For those literary historians (or anyone versed in the classics) who are familiar with Alexandre Dumas classic tale of The Count of Monte Cristo, they know that it is a tale of love, betrayal, escape, and vengeance. It is set in the time of Napoleon during the 1800’s and proved to be one of Dumas most popular works along with The Three Musketeers. It’s themes are fairly universal in an adventure tale and could be adapted into many different genres if a creative artist and storyteller accepted that challenge. Welcome Humanoids publishing and Artist/Writer Ibrahim Moustafa. The creative minds at Humanoids signed the talented artist to a three book series and his first is a Sci-Fi adaptation of the classic Dumas story. This is the world of Count.

COUNT

The story begins with first officer Redxan Samud of the Forreas. Samud is a good officer, and popular with the crew. Which is more than can be said for their present leader, Captain Kaster. As far as the crew was concerned, Kaster skated by doing the bare minimum, letting his crew do the real work. In truth, many of the crew believed that Redxan would be a better Captain. This point was amplified when Redxan risked life and limb to climb outside the ship to decouple a failing polarity module and saved the ships cargo. The owner of the Forreas, Mr. Murl was impressed but not so much with Kaster. After getting the story from the crew, he demoted Kaster and promoted Redxan to Captain of the Forreas.

Becoming Captain of the Arreas

This proved to be good news for Redxan for more reasons than one. Not only was he now in command of his own ship, but he had earned the rank to enable him to marry his fiancé Meris. Her Uncle had said that if  Samud ever made Captain, he would give him his blessing to marry her. This was much to the chagrin of Onaxis, her cousin and all around self-important snot.

He didn’t understand why she or his father cared about those not of royal blood. Meris should marry him and not a lowly commoner like Redxan. But Meris cared not about bloodlines. She would marry Redxan if he had “mud in his veins.” But while Meris and Redxan went to spread the happy news to his Father, Onaxis met with the now demoted Kaster. Together they discussed their deep laid plans of betrayal. If their mechanizations came to fruition, they BOTH would be rid of Redxan.

Meris and Redxan told his father the good news. He was thrilled. But as they sat, Meris started to fear what Onaxis might do. Perhaps he would poison her Uncle against their marriage. Or even worse, her Uncle would make her marry Onaxis. Redxan had another idea. They could not force her to marry another if they were to get married now. So Meris Keld and Redxan Samud were secretly married. That’s one problem solved, right?

The Betrayal

The next day was the first day of his new life. As he started his new duties, he was surprised to see the former Captain already onboard. That was a first. Redxan went over the ship’s manifest and found a discrepancy about one of the shipments. He inquired with Kaster about the abnormality. But before he could question further, the dock authorities came aboard and searched the load. Upon the surprise inspection, he was accused of selling weapons and treason against the Union. All the while, the former Captain Kaster looked on with a smug look upon his face. The only thing that went faster than the accusation was the sham of a trial. Redxan was given no chance to argue his innocence.  He was to be made an example of what happens when you go against the Union. Redxan was found guilty and sentenced to life at the Disciplinary Internment Faction or DIF.

The DIF

Upon his conviction, Redxan attempted break free of his captives. However, the numbers were heavily against him. Soon he was apprehended and knocked unconscious. When he awoke he found himself in a cell. His head had been shaved and an implant had been placed on his neck. Above which shown, for all to see, a holographic display of his prisoners number 962. The days and weeks slowly passed and he consumed the time thinking of Meris and those who had wronged him.

Eventually, he found out about another aspect of life at the DIF. Apparently, they had a singular way to keep down the prison population. The inmates were made to fight each other to the death as the guards wagered on the outcomes. It wasn’t long before Redxan himself had to participate in this barbaric entertainment. Unfortunately, it came down to kill or be killed and he won his first bout. Although not without regret for taking a man’s life he didn’t even know.

Aseyr

Time slowly crept by and Redxan was still consumed about worry for his beloved wife Meris and hatred for Kaster and all those who had brought him to this lowly state. It was while stewing in his own mind that he was surprised when a man came crawling up through his floor. His number read 213 which meant that he had been here much longer than Redxan. His name was Aseyr and he apologized for barging in. He had apparently miscalculated his destination. For he had meant to come up outside the wall. Aseyr was once a General in the Union. But the Protectorate had locked him up here still wearing his Union uniform. This was done as a reminder of what happens when you oppose the ruling order.

But the Union IS the ruling faction now. Perhaps, if they realized he was here, they would come for him. Aseyr told him not to cling on such hopes. Their only hope of escape is by their own hands. He needed Redxan’s help to continue his tunneling. In exchange, Redxan asked the former General to teach him how to fight. So they dug and tunneled and Aseyr instructed him how to fight.

During this time, they discussed what had happened to Samud. As Aseyr listened, he surmised that Kaster and Onaxis had conspired with those higher up to put Redxan down. The speed of which he was convicted and sentenced only supported that conclusion. Which only fueled Redxan’s quest for revenge. Aseyr warned against letting his need for vengeance control him. If he should escape, he should try to make the world a better place than it was.

A Fateful Choice

In the meantime, Redxan was expected to once again defeat another opponent. But this time, one of the guards decided to change the odds by wounding Redxan’s leg right before his fight with an extremely large inmate. But the training Aseyr had given him served him well and Samud overcame the injury and defeated the larger man. However, he refused to kill him. The guard warned him that by not killing his opponent, it just meant another would have to die in his place.

After Redxan was led back to his cell, he quickly used their tunnel system, only to find out it was Aseyr who had battled in his place. Aseyr had defeated his opponent but he knew his time was near its end. He was too old and too beat down by life and his battles. Redxan anguished that his choice had resulted in his friend bearing the brunt of that decision.

As Aseyr’s light faded, he told Redxan that he must complete their plan and escape. He gave him the key that would lead him to the fortune he had hidden. But before he died, he once again told Redxan to promise he would use that wealth to make the world a better place. Redxan hid in the tunnel just as the guards came and discovered Aseyr’s body. They laughed that his demise meant they would lose money on their wagers. The old man had won them a lot of money over the years. Driven by grief and rage over their cavalier treatment of the man, he rose back up and dispatched them in short order. Taking one of their uniforms and leaving behind the device that designated him as prisoner 962.

Captain Amai and the Buran

From there, Redxan was able to escape and eventually was found by a smuggling ship, The Buran. It was led by Amai, a fierce fighter and whose leadership won her the respect and loyalty of her crew. Over time, she in turn came to respect Redxan. He was an able crewman and excellent fighter. Eventually, her admiration for him grew into more. But as much as Redxan liked Amai and his life with her, his search for vengeance remained. Amai knew this and while she wished he would stay with her, she didn’t stop him from going after the retribution he desperately desired.

After leaving the Buran, he found that much had changed since his imprisonment. The Protectorate had once again assumed power and treated the low born citizens poorly. His father had passed on during this time and his beloved Meris had been forced to marry Onaxis. She was reported dead not long after. Everything he cared about had been taken from him. Only one thing remained. The same thing that had fueled him during his time in the DIF. VENGEANCE!

Following Aseyr’s Wishes

Redxan returned to the Buran and told Amai what he had learned. While she sympathized with his pain, she thought this would be an opportunity for him to leave this all behind and start a new life. A life by her side with no looking back. But as much as he was tempted by her offer, he could not walk away. Those responsible could not go unpunished. He would find the wealth that Aseyr had hidden and he would use it to infiltrate the nest of vipers and cut their heads off.

Redxan set off for the Isle of Sorrow. The place that Aseyr had told him about and where the key had lead him. Before he passed, Aseyr had told him that when he found the wealth he had hidden, use the key and say, “Anima Machina.” Redxan was not sure what he meant by that but once he entered the place Aseyr had told him about, he found himself under attack by a large robotic man.

Anima Machina

It was relentless and was about to run Redxan through before he remembered the phrase Aseyr had told him, “Anima Machina!” The robot immediately ceased his attack and apologized. He was in defense mode. But seeing as how Redxan had the key and knew the password, he obviously was acquainted with Aseyr. He was called an Automaton Retainer Unit. But Redxan could refer to him as ARU.

With Aseyr now gone, ARU would now be HIS retainer. His main directive would be to protect him while calculating the risk/reward of any actions Redxan might take. He was also given Aseyr’s Elemental. It was a sword that formed its blade from any of the surrounding elements and made it virtually indestructible. So now armed with newfound wealth, ARU and a great weapon, he was ready to enact his plan.

Redxan’s Plan

First, he needed to connect to those who were opposing the new government. He would need all the help he could get to defeat the corrupt Protectorate. In addition, he also would need to infiltrate them to find out their plans. This would only be possible if he seemed to be a wealthy and LOYAL member of the Protectorate.  He started this plan by capturing his former Captain, who was now the High Magistrate of the New Protectorate. He captured his personal ship and after revealing his identity to the man, left him isolated and alone. Just as he had been.

Infiltrating the Protectorate

So now that he had these ships, he presented himself to the Government. He hailed himself as count Aseyr of the Isle of Sorrow. In his new guise, he offered his new found ships to the Protectorate for their service. However, the great Protector Onaxis had other ideas. He had created an army of Robots like ARU. But he could not get them to function. He hoped that with ARU, he could make his army a reality.

Redxan was reluctant to agree to this but ARU calculated that the percentages were much more favorable if he went along. So he agreed to release his retainer to the government. But that was not all they wanted. They now wanted him to sign over his ships to them as well. But as the Magistrate started to turn over “Count Aseyr” to his guards to expedite the transfer, Redxan pulled his Elemental and ran the Magistrate through as well as the guards. The shit had hit the fan now.

Onaxis Bodyguard’s Identity Revealed

He pursued Onaxis but had to deal with his body guard. The one known as Cyn. Whoever Cyn was, they were very well trained and skilled as a deadly fighter. Redxan was wounded by Cyn’s blade but was able to knock the fighters helmet off. It was his beloved Meris. He called her name and Cyn hesitated just enough for Redxan to escape. But he now knew Onaxis plan. All he was missing was ARU, and now his army was functional.

They would need to attack now. A full assault. He recruited Amai and her crew, giving her command of his fleet of ships. She also brought along more weapons for them to use. As for ARU, Redxan hoped that the key he still possessed would allow him to reclaim ARU and stop the robot army. That was the hope. But the time for theories was over. The battle was on.

The Battle Against the Protectorate

Just as Redxan expected, ARU and the robot army was a formidable as he feared they would be. He  battled on, trying to get close to ARU and use his key to turn him. That proved to be difficult as ARU was just as tough to defeat as the first time he was confronted by him. Finally, he got close enough for the key to activate and to use the Anima Machina Password. The hold on ARU was broken but so was his connection to the others. They were working autonomously now. Redxan knew they had to be stopped. However, this was a dilemma for ARU. He had thought he was alone but now he discovered he was not. To destroy the robot army would mean he would be alone again. However, his main directive remained. To protect Redxan Samud. But this battle would go in their favor only if Redxan were to stop Onaxis.

So as ARU battled his brethren, Redxan took on Onaxis. Well actually, he was required to take on Cyn again. Once again she fought with a fierceness and skill that was hard to match. But as she looked upon Redxan, she dropped her helmet. She realized who he was, but she knew that the hold on her was too strong. She needed him to stop this, to stop her. Redxan was horrified at the thought but she begged him to do it. Reluctantly, he drove his elemental sword through her. It broke his heart. But this death was on Onaxis as well. This would end here and now.

Redxan VS Onaxis

Redxan faced off with Onaxis making sure he knew who it was he faced. And just when it seemed that Onaxis had the upper hand, he was greeted with even more people joining the fight. Amai had brought reinforcements to join the fray. During the distraction, Redxan had recovered from his disadvantage and leapt back into the fray, slicing down upon Onaxis and splitting the man in two. With their leader brought down, the battle swung in the favor of the Union. And while there would still be some pockets of resistance, the battle for a free and fair government would be won.

As for ARU, he was alone once again. But if the Union would hope to create a fair system, they could use someone who could calculate  probabilities of success. From this point forward, he would be THEIR retainer. He gave ARU the chip containing the remaining fortune, telling him to make the world a better place with it. He agreed. And as for Redxan, his work was complete and he had a promise to keep. So he joined back with Amai and the Buran. Together, they would forge a new life. Sailing off toward the setting sun.

Thoughts

One of the great things about Ibrahim Moustafa’s Count is that it holds up extremely well even if you had no knowledge of Dumas’ masterwork. The Science Fiction setting leaves the door open for new and exciting story elements while still keeping to the skeletal structure of the story. It tells a classic tale of revenge while slowly building up to the ultimate battle. If you are familiar with the classic tale, you can easily see how Moustafa follows that footprint while still making it fresh and original. That is a narrow ledge to have to traverse but he walks it without a stumble. It was also a really nice touch between chapters having the quotes about vengeance. Moustafa choosing each one to emphasize the perils involved and what goes into living only for revenge.

The same can be said for his artwork. From character design, to action sequences, to tender emotional moments, Ibrahim captures them all with skill and displays his talent at storytelling excellence. When combined with the color work by Brad Simpson it is an attractive book and well told story and hints at the things to come in his next two offerings. If they are anything like Count, we have some great things in store, both in story and artwork. And speaking of artwork, be sure to check out Ibrahim’s concept art and cover sketches at the end of the book. Always cool to see what went in to a creation. Humanoids Count by Ibrahim Moustafa comes to stands on March 16th. Also look for our interview with Ibrahim about the making of Count here.

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