There was something rotten in the state of Denmark. This was obvious to the keen-eyed Garth and his new love interest, Ulla Påske. As Aqualad, he was a member of the New Titans, and Ulla had been known as Little Mermaid of the Global Guardians for years, until she recently changed her name simply to Mermaid to acknowledge her young adulthood.
They had been enjoying their date. Dining, dancing, and even a moonlight stroll along the shore of the island of Falster had all been delightful. While not fully over his lost love Tula, Garth could easily lose himself for a time in the deep green eyes of the beautiful blonde heroine. Her new maturity, increased powers, and potent appeal made her irresistible. Her impish sense of humor was still intact, and he was glad of that. He feared Galg’s genetic experiments might have robbed her of her old spirit; such was clearly not the case. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Forgotten Heroes: No Place Like Home for the story of how Aqualad rescued Mermaid from Galg.]
They had laughed and even danced along the coast until they detected the ugly sight and smell of toxic pollutants.
Ulla, her very long blonde hair swaying in the night air, had frowned. “Garth, this is the type of thing my father has devoted his life to combating. The industry above us breaks the laws and ruins the waters. Nothing seems to ever stop them. They pay off the officials, and they, in turn, look the other way. The Toxxon Company is the worst. In truth, I led you here on purpose so you could see the plight of our waters. Will you help me stop these cold and unfeeling men of business?” she pleaded.
Taking her hand, Aqualad said, “I’ll help you. We’ll shut down their poison factory together.”
Ulla introduced Garth to a burly but cheerful man in a rumpled suit. “This is Friedrik Påske; he is my foster parent,” said the blonde. “He raised me, since my water limitation prevented my natural parents from doing so. Now, thanks to that tyrant Galg, I may safely live above or below the waves. I suppose he did me a favor.”
Garth shook hands with the friendly man. It was a bit odd to be meeting Ulla’s father so early in their relationship, but Mr. Påske seemed thrilled to meet such an impressive hero.
“Aqualad, you and your mentor are my heroes,” he gushed. “As one who has lived his life in awe of the ocean wonders, I have nothing but admiration for you both. To think that my little Ulla has become your special friend still delights me.”
Garth grinned and said, “Thanks. Your work makes you more of a hero. Ulla says you spend every waking minute fighting environmental pollution.”
A crash shook the small building, and Påske frowned. “No! It is that cursed pawn of the industrialists again!”
“Papa says a costumed thug enforces the Toxxon Company’s alleged rights,” said Ulla.
“Costumed thugs are my specialty,” said Garth with a grin.
Aqualad rushed outside as Mermaid flew behind him. They exited the small house to see a man in an armored costume. He wore a helmet with infrared goggles, a heavy tank of some type resting on his orange-armored shoulders, and coils running from the tank down each arm to metal gauntlets.
Ulla soared ahead of Garth. Her long blonde hair swept back as she spun around to connect with the figure. Both legs (still in human form) slammed into him, but even her impressive might did not move his heavier form.
“I am Volcanus!” he said in Danish. “You must cease your efforts to slow the progress of industry.” He raised one glove, and a molten spray erupted toward the Mermaid. She gasped and dodged to the left. He laughed and brought his arm around toward the woman’s flight path. “It is an honor to slay our national heroine.”
Aqualad tackled him and said, “Don’t be too quick to pat yourself on your shell!” He punched the thug and realized that the vulnerable, uncovered chin was the weak spot.
Volcanus cried out in harsh, guttural tones, and four thugs in ordinary clothes rushed out from the shadows.
Ulla dropped down to block their path. “You boys need some attitude alteration! That is how you say it in English, right?” She grinned at Garth.
Grabbing one of the thugs, she hefted him over her head into his friends. Three quick blows from her enhanced form dropped the others. She then kicked out, and the final thug remained still.
Garth nodded appreciatively as he dodged a spray of solid rock. This guy seems to convert air to rock, lava, or some semi-solid combo, he mused as he struggled to dodge Volcanus and his equipment. He saw the flames erupt from the house as one of the blasts caught the roof ablaze.
Ulla cried out and dived into the sea nearby. As her shapely legs turned into a tail, she swam ever faster until she was able to generate a whirlpool. With a final expert move, she sent the water with its momentum cascading over the fire. She had saved her home, and her father smiled with pride.
Garth grabbed the nearest coil and ripped it loose from Volcanus’ gauntlet. He then twisted to catch the man’s other arm. It neared his head and, with precise timing, Aqualad forced the right hand against the hanging coil on the left. Volcanus gasped as his energy blast — meant for Garth — rocketed back up his own coil and into his fuel tank on his back. Garth kicked him aside, and an explosion rocked them all.
Volcanus lay still but not too seriously hurt by the explosion within his fuel tank.
Garth smiled. “That gear was never meant to receive flame, only to produce it. I figured his armor would save him from any serious harm.” Ulla kissed him appreciatively.
The next morning, Aqualad arose from the Påskes’ sofa to be greeted by a brightly smiling Ulla. She wore a white top with shorts and carried a brimming breakfast tray.
“Good morning,” she said, smiling beautifully. “How’s my hero today?”
Garth kissed her cheek. “Fine, but between you and your dad, I’m going to get a swelled head. I’m used to being almost ignored back home. Folks tend to notice the Flash, Starfire, and Changeling, and miss the purpled-eyed fish-kid.”
“Never dismiss yourself so!” said Ulla. “You are a wonderful man and a true hero.”
“Well, about that,” began Garth. “I want to wander up to the Toxxon plant and see if I can find proof that ties Volcanus to them. Just because he spoke for big business doesn’t prove he was employed by the company.”
Mr. Påske entered. “True, lad, so true. Can you solve the matter? You are a detective of some repute, are you not?”
“Nope,” said Aqualad. “That’s Nightwing, Batman, and even Aquaman himself. I just do the best I can. Solving my own parentage took me years.”
“I shall come with you,” vowed Ulla. “Toxxon employs a rough man named Silver Shrike. He is their enforcer.”
“A corporate super-type,” he said. “I read something about him. Sounds odd. I can’t see big business and super-heroics in a relationship. Most heroes avoid endorsements.”
“Let’s go,” said Ulla. “This man is an experience in himself. He is so full of himself, as you say.”
Garth nodded. “Silver Shrike doesn’t sound like a shy, retiring type.”
Later, before the two heroes could even enter the Toxxon compound grounds, Aqualad saw uniformed troops in battle with wild animals.
“Look!” he said. “Forest animals attacking the guards! This is very bizarre, even for one with my life!” He led the Mermaid forward to try to make sense of the chaos.