[ASH] Monsters 101 - An Academy Special

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Tue May 12 12:10:12 PDT 2009

     The cover shows a lecture hall full of various types of monsters,
including vampires, werewolves, Deep Ones, Wild Things, satyrs, dryads (who
are being hit on by the satyrs) and a hyper-intelligent shade of the color
blue.  An unassuming man in stereotypical "university professor" garb
(i.e. jacket with leather patches on the elbows, chalk-stained slacks) and a
receding hairline is at the front, apparently not bothered by the contents of
his classroom.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`           An Academy Special
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||                   "Monsters 101"    
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen

[January 3, 2026 - The Academy, Wisconsin Sector]

     "Welcome to Introduction to Teratomorphology, informally known as
Monsters 101," the instructor addressed the middling-sized class of
superhuman college-agers.  "Those of you on the law enforcement track may
wish to take the full-term course on this subject in the spring semester, but
this intersession class should provide most of you with the necessary basics.
This is primarily a research class, and you will spend most of the next three
weeks working on a paper, but we will meet twice a week so that I can make
sure we're all talking the same language in that paper, and to offer guidance
as needed.  I will, of course, also be available during my posted office
hours, but there's going to be issues that come up frequently enough it's
more efficient to address them here in the lecture hall," he quirked a smile.
The "hall" could hold maybe fifty students, a far cry from some of the
auditoriums he'd taught at before being hired by the Academy.  On the other
hand, in terms of the sheer influence on the country this class would have,
it was in one sense a much larger audience than he was used to.
     "There are two primary classification systems used for Teratomorphs, the
Happerson Scale and the Unified Teratormorphological Classification System or
UTCS.  The UTCS is far more detailed, and is what professionals in the field
use, but it's more than you're likely to need unless you do become a
professional.  You have links to the official UTCS webpage from the course
information page, and I expect you to be familiar with the sixteen-digit
system, but for this course we'll be sticking with the Happerson Scale."  He
didn't bother telling them that the UTCS was a bureaucrat's dream and a
regular person's nightmare...they'd find that out soon enough.
     He tapped a button on his podium and an image appeared on the room's
screen, as well as being pushed to all the student handcomps.  "The Happerson
Scale is to teratomorphs what the Richter Scale is to seismic activity.  It
loses a great deal of detail and can be deceptive in its simplicity, but you
don't need to dedicate months to learning it.  This makes it useful for
talking to non-specialists, even though it lets a great number of things slip
through the cracks.  It also has the problem that two teratomorphs of the
same variety may have different Happerson ratings, I'll get into that more
later.  Any simplified classification system will fail to address the less
common cases, and complicated systems often have numerous categories that
contain exactly one entry...or even no entries at all.  If you're anything
like previous classes at the Academy, some of you have tried to devise
systems to classify each other into power types, and I expect you've all run
into people you couldn't put in a box.  Same principle at work here.
     "Every teratomorph in the Happerson Scale is assigned a Class, one
through four, and a Type, A through D.  So the Happerson Scale attempts to
pigeonhole all of these intrinsically chaotic species into sixteen boxes,
which you can imagine leads to some bad fits.  Even the modified Happerson
Scale, which adds in a zero Class and Type, doesn't really solve that
     The instructor stepped away from the podium and adjusted his glasses.
"A brief digression here, something I hope all of you learned in your
pre-college instruction, but I know many of you will have forgotten.  A
teratomorph is any living thing that is not naturally native to our reality.
In other words, it was created rather than evolving, or evolved in a
different reality entirely.  I'd say they're non-autochthonic to our reality,
but most of you don't know what an autochthon is either.  They're not quite
the same as xenomorphs, which are commonly understood to be lifeforms from
this reality but not from this planet, but which can also encompass all
'strange' life.  Also, not all teratomorphs are particularly strange.  For
instance, if humans in another reality naturally evolved so that while
looking the same as us they weren't interfertile with us, a visitor from that
reality would be a teratomorph.  Not the same species as baseline humanity or
any other species that evolved here."
     He smiled as he walked back to the podium, "It's considered rude to call
someone a monster, but okay to call them a teratomorph...which just goes to
show that it's not an insult if they don't understand the language.  If that
sailed right over your head, teratomorph means monster-shape in Latin.
     "The Class of a teratomorph refers to their relationship to the Magene,
while the Type describes how they were created.  The Happerson Scale doesn't
really try to address habitat, specific powers or the hazards presented by
individuals of a species, but rather it addresses the hazard presented by the
entire species.  Those that can reproduce quickly are more dangerous as a
group than any individual of a slow-reproducing or non-reproducing species
could be."
     Part of the diagram expanded to fill the screen.  "Class zero refers to
naturally occuring teratomorphs, and by naturally I mean 'allowed by physical
laws.'  These unfortunates include the sort of harmless birth defects caused
by thalidomide or various atavisms that crop up from time to time.  They
weren't even on the original Happerson Scale, but were added in later as a
zero group in an attempt to be complete.  We will generally be ignoring Class
zero, as they're outside the spirit of this course.
     "Class 1 teratomorphs do not require violation of natural law for their
simple existence, and do not have any paranormal abilities.  What separates
them from Class zero is that they were initially created via some violation
effect, be it a mad geneticist splicing human and horse DNA to create a
centaur, or Zeus deciding that he wanted centaurs and making it so with an
exercise of will.  Centaurs are Class 1, as are satyrs, the merlions of
Singapore and some computer intelligences.  Even the titanic cyclopses are
probably Class 1, although they need to be made up of exotic materials to
stand upright without magical assistance.  Notably, some photonic creations
of Doublecross's are Class 1, although no one really understands how they
manage to avoid violating physics.  An Anchor can't affect a Class 1 any more
than they could affect a regular human or animal, and the effect that removed
all supernormals in 1998 didn't eliminate any Class 1 teratomorphs, although
many simply died in the chaos.
     "Class 2 teratomorphs could be considered living supertech or magic
devices.  They lack the magene themselves, but something about being tied to
a living spirit makes externally-created violation effects more...durable.
An Anchor might only be able to suppress their more significant abilities,
although some of the more fragile Class 2s will simply die or fall apart in
the presence of an Anchor.  If vampires really existed as a race...and the
only reliable sources to their existence also claim they were wiped out by
the early 20th Century...most of them would have been Class 2, normal people
transformed into monsters but not themselves possessing the Magene.
Similarly, most of the human/animal blends created by Manhattan's infamous
Bathory are Class 2.  Class 2 teratomorphs created before 1998 could have
survived the intervening years, although with their creators gone they would
likely have at least slowly lost their supernatural powers.
     "Class 3 teratomorphs have the Magene, which means their powers can be
Anchored and they could not have survived across the 1998 boundary without
special circumstances.  In fact, it's sometimes very arbitrary whether a
supernormal such as any of you is classified as a teratomorph...by a strict
interpretation of the definition, I'm the only person in this room who isn't
a teratomorph.  But, in general, supernormals are only labeled teratomorphs
if they display 'monster-y' characteristics or demonstrate the ability to
produce more of their own kind.  Looking back at Bathory, she's considered a
Class 3 teratomorph both because of her habit of creating 'children' and
because she shares many attributes in common with mythical vampires and
werewolves.  On the other hand, Doublecross isn't generally classified as a
teratomorph despite his equal propensity for creating offspring, mainly
because we have no mythical template of nightmares into which he fits.  As I
said earlier, the system has many flaws, which is one reason professionals
use the UTCS."
     The instructor paused to take a drink.  "Finally, we have Class 4,
entities from realities with significantly different physical laws, and who
bring their physics with them.  They don't have a Magene, but Anchors can
generally suppress them.  As a result, they didn't all vanish in 1998,
although many of them became trapped.  There are very few known Class 4
teratomorphs, although some claim that all of the self-proclaimed gods are
Class 4.  Two examples that you've probably heard of are Greece's xenochromes
and Australia's bunyips.  The former is an intelligent fungal life form that
is said to curdle reality around it, and seems to have arrived via a
dimensional tear in the 1990s.  The latter are natives of the Dreamtime that
impinged on much of the central region of Australia in 1997 and did not go
away when the gods left, implying an independent cause that merely took
advantage of the chaos of the Godmarket to emerge."
     The screen shifted to the listing of Types.  "The Type of a teratomorph
describes the manner of creation...how we could get more of them.  This is
somewhat vaguer, because sometimes you get the same sort of entity that comes
about in multiple ways.  There's also a later-added Type zero, which is
'non-reproducing.'  Not everyone accepts that as valid, considering it a
subset of Type A.  Others point out that Type zero is like Class zero, in
that it's an attempt to extend the scale beyond its intended range...if they
don't reproduce in any way, they're not a species.  Remember, the Happerson
Scale is about rating groups rather than individuals, and if they can't form
a group, they're not on the scale.  
     "Type A are spontaneously generated.  This is most common with Class
three, where the psychological underpinnings of the Magene can result in
multiple people exhibiting certain mythological attributes common to their
society.  A number of so-called vampires of the 1980s were actually just
independently-emerging paranormals who had vampiric powers because a cultural
meme shaped how their powers manifested.  In other words, get enough
potentially super-powered teenagers reading Anne Rice, and you'll get a few
'vampires' out of that.  In order to be a Type, though, there has to be some
indication that there were or will be more emerging of the same variety,
either as Type B or Type C forms resulting from the original, or because the
cultural force that created one Type A is likely to create more.
     "Type B are built or made directly.  More can come into existence, but
they either have to be created by the original creator, or by someone with
similar abilities.  Zombies are a classic form of Type B teratomorph, as a
large number of mages learn ways to animate corpses and make servants of
them.  Photonics are Type B as well, although it's possible that only
Doublecross can ever make more.  
     "Type C teratomorphs are infectious.  Any of them can create more via
passing on the violation effect to another living being and tying it to their
spirit.  Fortunately, it usually requires the involvement of a Class 3 or 4
in order to make for a true infection, as the creation of a teratomorph
itself is a violation effect, and very few Class 2 'spells' are strong enough
to survive dilution through multiple generations of infection.  Vampires are
the classic example, and from reconstruction of the few reliable records it
would seem that so-called Vampire Lords were Class 3, and if slain their
Class 2 minions would slowly vanish, simply never waking from their daily
sleep, unless taken over by another Vampire Lord.  And yes, I know some of
you are thinking that maybe Doublecross should be Type C, since he 'infects'
normal humans and turns them into photonics.  The dividing line between B and
C can be hazy at times, but for the most part it involves ease of
transmission.  A parasitic transformation that requires special circumstances
is considered Type B, where one that can be passed on casually or with
minimal special preparations is Type C.  As far as we know, Doublecross can't
just concentrate on someone or blast them and have them become a photonic,
while all a vampire has to do is bite you a few times."
     He adjusted his glasses again, "Type C is generally considered the most
dangerous type in the short run, but that's because people think of it as
spreading like an epidemic.  In fact, since most Type C teratomorphs have to
consider things like 'hunting grounds', they deliberately avoid rapid
transmission, lest there be too much competition.  In the rare cases of a
rapid infection, that's usually labeled Type C-plus.  Type B can often be far
more dangerous, especially if the creator has visions of replacing humanity
entirely, as Doublecross did.  But, when it comes to long term existential
threats to humanity, it's hard to beat Type D.
     "Type D is 'natural reproduction.'  In other words, the teratomorphs
have offspring the old-fashioned way, more or less.  They're a proper
species, and they're carving out an ecological niche.  The newest version of
Homo Equus created by Zeus in 1997 already has some grandchildren trotting
around.  The first generation was Type B, created directly by Zeus.  The
second and now third generations are Type D.  And there's evidence that not
all of the 1997-vintage centaurs were created out of whole cloth, there may
have been family groups of centuries-spanning bloodlines imported from some
other time and place.  Staying in Greece, the xenochromes reproduce via
spores, at a rate that let them advance as a strategic asset in the recent
war with the Moslem Confederation.  Satyrs only exist as males, and are
aggressively interfertile with human women, but only a small fraction of the
resulting offspring are also satyrs...so one might consider satyrs to be Type
C or even Type B with merely the trappings of Type D.  Looking elsewhere, no
one really knows if bunyips reproduce or not, and Bathory's pets don't seem
to live long enough to try reproduction the old-fashioned way, but if they
can then we should hope their violent lifestyle continues to keep their
numbers suppressed.
     "So, let's look at an example of using the Happerson Scale.  Bathory
herself is a 3A, with full Magene but arising spontaneously.  She gets to be
a type if we call her a 'vampire', since we know of other spontaneous
vampire-like supernormals from the 20th Century.  Her pets are largely 2B,
although when she enslaves a paraganger the result is 3B.  None of her pets
has ever demonstrated the ability to turn anyone else into a hybrid, so Type
C would be incorrect, but if they successfully reproduce sexually there would
be Type D hybrids.  Probably some sort of 1D, though, a single form blending
human and animal aspects, rather than a full shape-shifter.  It takes
immensely powerful violation effects to ensure that something like shape-
shifting gets passed on to offspring in the absence of the children bearing
the Magene themselves...which is never reliably passed on.  In fact, should a
Class 3 bear a child with the same powers, that would more likely be a
special case of 3A where psychological pressures cause the child to manifest
the same powers as the parent, rather than breeding true as a 3D would
require.  The 3D box is likely to be quite unpopulated if you look at it
carefully and move entries into 3A when called for, another sign that the
Happerson Scale is inadequate, or at least trying to cover ground that's not
better addressed by the Tesla Index.
     "Still, it's a lot easier to remember that a 4C-plus is bad news than to
figure out if you should worry if QCAD-KJHB-ECAA-AACS is dangerous...."


Author's Notes:

     This is just one of those "shower ideas" (i.e. thought it up while in
the shower) that wouldn't let go until I'd written it up, and it quickly got
too big to be worked into a later story, so here it is as a "special".
     The Happerson Scale is named after its originator, Professor Percival
Happerson, who has been mentioned in other info files and had a werewolf as a
     The UTCS is an homage to (or parody of) the species classification
system used in Doc Smith's Lensman books, in which AAAAAAAAAAAA was totally
human (ISTR "human to six places" used in the books to refer to "close enough
you'd need to be a doctor to know the difference") and ZZZZZZZZZZZZ was as
alien as it got in terms of morphology, environment, etc.  

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