Aquaman gazed down on the sleeping form of Octavia. Her loyal aide Guida nodded off to one side. The shelter he had provided for them was crude but adequate. He knew this oasis of palm trees would hide them from any of their enemies. Inside the oasis he could take a quick, refreshing dip in a pool of water to catch his breath, so to speak, and then make a plan to retake Venturia.
“She is so lovely,” he said, admiring her beautiful, flowing red hair. “Spirited, too. I wonder if my mother was anything like her. Father always said she was wild, free — a child of nature. She left us so suddenly, so mysteriously. I was still a newborn. He never knew why she left or where she came from, either. I’ve wondered before what it was that drew her away from us. Father never got over her. I suppose that is one reason I’ve never let anyone get too close to me. Losing people you care for is painful.” He sighed and got to work.
“Those shark-maids are unnatural creatures formed from twisted science stolen from the Amazons,” he mused. “That much Octavia knew. I can outfight them, but just maybe another way might save us all a lot of bloodshed. Wonder Woman is an Amazon. I never really knew her, unlike Green Arrow and Speedy, and the other Seven Soldiers of Victory. (*) Other than those few, I only briefly mingled with other mystery-men at one meeting of the All-Star Squadron. (*) Never could stand crowds. Still, I don’t need to go to Paradise Island for answers, not when Octavia’s mother Eeras and her own city-state of Aurania holds a means of communicating with the amazing Amazon!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Seven Soldiers of Victory: Times Past, 1943: Return of the Dark Cross, “Out of the Ashes: Mekanique,” All-Star Squadron #59 (July, 1986), and “The End of the Beginning,” All-Star Squadron #60 (August, 1986).]
Aquaman decided to travel to Octavia’s mother’s realm, the city-state of Aurania, as soon as Octavia had rested.
“Shh! My poor Mera is sleeping!” warned Guida as he moved closer.
“Mera? Pretty name,” he mused.
“It was her childhood endearment,” said the old nurse. “A family nickname, if you will.”
“Mera…” he said softly.
The Bruce Wayne-owned S.S. Justice set sail directly for the area in which the deadly iceberg had been seen. In addition to the regular crew, the ship carried a special passenger — the former Justice Society of America hero Johnny Thunder. He had persuaded the captain to follow his plan, and the cargo log claimed the ship carried more of the scientific isotopes like those which vanished with the sinking of the S.S. Martha. In truth, the ship carried little more than typical consumer goods meant for Wayne companies in Africa.
Johnny paced the deck feeling none too well — green in more than the color of his suit. Whew! This seasickness never quits! And me, a Navy man! he thought. Peachy Pet would give me grief if she could see me now! He referred to his adopted daughter, who was back in his Long Island hometown of Appleville with his mother.
In an attempt to take his mind off of his stomach, he started to whistle. Gosh, I still miss being in the JSA, but what good would a guy like me be to them without my T-bolt? he mused. Dinah more than carries her weight in a fight. I can’t say the same. Wonder how she and that Larry are doing? He still had feelings for the blonde and beautiful Black Canary, who had held his old spot on the heralded team of adventurers for a while now.
Suddenly, the ship began to reel, and he gasped as cries rang out.
“That’s it, Mr. Thunder! Look!” cried a sailor as he pointed toward a huge, shadowy form breaking through the waters directly in their path.
“That’s the iceberg, all right!” said Johnny. “You fellows get to safety. I’m going to try to get a closer look!”
He resolutely jumped over the rail as the massive iceberg drew alongside, and a sick, screeching sound rang out as the ship was torn apart. The crew, in lifeboats, rode out the waves toward safety.
Johnny tossed his jacket down and landed along the edge of the artificial structure, then rammed a large hook into the craft. “Not ice!” he said. “Metal that just looks like an iceberg! I was right!”
Got to hold on! he thought as he swayed above the waters. Find some opening! The crew inside will have to emerge to claim the isotopes they believe are aboard!
Sure enough, within the artificial iceberg known as Leviathan II, an evil crew prepared to board the wrecked S.S. Justice until an angry voice cut through their banter.
“We’ve been tricked! Our sensors detect nothing radioactive aboard,” said a man with a harsh voice.
“No kiddin’, you lubbers! What’s more, we been boarded by a mystery-man, no less!” laughed their leader.
“He’ll soon drown when we descend!” said the first mate.
“Aye! Serve him right!” said the black-haired captain. Then he stiffened. “No! Haul him inside! He may be of use!” And the pirate king called Black Jack continued to stare blankly ahead, as if listening.
“Weird how Jack seems to hear voices at times,” whispered one thug. “Gives me chills!”
“Don’t let him hear that,” said the first mate. “He’d as soon run ya through as look at ya!”
Johnny did not resist as the rough crew pulled him inside. Getting in had been his goal all along. He glanced at one rough face after another. All the crew looked like cutthroats. These guys give Long John Silver and Captain Nemo bad names! he mused. What a bunch of thugs!
“Say, you guys don’t know who you’re messing with! I’m Johnny Thunder!” he said, almost doubtfully.
“Aye! Well, welcome, John Thunder!” sneered the richly dressed, black-haired leader. “Welcome to the Leviathan II. I’m your host and the captain of this here craft. I’m called Black Jack, the Pirate King!”
Johnny pushed through the mob to stand before the laughing sea thief. “Yeah! I’ve heard about you,” he said defiantly. “You always lose to Aquaman, no matter what wild scheme or sea-based crime you come up with! You also had a run-in with the Green Arrow once!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Seven Soldiers of Victory: Times Past, 1943: Return of the Dark Cross, Chapter 2: Dead Men Walking.]
“Indeed! But you are neither of those esteemed vigilantes. You don’t impress me at all!” said an angry Black Jack. “Still, there’s something about you that makes you worth keeping alive!”
“Boyish charm?” joked Johnny.
“Nay! The taint of magic hangs ’bout you!” said Black Jack in a distant tone.
“Captain Jack, we’re near New Discovery Island. Do we take him there?” asked the mate.
“Aye! Set course for our base. Our employer will want to make use of the obnoxious pup!” said Black Jack.
Johnny frowned. He had heard of the place from somewhere before — either from the Flash or from Wonder Woman. He could not put his finger on which of his costumed pals had visited the mysterious isle. In any case, he would soon arrive himself.
Once upon the island, Johnny found himself thrust forward through ornate Roman columns of Ionic style toward an arena and a throne. There, a handsome man with broad shoulders, bare chest, and gleaming golden bracelets and crown sat bored before him. He had a certain nobility that he carried within him beyond what status the costly jewels gave him.
“Hail Imperius, Emperor of New Discovery Island!” said Black Jack with a sweeping bow and a gleam in his roguish eye. “Your navy brings news of new outrages against your realm by the foreign barbarians.”
“Truly, these barbarians tempt a sore and certain fate by daring to incur the wrath of the one true emperor of New Rome at Discovery Island!” he said as he rose to his feet.
I’m in for it now, thought Johnny. Gotta figure out what to do!
Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor soared over the waters toward New Discovery Island. The lovely Amazon princess smiled warmly as she thought about Trevor’s recklessness. He would never change, and she hoped that was as certain as the love of Aphrodite or the wisdom of Athena.
“You know, Angel, I appreciate this lift to investigate the iceberg sightings Captain Seadunk alerted me about,” he said, “but I also really enjoy this time alone with you!”
Wonder Woman smiled and said, “Steve, I always enjoy your company, too. Look, isn’t that the isle below us? See the old coliseum?” She knew she had to discourage his amorous attentions, despite hating to do so, because she could never be free to marry him as long as she had evil to stop, and Amazonian ideals to represent to a troubled postwar world.
Steve took the hint as he had so very often before in their long relationship. As the invisible plane veered sharply and whirled toward the east, he cried, “Hey, easy there, Princess! You’ll make me look like the safe pilot!”
Wonder Woman frowned and gripped the controls tightly. “Hera guide me! The plane is ignoring my mental commands. That’s almost impossible! Some other mind is controlling it. Overriding my commands! When I deposed Nero from his position of emperor on New Discovery Island, he had no such powers. Could he have developed them, or does some new threat lurk in that time-tossed Roman culture?”
She struggled both mentally and physically to alter the plane’s wild flight path as it zoomed away from the bizarre Roman settlement and spun them both toward a different island located along the equator. As soon as she spotted the extinct volcano there, Wonder Woman knew that they were in for a voyage to a hidden land.
Praise Athena, the amazsilikon protects the plane from sudden changes in direction, too! she thought as they were drawn through the open crater through a large chamber that took them deep underground before they entered a vast, open land before them. Continuing to soar uncontrollably through the air, they soon approached a large and fabulous city, where the plane came in for a rocking landing. Steve’s passed out. Poor darling! The sudden shock of impact must have stunned him! she mused as her expert medical eye scanned his condition.
The plane stopped short within a huge chamber. She gently carried Steve Trevor out of the plane. After placing Steve on the ornate mosaic floor of the royal palace of Queen Eeras of Aurania, Wonder Woman defiantly placed both hands on her hips and demanded, “Queen Eeras, why did you force us to come here? If your land is in danger from some menace, my services are ever yours to ask!”
The lovely queen stood silently and tossed back her long red hair. “Invaders have indeed breached the defenses of the city-state of Aurania,” she said coldly. “They must be subdued!”
“Show them to me, and I’ll gladly defeat them!” said Wonder Woman as she saw guards approach from all sides.
“You are the intruders I speak of!” said Octavia’s mother coldly.
Aquaman led Octavia and Guida to the ornate, golden gates of Aurania. He also sent a message of reassurance to several seagulls he had brought along as some of the few air-breathing aquatic animals he was able to command. I’ll be back shortly, he thought. All of you, watch for any sign of the shark-maids I told you about!
“I hope you’ll forgive my short temper,” said Octavia. “I was sick with concern for my people. I’m sorry. I owe you my life.”
Aquaman smiled at the lovely woman. Extending a golden-gloved hand, he said, “No apology needed. I understand. If I had a family or subjects, I’d be equally anxious to keep them safe. That is the way I feel about the wonderful creatures of the deep. I try to protect all who venture above or below the ocean’s depths.”
Octavia smiled. This man was noble, selfless, and heroic. His rough edges concealed a loving heart, and apparently also a lonely one.
Guida frowned. “Mera, child, look! Your royal mother’s guardsmen have come to welcome you home!”
As the golden-armored soldiers led their princess inside her old home, none of them spoke.
“Solo, why do you not speak to the girl you taught so well?” said Octavia.
Solo, an old soldier, said, “Your mother shall speak for us. Her word is law!”
Aquaman glanced right and left. He didn’t like the feel of the place. Something was just not right.
Queen Eeras wore a black and gold gown and looked severe. “Daughter, you are welcome here,” she said before Octavia could say a word. “It saves me the trouble of hunting you down and dragging you forth from Venturia! I reclaim that city-state for myself! It shall expand the glory of Aurania!”
“Mother, what madness is this?” said Octavia. “You named me ruler of Venturia! We need your help, not your scorn! The shark-maids and Queen Clea–”
A spear shaft swung toward her pretty head until Aquaman’s strong hand blocked the path and ripped it from the hand of old Solo. “You boys need to be taught how to treat a princess!” he said as he punched a second guard flat.
“Kill them!” shrieked Queen Eeras as her face turned red and her eyes flared.
Octavia pushed Guida back and brought forth the water she had collected from lakes and rivers during their journey from the oasis, using it to generate a hard-water shield between them and her insane mother. “She’s turned against me!” she cried. “How can this be?! Is it some illness? Some lies or gossip must have poisoned her mind!”
Aquaman ducked a spear and snapped a second one into pieces. Hurling them into the face of a soldier, he then lifted him over his head to send him crashing into three more. “She seems feverish!” he said. “This may be some spell or disease!” Inwardly, he wondered if all of South Atlantis had gone crazy.
Sometime earlier, Wonder Woman had easily defeated the guards, but even she had to surrender when Steve Trevor’s stunned form fell into the hands of the mad Queen Eeras.
“Allow us to bind your hands, or we’ll slay this male!” she had cried.
Princess Diana, separated from her love by dozens of guards who had stormed out of a secret passage between them, could not risk his safety. Her heart was ever both her strength and her weakness. She allowed the males to fuse chains upon her wrists, and she felt her power drain away according to sacred Amazon laws of old. “Do not hurt him!” she said. “I’ll go along with you!”
Queen Eeras had pressed one hand against her fevered cheeks before waving the guards to carry them to her dungeon. As she sank on the throne, tears softly fell from her eyes. She was a prisoner within her own body, as some outside will controlled her like a puppet. This same mind had wrested Wonder Woman’s plane out of her own control to bring her here, and had reached out to control Black Jack and through him his pirate crew aboard Leviathan II. This same mighty brain stirred the seeds of revolt within Queen Clea’s already vengeful heart.
All this was done from afar. Yet the mind driving so many powerful beings rested within a small body. It was a manling, one of the underdeveloped males of Venturia. His name was Manlius, and he had not responded to the changes brought about when Paula and Wonder Woman had removed the mutated algae from their food supply. He remained a puny male, but due to something he had created called the Z-Vapor, his mind had evolved beyond normal human potential. Thus this former slave now governed all of the city-states of lost Atlantis, or so he believed.
Now, as Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor paced in their cell below the palace, Aquaman battled the mad queen and sought to protect her daughter — a woman he was beginning to love.
Meanwhile, back in Venturia, Queen Clea fretted little about the escape of Octavia. She was more concerned about the ravening hunger of Sharkeeta and the shark-maids. The beautiful Clea wore her usual short skirt and white brassiere. She had added a tiara that now rested in her blonde curls. She had her realm back once more, but now she wanted to rid herself of Sharkeeta and her sisters. She believed she could find the means to do so.
Lacing on her strap sandals, Clea walked to a vault beneath Venturia. Shoving a guard aside, she entered an ancient chamber. The lost magic of old Atlantis was stored within. All she had to do was find the right spell with which to turn the fierce women warriors back into normal sharks.
She was a warrior woman of fabulous Amazonian physique and cunning mind. She had killed countless subjects, and she had killed many with her bare hands. Yet she now felt a shock of ice-cold fear race down her bare back, and even she, Queen Clea of Venturia, ran from the haunted chambers like a frightened schoolgirl.
There would have to be other ways to deal with her problems. That lost magic was not meant for her. She would never return to that ancient chamber — never. This she told herself… or was told by a voice within her mind.
A woman’s laughter echoed faintly within the minds of every pawn of the mutated manling called Manlius.