Captain Atlantis swam through the ocean towards central London. The British Isles and most of Northern Europe long since submerged into the ocean after the great cataclysm caused by global warming, their inhabitants taken to living their lives beneath great plexiglas domes, he lived beneath the waves in the land of submarines.
He entered through the airlock and soared inside the dome beneath the artificial light, towards the laboratory located at the top of the Baxter Building in Canary Wharf, and entered through the observatory window. "Dr. Richards?"
The grey-haired man turned to look at the visitor. "Captain," he acknowledged. "Thank you for coming so quickly, sir. We ... have a visitor."
Captain Atlantis saw the towering figure in the room, and recognised one of the extraterrestrial Singing Ones, usually sworn not to interfere in the civilisations which they saw fit to watch. In an eerie, inhuman voice, it began to chant:
In the darkness, beyond the light
There stalks a giant ebony blight
Consuming worlds, their resistance to naught
No matter how bravely they fought.
"I've been searching the skies, ever since the Singing One alerted me. I've never seen anything like this." Richards stepped away from the telescopic visor. Captain Atlantis stepped forward, peering through, and felt his insides lurch at the sight of the black cloud drifting through space as if with intent, and the glittering silver objects which preceded it. He had come to Earth from Otherworld millennia ago, and some legends, some monsters, remained as fresh in his memory. "Gah Lak Tus," he intoned.
"Galactus? What can you tell me about it?"
"I will have to summon the rest of the Deep Six. Be prepared." Without another word, he exited as he had come. He teleported first to the building which held the office of the Daily Bugle, and closed his eyes as he hovered overhead, his mind telepathically seeking out that of copy boy Mickey Greaves. He sensed the mind disappear with a force like lightning, to be replaced by another one which was older and wiser. Soon, he witnessed the nearly seven foot tall man flying towards him: almost terrifyingly beautiful, with close-cropped blond hair, clad in blue tights with military stripes down the leggings, red boots and gloves, and two red fish emblazoned in a yellow circle on his chest. "Mackerelman," he said.
Mackerelman nodded, "I sensed your distress. This isn't a social call, is it, Neptunius?"
"No," Captain Atlantis replied. "It may be the end of everything."
Mackerelman's hand sought out the Captain's, placing it on his heart. "We'll face it down, the way we have all the other menaces which have come our way."
"Go see Dr. Richards," Captain Atlantis said as he leaned forward to kiss his partner, "I will gather the rest." Without another word, he teleported away. Mackerelman remained in place for brief moments, his heart aching, before traveling on towards the gathering of his allies. En route, he saw the skies fill with glittering silver, piscine-formed objects which seemed to descend from space. He interrupted his path and journeyed upwards, through the surface of the blue ocean and then higher, past the edge of the atmosphere long since obscured by clouds of green algae, and was appalled to see them ranging over the planet like some Biblical flood.
When Captain Atlantis returned, Dr. Richards was clad in the uniform he had been known by in public for decades, that of the Shark. The others who comprised the membership of the Deep Six arrived soon after: Mackerelman, Fishboy, Argo, and Aquavenger.
"I've been consulting with Professor Kraken," the Shark said, "attempting to gather information on the entity. I've also notified Barracuda and Pearl of the Deep in case we require extra support. Those silver objects ... what purpose do they serve?"
"They're advanced scouts," Captain Atlantis said. "Their name translates best as 'Silverfish.' They're in contact with Gah Lak Tus right now, confirming that Earth is an appropriate planet for it to use to satisfy its ... appetites."
"Appetites?" Fishboy's eyes widened. "So this isn't just another ... invader to see off?"
"I wish it were so," Captain Atlantis replied. "What appears to be a black cloud is actually a collective of dust-mote sized robot drones. It 'feeds' by exhuming thermal energy from the cores of living planets, leaving permanently lifeless husks."
"Those Silverfish have already invaded the nation-state of Tremuda," Argo scowled. "They've been setting off mass panics."
"I tried to catch one," Aquavenger said, "but even with the dolphins' help I couldn't get close to it."
"The Silverfish can manipulate large quantities of energy; they would need to do so in order to traverse interstellar space," Captain Atlantis said. "I had tutored you and Mackerelman in preparation for the coming trials you would both have to face ... but I had never anticipated Gah Lak Tus."
The Shark furrowed his brow. "Captain, how have other civilisations fought it off, or managed to deflect it?"
"I had anticipated, should any threat on this scale ever arrive, that I would be able to organise a planetary evacuation. But Earth's technology has not yet progressed to that point, and there is insufficient time to make it do so."
"So that's it? We're all going to die?" Fishboy fretted.
"No. Not so long as I can help it." He thought back to his face-off with Remlin in Otherworld, his subsequent exile from that shining land of endless garden, and his resolution to act as champion of his new, adopted homeworld. "I am going to try to communicate with Gah Lak Tus and see whether I can deflect it from its path." He faded from view, teleporting to an unknown space.
Aquavenger looked at his comrades. "Do we have any kind of backup plan? We can't just sit here ... "
Mackerelman contemplated his partner, alone in space, confronting that black cloud. "I don't know about you," he snarled, "but I'm going fishing for silver." He bolted out the window like lightning, seeking to strike out at the silver entities which had invaded his city and his world.
The Shark nodded. "The Captain has left me with what information he had from the Otherworld databases regarding Gah Lak Tus; I'm going to return to my laboratory and attempt to devise and offensive against it."
"I'm the ranking diplomatic representative of Tremuda in London," Argo said. "The three of us must maintain the public face of the Deep Six and try to calm people's fears. We'll defeat this creature ... we have to."
The deadly blue shark known as Scarback coursed through the ocean's deep. He had little memory of his distant past, though since he had been taken as a test animal on an experimental space flight and exposed to the cosmic rays which had somehow enhanced his perceptions and telepathically linked him to the human Richards, his life had consisted of a series of fantastic hunts and predations which he had retained in his mind with crystal clarity.
He was hunting now. Accompanying him were Richards' tribe, peculiar humans who moved through the water like sharks. One of them had the scent of blood about him, which Scarback found slightly distracting. It was Richards' self-discipline which kept him focused on the path ahead.
"You're sure this will work, Mackerelman?" Fishboy asked.
Mackerelman nodded, grimly. His face was marred and burned from his recent conflicts. "I managed to destroy one of them, so we know they're not invincible. But capturing one will be more difficult."
"They evidently possess some degree of telepathic ability," Argo said. "They've been inducing panic in domed cities across the planet, causing riots and mass suicides because of Gah Lak Tus' imminent arrival. We must be wary of that."
Scarback found what he was looking for: the scent of the Silverfish they had detected traversing between cities, in the greater ocean where the Deep Six's abilities were at their best advantage. It was alien, repulsive and metallic yet somehow fascinating. He changed direction, and signaled for the others to follow.
The alien came into view. Fishboy reached out with his mind, attempting to control it the way he could certain forms of terrestrial sea life. The Silverfish slowed, feeling the effects, but began to shift its shape, becoming something more nearly humanoid, although its features retained their piscine origins. Fishboy felt its resistance and cried out as he was forcibly rebuffed.
Aquavenger took advantage of the Silverfish's momentary confusion to sweep up behind it, slamming it forward with a double-fisted sweep. As the alien swept forward, it began to change shape once more and bristled with spines, just as Mackerelman dealt it another powerful blow.
The Silverfish's face almost seemed to display anger, uncharacteristic from their common placidity, and it sent waves of cosmic energy exploding through the water. The humans were forced back. Aquavenger sought to protect Fishboy, struggling to maintain his own superpowered form. Argo attempted to use his electrically propelled suit to tack channel the energy and tack against it, while Mackerelman attempted to use brute force even as the energy seemed to strike, in an almost sentient manner, against his previous injuries.
"I defeated one of you before," Mackerelman growled as he edged closer. As he was about to strike the Silverfish it struck against his face with a cosmically charged, spiny fist. Mackerelman recoiled from the pain, and as the Silverfish pressed forward on the offensive, Scarback coasted in, riding the cosmic energy as if he had been born to it, and from the pack strapped to his belly he ejected a containment canister. Caught by surprise, the Silverfish found itself encased in a trap of Richards' design.
Argo approached the alien who raged futilely. "Now let's see what dissecting you will have to teach us," he said. "Don't worry Scarback, you'll get your feast."
Captain Atlantis reappeared on the outer edges of the solar system, and continued on his intersection of the black cloud's path. Conflicting emotions of terror and awe coursed through him as he faced a destructive entity which was ancient when his own race was in infancy.
As the cloud began its approach, he quieted his mind to still his fears. Cautiously, he extended mental tendrils towards the cloud, probing for some signs of sentience.
He was rewarded with an overwhelming sensation like a crack of thunder, as a billion billion voices responded to his contact. He sensed they responded to the touch of his mind as if it had been an obscene desecration.
He struggled to erect a mental barrier in an attempt to shield himself from the pain, and quickly teleported himself back to Earth.
The Shark witnessed his return. "I know what Gah Lak Tus is now, Dr. Richards," Captain Atlantis said quietly. "And moreover, I know how to defeat it."
Aboard the electric torpedo ram known as the Blackfish, the reunited Deep Six broached the surface of the water and headed out, past the edge of the atmosphere and into space.
Fishboy peered at Captain Atlantis. "So you actually made contact?"
He nodded. "Gah Lak Tus is older than we'd thought ... almost unimaginably old. It's a group organism consisting of the melded consciousness of the last survivors of the contraction of the previous universe, before their 'big crunch' and the 'big bang' which created our own universe. I don't know whether it's sentient as we think of sentience. However, what I did learn is that a universe in a state of contraction is vastly different from one in its expansive phase, as ours is currently. It seems to consider the very concept of organic life to be abhorrent, and that is perhaps something we can use to our advantage."
"That sounds hard to believe," Aquavenger said. "How can we use the fact that it want to kill us to our advantage?"
"In the past," Captain Atlantis replied. "I have given both you and Mackerelman key harmonics that allowed you to transform into heroic scourges of the seas. I'm going to need you to summon those energies now, and channel them into me, rather than yourselves. That will give me enough energy to distract Gah Lak Tus from our real offensive, courtesy of Dr. Richards."
The Shark smiled grimly. "You may remember the portal device that we had previously used to explore the Negative Zone." He indicates a device attached externally to the Blackfish, a red parabolic dish. "I've constructed what may be thought of as a 'Negative Zone Projector.' I'm going to trap Gah Lak Tus in that insane, nearly lifeless universe."
Fishboy peered out the window. "I hope it works, Doctor ... because we're in sight."
"And we're going to attract its attention," Captain Atlantis said. "Full speed ahead, Dr. Richards, full speed ahead!"
Argo joined the Shark at the co-pilot's position. "Full speed over here, sir!"
Captain Atlantis nodded, taking his scions by the hand, eyes intent on the black cloud outside the port window. "All together! All together!"
Aquavenger shouted, "Aquavenger!" as Mackerelman shouted, "Magister Ludi!" The sound of a thunderclap echoed within the ship, and Captain Atlantis drew their coruscating energy into himself, psycho-blasting it directly at Gah Lak Tus. The billion billion minds, tainted by the thoughts and emotions of humanity, seemed to recoil. The Silverfish gathered among them, departing shimmeringly from the planet's surface to rejoin their masters.
Argo watched Captain Atlantis intently, fingers poised, and at the other's signal he pressed down on the control panel. "Aye, aye, sir, fire!"
Outside, the surreal reality of the Negative Zone seemed to co-exist over their own. When approximately twenty percent of the cloud seemed to have disappeared into the other realm, Captain Atlantis cried out in pain, but he held himself focused until the space above the Earth had cleared completely.
Fishboy saw the Corpsman tumble to the ground, blood trickling from his eyes. "Captain! Captain!" He knelt down, assisting the fallen man. Mackerelman rushed to join him, taking the man in his arms and repeatedly whispering his lover's name.
"We've all died in the Corps, Mike," he said finally, lifting his hand to trace the tears from Mackerelman's cheek, "but not today. Did we succeed? I felt its pain and confusion, but has it really gone?"
The Shark walked over. "Our plan succeeded, and the projector worked just as we'd intended; I assume the Singing One will be pleased not to have to be re-assigned to watch over another inhabited planet."
Captain Atlantis smiled wryly. "Yes, it'd be a shame to disappoint it." He leaned upwards, nestling in Mackerelman's embrace. "Take us home, Dr. Richards."
My primary reason for writing this story was to allude to Alan Moore's 'Mackerelman' comment when he was interviewed about renaming 'Marvelman' reprints for the American market. I also wanted to reify my established tendency to pair Corps members with Marvelman Family counterparts, not to mention the fact that we haven't seen a male-male kiss in about 30 issues.
Captain Atlantis trademark and copyright Geoffrey Scott and Danny Bulanadi
Aquavenger trademark and copyright Odhams Press
Argo trademark and copyright Nat Brand
Fishboy trademark and copyright I.P.C.
Mackerelman trademark and copyright Michael Norwitz
The Shark trademark and copyright I.P.C.
Gah Lak Tus trademark and copyright Marvel Comics, Inc
Singing One's lyrics thanks to Captain Deadpool.