ASH/HCC: Coherent Super Stories #35 - SPIRIT of the Lake
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Sat Aug 16 23:38:45 PDT 2014
[cover shows a younger Richard Hendrick in his SPIRIT uniform,
in dim light as a reptilian shadow looms out of the lake in
front of him.]
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #35 - SPIRIT of the Lake
Featuring Richard Hendrick copyright 2014 by Dave Van Domelen
[August 17, 2014 - Mobile SPIRIT Command Post, Ontario Sector]
"I deserve to be in on this, Hendrick!" the angry voice from the
communit could be heard meters away. Fortunately for operational security,
Captain Hendrick had the interior of the vehicle all to himself. The rest of
his squad was out sweeping the area.
"You *deserve* to be behind bars for some of the stuff you pulled when
you went rogue from the old FBI fifteen years ago, Agent Crenshaw! And if
this sighting is what we both think it might be, your judgement is going to
go right down the crapper." He sighed and rubbed his forehead, glad that
this was a voice-only link at the moment. "Look, Kate. Your field agent
days are behind you, like it or not. You're valuable to SPIRIT because of
what you experienced. Back then. But we both know this might be him. And
you're not going to be able to kill him if that's what it takes."
"If you let me come along, maybe killing him won't be what it *needs*,"
Kate retorted. "Damn it, Hendrick, last time I saw him he was acting like it
was his own funeral. And he's not magic, you know that, so we might even be
able to help him *if* I can talk him down!"
"After fourteen years in that Omega Mode of his, I doubt there's
anything left to help. Hendrick OUT," he thumbed off the communit.
* * * *
"It's Gaasyendietha, I tell you," the old man insisted. "A lot of the
old legends came out...back then...and I never did think they all went away!"
Hendrick sometimes wished he lived in a world where that sort of claim
could be dismissed out of hand. But the very fact SPIRIT, or Super-Powered
Investigation and Retrieval Information Team, existed was because every so
often a wild-eyed tale was true. Most of the bad craziness had vanished
mysteriously in 1998, and even at his clearance he still didn't really have a
satisfactory explaination for that. But it had never entirely gone away, and
it was starting to come back as children born since 1998 exhibited powers not
seen in over a decade. Hence, SPIRIT.
"That may be," Hendrick replied as patiently as he could. "But the old
stories leave a fair amount of wiggle room." He held up a handcomp with an
artist's reconstruction on the screen. "Did it look anything like this?"
The image was of a hulking repitilian humanoid, easily three times the height
of the human outline included for scale.
The old man paused for a moment. "Captain Hendrick, before it all went
to hell, I worked for the Buffalo Public Defender office. I know eyewitness
testimony can be unreliable. But living out here in the boonies since then
has taught me that it's not always the eyes that matter. I can't say for
sure if what I saw looked like that picture...could be. But I know in here,"
he thumped his chest, "however it manifested, that was one of the old stories
of my Seneca ancestors. Gaasyendietha, or something close enough kin to it
as to make no difference."
Hendrick put away the handcomp and went through the official "thanks for
your help" routine. Once he'd left the building, he got on the squad push.
"Another dry well, this witness was an I.S. too."
"I.S." or "Idiot Savant" was a bit of internal-use-only jargon SPIRIT
had developed during its short existence. Someone who seemed fairly rational
and intelligent, but shut down all of their skeptical facilities when
confronted with the supernatural. It was a fairly natural response to the
craziness of the 90s, when logic and reason seemed to be pretty useless tools
for navigating a complex world. But people tended to go too far, forgetting
that even the craziest of supernaturals tended to follow most of the rules of
nature so they could get away with breaking the ones they didn't like.
Abandon all reason ye who enter here.
"Still, we got enough I.S.'s agreeing on the major details that this is
probably not just swamp gas," one of the other SPIRIT agents opined over the
channel. "And a few did think our target was a match for what they saw."
"Agreed," Hendrick nodded, a useless habit when on voice-only, but a
hard one to break. "Just keep in mind, if it is Agent Crenshaw's old
partner, we need to make this a retrieval mission, not a recovery mission.
Subdue if at all possible."
"Five by five."
"Okay, most of the sightings were around dusk, which is in half an
hour. Let's cover as much of the lakeshore as we can, stay in contact, and
DO NOT ENGAGE. Repeat, do NOT engage. Whether that's a Scytharian Scout
Unit in Omega Mode, a leftover weapon from the Godmarket, or some teenager
who has a lot more to worry about than acne, all reports and physical
evidence suggest soloing it would be a very bad idea," Hendrick ordered.
"Now let's get into position."
* * * *
A front just before sundown made it feel like a late Spring night, but
the SPIRIT uniform designed to protect him against the occasional
uncontrolled supernatural powers was more than enough to ward off the chill.
The physical chill, anyway. There was a coldness in Hendrick's stomach that
refused to go away, no matter how much coffee he swigged from his thermos.
"How'll I break it to Kate if I have to kill Iguana Jack?" he muttered
under his breath.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," whispered a voice from the trees
Hendrick whirled and leveled his particle rifle while reaching for the
panic button on his communit.
"Ssssh," a human-sized figure emerged from the trees. "Don't distract
The figure shook his head. "I'd rather not be called that these days.
I'm not really that person anymore. Five years stuck in Omega Mode changed
me, almost killed me."
"Scout Unit 88424, then?"
"It'll do. Or just 'Scout,' I suppose." Entering the faint light cast
by a cabin a ways down the shore, Scout looked more or less human, but the
outline of his face betrayed his reptilian nature when he turned just the
right way. "Nice rifle. Tsaran?"
"Almost. Crystal's out, so it's more of a short range lightning gun.
Better for subduing targets."
"I hope you have something sterner. I've seen your target, but it left
before I could get close enough to make out details. It's big. Omega Mode
"Fine. The mobile post is half a click uphill, you can tell me what you
know about the lake monster on the way up, so I know what kit to bring."
"Um, what I know is that we're too late for that," Scout pointed at an
increasingly intense bubbling in the lake, maybe ten meters out from shore.
"All squad! Converge my location! And don't shoot the humanoid with
me, he's a friendly!" Hendrick hissed into the communit.
Scout drew pistols in each hand. In the poor lighting, Hendrick guessed
one was probably a venerable .45 ACP, and the other a heavy caliber revolver.
"I still miss the Tsarans," he muttered.
The water exploded and a serpentine form emerged, spewing fire from its
mouth and nostrils. Lightning flashed from Hendrick's rifle, playing over
its glistening hide with no apparent effect. Scout's pistols cracked once,
but the alien stopped when the beast didn't react.
"Do you feel that?" Scout asked.
"Feel what? I don't feel...oh, I read you. Squad, Barnstormer
protocol. I repeat, Barnstormer protocol." Hendrick resumed firing, this
time aiming for the mouth as the beast curved into the sky over Lake Ontario.
"Keep shooting," he muttered.
After a pause, Scout nodded in understanding and stepped out from under
the trees to get a better view and started taking carefully aimed shots that
had no perceptible effect.
A few seconds later, the beast vanished as if it had never been there.
Which, to be honest, it never had.
"Found and neutralized," one of the squad reported. "At a guess, we've
got another for the Pit."
"If not, there should be plenty of room at the Cavity soon enough,"
Scout cocked his head. "Magic?"
"Illusionist, or possibly energy shaper, but the fact we didn't feel any
spray from that dramatic entrance argues for the former. Barnstormer
protocol calls for anyone engaged to act like they haven't caught on, while
anyone available starts beating the bushes for the caster."
"I recall Kate mentioning the Pit. It's still in operation?"
"Sort of. It's been reworked as a school for supernaturals. The Cavity
is the new super prison they're working on...gonna need it sooner rather than
later, I think. Deciding where our capture goes if out of my hands, though.
What about you? Should I be thinking of Pit or Cavity for you?" Hendrick
held his rifle at ease.
"I think I'll just take my leave, if it's all the same to you," Scout
replied, holstering his pistols. "Now that I know the lake monster isn't a
fellow Scout Unit, I have other matters I want to return to." He turned and
started walking away.
"And what should I tell Kate?"
Scout stopped in his tracks.
"The truth, maybe? The lake monster wasn't me. She needs to get over
her old partner."
"Why? Why not come back with me, see Kate again, maybe go to work for
SPIRIT?" Even as he made the offer, he knew it wouldn't work out. He didn't
feel comfortable around the alien, and some of his fellow SPIRIT agents were
outright xenophobic. But maybe they could find a place for him at the new
Academy, even if it meant Kate would ask to transfer there too.
Scout didn't turn to face Hendrick, but his shoulders sagged slightly.
"Captain Hendrick, I am very good at what I was built for. If I hadn't
wanted you to find me, you never would have. And my appearance is less of a
liability than you might think. I have...seen Kate since our last day
together. She has not seen me. I believe I understand human emotions better
than I did then, even if I don't feel them myself. And I think Kate needs to
accept that I am gone. That she doesn't feel like she betrayed me by not
seeking me out years ago. That she doesn't regret moving on with her life.
I do not know how well you know Kate, Captain Hendrick, but I think she would
give up too much in a vain attempt to turn back the clock over a decade, and
I do not want to see her hurt herself that way."
"Fine. I'll keep your secret. And I think I know Kate well enough to
agree with you. Well, except on one point."
"Yeah. You're hurting as much as she is. You just don't recognize an
honest emotion when you have one."
Scout chuckled, a low gutteral sound almost like a croak. But he said
no more before fading into the shadows.
Written for High Concept Challenge #47, "Team Up". Okay, the teamup
itself only lasted a few minutes, but it's not a long story overall, eh?
Iguana Jack aka Scout last appeared in Coherent Super Stories #29, I suppose
the reprint of his final story got a good enough reader response for a new
Untold Tale to be published. ;)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaasyendietha is an actual myth, by the
way. Barnstormer was an illusionist member of ASH who was also a member of
Apologies for the lack of output on RACC of late. Between changing jobs
yet again (I'm now at Amarillo College) and spending a LOT of my writing
energy on the City of Titans project, I just haven't had the burning need to
write ASH. That situation is likely to continue for a while, but not all of
my City of Titans work is going to be kept under wraps until game launch.
I'll post links to RACC when things go public.
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