of the
"better to have it and not need it" school of design, and it was rarely
opened except for the occasional cleaning.
     Now, though, it couldn't be opened by the cleaning staff.  Or anyone,
     Because it led to the Office.
     Worse, it wasn't the "official" door for the United World complex.  That
had been discovered three days ago in one of the other buildings in the UW
complex, and was currently under guard.  Delta wasn't sure why she'd even
looked into her closet, save for a sinking feeling that the human "Murphy's
Law" was in operation.  But it was definitely no longer a closet.  It was an
extension of the Office, and rather than looking like the cubicle farms seen
through other doors, it was definitely the sort of administrative workspace
Delta knew from back in the Planetary Confederation.
     Upon discovering it, and double-checking the preliminary exploratory
reports from the Combine's team, she used her authority as a senior member of
the Galactic Warrior Corps to expressly forbid anyone from accessing the
Office from any Santari door.  As far as she understood matters, she didn't
have to actually transmit those orders anywhere, just put them in her
system.  She might have limited legal rights as a person in the
Confederation, due to her cyborg nature, but that didn't affect her authority
over Dangerous Technologies.
     Still, it was only a temporary solution.  She had to let her superiors
know about the Office, so that they would know to countermand any attempts to
access it by those who were higher in the hierarchy than Delta herself.  And
then they had to decide if it was time to take another shot at simply
destroying Earth before it could further infect the galaxy....

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - The Multiversal Office, Human Resource]

     "Human Resource," Scorch read aloud the sign next to the door.  "No 's'
there.  That's not ominous at ALL."
     Perhaps unsurprisingly, as soon as they had entered the elevator with
the goal of going to the "Human Resource's Office," the control display had
prominently featured the relevant stop.  There was only one door out of the
elevator bank at this floor, although everyone expected that had there been a
need for more, more would have appeared.
     "Actually, I'm starting to get the feeling that this isn't something out
of TwenCen dystopian literature," Breaker mused.  "It's not ominous or
malevolent, simply focused on following correct procedure and helping you do
so as well.  Even if, um, you don't appreciate its help."
     "Everyone be on guard," Solar Max warned.  "A benevolent bureaucracy can
still be hazardous, especially if you get lulled into a false sense of
     He opened the door, revealing an office that was exactly large enough to
comfortably hold a single occupant and a half dozen visitors.  It was neither
antiseptically spartan nor intimidatingly projected precisely
the air of someone who not only had authority but was also answerable to at
least one tier above him, who needed to look like he had the juice to get
things done but also had to avoid looking too much like he was angling to
take over his boss's job.
     The man behind the desk...well, about all any of them could say for
certain was that it was a man.  A human male.  Everything else was...
unclear.  It's not that he was featureless or literally blurry, just that his
features were so bland and forgettable that his appearance wouldn't even
stick firmly in short term memory.  A complete John Doe.
     "May I help you?" the man asked.
     "Are you the Human Resource?" Solar Max asked, somewhat hesitantly.
     "Yes.  I perform the necessary human interactions for the Office, in
such rare situations that proper procedure alone is insufficient."  If he was
irritated by what might be considered a stupid question, it didn't color his
tone.  And if his expression was irritated...who could tell?  "And to
anticipate your next two questions, I am authorized to say that I am not a
god and that I am unaware of any career or existence I may have had prior to
assuming this duty, or even if I had a prior life.  I believe that exhausts
the most common introductory small talk, since there is no weather here, and
we may get down to business."
     "Where's Sal?" Fury blurted out.  "Ah, Salvatore Napier," she amended.
     The Human Resource made a show of consulting the terminal at his desk.
"Ah, yes, a curious case.  Unauthorized assumption of a superhuman acting
name, and one of only a very few cases not covered by existing North American
Combine legislation or jurisprudence."
     Solar Max blinked.  "Wait, I thought all the proper forms had been
observed in assuming the Centurion name?" he looked to Arin, who nodded.
     The Human Resource let out a short, professionally polite laugh.  "Ah,
no, Mr. Taylor.  That matter has been resolved more than sufficiently.  It's
the matter of his previous acting name, the Green Knight.  Or, more
specifically," he again peered ostentatiously at the screen, "El Caballero
Verde.  Perhaps I should bring Mr. Salvatore in at this juncture, his input
may help clear things up."
     A door to one side of the office, which no one could remember having
been there before, opened up.  A somewhat befuddled-looking Sal Napier
stepped out.  He was wearing a paper jumpsuit rather than the green and brown
dress uniform he'd had on two days ago.
     "Wha...where'd Li Fan 8410 go?  Where'd my CLOTHES go?" Sal looked about
in confusion.  "Arin?"
     "I think you were held in stasis, Sal," Solar Max motioned for Sal to
take a seat at the extra chair that had appeared while no one was looking.
     "Mr. Napier," the Human Resource asked once Sal had taken his seat, "the
matter at hand involves your unauthorized assumption of the acting name 'El
Caballero Verde' during the period from May First, 2024, through August
Fifth, 2026."
     "Huh?  How was it unauthorized?  I checked with the DSHA, they had no
records of anyone holding that name," Sal protested.
     "Yes, that's what makes this a thorny case," the Human Resource nodded.
"It extends more into what might be considered common law, which is why it
took so long for the Office to decide that it fell within our purview."  He
swiveled his screen so that everyone could see it, revealing the face of a
hispanic man with wild eyes and a wreath of leaves mixed in with his hair.
"This is the original Caballero Verde, active in Mexico City from June
Twelfth, 1988 through April Sixteenth, 1991.  He was strictly a local hero,
fighting drug crime and performing search and rescue in the poorer parts of
the city.  His sole power was that he was unkillable.  Unfortunately for
him, the last person he ever saved was a child in a burning building, and
that child turned out to be an Anchor.  El Caballero Verde died of smoke
inhalation and burns while making sure the child lived."
     "So THAT'S why people called me that," Sal gasped.  "I just figured
someone was making a joke on my old Gawain codename."
     "Presumably.  Not my department," the Human Resource shrugged.  "The
fact remains, though, no one authorized the reuse of the name.  And I can't
close your file and release you until this matter is dealt with."
     "But he no longer uses the name," Fury protested.  "And we just spent
the last two days making sure there's no official reference to him as the
Green Knight in current paperwork."
     "I've noticed the Office isn't making us refer to him as the Green
Knight anymore either, or garbling it together with Centurion" Scorch
observed.  "So clearly it has decided that at least that much is settled."
     The Human Resource shook his head.  "This is part of why this is a
thorny case, Ms. Kelsey, Mr. Handleman.  People were calling him El Caballero
Verde for a year before he officially adopted the name, and will likely
continue to refer to him by the name, at least in Mexico City, for some time
to come, will-he or nill-he.  It is necessary to clear this matter up before
I can allow Mr. Salvatore to leave."
     "How?" Netwalker spoke up.  "If there's no formal procedure, and he's
already renounced the name, what's left do to?"
     "Fortunately, prior to the regularization of such matters in 2011, there
were common law solutions for cases where local jurisdictions conflicted in
matters of superheroic acting names," the Human Resource stood and walked to
the side door.  "If you'll follow me, Mr. Napier, we can get started."
     "Started?  With what?" Sal asked.
     "Why, the Name Fight, of course," the Human Resource grinned ferally,
suddenly wearing the form of the original Cabellero.  "I hereby formally
challenge you to the right to the name of El Cabellero Verde!"

               *              *              *              *

[April 16, 1991 - Mexico City]

     The heat washed over Sal, immediately burning away his flimsy paper
clothing.  He hadn't been sure what to expect when he stepped through the
door leading out of the office, but being dropped in the middle of a burning
building hadn't been it.
     "Socorro!" came a weak voice over the crackle of the flames.
     Without hesitating, Sal headed for it.  He wasn't fireproof, so it hurt
like hell, but he was healing as quickly as he was burning, so he'd survive.
It was just really unpleasant.  If he'd still been normal flesh and blood, it
might even have been agonizing.
     Whatever the Name Fight involved, it would have to wait.  Sal could just
make out two forms amid the flames.  A child tugging at an adult, who was
pinned by a fallen beam.
     Were the flames getting more intense?
     "Ayudame!" the child choked through the smoke and superheated air.  "El
Caballero est..." and then he (she?) dissolved into coughing.
     Sal forced his way through a half-burnt wall and grunted at the intense
pain that shot through his shoulder as he did so.  Underneath the pain was a
vaguely familiar feeling...Anchor!  His powers were being Anchored!  Wait,
was the Human Resource making him re-enact the death of the original
Caballero?  If so, it might come out differently this time...the original
probably had never heard of Anchors, and didn't know why his powers had
faded.  Sal had trained against Anchors, since he couldn't really cut loose
in sparring sessions against non-Anchors.  And he'd regularly checked to make
sure that none of the changes his body was undergoing would render him
fatally vulnerable to Anchoring.  So all he had to worry about was the fatal
vulnerability he now had to the burning building!
     He dropped as low as he could manage so that he could breathe without
searing his lungs, and checked the figure trapped by the beam.  He was badly
burned, but still had a pulse.
     Grabbing what looked like a table leg that wasn't yet on fire, Sal pried
up the beam holding the fallen man, and the child put on a surprising burst
of strength to pull the man free.
     Once that had been accomplished, Sal took as deep a breath as he felt he
could, then grabbed both child and man and threw them over his shoulders.
Anchored or not, he was still a towering mass of muscle, and within seconds
they were all out into the cool spring night, bursting out amid the crowd
that had formed and was trying to assemble a bucket brigade of some sort.
Sal wasn't sure this neighborhood was even on the list of places the fire
department would visit, it looked pretty poor.
     A tearfully-grateful woman gathered the Anchor child up in her arms.
Sal didn't have time to explain Anchors, so he simply looked at the mother
and asked her, through coughs, "Please, fetch a doctor for this man."
     Fortunately, the woman didn't hand the job off to someone else, and
hurried off with her child.  Sal immediately started to feel better.
     "," the burned man gasped, in heavily accented English.  "I
think...God is calling me."
     The pieces fell into place.  "No, Cabellero Verde.  You should live now,
your powers will heal you," Sal assured him.
     The original Caballero coughed bloodily.  "I am afraid my gift is not
that strong.  Perhaps you...can carry on...for me...."
     And with that, he died.

               *              *              *              *

[October 2, 2026 - The Pentagon, Federal Sector]

     "It certainly makes sense when you think about it," Peregryn's mystic
portrait said.  "From what you've since discovered about the original
Cabellero Verde, an actual fight would have been rather one-sided.  So the
Human Resource misdirected you and set a task where you would fulfill the
requirements of another 'common law' tradition in the heroic community, the
deathbed legacy."
     "Was it all a simulation, though?" Sal asked.  "It certainly felt real
enough, more real than it had to be."
     "Hard to say," Solar Max shrugged.  "We've seen that the Office can
create within itself whatever is necessary to do the job, a perfectly
realistic simulation strikes me as possible.  Or it could have actually
placed you in 1991, it's not like there's sufficiently detailed records of
that fire to tell if you were actually there.  Short of stumbling across an
old community newspaper story about a mysterious stranger, I doubt we can
     "What about the child that was saved?" Arin asked.
     Sal shook his head.  "Dead end.  We found records of someone who *might*
have been the girl saved in the fire, but it was a story about a young Anchor
policewoman killed by a gang of godpowered drug runners who didn't like the
idea of a cop who could turn off their abilities.  But for all we know, it
was a different person.  I mean, I never got a clear enough look at the kid
to even be sure it was a girl."
     "On to bigger issues," Solar Max gestured at his console screen, "the
immediate security matter does seem to be resolved to the satisfaction of our
relevant government agencies.  They've got their people triple-checking
things to make sure no one can gain access to any of our levels of the Office
without our knowing about it, and diplomats are already wrangling over the
matter with China and the EU.  Given what happened to Li Fan, no one's too
eager to turn this into a transit hub in any case, but I'm sure we won't just
wall off the doors and forget about 'em."
     "If nothing else, the matter of what sort of dimension it is needs to be
resolved," Peregryn's portrait said.  "And if the Human Resource isn't a god,
what is he?  Merely an extension of the Office, or perhaps the result of a
human being trapped inside for too long?"
     "But none of this is a matter for us, at least not at the moment," Solar
Max told the various people, teleconference screens and mystically animated
portraits in the room.  "And I'm perfectly happy to let someone else take
care of the paperwork this time."


Next Issue:

     Okay, I don't have any solid plans for the next arc.  I don't feel ready
yet for the next Big Thing that I've been building towards, though, so I may
take a break and see if anything else suggests itself as an intermediate
storyline (and yes, others have suggested some things, but so far none of the
ideas have grabbed me).  I might participate in RACCWriMo, though, with a
story idea I've been kicking around as a possible ASHistorical.


Author's Notes:

     The briefing from Peregryn that Netwalker mentions is available at (I decided trying to cram it into
an issue would be a case of explosition).

     I really wanted to make some sort of LOLcat reference in the scene with
the motivational poster, but those are post-1998 and if something like them
exists in the ASH 21st Century, it would probably be rather different.

     While outlining this issue, I tried to find a God of Bureaucracy in
order to have a possible suspect in case the Office wasn't an elemental plane
after all, but I wanted a single-portfolio god.  Most of the gods who can be
thought of as being patrons of bureaucracy are also the head of their
hierarchy (the Jade Emperor, Mulungu), or they're more general gods of
writing and recordkeeping (Thoth).  Even the Romans, with their host of minor
gods and goddesses for everything from the sewers of Rome (Cloacina) to
harrowing the fields (Imporcitor) didn't seem to have a dedicated god of
bureaucracy.  Obscure pre-Rome Etruscan god Quirinus sometimes gets tagged
with that duty, having lost his position as a wargod and existing only as a
faded echo of the original ruling triumvirate of Sabine gods, but that seems
to be more of a modern construction.  My fictional Roman god, Santarus, was a
god of politics, not bureaucracy per se.  I looked to Catholic saints, but
while there's plenty of patrons of bookkeepers and librarians, there's no
specific patron saint of bureaucrats (maybe they figure that's a job for the
other team).  The Discordians have Zarathud as the Patron Saint of
Bureaucracy, but I decided that if I couldn't have a god or saint with a real
historical pedigree, I'd just leave it vague.

     I originally planned to have Meteor face off against the Human Resource
in a battle of forms, but had a late-in-the-game inspiration and changed it
to the Name Fight...and then while writing the last scene changed the Name
Fight to what you just saw.  Just one of those cases of a story writing
itself, yes?


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and more, go to !

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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at !

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