ASH/WRIMO: Catman: Minor Arcana #1 (of 4) - Coins
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Sat Nov 6 18:51:23 PDT 2010
[The cover shows a gray-furred cat-headed man in a vaguely Victorian-
looking overcoat in the foreground, observing people passing in the street.
Many of the people have animal heads and furry hands. All of the animal-
headed people are engaged in menial tasks, clearly deferring to the humans in
their midst. Cover blurb says, "The World of Dr. Moreau?"]
.|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS An ASHistory Series
'|` Catman: Minor Arcana #1 - Coins
copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen
[October 4, 2026 - Serengeti Plains, Africa]
"We observed from a safe distance, father," Vicente reported. "When
they found the camp, they argued for a while, and then left. I'm not sure,
but I think this was something done on the initiative of a lower-ranking
commander, who now faces discipline."
Edouard nodded. "Good job, son. You and Cris go rest up now, get
something to eat other than trail rations."
The two teenaged catmen nodded and padded out.
Teenaged didn't used to be young, where Edouard came from. It used to
be very, very old. The original surgical uplifts didn't change the lifespan
any, unless to make it shorter. For cats that meant no more than two
decades, usually less than one given the hard work to which "Moreaus" were
put. Old Dr. Biggles-Moreau would be ecstatic to realize one of her
creations was almost at fifty years. Well, he suspected she would be happy
to show up her famed grandfather, anyway. He'd never met the doctor, he was
actually part of one of the first litters born to the mutation-based
neo-Moreaus, and his dam had worked on the plantation in Brazil for several
years before bearing him. By that point, Biggles-Moreau had handed the job
of monitoring off to a subordinate and moved on to some other piece of mad
But he certainly felt old now. He doubted he had more than another
decade in him, but his children could take care of themselves now. Most had
never known their mother, but they'd all known their father, which was one
more parent than Edouard had known.
Levering himself out of his chair, Edouard walked slowly into his den.
The modest room held a collection of memories, all portable, many of them
eminently practical. The family might have settled down in recent years in
this sprawling country home that they repaired, but most of his life with
Isabel had been nomadic.
He picked up a gold-chased silver coin and felt its heft. On the front
was Queen Victoria, who was gold-chased silver as well, thanks to her
personal mechanists and physicians. Or had been, when the coin was minted in
1985. Now she wasn't much of anything. Nor was Dr. Biggles-Moreau. Or
Edouard's dam. Or his whole world, not since that day exactly thirty seven
* * * *
[October 4, 1989 - Chicaco, America]
Edouard looked at the silver and gold coin, still new enough that the
shine hadn't come off it. The queen's portrait on the obverse was still as
crisp as when the coin had been first struck.
"You ever see her?" he asked his companion, Nigel. The two were milling
about the chill city street with other Moreau laborers, near the University
of Chicago, doing their best to look inconspicuous. Edouard felt the chill
keenly, missing the tropical heat of the old Amazonian plantation, if not the
"The queen? No one alive 'cept her personal physicians and mechanists
have, don't be daft." Nigel was an old-fashioned surgical Moreau, but
something about his species agreed with the process, and Nigel was still
healthy and active as an old man of twenty. He didn't talk about Australia
much, but a lot of the members of the Underground didn't like to remember
"I mean one of her mechanical vicerines, y'dumb Aussie. They didn't
come around Brazil, not pacified enough yet, but Australia's part of the old
empire." Brazil's "wildness" also meant it was one of the first places that
Edouard's variety of Moreau had become common, far from the easily spooked
humans in their cities who feared that Moreaus who could breed and increase
their numbers naturally would eventually rise up against their masters.
"Yeh, once. From pretty far away. Fancy toy. They say her undying
highness Victoria can see through their glass eyes, makes up for being tied
down to a room fulla machines. Now put that bleedin' thing away, Eddie.
America may be a hotbed of Abolitionists, but that doesn't mean no one pays
any attention to the Laws. And this ain't the sticks, everyone who could
afford to own us has a credit account, so we can't use the old excuse that
we're carrying it for our massa."
Sheepishly, Edouard pocketed the coin. Moreaus weren't allowed money.
Or marriage, or family names, or a lot of things. In secret, members of the
Underground broke a great many of these Laws, although the biggest one
Edouard had violated was the one against coin. Oh, he had offspring
somewhere, but he'd never even seen the dam, much less had actual congress
with her. Clinical and efficient, it had been. Just because his type could
breed the natural way didn't mean that their owners *let* them. And since
escaping, he simply hadn't found the time or the right woman.
In many ways, America was a much nicer place for Moreaus. The last
major power to fall to the Empire in the Great War, there were still some
Americans left who remembered being an independent nation. And their own war
regarding slavery was still pretty fresh in their minds...but most of them
were willing to accept slavery so long as the slaves weren't human. Which
meant that Edouard and Nigel had to be careful, even here.
"Is that him?" Nigel nodded towards a man in a lab coat who was
strolling absently towards the university, sipping something hot from a paper
cup. "Humans all look too much the same to me."
"Pretty sure, yes. Usual procedure," Edouard split off from Nigel and
put on his best "urgent courier" look, heading for the man.
"Professor Eric Harris?" Edouard bobbed his head subserviently as he
neared the man.
The doctor stopped. "Hm? Yes? Er, what is it?"
"I've been sent with a confidential message for you. Ears only," he
slipped a brass and steel recording device just far enough out of his pocket
to let Harris confirm what it was. Commonly used in cases where the
pneumatic tube system was deemed insufficiently secure, or when the sender
wanted to make sure no nuance was lost in text.
"Ah, I wonder who...I mean, you're not the usual...never mind. There's
a teletype over there," Dr. Harris gestured with his coffee cup. Teletype
booths were perforce larger than phonebooths, and often served double duty to
allow private conversations shut off from the noise of the city. The windows
ensured they didn't find use for trysts between university students, though.
"So, what's the message?" Dr. Harris asked once they were inside. He
showed the usual carelessness of one who'd grown up around Moreaus, not even
thinking about asking for real privacy. As enlightened as he might have been
by the standards of humans, he was still a human.
"I apologize for the subterfuge, Dr. Harris, but the message isn't on
this device. I'm with the Underground, and I've come to ask you to stop your
"What? Wait...how do you? Never mind. I suppose I'm not exactly a
member of Her Majesty's Secret Service, when it comes to keeping secrets.
But if you know I'm an abolitionist, you should also know that my research is
intended to help you people! If I can find a practical compact power source,
then clockwork men will stop being toys for the very rich and make slavery
unnecessary. Once they don't need your cheap labor, they'll free you."
Edouard shook his head. He'd grown up on a plantation in the middle of
nowhere, and he was more worldly than this human. "Did the invention of the
automobile free the horses? Think about it, man. At the start of the Great
War, horses carried men into combat. By the end of the Great War, the only
role horses had was as field rations. At no point were they actually freed.
If you succeed now, before we've found a way to real freedom, they might not
actually kill us, but they'll stick us on reservations, forbid us to even
breed, and wait for us to die out." As cold and impersonal as artificial
insemination was, even that would be stopped if clockwork men replaced
Moreaus as a slave race. The same surgeons who even today still made the old
sort of Moreau would simply go to work sterilizing any of the new sort who
were allowed to live, before moving on to other careers.
"Oh...I never thought of...my God. But you don't understand how science
works," Dr. Harris had turned pale and was sweating. "This isn't one of
those mad science projects that only works for its creator. I mean, I have
the spark of inspiration, true, but I've worked very hard to make sure my
work could be replicated. Which means many people know about the
fundamentals. Even if I stop now, someone else will finish it."
At this point, Nigel stepped into the booth. He'd clearly been
following Dr. Harris's side of the conversation by reading the man's lips, a
useful skill but one that didn't work as well on cats. "Then maybe my
talents will be needed after all," the wombat said, closing the booth door
behind him. "Eddie's a good talker, but I'm good at making things look like
"Nigel, no," Edouard was shocked. "Killing him won't do any good! He
"Now who said anything about killing?" Nigel smirked in that odd, muted
way he had. "I may specialize in hiding bodies, sure, but I know all sorts
of ways to rig accidents. With the good Doctor's help, I'm sure we could
make it look like his experiment was a failure and set things back by a few
years. Enough time to think of something more long-term."
Harris laughed nervously. "A catastrophic failure would be trivial.
I've spent a great deal of time trying to prevent one! My experiment taps
the fundamental quintessence of creation, and it's very...tricky. I'm afraid
there's a great deal of 'mad science' involved in the safety interlocks right
now, any failure would likely be blamed on them and not on the fundamental
"Well, let's repair to your lab and see what might be done," Nigel
suggested, a slight edge of menace to his laconic voice. Edouard had heard
that wombat Moreaus were often used as nannies because the species fit human
views of "cuteness," but there was nothing cute about Nigel at that moment.
Not that there ever was, if you actually knew him.
No one gave the trio a second look as they entered campus. While
academics were rarely wealthy enough to own their own servants, the
university maintained a staff of Moreaus to assist the faculty. Harris might
not have availed himself of the service very often, but he did it enough that
seeing him with a catman and a wombatman in tow was only unusual because
wombats were rare on this side of the equator.
"Ah, Simpson," Harris started to say as he entered the lab building. It
appeared to have once been a sports facility of some sort. "These two
"I tried to stop him, Professor," Simpson said pleadingly. "But he
wouldn't take no for an answer."
"Mr. Archangeli, from the Imperial Auditor's office. I told him you'd
be along shortly, but he insisted his time was too valuable to wait for some
'poncy academic to finish his coffee.'"
Harris cursed under his breath. "Of all the days for the Lab Wrecker to
"Lab Wrecker?" Edouard asked, flattening his ears in trepidation.
"Pino Archangeli has a reputation for finding flaws in even the most
flawless experiment. Dozens of promising experiments have come crashing down
under his auditorial gaze. No one's sure why, there's whispering that he
actually knows how to sabotage things undetectably, and he only gets sent
when there's political pressure to shut someone down."
Nigel shot Edouard a meaningful glance. Perhaps their mission wasn't
necessary after all...someone with real power didn't want to upset the apple
cart yet either.
"Maybe a rival sent him? Wanted the credit?" Edouard suggested.
Harris shook his head. "I've already done enough of the real work to
get any glory that comes from this, and the university owns the basic
patents. You couldn't steal it...oh, hell," he stood shock still when the
lights flickered and then went out. The morning sunlight still filtered in
enough to keep them from darkness, but a chill passed through Edouard's spine
"The safeties!" Simpson gasped. Edouard looked to Nigel, who looked as
concerned as Edouard had ever seen the wombat.
And then the world was torn asunder.
* * * *
[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]
Edouard put the coin back down and sat in the overstuffed recliner that
dominated the small room. Ironically, the first face he'd seen after the
eternity of pain ended was that of Warendja, a human with the spirit of a
wombat. Like Nigel in many ways, but unlike in so many others.
The question had haunted him for years: had he been to blame? If he
hadn't delayed Harris, maybe the professor could have stopped Archangeli, or
at least made sure that the shutdown was gentler and safer. The guilt had
gotten even more intense when Devastator, this world's Eric Harris, had
revealed that not only had the lab been destroyed in that horrible accident,
the entirety of Edouard's home reality had unraveled from that point outward,
at the speed of light. By now, the Planetary Confederation was probably
fighting a desperately futile battle against the end of everything, as the
unraveling started to eat at their space. Devastator had gloated that even
when he wasn't trying to destroy all of humanity, he still succeeded. If
anyone else had been thrown clear like Edouard had been, they hadn't landed
in the same reality.
But, at least, if the Eric Harris who only wanted to help had
accidentally destroyed everything, the one who wanted to destroy everything
had been stopped. In fact, Edouard had been instrumental in doing so on
several occasions, something that helped ease the guilt that still kept him
from sleep some nights. His eyes moved to the bronze-colored staff leaning
in the corner, and his memories drifted back to the time he'd first used it
The year is 1993, and the interdimensional refugee Edouard has risen to
leadership of the Academy of Super-Heroes. But will he lead the team to its
doom against Devastator and once again be a sole survivor? Come back next
week for Catman: Minor Arcana #2, "Staves"!
This series is my contribution to 2010's "RACCoWriMo". I'd been kicking
the basic idea around for a while, having decided to bring Ahmed into contact
with an aged Edouard. But I wasn't sure how to go about it. A full
backstory would eat way too much space in ASH, but a short chunk of
exposition wouldn't really do the premise justice. I decided that it needed
to be a miniseries, but I didn't really have a plot or even a framework for
it. But when RACCoWriMo was proposed (especially once it was modified into
four weekly issues instead of a daily thing), I had a motivation to figure
out something to do with this.
As you might guess, each issue of this series will use one of the
Tarot's suits (minor Arcana) as a touchstone. Coins this issue, Staves next,
then Cups and finally Swords. I currently plan to have the flashbacks span
about a decade, although there will be a wrap-up in #4 outlining what happens
between the last dramatic bit and the "present" of 2026.
The subtitle is also a bit of a pun, as Edouard is definitely a minor
"arcana" when it comes to superheroes. He has no Magene, being a creation
rather than a creator. Stronger and faster than normal humans, with a few
side benefits due to his heritage, but hardly a powerhouse. He'd fit in
better with the Second Age heroes, in terms of his raw ability. But as Nigel
alluded to, his real power is in his words, and his ability to organize
people for a cause. Had his world survived, Edouard would likely have been
running the Underground within the next five years, and he did end up running
the original Academy of Super-Heroes for several years.
Edouard is a "port" of one of the player characters from the original
Champions campaign, Oedi. Oedi himself was a pretty direct lift from the
Dreadstar comic, down to being from a planet called Caldor. I wanted to use
him as part of ASH's backstory, but I obviously had to make some changes for
trademark reasons. The basic idea of a world where Victorian mad science
changed history struck me as a good replacement background, but I didn't
really give it a lot of thought in detail until I started plotting out
Ahmed's story and decided to bring him in contact with Ed.
Dr. Biggles-Moreau is a partial reference to Dr. Biggles-Jones of the
G.I.Joe comic. While Moreau himself wasn't British, his family would
eventually marry into a British one as the United Kingdom became the United
In Ed's world, the various mad scientists of Victorian literature were
all real, but just a little more sensible. They didn't all suffer ironic
deaths at the hands of their creations, instead turning their genius towards
a resurgence of the British Empire (or the Russian Empire, French Empire,
etc...the Brits simply had or bought off a lot more of the saner mad
scientists so they won). Queen Victoria was slowly turned into a sort of
clockwork cyborg, and was still alive (after a fashion) in 1989. The Great
War lasted 1914-1941, although with the fall of America in 1933 it was pretty
much over except for the mopping up. From 1941-1989, the world fell under
And then it got torn apart on a subatomic level. Because when your
empire is based on mad scientists, you're living on borrowed time.
Of course, if they never found any other survivors, how does Edouard
have children? You'll have to wait until #3 for the answer to that....
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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