Thursday, October 8, 2009

Earth-349: Aquawoman

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not limited by that story or any other.
Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those copyrights.
Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the easily offended, especially those who are uncomfortable with such topics as transgender, transformation, polyfidelity and participatory democracy.

Gloriana Curry, known to the land-dwelling public as Aquawoman, considered her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She liked the mirror very much: oval, a meter and a half tall, an ormolu frame, salvaged from the wreck of the Antilie (sank in a storm, July 23rd, 1911, near Bermuda). She thought the reflection was...adequate: 421 moons old (32.2 years, land-reckoning), blonde hair, fair skin (evenly colored but not very smooth), tall and muscular (chest very broad, making her breasts look smaller than they really were), belly firm enough that she could still wear her unforgiving shirt of orichalcum scale mail. No scars, thanks to the excellent Atlantean healing capacity. Her right hand was still a little pale, and the wrist would probably always be slightly crooked where it had grown from the stump of the one she'd lost, but it was no longer so noticable that she felt the need for gloves. Absolutely stunning legs, by the standards of either land people or Atlanteans (did they look better bare, or in the green tights? Tights today). She would do for a routine appearance as the Queen of Atlantis. Queen of Atlantis was a very fanciful translation of her actual title. A better one would be First Speaker of the Executive Council of the Poseidonis Reach. Her executive position was an elective one (though it did involve wearing a crown and carrying a ceremonial trident), and her territory did not by any means cover all of Atlantis. The city of Poseidonis and its environs, plus its assorted vassal city-states and allied settlements and nomadic tribes, accounted for only about half of the population, and maybe a third of the inhabited area of the Atlantic Ocean basin (the Reach was defined by tides and currents, not lines drawn on the seafloor). Still, calling her a Queen did no harm, and calling the Poseidonis Reach "Atlantis" harmed only those insufferable merfolk in Tritonis, so what the hell?

Aquawoman thought of a Quaker fishing boat captain she knew, who had recently been named Clerk of the Committee for Ministry and Oversight of the Gulf Coast Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends of Christ. She made a mental note that when next they met, she would address him as "Archbishop of New Orleans".

It was not a ceremonial occasion, just a semi-formal birthday party for the oldest member of the Council, so she would forgo the crown, the trident, the walrus-hide mantle and the tedious riding of an Atlantic Giant Seahorse. There would probably be a good crowd even so, because people would be wanting to see the royal consorts. With a final check of her tights for wrinkles, she swam out the nearest window and down to the plaza, where her husbands and most of the other guests were waiting. It was rare enough for all five of her husbands to be gathered together in one place. They all had their jobs and their private interests, and if it didn’t happen that one or more of them was away from the city, he was likely to be occupied with some project elsewhere in town. For once, though, she found them together: Turth, scion of a Poseidonis family even older than her own. Malco, a legless merman from Tritonis. Glibdup, a clawed and scaly gill-man from the chilly coastal waters of Rhode Island. Blue-skinned Niaremus, an adventurer from Earth-348. And perhaps the oddest of all – “Hey, where’s Todd?” Nobody seemed to know. Turth said, “He was definitely going to be here, but I haven’t seen him all day.” A boy in an Army uniform, barely into puberty, swam into the midst of the royal party, glancing uncomfortably around at the consorts but remembering to salute the queen, and said, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but the Black Manta is approaching from north by northeast, showing truce lights.” Todd Arliss’ family had been shipchandlers for over a century, and had inherited a very substantial business at the age of 19. He had insisted on selling the business and spending almost his entire fortune on illegal experimental treatments intended to give him an Atlantean metabolism, allowing him to live in the sea, go to Atlantis, and plight his troth to Aquawoman. He had been phenomenally lucky. He might have died, or become a mindless Aquabeast, or worse yet from his point of view, been turned into a too-exact duplicate of Aquawoman. Instead, he had wound up as the curly-haired, round-cheeked amphibian the Atlanteans fondly called Aquababy. Even then, there was no guarantee that the adventurer and stateswoman would want anything to do with a somewhat-obsessive admirer. But he’d proven to have many attractive qualities, and in the end had been allowed to become her fifth companion. He’d also proven very popular with the people of Atlantis, who had made him something of a mascot. It had been very clever of the Ocean Master to choose him as a hostage. By the time Aquawoman had reached the dome that covered the city, the Ocean Master’s immense black submarine was holding a position less than fifty fathoms from the glass. It loomed there, resembling nothing so much as an immense sperm whale’s penis, with the Ocean Master himself perched suggestively at its prow. Atlantean soldiers were arrayed in a half-sphere before the vessel, spearguns ready. Aquawoman swam up to the officer in charge. "Has he said yet what he wants?” “Yes, Ma’am. The crown of Queen Clea.” “He can’t have it,” she said automatically. The officer nodded curtly. Moments later the four husbands and most of the Council arrived. Aquawoman told them what the Ocean Master wanted, and assured them that she considered paying the ransom out of the question. Malco was dubious, and tried gently to suggest that they at least consider it. The others all disagreed strongly. Turth spoke smoothly to calm Malco, with a trace of condescension. “We must not, of course, allow...that fall into such hands as those. The Ocean Master is bothersome enough as a science pirate; giving him the power to truly master the world’s oceans would be disastrous. Nevertheless, for our beloved brother’s sake...?” Aquawoman nodded. “For Todd’s sake, we should consider all our options. And what better place to discuss the matter than in the Nameless Vault?” A generation before, Atlantean archaeologists had found an ancient crown once worn by the Wizard-Kings, a hideous thing formed of seven serpents. Everyone who saw it was troubled by the evil power emanating from it, but the silver-haired Queen Clea had dared to place it on her head. After that, she had displayed increasingly spectacular magical powers – and increasing megalomania and depravity. The escalating crimes of Queen Clea, and the civil war that eventually resulted, had nearly destroyed Poseidonis. Once she had been neutralized and the crown secured, it had been stowed in the Nameless Vault, along with other items deemed too dangerous to be used. The Executive Council, Aquawoman and her husbands made a crowd that did not easily fit down the narrow passageways that led below the city to the Nameless Vault. The Vault itself lay in the deepest and oldest of the Palace’s sub-basements, in the natural caverns and chambers hewn from living stone that had underlain the city when Atlantis was still above the surface. Its door was of a kind of steel otherwise unknown on Earth, possibly older than Earth itself. The lock was two years old, from Stark Industries, and required three members of the Council to authorize entry. The Vault-Keeper, a broad-chinned oldster in a red robe, stood by watchfully as they unlocked the massive door. As the door swung open, a perverse corner of Aquawoman’s mind reflected that the term “Nameless Vault” could also be translated as simply “a secure unnamed location”. The contents of the vault seemed deceptively ordinary. On one table stood an insulated steel vial labelled simply “Virus”. On a set of shelves were several boxes of waterproof punchcards, marked “Master PC”. Presumably PC stood for “punchcard”, but what made a computer program so dangerous? A television set, looking to be about ten years old, seemed laughably out of place until it moved, turning toward the visitors as though it were alive. A sealed package offered no clue of its contents, except for being marked “SRU”. It seemed to Aquawoman that the Vault badly needed a catalog. At the very back of the Vault, on a pedestal as though in a museum display – or on a blasphemous altar – a dreadful object waited. Three snakes glared off to the left, three to the right, and the largest looked forward, its eyes projecting a challenge. Come wear me. Come, and have power over the sea and the land. Come and be like Clea, only better, more perfect. Wear me, and be a real queen, feared and loved by the whole world. Not taking her eyes off the crown, Aquawoman said to her companions, “This is what we’re here for. Let’s go.” The Ocean Master had his feet planted on the prow of the Black Manta when Aquawoman returned. It was a strange, nonsensical position to hold underwater, but landsman that he was, he doubtless thought it looked dramatic and authoritative. He remained in position as Aquawoman swam out to meet him. He saw that she did indeed have the Serpent Crown with her. She was wearing it. The Ocean Master spoke through a hydrophone in his ornate helmet, “The Queen of Atlantis will surrender the Serpent Crown to the Ocean Master, and thereby acknowledge him her overlord and the true ruler of all the Earth’s oceans.” “Francis Marion Ormsby, if you think I’m going to let you leave here with Clea’s crown, you’re a dumber sprat than you were when you tried to pants me the first day we swam together!” “I need the crown,” the Ocean Master said coldly, not showing any sign that her backhanded appeal to familial ties had touched him. “I have to have it, Atlantean, in order to fulfill my destiny. Hand it over, now, or I’ll kill your precious Aquababy before your eyes.” She swam toward him, her eyes burning in a manner that suggested red lightning might shoot from them at any moment, or perhaps from the eyes of the serpents in her crown. The ancient and obscene power of the object carried a weight of silent menace. “Yes, you could do that, and it would wound my heart in ways I doubt you can even understand. But with my surviving husbands to console me, I’d manage to go on. I’d retain enough of my self-control to begin the hunt for you right away, and you’d find that 71% of the planet’s surface area is not room enough to hide you from my vengeance.” He remained still for a long moment, his face unreadable in that mask, and then he turned to his nearest henchman, a silver-blonde youth in the ragged remnants of a U.S. Navy enlisted work uniform. “Let him go.” Less than a minute later, Aquababy swam out through an airlock, waved to the crowd as they cheered him, then swam toward his wife. The so-called Ocean Master slipped into his vessel through a different airlock, and the Black Manta began to turn slowly in place, preparing to depart from the city. There was more loud cheering as the invaders fled. Aquababy swam to his wife’s side, but held back at the sight of her wearing the crown. He was not an Atlantean, and had not even been born yet when Queen Clea made it infamous, but he knew its reputation as a corrupting influence. He was clearly wondering whether Aquawoman’s sacrifice had been worth his life. Aquawoman pulled the crown from her head and crushed it between her hands. The baked-clay replica crumbled to powder and dispersed in a muddy cloud. To the people of Atlantis she called out, “The crown of Clea is safely stored away, and that’s where it will stay!” and then kissed her husband very warmly and firmly. They broke from the kiss and began swimming back toward the palace side by side, surrounded by her other husbands and, more distantly, by government officials and the adoring populace. Aquawoman gave a long telepathic sigh. “I swear, I don’t know what it’s going to take to make him put a stop to all this Ocean Master nonsense. I may have to marry him."

Niaremus turned to Malco and raised one long eyebrow.

"Marry him? Isn't he her half-brother?"

"Step-brother. Former step-brother, since her father is divorced from his mother."

"So I suppose a relationship between them would only be..."


Todd swam close to Aquawoman, bumping against her frequently in an intimate gesture that would only be tolerated between lovers.

"Have I mentioned lately what a really magnificent woman you are?"

"I'm not sure how recently the last time was," she replied lightly, "but feel free anytime it comes up."

"It's relevant right at the moment, hon. When I heard you telling Ormsby, 'Go ahead, there's four more where he came from'--"

"That's not what--"

He shushed her.

"You said what you had to say. I have no complaint. Quite the contrary. I love and admire you more for having had the strength to say it. When you stood him down like that, I think it was the first time I'd ever really seen you look like a queen."

Aquawoman made a dismissive gesture.

"Me, a queen? I'm just a nice girl with five husbands."

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