ASH/HCC: "The Element of Surprise"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Wed Feb 1 16:57:42 PST 2012

     [The cover shows Dan Tracey in the uniform he wore in STRAFE #1, no scar
on his face, looking about warily as a humanoid shadow falls across the

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`  "The Element of Surprise"         copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen

[February 1, 2023 - STRAFE temporary headquarters, Cuba Sector]

     "We're still working on the live fire training facilities at the
permanent base," Dr. Stern noted with a slight edge of frustration in his
voice, so we can't really put most of your team through their paces against
live opponents yet.  Too much chance of things escalating beyond control.
And Hendrick says he needs a few more weeks to get his people integrated,"
the founder of STRAFE shrugged.
     "But no reason you can't see if I can back up *my* resume, since I'm
less likely to put holes in the terrain," Daniel "Grind" Tracey nodded.  He
was secretly relieved to be able to put off the official meeting with
Hendrick...the two had not gotten along very well the last time they'd
crossed paths, during the Triton affair.
     "This is recruit Charlie Baker," Dr. Stern motioned to a young man
standing nearby.  He wore the new STRAFE field agent uniform, but without any
rank insignia.  He also didn't have any of the powered accessories that Tesla
Branch was promising Any Day Now, but even the "base" uniform was made of an
efficient impact-absorbing weave that was relatively Anchor-proof.
     "A code name," Baker explained, a little nervously.  Grind pegged the
man as two or three years older than Dan himself, but with a serious case of
Rookie Syndrome that tended to come with the fact that he fully expected to
be working with ex-SPIRIT agents who had been active as long as either of
them had been drawing breath.
     Grind had his own case of Rookie Syndrome, but having spent a few years
in school with people who could move mountains, he had more practice hiding
     "Agent Baker is one of our non-SPIRIT recruits, as you might have
surmised," Stern smirked.  "SPIRIT will provide our initial combat spine, but
we need to expand quickly in order to fulfill our mandate, and that means
bringing in anyone who meets our standards."
     "I hope not to disappoint," Baker replied, a touch too eagerly.
     "I'd like to observe you sparring with Baker," Stern led the two to a
padded section of floor in the gymnasium.  It was padded for martial arts
practice by several squads at the same time, and was therefore judged large
enough to ensure that a superhuman judo throw wouldn't send anyone completely
off the mat.
     The two men bowed and moved to a moderate distance while Stern backed
off a rather larger distance.
     Grind noted Baker's fighting stance showed definite signs of formal
Aikido training, but with a peculiar twist that was favored by the
instructors at Quantico these days, which told him the track Baker was most
likely coming in on.  From the slight lean to his opponent's stance, Grind
was reasonably sure the first feinting attack would be a low kick, shifting
rapidly into a high spin kick.  He'd block the kick on his left arm but yield
rather than resist, throwing Baker off-balance ever so slightly.  Baker was
probably too good to take an actual tumble, but it would set the man up for a
stomp to the instep (94% chance) or at least an immobilized leg (5% chance)
that could be turned to further advantage.
     All of this flashed through Grind's head in an eyeblink.  His superhuman
talent wasn't immediately most he simply seemed to be really
really really dedicated to self-improvement.  But he had both mental and
physical advantages that let him trivially do things that the most driven of
normals could barely accomplish.  And he did nothing trivially.
     Baker bounced backwards a little, perhaps unsettled by the intensity
with which Grind was observing him.  Now the most likely opening gambit was
no longer a feint.  Baker's stance now told Grind that Baker wasn't going to
risk tipping his hand on anything but a real strike, gambling that he could
land a solid blow early in the fight and negate the advantage Grind's
slightly superhuman resilience gave him.  A little harder to predict, but
Grind felt fairly confident it would involve a closed-hand strike to the
throat or a slap against the ear.  Something that would hurt and give him an
immediate disability of some sort.  And then....
     "Colonel Hendrick!" Baker suddenly looked past Grind's shoulder and
started to salute.
     To his credit, Grind *almost* managed to avoid glancing aside.
     BAM!  Legsweep!
     And then it was essentially over, Baker had a fist against Grind's
throat in a move that said he could have fatally injured Dan if it were a
fight in earnest.
     "Don't feel bad, sir, they briefed me on you.  There were enough combat
savants in the TwenCen that we had to develop tactical doctrine for dealing
with people who could run fights a million times in their head before
throwing the first punch...and it mostly boils down to tricks so lame that
your opponent never expected anyone to even try them.  Also, your shoelace is
     Smiling sheepishly, Dan let Charlie help him up off the mat.  He
realized that being let in on the tactic meant Baker considered Dan one of
"us" rather than "them", which was more than worth a little embarrassment.
     Still, two seconds later he sent Agent Baker sailing ten meters across
the mat, because what's sauce for the goose....


Author's Notes:

     Written for High Concept Challenge #27, "The Element of Surprise."
Charlie Baker first (and last) appeared in ASH #22.  I wanted to set this
before Hendrick met Dan in STRAFE #1, and rather than make up an entirely new
agent who we'd never seen since, I grabbed Charlie and posited that he was
still in training during the events of Marc's earlier STRAFE issues.
     The temporary STRAFE base is in Guantanamo Bay, which declined in
importance once Cuba was officially made part of the North American Combine
and the apparatus of government could move to Havana.  I would have put the
scene in the STRAFE base seen in STRAFE #0, but I wasn't quite sure where it
WAS.  That was before the date-and-location stamping on scenes became an ASH
standard.  ;)  As of #14, STRAFE's base was established to be in McLean,
Virginia, but it's entirely possible that the base seen in #0 was outgrown in
the intervening year and the McLean base was newer.  So I'll just leave the
matter vague until it actually matters in a story.
     Speaking of date stamping, I never narrowed the framing sequence of
STRAFE #0 down better than "before April," so I'm going to narrow it a little
better here and say it takes place in late February of 2023, after the team
has relocated.


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