The bright blue and red figure of Superman streaked over the surface of the ocean faster than any plane. He kept close to the water, barely twenty feet above it, to stay out of the way of any commercial or private aircraft that may have been flying this route. The weather was beautiful, with the sun shining on the clear water, but the Man of Steel had no time to appreciate it.
“Coming up on the coordinates now,” he said to himself. “I guess it’s down, down, and away!” Superman arced down and cleaved the sparkling blue-green water, rocketing down through the depths like a torpedo. He took a moment to marvel at the sights around him. He had been in the deepest reaches of space and visited galaxies light-years away, but he still found the world under the sea fascinating and beautiful. There were times that he envied his Justice League comrade Aquaman, who had seen so much more of this world than he ever had or would. Superman allowed himself a few moments to reflect on this, then concentrated on the business at hand: finding the Outrider.
“Dane!” Nicky called from his post at the sonar-scan monitors. “Bogey at three o’clock!”
“What?” Dane asked. “Have you been watching old war movies on AMC again? English, please!”
“Sorry,” the college student said. “Unidentified object heading this way; or at least it was.”
“It was? What do you mean it was?”
“In the time it took to talk about it,” Nicky said, “it went right by us and kept on going! Whatever it was, a torpedo moves in slow motion by comparison!”
“Did it go by our scanners?” Dane asked as Biff and Judy came close to the bridge to see.
“For about a nano, yeah,” Nicky said.
“Bring up the display,” Dane commanded.
“Aye-aye, Skipper,” Nicky said, fingers flying over the keyboard. “Good thing I took those computer science classes at Cal State! Ah, here we go.”
“Where?” Dane asked. “I don’t see anything.” The screen only showed the ocean outside, a few fish visible.
“Here, I’ll play it again,” Nicky said, rewinding the tape. “Watch the upper part of the screen.”
Dane peered closely at the screen; faster than an eye blink, a blur shot across the upper portion of the screen. “Slow it down until we can make out what it is,” Dane instructed.
“I’ll take it frame by frame, but even then it’s doubtful,” Nicky said. In moments, the Sea Devils were watching the view one frame at a time. The fish seemed suspended in amber. Finally, the blur came into view, still blurry even at this incredibly slow subjective speed.
“There!” Dane cried, pointing. “Freeze that, and augment the image!”
Nicky did, and in moments, a fuzzy image filled the screen, vaguely man-shaped. Just barely visible in the center was a symbol recognized the world over.
“Superman!” Dane cried.
“The big guy himself!” Biff said in awe. “I remembered when he saved Judy a few years ago. (*) You also teamed up with him once or twice, didn’t you, Dane?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Times Past, 1984: Seeds, Chapter 1: Visitors from Another Earth.]
“Yes,” the leader of the Sea Devils acknowledged. “When I was working with the Forgotten Heroes.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Another Time, Another Death,” Action Comics #552 (February, 1984), “The World at Time’s End,” Action Comics #553 (March, 1984), “Triad of Terror,” DC Comics Presents #77 (January, 1985), and “The Triad,” DC Comics Presents #78 (February, 1985).]
“That was during the year that we–” Judy said haltingly. “That we were–”
“I know, honey,” Dane said softly. “I know.”
“What’s he doing in this neck of the woods?” Nicky wondered aloud. “Visiting his JLA buddy in Atlantis, you think?”
“Or maybe Captain X has been up to some high-level mischief!” Biff rumbled. “Enough to draw the attention of Superman!”
Dane’s face contorted into a thoughtful grimace. Judy watched her husband’s expression and felt a tremor of fear. She knew there was something he wasn’t sharing with them — with her. And she didn’t know how to ask him about it.
Superman’s powerful vision cut through the murky depths of the ocean, far from any natural light source, and saw the undersea tableau as clear as day. He scanned the ocean depths for any sign of the Outrider, but came up empty.
Not a trace, Superman thought to himself. According to the coordinates the Admiral gave me, it was right around here that the Outrider lost contact with the outside world. What on earth — or rather, beneath the sea — could have happened to it? Superman floated in the water several feet above the ocean floor for long moments, pondering the puzzle. So intent was he in his concentration, he didn’t hear the silent predator gliding up behind him until the creature was a mere foot from his body.
“Great Scott!” Superman exclaimed and whirled around in the water, the shark’s hungry jaws missing his head by inches. That’s what I get for letting myself get lost in thought! Don’t want to let the shark bite me; the big dumb brute is only following its instincts, I don’t want it to injure itself. Better just encourage it to seek its meal elsewhere. A quick burst of heat-vision on the shark’s underbelly sent the ravenous fish away in a cloud of bubbles, pain, and confusion buzzing in its tiny brain for a few scant seconds before they were forgotten and once more only hunger remembered.
So much for Jaws IV, or V, or whatever they’re up to by now, Superman mused. But it doesn’t get me any closer to — wait a minute! The Man of Tomorrow snapped his fingers, creating a tiny cloud of bubbles. Heat-vision reminds me; the Outrider was carrying two hot nuclear missiles, not to mention its own atomic engines. My infrared vision should be able to pick up the energy trail left by it! Concentrating, Superman shifted his vision into the lower spectrums.
The undersea world changed to a dizzying pattern of light and dark colors — mostly dark in the icy depths under the sea, but with a clearly visible trail of bright crimson.
That’s got to be it, Superman thought, taking off through the water and following the trail.
“Dane, I’ve plotted Superman’s course on the computer,” Judy advised. “If he follows the trajectory our scanners picked him up on, he’s headed for the same coordinates that we are!”
“That clinches it!” Dane said, his right fist smacking into his palm. “Captain X is not only back, he’s gotten ambitious! Whatever he’s up to, it’s big enough to call the attention of Superman!”
“That doesn’t sound like X,” Nicky offered. “He’s always pretty much kept himself to himself, really.”
“The kid’s right,” Biff grumbled. “He’s given us trouble, but then he’s helped us a couple times, too. He’s a loner, an outsider, but he’s never really been the evil mastermind type.” The muscle man of the Sea Devils stroked his lantern jaw. “Of course, if Superman’s after him…”
“I don’t want to believe it myself,” Dane said. “But if it is true, if Captain X has done something to get Superman after him, we’ve got to get to him before Superman does!”
“Dane!” Judy cried out, desperation in her voice that made every head turn in her direction. “I’ve had enough! It has to end now!”
“What are you talking about, darling?” Dane asked, urgently. “What has to end?”
“The secrecy!” Judy declared. “The mystery! There’s something about Captain X you’re not telling us! I’ve always suspected it, but now I’m sure of it! Something you won’t share with your friends — with your wife!”
“Judy, what are you saying?” Nicky demanded. “Dane wouldn’t keep anything from us!”
“Now, wait a sec,” Biff rumbled. “Now I come to think of it, Dane always has been kinda funny where X was concerned.”
“Not you, too, Biff?” Nicky asked. “Has everybody gone crazy? Dane’s our leader! He wouldn’t keep anything from us!”
“Then let’s ask him straight out,” Judy said. She looked her husband in the eye. “Dane, is there anything about Captain X that you’ve kept from us?”
The leader of the Sea Devils looked from one expectant face to the other and was silent for long, tense minutes.
Bingo! Superman thought, entering an undersea cavern. The Outrider rested on the bottom like a huge metal fish sleeping off a meal. There it is! But how did it get here — undetected? Something about this whole situation is, pardon the pun, fishy!
A sudden noise, a whoosh of expelled air into the water, made Superman’s head turn. He found himself staring right into an oncoming object.
Torpedo! Superman thought. Somebody’s kidding! A torpedo against me? Who do they think–?
The Man of Steel’s thoughts ended abruptly as the torpedo’s warhead exploded in a blast of brilliant, glowing green.
“Oh, my head,” Superman moaned groggily. He stirred and tried to move, but he found he could not, his arms and legs bound fast. He tried harder but found himself too weak to break his bonds. He slowly opened his eyes, then shut them again when a brilliant green glow shone into them. He opened them again slowly and found himself manacled to a steel table, a chunk of green kryptonite suspended above his head on a steel rod.
“Ah, you’re awake,” a voice behind him said. “I apologize for the accommodations, Superman, but we do our best with what we have.”
Superman craned his neck to stare at his captor, a bearded man in the uniform of a naval sub commander. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure,” Superman hissed through teeth grinding from the pain of the kryptonite.
“Many call me Captain X,” the bearded man stated. “My real name, however, is John Payton–”
“–Dorrance,” Dane concluded. He looked at the aghast faces of his wife and friends.
“What?” Judy gasped. “Are you telling us that Captain X is… is…”
“My father,” Dane said simply. “Yes, it’s true. I’ve kept that knowledge from you all these years out of shame.”
“But — but how?” Biff asked, dumbfounded. “What happened to him? Why’s he roaming the seas as Captain X?”
“Years ago, while on a routine mission,” Dane explained, “my father ran afoul of some ex-Nazis in a submarine. They had some bizarre plot to reestablish the Reich, and who knows but that it would have succeeded? My father–”
“–had to stop them,” Captain X explained to his super-captive. “I pulled what I thought was a self-destruct lever; I figured I would die along with the Nazis, but it was a sacrifice worth making.” Superman nodded once, understanding that. “But it wasn’t a destruct lever at all. It released a powerful, unique radiation throughout the submarine. My Nazi hosts fled the submarine in time, but alas, I–”
“–was caught in the bombardment,” Dane went on. “It made the submarine a living prison for my father. If he ever leaves it, he will die instantly. So he’s been roaming the world’s oceans ever since, like some kind of Flying Dutchman.”
“Incredible!” Nicky gasped. “That’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie! And yet we’ve seen more bizarre things.”
“Captain X is your father! And you never trusted us with that knowledge?” Judy asked. “Oh, Dane!”
“Judy, put yourself in my position!” Dane begged. “It was a shameful secret! I became a Sea Devil out of pride for my father, the great naval hero, and then I learned he’d become… what he’d become. I-I didn’t know how you’d react to the knowledge. Your friendship — your love — was so important to me, I couldn’t risk it!”
“It was never a risk, Dane,” Biff rumbled. “Nothin’ like that would ever make us think the less of you! You should know that!”
Dane smiled. “That means a lot to me, big guy. Thanks.”
“But what’s Captain X — your dad — up to now?” Nicky asked. “What’s his plan?”
“Who can say?” Dane asked, spreading his hands wide. “Years of being imprisoned under the sea have driven him–”
“–mad,” Captain X said. “I thought I would go mad, a prisoner in this submarine, forever alone, doomed to live and die a solitary existence with only fish for my companions! But I held onto my sanity; in fact, my mind is clearer than ever! And now I have found a way to escape my imprisonment!”
“By hijacking a nuclear submarine?” Superman asked. “Captain Dorrance, give yourself up! I promise you, everything will be done to find a cure for–”
Captain X threw back his head and laughed. “The submarine? I already let it go! It’s on its way back to Annapolis by now! I never needed the submarine!” Before the confused Superman could phrase the question, Captain X leaned in close. “It was only the bait. My real prize, the means to my exodus from this submersible prison, is you, Superman!”