Silver Surfer: The Largess of Memory
Written by Ben Miller, Originally Published
in TMU Magazine
Edited by James Pedrick for Cosmic Powers Fan Fiction
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It could have been hours, days, or months that the Silver Surfer had been on the rapidly fading trail of distress and chaos that had led him from one missing planet to another. In space, time was largely irrelevant unless measured in millennia. Still, this mystery out of all the possible mysteries that could exist at any one moment has caught and held his attention. Largely because lives are at stake. Potentially millions of them.
Exeter Nine had been the first one lost. The Surfer had spent some time wandering from system to system, riding the solar winds with a sense of freedom and abandon, taking the time to search for nothing but what was in himself. Not a hero in the traditional sense, not an officially recognized protector, and no longer the Herald for the world eater Galactus, Norrin Radd found himself wanting for self-definition. As his introspective wanderings brought him to the Exeter system, he noticed something cataclysmically amiss. A planet was missing. Exeter Nine, specifically. In its wake was a trail of cosmic dust and the whispery echo of the planet's population only detectable by the Surfer's preternatural senses. The Power Cosmic which had forced the Surfer to become alienated from everyone he knew, would once again bring him to the aid of those in dire circumstance.
The Surfer followed the whisper to three more solar systems, and in each case the song was the same: one planet missing. No rubble, no asteroids floating where a planet should have been, so signs of a galactic struggle. Just vague dust and whispers slipping away on a hydrogen stream.
As he sped away from the third disaster site, he focused all his senses onto the echo trail and peered through the eternal night along the whisper's psychic and aural trajectory. At the periphery of his cosmically charged vision, he saw a planet spinning around it's sun shimmer out of existence. Even at his great distance, the echo grew louder, and the Surfer powered his way forward to the point of the latest upheaval. He knew he couldn't save the planet, but if fate smiled upon him, he could prevent the next vanishing.
True to his vision, when he arrived at a small solar system known only as Sylf, the second planet from the sun was missing. In its place, sitting cross legged as if on a small dias, stood a small humanoid baby, covered in a gold metallic and reflective skin. The solar baby looked at the Surfer and blinked. A vacant smile played across his lips. As the Surfer looked at this floating child, he saw vague memories of himself in the babys bronze and pupiless eyes. Vague memories of his own almost forgotten childhood long ago and far away on Zenn-La.
Despite the ethereal cloud of echoes that surrounded the baby, the Surfer also sensed and aura of innocence. It looked to all purposes like this child had murdered thousands, but there was no motive, no destructive energy that his cosmically enhanced senses could detect. Then the baby looked up and started crying. Not a small snivel that built into a full blown cry, but an instant wail that portended fear and only a hint of comprehension. In less then an instant, the source of the golden babys dread was revealed. A man sized version of the baby, a shimmering gold man who was tall and muscular with a look of scarlet rage in his eyes appeared out of the vacuum. There was no sound to announce his presence, no blast of light; just his immediate angry presence.
The golden man carried the same cloud of echo around him, albeit more faint. As if the echoes had faded with his years. As the Surfer stood and watched in a motion faster then almost he could register, the Golden Father blasted the Golden Baby with a concentration of plasma energy. Struck by the energy, the baby winced and cried louder. Telepathically, the father chastised the son, "That was wrong, and you knew that was wrong! How dare you go creeping out just to play with your little planets when I told you couldnt."
As quickly as the father punished the son, the Silver Surfer sent his retribution to the father in the form of the Power Cosmic. The father stumbled under the force of the Surfers blast as the Surfer warned him, "You wont hit children while Im around!" and blasted him again. The father vanished. The child turned its telepathic cry against the Surfer, and it turned into a howl. The howl raised in volume and turned deafening on the Surfers mental ear. With it, the echoes he had been following suddenly turned from a whisper to a symphony to a cacophony. The Surfers head was filled with nothing but the wail of lost souls emanating from the seeming golden baby. Paralyzed by the force of the sound, the Surfers consciousness merged with the echoes and he lost his sense of self and place.
Now he was in a large, open hallway. The skylight above revealed all the stars of space while large jade and marble columns stood in rows on his right and his left stretching as far as his eyes could see.
The golden baby was standing next to him and took him by the hand. Cautiously, the baby led the Surfer into the hallway.
The Golden Boy took the Silver Surfer by the hand and led him through the tapered columns and star-filled skylights of the impossible hallway. Somehow, the child had changed since he had transported them from the site of the recently decimated planet. At the ruptured solar system, the child had been seen wild, almost cruelly reckless in his actions. Now, the Surfer perceived him as being calmer, almost pacific. At home.
As they walked together, the hallway seemed to stretch onwards to an indeterminate end, with no change in the structure of the columns or the space between them. Stars and neon hued gaseous clouds partially filled the space above them, drifting into their immediate presence like lost clouds. The rest of the sky was filled with the mushroom columnar tops that reminded the Surfer of the Banyan trees he saw on far away Earth. Spines of distant starlight shone through their tendril branches. The Surfer started to get the feeling he had been here before, but he couldn't quite bring that memory to fruition.
The Golden Boy broke the silence; "I apologize for my son's behavior. I didn't know he had taken to annihilating whole planets. Ah, the exuberance of youth. I remember it well."
The Surfer immediately tried to bring logic to the situation, "From appearances, I would have thought you were the child. "
"Yes, well soon we will learn who is the child, and who is the man."
With that cryptic comment, the Golden Boy let go of the Surfer's hand and began to change. As they walked, his arms and legs slowly began to shorten and his head flattened and sank into his neck. The rest of his body bulged and grew outward. After a moment, he was floating above the floor rather then walking on it. In another, he had dissolved into himself and become a golden sphere, floating next to the startled Silver Surfer.
"Adult or child, son or father it's all the same in the end," stated the sphere.
As if on cue to the fading of those words, the hallway they had been walking through began to dissolve into streets, alleys and buildings of a city. It wasnt a city that the Surfer had ever visited, but it contained elements, buildings, and landmarks of both Zenn-La and Earth. Meshed and molded together, they appeared to have sprung from the same architects blueprint. Zenn-La parkways, temples, and plazas merged with the skyscrapers, warehouses, and suburbs of Earth. But in-between the buildings were the biggest surprise of all. Every man, woman, and child on the street and peering out of doors and windows was a Silver Surfer. Large and small, male and female, to a person they were hairless humanoids coated with the silver galactic glaze which protected the Surfer from the harsh vacuum and fueled the Power Cosmic. Some of them even carried surfboards.
Scared, shocked, and mesmerized by the grip of his imagination, the Surfer ventured into his city, almost forgetting the former boy now globe that floated along side him. As the Silver Surfer passed each member of the population, he found a part of himself, a memento of something he had experienced somewhere in time. Each "Surfer" he passed was a fragmented echo of his life. Or lives. The others he had interacted with (Shalla Bal, Alicia Masters, the Fantastic Four, Mephisto, and even Galactus) were the only ones missing.
After wandering around every corner and exploring almost every niche of the Surfer city, the former Herald of Galactus stopped and turned to his Golden Globe Escort and asked, "Where are we? What mind trick are you playing on me?" Perpetual dumbfoundedness led to frustration that led to anger in a single stroke of emotion. "Relieve this illusion now, or feel the weight of the Power Cosmic raining upon you!"
If the Globe could smile, it would have.
"Friend Surfer, I assure you this is no illusion. We are merely visiting your City of Memory, home of all your infinite lives, which each sentient has inside of them. "
His anger unabated, the Surfer responded, "True enough, I know all these faces that pass us. But why have you bought me here? I am at peace with myself and my memories."
The mouthless globe was quick to retort, "Yes, but ask yourself, what is it that prevents you from reaching your true potential? Why were you not able to prevent my son from destroying those planets, despite your vaunted Power Cosmic? Here, in this city memory, city of past lives, you will find that answer. And I guarantee you wont like it."
Angered at the meaning in the Golden Ball's message, the Surfer stormed down the street of the all Surfer city, without destination or purpose. Maybe what the child turned globe had said was true. Maybe he wasn't working and living at his full potential. If he were, maybe Galactus would never strike to devour another living world. Maybe all the death and suffering he had witnessed in his travels would not have come to pass. Maybe he could retire in the evening to the love of support of Shalla Bal, his eternal beloved. The fear of failure began to eat at him as he passed other selves on the street in the city that could only have been built from his mind. On cue, the other Silver Surfers in the street looked up.
The Surfer followed their gaze into the sky, only to see something he half expected to see when he entered the city. Galactus. The world eater was obviously powering up to eat the planet. His planet. In an old and comfortable motion, the Surfer cast his cosmic powered surfboard into the sky and leapt on it as it sped towards the Surfers nemesis who was also his reason for being. Before he could reach Galactus' towering figure, another Surfer approached him and bathed him in a cascade of cosmic blasts. The Surfer watched as bolt after silver bolt struck Galactus until the Galactus overpowering visage faded from the heavens. The other Surfers on the ground went back to their business. Ten minutes later, the drama was played out again, exactly as it was before. And again and again the same play was acted out with the same ending that didn't end.
As the Surfer further wandered the streets, his anger turning to confusion, he noticed the lights, the buildings, the color, all getting darker. Black tinged the corners of the buildings and the faces of the unnumbered Surfers in the street. The farther he went, the darker things became. At last, it was too dark to move or see. An odd thing indeed, for a man who could peer through the vast midnight of the stellar sea. But in that darkness, a light appeared, and in the center of that light stood a being of vacuum and doubt. It was another Silver Surfer; black as the void he called his home. His eyes gave no light, and his movement was silent. The Dark Surfer spoke, "You can't do it. You can't escape."
"Who are you to challenge me in such tones? I, who have defeated Galactus and Thanos. I, who have outwitted the Eternals themselves? Who are you?" the Surfer demanded.
"That may be," chided the Dark Surfer with the vaguest hint of a smile. "But I have defeated you. Look around you and tell me what you see. Everywhere you look, you see the Silver Surfer performing the same menial tasks over and over without cessation. Even when mighty Galactus appears, he is vanquished, but for how long? How long? Your ineffectiveness and doubt have placed me here to remind you of those failings."
As so many times before, it was easy for the Surfer to fly into a rage at the sheer hint of a dent in his character. Honor was the shield he lived his life by, and honor was the sword he wielded in battle. And even as he saw his mind react to his anger, he gave into it and struck at his dark doppelganger.
For every move the Surfer made, his opponent answered in kind, matching every blow with a block and counter strike. Every cosmic blast the Surfer leveled at him was absorbed and rifled back in kind. Each aerial acrobatic on his board was mirrored in precise turn. Adding to our hero's frustration, the Dark Surfer never initiated an attack, never struck back at the frustrated Surfer.
As the Surfer's attacks increased with no effect on his internal enemy, his anger at himself grew which turned into more power leveled at his black mirror image. And that increased power did nothing but begin to level the buildings around them. And with each falling building, part of the Surfer's creativity went with them. As large parts of the city culled from his psyche and his imagination fell to the force of his anger and the chaos of his helplessness, the Silver Surfer felt his creative faculties diminish like light bulbs in his head, popping off into oblivion one after another. And with the buildings disappearing, the other Surfers stood and stared at each other, their tasks and projects lay incomplete on the ground. And as soon as the Surfer realized what was happening, he knew what must come next.
But he was wrong.
Galactus did not reappear. The sky over the Surfers mind city was empty, save for the smoky remains of the imagination buildings the Surfer was wiping from his own mind. Having run out of ideas and his frustration evaporated into vague hate and disgust, the Surfer stopped in mid battle and stood staring at his ebon counterpart. When he stopped fighting, his doppelganger did the same. But only the doppelganger was smiling.
"You see, Surfer. You can't win when you are fighting yourself. That is why you will always lose in the end."
Now the Silver Surfer smiled for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Once again launching the his board into the sky, the Silver Surfer mounted is and flew skyward as fast as he could, all the while never looking back...
The Silver Surfer rode his board as swiftly as he could into the dark sky over the City of his Mind. Ignoring the cries of his dark self as they trailed after him, the Surfer charged farther and farther away from his nemesis. And he knew that the dark version of him wouldnt follow.
The Surfer had realized that no matter how long or how hard he fought against his dark self, he couldnt win and he couldnt lose. It would be an eternal psychological standstill; an endgame of check and counter check. The key to this puzzle was not to blast his way to a solution, but rather to take the route that is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest one to take. He had to let go. He had to revisit and remake the city in the image he wanted it to be not the image he was reacting to out of a lifetime of fears and questionable decisions.
The quickest route to the city was to get as physically as far away from it as fast as he could. And although he hadnt noticed the depth to the starry expanse of sky over the city before, he would certainly take advantage of it now. And so focused was the Surfer on his exodus, his cosmically enhanced powers didnt register the Golden Ball now keeping pace with him.
After what could have been five years or five minutes, the Surfer stopped at an empty planetoid. High above, nebulae and gas clouds hung over the surface like a motionless parade. He laid his silver glaze covered board down, sat upon it and concentrated. The Gold Ball hung above him, as if hoping to grow into a sun at some undetermined point in the future. Motionless, the Surfer concentrated and went to rebuild the City he had just fled from.
In his mind, he pictured the streets swarming with the wrote versions of himself. And even now, the streets seemed less crowded then they had previously. As his mind camera passed over them, he studied them and looked for anything that might distinguish them from their doubles that walked and worked beside them. He searched for some key to reveal their individuality. He found none. As he passed that judgment on each version of himself, he sentenced them to being the same as himself and not different, not separate. He sentenced them to realize that, and in doing so they vanished. As they vanished, the Surfer began to reclaim parts of himself that he had spent his life watching and not being. As he absorbed the Surfers that filled the streets of the city, they disappeared. As more and more of them disappeared, the sidewalks and buildings that they worked in disappeared also. The City inside the Surfer began to fade.
At the center, all that remained was the Dark Surfer himself. This was a harder riddle to crack. Although the Surfer knew that his ebon counterpart was merely himself viewed through a dark mirror, he didnt know how to reverse the image and dissolve the Dark Surfer the way he had his other doppelgangers. But if he wasnt the same, how was he different? Turning his mind camera around, the Surfer looked at himself. What was black in him? What personality aspect has caused him the most problems? It didnt take him long to discover the answer: anger. His anger has cost him friends, made enemies, and led him down paths he didnt necessarily want to follow. And he thought about his anger, another face appeared on the horizon above his Dark Self. He didnt even have to look to know who it was. Galactus.
He knew he couldnt destroy Galactus, and he knew that the face staring at him with immense distance and stoicism was only an image. But as he looked, he knew that the Devourer of Worlds wasnt really the problem. It was the anger that he carried around against Galactus, and the way that anger filtered everything he looked at. At the same time he didnt have to forgive Galactus for the death and destruction he had caused, or for transforming him from simple Norrin Rad to the Sterling Sentinel he was now. But he didnt have to let that anger color the rest of the universe he traveled through. He let go of it then and there.
As his anger filters faded, so did the dark version of himself. From black to darker and then lighter shades of gray he shimmered where he stood. He turned white, at last. And then silver. Then he was gone. But Galactus visage still hung in the sky. That airborne portrait was all that was left of the Silver Surfers Internal City of the Mind. And there the Surfer shut off his mind camera and came back to face the golden ball floating in front of him.
"How did you read my mind?" the Surfer asked calmly, as if dazed by a long journey.
"It was quite simple, as you had that story written all over you. Its the book of your life." The Golden Ball paused for a moment. "I often amuse myself by splitting into different people, like the father and son you saw when we first met. Its fun to play games like that. You didnt understand what you saw, so you attacked. At that point you became the real child and showed anger all over your face like a storyteller revealing the end of a story. It was a little entertaining, but sad at the same time."
The Golden Ball folded into himself and was gone.
The Surfer rose to his feet, picked up his board and sped back into space. He didnt know where he was going, but he knew he would get there just the same.
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