ASH/HCC: Coherent Super Stories #29 - "Leftovers" featuring Iguana Jack

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Mon Jul 23 13:39:06 PDT 2012

     [The cover shows a titanic lizard-man struggling in the grip of a bone
dragon of some sort, on the shores of a burning lake.]

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #29 - Leftovers
        Featuring Iguana Jack             copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen

     The turn of the Century was a tumultous time around the Coherent Comics
offices.  The editors had made the bold decision (later imitated by another
superhero universe beginning with the letter "W") to shake things up by,
well, killing off all the superhumans and taking Earth to the brink of
destruction.  While most stories told around that time focused on bold
normals trying to make the best of a world suddenly bereft of most high
technology or magic...not everyone quite got the memo.  A few stories sneaked
through here and there that didn't really fit the tone Coherent editorial was
trying to set, and for the most part they were later retconned as being
alternate Earths or (in several cases) elaborate hoaxes perpetrated using
Pranir tech.  Eventually, it was decided that the market really couldn't
support more than a couple of titles with that tone, and most of Coherent's
output jumped ahead to tell stories about the next generation of superhumans
in the 2020s, leaving only "From the ASHes" as an anthology series to
continue telling "present day" stories, and it petered out a few years
     The story you are about to read, however, fell into a bizarre shadowland
between those that fit the intended tone and those that were so bizarre they
had to be explained away.  It didn't quite break any of the rules, but it
bent them so badly that no one would approve any further stories using the
characters from it.  And so it was swept under the rug and forgotten for over
a decade. 
     It is with no small trepidation we present the backup story from October
2000's From The ASHes #24, "Leftovers".


     "Oh, hell," Kate spat as she looked out the window of the worn-looking
but otherwise clean lakefront diner.  "I thought that kind of thing went away
when the gods pulled up stakes."
     Scout Unit SU-88424, locally known as "Iguana Jack" because of his scaly
hide and really faint resemblance to a humanoid version of a Terran reptile,
followed his companion's gaze.
     "I presume you do not refer to the young men with their pants down
nearly around their knees, although that fashion trend is indeed deplorable
and is clearly impeding their ability to flee."
     "No, Sherlock, I mean the dragon-looking thing they're fleeing from!"
Kate pointed.  The other patrons of the diner had already started diving
under tables or heading for the exits.  Cleveland had never been a hotspot
for superhuman activity except in the last weeks before everything went to
hell, so people didn't have "superhero fight reflexes."  Still, running was
usually a good idea.  They'd even done it in response to Jack himself the
first few times, until the neighborhood had gotten used to having an alien
refugee around.
     "Ah, that.  Sorry, Kate, I'm still new to this planet, and I did arrive
at an unsual point in your history...not always obvious what's normal around
here and what's not," Jack deadpanned.  The fact that his facial structure
made it hard for mammals to pick up on his expressions in the first place
made deadpan humor trivially easy for the gene-altered alien...well, once
he'd gotten the hang of humor in general.  
     "Funny man.  Lizard.  Whatever," Kate shook her head.  "Best guess, this
is something created by one of the flash in the pan mages a couple years ago,
it got loose from the remains of his cliche'd secret base, and is running
     "The last part seems a solid conclusion," Jack checked his pistols.
Tsaran blasters of Santari make, they were the only part of his gear he'd
kept after determining that his old masters were no longer among the living.
And on the topic of not being alive, "That skeleton does not resemble any of
those in the museum you took me to last month.  For one thing, it has wings
that, despite lack of any membranes, seem to be capable of keeping it aloft."
     "A dragon, they're not real...well, they're magic.  Which means someone
either found a dragon a few years ago and skinned it, or just made a dragon
skeleton out of pure magic because he was a sicko with a thing for bad
fantasy game art," Kate was clearing her own weapon, a decidedly mundane
shotgun with underslung grenade launcher.  The fact that the diner owner had
no problems with her carrying that thing, much less with having Jack as a
customer, went a long way towards explaining why the two frequented the
place.  It wasn't as if the food was particularly good...or so Kate said.
Jack was engineered to eat whatever would keep him going, in whatever
quantities were available.  Part of being a Scout Unit.
     "I propose we return it to mythical status," Jack stood and shed his
overcoat.  It helped keep the humans from being too uneasy around him, but he
lacked the semi-mystical talent that the now-vanished superheroes seemed to
have that let one fight effectively in such a garment.  "Or, failing that, at
least occupy it long enough for the legitimate authorities to arrive and deal
with it."
     Kate snorted, leaving on her own jacket.  She lacked Jack's enhanced
thermal regulation systems, and the late autumn chill would degrade her
combat effectiveness more than the coat would.  "Yeah, the authorities.  So
we'll only have to keep it occupied for what, a month?"
     The odd couple, a disgraced former FBI agent and an abandoned alien
bioweapon, emerged from the diner and sprinted in the general direction of
the rampaging bone dragon, then split and circled around to flank it.  It was
old habit and training, not something they consciously thought might actually
help in this particular case.
     Without exchanging further words, they both opened fire on the monster.
Jack set his Tsaran pistols on the wide beam aperture, and Kate was using
buckshot.  Their shots tore away pieces of the creature in showers of bone
fragments, and it reeled back for a moment.
     "The bones seem...less than solid!" Jack shouted across the street.
Most of what he had destroyed as simply vaporized, but fragments of bone from
Kate's shot had landed nearby.  He picked one up.  "This is...a chicken
bone?" he quirked an eyebrow in an expression he had practiced extensively.
     Then the bone was jerked from his hand by an unseen force and flew back
into place on the monster.
     "Okay, that's twisted!" Kate sprinted over by his side.  "Someone made
an undead dragon skeleton out of chicken bones?  REALLY?!"  To emphasize the
point, she pumped the action on her shotgun and blew another section of the
beast into fragments, but the fragments didn't even hit the ground this time
before they flew back into place.
     "I don't suppose you have a large bomb on your person?" Jack asked.
     "No, I left the pocket nuke at home today," she snarled.  
     Jack fired repeatedly, aiming for joints in the hope that he could
disperse the creature by destroying important locations, but it soon became
obvious that whatever vanished mage created this, it was a holistic spell.
As long as most of it remained intact, it would hold together no matter what
minor damage the two could inflict.
     "Gah," Kate spat.  "It's like reviewing a really bad but really popular matter how many holes I put in it, it keeps going!"
     The bone dragon had decided it could ignore them, and had moved on to
destroying the waterfront buildings.  Either its creator had been intent on
demolition, or his instructions had gotten muddled over time and neglect.  If
all of the buildings had been empty, Jack would have been inclined to let it
go and see if it wandered off on its own.  But Cleveland still had over half
of its pre-crash population, and this was one of the more heavily-populated
parts of the city core.  Too many would die if he did nothing.
     "Kate, I think I can stop this creature, but it will require saying
goodbye to you.  Perhaps forever," Jack held his pistols out to her, butt
first.  "I will not need these to do what I am planning."
     "Wait...what?  Did those sicko snake-owls engineer a bomb into you or
     "In a manner of speaking, yes.  All Scout Units need a way to wreak
havoc if our reconnaissance determines that a target must be destroyed
immediately.  The specific means depends on the nature of the engineered
entity, and the cybernetic varieties DO have bombs.  But my breed is
     Just then, the dragon collapsed the front of the diner, and flames
erupted from the back as the fryers were tipped over onto something
flammable.  Jack hoped everyone had fled from under the tables by that point.
"Ah, good.  They will not miss the contents of the larder, then," he nodded.
"Once the dragon moves on, I will engage my Omega Mode."
     "What...does Omega Mode involve?" Kate looked far more concerned than
Jack could remember seeing her.  Could it be she saw him as more than a
fellow warrior?  Odd.  Intellectually, he could grasp concepts like love, but
he had no context for knowing if he even could experience it, let alone when
he did.  But it didn't really matter, did it?  He had decided his duty was to
protect this part of Cleveland, and he was quite literally a creature of
     "Eating, at first.  Quite a lot.  The base modifications of Omega Mode
won't be enough, I need to add mass at a reckless rate, which will allow me
to grow into a beast that can match the dragon blow for blow.  But it is not
magic, and even if I survive the transformation, I do not know if I can ever
return to my current form...or my current mind.  The Omega Mode is meant to
die in the process of doing as much damage as possible, none has used it and
lived long enough to see if it can be reversed.  Kate," he held her shoulders
and stared unblinkingly into her eyes.  "I will not be the same person once I
have completed the transformation.  I will try very hard to limit my rampage
to just the dragon, but I may become as mindless as it seems to be.  If that
happens, I want you to be the one to kill me."
     "Right here," he pointed to a spot behind his ear hole, "on either side.
A deliberate weak spot, in case one of us enters the Omega Mode accidentally.
A tight beam shot should stun me, and then a more careful shot at the same
spot will likely be enough to kill me.  You're the only one I trust to know
     "I...understand," Kate nodded, clearly reluctant.  Two years ago, Jack
would have assumed she was simply unwilling to throw away a powerful ally
like him.  Very few remained on the planet who exceeded natural human
potential, and while Jack wasn't the most potent of them, he was certainly
the toughest customer in Cleveland.
     But now he knew it was more than pragmatism that caused that catch in
her voice.  And he felt something akin to it himself, fear and regret for
what must happen.
     "Watch the beast, if it looks to be moving too far away, lure it back.
Omega Mode will leave very little of my higher thinking intact," Jack warned.
"I will attack the most dangerous thing in the vicinity, but I will not look
too far afield."
     With no further conversation, Iguana Jack dashed towards the wreckage of
the diner, triggering the hormonal changes within himself that would lead to
Omega Mode.  On their own, these changes would merely rearrange his existing
form within limits imposed by natural law, perhaps tripling his strength and
making him recklessly savage.  But any organic matter he could consume in the
next few minutes would be quickly converted, adding to his mass and power.
     With a restaurant's entire larder to work with?  
     It would be GLORIOUS.

     Kate was starting to get worried.  Once she'd figured out the controls
on Jack's alien blasters, she'd started to do enough damage to get the
chicken-bone dragon's attention, but she had to stop and run every so often
lest she get too MUCH of that attention.  Hit and run, shoot and scoot.  But
she was only human, and eventually she'd screw up and end up ripped apart by
the thing's claws.
     Would it try to eat her?  Merge her bones with its own?  So far it
hadn't been eating any civilians, merely concentrating on doing property
damage.  On the other hand, she was pretty sure it was a little smaller than
when it had first appeared, and if it lost enough mass would it start trying
to replentish what had been shot away?
     And meanwhile, where...was....
     The remains of the diner's side wall had sloughed away a moment ago.
What emerged could match the dragon in size, and easily outmassed it.  It
looked like Jack only to the extent it was vaguely reptilian...and had those
spots behind the ear holes.
     "SMASH YOU!" a deep and distorted parody of Jack's voice boomed as the
Omega Mode lumbered towards the bone dragon.  It was the awkward gait of an
elephant or a dinosaur out of the prehistoric past, the cruel realities of
biology and gravity robbing him of the inhuman speed and agility that had
been his hallmark.
     The bone dragon took notice of Jack.  Whatever its magical "programming"
was, two story tall lizardmen definitely triggered something in it.
     Mystic and low-mass to begin with, the bone dragon was far quicker, but
it was also rather stupid, and simply crashed into the Omega Mode and started
clawing at his flesh.  And while Jack seemed to have exhausted his vocabulary
already, his designers and obviously put a premium on retention of combat-
related smarts.
     Blood oozed from several wounds, but the Omega Mode was obviously meant
to be hard to kill quickly.  Bone fragments flew in all directions as Jack
tore into his foe.  Within seconds, the dragon was more cloud than beast, as
bones flew back into position almost as quickly as they were ripped away.
     "Let's see if I can't speed this up," Kate snarled, setting both pistols
on their widest setting.  Aiming carefully away from Jack, more for her own
safety than his, she vaporized bits of bone and rotten meat with the cyan
flares of the alien weapons.  On their own, the guns hadn't been able to
exceed the construct's self-repair abilities, but it was clearly tipping the
balance now.
     The wings and tail vanished, the spell giving up on cosmetics in a
desperate attempt to retain the core form.
     Then the Omega Mode bit down hard on the head of the necromantic menace,
swallowing shattered bones and throwing them into the horrific biofurnace
churning away in his belly.
     The spell shattered in a burst of nauseating anti-life energy.  Whoever
had cast it, for whatever reason, it no longer mattered.  Just one more
leftover from an age of wonders destroyed.  It had been a monster rather than
a thing of beauty, but its loss still diminished the world a tiny bit.
     She blinked, shaking off the mystical miasma.  "Jack?  Are you still in
     "Do you need me to...?" she started to lift the guns.
     Jack shook his massive head slowly.  "PUSHED.  TOO FAR.  TOO BIG.  TOO
     With that, the lumbering beast walked into the lake, bits of the surface
still on fire from debris and spilled fuel.  There was no dramatic orchestral
soundtrack to accompany his slow descent into the water, just the distant
sirens of emergency vehicles responding too late to save her friend from his
own biology.
     Kate kept watching the lake until long after the last ripples had
vanished into the normal wind-driven waves.
     "See you later," she said, then vanished into the gathering crowd.


Author's Notes:

     Written for High Concept Challenge #31, "Big Monster Battle."

     This is actually very loosely inspired by an adventure I ran in my
Modern Knights RPG back when I was at Michigan State, playtesting some
updated rules prior to its ebook release.  In one of the early sessions, they
faced Bob the Necromancer, who (lacking the resources to raid a museum for
dinosaur bones) had constructed a skeleton dragon out of chicken bones.  One
of the heroes, Jhet Komodo, was the inspiration for Iguana Jack, although
Jhet never grew to several stories tall, and he had no ties to Khadam or the
Pranir.  The campaign was set in Detroit, using the Modern Knights setting,
so it had a lot of elements in common with ASH (like Doc Droid, Khadam, and
the like), but it had significant differences as a result of letting the
players help define the setting.  And, of course, since it took place in 2001
it lacked the 1998 cataclysm.

     I had thought of adapting the chickenbone dragon pretty soon after the
announcement of the challenge, but it took me a while to decide how I wanted
to run the actual story.  1998 wild weirdness?  2026 Lady Sable leftovers?
Work it into the LNH somehow?  Eventually I settled on making it part of the
Coherent Super Stories conceit of being comics from the world in which ASH
properties had been part of the media landscape for generations.  Previously,
I'd mostly worked from the premise that the fictional Coherent Comics just
jumped ahead to 2022 stories after blowing things up in 1998, but who's to
say they didn't try something like the Wildstorm Universe first, a few years
of post-apocalyptic stories with few or no superheroes?  Okay, it's possible
I established otherwise at some point, but I'm not going to worry too much
about that.


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