by John M. Burt
Ted Kord stood on the deck of the Kord Explorer watching Pago Island growing ahead. Only briefly once before had he ever returned to that small island off the coast of Long Island since that disastrous day in 1966 when he’d learned that his friend and former college roommate Dan Garrett had been the Blue Beetle, and he’d had to watch his friend die.
He’d left Dan’s body behind, buried under hundreds of tons of rock in a cave within the island. He’d become a new Blue Beetle — the third one now — substituting training and technology for the magic scarab that had given Dan his superhuman powers. For almost twenty years he’d suppressed any thought of the body lying forgotten, of the great power buried with his friend, simply refusing to deal with it. Finally, during the funeral for Caroline Dean — the action-heroine known as Liberty Belle — he’d been forced by his conscience to face the matter. He could no longer cling to the hope that Dan had somehow survived his death and still lived.
On two separate occasions he was briefly convinced that Dan Garrett was still alive. The first time was in 1967, a year and some months after the events on Pago Island. Then, a man named Dan Greer had disguised himself as Dr. Daniel Northrup Garrett to go on an expedition to the Middle East to claim the lost treasure of the mountain of Mider for himself. Ted followed him there and discovered Greer’s deception, and when Greer died during a volcanic explosion that destroyed the top of the mountain, his expedition team declared that Dr. Daniel Garrett had died in the explosion. Ted had been under investigation for Garrett’s unsolved disappearance by Police Detective Fisher up until that time, and now the investigation was finally closed.
The second time he thought Dan Garrett was still alive was only two years ago in 1983, when the second Blue Beetle showed up and vowed he would have his revenge on Ted for leaving him behind on Pago Island. This time he was revealed to be a prototype super-robot created by Ted’s villainous uncle, Jarvis Kord, and was more intelligent and human-looking than the older models. After a battle in which the non-powered Blue Beetle was terribly outmatched by the super-strong android, Ted managed to destroy it.
There was one other time when he had briefly thought Dan was still alive. This was during his wedding to Tracey Simmons in 1973, when the wedding was crashed by an ancient sorceress called the White Queen, as well as the azure avenger himself. (*) But this turned out not to be the second Blue Beetle at all, but the original Blue Beetle, a policeman named Dan Garret (spelled with one T) who had begun the heroic legacy in 1939. Like Ted, the original Blue Beetle was at first a non-powered crime-fighter who relied on his athletic ability as well as bulletproof chain mail, but after a year he began using Vitamin 2X created by a druggist named Dr. Abe Franz. While Vitamin 2X at first only gave Garret extra vitality and energy, soon enough he began inexplicably developing genuine super-powers through its use, such as super-strength, flight, and x-ray vision.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Blue Beetle: Times Past, 1973: The Wedding Planner.]
In 1942, the Blue Beetle took on a teenage partner named Sparkington J. Northrup, an orphan. He became the Blue Beetle’s sidekick, using the name Sparky initially but soon changing this to Spunky. The partnership lasted only two years, but it had a lasting impact on Sparkington, who changed his name upon reaching adulthood to Daniel Northrup Garrett in honor of his mentor. This was the man who was later to become Ted’s friend and college roommate. Dan was a genius and scholar who thrived at university and continued his education well into his late twenties, receiving doctorates in a number of various fields during that time. He was a true Renaissance man by the time he gained the magical scarab that transformed him into the second Blue Beetle in 1964.
As for the original Blue Beetle, he died in 1957 in the explosion caused by a mad scientist he was trailing during a case. But as Ted discovered in 1973 at his wedding, the golden age Blue Beetle had survived that death and was brought back to life, still as young as ever. When he again supposedly died not long afterward, Ted was sure that he was gone for good. Yet, in 1983, he learned that Dan Garret — the original Blue Beetle — was alive once more and was now working as an agent of the Central Intelligence Bureau during a time when Ted himself was briefly working with CIB. Garret appeared to either have never aged or had been returned to the age he was when he first became the Blue Beetle upon his apparent resurrection. Although he didn’t understand any of it, Ted now knew not to put any weight in rumors of the original Beetle’s death. As for Daniel Northrup Garrett, Ted had given up hope that his friend still lived. It was now time to confirm the fact that he was irrevocably gone. Now a Kord Industries crew would excavate Dan’s unhallowed grave, retrieve his bones for burial and, if Ted was lucky, give him the magic power of the scarab — the real scarab, that is.
Two years after Dan’s death, Ted received an unmarked package in the mail. It went straight to his laboratory and languished there in the mess for days before he got around to opening it. When he did, he was astonished to discover that it contained the very same blue scarab owned by the former Blue Beetle. Or at least that’s what he thought at first. A note accompanying the scarab explained that archeologist Dan Garrett had once given this smaller duplicate scarab on a necklace to an Egyptian colleague named Professor Luri Hoshid. Dan had apparently created it himself, and she had been able to use it to summon his help on more than one occasion. But now that he was dead, she no longer wished to have it and wanted the Beetle’s successor to own it. Ted was touched and attempted on more than one occasion to contact Luri, but he was never able to track her down. Ever since then, he had kept the scarab close by for sentimental reasons.
It was strange, though. Although the small blue scarab he owned was ostensibly nothing more than a communications device operating by some means he had not been able to discover, Ted could have sworn that on more than one occasion it had saved his life. Ted also wondered if it was what was responsible for keeping both him and his wife Tracey so young and vital over the past twenty years. Although they were both now in their late forties, they appeared little older than thirty. If this small duplicate had the power to suspend his aging and protect him, what would the genuine article be able to do? Most recently, the small blue scarab had protected him from the Shadow Demons during the Crisis, who had only managed to wound him rather than kill him. Ever since this brush with death, Ted had wondered about the original scarab. It had been the impetus for his final determination to return to Pago Island and finally give Dan a decent burial.
Perhaps it was the idea of magical power that had made Ted ignore the business for so long. He was a rational man, a scientist, and a sometime-student of Ayn Rand (although not nearly as devoted as his friend, Vic Sage). He didn’t believe in magic, and whenever he was forced to acknowledge its existence, it made him uncomfortable and sent him searching for a more rational, scientific explanation. Did he really want to add the impossible strength and invulnerability the scarab offered — and other powers, besides — to the good and honest skills he already possessed? But surely to forgo such power when it was available would be far more irrational.
A young chemistry student named Paul Parker, who had come along in his capacity as semi-professional photographer, suddenly dashed up to Ted where he stood at the railing. “Mister Kord! There are people on the island, and it looks like they’re digging in the cave themselves!”
It was a tense, unpleasant half-hour readying the launch and getting it to the island. Ted and four of the biggest, meanest-looking sandhogs in his crew went over to the island to confront the unauthorized diggers. Upon reaching land, Ted leaped out of the boat and ran up to a bulldozer operator, resisting the urge to shake a finger in the man’s face.
“Who are you people, and what are you doing here?!” Ted demanded.
The operator looked offended. “We’re exhuming a dead man so he can have a decent burial, fella. What business is it of yours?”
“Who authorized you to go digging here? Who’s in charge of this?”
“I am,” said a voice behind him.
Ted Kord turned to face a small young woman whose heart-shaped face and soft, dark brown hair suggested that not long before she’d either been a cheerleader or been strongly invited to try out. Her tanned skin and dark eyes provided a slight exotic quality to her youthful beauty. “And you would be…?”
“Marian Garrett,” she said. “And what business is it of yours if I want to recover my father’s remains?”
The situation was difficult. Ted Kord had obtained all necessary permits to dig on Federally-owned Pago Island to recover the late Dan Garrett’s remains, but Dan’s daughter — even though she had begun digging without bothering to ask anyone’s permission — clearly had a strong moral claim on the exhumation. Marian explained that Dan Garrett and her mother, the Egyptian archaeologist Luri Hoshid, were married a few months before he died, and Luri had given birth to Marian only days after his death nineteen years ago. She knew her father more as family history than as a living presence, but she obviously thought about him a lot, even as an adult.
In the end, Ted persuaded Marian Garrett to allow his better-equipped crew to take over the digging with the understanding that she would remain on the island. As soon as they were sure they had reached Dan’s remains, all work would stop until she was present. Ted also made sure his crew understood that the other requirement remained in force — that none of them were to touch anything resembling a piece of jewelry that might turn up with Dan’s bones.
Ted Kord had to step delicately in this matter. He was convinced in his heart that he alone was entitled to the scarab of the Blue Beetle. He was the one, after all, that Dan had charged to become the new Blue Beetle. But the scarab was Dan’s property and therefore belonged to his family. Ted prided himself on always doing the right thing, but he was having trouble finding the right thing to do just now.
The possibility that some stupid sandhog would be the one to bond with the scarab also bothered Ted. A dullard in possession of the scarab could be more dangerous than a super-villain.
It was early on the third day of the excavation when word came from the cave that human remains had been found. They had gotten an early start, and the August sun was not yet above the ocean horizon when a sleepy Marian Garrett and a sleepless Ted Kord climbed carefully into the cave, following crew chief Lou Sendak and driver Mike McCluskey.
Dan Garrett’s bones looked truly pathetic. They were crushed beneath huge boulders, with only shreds of clothing and flesh still remaining on and near them. Most of the rocks had been rolled or lifted away, but the large one that had crushed his spine and doomed him remained in place. His skull had rolled away and had not been touched yet, but his arm bones remained close together, mocking the position of his arms when he died, and the blue scarab-stone was unmistakable, lying framed by Dan’s right radius and ulna like a precious object held by white tongs.
Ted Kord had contrived to be in front of Ms. Garrett, and as he stepped forward reverently, he suddenly lunged and snatched up the scarab. With immense relief, he cradled it in his palm, staring down at the mysterious object that glinted in the electric lights of the digging crew.
A sudden stab of pain made him clutch at his hand, and he accidentally allowed the scarab to go flying into the air. It landed on the back of Ms. Garrett’s wrist and remained there. She stared at it, trembling slightly, for the moment forgetting even her father’s bones before her.
Ted stared, open-mouthed. It had been some kind of energy discharge from the object, proof that it was of some natural scientific nature. That was what had happened, and that was why his hand hurt so badly. The scarab had not really bitten him on the hand, and it had not deliberately landed on the woman’s wrist and perched there. That was not what had happened. It wasn’t.
The light in the cave changed, and the diggers checked their lights, afraid of a power failure. But the blue glow was coming from the scarab — and from Marian Garrett.
A bright discharge of light, and Marian was clothed in a thigh-length cowled tunic of blue chainmail, blue tights, blue gloves, and red boots, the costume her father had worn as the second Blue Beetle except for the domino mask. The scarab seemed to be a part of the blue glove on her right hand, or perhaps of her hand itself.
She sighed and nodded slowly. “The dream was true. My father was the Blue Beetle, and now so am I.”
“No, you’re not!” Ted blurted impulsively, forgetting he was giving away his secret to anyone who had not yet guessed. “I am!”
After this outburst, the crew Marian had brought with her began quietly boarding their boat for the long trip back to Detroit, carrying Dan Garrett’s bones. Ted had his own crew prepare for their own return trip and impatiently accompanied his excavation team home. Ted then returned in costume as the third and current Blue Beetle and put the Bug — his unique, beetle-shaped flying machine — to work without risking his secret identity again to anyone but Marian. Upon his return he had found her alone, her crew long gone, freely using her newfound powers without those powers being discovered by any others.
From the controls of the Bug, the Blue Beetle now watched while Marian Garrett carried yet another load of rubble out of the cave mouth. Like the last, she was holding the multi-ton load of rock, dirt, and broken machinery together by force of will, enabling her to carry the load that ought to have easily slipped between her mail-clad arms. This time, she wasn’t merely walking under the load but flying, gracefully controlling her movements through the air. Clearly, she was rapidly gaining control over the scarab’s powers.
She dumped the load on the beach and suddenly grew to some four or five meters in height, the better to pick through it, tossing the rocks into the Atlantic Ocean and piling the metal and plastic scrap on a tarp for salvage and study. The remains of Jarvis Kord’s robotics laboratory would go back to Kord Industries for the evil scientist’s nephew to study.
Blue Beetle was still annoyed by Marian’s having seized the scarab for herself, but he had to admit that she was making good use of the power. She had explained how the scarab had come to her in a dream and spoken to her, offering her power and her father’s legacy if she would go to Pago Island and claim it. It had been dreams such as this, dreams of a luminous blue scarab promising power to do good, which had inspired the policeman Dan Garret to call himself the Blue Beetle years before his protege, Dr. Daniel Northrup Garrett, ever found the scarab itself in the tomb of Kha-ef-re.
Lowering the Bug over the pile of scrap, Ted used its legs to seize the tarp and haul it up into the main bay. The bay would soon be full, and he would have to head for Hub City to unload. It had been a productive day.
As he watched Marian at work, Ted admired the way the blue scale mail clung to her athletic body, which was taller and more muscular than it had been before the scarab transformed her. There could be worse things than being on good terms with an attractive young woman with super-powers. She would have to give up the name Blue Beetle, of course, but if he got on the right side of her, he could surely persuade her to use some other, more ladylike title. Ladylike… Lady Bug, perhaps? For a few moments, Ted wondered what it would be like to have an action-hero girlfriend before he remembered that he had been happily married for the last twelve years.
Blue Beetle landed the Bug on the beach and walked over to where Marian was cleaning up the last of the rubble, trying to restore the gravel beach to a natural-looking state. “Um, Marian, have you thought any more about what name you’d want to use?”
She sighed, having known this conversation would come sooner or later. “Really, Ted, I don’t see the problem. I mean, you live on the East Coast in Hub City, and I live in the Midwest in Detroit. We probably won’t be moving in the same circles, either. I’ve been involved in what you might call occult circles for some time already, and with this power, I’ll probably be spending most of my time engaged with things you and the general public don’t really know anything about. How often do you see the Son of Vulcan, after all?”
Ted Kord wrinkled his nose in distaste, about to launch into one of his speeches about the folly of mucking about with supernatural mumbo-jumbo the way the so-called Son of Vulcan did, when he reminded himself that Marian herself was using what seemed to be supernatural power.
“But look, I was hoping we would be spending more time together. I mean, your father was my college roommate and a very good friend of mine, and we do have the Blue Beetle’s mission in common. I was the one who avenged Dan’s death. I was the one who carried on the name for all those years, without the scarab’s power. I–”
Marian gestured angrily, waving away Ted’s objections. “He was my father, and I have the scarab! You left his bones in that cave for years. I never even knew where he was! I’m the Blue Beetle, and you can just get used to it! If you’re so bothered by some possible trademark conflict–”
She slapped his chest. A wave of color spread over Ted’s costume like a liquid, turning his dark and light blue to black and red.
“–you can call yourself the Scarlet Scorpion–”
She shifted her hand, and his colors changed to pale blue and silver.
“–or the Silver Scarab!”
Ted looked down at his costume, shocked. He looked back at Marian, an angry retort on his lips, when a big, solid-looking young man with short dark hair suddenly came around a headland to confront them. His handsome face showed astonishment at Marian’s appearance. “Mary?”
“Billy?” Marian Garrett, daughter of the second Blue Beetle, embraced the young man, making his ribs creak with her superhuman strength. “Billy, look — I found it! The dreams were real!”
The young man, wincing from the embrace, forced a smile. “It’s wonderful, Mary, but… can you change back? I mean, this isn’t permanent, is it?”
“Oh, no,” said Marian. She closed her eyes and composed herself, and in a moment she shrank several inches, returning to her normal self, the blue scale-mail of the Blue Beetle being replaced by the corduroy slacks and sweatshirt she had worn when she first bonded with the scarab. The magical talisman itself now clung to her wrist in a silver bracelet, looking like merely a piece of garish jewelry.
“Billy, this is Ted Kord of Hub City, the third Blue Beetle,” she said, introducing the two men. “Ted, this is my husband, Bill Bates.”
Ted frowned, at first surprised to learn that she was already married at age nineteen. Then he smiled as recognition set in. “Oh, William Bates, the reporter! Thought you looked familiar.”
The young man smiled. “What, you get the Detroit Daily Sentinel in Hub City?”
“Fella wins the Starr Award, he gets reprinted in a lot of papers,” said Ted.
“Yeah, well anyway, only Mary calls me Billy.”
“And only Billy calls me Mary,” said Marian.
Ted gave Marian a hard look. “And I guess nobody calls you Mrs. Bates?”
She shrugged. “Only for some purposes. Certainly when I went to find my father’s remains, I was Marian Garrett before I was anything else.”
“Anyway, Mary, I came out here because the Mysterious Traveler contacted me. He said that as soon as you’d come into your legacy, a whole lot of stuff was coming down–”
“I’ll bet he didn’t say that.”
“Or words to that effect. Anyway, he said I needed to get to you right away and fetch you back to Detroit before half of the unexplored world hits the fan. Looks like you’re going to be pretty busy for a while.”
Marian turned back to Ted, extending a hand. “Ted, thanks for your help. Really. Um, I hope things work out for you, whatever comes next. And, um, I’ll see you when I see you.”
Ted took her hand, which she shook firmly. He stood on the beach watching while Billy and Mary climbed into a seaplane and took off hastily.
Blue Beetle looked down and saw that his costume had changed back to its normal colors. He trudged back to the Bug, suddenly feeling rather old and outdated.
“I wonder what ol’ Vic is up to tonight?” he muttered to himself. Even if the Question wasn’t exactly the consoling type, it was the perfect night to mourn the loss of an old friend in the company of another. He wondered if he could convince Vic Sage to drown his sorrows with him at a local bar or pool hall without his having to cause an incident of any kind. Thinking about it for another moment, he muttered, “Nah. Would never happen.”