A worried Aquaman sat beside the bedside of his old friend and mentor, Vulko. The old man was in a coma. Nothing the medical minds of the undersea city could do had helped. Now, the heroic Arthur Curry, who had been named regent while the older king was injured, prepared for a desperate step.
“Vulko, old friend, you know my telepathic powers give me a bit of empathy,” he said earnestly as he leaned over the old man. “I can sometimes pick up a wave of strong emotion. Well, I’m not going to let you just slip away from me and the kingdom. I’m going to try to ease you out of this coma. My thoughts can be your guide! Just trust me.”
One of the strongest minds around sent waves of telepathic signals toward the man’s slumbering brain.
He frowned as Vulko began to stir restlessly. He knew a certain amount of muscle reaction was normal, and this did not necessarily indicate improvement. Yet he was concerned, and he was a hero, so he kept on trying.
A beautiful woman wearing a tiara over fiery red hair and a green gown entered and gently placed her arms around Aquaman’s broad shoulders.
“Arthur, still no improvement?” she said as she rubbed his shoulders. “Do not torment yourself, my love. You have done all you can. Vulko would want you to devote your attentions to ruling in his place.”
“Mera, I can’t stand by and do nothing,” said Aquaman as he took the woman onto his lap and held her. “Curse Orm for the misery his jealousy has brought to us.”
Caressing his handsome features, she said, “Arthur, the kingdom needs you to be king. Vulko would be first to say as much. The needs of the many outweigh the desires of the one.”
He nodded and kissed his wife. “I know the trap in which I placed myself before. I know I can only do so much. Still, with Arion away, I suppose I must act as king while Vulko recovers. Who else could do it?”
Mera smiled. “You were born to rule with me by your side.”
Vulko stirred and softly whispered, “Mera…”
Mera stiffened and said, “Poor, dear Vulko. He responded to my voice. Perhaps your efforts have done this much for him. Congratulations! But now we must tend to our kingdom.” She led Aquaman away past guards who nodded in respect to their champion and his mate.
Later, while Aquaman tried to work out terms for a peace with the kingdom of Tritonis and its angry warlord, King Iquila, the sound of soft, slippered feet could be detected crossing the hall toward Vulko’s room.
Queen Mera entered and bent over his form. “Old man, you shall not come between me and my husband, nor shall you take a throne rightly ours,” she hissed.
A beeping caught her ear, and she slipped into the communications room nearby. A screen showed New Venice, a city in Florida where Aquaman had recently set up home again. A teleporter allowed him easy access between both realms. He wished to be champion of both, and it was in this capacity that he was needed.
Mayor Paul Lyndon’s worried features came on the screen. “Aquaman, we need you!” he cried. “A madman is rampaging through our streets!”
Mera idly generated a hard water bubble and shorted out the machine. It ceased to beep, and she tossed back her long, red hair and flounced out of the room.
“The surface world will just have to do without Aquaman,” she laughed. “Perhaps his perceived refusal to help them may ensure that he remains here from now on.”
Cal Durham was a rugged black man with a history. At various times he had been both criminal and hero, and now he enjoyed a bit of celebrity as a deputy in New Venice. Aquaman’s good word had allowed him to take the position. He wore a unique helmet upon his head that gave him a steady supply of water to breathe. Cal had been turned into a water-breather by his former boss, the Black Manta, an underwater pirate of sorts who once sought a kingdom below the waves for oppressed blacks. This had been what attracted Durham to his employ, but the promise had been false or lacking in total truth.
“Manta wants power, but only for himself. Rights of any race mean little to his avaricious ambition,” Aquaman had told him when Cal had reformed and turned against the evil Black Manta.
Now, Cal tried to fight for the right causes. He enjoyed being accepted in New Venice. Thanks to Aquaman, he could now enjoy both worlds, above and below the waves.
Cal rushed out of his office and saw the costumed man who was creating panic among the citizens. He was slamming his fists into buildings, and they shattered beneath each powerful blow.
“This creep has super-powers,” mused Cal. “Those punches are destroying the buildings. Plus, his jet-boots allow him to skim right over the waters.”
Cal Durham led his men out to face Jackhammer. He was eager to help but not very confident of his chances, since bullets bounced off the costumed man’s suit, or perhaps his body. “Stand down!” cried Cal.
Jackhammer grinned. “Sure thing! After I shake down this here burg!” He continued his rampage.
Meanwhile, another quake shook the city of Tritonis. As the mermen and mermaids swam away to avoid the collapsing structures, their leader King Iquila dodged debris and headed for the source of the sea quake.
“By Proteus!” shouted the long-haired merman as he brandished a three-pronged spear. “The quake originates from a man — a surface-man with advanced equipment! Curse them all! Will they never leave us in peace?”
The Quakemaster, wearing special aquatic gear, relentlessly used his tools to create mass destruction. He had a purpose and little cared about the lives he endangered.
King Iquila was preparing to impale him, when a dark ship loomed overhead, and a stunning ray slammed into him from behind. The manta-shaped craft vanished rapidly, its work done.
Back in Poseidonis, Mera reached a sudden decision. Vulko can ruin me if he reveals my secret, she mused. I aided Ocean Master in his invasion in order to give Arthur the chance to win the people’s trust once more and remove Vulko so we might resume our proper royal position. My charms over a few nights and the pleasure of getting to Arthur in so personal a manner blinded Orm to my true motives.
She said to herself, “If I am to kill Vulko before he awakens or Arion returns with his unpredictable magicks, then Arthur must be drawn away. Like it or not, I must inform him about the dangers in New Venice!”
Mera rushed into the council hall. “Arthur!” she cried. “New Venice is in peril! You must go via the transporter before it is too late!” She clasped his arm and looked up at him with emotion-laden green eyes.
Aquaman nodded. “I’ll be back soon. Take care of our daughter!” He spoke of their unborn child. Mera smiled and watched him rush off to play the hero once more. There would be time to discredit him in the eyes of New Venice and thus secure his loyalty to Poseidonis alone. Now, she would let him save the day while she killed Vulko.
Mera sighed. “So much to do! Being queen has its disadvantages, too. Perhaps if I can rid our court of the unwelcome guests like Ulla Påske and that purple-eyed stripling, all will be well for our royal family. The charms I’ve taken to make certain the child I carry by Orm is a girl have weakened me. Such is the price of motherhood!”
She closed the door to Vulko’s room after giving the guard a break. A queen could be kind as well. Why kill the youth merely because his shift on guard duty came at an ill-opportune moment?
“Now, Vulko! You die from a hard-water-created trauma,” she said with a smile and rubbed both palms together.
A gasped reached her ears, and she whirled to see a beautiful blonde standing behind her. “Lady Mara! I’ll need to kill you, too!” she cried.
Lady Mara, known as Dolphin, had returned to the city after reconciling with her boyfriend Will Payton, alias Starman. (*) She wanted to check once more on the royal family, since she could not forget Mera’s harsh threats to her during her last visit.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Forgotten Heroes: Passions.]
She threatened to kill me if I did not stay away from her husband, she had mused. It was not mere jealousy but madness! Will said to check with Adam about Mera’s past, but I figured a discreet visit could do as much good.
Dolphin had entered Vulko’s room in time to hear the mad queen’s words. She sprang aside as a hard-water fist slammed into the spot on which she had been standing.
“You’re insane! No one dies today while I can help it!” vowed Dolphin as she vaulted the bed to crash into Mera. “I won’t risk hurting your child again. Surrender before you do damage to yourself!” she begged.
Mera laughed and clawed at the girl. “You can’t hurt me, as you must have known deep down. My other-dimensional form is hardier than yours!” she sneered.
Dolphin rolled aside and was caught by a dart of hard water. It sliced across her blue shirt, and she realized that hard water could be formed into lethally sharp projectiles as well as crushing ones. She kicked Mera in the nose and spun to dodge another barrage of the darts.
“I could just solidify the water inside you and crush you from within!” cackled Mera.
Dolphin screamed in agony and fought through the pain to crawl toward her foe.
A young guard rushed in. “Lady Mera? I brought your tea–” he began.
Mera impaled him on three hard-water spears, and Dolphin pulled her to the floor.
“You murdering witch!” she said.
Mera smiled and said, “And I’m just getting started, little girl!”