Aquaman passed through the land of Xebel until he reached the palace. Royal guards greeted him. They saluted before ushering him inside. He nodded appreciatively and gazed around the vast receiving hall. He was adept by now at royal protocol, and he knew this smooth entrance was a bit unusual.
Strange that they were so agreeable, thought Arthur Curry. I may be their former queen’s husband, but they have never embraced me as anything more than a helper in times of trouble. I’m tolerated, but certainly not revered here.
He waited with an uneasy manner, not really knowing what to expect. The hall that led to the royal throne then opened before him, and he crossed the wide area with his usual certain confidence.
“Well, well, well! I wondered when you would bother to show up!” cooed a voice he knew all too well.
He gasped as he looked up and saw Mera herself lounging across the throne. He rushed forward, only to have his path blocked by armed guards.
“Stay back, you other-worlder!” said a stern guard. “None may approach Queen Mera unbidden!”
Aquaman calmly turned and punched the trooper across the room. He spun to catch a lowered spear in his mighty arms and ripped it out of the owner’s hands. He jabbed the blunt end back in the man’s startled face and said, “All of you stay back. I’ll see my wife, and none of you will stop me!”
They all backed away. His anger and power forced them back. His powerful mental gifts almost allowed him to palpably project his feelings when they were so very strong.
“Mera, Hila abducted you! I came as soon as I realized her deception. Are you hurt? How is the baby? It’s due any day now!” he said as he took her hand.
The beautiful woman’s flame red hair cascaded around her shoulders. She wore a pale green dressing gown and looked fit. The glow of pregnancy was upon her, as was her normal regal charisma.
“Arthur. Poor, benighted Arthur. I was never abducted like some frail maiden from one of those tales of knightly daring you love so. I merely grew tired of your reluctance to forsake the surface world and heroics for our rightful place as nobles. You refused to become king, and thus I departed. Hila was a widow — her man Kandor had died — thus she was pathetically eager to take my place with you. I even suggested a way in which she could also become pregnant. I thought using Orm was a particularly ironic stroke!” she laughed.
He knew that silvery laugh. He knew those flashing eyes. He had heard that musical tone over and over. This was no evil twin. This was his wife. Now, as he heard her words of rejection and scorn, he almost broke. His steely resolve wavered for the barest moment.
“Mera, I love you, and I demand you come back to me. We can work through this. Life is too short for petty spite. We’ve lost so very much time as it is! Hila is dead. Black Manta killed her. Now do you see what these games have cost us?” he said as he drew her into his arms.
Her green eyes flashed with sudden malice. “Unhand me. I will order the guards to impale you unless you leave now. I never want to see you again!”
Aquaman released her and frowned as the emotions washed over him. He was a proud man. He had been a champion and a king. Now, however, he felt lost and hurt. Still, he was Aquaman, and he never truly embraced defeat. “Well, if that’s the way you want it, then I have no choice,” he said.
He turned as if to leave and then whirled around to scoop her up in his arms. He kissed her and probed her mind with the vast mental might that was his alone to command. He smiled and held her struggling form tighter.
“I see it all now,” he said. “I had no need to do this to Hila. I blindly assumed she was you. Now, I have reason to doubt all I see or hear, and with good reason! You showed no emotion when I said your twin sister had died. You are not Mera. You merely inhabit her body. You’ve done so before. You’re Vlana! (*) You have possessed her again! Maybe you did so and worked out the ruse with Hila as you claimed, or maybe you and Hila planned it together. It does not matter. I know you now! Having contacted your mind before when you took over poor Mera, I can recognize your subtle thought patterns as they cloud her mind. Well, Vlana, I’m taking her back from you, or I’ll die trying!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Help! I’m a Prisoner in My Own Body!” Action Comics #539 (January, 1983) and “Water-War One,” Action Comics #540 (February, 1983).]
At the moment he stared into her eyes, his world changed. The ghostly figure appeared and enveloped their entwined forms. The world brightened in a magical flash of light, and as the light faded, they found themselves in a world unlike either Earth or Xebel. They had been drawn into Mera’s mind. Aquaman saw the woman he held as she truly appeared. She was sultry, with dark black hair and piercing eyes, wearing a purple jumpsuit and boots. Nearby, bound and tearful, lay the true Mera. She wept with joy at the sight of her lover.
“Arthur! Thank Neptune!” the real Mera cried. “Vlana possessed me and tricked poor Hila into taking my life with you. Hila’s sick. Losing Kandor drove her mad, and Vlana capitalized upon that. I’ve been here all this time, and while I saw and heard all she did in my body, I could neither act nor fight back. My mind watched as if I was another person or a bodiless ghost!”
“You’ve drawn us into Mera’s mind,” cried Aquaman. “This is to be the battlefield upon which we decide who is to rule her body. I tell you now that my wife will be free!”
Vlana laughed a throaty chuckle and said, “Perhaps. Then again, maybe she will die, and I’ll give your body to him!”
She gestured toward the ghostly form that had materialized within Mera’s mind. It was a very familiar form, now that his body had taken on its normal appearance.
“The Ocean Master!” gasped Mera.
“Orm!” said an angry Aquaman.
The Ocean Master sneered in his cold and confident manner. “Correct, little brother. After the last battle, that Martian weapon almost killed me. It was more than a weapon. It had a teleportation feature built within. When it blew up, it rendered me a mere ghost. My body existed between realms. The teleportation was incomplete. Thus, I followed your little soap opera and learned how Hila had used me. She tricked me. That witch made me think she was your wife. I’d kill her for that if Manta hadn’t done that for me. He’s always an over-achiever.”
“Arthur, is he telling the truth?” said Mera. “Is my sister dead?”
Vlana interrupted and said, “Yes, Hila served my purpose, and now she sleeps with the fishes. Isn’t that the right Earthly phrase?”
“Orm, I don’t know how you brought us into Mera’s mind,” said Aquaman, “but it doesn’t matter if it was magic, alien science, or sheer luck. I’m going to beat you and Vlana.”
“No,” said Ocean Master. “I’m going to take over your body. Wouldn’t father be proud?”
Aquaman turned and grabbed Ocean Master’s arm. They struggled on the mind-scape as if they were boys again back at their father’s lighthouse. This fight was far from being a new one. Their battle had been waged for years in one way or another.
“You can’t summon your finny friends here,” said Ocean Master. “This is going to mean I’ll win! I have my weaponry!” He aimed a dagger at his sibling’s bare neck, and Aquaman twisted aside.
“What’s wrong, Orm? Can’t you grow up? You’ve used our father’s favoritism as your excuse for being a maladjusted loser all these years! Let his memory rest in peace. You are your own man. I once thought I was to blame for everything you did and what you became, but not anymore. Now I just want to make you leave me and my family alone!” Aquaman deflected the dagger and punched Ocean Master across the face, hitting him again and again.
Ocean Master laughed as he fell. “I’m as strong as you here. I can think myself into being your master!” Aquaman fell backward as his foe struck him with ever-stronger blows.
Vlana laughed and watched, but did not interfere, or did she?
“You are feeding him power,” Aquaman said in realization. “You’ve become so attuned to Mera’s mind that you can adjust what occurs here as you please. I think I’d better even the playing field!” He shoved Orm aside and charged Vlana’s mocking form. He pretended to seek to grab the raven-haired witch, but at the last moment he raced toward Mera and ripped free her bonds.
“Mera, fight for us! Fight for our baby! Take control of this place, and we’ll win!” he urged.
Mera nodded. She was determined as well; she had been the plaything for far too long. She exerted her strength of will and drew upon the maternal need to protect her child. “Vlana, get out of my mind!” she screamed.
Vlana gasped and began to fade from view. “No! It cannot end this way!” she pleaded.
Mera stood firm, and as Aquaman held her hand, she won a final victory. She woke up in Xebel, and Aquaman blinked as he realized they had exited the mindscape.
“Are you OK?” he asked as she embraced him.
“I’m free and fine, all thanks to you!” said his wife. They turned to see Vlana. She was back in her own body and was lying before them. “Guards! Take her to the medical chambers. Her madness must be treated, but she should be watched carefully,” ordered Mera.
The guards obeyed and carried the defeated woman way. She would threaten no one for a long time to come. Her mind was damaged, and her eyes betrayed no fire or will.
Aquaman took Mera home to Poseidonis, where his friends greeted them with joy.
“Mera, dear!” said Vulko. “I’ve been so wrong. I believed you to be behind our troubles. I hope you can forgive an old man his folly.”
Mera kissed his cheek and said, “There is nothing to forgive. I feel nothing but pity and regret for poor Hila. She lost her lover and thus lost all she had. I pray I’ll never be in that position!”
Aquaman kissed her and said, “I will never lose you again.”
Aqualad turned to Ulla and said, “That could be us someday.”
Ulla Påske nodded. “I hope we will be that happy. His love led him through so many ordeals. Aquaman is a remarkable man.”
Garth grinned. “He’s the finest man I know.”
Mera and Aquaman enjoyed a few days of blissful rest, and then one morning she finally went into long-overdue labor, which had been prolonged by her time in Xebel. Aquaman never left her side, and eventually he emerged from the chambers to greet a concerned Garth, Ulla, Arion, Atlena, and Dolphin.
“It’s a girl! We’ve named her Nautica,” said the delighted father.
Dolphin kissed him and said, “Thank goodness!”
Arion smiled and turned to Atlena. “She shall live to do great things for both Atlantis and the world above. One day she shall rule a united Atlantis.”
Aquaman shrugged. “She’ll rule my heart, and that much I promise.”
In Xebel, while the Aqua-family enjoyed these long deserved pleasures, Vlana’s prone form rested in a medical cell. She was unchanged except for her eyes. Now they flashed with the brightness of wit and malice.
She sat up slowly and laughed a harsh laugh. While she looked like Vlana, her mind was very different.
Well, this is not the body I wanted, but it’ll do for now! thought the Ocean Master.