Friday, July 29, 2011

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

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

Todd Arliss's 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 Black Manta 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

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 undisclosed 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
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

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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