[ASH] Shadow Girls #7 - Monster Of The Week

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Sat Jun 18 22:08:25 PDT 2022

     [the cover shows a hulking, misshapen man smashing his fist down
      into the pavement, scattering the Morning Stars in a burst of
      speed lines and rubble.  He's shouting, "KNEEL BEFORE 

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   SHADOW GIRLS      #7 - Monster Of The Week
			 copyright 2022 by Dave Van Domelen

	  		    The Morning Stars

     Tetra-Red		 Xueli "Julie" Li - The Leader
     Hexa-Blue		 Tamica "Tammy" Sullivan - The Brains
     Octa-Green		 Dhriti "Tee" Singh - The Fighter
     Dodeca-Yellow	 Jessica "Jess" Davies - The Scout  
     Icosa-Pink		 Olivia "Liv" Stuart - The Heart
     Black Opal II    	 Madelyn "Maddie" Chin - The Mentor...under protest


[May 28, 2027 - Spanish Harlem, Manhattan Autonomous Sector]

     Hexa-Blue danced nimbly out of the way of the grotesque giant's fist as
it smashed through the sidewalk, in the same fashion as she'd been doing for
several minutes now.  On the plus side, she was keeping "Killgamesh"
distracted and he didn't seem like he was ever going to hit her.  On the
negative, the police had backed off and were doing crowd control, and the way
some of them had been looking at her, it was clear that their intent was to
apprehend both of them once the fight was over.
     Even more in the debit column, Killgamesh had ignored her strongest
strikes.  It was clear that she had inflicted significant tissue trauma, but
he was simply too far into an altered state of consciousness to care.  There
were many drugs that could have turned a previously unknown to her paraganger
into this asymmetric three-meter-tall monstrosity, but most of them should
have started wearing off by now, or at least showed a diminution of efficacy.
No one calling himself Killgamesh was in Professor Shade's files, in any
case, but this could be one of dozens of minor paragangers who just came into
an augmentation of physical, if not intellectual, power.
     This was not how she had planned to spend her Friday after school.
     **ETA real soon now,** crackled Tetra-Red's voice in her earbud.
Between compression, encryption, and the shielding provided by the layers of
subsurface infrastructure, it was amazing that her voice came through at
     "Where is Enkidu...or Enkilldu, I suppose?" Hexa-Blue taunted, trying to
lead Killgamesh closer to the egress point of the secret tunnel network that
Black Opal had entrusted the Morning Stars with knowledge of.
     "HUH?" the ragged goliath seemed more stunned by that question than by
any of her strikes.  "WHAT'S AN INKYDOO?"
     "You named yourself after Gilgamesh of Akkad and don't know about his
boon companion Enkidu, the beast man?" Hexa-Blue mocked.  "Did you get your
name out of a particularly unusual book of baby names?"
     "I AIN'T NO BABY!"
     Well, the sentence had probably been too long for the man-mountain to
hold in his working memory all at once.
     "Cavalry's here!" Tetra-Red announced as she and the other three Morning
Stars leapt down from a rooftop, thereby obscuring that their entrance had
been from below rather than above.
     "Killgamesh here doesn't seem to feel pain, but he is not invulnerable,
merely...large," Hexa-Blue informed the others as she stepped barely out of
the way of another hammy fist.  He clearly no longer had much in the way of
planning skills, and had become very predictable.
     "What-gamesh?" Icosa-Pink goggled.  "What kind of name is that?"
     "THE NAME OF A KING OF THIS CITY!" Killgamesh roared, ignoring Hexa-Blue
as he turned towards the newcomers.  Hexa-Blue took advantage of this to
drive a savage kick into his ankle, and was rewarded by a crunching sound and
the would-be-king's lurching gait becoming even more irregular.
     "Got it, joints," Dodeco-Yellow nodded, leaping over Killgamesh's head
and slamming both feet into his left shoulder.  He was staggered, but his arm
seemed unharmed.  "Too much meat there."
     Octa-Green slid between the man's legs and struck at the injured ankle
in passing, causing him to topple.  It felt like his impact with the pavement
should have made it crack, but as unnaturally large as he might have been, he
was still lighter than an automobile.  Barely.
     "Grabbed this before heading out," Tetra-Red brandished a coil of steel
cable, and she and Green took advantage of Killgamesh's momentarily stunned
state to bind his arms behind his back in such a way that he would be hard-
pressed to apply enough leverage to break it.
     He tried anyway, and found that the cables would cut into his flesh more
easily than they would break.  His blood spurted into the air in many
directions, and everyone jumped back in shock and disgust.
     Dodeca-Yellow recovered her composure first, ripping up a parking meter
and smashing it repeatedly over his head.  Between the blood loss, broken
ankle, and severe head trauma, Killgamesh eventually fell silent.
     The police were starting to screw their courage to the sticking place,
so Hexa-Blue directed the others in the most effective way to bind Killgamesh
via bondage techniques her mother would blush to find she knew...and
Tammy herself would likely be too embarrassed to admit to if not for the
heightened analytical state she entered when "powered up" as Hexa-Blue.  
     "That should hold him," Tetra-Red nodded.  "Let's go, the popo's looking
a little too willing to see if we're bulletproof."
     Icosa-Pink frowned, strongly enough to be apparent through the shadows
covering her face.  "I feel like there's something I should be doing here, my
gem's tingling, but...."
     "FREEZE, vigilantes!" 
     "Okay, figure it out later," Tetra-Red ordered.  "We out!"
     As practiced, the five leapt to five different rooftops, then down into
alleyways and rapidly confounded pursuit.  There was just enough overhead
cover in the alleys to give any police helicopters or drones significant
difficulties in tracking them before they could duck into the tunnel network.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 28, 2027 - Upper West Side]

     Bathory frowned slightly as she finished watching the video one of her
kittens had captured on his blackcel.  "Killgamesh" had been a first try, and
clearly a failure on most levels...especially aesthetic, ugh...but the raw
power was certainly promising.  She was quite glad she hadn't tried it on
herself first, this would need a great deal of practice. 
     Fortunately, she had a great many willing subjects.
     She tossed the blackcel back to the scout.  "Enough business, time for
some pleasure.  You, you, and...you," she pointed to three of her subjects.
"Attend me," she purred.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[June 2, 2027 - Manhattan Unified Secondary School #1]

     "Are you sure you don't want credit for this?" Principal Arthur Gomez
     Maddie shook her head.  "I think it'll go over better if it's your idea,
and I just got roped into helping," she replied.  Of course, just in case
Beth's private line wasn't so private, it was best to make sure that the
cover story she used the other week match the official story.  And, frankly,
it seemed like the paraball team idea was worthwhile on its own.
     "So, the student I asked to this meeting is something of a leader among
the ex-paraganger students, although we try to discourage that particular
clique where possible for very obvious reasons.  Alejandro Narvaez, goes by
Hand, both as a diminutive of his name and a reference to his paranormal
power, which is strength and durability concentrated in his hands.  Lives in
the Lower East Side, and while he was recruited into the New York Macoute,
it was after Dr. Jacky and Baron Crossroads struck out on their own, so he
didn't get involved in anything too bad before deciding to leave."
     Maddie nodded.  The Macoute had almost from the start been the support
team for the two voudon mages, mostly focused on well-trained normals who
hoped they wouldn't end up as zombies.  Dr. Jacky had never been that
strongly connected, sometimes working with the Boys of Pain, but once he and
the Baron teamed up, their shared religion was stronger than any connection
they had to the mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican gang had crumbled.  The
Macoute had tried rebuilding as a non-voodoo group, but the wild times were
already ending...she couldn't even recall their current leader, but it was
more of a community organization than a gang anymore, despite the fearsome
history of their namesake Tonton Macoute.  She also wasn't sure what Jacky
and Crossroads were up to, which worried her a bit more.  "I take it the
others picked him as their rep because none of them really had bad blood with
the current version of the Macoute?"
     Gomez nodded.  "It helps that even before the houngans split off, their
conflicts were mainly with the Cybernostra, who tend to stick to adult
members...cybernetics and growth spurts go together poorly.  So there are no
active Cybernostra in the student body, although a few are on staff,
particularly security."
     "Naturally," Maddie nodded as well.  She's clocked at least three combat
cyborgs on her way to the office, including the security guard who escorted
her.  The stealthing was good, maybe even good enough to fool the students
for an extended period, but Maddie knew the tells.
     There was a knock at the door, accompanied by an indicator on the
principal's computer screen.  
     "Come in, Mr. Narvaez," Principal Gomez called out.
     The young man who entered was probably Puerto Rican, if third or fourth
generation City born.  He had the sort of wiry too-lean build common among
physically-focused paranormals, and thick black hair tied back into a braid.
She'd have to ask the girls later if that was fashionable with Kids Today
(the more time she spent around them, the older she felt) or if it was just
Hand's thing.
     "You wanted to talk to me about a school sports thing?" Hand asked as he
took the seat the principal indicated.
     "Yes, Mr. Narvaez.  This is Madelyne Chin, a local business owner who has
agreed to help set up a paraball league for the school," he gestured towards
     Hand arched a skeptical eyebrow.  "I dunno how many paras you think are
at this school, but I doubt we're gonna field even one full team.  No way
there's gonna be a league.  Or are you thinking we play against the Snow
Leopards and Boys of Pain?  That'll go well," he snorted.
     Maddie gave what she hoped was a winning smile.  "Considering that the
Boys practically run MUSS Two, we'll definitely be talking to them about this
plan.  But no, I don't think it's going to be full teams like the majors.
You ever play stickball?"
     Hand shrugged.  "When I was little, yeah."
     "Don't need nine on a side for that.  Don't even really need teams, if
you're playing for fun," Maddie pointed out.  "Everyone takes turns at all
the positions, at least we did when *I* was little."
     "Parastickball?" Hand looked unconvinced.
     "The idea is that each school play 'stickball' style games to learn
who's good at what position," Principal Gomez explained, "and then once both
we and Manhattan Unified Secondary School Number Two have our lineups
established, have a championship game with the full paraball rules on a
proper diamond.  I've already contacted some scouts for the league and
they're interested in seeing how this works out."
     "If we can get even five or six people interested, and maybe some
'norms' with the skills to fill out the roster, it can give you something to
do with your powers that isn't road raging or corporate training," Maddie
pointed out.  
     "Right, and if it looks like high school paraball is a way to get into
the majors, it might lure a few more gangers onto the Straight and Narrow,"
Hand smirked.  "I'll talk it over with the gan...the others.  Do we get
letter jackets?" he smirked.
     "Well, I've got a lead on someone who can make uniforms that can survive
your powers," Maddie replied, "but if you really want letter jackets those
are easy.  Well, physically...procedurally it's not my call."
     "AND we get a say in the mascot, no MUSS-crats or anything like that,"
Hand added, standing and nodding.  "Anything else?  I'd like to catch a few
of the others to talk to about this before everyone heads home."
     "Go ahead, our contact information is on your cel," Principal Gomez
tapped his terminal screen.  All students had school-provided whitecels, but
most of them also got personal units because, well, school phones were seen
as snitches.  And they were.
     After Hand left, Gomez said, "I've sent you the names and powers of
students the counselor thinks are most likely to be interested in this plan,
if you want to get started on drawing up a budget.  We'll cover facilities
and equipment through the physical education department, and we already have
the approval of the Secretary of Education.  Rather enthusiastic approval."
     Maddie made appropriate social statements and fell in behind her almost
definitely Hangman escort to leave the grounds.  Yeah, her name on anything
was going to have gotten interest above the level of the Secretary of
Education, but hopefully this sort of do-gooder activity would convince
Umbrae that she wasn't engaged in more hands-on stuff.
     Assuming he didn't already know anyway.  But everyone appreciated a
convenient cover story, even the ones who were supposed to be fooled by it.
Plausible deniability was always popular among the powerful....

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[June 4, 2027 - near MUSS #1]

     "You've actually been quiet for three minutes," Jess Davies said as she
walked with Liv Stuart towards the tunnel entrance the two of them had
randomly picked for that day.  The rest of the girls were making their own
ways, Julie and Tammy together, Tee solo.  Jess was clearly uncomfortable
with the arrangement, but she hadn't pushed Liv away before finding out they
all shared magical powers, doing so now would look suspicious.  Bad
operational security.  "I mean, it's a nice break from the running
commentary, but it's starting to feel weird."
     Liv sighed, glancing around to make sure no one was close enough to
overhear.  "I just keep feeling like I should have been able to do something
for...that guy, you know.  Other than beating him over the head, you had that
     "Just regular guilt, or," she dropped to a whisper, "gem business?"
     "I'm...not sure.  I mean, I didn't feel anything from him that was like
what I feel from you guys, but it was *something*.  When I concentrated on
that, I could get a vague sense of where he was, until he got taken somewhere
deep deep underground.  Maybe he's dead now, I really don't know enough about
how this feeling works to tell, yah?"
     "Okay, that was almost linear and coherent, now I'm definitely worried,"
Jess smirked lopsidedly.


Author's Notes:

     I don't really have an arc worked out for this yet, I just had enough
scenes that would work to make an issue, as well as introduce the first of
Bathory's new powered up minions.  Killgamesh was in my original notes as an
early Bathory's Monster Of The Week throwaway antagonist, and as I read back
over Maddie's telephone conversation with Beth the other day I realized it
might be a good idea to actually put that cover story into motion.  It'd also
let me focus on some of the ex-paragangers at the school in a context other
than doing crime, which is always nice.

     The status of Dr. Jacky and Baron Crossroads was decided on for this
story, although that leaves the matter of a couple of houngans and a gang of
zombies still being in Manhattan and tolerated.  That probably needs to be
addressed...are they working with Bathory now?  Are they a side threat so
that I don't have to make everything about Morning Stars versus Bathory?
Eh, I'll figure it out.


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