[ASH] REPOST: ASH #120 - City of Night Part 1: Gloaming

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon Oct 11 10:31:01 PDT 2021

     [Cover is vertically split, with the Sun on the middle line.  On the
left side is a half-sunset behind a mountain surrounded by jungle.  On the
right is a cityscape at night, with no Sun on its half.  A shadowy silhouette
of a woman straddles the boundary, looking out over both scenes.]

 '|`  /|(`| |   City of Night Part 1 of 6: Gloaming
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2013 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Meteor         Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed               AMERICA
Poniente       Esmeralda Colina         Wind Mage                AMERICA
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              CANADA
Centurion      Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   MEXICO
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        MEXICO
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      DIPLOMATIC
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              DIPLOMATIC
Essay          Sara Ana Henderson       Gadgeteer                VENUS
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           VENUS
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             VENUS
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           VENUS
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         TRANSIT

[December 29, 2026 - Pawtucket, Rhode Island Sector]

     In the end, there had been very little discussion needed.  Keiko had
been all ready to get her DSHA personnel together and make sure none of them
would try to pressure the extradimensional refugees into rushing a decision,
but as soon as everyone who had required sedation the day before had
recovered enough to join the discussion, the decision was made.
     Poniente, the young Mexican mage who had recently joined ASH, was
directing the ceremony, assisted by two of the mystically-trained refugees.
Neither of them had ever possessed much power, and now seemed to be strict
normals as far as anyone could tell (but even the flying woman, Sharon, or
the old ogre Jed registered zero on any Tesla indicators).  Despite lack of
apparent power, both the tattooed young Cambodian and the woman with bizarre
ritual scars and voodoo-like trappings knew their way around a ritual.
     "You all should understand something before we start," Poniente
addressed the crowd in the borrowed university lecture hall, a crowd which
would have seemed fairly large if it hadn't represented the sum total of
survivors from an entire reality.  "In our world, magic is unnatural.
Literally.  It is an exercise of will that violates the laws of the world.
Therefore, it is always easier to perform magic that at least remains in
harmony with nature rather than smashing through it like a maddened bull.
The ritual in which you will be participating as both subjects and actors has
been designed to appeal to one of the Pillars of Reality, restoring a piece
of the balance by binding you to our world...instead of excising you, which
is what will happen eventually if we do not act."
     The crowd murmured uneasily.  They knew they were strangers in a strange
land, they'd been told that their very presence broke the laws of nature, but
it was still uncomfortable to be reminded of that fact.
     "Sangvath," she gestured at the Cambodian, "and M'emba," a glance at the
scarred woman, "have contributed their knowledge of the rules of magic from
your world so that this ritual could be adapted to the purpose of connecting
your spirits to a new world."
     From what little information had been gathered on the motley groups that
banded together to help flee the dying universe, Keiko knew "M'emba" wasn't
the woman's birth name, it came from a language that no one living had spoken
for centuries or millennia on their world, the language of gods who had been
overthrown so thoroughly that mundane history had no record of them.  Much
like the fate of some of the gods in Keiko's own world.  She only knew a
little Cambodian, but she suspected "Sangvath" was a pseudonym as well,
albeit an appropriate one...it meant persistence.  And anyone who could fight
through across time and realities had to be persistent, if nothing else.
     "If everything works as we hope, the world will treat you as natives
when we are done.  Those of you with paranormal abilities may find them
blunted or removed, but it's impossible to be sure.  One possible consequence
is that all of the unnaturalness of your collective existence will be
transferred to a single person, who could gain power from it...or become the
judas goat who dies to save the rest.  Your memories should be largely
untouched, although some of the gaps will probably start filling in with
local names and places," Poniente explained.  "Now everyone, try to
concentrate on who you are.  Your sense of identity, or events that made you
who you are.  The stronger your sense of self as we complete the ritual, the
easier it will be for reality to make a connection to you."
     A strained hush fell over the crowd.
     Poniente began, chanting in what Keiko thought was Latin, although
tinged with strangeness.  M'emba joined in with a gutteral tongue that didn't
sound like it had ever been intended for human throats, and Sangvath chanted
a mantra without words.  It felt strange, like she was at a musical
performance by an aggressively experimental vocal trio, but the mood of the
audience was far darker and more brittle.

     "Is that it?" someone in the crowd asked after the ritual had ended and
silence had filled the hall for nearly a minute.  "I don't feel any
     Poniente nodded.  "I was hoping there would be no dramatic results.  We
wished to gently ease you across the boundary, not smash through.  It may be
days or even weeks for changes to happen, and they will hopefully be so
subtle they will feel natural."
     "Looks like I kept some powers," Sharon Venturi demonstrated by rising
from her seat and continuing to rise into the air.  "I was mainlining the
powers of Creation for so long it's hard to remember what it was like when I
was *just* a superhuman, but I think I ended up pretty close to where I used
to be."
     "Still a troll," old man Jed shrugged his massive green shoulders.
"Guess there was a little too much real science in what happened to me, and
this world's fine with me stayin' this way.  Ah well."

     Throughout the initially-tentative but strengthening celebrations that
followed, M'emba accepted thanks and congratulations, but largely kept her
own counsel.  Secrets were something she had a lifetime of experience hiding,
and she had a new one.  The ceremony had kindled new power within her: not
the power over storm and death that she had once wielded, but power
     But how could she have the power of a shaman when her dead gods had
passed beyond death into total nonexistence?

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2026 - Berlin, Germany]

     Klaus hefted his mug, "Enjoy life!  You're longer dead than alive, and
longer in the dark than the light!"
     This was met by a smattering of "Prost!", "Zum wohl!" and various
drunken slurrings that were untranslatable but generally approving.
     "All praise to the Dark Lady!" Engela waved her joint in an
approximation of a toast, then looked about distractedly for the beer she was
certain she'd just set down a minute ago.  Or so.
     "The weakling lovers of light saved the Sun this year, but soon the Sun
will set for the last time, and darkness will rule the world as it did in
times of old," Klaus added.  Everyone knew they'd had absolutely nothing to
do with the sealing away of the Sun, but they all felt it was a sign that
their dark goddess was in the ascendant.  And if the Sun's final demise was
not obviously the doing of their patroness...well, she worked in arcane ways,
did she not?  Darkness was her strength and her shield.

               *              *              *              *

[December 31, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "I just flew in from the coast, and boy are my everything tired," Sharon
slumped into one of the chairs in the ASH headquarters lounge.
     "I'm sure the DSHA docs were thrilled when you decided to test out your
restored powers that way," Tina smirked, handing the interdimensional refugee
a mug of hot cocoa.
     "Mmmm," Sharon sipped gratefully.  "I am so glad your version of Earth
has chocolate too.  It would suck so bad if that was one of the holes in my
memories...not only to have no chocolate, but to be unable to remember what
it was even called!"
     "Horror of horrors!" Lightfoot chuckled.  "Before I head back to
Missouri for the countdown, I've got a question for you, Sharon."
     "Well, I was reading over all the debriefing files while I was pacing
your flight, and I was wondering about that death god you say you helped
     "Ugh.  There's something whose name I don't mind forgetting," she
shuddered.  "What about him?"
     "Well, it doesn't sound like he ever had a lot of worshippers.  A few
people, like M'emba, followed his pantheon, but it seems like most of his
servants were created beings," Lightfoot ventured.
     Sharon nodded.  "Pretty much.  I never got a whole lot of the story, but
there was a bunch of gods who lost out in their wars when humans were still
using flint knives and bearskins.  I'm told your gods had similar losers."
     "Yeah, and that's kinda my point," Tom frowned speculatively.  "When
gods lose out, they end up much less powerful.  Q'Nos, the mythical minotaur,
used to be a god but now he's so weak we could actually hold our own against
him in a fair fight a while back.  He's still really powerful, but not at the
god level anymore.  If your death god only had a few worshippers, how could
he be so powerful that he threatened existence?"
     "Applied theology was never my strong suit," Sharon gulped down the last
of the mug and cast about for where to get a refill.  "Maybe our gods didn't
need worshippers, they just found 'em convenient."
     Tina sent a golden tendril of force out to pick up a fresh mug and fill
it at the urn on the other side of the room.
     "Show off," Lightfoot muttered.
     "Heh," Tina brought the fresh mug over to Sharon, the golden aura
dissipating once the mug was safely in her hands.  "Sounds like you mostly
had Primal gods," Tina suggested.
     "What?" Tom arched an eyebrow.  "Those weren't covered at the Academy." 
     "I wouldn't expect them to be.  They're kinda theoretical.  I only know
about them because I did a lot of reading up on gods and demigods around the
time of my mission to China last year.  The reasoning goes like this: there's
a huge gap between us superhumans and even the weakest of the gods.  They
gain their tremendous power because they learned how to tap the power of
worship.  But plenty of dark mages have tried to figure that out themselves
and failed...every apotheosis plan that has come even close to succeeding has
tried to jumpstart the would-be god's power up to a level where they hoped to
start getting more power from their followers.  So how did the original gods
reach whatever level was needed?"
     "There had to be a way to get godlike power without worshippers," Sharon
interjected.  "Like how our world-killer mad god went from mortal to godly by
devouring realities."  A shadow passed over her face at the recollection.
The mad god had set in motion the end of all things when he set about
devouring realities.
     "Exactly.  These early godlings found a way to great power first, then
got their faith batteries running later.  There's several theories on how
this happened, but Primal gods are those who scholars think managed to tap
into some sort of fundamental principle of the universe," Tina explained.
     "Like death," Tom nodded.
     "Right.  The 'portfolios' of the gods we know may well be a remnant of
their origins as Primal gods, and those that lose worshippers are still
strong if they can recall their connection to that source.  Phaeton was
definitely a worship-junkie when he showed up during the Dyson Sphere crisis,
but his raw power was way above Q'Nos's.  Q'Nos claimed the Leviathan was his
mother, suggesting he was born into godhood and never established his own
link to a power source other than worship.  But if our myths have even the
slightest connection to real history, the Titans were fairly early gods, so
it makes sense they'd have been Primal at one time.  Lucky for us, as a Sun
god Phaeton had to share his Primal source with a lot of other gods, but he
was still no laughing matter...he could draw on a lot more might than Q'Nos,
even though he has no followers to speak of.  I'm just glad he wasn't strong
enough to avoid whatever the heck got done to him."
     "Ah, gods running around making a mess," Sharon mused over her now
half-empty second mug.  "Starting to feel more like home all the time...."

               *              *              *              *

[January 4, 2027 - Khadam]

     "Well, that was certainly interesting," Derek Radner switched the large
screen to a pastoral view and leaned back in his recliner.  The Chancellor's
quarters weren't quite as old-school luxurious as the palace in Monaco, but
new-school luxury had its charms as well.  Not that he would have minded a
bare concrete room so long as he had the same company as snuggled up against
him now.
     "How?" Angelique asked.  "Amateur acting, decent visuals, but not much
of a plot to it.  Big monster shows up, heroes arrive and beat it down.  All
it was missing was bad dubbing from Japanese into English."
     "True, as entertainment it was pretty weak," Derek admitted.  "But that
was actually very good acting...if you realize that most of the characters
were artificial intelligences."  [As seen in LNH 2027 #1 - Ed.]
     "One of them was definitely human, and not a great actor.  Another one
I'm not sure of, but the monster?  Since I officially handed the Conclave's
reins over to Glyph, I've been trying to take this Chancellor gig seriously."
     "Only inasmuch as you seem to be trying to imitate Dan Tracey lately,"
Angelique snarked.  It sounded good-natured, but Derek inwardly winced.
There'd been some friction between him and his wife lately because of the
long hours he'd been putting in so that he'd be more than a figurehead.
     "Anyway, one thing I've been trying to get a handle on has been our AI
program.  Or programs.  We have a lot of very unethical computer scientists
playing around with leftover TwenCen AIs and alien tech, and the net is
littered with what amount to giant monsters.  I happen to know that both the
Combine and the EU have several supernormals working on trying to clean up
after us.  And I've been cracking down on this end...not because I'm such an
upstanding global citizen, mind you," Angelique giggled at this, "but because
at some point it becomes bad for us too.  But to get to the actual point, I'm
almost certain that the giant monster being fought in that show was actually
one of our rogues."  He gestured with his gauntleted hand and the screen
flickered to display a computer window, which scrolled rapidly through
various pages until Derek found the one he was looking for.  "Yep, the time
and node match up.  It was one of Heinrich Vogel's babies.  And since a
former fellow Academy grad named Nate Walker has appointed himself one of the
sheriffs of the Net, I'm guessing the leader of this Legion of Net.Heroes was
     "But the rest are AIs we didn't build?"
     Derek nodded.  "I hear they prefer to be called ACs, but yeah.  When
you've written as many AIs as I have, you start to pick up on the usual
tells."  He didn't feel the need to remind his wife that the very first
successful AI of his had been modeled after his first love, the doomed
Cassandra.  She knew about Cass, of course, but one doesn't poke at a beehive
unless it is absolutely necessary.
     Unfortunately, he was starting to think it might be necessary.  He'd
never found out what happened to the Cassandra program, and if ACs were
starting to get organized to defend themselves against Khadamite AIs, what
might they be capable of if they had access to a program designed to predict
the future?

               *              *              *              *

[January 6, 2027 - Bell Regio, Venus]

     Noire set her small scramjet down in a clear space on the mountainside,
long shadows cast by the setting Sun in the East pointing fingers along the
ground and vanishing into the growing darkness of the jungle below.  At least
if the strange readings the satellites had picked up were hostile, she'd have
plenty of shadows to meld into.
     The Sun was really setting in the West, of course, by definition.
Planetary scientists avoided the thorny issues of tilted axes and retrograde
rotation by simply defining East as whatever direction the Sun rose.  When
the shudder caused by the Leviathan's arrival reversed the direction of the
planet's spin, that should have changed the maps so that Montreal was now
near the South Pole instead of the North.  But by the time a planetary
scientist was consulted, people were already used to saying the Sun came up
in the West and set in the East.  On a planet as strange as post-Leviathan
Venus, it was somehow more comfortable to keep the old maps and just deal
with more weirdness.  Noire was sure that in the same official circles that
had decided Pluto wasn't a planet, Montreal was now located near the South
Pole of Venus.
     Nothing seemed stranger than the baseline at the moment, though.  If
this micro-continent had lizardmen on it, they were keeping their distance
rather than massing to attack.  It wasn't as if the scramjet was a sneaky
mode of transportation.
     Sara Jane unlatched the container from inside the scramjet's small cargo
compartment and opened it up to reveal several dozen small metal scarabs.
They were Essay's clever response to Bronzewing's habit of shooting down any
satellite that actually got close enough to get decent readings: drones.
Inspired by Heraclius's "children" and designed with help from Gimble, they
would spread out and collect data, using microwave antennae to bounce signals
off the planet's newly-formed ionosphere when a high-orbit satellite wasn't
overhead.  Power was tricky, since the night lasted several months, and solar
panels weren't an option.  But Essay claimed to have found a solution.
     "Fly, be free," Noire chuckled as she activated the drones and sent them
scurrying off into the deep shadows of the jungle below the plateau.  Powers
or no, she wasn't going to make the horror movie cliche mistake of
investigating in person.
     The shadows seemed more inviting than frightening, but they always had
for Sara Jane.  Academy metapsychologists thought her natural affinity for
darkness had shaped her powers rather than her powers leading to her liking
the dark, but she wasn't sure.  The more overt parts of her magene hadn't
really kicked in until her teenaged years, but she couldn't remember a time
when she hadn't been able to at least pull the shadows around herself like a
cloak and evade detection.  Moving from shadow to shadow, becoming a living
shadow, those were the powers that they trained her to use at the Academy.
But she'd always been the best hider.
     Even now, there was a temptation to go into the shadows and never come
out.  The temptation came and went, but right now it was stronger than she
could remember it being in ages.
     "Gah, getting emo in my old age," she snorted, then got back into the
scramjet and started watching the drone reports.

               *              *              *              *

[January 9, 2027 - Berlin, Germany]

     "Come on, Anna, you'll miss it," Gerd shook his wife's shoulder.  
     "It's just a sunrise," she mumbled, burying her face in a pillow.  "Seen
a bunch of 'em."
     "Yeah, but this is the first sunrise from our home!" Gerd gushed.
They'd married over the summer and moved in together, a decent apartment in
the city.  Not so high that an elevator failure would strand them, but high
enough that they could see sunrise.  Well, for a few days a year, when the
Sun shone down the street at the right angle.  Otherwise, "sunrise" was when
it cleared a building, rather than clearing the horizon.
     It had been cloudy the entire week in December when things lined up
properly, but tonight it was crystal clear.  You could even see some stars
despite the city lights.
     "It's Saturday, a day for sleeping in, Herr Karstens," Anna mumbled, her
tone suggesting she thought he wasn't living up to the adult title of "Herr".
Then she rolled over, having given up on sleeping for the moment.  "Fine.
How long until dawn?"
     Gerd picked up his whitecel and checked.  "Maybe fifteen minutes."
     Anna frowned.  "Shouldn't the sky be brightening, then?  It looks like
the middle of the night out there."
     "Huh.  You're right.  Weird.  Maybe the city light pollution is blocking
us from seeing it?" he ventured uncertainly.

     Fifteen minutes later the Sun hadn't risen, the sky was still dark, and
the city was in a panic....


Next Issue:

     Night has come to stay!  But is it only Berlin, or the whole world?
Find out in ASH #121, "Nachtlicht"!


Author's Notes:

     It's been over a year since #119, sorry about that.  It turns out that
unemployment may have given me plenty of time to write, but it sucked away a
lot of the motiviation to write as well.  It wasn't a totally empty year, for
instance I wrote the LNH 2027 story referred to in the Radner scene, but I
just stalled out on the main arc.  I've since found gainful employment and
gotten back on the horse, as it were.  The main reason the delay ran past the
point of getting caught up on work stuff is that I wanted to actually plot
out the whole arc at least to some reasonable detail before writing any
portion of it, so there's a month or so of planning time during which I
wasn't posting anything.  Hopefully I'll get through the rest of the way to
#125 without any other hiatuses!

     One of the things that came with my new position was teaching a proper
Astronomy course, instead of just a few weeks as part of a survey course.
And in the process, I discovered the "Sunrise in the East" convention and
realized I'd misread all the maps of Venus for years.  Oops.  The Noire scene
was intended in part to address how the day-night lines I'd been writing were
still correct, rather than trying to retcon all of the references to sunsets
in the east and so forth.  I decided that if I was going to start up the
veneramagnetic dynamo via magical handwave, slightly changing the rotation of
the planet at the same time was a much lower-order handwave and would
preserve the stories as written.

     [Later note: I discovered while plotting out #122 that I'd accidentally
changed M'emba to M'embe halfway through.  I've fixed it, she's M'emba
throughout now.]


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