Silver Surfer: Straight Lines
By Matt Hamilton (Mab)
There are no straight lines in space. The shortest path from one point to another is a twisting curve, riding the gravitational fields of stars and planets. Those who strive to maintain a direct course are, instead, unwittingly following the curve of space/time itself.
Along one of the meandering corridors of the cosmos, almost imperceptible against the blackness, flashed a gleaming form. At first glance one might have mistaken it for a spacecraft, for it gave off a bright reflection when illuminated by a passing star. On closer scrutiny, it might have appeared to be a metallic comet, for it was smaller than conventional ships.
Only the sharpest eyes and enlightened minds recognised the form of the Silver Surfer as he sped across the void, surfing the gravity waves.
The Surfer's eyes shone with the rapture of freedom that only space can bestow. His cosmic senses took in all around him; he revelled in the majesty of the universe.
Then, suddenly, he stopped.
Many hundreds of light years to his left, a star had blinked out. He could not have noticed the absence of light, since the radiation from the star would still be reaching this point of space for centuries hence. No, it was a deeper, more metaphysical sense that alerted the Surfer to the loss: Countless years of servitude to the world-devourer Galactus had honed his ability to detect life. The life-energies of the star in question had disappeared abruptly - this was no natural phenomenon.
And so, to the ignorant observer, the shape that was assumed to be a gleaming comet stopped, hung in space for several seconds, then sped off at right angles.
Nothing. There was nothing left. Not even subatomic particles from which the Surfer might have gleaned what had happened. Where there had once been a bright sun and a system teeming with life, there was now an unnerving absence of matter.
What could cause an entire solar system to vanish? The Surfer wondered. The power involved had to be huge - even his former master left recognisable traces after devouring a planet. Could this be the work of a being more powerful? Or some freak occurrence that might never happen again?
The thought barely had time to escape the Surfer's mind when he felt the same vanishing from above him. Another star, only one or two light years away, had been wiped from reality.
He was there within microseconds.
This time there were remains. Tiny particles of energy billowed around the point where the star had been, as if searching for their lost home. For the Surfer, it was a simple matter to divine that an energy beam with bizarre properties had caused the disaster. It was just as simple to calculate the direction from whence it came.
How far away its origin was remained a mystery. One he was determined to solve.
"Two are gone, three remain." The cold voice of the Astronomer echoed within the walls of his starship, Observer. His audience, the Possessor and the Obliterator, only nodded in response. The Astronomer continued, "The resources required to power this weapon are vast, Possessor. I only hope the story is true, and that this is no flight of fancy."
The Possessor beamed with a knowing smile. "As you well know, my brother, there is no way to verify the legend. Given our source, however, I would be loathe to disbelieve it."
The massive form of the Obliterator stretched out with boredom. "Well, the truth of your legends doesn't matter two sniknorts to me, kindred. Watching the devastation of this weapon is satisfying enough." His eyes narrowed. "I've seen devices which can send an entire planet to the pits of hell, but even that couldn't compare with this. Keep your legends, just promise me that the weapon remains mine when you're done."
"Don't fret, brother," smiled the Possessor, "you are more than welcome to the weapon when our goals are met."
"Enough talk," said the Astronomer as he turned back to the ship's controls, "we must move to a central vantage point for our next two targets."
The Astronomer engaged the hyperspace drive of the Observer. The ship shimmered, and was gone.
And, minutes later, the Silver Surfer stood in its place.
The scent of the ship's drive was still in the air, so to speak. The Surfer knew the particular energy signature that a departing ship leaves in its wake. He knew how recently the ship had left. More importantly, he knew which way it went.
The one thing he didn't know was whether the ship was faster than he was. He doubted it.
The Surfer re-entered our universe, as he slowed down to subluminal speeds, within a few parsecs of the Observer. Although he had not seen the ship before, he recognised the cosmic energies that radiated from within. Only the Elders of the Universe exuded the so-called Power Primordial, and the Surfer had tasted those energies before.
He flew closer, seeking an entryway, when suddenly a black aura surrounded the vessel. From the resulting ebon globe an immense beam shot out, and instantly the Surfer knew that this was the weapon that had destroyed the two systems he had just come from.
For the third time in less than ten of our minutes, he felt that horrible sense of loss of life.
An entryway no longer seemed important. No sooner had the black glow subsided than the Surfer was inside, via a doorway of his own making. He turned toward the fore of the ship, where the Elders were gathered, and blasted his way through each wall until he was in the same room.
"Hold, Elders!" He exclaimed, but too late he realised that the Obliterator's hand was leaving the console which obviously controlled the terrible weapon.
"You're too late, this time, Surfer," cried the Obliterator, "but the title befits you: the Late Silver Surfer!" He guffawed as a torrent of energy erupted from his backpack-mounted weaponry system.
The Surfer, momentarily stunned, was unable to stop the Astronomer from activating the teleportation device that would send him and his board out of the ship. By the time he regained his senses, the ship was gone.
The chase was on again.
"That was too close, Astronomer!" roared the Obliterator as the three Elders sped towards their final destination. "That gleaming insect always seems to show up at the worst possible moment!"
The Possessor interjected. "Fear not, brother! Soon we shall strike our final target, and the Surfer will no longer be a worry to us!"
"Then we'd best hurry," the Astronomer turned to the console as he spoke, "for I fear his arrival is imminent!"
There was a sudden flash, and once again the Surfer stood beside the Elders inside the Observer. "I would know your schemes, Elders!" he announced. "You will not catch me unawares this time!"
"Once again, you are too late, Surfer!" yelled the Astronomer as his hand came down onto the console. "The final blow is struck! The die is cast, will you stay to see where it lands?" He smiled, and the Possessor joined him in his evil glee.
"What transpires here, Possessor?" queried the Surfer, knowing that he was indeed too late to save the fifth system, and sensing that some degree of finality had been reached with the last firing of the weapon. "Last I saw you and your brother here, you were struck dead by Lady Death herself!"
"Ah, Surfer," the Possessor smiles, "always taking things at face value.
"No, Lady Death did not end our lives. The In-Betweener sought to command Her, and that was his mistake. Instead of slaying us, she transported us to her realm, still alive, where she plotted her revenge against the lord of dualities.
"Each of us were visited by her minions. I was told of the existence of a weapon forged by a race long forgotten, who worshipped Lady Death much as the mad Titan Thanos does now. A weapon to rival the Ultimate Nullifier in power - able to wipe out any trace of an entire solar system with one blow.
"Death's minion related to the Astronomer the story of a legend from the universe before this one, recorded in the computers of Galactus' WorldShip. It was an intriguing tale of stellar alignment and the chance of ultimate power, and an opportunity that we could not pass up.
"It was then that she showed us the way back to reality - and we sought our brother the Obliterator to aid us in the use of our newfound weapon."
The Astronomer continued: "You see, my dear Surfer, you have just witnessed the annihilation of five separate star systems. The legend which my brother has alluded to spoke of a particular alignment of stars, such that a single beam of energy could travel in a perfectly straight line from its point of origin, to the very end of the universe itself! My calculations have proven that such an alignment would never occur in Galactus' universe, nor in this one, which was one reason we sought to slay your former master and create a new universe.
"That plan failed, of course, but this one will not. We have destroyed the five systems which would have prevented the alignement, and all that remains is for us to loose the beam, and witness the results!"
Glowing pink orbs of the power cosmic appeared around the Surfer's fists. "What results are you expecting, Astronomer? And what makes you believe that I would even allow such an event?"
"Your permission is neither sought nor expected, Surfer. The beam is scheduled to fire from a prearranged location in just a few minutes time. If my calculations are correct, the curvature of reality itself will loop the energy back on itself, creating a feedback loop, and opening a gateway to a source of power quite unlike anything the inhabitants of this universe have ever seen. Energies that we are equipped to tap, and manipulate, making us more powerful than Eternity himself! Why wait to rule the next universe when we can rule this one?"
All three Elders laughed evilly, but fire lit up in the Surfer's eyes. "Where?" he bellowed, "Where is the beam to be fired from?"
"Why, Surfer," smiled the Possessor. "You'll never reach it in time. The beam has, by now, reached the remains of that last system, and is preparing to fire as we speak!"
Before the Possessor finished his sentence, the Surfer was gone..
With a cosmic roar the Surfer descended from hyperspace, less than twenty seconds after leaving the Elders. They did not follow him, obviously needing to remain where they were to have the best access to the gateway.
Seconds later, he had located the device, hanging motionless where the star had shone brighly just minutes before. So all that remains is to destroy it, thought the Surfer. He raised his glowing hands and prepared to fire, when a bolt of concussive force struck him from behind.
"You'll not foil our plans so easily, gnat!" It was the voice of the third Elder that the In-Betweener had exiled to Death's realm - the Trader. "Stay your hands, or die at mine!"
"I don't know your limits, Trader," cried the Surfer, "but I'll test them!" And with that he let out a blast would have turned a small moon to rubble. The limp body of the Elder drifted away, stunned into unconsciousness by the ferocity of the Surfer's attack.
Satisfied that the Trader was no longer a threat, the Surfer turned back to the device, only to realise that it was about to fire! He let loose a barrage of cosmic bolts, but nothing slowed the weapon's progress as it shone its beam.
The Surfer took flight, hoping to outpace the light itself, and find a way to intercept it.
However, this was no ordinary beam, and by the time the skyrider had caught up with it, it had already completed its loop and the band had formed.
"Aha!" came the exhilarated cry of the Obliterator, "It's begun! Astronomer, prepare the syphoning equipment!" The three Elders were, by now, symbiotically attached to the Observer - via machinery built from a design given them by the minions of Death Herself.
The Astronomer hammered furiously at the controls on his console, but at length looked up in frustration. "Something's wrong! The equipment isn't aborbing the band's energy! It . . . it looks like the band is draining us!"
The Possessor rushed to the console and examined the displays. "What being could possibly have known of our plan? Let alone have the power to disrupt our beam? Quickly - get these bonds off us!"
The Elders clawed at the tubes and sensors, but by now they had fused to their hosts on a molecular level, and seemed permanently attached.
"Set a course, Astronomer! Take us to the beam!" One more time, the Observer accelerated into hyperspace.
Unsure of what course of action to take, the Surfer was about to make his way back to the Elders, when suddenly the beam began to shine brighter. Norrin became aware of what was happening - somehow, the band was gaining energy, and was tightening around the universe itself! Within seconds, the universe seemed to be two distinct regions of space, separated by an enormous glowing wall.
Within the wall, the energy appeared to coalesce, into a humanoid form! It wasn't long before the Surfer recognised the shape within:
"The In-Betweener!" exclaimed the Surfer. "Why have you traversed the borders of reality into our universe? What right have you to be here?"
"Hold your tongue, Silver gnat!" growled the black-and-white being, floating in space. "I have been pulled here against my will by this band! It has turned your universe into two halves - summoning me!"
Suddenly, the Observer appeared, and the In-Betweener reacted before anyone could speak.
"The Elders! What madness is this? Are you responsible for my presence here?"
The Surfer, noticing that the Elder's power had subsided greatly, suddenly became aware of a deeper plan. he made his way onto the Elders ship, to find the three of them only half alive on the floor of the bridge.
"Listen! You've been duped by Mistress Death! This was never about you, or your schemes! This was an act of vengeance against him!" He pointed at the In-Betweener. "That beam of yours is just a carrier wave - something that She could use to call the In-Betweener here! She plans to use you to exact revenge upon him, perhaps even to completely destroy him!"
"Not only the In-Betweener, Surfer," answered the Possessor, "but us with him!"
The Astronomer added, "We must find a way to stop this beam, Surfer!"
Tempted as he was to let the Elders solve their own problem, the Surfer knew in his heart that he couldn't be held responsible for any more lives. "Unless I'm mistaken, the only reason Death has been able to add her own energies to that beam isn't the fact that it is untouched by gravity. It's the fact that it is untouched by life energy! It should be enough to disrupt her power if we can get enough life in the beam's vicinity!"
The Possessor looked the Surfer in the eye. "With what's left of our Power Primordial, combined with your Power Cosmic, we may be able to create a globe of life energy to disrupt Death's band!"
The Surfer wasted no time with words. Instead, he and the Elders joined hands, and prepared for the outburst of energy required.
Death's vengeful ray band began to tighten on the In-Betweener, and the Black-and-White clad figure was visibly in pain.
Together, the Surfer and the Elders released their energy. An immense globe, glowing emerald green, radiated from the Observer, eventually reaching the band.
One may have expected a shockwave of galactic proportions when the two powers met. Instead, somewhat anticlimactically, nothing happened at all. Both simply disappeared.
As did the In-Betweener. A meeting of dualities such as the two beams was enough to repower him, and he returned to his universe, swearing to take revenge on Mistress Death.
The Surfer, numbed and drained as he was after the outpouring of energies, knew that his job here was incomplete. Upon waking, he made his way back weapon of destruction which Death had given to the Elders, and disconnected it from the ship.
"The only safe place for this," he concludeed, "is with the other artifacts aboard my former master's ship!"
On his way to Galactus, he stopped five times: Once at each of the five empty regions of space where entire civilisations had perished. He mourned their loss.
Be sure to also check out Matt Hamilton's Lost Knights!
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