“Captain Nemo?” Thor asked.
“Nevermind,” Hawkeye said with a wave of his hand.
“Fictional renegade submarine captain,” Natasha informed Thor quietly.
“Let’s find out,” Thor said decidedly, and popped open the sealed hatch.
“Welcome, travelers!” cried one of the armored men. “Welcome to Atlantis!”
Thor bowed respectfully to the man, and the rest of the group slowly filed out of the ship, into the bay.
“Please follow me,” said the armored man, “her majesty awaits.”
The group glanced at one another, but did as he requested.
They climbed a narrow set of stairs in the back of the bay, passed through a door, down a hallway, and then exited the ship into an even larger cavern. The cavern was the size of an airplane hangar and full of stalactites and stalagmites, some meeting in great columns. Translucent white glowing orbs illuminated the cavern. The ship, and others like it, were moored in what appeared to be a pool at one end of the cavern. They, however, were lead to the other end, up a wide flight of steps, and down into the back of the cave.
In moments, they found themselves in a great hall with sweeping, sheer curtains, polished stone floors, and magnificent, glittering chandeliers. At the other end of the hall was a throne, and on the throne sat a woman. Thor and Natasha led the group, with Lucinda and Hawkeye close behind.
As they approached the throne, Loki could imagine in his mind Calypso saying, “Welcome, Lord of Asgard!” So vivid was the impression that Loki looked up at her. Yet her mouth did not move. Loki responded in his mind, saying, “You are most gracious!” Then, looking up, she looked directly at him and he could hear her voice in his mind say, “Have you come to surrender?” Looking hard at her, he replied in his mind, “We have come to negotiate.”
Now that they were directly before her, the great sea queen with the long black curls smiled broadly, her white teeth flashing against her warm dark skin, and said aloud, “Welcome, visitors!” They all bowed. “To what do I owe this visit to my humble kingdom?”
Thor spoke and said, “We come as a delegation from the peoples above.”
“Indeed!” she said with an arched brow.
“We know of your reputation as a powerful ruler,” Natasha began, “and also the hostile relationship you have had with our peoples in the past. Some expect you to attack us now. We do not wish to engage in hostilities if it can at all be avoided, so we are here to negotiate terms.”
The queen sat perfectly still for a moment, looking at each face. Settling on Thor, she said, “Mighty Thor, who do you represent today?”
Thor hesitated for just a brief moment before declaring, “Both Asgard and Midgard, your highness.”
“I am afraid,” said the queen, tapping her fingers on the arm of her stone throne, “that hostilities may be inevitable. But, perhaps not between the peoples that you may think.”
They were all listening intently.
“I have something to show you,” the queen announced. “But, first, sustenance for my guests.”
Thor placed his hand on his chest and bowed his head. The rest did likewise.
The queen rose from her throne, ivory staff in hand, and the soft, light pink, translucent, folds of her luxurious gown fluttered behind her like the feathery membrane of a jellyfish. She clapped her hands, and the echo reverberated through the hall. Out of the shadows, handmaidens in similar sheer, shimmering attire approached.
“Prepare the feast,” she ordered.
The feast was sumptuous. The tables were loaded with seafood delicacies, and the rum flowed freely. They were introduced to her nobles and kinsfolk, and learned about her realm. She seemed perfectly at ease to answer any questions they put to her. It seems that the great city was built on an island, and that after an earthquake and the shifting of the tectonic plates, the island was submerged. She and her people discovered the caverns underneath, however, which are difficult to get to, and built their city there. They lived on the produce of the sea, traded with the native peoples on the surrounding Caribbean islands, and had lived peacefully this way for thousands of years. Legends had sprung up about her and her people, most with some truth in them. As to her own origins, she herself was not certain. She said she was an Olympian who had made Earth her home. Olympus was a separate world, she explained, and that the mountain in Greece was merely the launch site to get to the other world. However, after a great war, the connection to Olympus was lost, and she stayed behind. Although she was disarmingly frank about her history, there remained a mystery to her that lingered in her gaze. When they all had eaten and drunk their fill, the sea people sang a song, accompanied by pipes and a harp, that was deep, peaceful, and haunting.
Rising, the queen led the group back toward the moored ships. They boarded the one they had arrived in, but this time she led them up to the command deck.
“This is Elban, the captain of this vessel,” she said, introducing a short man in boots and a blousy shirt with a handle-bar mustache, who bowed deeply as they entered.
The cabin was low and tight, and the wooden beams spanned the width of the ship like the bones of a great fish. Seats lined the walls, and portholes were positioned at intervals. In the front was a broad window and the navigator’s control center. They each took a seat along the wall, but the queen had a chair that was affixed to the floor in the center of the room behind and above the captain.
“Take us out, Elban,” she said.
A soft purring sound accompanied by a rumble emitted from below, and the ship moved forward and began to sink into the water. Out the front window, they could see that the iron whale was descending into the pool and down an underwater passageway.
“This journey will take about an hour,” the queen said, “so make yourselves comfortable.”
For most of the journey along the ocean floor, the only things visible were an occasional fish, shark, or whale. Occasionally they passed over coral reefs or other colorful formations, but it was very dark, and they could only see as far as the lights on the side of the ship would illuminate. They were speeding at an alarming rate, and some intriguing things were only glimpsed for a brief second.
At length, the queen spoke again and began saying, “my guests, we will be at our destination soon. I will preface our visit thus: the sea peoples have no quarrel with the peoples of the land.” She looked at Hawkeye and Natasha. “To the contrary, we have always been a friend to the lost seafarer. Many a shipwrecked sailor has been deposited safely by our hand.” She paused for a moment, staring hard out the front window. Then, with an icy voice, she said, “our quarrel is with Asgard,” and she nodded slightly, motioning at what lay before them. In his mind, Loki could hear her voice say, “observe well, Lord of Asgard.”
The ship had slowed to a slow crawl, and the team stood and gazed out the window.
“What is this?” Hawkeye asked. Before them in the gloom could be seen several large mechanical structures. The structures had lights, but what was most alarming about them was that at the center of each was a large column that was glowing red. In some places it glowed almost orange, like hot iron in a furnace, and bubbles rose around the columns. The structures were rooted in the ocean floor and ascended up toward the surface and out of sight. As the ship moved slowly passed the structures, more structures became visible. There was an entire underwater field of these strange glowing columns.
“This is treachery and betrayal,” Thor said in a voice full of quiet rage. “Odin will hear of this.”
“What are they?” Natasha asked.
“Mines,” Thor replied heavily, “they extract magma from a planet’s core. Magma is often rich in rare minerals necessary for production of certain weapons. An entire planet nearly imploded once because of it.” A sudden look from Lucinda caused Thor to cut his explanation short.
“Then we must not waste time, we must expose this before it is too late!” Natasha exclaimed.
“Can you take us to S.H.I.E.L.D.?” Hawkeye asked.
“We can try,” the captain said hesitantly. At that moment, there was a mighty, deafening explosion that sent the ship rocking and those standing were thrown against the wall.