Aboard Apocalypso, Jasper and Negative and Ziff huddled transfixed over a monitor displaying a yellow dot that beeped ever earthward in an alarmingly sharp trajectory.
“Shit shit oh SHIT they’re coming in too steep!”
“Too fast,” Negative mumbled. “No chance.”
“Wrong, idiots,” Ziff said, feigning disaffection though his interest was keen. “They’re going to run out of ocean…”
The yellow dot went down beep beep beep…
Blur of fire, splash of crimson across the sky. The sphere shot long overhead like a finger stretching toward the distant horizon, reached the point where the ocean met the sky, and the hot sphere kissed the cold water in a massive eruption of spray and foam, kum-DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSSH!
“Touch-DOWN!” Jasper howled.
“The term,” Ziff sneered, “is splashdown.”
“Bite me bitch,” Jasper snorted. “You sure it’s them?!”
“I’m sure it’s their Battlesuits, one can only assume it’s them!”
“Works for me.” Jasper swung around. “Helm! You got their cords?!”
“Aye, sir! Latitude four zero niner—”
“Save it, man,” Jasper snapped. “Let’s go get ‘em!”
Blue and white waves rose and fell, evaporated instantly against the burning shell of the sphere. The sky rumbled; there was a soft whisper of rain. The glowing sphere bobbed and lolled as coils of steam rose with a hiss.
Within, the scream of angels subsided. The electric fire withdrew. The fierce energy Gloriana had unleashed went shooting back inside her, a fury-driven host of phantom blades zooming at her clenched eyes—
Her eyes snapped open. Her pupils had returned, blue and cracked with a black hole at each center, eyes full of wonder, perhaps a little terror. She sucked air that wasn’t there.
The ocean rose and fell. The glowing skin of the sphere fluttered like the lashes of a sleepy infant, then vanished.
What remained of the Firing Chamber lay revealed as a massive black globe of Nytemare metal, cut and pockmarked with holes and severed sections where the sphere had ignited and sheared away everything beyond its fiery perimeter. And at once the black metal globe began to sink.
Water came surging into the Firing Chamber, water from every angle. Gloriana looked about, scarcely able to believe. This… this really is the surface of the ocean, right? We actually…
A wall of water surged, knocked her off her battleboots.
No time. Glori got to her knees in the fierce swirl of water, stabbed gloved thumbs into the underside of her helmet. The interior displays triple-flashed em release and there was an explosive blast of mini-charges at her neck. She wrenched the helmet up and off, Air! She panted. Her face was drenched with sweat. Her hair was a glossy blonde skullcap. She threw the helmet aside and splashed toward her friends. They lolled like mannequins made of driftwood in the frothy rush of seawater.
“Come on, Sasha! Time to go swimming!”
In a furious blur Gloriana ripped the Battlesuit from her staggering and semi-conscious friend. Bolts popped and broken plates flew as Gloriana peeled away layer after layer of reinforced armor until Sasha was down to her essentials and Gloriana slapped her twice, blurred stings across her face.
“Sash, wake up! Help Clive. Get his goddamn helmet off!”
The water was waist-high. Through the cut and severed sections the Atlantic sky was getting smaller, darker; their very heavy re-entry vehicle had a definite appointment at the bottom of the ocean. Glori turned, confirmed that Jack was awake and moving, slow and clumsy in the pummeling water, yet still reaching to blast his helmet clear from his neckbrace. Good. She grunted, reached down, hauled up Perry.
“Move it, trooper! The Edmund Fitzgerald is sinking, dude!”
She sheared Perry out of his armor even faster than she’d freed Sasha from her suit, mwaa-KRANG! and ka-KRENCH! and shum-rrakaarakka-RIIIIP! and when she was finished she gave him a good shake. “All hands on deck?!”
Perry’s head lolled, but his eyes focused. “Fuck yeah, Captain!”
“Ultra. Help Sasha with Clive, he’s way screwed up!”
Gloriana spun Perry around and shoved him toward Sasha. The water churned, chest-level. Sasha had successfully removed Clive’s helmet and upper armor. Perry grabbed at something Gloriana couldn’t see, then he half splashed, half swam to Sasha’s side, and together they began to tow the semi-conscious Clive toward the nearest opening. Glori turned to Jack—
Jack still hadn’t removed his helmet.
His gloved hands clawed desperately at his neck and jawbone, fingers splayed and pushing, pushing.
Damn it, and damn her! She’d forgotten; Jack’s Battlesuit was fucked!
She lunged toward him but a sudden canopy of water fell over her, smashed her under the surface with a hard slap of Atlantic blue. Roar of bubbles and crushing cold; the submerged chamber was thick with broken wreckage, wires and cables curling like eels.
Gloriana pushed through the freezing clutter with desperate strokes, boots and armor suddenly heavy like rocks lashed to her legs. She grimaced, knived through the hard water toward the blur that was Jack, and there was a blast of escaping pressure.
Jack ripped his helmet free. Even under the frigid water his face was gaunt and handsome and strong; his eyes locked with hers and he reached toward her, his lips split with defiant teeth. Glori seized his hand, pulled. She wrenched Jack up. They kicked furiously, they swam blind toward one of the submerged holes of the Firing Chamber, a blue circular window with a descending ceiling of black. Gloriana shoved Jack out before her. They surfaced amid broken gasps and sharp Atlantic waves, the lolling shadow of the sphere behind them.
Sasha and Perry splashed nearby and Clive coughed. The sky rumbled with thunder. The ocean swelled, lifted the troopers up, threatened to sweep them apart. Gloriana struggled to stay afloat in the dragging tug of the body armor. She forced her tired legs to kick and kick.
“Y-you—” Jack started, spurts of seawater dribbling from his mouth.
“No, you,” Gloriana said. She reached toward him, gripped his chestplate. “Get naked, man.” But it was far more difficult getting Jack out of his suit while she doggedly treaded water, waves slapping her repeatedly in the face, her head falling again and again under the surface. “Damn it! Shit!” She pressed both knuckles together, pushed her fingers through the seams and plated sections, then ripped the Battlesuit both up and out. She peeled Jack out of his armor even as she kept him from sinking like a stone, thinking without cessation I can do this I am Gloriana Blitz I can do anything…
The final plates fell away. Jack was free of his suit. She pushed him off and he splashed away clumsily.
My turn, Gloriana thought, and she dug gloved fingers into the space between her reinforced collar and the pale skin of her throat, she was ready to tug with all that remained of her strength when Jack’s eyes turned sudden saucers and he lifted his bare arm out of the Atlantic chop and he spurted a warning that sounded like “GWOWY—!!”
Gloriana had only removed her helmet.
She was still in full body armor.
She turned. The waters sucked past as a vast shadow fell. It was the looming hull of the Firing Chamber in its final gurgling plunge. The metal globe rolled over her like a giant black marble and the blunt edge of the hull struck her hard, the blow of a hammer to the bell of a cathedral. Gloriana wanted to cry out in pain and surprise but couldn’t because her mouth was full of water and everything was black and roaring and cold, massive weight pressing, pinning her limbs, forcing her down, no no but consciousness slipped…
Then she was sinking, arm over arm, a marionette cut from her strings and there was no light, just the roar in her ears, relentless, a river, a waterfall, the end of everything. And. It was. Okay. She thought. Beside her the sphere of metal spun slow and dreamlike toward the lush sandy bottom. Gloriana fell and fell in the black. She wanted… She wanted… Oh, it was okay. She’d pretty much done it, this wasn’t too terrible of an ending. The metal globe struck bottom with a thud and a deep reverberation, crunching coral and kelp as it rolled like a disgruntled giant, then settled with a deep hollow groan. Glori’s head tilted, lolled. And she hit the ocean floor as if she were a heavy metal puppet, sand rising in a soft plume.
She lay still.
She lay on her back, unmoving for long seconds, her eyes open.
Then she sat up.
Bubbles of air clustered at the corner of Gloriana’s mouth. She lifted her face, pale in the black and green, her short yellow hair flowing like a slow motion candle. Her lips parted. Strange, there was no need for air, no need to breathe. Glori looked around. It was midnight at the bottom of the ocean but still, she could see…
She saw the verdant submerged landscape with its rolling hills of sand, jutting crops of black rock, its fabulous plants. And now Glori smiled. It was beautiful. So quiet. The living Earth, still here, still alive. Her heart felt finally at peace.
A light approached. Bars of blue shot past a stalk of kelp, soft and incandescent. Something was burning, shimmering, a light in the dark. It was the glow of crystal, the shimmer of a diamond.
Gloriana frowned, tried to decipher what she was seeing: was it a chemical discharge, a piece of wreckage, a bit of the star she had rode down from the sky? The soft light came closer with soft definite steps, bare feet blue on the ocean floor. What—
A woman with ice blue skin stood tall and regal at the far end of the oceanic plain.
The tall woman at the bottom of the ocean wore a simple dress of gossamer and silk. Her long white hair flowed like wheat in a gentle wind. The woman’s eyes were ancient in a face resplendent with eternal youth and undying beauty, eyes that looked upon Gloriana with uncomplicated love. The woman held a trident in her right hand, a straight staff in her left.
Well done, the woman told Gloriana without speaking. The amber eyes were bottomless with affection. Now the real battle may begin…
Gloriana wanted to ask, “Who.”
She wanted to plead, “Why.”
But there was a sudden pulse of static in her brain, the shriek of an alien frequency, her fatherhermotherherfatherhermotherherfatherhermother and Glori’s hands went to her head, teeth clenched hard in pain. And as quickly as it came the pain passed, slipped away. Glori shook herself, and the woman was gone.
The spot where the woman had stood was empty, a bare spot in a garden of kelp and coral and the disintergrating bones of a trillion fish.
Gloriana lowered her hands, lowered her eyes with… not regret. Nor disappointment. She didn’t have a word for it. It was a piece of her heart that had been missing for so long she had learned to accept its absence as a condition of existence. It’s all right, she told herself with only a little bitterness. The vision was gone. And now something else was coming.
A shadow fell like a sheet pulled over her face.
The waters pulsed with the thrum of a mighty engine.
With slow and sullen eyes, Gloriana looked up.
Apocalypso loomed above her, bow tipped toward the surface, straight shaft of the hull stretching long and powerful, distorted blur chopping at the stern.
Gloriana gazed up at her submarine, scarred ship of a hundred battles—and she realized there would be a thousand more battles to come. The submarine would be her shield and her lance, a sleek deadly chariot she would ride through darkness to victory. She would rally her soldiers. They would mend their wounds. Despite the spectre of radiation that promised nothing but inevitable death, they would stand at her side and together they would drive the enemy from their home. The wounded Earth would bloom again. Apocalypso. The submarine hung above her, waited like a sword ready for her hand. She would rise. She would fight. And she would win.
But now Gloriana’s lungs felt ready to burst.
It was time. She gripped her armored neckplate, grimaced, pulled. The neckplate broke with a muted snap. Layers of armor came free in a soft yet violent frenzy. Black steel and white flesh—the chestplate fell away. The nipples of her breasts were pink and swollen. Her long legs flashed pale as she pulled off the big heavy boots. At last she was free; Gloriana shoved upwards in a shaft of bubbles, bare feet flapping hard, bare arms and legs pumping as she swam with powerful strokes toward the waiting silhouette of her ship.
And the woman at the bottom of the ocean watched with sad eyes and a whisper of disapproval.
Original art by Paul DiNovo and Virgil Finlay