ASH/WRIMO: Catman: Minor Arcana #3 (of 4) - Cups

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Fri Nov 19 22:54:36 PST 2010

     [The cover shows Edouard and a tawny catwoman reeling back from a
blindingly white outline of a female.  A blurb along the bottom proclaims,
"The Truth About Cats And Gods!"]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS                            An ASHistory Series
 '|`      Catman: Minor Arcana                           #3 - Cups
                   copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]

     It had been a good run, Edouard mused as he picked up the battered
aluminum camp cup.  He'd led ASH for more than half of its nine years in
existence, despite being its least powerful member for most of his time on
the team.  He half-suspected that if the world hadn't come crashing down in
1998, he might even have eventually been leading his second superhero team,
although he'd barely had time to get to know the Israeli squad before
everything went boom.
     But it was with this humble cup that the real "team" would start, in an
underground laboratory in northern Israel.

               *              *              *              *

[April 30, 1998 - Northern Israel]

     "I can see why the Israelis had these guys so far down their list,"
Isabel commented as she mowed down another squad of security with her stunner
rifle.  While Edouard had always preferred getting up close and personal in
combat, Isabel was what Set had called a "gun bunny".  It had taken a while
for Edouard to work up the courage to look that reference up online, given
his rather unpleasantly shocking experience with the "furries" on the web.
     "I think they were relying mostly on stealth for security, 'Bel,"
Edouard bludgeoned another guard into unconsciousness.  Neither of them had
any particular qualms about killing, unlike most of their ASH teammates, but
they were hunting information here.  Dead men, as the saying went, tell no
tales.  Unless you're a necromancer, of course.  "Otherwise, they probably
would've hired some of the 'godpowered' mercs that have been flooding the
     It was those mercenaries that were the reason Edouard and Isabel had
found so little difficulty in getting permission to take what amounted to
foreign law-enforcement action on Israeli soil.  While the devout on both
sides of the simmering conflict in the Levant weren't taking advantage of the
offers of power from various godly pantheons, they had fewer qualms about
hiring outsiders who had.  This was seriously straining Israeli resources,
despite their aggressively cultivated superhuman security force (which was
probably in violation of the spirit of international treaties, but Israel had
never been a country to worry too much about that when their existence was at
stake).  So, when the two catpeople had taken a sabbatical from ASH to chase
down some leads on Isabel's mysterious past, it had been trivially easy to
get permission to go after the biotech lab secreted just over the horizon
from the Golan Heights.
     "Oh, I'm not, I think that was the last of them,"
Isabel peered around a corner.  
     "Watch out for labtechs with guns.  Remember, these people are breaking
a lot of international laws, and have probably been experimenting on
unwilling human participants.  Even the janitors are looking at long prison
terms," Edouard cautioned.

               *              *              *              *

[That evening]

     "Well, that was a huge waste of time," Isabel sighed as she double-
checked the locks.  All the personnel had been tossed into the most secure
rooms they could find, to await pickup when the Israelis could get someone
out there.  "There's no way I'm a product of this line of research.  It'll be
a decade before the could even get close."
     "Oh, not a complete waste of time," Edouard shrugged.  "Yes, we haven't
figured out the mystery of your origins, but in a decade these people would
have been turning out 'normaltech' hybrids.  It would have been Dr. Biggles-
Moreau all over again.  Given how few of the local mad science types even
bother looking to normaltech solutions, we may have set back genetic slavery
by a generation today."
     Isabel frowned.  "Why does that sound simultaneously optimistic and
     "Because it is.  As long as there are powerful people who are prevented
by law from treating other humans as property, there'll be a market for
something non-human enough to be legally owned and human enough to satisfy
the dark drives of those who want to be slaveowners.  The Santari have
cyborgs, my homeworld had Moreaus, humans here may end up with robots.  But
this world is now a lot less likely to create Moreaus as a slave race."
     "They'll enslave robots instead," Isabel sighed.
     "Possibly.  But the robots have their own champions," Edouard shrugged.
"We can't fight every battle."
     "There's not enough time to," Isabel grinned.  While Edouard had gotten
somewhat tired of all the fighting in his life, Isabel seemed to relish it.
If she really had been from his world (which some DNA testing had ruled out,
although it *had* suggested they could...well, Edouard was getting ahead of
himself in his musing), she would have been a very loose cannon in the
Underground, or had a very short life as a slave.  Aggressiveness was not a
trait selected for when breeding Moreaus.  It was part of why their best
fighters tended to be sneaky ambush types like Nigel, who learned early to
hide their violent leanings.
     "Isabel," he decided to change the subject.  "I know you're disappointed
about this.  But maybe we should start thinking more about the future than
the past.  I think I'm ready."
     He didn't have to say more.  When Isabel had first appeared, a little
over a year ago, she'd practically thrown herself at Edouard.  She had been
so aggressive about it that it had sent up red flags in pretty much every
member of ASH, who suspected she'd been sent as a weapon.  It wouldn't have
been the first time a villain tried to get at a hero via a femme fatale (or
homme fatale, in a few cases).  But Isabel had backed off fairly quickly once
Edouard made it clear he wasn't ready to jump into bed with the first cat-
woman he met.  And she'd had none of the genetic markers of the creations of
Dr. Pue or any other known biological mad scientists or mages.  And as the
months passed with no followups, Isabel had graduated from virtual prisoner
(the government had put her in ASH's custody) through team mascot, to full
member.  But even with her penchant for acquiring advanced weaponry, she fell
far short of the rapidly rising power level of the team lately, so when a tip
came in about this lab she'd been no qualms about taking a vacation from ASH
to track it down.
     "So, whose quarters should we commandeer for it?" Isabel asked.
     "The head scientist's of course," Edouard smiled.  "Nothing but the
best.  But there's something I want to do, first," he went over to his pack.
They'd been told to expect a long wait, so each had come prepared for camping
out, just in case the base had a self-destruct.  He fished out a camp cup and
a flask of very nice rum he'd brought along with the hopes of using it to
celebrate success.
     "My people weren't allowed to marry, but that didn't stop us from doing
it in secret," he poured a finger or so of rum into the cup.  "We also
couldn't own things, or participate in any of the human ceremonies.  I think
they figured that if they tried to convert us to their religion it might get
people thinking we had souls, and that would be bad for business.  Anyway, we
made up our own ceremonies, breaking as many laws as we could get away with
as part of them.  Our wedding rite was pretty simple, and I think it was
based on a human one.  Share a cup, a hearth and a bed.  But the cup had to
be owned by one of the participants, so we'd be breaking two laws at once,"
he grinned, taking a sip and then holding out the cup.  "Central heating
counts as a hearth, and the bed's waiting for us.  Will you be my wife?"
     "Of course!" Isabel took the cup and drained it.

     Hours later, they were both glad that the Israelis were taking their
sweet time coming to collect the lab's inhabitants.
     "That.  Was.  Amazing," Edouard sighed.  They'd ended up taking the
bedroom of one of the second-tier scientists instead, a woman who apparently
really liked her luxuries and had outfitted her quarters more extensively
than the utilitarian standard of the facility.  And if silk sheets didn't
quite have the same effect on fur as they did on human skin, it was still a
very nice bed.  Not that he expected he'd have noticed if they had been on
bare rock most of the past few hours.
     "Worth the wait," Isabel agreed.  Then, suddenly, she stiffened and her
hand enmeshed with his went cold.
     "What is it?" Edouard sat bolt upright, looking down at the ear-
flattened look of terror on his wife's face.
     "I remember," she whispered.  "I know where I came from.  And she's
coming now..."
     "She?  Your creator?"
     "Finally!" a sultry female voice sighed from somewhere beyond the foot
of the bed.  Edouard twisted around to see a human woman in silken robes that
revealed more than they concealed, and an unmistakable aura of power.  He had
no doubt that the woman who had joined them in the room was a goddess, or at
least one of the more powerful avatars.  He'd felt the same sort of aura
around Set lately, and the same sort of *presence* from the newly rejuvenated
     "Astarte!" Isabel hissed, pulling the covers up around her neck.
     "Please, I'm a love goddess, among other things," Astarte smirked.
"Modesty around me isn't just pointless, it's a little insulting."  Then she
turned her attention back to Edouard.  "It took you long enough to accept my
gift.  I've met monks with less self-control.  I mean, I know my lower status
forces me to play things more subtly, but this was starting to get
     Edouard looked back at Isabel, who looked frightened and guilty.  But
not frightened of the goddess in the, she was obviously terrified
that Edouard would reject her now that he knew the truth.  It wasn't fear of
being punished for failure, Edouard had seen that a thousand times on a
thousand furred faces.  It was the heart-rending fear of loss, which he's
also seen more times than he could count, on faces much like hers.  And in an
instant, he knew where he stood.
     "Oh, pity," Astarte sighed.  "I had hoped you could help me gain
prominence in this 'godmarket'.  You're quite a celebrity in your own way,
and I could have given you the raw power needed to rejoin ASH as an equal.
But I can see the depths of your heart, so I won't bother making my pitch
now.  You won't worship me, but you won't abandon her."
     Edouard could feel Isabel relax next to him, but he kept his eyes on the
goddess.  "You should have known that from the start," he stated warily, but
with increasing confidence.  "I was created by man, not by gods, and I know
from hard experience that just because someone makes you doesn't mean you
should worship them."
     "You made me too well, mistress," Isabel added.  "You wanted me to
seduce him, but I came to love him.  I would die before I let you use me to
control him."
     Astarte shook her head ruefully, clearly more annoyed at herself than at
the two mortals in the room.  "No need for the drama, Isabel.  I'm not
Aphrodite or Ishtar, I'm not a petty bitch when my plans don't work out.  Of
course, I've pretended to be them a few times in order to swipe their
cultists, but that's just the way we play the game.  I'll just move on to the
other dozen strings I have in my hands, and leave you two to your lives."
     Cautiously, Edouard nodded.  "Thank you.  Even if your motives were...
suspect...I truly am grateful for the gift."
     Astarte smiled cryptically and stepped sideways into wherever gods go
when they're not inside reality, her final words echoing in their heads.
"It's too bad she won't last.  But then again, who does?"

               *              *              *              *

[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti]

     Ed replaced the cup in its place of honor.  Astarte's parting words had
seemed to give lie to her claims of not being vindictive, but the newlyweds
hadn't had too much time to worry about it in the next few months.  It
started to look like Astarte had simply been predicting the events of July 6
of that year, and they stopped worrying about whether it had been a specific
warning concerning Isabel.
     The honeymoon was...odd, even by the standards of the superhero
community.  Somehow the couple got roped into joining Israel's main superhero
team, led by the Sword of David, and helping fend off the rising tide of
godpowered mercenaries hired by unfriendly neighbors.  Iraq was a
particularly bad threat, since they'd had time to recover from the pounding
they got in Operation Stormfront back in 1991, and were looking for a little
payback.  Being one of the more secular Islamic nations didn't hurt either,
since there were more Iraqis willing to switch their religion to one of the
old gods in exchange for power.  The Ishtar-empowered squad was a
particularly vicious fight for Edouard and Isabel, as they seemed to be
intent on carrying out their patroness's rivalry with Astarte by proxy.
     Of course, all of those superpowered skirmishes ended abruptly on July
6, Edouard reflected as he hefted the signature weapon of the Sword of David.
     And then the war got started in earnest.


Next Issue:

     The world burns in late summer 1998, and in few places does it burn as
hotly as in the Levant.  Edouard and Isabel need to find a place to go before
Israel is devoured by atomic fire, but with all the surviving humans turning
against anything that reminds them of the gods, who will take them in?


Author's Notes:

     The cover blurb is a reference to the 1996 movie, "The Truth About Cats
And Dogs."  It's one of those puns that came to me in a flash, and probably
induced as much of a groan from me as from you.  Self-inflicted pun-ishment. 

     This issue is one of those places where I knew point A (Edouard in
Chicago) and point B (Ed and Isabel in the Serengeti), but wasn't really sure
how to go about making the journey between them.  I needed the couple to be
somewhere with a land connection to Africa in July 1998, so that it would be
plausible for them to eventually end up in the Serengeti (even if that's not
where they go right away next issue).  And I wanted them to be somewhere
relatively isolated so that they could have their private marriage rite get
crashed by Astarte without it triggering a futile fight scene.  Of course,
that left plenty of usable locations, but I also wanted the place to be
somewhere that the couple would have motive to visit.  The simplest, of
course, would have been to put #3 in the Serengeti already, but that would
short-circuit my plans to have them on the run in #4.  I had some vague ideas
that it'd be interesting to drop them in Israel, but it took me a while to
find a reason they'd go there that didn't require Acting Appropriately
Stupid.  I'm satisfied with the motivation I did finally come up with,
though, and it let me get in a little fight-scenery.

     A quick scan of Astarte's Wikipedia entry, or really any reference
material about her, shows how interfertile the various middle-eastern
pantheons were.  In a syncretic sense, Astarte is Aphrodite is Ishtar is Isis
and Sehkmet and goes by a bunch of other names in the less famous cultures
around the area.  Syncretism always causes hassle when you start bringing
gods into stories as characters, because either you have a single character
with radical mood swings, or you have to say there's a bunch of very similar
gods who happen to have similar names and duties.  Some gods work fine for
the mood swing theory...Odin likes messing with people, and I can certainly
see him behaving differently around mortals who call him Wotan than around
those who call him Odin.  But trying to merge all the Astarte-morphs into a
single goddess isn't just playful, it's aggressively psychotic.  So I've gone
for a clustering approach, with Astarte, Ishtar, Isis, Sehkmet and Aphrodite
being the distinct beings, and all other variants being one or more of them
being half-remembered thanks to the time wars.  (Inanna in ASH is an aspect
mostly of Ishtar, but is also the identity assumed by the spirit of the
planet Venus, so while ASH-historically there wasn't a distinct Inanna in
olden times, there's one now.)  So, if the cat-aspected war goddess is
decidedly not sexy, it's probably Sehkmet even if the name affixed to the
stories sounds more like Astarte.  And if she's all about the nookie, even if
she's depicted with a lioness's head, it might have been Astarte trying to
swipe some of Sehkmet's followers.  And when Isis gets way too drunk at a
party, she blames it on Ishtar impersonating her.  :)
     Man, you could get an awesome "Harem Anime" out of having all the
various middle-eastern war/love/cat goddesses fighting over a single
worshipper.  And by awesome I mean "incredibly scary and disturbing."  

     Astarte's parting line is meant to be an homage to Gaff's parting shot
in Blade Runner, "It's too bad she won't live!  But then again, who does?"


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at !

     There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at (if
you're on Facebook instead, there's an Academy of Super-Heroes group there


More information about the racc mailing list