Alice Medley frowned as she saw her old boss. He had never paid much attention to her one way or another except to give her abrupt orders. She pursed her lips as she recalled that he had truly barely been in her presence except for a few times before he departed for overseas. He gave her a bad feeling. She held herself tightly with both arms and shuddered as he gazed up and down her with an appraising and slightly amused manner.
As they walked together, Alistair Thomas Kord raised one eyebrow in a questioning manner. “I assume he knows. He is one of your associates, is he not?”
Blue Beetle stammered a reply that was cut short.
“Oh, son, I’ve know your secret all along,” said the elder Kord. “I mean, you don’t think a man of my resources would have let you fawn all over old Garrett when you were college roommates and not bothered to check the man out. I knew he was the original Blue Beetle’s kid partner in the ’40s, and when a new Blue Beetle appeared, I verified that he was that Blue Beetle long before you found out. I also certainly recognized my son as the third version after Garrett died. I mean, the Bug of yours is based on my ideas.”
Blue Beetle and Booster Gold exchanged glances as Alice gasped in surprise.
“Ted? You really are Ted!” she said softly.
“Alice, I–” began Beetle.
Alistair laughed and said, “Don’t look so glum. She’s of no importance.”
“Why, you smug old goat!” said Booster. “If you weren’t over the bend, I’d–!”
“Don’t threaten me,” said Alistair. “I don’t fear you at all. You are nothing more than a shallow pretty boy in a fancy costume.”
Blue Beetle hesitated, then removed his mask. “Dad, what is this all about? Why are you back? You never wrote me. You only called about three times. You owe me some answers!”
“I came back to check on the progress of one of my old experiments,” said Alistair. “I set it in motion before I left on my expedition twenty years ago. I wanted to see how it had progressed. Rather well, I’d say!”
He grasped Alice’s cheek and pinched it tightly between two fingers. She pulled away but felt no pain.
“Son, this little beauty is Project Auto — short for Project Autonomous. She is a fully functioning robot with the capacity for retroactive artificial memory and emotional response. I created her with an associate and gave her a job. She has performed quite well over the years. She fooled everyone and even thinks of herself as a real woman.”
Alice stepped back and stared at them with wide-eyed horror. “He’s insane!” she shouted. “He interviewed me right out of Cal State. He hired me. I eat. I sleep. I daydream. I had parents and grandparents. My sister lives in Delaware! I’m not a robot!”
“Of course not,” said Blue Beetle. “Dad, this is cruel, even for you!”
“Have you never wondered why she looks exactly the same now as she did when I first hired her twenty years ago?” said Alistair incredulously. “She doesn’t age. Oh, she can cut her hair. She can grow it. She’s that advanced. She may even gain weight or perceive that she has when she hasn’t. I told you. She is a wonder. She is a fully autonomous robotic woman with fake memories and manufactured emotions. I didn’t program her memories. She created them herself. With every moment of operation, she gains more and more humanity, so to speak. She probably will gain even more false memories of her past if we don’t take her apart.”
Alice dropped to her knees and covered her face with both hands. As she wept, her perfect makeup smeared, and gobs of mascara ran down her cheeks.
Booster couldn’t help but notice how her fingernails were perfectly manicured and painted. She really seemed every inch the living and breathing woman of fashion and business she had always been in appearance.
Blue Beetle dropped down and cradled her in his arms as he tried to comfort her. “Alice, it’s OK. I don’t know how true his claims are, but you are you. You’re real, and you’ll continue to be.” She held him as he rocked her gently back and forth.
“Son, don’t make promises you can’t keep,” said the elder Kord. “She is my property. I do intend to dismantle her. I could reassemble her as a male of… oh, say, fifty-five years old or so. It would be fascinating as a scientific curiosity to see Project Auto take on a new and vivid life as a totally different being.”
“No! Please!” cried Alice. She jumped up and kicked off both high heels as she ran for the door.
“I do hope I won’t have to send in other sentries to bring her back,” said Alistair. “That was why I activated Indigo and Vigil. They were designed to locate her should she prove difficult to find. You know, I was concerned she might have married and moved away, or some other foolish female notion had entered her pretty little metal head.”
“Alice, don’t run!” Blue Beetle called. “We have to find the truth here. Will you trust me? Will you please come to my lab and let me run some tests?”
Alice nodded and ruefully picked up her discarded shoes. “Ted, please make this nightmare go away!” she said.
“Don’t worry, honey,” said Booster. “He’s not going to touch you! I’ll take him apart first!”
“You have no standing here,” Alistair said coolly. “This is private property. This is my property, as is that leggy little toy.”
In the lab, Ted Kord worked quickly and grimly announced his findings to Booster and Alistair, as Alice waited separately in another room.
“It’s all true,” sighed Ted. “In spite of how very human she seems, she is a robot. She has such remarkable feelings and personal quirks and likes and dislikes. They go beyond anything that could be programmed into her. Her systems somehow allow her to imagine and create. She’s real enough in my book. I won’t allow you to change her. As far as I’m concerned, she is Alice Medley. Alice is a lovely girl with real feelings and a real life all her own.”
“I own her,” insisted Alistair. “You won’t dictate what I will or won’t do. I can turn you out of the building. I own it all. Your late mother’s will only left you her assets. Don’t force me to cut you off.”
“I don’t believe you!” said Ted. “How can you play the petty tyrant when you’ve just about ruined a girl’s life?”
“She is not a girl,” said Alistair. “She has no true gender. I told you as much. Your own scans prove that. Ted, be reasonable. You always were such a sentimental fool!”
“I’m asking you, as your son, to let her alone!” said Ted.
“More sentiment,” sighed Alistair. “You should have been a girl. Your mother coddled you too much.”
“Listen, I’m not going to let you hurt her,” vowed Ted.
“And how will you stop me from doing what I want with my property?” said Alistair. “Are you willing to become a criminal to defy me? What would your own stockholders say?”
“I never thought I’d say this, but there are other things more important than money!” said Booster.
Ted had slipped his mask back on, and as the Blue Beetle he turned to face the pair. “I thought you might listen to reason, Dad, but I never really believed it. I know you too well. I talked to Alice, and then I called Sarge Steel. Have you heard of eminent domain? The government can claim any property that is vital to national defense or the greater good. Well, Alice is not just a pretty girl. She has that TK power and possibly more. That makes her a valuable national asset. She’s now cleared security-wise. Sarge Steel fixed it. You don’t own her. She owns herself. Technically, the government owns her, but he won’t bother her as long as she serves with us as a member of the Sentinels. She has agreed. Oh, she’s scared, and she barely knows what to do next, but she will become an action-heroine and use her powers for good. You can’t touch her! For that matter, you can’t use Indigo, either. Sarge agreed to let the Sentinels take her into custody for now.”
Alistair cursed and said, “Young man, you will regret this. You have crossed a line, here. This is not a joke. This is money. This is business. You say you don’t care for money, eh? Well, we’ll see. You take your metal girlfriend and get out. You don’t work here anymore. You don’t set foot on my property. For that matter, don’t even think about taking the Bug out. I own it, too. It is based on my designs. Try to take it, and I’ll phone twice. I’ll call my lawyer, then I’ll alert the media to the true identity of the Blue Beetle.”
“You’re kidding,” said Ted.
“You can’t do that!” said Booster.
“I can, and I will,” said the elder Kord. “You wanted to challenge me? Well, you’ll pay for it. Now get off my property — all of you!”
The duo quickly found Indigo and Alice and departed.
“Alice, you’ll be fine,” said Booster. “You can work for me at BGI.”
“She can work for me,” said Ted. “I’m not out yet. I don’t need his money or his lab. This company was nothing before I built it into what it is today, and I can rebuild under a new name. Heck, I’m sure most of my staff would rather follow me to a new company than have to work for my father, anyway.”
“I feel terrible,” said Alice. “This is all my fault!”
“No, don’t think that,” said Ted. “He and I would have crossed swords even if you had never existed. And remember, you do exist! Eric loves you, and we do, too.”
“Eric!” said Alice. “How can I see him? How can he learn the woman he loves is a machine?”
“We’ll work this out,” said Booster. “Maybe we’ll even fix Indigo, too.”
Ted frowned as he thought of his father once more. “Some things can’t be fixed.”
From the personal diary of Alice Medley, today’s date:
I don’t know why I’m writing in this book. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I always feel better when I put my feelings down on paper. Feelings? Do I even truly have feelings? I’m more machine than girl. I’m less woman than I am computer. Still, I feel the same. I think the same. My memories are as vivid. I still feel as if I have a sister named Kelly who never writes or calls. It’s funny. Maybe I’m too perfect a machine. Maybe I’m too advanced for my own good. Even though I can intellectually speculate about things like my possible immortality or my inability to have children, all I feel is that I’m still a girl or woman named Alice Michelle Medley. I love Eric Yamaguchi. I eat too many peanut butter cups, and I adore shoes.
Oh, and I’m an action-heroine. I write that without even knowing what the words mean. I know I’ve always felt like I had to help when I saw someone in trouble, but the help I thought I could give was limited to holding a hand or offering normal comfort. Now I find that, according to Ted, I can access enhanced strength and speed if I choose to do so, and I can move things with my mind. I’m practicing, and I’ve got a darling costume, but again, I still feel like the same woman I was two days ago.
End of diary.
Alice Medley had managed to convince herself that she was obligated to keep her true nature a secret. After all, Ted Kord had a secret identity, as did Nightshade. She could do so, too. Only, unlike the others, she would have more than a face beneath a mask to conceal. Her actual face was a mask of a sort — pretty, perhaps even beautiful, but still a deceptive façade, since she was not a woman with skin but a machine with an artificial covering that looked and felt exactly like skin.
She sat in front of her makeup mirror in her bedroom. She was wearing a frilly pink teddy, and she had wrapped a pink towel around her wet hair. She touched one lock of hair and wondered if she truly could catch a cold. Was it even possible for her? She thought she remembered being sick as a girl, but those same memories were apparently false.
After she dried her hair, she picked up a small framed picture. It depicted a nice-looking man with a studious manner about his narrow features: Eric Yamaguchi.
“I can’t tell him the truth,” she said. “Maybe I can just keep seeing him for now. Maybe… at least until I come to terms with being so… different.” She sighed and started to crawl into bed. “Tomorrow is another day,” she said in her best Scarlet O’Hara voice.
Before she nestled under the covers and sank into the pillows, she turned on a small radio with the hope that music might lull her to sleep.
“–pursuit of robbers heading toward Owens Boulevard–“
She heard part of a news bulletin and then rushed to her window. I overlook Owens Boulevard! she thought. That white van must be the one the police are chasing! She hesitated for a moment, then thought, Normal folks could get hurt if the chase goes on.
Alice Medley slipped off her night clothing and quickly donned her new costume. She now wore a fluffy white miniskirt like a small tutu with a gold V shape on the front. Her bustier was green with gold trim, and her thigh-high high-heeled boots were green, as was her cape and the small trim kid gloves on her hands.
Jumping out her darkened window, she used her new telekinesis power to lower herself to the top of the speeding van. She steadied herself with each hand and concentrated. Each hand gradually pushed a small handhold into the roof, and she smiled in approval.
When the startled thugs within started to fire their guns at the roof, she dived to safety and cushioned her fall with a mental shield. I could have blocked the gunfire, but it would have bounced back on them, she thought.
She ran forward and locked her gaze on the van. A smile crossed her face as she gently lifted the van through sheer mental concentration. She spun it around and around and finally allowed it to rest as the dazed and battered thugs scrambled out.
“A chick! We got stopped by a chick!” groaned the driver.
His burly companion said, “Man, not just a chick, but a stone fox!”
Alice smiled winningly and said, “How sweet of you. You’ll be so popular in jail!” She walked closer to them and deftly knocked them cold with two precisely focused telekinetic shoves. “Done and done,” she said as she waited for the police to arrive.
A cop thanked her as she flashed her new Sentinels of Justice identity card. “Tomorrow Woman?” he said, reading the name on the card. “We’re glad to have a girl like you around.”
She winked at him and said, “I bet you say that to all the action-heroines.”
As she floated away, she felt a new warmth and a new sense of purpose. She might not be a human, but she was still Alice Medley, and now she was more. She was Tomorrow Woman.