HCC/ASH: ASH Side-Story - Hidden Under A Bushel

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Sun Oct 23 12:57:20 PDT 2011

     [The cover is a visual homage to the 1968 edition of Tom Stoppard's
_Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead_ with the Shakespearean figure being
replaced by a nondescript Chinese-American in a flannel shirt.]

 '|`  /|(`| |   "Hidden Under A Bushel" - High Concept Challenge #24 entry
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2011 by Dave Van Domelen

[November 20, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "And no shortcuts.  You won't find a place as my apprentice by abusing
pharmaceuticals or making deals with demons for greater power.  Only one has
ever profited from the first, and none from the second," Peregryn warned as
Daniel Tang put on his best "trying not to look despondent but secretly
crushed" face.
     In truth, he was exultant.  His "failure" in auditioning for the role
of apprentice had in fact been a resounding success, from his point of view.
It took a great deal of willpower to keep the spring out of his step as he
let himself be led away from the modest home of the Combine's premiere mage.  
     "The next shuttle back to Earth doesn't leave for ten standard hours,
but keep an eye on your comm, since the Sun's not going down for a few more
standard days," Daniel's escort advised him.  "Feel free to sightsee, but
don't go out past the boundary markers.  It's still a wild planet," he added
with a slightly pitying tone.  Clearly, Daniel came across as a researcher
who'd get himself killed by a house cat if he was allowed to go adventuring.
Sure, he was an Academy graduate, which meant he'd passed basic combat
training and survival courses, but no one who had actually spent time in the
field really thought too much of academics with a check on their transcript
saying they's been taught to fight.  And it didn't help that his unofficial
codename was Coma Boy, thanks to the childhood years he spent in a mystic
     To be honest, Daniel really wasn't much better than the minimum
requirements when it came to physical combat, and he'd never displayed any
particular aptitude for combat magic.  But only the first flaw was real.
     As he started to look around the small settlement, Daniel felt a slight
itching at the back of his mind and decided to follow it.  Falcon Bay was
spread out just enough that there were still undeveloped stands of deciduous
forest within the "safe" boundaries, and he had the feeling he needed to walk
into one of those.
     "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" a female voice demanded,
once he'd gotten deep enough into the copse to be shielded from sight.
     He decided not to whirl and face the sound of the voice.  Why bother?
"Hello, Inanna.  I was wondering when you'd decide to greet the new mage on
your planet."
     A woman in flimsy robes and gleaming copper jewelry manifested in front
of him, looking wary and perhaps a little petulant that she hadn't managed to
startle him.  "You're no mere mage, and you know it.  I can't tell exactly
how powerful you are, but you're off any of the scales the mortals use.  Why
are you suppressing your power levels so aggressively?  What's your game?  I
won't let you hurt my world, or the people on it."
     "If you were really worried, you'd have told Peregryn about me," Daniel
pointed out.  "Trust me, I don't have any nefarious plans, I'm just trying to
lead a quiet life.  Or, at least, as quiet as anyone with known magical
powers can manage in this world."
     "Then why even come here?  You must have realized Peregryn might be able
to tell you were hiding your true skills," Inanna was now clearly perplexed.
     Daniel shrugged.  "Given my preferences, no one would have ever known I
was more than a normal, boring human, but we don't always get what we

               *              *              *              *

[April 8, 2008 - San Francisco, California]

     Mr. and Mrs. Tang tried their hardest to make Danny's birthday party
special.  You only turned ten once, after all, and things had settled down
enough that they could even pretend it was just like when they turned ten
     But no matter how hard they tried, Danny wouldn't smile.  He'd been
inconsolable for a week, ever since Spinach had died.  He'd found the cat as
a stray four years ago and to his parents' amazement the feral had taken to
Daniel as if he'd raised it from a kitten.  
     "Blow out the candles and make a wish," Mrs. Tang encouraged her son.
The other children had picked up on Danny's bad mood, and the whole table was
a bristling, cranky mess.  But the cake had refocused the other kids, even if
Danny was still uninterested.
     Finally, as if seized by a sudden inspiration, Danny nodded and blew out
the candles.
     "Mowww...?" came a plaintive cry from under the table.
     "It came true!" Danny's face lit up, and he dove to the floor.
"Spinach!" he cried out with glee.
     The cat pounced into his arms, and all the children crowded around.
They were old enough to figure that this was just a cat who looked like their
friend's dead pet, bought as a surprise present.  But they were willing to
play along, and if Danny wanted to pretend he'd wished Spinach back to life,
they were okay with that.
     The Tangs had bought no such replacement pet.
     Mrs. Tang looked at her husband with concern, but he was already
checking the doors to make sure none were open.  Another feral, perhaps?  
     Then Danny fainted, and one of the children screamed.

               *              *              *              *

[November 20, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "Zombie cat?" Inanna made a moue of distaste.  "Your first spell was
     Daniel shook his head.  "No, I actually bought Spinach back to life, if
only for a few minutes."
     "But that level of..."
     "I know.  Thankfully, no one who knows what you know ever heard about
Spinach.  They just know that I pushed my magic too far the first time, and
ended up in a coma for several years.  That, by the way, is why I look like
I'm only 21, and only just graduated from the Academy.  I didn't age while in
that coma, and as far as anyone else knows I was in a total state of
suspension.  They don't know I was aware the entire time, learning about
myself and my abilities."
     "A cocoon, then."
     "Pretty much.  I came out on my own timetable, having decided to act
like I was still the innocent ten year old I appeared to be.  But they knew I
had some magic in me, so I couldn't avoid going to the Academy.  Not with my
parents wanting it for me, to 'help me control that dangerous power.'"
     Inanna peered at Daniel, as if trying to see through his defenses.
"What are you, then?  And why don't you want anyone knowing your true power?
Don't you want to help people?"
     "You haven't figured it out yet, have you?" Daniel raised an eyebrow.
"I'm the son of a god.  Yes, that's why I could do a true resurrection.  I
don't know which god is my father, but Zeus seems a pretty safe bet, given
his proclivities.  If my true power comes out, it's going to attract all
sorts of the wrong kinds of attention from outside reality.  No, I plan to
play the weak paranormal mage, grow old at a normal rate, and then fake my
death of old age if I still need to hide by that point.  The world does not
need gods running around in it causing trouble, and I can help people best by
keeping hidden.  Eventually I suppose I'll be strong enough to risk meeting
my father's side of the species on their home turf, but I'm not going to
bring their eye down on Earth."
     "So...why not pretend you had no powers at all, that you burned them out
bringing your cat back to life?" Inanna asked.
     "I wanted the training, to be honest.  And since I can't risk doing
things that I'm really good at, I wanted to find something I was bad at and
learn how to be good at it.  Whatever my natural 'portfolio' may be, it
doesn't include divination magic, so I decided my 'true' power set would
focus on that, with Spinach being an oddball flare of power.  So I've learned
how to learn things, if you will, something that's come in handy on several
occasions.  Because it's also taught me how to be better at *hiding* things.
The fact that Peregryn didn't even suspect the full extent of my nature
proved to me that I've mastered the skill."
     "So, what do you do now?  Use your divination magic to find out what god
was your father?" Inanna asked.
     Daniel shook his head.  "I've hit a wall on that one, actually.  Trying
to see anything directly around 1998 is almost impossible, due to the barrier
that was erected around reality that summer.  Once I got over the ick factor,
though, I did check the memories of my parents...mom never knowingly lay with
a god, but her and dad's memories of the week they think I was conceived
don't quite match up.  That's why I suspect Zeus: coming to a mortal woman in
the guise of her husband is one of his kinks, if myth is to be trusted."
     Inanna smirked.  "One of the advantages of never having been human, not
only am I not disturbed by the idea of seeing my parents doing it, I don't
have parents in the first place.  Although, in a way, Peregryn is my foster
father, and I...well, that's not relevant.  I still want to know what you
intend to do, other than 'try to live a quiet life.'"
     "Isn't that enough?  I suppose we'll both be around long enough that
what comes next will matter to you, but that'll be decades or more," Daniel
shrugged.  "The world is better off without my power than with it, so I don't
think I'll have trouble sleeping at night if I stay out of things like the
Impossible Five or Lady Sable.  But if I can help out by sending a little
information to the right ear at the right time...well, that's certainly
within the powers I'll admit to."
     "Moving in mysterious ways?  Looks like you have this god thing down


Author's Notes:

     The topic of High Concept Challenge #24, "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern,"
was a bit awkward for me.  Not that I have a problem with focusing on a
background character's story, but because Time Capsules #4 involved the fate
of background characters Ross Crantz and Gil Stern.  Who are dead,
     Still, after finishing ASH #114, I realized I could do something with
the throwaway character Daniel Tang.  My first ideas involved wacky hijinks
ensuing as Dan tried to get back to Earth and kept finding himself
sidetracked, but given where I have "A Fire Afar Off" plotted to go, I didn't
really want to provide any reason for Daniel to become prominent.  He needed
to stay background, lest the main plot get derailed.  A few more minutes of
thought gave me the idea that turned into this story.  
     Will he get his wish to stay safely in the background?  Well, the best
laid plans, and all that....

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosencrantz_and_Guildenstern_Are_Dead has a
picture of the cover that is being homaged.


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