ASH: Shadow Girls #3 - The Presence of Presents

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Dec 25 11:06:18 PST 2021

     [cover is split four ways, with a small black box in the center
      of the image, tied with ribbon.  The color of the ribbon is 
      different in each quadrant, and a different room is in the
      background of each quadrant.  The colors are dark red, dark blue,
      dark green, and dark pink.]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   SHADOW GIRLS      #3 - The Presence of Presents
			 copyright 2021 by Dave Van Domelen

[April 30, 2027 - Chinatown]

     Maddie sighed as she looked at the neatly sealed envelope that had
accompanied the gem-less oversized pendant.  "Maybe I should meet with the
others and get their stories before I even open that letter."
     "Go ahead and read it," Julie suggested.  "It'll take some time to get
everyone together, might as well give them some idea why they should meet
you.  I need to go get my phone where I hid pockets," she gestured at
the skintight shadows covering her body.
     "Yeah, I can probably help you with that, at least.  Go ahead, I'll meet
you back on the roof, in the alley, what?" Maddie cocked her head.  
     "Um, are you okay to go out on your own right now?  We usually meet on a
rooftop south of school."
     Maddie chuckled.  "Yeah, I have my ways of getting around town safely.
I just wasn't expecting to get jumped by the cat patrol tonight.  I'll see
you there."
     "Okay, if you're sure. a window, or...?"
     Maddie walked to one of the windows and placed her palm on the
lockplate, opening the window to the cool night air.  "No one looks up in
this town anymore, no one should notice you.  Except maybe whoever planted
that," she nodded to the box, "and until we know more about them it's kind of
a lost cause trying to hide from them."
     "See you in...half an hour or so?  Later!"  And with that, Tetra-Red
vaulted out the window and landed on a fire escape across the street, before
bounding out of sight across the rooftops.
     Maddie sealed the window, which was a better grade of armored glass than
was typical in the neighborhood...and armored glass was pretty much the norm
for anyone who stayed in Manhattan past the arrival of the paragangs.
     "Okay, let's see what you have to say, creepy benefactor person."
     She picked up the letter and carefully opened it with a small blade that
one would never have noticed she was carrying prior to that moment.  The
letter was neatly typed, either on a manual typewriter or on a printer that
did a very good job of looking like the output of a typewriter.


Greetings, Ms. Chin:

     By now, you have likely heard at least one of the stories of how I
gifted several teenaged girls with the power to make a difference.  Likely
Miss Li, given her proximity.  I know you have far more reason to be cautious
than a high school student does, so I won't insult your intelligence by
including a data drive that you'd no doubt destroy unopened.

     My name is private, but you may have heard of my former heroic identity,
that of Professor Shade.  My career ended in the sewers of Manhattan in 1998,
as you might have heard.  Or perhaps you did not.  I was never very prominent
even in my hometown of Boston, and it was a busy year.  Unlike other heroes,
I survived because ultimately I was but a mortal man, my powers coming from
the pectoral I have gifted to you, and the gems which I split among five
girls.  While they only granted me minor power over shadows, I believe they
will perform much more impressively for their new owners.  As far as I can
tell, the pectoral is sacred to the goddess Inanna, who always did favor the
fairer sex.

     I am too old and too impaired by the injuries that ended my career to
take a direct hand, but for a time Warden and the Hellhound kept my adopted
city safe.  Naturally, you know quite well that neither is available, so I
finally took matters into my own hands.  I believe Bathory is on the verge of
something dangerous and destabilizing, and I know you can't stand back and do
nothing while she enacts her plans.  If not as Hellhound, then perhaps you
would take up my old moniker and act as a mentor for the girls who I have
reluctantly thrown to the wolves.

     Yes, I am being cruel, but it is necessary.  No one from outside will
help, and no one inside seems willing.  Should you agree, there is further
data hidden inside the files I provided to the girls, unlocked with the
passcode MORNING STARS.  I hope you will help them cast some small light in
the darkness covering the city.

     Professor Shade I


     "Great.  Just great."
     If Jimmy were still around, he'd tell her to burn the letter, ghost the
girls, apologize to Julie next time she saw the kid.  
     But Jimmy left because Maddie couldn't give up on being Hellhound.  And
then Hellhound had to break up anyway in the wake of the whole Marx fiasco.
Not that it was looking like it was going to hold together even before that,
what with Beth getting more and more official responsibilities and Jessa
coming under more scrutiny even without her involvement in the failed brain
     Fine.  Probably time to hire another manager for Grocery Store anyway,
the sixty hour work weeks were getting old anyway, and it's not like she
couldn't afford it.  She just preferred to look like a regular small business
owner just getting by.
     Secret identities even when she wasn't a vigilante.  Couldn't get out of
the game if she tried.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[April 30, 2027 - West Village]

     Maddie's grandpa had secretly bought up a lot of small properties around
Manhattan and turned them into exits from the disused tunnels under the city.
There were always some tunnels that were officially closed, whether for
repairs or because they'd been replaced and it was easier to seal them than
to fill them or recondition them for something else.  Add in the secret
building projects under the city during the 1990s, some of which involved
divine alteration of the bedrock itself, and it was technically possible to
get almost anywhere underground without using the official subway system.
Maddie had inherited a lot of portals into this shadow tunnel network, and
then Dumont had helped her expand the network further to help with
Hellhound's mission.  A depopulated Manhattan used even fewer of the known
tunnels, making more available to Hellhound...and others.  Thus, Maddie was
able to step out of an "abandoned storefront" within a block of the Manhattan
Unified Secondary School number 1 without being seen.  Now she was dressed a
little more warmly, since she expected to spend time up on a rooftop.
     There was a faint "tup" of sneakers hitting pavement nearby, and she
turned to see Tetra-Red emerge from the shadows.
     "The rest are up top.  We found a good roof with a decently sized blind
spot from anywhere nearby, lets us meet after school and get in some practice
without being obvious about it," Tetra-Red explained.  The few nearby tall
buildings had been deconstructed over the years and replaced with shorter
structures or even left as empty lots.  "Ready to go up?"
     Maddie nodded, and for the second time that night found herself hauled
rapidly up into the air, landing a little more gracefully this time.  Julie
was getting the hang of this, she thought.
     In the center of the roof, difficult to see in the shadows, were three
more figures.  Each was tinged a different color, and had a colored gem
shining somewhere on their body.
     "Introductions," Tetra-Red said.  "Miss Chin, this is...well, Tammy,
since I gave that up already.  She's Hexa-Blue."
     A midnight blue silhouette with a blue cube on her forehead nodded.
     "And then there's Octa-Green," nod from a forest green shadow with a
green eight-sided gem on her left fist, "and Icosa-Pink."
     "Hi!" bubbled a cerise shadow with a pink twenty-sided gem on her
     "Everyone, this is Maddie Chin.  She runs Grocery Store in Chinatown, I
think you've been there T...Octa-Green.  Our creepy benefactor sent her a
letter and what looks to be the necklace our gems used to be set in."
     "Hello, everyone," Maddie waved.  "Our creeper is named Professor Shade,
he claims to be a TwenCen hero looking to pass on his legacy.  Old white guy,
probably doesn't even realize how bad this all looks."
     "No kidding," Octa-Green snorted.
     "He wants me to be your mentor, and..."
     "Why you?" Icosa-Pink interrupted Maddie.  "I mean, running a store
doesn't really seem to be mentor material."
     Tetra-Red waved her down.  "I saw her move while I was coming up to save
her from some Snow Leopards, and I'm not too sure she needed saving.  She's
got skills."
     "Thanks," Maddie nodded.  "I try.  Anyway, Julie, you hadn't gotten very
far with your origin story before you noticed I'd gotten a box.  And you
hadn't even mentioned Green and Pink."
     "Allow me," Hexa-Blue stepped forwards.  "Julie...Tetra-Red...tends to
digress, and we haven't got all night."  Her tone was very clipped and
precise, like someone working hard to get rid of her accent.  Was she ashamed
of her origins, or did she just have a better grasp of the secret identity
thing than Julie did?  
     "Go on," Maddie said.  She could tell her own story, no point
speculating before it was told.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

     The first thing you need to understand is that most of the problems with
MUSS Two go back to the Twentieth Century, Harlem has traditionally been
shortchanged by city services.  You might have read about the protests that
were required in the Seventies to even get trash picked up.  The Boys of
Pain have actually been fairly good about growing up and becoming the
government, although the Aunties of Pain have some small responsibility for
     I attend MUSS One because MUSS Two isn't equipped to handle students too
far outside the center of the bell curve, but the neighborhood has been
rebuilding as best as it can.  There's still some parts of Harlem that were
ill-treated during the height of the paragang wars, however, and those made
very good places for Julie and me to explore the powers we've been granted by
these gems.  And yes, as near as we can tell, all four of us have very
similar abilities, although it's possible that we simply haven't thought to
try anything that might set us apart.
     The gems primarily enhance us physically, to a standard that has come to
be known as "Grind Type" in the informal paranormal literature.  We generally
also get taller and in better physical condition, gaining or losing mass
where it would be appor...appropriate.  The only truly superhuman talents we
appear to have gained are the leaping you have experienced, and enhanced
durability.  The shadows around us may not protect our clothing very well,
but they do protect us and anything close to our skin.  I am not willing to
test whether we are bulletproof, but we've handled a missed jump and falling
several stories without breaking any bones.  We can also punch hard enough to
shatter old brick walls without also frat..*fracturing* our hands.  
     Yes, I was getting to that, Icosa-Pink.
     The gems also appear to enhance our non-physical assets.  Julie, for
instance, becomes bolder and more commanding, while my analytical nature is
strengthened.  Perhaps to a harmful degree...I assure you that I do not
normally talk like a stereotypical science fiction android, and Julie does
have *some* sense of self-preservation when not "powered up."
     We tested our limits all weekend, but then it was time to return to
school, with a rather big secret to keep from our classmates.  I think the
story belongs to Octa-Green at this point in the timeline, if she would...?

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 23, 2027 - TriBeCa]

     Like the rest, I got a box.  Didn't even touch it for days, but I was
sure my parents didn't give it to me.  When I did open it, I felt like I *had
to* pick up the gem with my left hand, and it jumped around onto the back,
like it is now.
     Freaked me right the fuck out.  Then it went poof, so I figured I was
just under too much stress, seeing things.
     A couple months ago, one of Bathory's goons suggested I'd my a good
tiger, 'cause I'm Indian.  Racist, much?  But I've been worried about her not
taking no for an answer, so been really on edge.
     Weird enough morning, wasn't gonna put the memory thing in my computer
after what the gem did or didn't do, so I went to school.  Fine, L...Icosa-
Pink, you can take it over.  I didn't really wanna talk anyway, and you're
the one who got us all together.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 23, 2027 - MUSS #1, West Village]

     So, I got the gem too, but you already figured that part out, yah?  My
parents are always leaving me little and not so little gifts because they're
not around much on account of being workaholics like so many who survived the
False Rapture.  Funny how they call it that.  But I figured the box was from
them, and ooh, a pink twenty sided die?  I don't really do the tee tee arr
pee gee thing, but I like pink.  But it didn't have any numbers which was
pretty weird, but it seemed to have a heartbeat when I picked it up, so of
course I held it against my chest to feel it.  Who wouldn't?  Okay, I know
you wouldn't Green.  And it stuck, like the other gems, at which point I
started to think maybe my parents didn't give it to me because they'd have
warned me about that sort of thing unless they did tell Great-Aunt Tabitha
who basically raises me, yah?
     Then I noticed the dongle...dongle dongle dongle...hee.  People always
tell me I should read the instructions first and I never do, but I guessed
maybe there was something in there about getting it unstuck?  So I plugged it
into my computer, and it had the letter everyone else got, but nothing
personal.  I mean, none of my friends or relatives have been hurt by the
paragangs, we didn't even move here until things had started quieting down
and the new government was recruiting people like my parents to work on
making the cyborgs run on time.  We live in Little Italy instead of the West
Village because my dad does work for the Cybernostra and it's more convenient
to live there, I asked him if I could be a cyborg when I'm older and he told
me to hold off because of the potential legal issues when it comes to aliens
and I guess he figures I might grow up to be important enough to deal with
aliens?  Or he's a worrywart.  But this gem is so much better than being a
cyborg!  Oh, I did get a bunch of information about various Problem People in
town, and my letter just said I seemed like someone who wanted to uphold law
and order and I guess I do since my parents work for the law and order, yah?
     Blue forgot to mention that I got a special power that the others
didn't, or maybe she still doesn't BELIEVE me that I have it, but I can get a
sort of ping off the other gems when I get close enough, or they're being
used a lot.  Maybe it's because my gem is so close to my heart?  Or maybe I'm
just the only one open enough to my gem to feel it.
     I got my first ping walking in the hall between classes, while I was
going to meet with my friend Beth, she's a newbie to town like I am and
really bad at making friends, so I've been trying to help her and Dominique
and Jessica come out of their shells and try to make more friends with the
other students instead of being a little clique of "immigrants" because I
mean America is all about being a melting pot, even if I guess technically
we're not in America right now.  Culturally this is still America, yah?  Jess
is the hardest nut to crack, I don't think she trusts anyone, but that just
makes me try harder.
     The second time I the hall, though, I knew it
had to be something special.  I could feel it in my gem, that it was her.
After school, I made sure to follow her and once we were more or less alone I
asked her if she'd gotten a strange gem lately and she was shocked and said
YES!  I could feel it, even though she had it hidden.  She didn't even know
she still had it, but once I showed her how I could make mine reappear and
that was kinda embarassing since I had to open up my shirt to show her and I
think she thought I was flashing her, she figured out how to make hers
     Then I concentrated on that ping feeling and I realized there were two
more gems at school, moving away from us....
	       *	      *		     *		    *

[April 30, 2027 - West Village]

     "The next day, Pink and Green found me and Tammy at lunch and Pink
REALLY SUBTLY...not...started talking about gems and dice and things," Julie
recalled.  "We started practicing together after that, and pooled our data.
Pink didn't have anything the rest of us didn't already have, though, I guess
because she doesn't have a personal stake.  I got more about how my brother's
been spotted with the Snow Leopards, Tammy got more about the one who killed
her uncle, and Green about the ones who tried to recruit her."
     "Someone really wants you girls going after Bathory," Maddie frowned.
"I'm glad you haven't haven't, right?"
     Octa-Green shook her head.  "As much as I want a good fight when I'm
powered up, and as aggro as Red is, we're not *stupid*.  I think Red beating
on those Snow Leopards tonight was the first real fight any of us have had."
She seemed a bit jealous.  "Creepy guy told us we should get ourselves a
mentor first, so we've been waiting."
     Maddie suppressed a shudder.  "Mentor" still meant something entirely
different to her, thanks to the time she spent in Warden's life.  "There's
also the fifth girl to find.  There's five gaps in the pendant I received,
and there's a missing shape."
     "Or two," Pink interjected.  "I'm not a lot into games, but I know
there's still ten-sided and twelve-sided dice."
     Blue shook her head.  "I see where Miss Chin is going with this.  The
fact that these are shaped like dice is coincidence.  They're Platonic
Solids, the five 'perfect' solids made up of copies of a single regular
polygon.  Three with triangles, one with squares, one with pentagons.  We're
missing the twelve-sided dodecahedron."
     "Guys, I've tried and I've tried, and I don't feel any other gems," Pink
protested.  "If there is another one out there, they must not be wearing it
     "Stands to reason at least one teenaged girl in town would have a
healthy sense of paranoia," Julie shrugged.  
     "Well, I guess we don't call ourselves Dice Squad, then," Pink sighed.
     "That was never going to happen," Green frowned.  "It sounds like we're
racing groupies, and Kynes has a big enough ego already."
     "Far be it from me to lend more weight to our benefactor's opinions, but
Julie did say he had a letter for Miss Chin?" Blue pointed out.  "Perhaps
something in that would give us inspiration for a team name."
     Maddie pulled the letter out of her pocket.  "As a matter of fact, I
think it does.  He gave me a code phrase to unlock extra data hidden in the
files he gave you, and that phrase is 'Morning Stars.'  Sounds like a decent
name for a team."
     "Do I get to hit paragangers with a spiked mace?" Octa-Green grinned


Author's Notes:

     I've personally spent one day in Manhattan NY, walking from Grand
Central Station up to Central Park, through the park a bit, to Columbus
Circle, and back down.  The Manhattan of 2027 ASH is a rather different
place, though, with some buildings still up that are gone in real life, and a
lot of buildings deconstructed or replaced that remain in real life.  That's
my handwave for any details I get wrong...the city is Different.  Still, I'm
trying to keep least the broad strokes of the geography correct.

     The "whole Marx fiasco" sums up the events of ASH #89-92, "Kheper's
Path," in which Devlin Marx tried to evade death by transferring his mind
into a cloned Anchor body.  It ended poorly, and Hellhound was forced to
disband in its wake.

     Okay, so...narrative voices, or "Here's something I really regret
deciding would be cool."  Hexa-Blue is, as she herself alludes to, based on
Spock/Data types.  Octa-Green is a fighter rather than a talker, so I tried
to avoid words of more than a syllable or two.  And Icosa-Pink...I kinda shot
myself in the foot there, because I already had Tetra-Red talk like a bubbly
and easily distracted Pinkie Pie sort last issue.  So I decided on more of a
rambling "old lady" style, influenced by Pink's great-aunt.  And yes, there
will be one more POV narration scene when the fifth girl is found, but I
think I can put up with it for one more scene.  After that, I don't think
I'll be using this device again.  Unless I do, at which point I will kick
myself for doing it again.

     Warden was originally given his missions by a telepath known as Mentor
(Warden #1), although she'd stopped driving his mission by the time Maddie
came into Warden's life.  However, Warden did talk about his past with and
around Maddie (largely off-screen).


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to ! is the official ASH Wiki, focusing on the Fourth
Heroic Age, but containing some information about other Ages.


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