The Ultimate Silver Surfer

Story by Stan Lee, Illustration by Moebius

 

With a gleam in his eyes as bright as any summer day, the Silver Surfer stepped off his board. Glancing upward toward the stars that grew ever-more-visible as night fell, the glimmering man began to speak ...

I humbly beg your indulgence for the tale I am about to share. It eagerly springs from memory to mouth, without benefit of refinement or rehearsal. Though I have beheld sights no other human eye has seen, been privy to sounds no mortal ear can hear, and experienced sensations no earthly mind will ever grasp, I was born an unexceptional being, who has led an exceptional life. Neither a poet nor a practiced wordsmith, I fear my clumsiness as a teller of stories may bore or discourage you. My phrasing will surely run the gamut from awkward to flowery, without consistency or warning.

My true name is Norrin Radd, though I am better known as the Silver Surfer. Zenn-La in the Deneb system is the planet of my birth.

The people of my homeworld are humanoid. Our outward physical and racial characteristics vary within the same narrow spectra as do the people of this world. I do not know how similar our races are beyond physical appearance, as I have no great understanding of the biological sciences. Still, the only significant physical difference between our races that I have found is in the aging process. We of Zenn-La do not grow old as quickly as you Earth people. Three generations of a human family can pass from infancy to oblivion long before someone from my world has even reached bis middle years.

While the greater lifespan may seem an incredible boon, I believe it made a significant contribution to my people's downfall. The longer the life, the more tedious it can become.

Even now, I can recall the early days of my youth, and the yeaming, the questioning, the aching discontent which filled my heart. My race had achieved the perfection that is the goal of most worlds. War, crime, illness, all were only distant memories.

We had attained a paradise of sorts, but at what I thought a terrible price. No distant horizons beckoned us. No challenges remained. We had nothing left to accomplish. My people had lost their spirit of adventure. They had no desire to experience the thrill of exploration, nor did they long to see beyond the veil of their current knowledge.

While not actively discouraged, physical exertion was no longer necessary. Why walk, when a mobile conveyor belt would quickly carry you to your destination? Why risk injury at your favorite sport, when you could experience all the sensations, and at an enhanced level of play, while plugged into the virtual reality web? Why work, when every need met with instant gratification and every object you desired could be easily replicated?

My Generation had inherited paradise, but I hungered for more. We were meant to strive, to struggle, to yearn. I was not content to spend a lifetime in idleness, pursuing endless pleasure. I longed to live when my race was young and our galaxy aborning!

Daily, I would visit our Museum of Antiquity, drawn like a magnet to its reminders of past glories. Sinn Ott, the ancient member of the Council of Scientists who served as the museum's curator, always had a friendly smile for me. He received few visitors, most citizens preferring to access the museum's files from their homes.

I, however, enjoyed the meaty weight and musky air of ancient objects. Sinn would often indulge me by weaving wondrous tales about every artifact within his care, sharing the little-known facts and bawdy tidbits ignored by more serious-minded historians.

Sinn was an always-inviting font of knowledge. His special field of study was the ten-thousand-century Age of Warfare which had nearly devastated Zenn-La, leaving scars so deep that we renounced the use of personal arms forever. Those dark days were followed by the Golden Age of Reason, which brought learning, wisdom, and peace to our war-ravaged people for a hundred centuries.

My visits often ended with a trip to the museum's virtual reality center, where I would rush into its massive chair to abandon the present and flee to a glorious past.

Within an instant, I would find myself in the long-extinct days of my planet's space program, where I would experience the sensations of actually being present at the launching of one of our mighty starships.

That period was the time of Zenn-La's greatest glory, the time when we dared to reach for distant stars. The vast unknown of an enüre galaxy beckoned, and we had the courage and will to heed its call.

Our greatest heroes were the astronauts, the time-honored pioneers to whom no joumey was too far, no world too forbidding. Traveling to the far comers of our galaxy, they explored, colonized, and brought the Messings of our civilization to every primitive world they encountered, asking nothing in retum. The flag of Zenn-La eventually waved over a thousand planets. Finally, when there seemed to be no new worlds to discover or wonders to experience, even this noble endeavor lost its appeal. Boredom settled in and, as the centuries rolled by, my people gave up their explorations. They abandoned their starships, leaving the spaceways to more aggressive races.

Zenn-La, having scattered its seed to the most distant stars, retumed to its mother-worid, never to venture forth again. We had gone too far, had seen too much. For us, the Age of Space Travel died, never to be rebom. Apathy had claimed another victory.

And yet, for all my discontent, for all my pining for days past, life on Zenn-La was not without its attractions. Chief among these was the lovely Shalla Bal.

Shalla Bal!

Even here, even now, I am haunted by her stunning face. Her eyes twinkling like mischievous stars planning a surprise nova. Her hair as lustrous as the blackest pearl, as soft as the finest silk. Her voice, gentle as the mists of dawn, still whispers within my mind.

And, thinking of her, I am reminded of the fateful day when Zenn-La was rudely shaken from its apathetic slumber.

"Your heart is troubled, Norrin Radd,"she hgd said that day.

"It is nothing, Shalla. Merely a mood that soon shall pass."

With a dismissive shake of her head, Shalla strode to the far end of my living quarters. "I am not deceived, my love. Too long have I sensed the hunger gnawing at your breast. A hunger which will never be satiated on Zenn-La."

Unable to disagree, I kept silent.

Scorching me with a look of disdain, she laughed. "What can it be that you seek? There is no treasure in all the universe that cannot be found here. Look around you, Norrin Radd, see the wonders of this world, enjoy the glories which are ours, merely for the taking."

"No, Shalla. I have done nothing to deserve these riches. A paradise uneamed is but a land full of insubstantial shadows! I can no longer bear the sight of my fellow citizens basking in hedonistic pleasures. Even our knowledge is without merit. Who can value a lifetime's leaming, when it can be absorbed in minutes by hypno-cubes?"

"You weren't always so serious, Norrin."Her back as erect and stiff as a soldier of old, she glanced at the trophies that lined my mantelpiece. "Whatever happened to the young man who routinely ignored his studies in favor of surfing the lava runs?"

My eyes strayed to the gleaming object in her hand. A graceful figure perched upon a massive surfboard: the evidence of a misspent youth. How many hours had I wasted plugged into the virtual reality web, mentally gliding down the side of an erupting volcano, clad only in a glimmering heat-resistant jumpsuit? How I had loved those days, the wind ripping at my face, my skill commanding everincreasing speed. But it was all illusion. A manufactured fantasy which I had experienced from the safety of my living room.

And yet, those childhood memories brought a shy smile to my lips, and a radiant tenderness to Shalla's pretty cheeks.

We were already moving toward each other when the worldwide citizens' alarm sounded for the first time in a millennium.

Within seconds, the entire reality web was tuned to the same announcement, an emergency broadcast from the Council of Science.

"A gigantic alien spacecraft has entered our solar system, piercing our defensive systems as if they were nonexistent! All citizens must be prepared for a possible invasion!"

"It cannot be! We have no space fleet. No weapons!"Shalla cried. lt was true. We had been at peace for countless centuries. We had forgotten how to fight. A well-trained enemy could easily destroy us all.

"Never!"I said with far more confidence than I felt.

But, even as I drew her into my arms, I wondered if this taste of danger wasn't just what my people needed. Wondered if this unknown threat wouldn't serve to unite and revitalize them.

Panic soon filled the streets as we learned that the invading spacecraft was nearly half the size of Zenn-La itself, and closing fast. Too many centuries had passed since our govemment had contended with war, and even then, ZennLa had never been faced with such a devastating opponent.

No one wanted to take responsibility. None dared make a decision. The fate of Zenn-La was summarily surrendered to machines that had gathered dust for hundreds of years, as the Council of Science raced to get the ancient defensive computers back online, feeding them all the available data.

Even as the mysterious spacecraft seemed to blot out the very heavens themselves, the defensive computers rendered their verdict. Against such absolute power there could be only one response. Without hesitation, a long-forgotten doomsday device from the Age of Warfare called simply the Weapon Supreme was activated.

While the Council of Science scrambled to find some mention, some description of this ancient weapon, the first tremors from the device began.

Without any warning, the entire planet began to tremble, setting off a string of earthquakes that devastated an entire coastline. The Weapon Supreme had begun to draw power from the very heart of the planet.

By the time the frightened scientists knew what they had unleashed, they were unable stop it.

The great Eastem Sea was instantly vaporized, as an impossibly huge ar-row of force erupted from the mouth of Zenn-La, channeling fully half the planet's power reserves into a single lethal thrust.

Neighboring planetoids were abruptly hurled out of orbit, as our Weapon Supreme struck the oncoming invader with the fury of an exploding sun.

But then, to our unsurpassed horror, the force of the Weapon Supreme boomer-anged back at us, catching us in a smashing, shattering backlash. In one instant, our homes, our land, our world as we knew it, were rapidly reduced to smoldering rubble.

Skyscrapers toppled! The mobile conveyor belt, which wrapped around the entirety of Zenn-La, collapsed upon itself! Power stations imploded! Ihe virtual reality web crashed, flash-frying every mind plugged into it! Fires blossomed everywhere! Major geological faults clashed violently, as volcanoes vomited in protest! And a vengeful climate, long held in check by artificial means, was suddenly unleashed upon the land!

Over a hundred thousand people perished in that first moment.

The survivors attempted to console themselves with the fact that the enemy was dead.

Or so they thought.

Finding a telescope that was still in operable condition, the Council of Science soon learned that our enormous sacrifice had been in vain.

We had devastated our world, sacrificed thousands of lives, all for naught. Our unknown foe lived. Indeed, his monstrous ship continued its approach to Zenn-La completely unaffected by the Weapon Supreme's onslaught.

At that moment, a once-supremely arrogant race, one that had disregarded fear and discounted want, gave way to despair. The people of Zenn-La ran amok. Lmting and howling like maddened beasts, they helplessly awaited their final seconds.

Disgusted, revolted by such unrestrained carnage, I grew even more determined to fight as our ancestors would have done. Believing that we still had a chance, that nothing was impossible to one who refused to accept defeat, I led a protesting Shalla Bal into the street. I thought I could rally our people, and present a united front to our callous invader.

Like a man bereft of reason, I frantically combed the shattered ruins of a once-proud city, desperately seeking an ally, a weapon, anything with which to fight back.

But I could find none who would honor the proud heritage of Zenn-La with a final stand, save the maimed and the mad.

Eventually, avoiding the brutal gangs now roaming in wild packs, Shalla Bal and I made our way to the Museum of Antiquity.

Sinn Ott was dusting a display case of ancient cookware, a nasty gash highlighting his forehead. „The museum is closed today,"he mumbled. "Closed for repairs."

Her eyes brimming with tears, Shalla Bal converted a sleeve from her blouse into a makeshift bandage, while I led the old man to a nearby bench.

"I have devoted my life to this museum. It is my responsibility to tidy up,"he trembled. "Then, and only then, can I die in peace."

"But, Sinn, we know neither our attacker nor his motive."Unbidden, a plan had begun to fon-n. "If I could but reach his spacecraft-!"

"It is useless, Norrin Radd. Our finest scientific minds, our greatest Computers, have all agreed our plight is hopeless!"

"Then"-I attempted a confident smile-"we surely have nothing to lose. lf you can construct a spacecraft for me, we may confront our enemies, perhaps reason with them."

The elderly scholar peered into my eyes, expecting to find the fires of madness, but discovering only cold determination. His gaze tumed toward Shalla Bal, who stood motionless, fearing whatever decision he made. Then, he faced his precious ancient artifacts. The guardian of our antiquity was now being asked to help determine our future.

"You shall have your ship,"he finally said with the reluctance of a judge pronouncing a death sentence.

Securing the museum from raiders, Sinn led us into the reinforced cavems which ran beneath the great building and had survived the Weapon Supreme's onslaught. He unlocked a cobweb-covered file room and switched on an ancient computer, his wrinkled fingers dancing across die keyboard like playful nymphs.

Within minutes he had accessed the charts for a shuttle from the Age of Space Travel. As Sinn downloaded the necessary information into a nearby materializer, I einployed a hypno-cube to fainiliarize myself with the craft.

My ship was fully outfitted and fueled within the hour.

"I salute you, Norrin Radd. Though you fly to certain doom,"Sinn stammered. "A thousand times a thousand of

Zenn-La's finest would have begged to join you in our glory years."

Unable to speak, Shalla Bal said her farewells with tears and kisses.

I clung tightly to her for as long as I dared. Then, knowing that I would be unable to leave her if I delayed a second longer, I entered my shutde without a backward glance.

Iquickly completed my flight check under Sinn's expert guidance. Then, with a hearty wave and an optimistic smile for my lovely Shalla, who bravely bit back her fear, I fired the ignition, and streaked into the heavens.

My youthful jaunts within the cyber web were not as wasteful as I had come to believe. Instincts and skills learned in virtual reality proved just as reliable in real life. Though I had never actually beheld a true shuttle, the last one having tumed to rust long before the birth of my grandfather's grandfather, I recognized the cockpit from countless rounds of the Astro-Pioneer game.

The invader had assumed an orbit above our equator, approximately 350,000 miles from Zenn-La, where bis proximity to our planet wreaked terrible havoc on the tides of our oceans, as monumental waves besieged the coastal regions.

My trip through space took a little over an hour, and the alien spacecraft assumed monstrous proportions as I approached. Our scientists had approximated the ship's diameter to be nearly half the size of our motherworld, but that did not prepare me for the sheer enorrnity of it all.

Even as I attempted to establish contact, I was struck by the utter hopelessness of rny mission. Why should the unknown intruders grant us any degree of mercy? Why should they leave us in peace? They had already withstood the onslaught of our Weapon Supreme without apparent injury. They possessed a level of technology as far above ours as ours was above our cave-dwelling ancestors.

And yet, I pressed on.

Buzzing around the mighty Worldship with all the arrogance of an insect presuming to threaten a behemoth, I continued to hail the invader, but my efforts met with silence.

Then, without warning, a massive hatchway opened directly beneath my ship. Before I could react to diis unexpected occurrence, a beam of incredible force struck my shuttle, shaking it like one would an unruly child.

The beam was siphoning the shuttle's power. At that rate, my life support systems would be offline within moments. Without power or life support, I was finished. A slow and painful death by either hypothermia or suffocation was all that awaited me.

However, a glance out my starboard portal revealed that the beam, while continuing to drain my energy, was also drawing me into the belly of the great starship. Very curious to learn why I was being summoned, I sat back, silently praying that I would arrive while my shuttle still contained enough heat and air to sustain me.

At least that little bit of luck was with me. To my immense relief, I was eventually deposited into a huge chamber with barely a lungful of oxygen to spare.

I had expected to be welcomed by armed guards, but no one was on hand to greet me. I found no sign of a crew or an invading army. I was completely alone.

The chamber seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles in every direction. Oddly hued lights flashed in the distance, and I could hear the occasional whir of machinery as strange objects streaked overhead.

Who was the captain of this lonely vessel? What were his intentions toward Zenn-La? Where was the invading army? Why had he snatched me from space?

I had no idea how to locate my host, or how to reach him even if I did. My shuttle was without power, and it would surely take a week or more of strenuous hiking to reach even the chamber's closest wall.

Since any action was preferable to standing still, I chose a direction at random, and started walking. I had hardly proceeded a full ten paces when the air before me began to shimmer.

An opening began to form. It matched my height and width, with a foot or so of breathing room on both sides and above my head.

An invitation to the captain's table?

Having no wish to delay our inevitable confrontation I cautiously stepped into the gleaming entrance.

A vast laboratory awaited me at the other end, along with an almost intolerable glare of light. Within the blaze I could vaguely see a humanoid figure.

He stood as tall as a small building, his height easily surpassing thirty feet. Upon his head sat a massive helmet with giant, protruding antennae. His eyes, when he deigned to gaze upon me, contained a stare which was coldly aloof.

"Do not attempt to speak, puny creature. I know why you have come,"he said without preamble. "I granted you this audience in deference to your courage. Never before has a single individual dared confront me. But your efforts have been in vain. You cannot save your world from being ravished by Galactus."

Galactus! The name struck me like a lethal blow. He was a legend throughout a thousand star systems. During the Age of Space Travel, our astronauts had heard tales of this merciless planet destroyer. It was whispered that he belonged to a race that was old before the birth of our very galaxy. Galactus, who strode the starpaths like a demigod! Galactus, the ravager of worlds! Zenn-La had a better chance of surviving a hundred invading armadas than the menace of Galactus.

lf the stories about him were true, he sought no wealth, no personal gain, no paltry treasures from our hapless planet. Instead, he intended to drain Zenn-La of all energy. He would convert our once-thriving world into a pitiful husk, leaving behind a planet no longer capable of supporting life.

"No!" I shouted as I envisioned his plans for Zenn-La. "My people will die!"

"It is not my intention to injure any living being, but I must replenish my energy if I am to survive-the energy which only a healthy planet can provide,"Galactus said as he resumed his work on an imposing apparatus which stood before him. A device which, I would later learn, was his deadly elementar converter.

"If lesser creatures are wiped out when I deplete a planet, it is regrettable,"he added, "but unavoidable."

"There are plenty of other worlds! Worlds which do not support sentient life. Exploit one of them! Even lesser creatures, as you call us, have a right to life."

"Alas, my need is great. The hunger which I feel grows ever stronger. "Galactus continued making bis adjustments. "I have no time to probe the universe for a suitable planet as rich in basic energy as the one which orbits below."

"Let me do it! I will survey the heavens and scan the spaceways for you! "The words burst from my lips even before I could consider them. "Spare my people, spare Zenn-La, and I will gladly roam the endless cosmos in search of suitable worlds."

Galactus stopped moving.

"Consider well what you have offered,"he said quietly. "He who assumes the mantle of Herald to Galactus must do so foreverrnore!"

I stood silent for a handful of moments, as conflicting thoughts ricocheted within my mind. However, in the end, I had little choice. My own fate was of little consequence if it could save the world that gave me birth.

"If such is my destiny," I said, "willingly shall I accept it! "

The full weight of bis impassive gaze fell upon me. I now understood the plight of every insect who must witness the slow descent of the crushing finger. Guided by neither emotion nor a mere desire for expedience, Galactus carefully pondered the ramifications of my offer. His eyes seemed to bore into the most hidden recesses of my very soul. Every treasured secret, every random thought and tawdry shame was laid naked before him. All that I had ever been or known was suddenly exposed to bis relentless inspection.

'Mough he surely found me wanting in countless aspects, I must have held some appeal. Perhaps it was the hunger in my soul, the very desire for adventure which had brought me before him, perhaps it was some other quality. I cannot say. No mere morw should dare presume to know the mind of Galactus.

"So shall it be,"Galactus said.

The glare which surrounded him grew increasingly more

unbearable. "You, who have been Norrin Radd, shall be so nevermore!"

Pain ripped through me! I felt as if I were being flayed alive, as layer upon layer of skin was roughly scraped away.

"Prepare yourself, Herald!"

In my mind's eye, I recalled an accident while lava surfing in the virtual reality web. A minute tear in my protective suit had accidentally exposed me to the buming magma. But that was only a fantasy. A quick brush with the illusion of pain, followed by a swift return to the comfort of my living quarters. This was real! By the heavens around me, it was real!

"Prepare yourself to be rebom!"

My knees melted beneath me ...

"At the command of Galactus, you have fallen."I squirmed and slithered ...

"And now, again at my command, I bid you rise!"

Cool and blessed relief washed over me. My infinity of agony was finally over. I opened my eyes to discover that I was balanced on bended knee, genuflecting before the awesome majesty of Galactus.

My body had been completely restructured. No longer was I mere fiesh and blood. A silvery substance now encased my entire physique. A substance created by Galactus for the purpose of shielding me from both the frigid, marrow-chilling emptiness of airless space, and the allconsuming infemo of the hottest sun. No longer did I require air to breathe, nor food to eat.

Surveying his handiwork without even the slightest sliver of pride, the grim-visaged Galactus casually opened his right palm. A glittering nimbus of energy slowly began to form.

"To Transport you through the endless cosmos,"he said, "I shall provide the perfect vehicle."

The glowing cloud took shape, sculpting itself into a most familiar object. An object which had once dominated my youth!

Why did Galactus seize upon this particular image from my psyche? Why did he chose to be heralded by a glimmering figure perched upon an equally gleaming board? I have no answer. I never asked. Even then, I instinctively knew that the will of Galactus was never to be questioned.

Matching my own silvery sheen, the giant board flew to me with the speed of thought. My heart soared, like a playful eagle, as I eagerly leaped aboard. The great adventure I had so long desired was now upon me! Laughter flooded from my lips as I circled Galactus with playful abandonment.

"Go,"was all he said. "Find me a world to assuage my gnawing hunger."

Though Galactus possessed immeasurable power and numerous abilities, patience was never among them.

I immediately shifted my weight, and sent the board diving toward the nearest airlock.

Once I hit the freedom of open space, I streaked across the celestial sea like a living comet. Moving far faster than the speed of sound, and quickly surpassing that of light as well, I left conventional physics swamped in my wake.

How can I describe the sheer intoxication of slaloming through the vast void of space? Of riding the waves of escaping gas caused by a recently transformed supernova? Alas, no mere words could ever allow you, who are bound by harsh gravity, to fully understand the total exuberance that comes from outracing the stars themselves.

But, even as I thrilled to new sights, new sensations, I remained focused on my mission. Galactus must be served!

On and on, I soared! Dodging meteors! Skirting around asteroids! Rocketing from planet to planet, and solar system to solar system!

Farther and farther I traveled, until a mere three star systems away, I finally found a worid with the energy and elementar resources so necessary to my master.

Dropping from the heavens, I pierced the planet's atmosphere with the fury of a blazing meteor. Though time was at a premium, I carefully searched for any sign, any indication that this world housed intelligent life. I had no intention of saving the population of one planet at the expense of another.

As soon as I was satisfied, I employed the Power Cosmic which had recently been entrusted to me. Generating a sudden burst of energy, I unleashed a cosmic flare which promptly traveled through hyperspace.

Little time passed before Galactus arrived in his Worldship, a massive universe-spanning sphere which could have comfortably housed a thousand Norrin Radds. Impassiv as ever, he sampled the planet's elementar composition, and found it to his taste.

Without a wasted motion, the devourer of worlds quickly set up his mobile elementar converter. I stood transfixed as he soon activated his incredible apparatus by linking its igniters.

The device promptly began to glow, releasing a highly corrosive cloud of unnamed gases into the atmosphere. In a matter of minutes, the sky above the doomed planet was a fiery red, and smelüng of bitter ozone. Unable to survive beneath the shroud of gases which now filled the atmosphere, every sea, every river, every drop of water rapidly began to evaporate, converting to steam before my horrified eyes.

Giant fissures soon began to spread across the land, widening with every passing second, deep veins cracking the surface of this world as if it were glass. 7he planet spewed molten fury from pole to pole. And, even as the air became clogged with the detritus of a once-living world, the elemental converter reached outward, greedily absorbing every particle of newly released energy, and transferring it to the awaiting Galactus.

Soon, no longer able to resist the rising tide of destruction, the ill-fated world surrendered to the ultimate cataclysm. In a final release of seething energy, it burst apart like an overfilled balloon.

Where a true planet had orbited only hours before, only shards of lifeless debris and dust remained.

Completely unnerved by the sight I had just witnessed, I turned to Galactus like a child seeking a small measure of reassurance, or some paltry sign of approval.

"More,"was all he said. "I crave more."

With a slow nod of acknowledgment, I obediently climbed upon my board.

Ascending upward, ever upward, I realized that a lifetime of such horrors was all that awaited me. But there could be n0 regrets, n0 thoughts of turning back. My decision had been freely made. Galactus would keep his part of the bargain. I could do no less. I was determined to be true to my trust for as long as I lived.

But, before I began the longest joumey any mortal had ever undertaken, there was one to whom I needed to bid farewell.

Responding to my thoughts, my faithful board cleaved through the vacuum as quickly as a molten spike pierces fresh snow.

I found Shalla Bal in my living quarters. She was attempting to restore some semblance of order after the recent turtnoil. Fear flared in her eyes as I entered through an open window. Perhaps she feared I was a costumed looter. But maybe, just maybe, she instinctively recognized the loving heart which now beat beneath silvery glaze.

"Do not be alarmed," I said. "I am he who was Norrin Radd. "

"What has happened? What have they done to you?"Hesitantly, Shalla Bal gently caressed my face. She immediately withdrew her hand, shocked by my skin's metallic cold.

"My fate is of little consequence. All you need know is that this planet shall not perish. Zenn-La shall rise again. But our people must never again grow soft and indolent. The spirit of our ancestors must not be lost a second time."

She looked at me with a penetrating gaze. "You do not intend to remain among us, Norrin."lt wasn't a question.

"A small price to pay so our world may live."Without another word, I took her into my arms.

"If you must leave,"I heard her whisper as I kissed her for the final time, "take me with you."

A beautiful sentiment, but hardly practical. And yet, when was love ever practical? When did the heart ever bow to the mind? When did emotion step aside for reason?

For an all-too-brief instant, I considered a life among the stars with Shalla Bal at my side. A life of endless adventure and limitless possibility.

But, even if Galactus would have ahowed her to accompany me, I could not. The jagged memory of the planet which I had recently helped to devastate was much too fresh. I could never subject Shalla Bal to such constant atrocities.

Where soars the Silver Surfer, he must soar alone!

Sparing her the insincerity of an optimistic smile, I embraced Shalla Bal for the last time. Her eyes were clouded with tears. Mine were not. Even that small token of humanity was now denied to me.

Mounting my board, I streaked into the sky to rejoin Galactus.

Well do I remember my early days as his Herald, when only the endless joumeying could mask the bitter ache within my breast. My master's hunger knew no bounds. Though I led him to world after world, he was never satisfied. Never fully satiated! No sooner had he consumed one suitable morsel, than the quest for another began. The search continued unabated.

Staying true to my principles, I scrupulously avoided any world which held intelligent life or the Potential for it. But, in every star, in every world, I saw my beloved Shalla Bal. Only with the passing of time did the pain eventually begin to ease.

Or so I thought!

Without my knowledge, Galactus had tampered with my mind. He submerged all memory of my previous life, of who and what I had been. He banished all thoughts of Zenn-L,a, all dreams of Shalla Bal, bricking them widiin the deepest dungeons of my subconscious.

Whether he did it as an act of kindness, a misguided effort to make my servitude more bearable, or merely because he was desirous of the living planets which I deliberately avoided, none will ever know. Suffice it to say that I eventually became as cold and unfeeling within as I was without.

I have no idea how long I served my master in that fashion. In the great void of space, time itself has no meaning. I only know that I witnessed the birth of many planets, and the death of even more. I saw star systems crumble, and suns implode.

I blazed my way across the cosmos in my relentless quest, searching, always searching, for my master's next repast. No longer did I care if a planet was rich with civilization. No more was I troubled by the annihilation of ancient cultures. My sole mission was to determine if it contained the proper elementar resources. My only allegiance was to Galactus. My single desire was to serve him.

Here is where my story might have ended. I should be attending the mighty Galactus even now. Indeed, still would I be serving him, had it not been for a most capricious whim of fate.

I found myself in a new star system. A young and healthy sun shimmered at its center. Instantly alert, I realized that it was the type of sun which might easily contain at least one planet among its satellites that could appease my master. Galactus was famished. We had voyaged far without success, and the great hunger was upon him.

Whisking among the astronomical bodies moving in orbit around this sun, I found a handful of major planets, along with their various minor dependents. There was both an asteroid belt, possibly the remains of a former planet, and a second region which appeared to be densely filled with space debris. But I could ascertain no world worthy of Galactus.

I spied an advanced society living on a moon which revolved around a great ringed planet. Curiously, I also observed abandoned outposts and other evidence which led me to believe that this system had been regularly visited by such diverse alien races as the Skrull, the Kree, and the Shi'ar.

Why had they all come here? What fascination did this tiny system command? Perhaps it possessed some strategic importance due to its great abundance of wormholes, gateways which these star-spanning races could use to joumey through hyperspace.

Intergalactic politics held no interest for Galactus. He was above the petty concems and squabbles of extraterrestrial empires. Impassive and aloof, he was propelled only by his unrelenting appetite.

An appetite which would find no satisfaction here. I would normally have sped to the next system, but something didn't seem right.

I, who can track a single tear across a great ocean, had spotted a few artificial satellites bobbing in the void. Primitive in design, I had little doubt that they had originated in this system. Which planet had birthed them? Who had sent them adrift?

With renewed purpose, I glided toward the area packed with space debris, determined to give it a closer inspection. The rocks varied in size, but they were uncharacteristically clustered together. Was this really a natural phenomenon?

My suspicions aroused, I attempted to penetrate the barrier. Moving in perfect synch, my board and I wove a serpentine path through the deadly maze. Swiveling, twisting, and swerving, even one as skillful as I was sorely pressed to avoid the massive boulders which hurled around me.

The barricade extended only a thousand miles in width. The going was slow and treacherous to one who usually flies far beyond the speed of light, but I completed my passage in due course.

Beneath me spun a vibrant globe unlike any I had ever seen. Lush with vegetation, brimming with oceans, and thriving with civilization, it seemed like a veritable paradise. Vague memories echoed within my mind, but I could not grasp them.

Some mysterious force had obviously conspired to conceal this planet from me. Quickly zeroing in on the power which controlled the banier, I raced toward a towering structure within a great city.

Even as I neared my Destination a flaming humanoid soared toward me. His entire body seemed to be enveloped by a fiery plasma that did not consume him. From the naked Aggression in his posture, I had little doubt that he intended to challenge me. But I could not indulge him while Galactus awaited his feast. Instead, I merely slanted my board upward, traversing past the buming man.

Landing upon the rooftop I had sighted earlier, I heard a flurry of shouts behind me even as I unleashed my cosmic flare.

"He is signaling Galactus,"someone said to my surprise. "We have failed!"

Galactus? How could the inhabitants of this backward world have learned about my master? How did they know the purpose of my cosmic beacon?

I was still pondering those questions when a gruffer, deeper voice responded to the first.

"Failed nothin'!"it said. "Just let me at 'im!"

A massive fist closed upon my shoulder, and tumed me to face a most unusual creature. He stood about six feet in height, and his entire body appeared to be covered with a thick and rock-like hide.

"Forget him, Thing,"a man cried behind him. This man had impossibly long arms that continued to extend in length even as I watched. "He is no longer the problem, Ben. We must prepare for Galactus."

"You do the preparin', pal. I'm more the clobberin' type!" the orange-skinned brute said, as he swung at my face.

Though I could have easily withstood the impact of his blow, I simply glided over the side of the roof. lt was the most expedient method for me to depart. I had no reason to battle these poor creatures. Why should I add to their last few moments of misery? Galactus would devour their planet soon enough. Although, to my own astonishment, it was painfully clear that these few planned to deny my master his rightful due.

Such defiance was unthinkable to me now! None could thwart the will of Galactus. Ever-inviolate, he would merely ignore their pitiful efforts.

Rejoining my board, I circled around their building to get a better look at them.

Six figures dotted the aforementioned rooftop. Along with the orange brute, the stretching man and the flaming humanoid whom I have already described, there were two females and a Watcher. One female was clothed in a dark blue uniform which matched the jumpsuit worn by the stretching man. Her hair was the color of a bright sunflower. She seemed to be escorting the other, sandy-haired woman into the bowels of the building. The second woman kept shouting something which might have been a name, because it caught the notice of the orange monster, who quickly raced to join her.

However, it was the Watcher who attracted the majority of my attention. His presence explained much. He was of an ancient and vastly powerful galactic race, who had swom a sacred oath to passively observe the phenomena of the universe. While many Watchers had languidly observed the feasting of Galactus, none had ever questioned or confronted him. All had honored their pledge not to interfere in the affairs of other races.

Until now.

Arriving without fanfare, Galactus had already established himself upon the very rooftop I was observing. Ignoring the humans as if they were of no consequence, he dignified the Watcher by conversing with him.

Just then, I noticed that neither the orange one nor the sandy-haired woman were among the humans. They had left the roof, only to reappear on the ground below.

At a signal from the brute, a motorized vehicle detached itself from a long line of similar conveyances. With a tendemess which I would never have equated with such a monstrous creature, he tenderly clung to his woman.

Then he quickly ushered her into the awaiting vehicle. His final wave was as hearty as his smile was optimistic. In his naiveté, he was attempting to send the sandy-haired woman to a place of safety.

Safety?! On a world destined to be consumed by Galactus?

To my surprise, I was left oddly unsettled by this parting. Something about it stirred barely remembered thoughts and long-dead emotions. I struggled within myself, attempting to force these buried recollections to full bloom. Galactus had done his work too well. My efforts went unrewarded. Nothing surfaced!

My duty was to retum to the quest, to seek another suitable planet while my master laid waste to the present one.

Instead, I streaked after the sandy-haired woman. Even

now I cannot explain what I hoped to leam. I only know that she reminded me of someone in my past. Someone who had once meant a world to me!

To my shame, I stalked the unsuspecting woman like a hungry vulture. Following her to a large building, I was pleased to discover that she was lodged on the top floor. I saw her through an open skylight.

She appeared to be a very tactile person, touching every object she encountered. Her home was crowded with elay and marble sculptures of various sizes. The orange monster was obviously a favored model, for his brutish features were in great evidence.

But, all of her graceful statues, all of her personal furnishings, would soon be converted into energy for Galactus!

While I watched, she approached a forrnless lump of clay. Under the magic of her expressive fingers, it began to take form. Before my eyes, the face of the orange monster began to appear. Such was her skill that even he had somehow achieved a rugged handsomeness.

Suddenly, I heard a commotion in the street. Humans were scurrying about, their faces twisted widi apprehension. News of Galactus must have reached the masses. Panic was spreading!

Images abruptly blossomed within my mind! I could see skyscrapers toppling, leaving thousands homeless or worse. A strange mobile street tossed even more citizens into oblivion. And the face of a beautiful, but unknown, ravenhaired woman suddenly mocked me. Who was she? Why did she haunt me?

A frustrated moan must have escaped my lips.

"Who's there?"The sandy-haired woman had twisted toward me, her fingers accidentally scaning the face on the pedestal before her. "I can hear you, whoever you are,"she said as she looked right at me. "And you sound like you could use a friend."

I could have streaked off. I did not. Nor did the woman tum away as I entered her home. Though I could see the fear brimming within her, she stepped forward without hesitation, and ran her hands over my face.

"Your face! lt feels very different from any man I have ever felt before."

That is when I suddenly realized that she could not see. I had chosen a blind woman to show me my own heart. "I am more than a man. I am the Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus."

"Silver Surfer? Galactus? Ben and the others were discussing the two of you earlier. They said you were dangerous. That you intended to destroy us all! You must have followed me from Fantastic Four headquarters. I don't understand why you would do such a thing, or what you hope to gain by menacing the Earth."

"Your lack of understanding cannot alter the destiny that awaits this world."

"I never heard anyone speak so strangely. You seem to be threatening me, and yet, there is a certain nobility in your voice,"she said.

Nobility? The word held no meaning for me. I turned to leave, but the woman reached out to me. I later learned her name was Alicia Masters.

"I know I should be terrified, but I don't think you will harm me."Her fingers retumed to my face, gently probing. "Perhaps you are hungry? Let me give you something to eat while you explain your mission here."

"The process you terrn eating is too slow. lt is much simpler and more effective to convert your so-called food into pure energy. That is why Galactus has come! He will convert every object on this planet into pure energy."

"The Fantastic Four were right about you! You actually intend to destroy the Earth!"

"Destroy is merely a word. We simply change things,"I said without emotion. "We transforin elements into energy. Energy which sustains Galactus. For it is only he that matters. "

"No! No! We all matter! Every living being! Every bird and beast! This is our world, and we all matter! Perhaps we are not as powerful as your Galactus, but we have hearts. We have souls, we live, breathe, and feel! Can't you see that?"she asked. "Are you as blind as I?"

My hand reached for the shouting woman, as if to silence her. But then, I gently ran my hands over her face, as she had earlier caressed mine. "Never have I heard such words, or sensed such courage."

But I had. I instinctively knew that I had! The images were howling in my mind now like rabid beasts, battering at my subconscious with increasingly greater fury. I caught sight of the misshapen clay face which had been ruined by my entrance.

"You are not just a soulless monster,"Alicia said. "You, too, have emotions. I know it. I felt them when I touched you."

"Say no more! Do not build false hopes! I am what I must be. I serve Galactus!" The words seemed so hollow. They sprang only from my mouth, not my heart.

Alicia dragged me to the nearest window. "Look at the city!"she screamed. "Look at the people! Each of them is entitled to life! To happiness!"

I had never bothered to examine any species at close range. I had merely found a planet, judged its worthiness, and returned to the search. The dominant race had been condemned or spared. What could be gained by studying them?

The streets below were crammed with frightened individuals. They huddled in small groups, clutching each other for support. Children cried, and the adults could offer them small comfort.

For the first time since I had become the Silver Surfer, I felt pity.

Alicia gripped my arm. "Our entire planet is in the gravest danger, but I have the strangest feeling that you possess the power to save us."

"I cannot defy Galactus, woman."

"You cannot stand by while our world is destroyed. I couldn't have been so wrong about you when I sensed nobility,"Alicia gasped, "when I thought you possessed compassion! "

"Perhaps, human, you were not totally wrong,"I said as I mounted my faithful board. Every doubt, every misgiving that had ever flittered through my mind, was sud-

denly crystallized, molded into concrete form during my conversation with Alicia.

I had to do battle with my master. I could not allow him to consume this world. I had finally found something worth protecting.

I flashed through the concrete canyons of the city, adding to the hysteria which engulfed the population. The sky above this tortured planet still glowed a hardy blue. The elementar converter had not yet been ignited. I still had time!

I have since heard the details of how the Fantastic Four had managed to forestall the destruction of their world. Words such as monumental and courageous are paltry ones indeed to describe their valiant struggle in the face of seemingly inevitable destruction.

But the hand of Galactus was already moving toward the fatal lever when I anived on the scene.

"Master!"I cried. "For the first time I realize the dreadful enormity of what you plan to do. You must not tamper with this world. You cannot destroy the entire human race! They are as deserving of life as you or I."

"Would you hesitate to tread upon an ant hill?"His voice betrayed no surprise at my unexpected outburst. "These creatures are of no consequence to Galactus."

"These are not ants, master. They think! They feel!"

"Enough, gleaming one. I reject your plea. You have your duty. Resume your etemal hunt."

"No, master! No!"

"You dare challenge me?"Astonishment marred the face of Galactus, distorting his usually implacable features with disbelief. "Have you forgotten the power I wield? I am Galactus!"

I begged him to the leave the Earth. I pleaded with him to spare this world. I did not wish to battle one I had served so faithfully. Though I was only his servant, we had still shared a universe together.

In the end, however, I was compelled to fight.

I unleashed destructive bolts with enough pure force to reduce a towering mountain into smoking rubble.

Galactus stood unmoved and untroubled by my efforts.

I blasted him with sufficient force to obliterate a blazing meteor.

He ignored me, seen-iingly oblivious to the camage I heaped upon him.

I attempted to encase him within an unbreakable cocoon of ethereal energy.

He shattered it with barely a shrug.

My power was nothing compared to his. I no more harmed him than the Weapon Supreme had done on Zenn-La. But still I attacked, still I opposed and obstructed him!

"If you do not yield, I shall be forced to slay you,"he said simply. "Though such is not my wish."

No matter what my fate, I was determined to face it without qualm! I would find a way to defeat my former master, or die in the attempt. For, though memory of my former life still lay dormant, I had finally remembered how glorious it was to have a cause worth dying for.

"I will tarry no longer. Galactus yields to none! I regret what I must do. For, of all who live, I have cherished you the most. "My former master raised his voice for the first time in my memory. "But now, by my hand, the Sitver Surfer shall perish!"

My life would have ended at that very moment, had it not been for the intervention of the Fantastic Four. With the aid of the Watcher, the Human Torch had traveled across the rivers of infinity to the very Worldship which served as the home of Galactus. There, the daring human secured the one device which even the ravager of worlds must fear. A weapon which could destroy a galaxy and lay waste to a universe: the Ultimate Nullifier!

Realizing that no prize could he worth such a frightful cost, Galactus finally agreed to leave the Earth. He relinquished his feast in exchange for the return of the Nullifier.

Never before had the will of Galactus been thwarted.

Though he bore me no malice, Galactus could not depart without one last act. Since I could no longer be his Herald, he exiied me to this planet. A great barrier was erected beyond the Earth's atmosphere which prevented me from venturing back into unexplored space. I, who had journeyed beyond the farthest stars, was now trapped upon a single, lonely sphere.

In finding my conscience, I had lost the stars.