A small glow illuminated the otherwise dark waters near the ocean’s floor. Most of the creatures of the deep avoided the strange light until one lone predator drew closer to it and bathed in its weird radiance.
The shark began to change, and a more humanoid form developed. But it still retained a killer’s eye and razor-sharp teeth. It smiled and reached into the glow to raise a gleaming band from the ocean floor and attach it to its now-human arm.
The Shark lives again to hunt his prey of choice! he thought.
He swam off toward a sunken city and a battle royale.
Will Payton, alias Starman, carried his sister Jayne Payton across the desert as she snapped photos eagerly.
“Thanks, Will,” she said. “This is giving me a chance to catch some totally rad shots. All girls need a flying brother!” She laughed.
Will Payton grinned and said, “It’s just like when I had my first car. You pay by the mile!”
Jayne swatted him playfully. “Put it on my tab. You owe me for that broken Barbie Dreamhouse, anyway!”
Will shook his head. “Nope! Barbie should never have moved directly into the path of the Payton Express Railway.”
Jayne laughed. “I know. You’re right. Gosh, you are about a perfect brother. Even when you went on the road with Great Frog and the other bands, Mom thought you were an angel!”
“I had a lot of hard work, and some fun,” said Will. “Still, I do need to settle down and find a job. Dolphin and Captain Comet taught me a lot, and I had computer classes back at the community college. Still, I’d like to do something with a little excitement to it as plain old Will Payton.”
“STAR Labs always wants help,” said Jayne, “both in security and in research.”
Will nodded. “I have little real scientific training. But I do know a doctor at STAR. Maybe I’ll look her up.”
Jayne asked him, “Will, about Dolphin? You admitted to me that you only broke up with her because you were so freaked out by the changes to your body due to your powers. Why don’t you call her?”
Will frowned. “I can’t pull her around like my own private plaything. I want you, I don’t want you — no, really, I want you, et cetera. She deserves better.”
“Stubborn,” said Jayne. “She might be the girl for you. Don’t let her get away!”
Will thought about her all the time, anyway. Angela O’Day, why’d I mess things up with you? he thought. Am I as bad as Dad? Love them and leave them?
He stopped abruptly. “Jayne, if this was a comic book, I’d say my spider-sense just tingled. It’s like when I helped Wonder Woman with the Star Sword, but different — a sensation of sorts that almost draws me to a spot away from here!”
Jayne Payton sighed. “Will Payton, if you strand me out here in the desert in these shoes, I’ll murder you!”
He zoomed across the sands. “I’ll drop you off at the next town and come back for you — I promise!”
Jayne grinned. “That’s what you said when I was ten and you left me at Dairy Queen!”
King Iquila of Tritonis was angry. He had been enraged ever since his homeland was nearly destroyed by an energy blast that had originated in Poseidonis. His efforts to rebuild had been time-consuming since that attack a few weeks ago. (*) He had divided his time between rebuilding and training a hastily assembled militia.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Aquaman: Can Any Place Be Home? Chapter 3: Treachery in Atlantis.]
“The stripling Aqualad insisted that the attack came not from their King Vulko but from a surface man named Ocean Master!” he had roared to a crowd. “Bah! They sent their aide and their apologies, but what about the next time some madman who hates their Aquaman decides to use our home as a battlefield? I say we should prepare to get security, even we if it requires us to raze Poseidonis to the ground!” Many of the crowd supported him.
Jerro had tried to calm the mob, but Iquila scorned the youth as one who had abandoned his senses to pine over a surface woman. Indeed, Supergirl’s statue stood intact in Tritonis. Iquila still felt that all surface entanglements should be avoided, and when he had repaired his city and trained his army, he would drive this point home — over Aquaman’s dead body, if necessary.
This morning, Iquila swam alone to gather his thoughts. He felt as if he was being watched. His warrior’s instinct warned him that someone or something was hiding and watching his every move.
“Reveal yourself and face me, or cower in the shadows like the refuse you are!” he said telepathically. A shiver ran down his spine as this indomitable warrior uncharacteristically felt fear.
The Shark erupted from the shadows and slammed into Iquila, battering him with his fists and tearing at his shoulder with his gleaming fangs. “You fear me, merman?” he said. “I sense that! I enjoy that! I feed on such emotions!”
Iquila struggled to free himself from the deadly embrace and felt his shoulder rend as he broke free of the predator’s grip. He brought a sword about and sliced at the leering menace, but to no avail.
The Shark had a force-field. Energy protected him and blazed out to blind and then stun Iquila, who fell cursing his foes and his own weakness.
At that moment, Starman blazed through the water to separate the pair. He had been led by the mysterious energy-trail directly to the altered Shark.
Since I don’t have to breathe anymore, I’ll be fairly at home underwater, he mused. Makes me think of Dolphin! I recognize that gleaming thing as the star-band! It possessed Karin Grace when I was with Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad. I think it was hurled into the ocean when Melisande briefly freed Karin from its control. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Maxima Impact, Chapter 2: Gladiator.]
The Shark turned to face Starman, and the young hero heard the villain’s telepathic thoughts.
“You?” he said. “I have some memory of you! No matter! I shall slay you and feast upon your entrails!”
Starman dodged, thinking, That star-band thing must house some kind of host memories from anyone who uses it. That’s why this thing recalls me from when Karin wore it!
He punched at the Shark, who bit down on Will’s arm. “Ouch! That thing hurt me!” he said, surprised. “Must be due to the stellar energy it uses!” He kicked free and circled the predator.
That creature is frighteningly inhuman, he mused. It makes me feel like Richie Cunningham in comparison. Maybe I can absorb his energy!
Concentrating, he drew the flaming energy closer, only to release it again instantly. No good, he thought. It’s too tainted by his malice. It’s like taking poison!
The Shark charged him, and Starman decided to lead him away from Iquila. He flew toward the other direction, and the Shark kept closely on his back.
Suddenly, he was struck by four smaller sharks with less-humanoid features. “Starlings! He made his own shark versions of those little pawns called Starlings!” gasped Starman as he fell beneath their combined weight.
Tensing himself, he burst free, scattering the powerful little creatures in all directions. As he sent them reeling across the ocean floor, the Shark slammed into him from behind.
“Die, human, die!” he thought.
Starman fell into the darkness and knew no more.
Sometime later, Starman awoke to find himself floating in waters under an unknown sky. He frowned and flew higher, but the surroundings never changed.
“I’m in some other world!” he realized. “This sure isn’t the universe I know! No sign of the Shark, but I still feel that star-band’s energy signal!”
Starman then saw a figure coming toward him through the depths.
“I am Iquila of Tritonis,” said the grim-looking merman.
“I’m Starman of America,” said Will.
“The Shark trapped me in this realm of his devising,” said Iquila. “I know of no place of torment like it in my people’s theology.”
“We’re not alone,” said Will. “Look!” He pointed to where three figures swarmed toward them.
They were weird, distorted versions of Superman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern, and they circled the pair warily, with hungry, shark-like looks on their altered faces.
“These aren’t the real heroes,” said Will. “I can tell they carry the energy signature of the alien weapon the Shark is using. We’re in some type of mental playground!”
The three Shark-manifested heroes attacked with savage fury.
“Look!” said Starman as he observed the three supposed heroes. “No emerald energy, no true super-strength, and certainly no benign mental telepathy like that of Aquaman. These are just memories brought to a version of life by the Shark!”
Iquila struggled with Aquaman. “This one is an enemy to me in any case!” he grunted.
“Ignore them!” said Starman. “I’m able to home in on the true star-band and maybe lead us out of here.”
He grabbed Iquila and flew across the dark oceans of the Shark’s mind, but they seemed to make absolutely no progress.
“Bah! We are fleeing when we should do battle!” said a scornful Iquila.
“Why battle phantasms?” said Starman. “The Shark has us where he wants us!” He then stopped and said, “I can try to sever his connection with the star-band. Maybe my stellar power could do that all too briefly!”
Glowing brightly, Starman strained to reach the source of the energy pattern he had detected. Slowly, he made contact and found reassuring thoughts. “Aquaman!” he realized. “That’s the real Aquaman!”
“That’s right — Starman, follow my thoughts!” echoed the strong mental presence of the sea king.
Starman and Iquila blazed into the dark and suddenly woke up to see Aquaman standing over their bodies.
“You freed us!” said Will as he shook hands with Aquaman. “Your mental telepathy helped lead me out of that Shark’s mind-scape!”
“You’re lucky I arrived,” said Aquaman. “You were generating stellar energy bursts from your stunned body that led me here from my city. It was like a living stellar energy emergency signal! I could see it for miles!”
“You are to blame for this!” said Iquila. “This Shark is yet another of your surface foes altered bizarrely!”
“Whoa!” said Starman. “Ease up, there, fella! Aquaman can’t be blamed for every nut-case that swims the sea!”
Aquaman nodded. “Well said. Still, this Shark is not the one I fought. It’s a normal shark evolved like the Shark I’ve battled in the past. This one was not evolved by radiation but by the stellar energy of the star-band.”
“Well, I can see his energy trail,” said Starman. “I could feel it before, but now my eyes can detect it. I guess it’s a new power.”
Aquaman turned to Iquila. “My enemy attacked your home. I am sorry for that. You must know all the resources of Poseidonis are yours if you need them!”
Iquila turned a proud face away. “Words mean little.”
“Come on!” cried Starman. “Settle your water-world politics later. We’ve got a killer to hunt down!”