Back aboard Project X in the present, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Thunderbolt just finished watching the images of Broderick’s previous mission.
The images faded as Broderick stepped forward and said, “I tried to deliver that message, but I failed. I’ve been on the run through time itself ever since I last spoke to you. You see, I’m a real wanted man. The Monarch learned all about me. He has sources and spies beyond my own understanding. He wants me dead, because while I was bouncing through time, I learned something that could spell his doom.”
“You learned his origin?” asked Blue Beetle.
“Exactly!” said Broderick. “I learned that he does come from this era. That’s why I found some connection to him in this time. You see, I created him!”
Peter Cannon, alias Thunderbolt, said, “What? I’ve heard of time paradox and all that, but this is too weird.”
“My battle with Booster was witnessed and scanned by a scientist of your time,” explained Broderick. “He managed to duplicate our equipment, and he used it to begin his climb to domination of the future.”
“I’m as much to blame as you are, pal,” said Booster Gold. “I should never have left my own time.”
Cannon said, “I knew you came from a future era, but you never told the rest of us that you’d stolen the time machine that brought you back. Does the Question know about this?”
“No,” said Blue Beetle, interrupting. “And I’ve kept Booster’s secret for months now without telling him or anyone else in the team. I’d appreciate it if we kept the circumstances of his departure from the thirtieth century quiet. The Question wouldn’t be able to understand how a thief could be a member of the Sentinels.”
“You’re not kidding!” said Thunderbolt. “The Question would never forgive you for keeping that secret from him. You know how incorruptible he is. He won’t let himself be part of a team that has an unrepentant thief as a member, current hero or not.”
“Hopefully we won’t have to deal with that for a while,” said Blue Beetle.
Booster Gold was frowning defensively. “Doesn’t my motivation count for anything? I came back to be a hero.”
“No, you came back for your own personal glory,” said Cannon. “The heroics came along later. And now you may have doomed the future because of it.”
“I fear you’re right about that,” said Broderick. “How else could a man from this era reach the future and acquire such power? He took science from that era as copied from our own gear and journeyed to a point in the future but before the era he would claim as his own. Why, battle-suits like ours could easily conquer any era from this one to those prior to the thirtieth century!”
“So why can’t we just go back in time and prevent this scientist from getting your gear scanned?” asked Blue Beetle.
“You can’t change time,” Broderick said. “I’ve risked everything as it is to make one adjustment to history as it is. You see, Monarch wants to kill all action-heroes of this time and prevent any of you from inspiring future champions that might oppose him. He has sent agents called the Atomic Knights to hunt down and kill certain people that may give birth to heroes that could one day rise up to stop him or at least inspire later generations to do so. Apparently, something in the ancestry of these individuals predisposed them to become heroes. Perhaps it was some association with the atomic tests of your era. An accurate history of this era is largely lost due to various chronal storms, but history does say Liberty Belle died today. I know for a fact that she is one of the beings linked to Monarch in some manner lost to time. That is why I came back here and did the one thing I could to save her.”
Peter Cannon shuddered involuntarily and said, “You knew a Liberty Belle had to die in order to maintain history, but you managed to switch Candy with Leeza in the second before her death.”
Broderick nodded. “I hated to play with a woman’s life, but I knew Candy had to live, because she is linked to Monarch. That much I learned in the time stream. Thus, I spirited her away from her murderer and left her alternate Leeza to die in her place.”
“That’s as cold as anything this Monarch could do,” said Cannon angrily. “You’ll pay for this!”
Booster Gold stepped between them and said, “Hold it! He’s playing for bigger stakes than one life. I say we have to trust him.”
“Maybe you are the Monarch,” said Thunderbolt. “You came here from the future. Who is to say you couldn’t go back with your gear and become that tyrant? Your ego is sure big enough for it!”
Booster flushed with anger and raised his fists. “You can’t talk to me like that! I’ve proven myself!” he said.
“Stop it!” shouted Blue Beetle. “We have to think clearly. None of us have any real knowledge about this kind of time paradox.”
Thunderbolt said, “So you rescued Candy Dean. Where is she?”
“She’s amazing,” said Broderick. “She listened to my story, and before I could react, she took one of my time-travel belts and launched herself into the time stream.”
“She’s going to try to return and take Leeza’s place!” said Thunderbolt with shock.
“If only it was that simple,” Broderick said.
“Where did she go, then?” asked Booster.
Broderick said, “She went back to the point in time that is most dangerous of all. She went back to where nothing can safely track her.”
“To the Crisis when Caroline died,” said Peter Cannon with full realization. “Don’t you see? She’s going to try to switch places with her sister, the original Liberty Belle, and die in her place like Leeza died in hers!”
Meanwhile, in the present, Captain Atom and Adam Thompson were battling the Atomic Knights near the young man’s home. Thompson had recognized the hero from seeing him on television, and he felt both relief at seeing such welcome help as well as a bit of concern about what kind of trouble could bring weird attackers and a genuine action-hero into his life.
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll soon handle these so-called Knights,” said Captain Atom as he struck one of them with a concentrated burst of tightly focused concussive energy.
Thompson nodded and said, “What do they want?” He blocked a punch and flattened the Knight with one super-dense punch of his own.
Captain Atom dodged a gleaming sword and whirled to disarm the user. “They want to kill you and several other citizens who have ties to an old government experiment. I don’t know why they’re doing it, but I know I’m going to make them regret it.” He grabbed one Knight in each hand and generated enough energy to shatter part of their armor. Two swift punches dropped them at his feet.
“Look out!” cried Thompson as a final Knight hurled his sword at Captain Atom’s back. He gasped and dived forward to deflect the weapon with his own body.
Captain Atom frowned in concern and helped the other man to his feet. “Thanks, son. I’m somewhat amazed. That sword had enough power to potentially pierce my own protective coating, but your body was hardy enough to deflect it without getting so much as a scratch or a burn!”
“I’ve had these powers since I was a young teen,” explained Thompson. “My grandfather finally explained that he felt I was a mutant and that the experiments he took part in as a soldier had indirectly altered my dad’s genetic code and thus had given me my own gifts.”
The Sentinels leader followed the young man into the house and was happy to see two elderly people greet him with obvious affection. The old man held a pistol.
“Adam, I was getting ready to help you!” the old man said. “Since Betty hid my service revolver, I had a real problem digging it out!”
His wife, a still-vibrant woman with lovely and famous features, said, “I know. I’m to blame! I never knew we’d need it, since the neighborhood is so well patroled by the security team at night.”
Adam Thompson hugged her and said, “I’m OK. This is Captain Atom!”
Captain Atom politely greeted the couple and explained what he knew. “I think, based on how well these goons located Adam before, they won’t come back here if he isn’t home. Adam, I’d like to ask you to come with me. I’ve got some friends who would like to meet you, and perhaps together we can resolve this crisis.”
Thompson said, “Sure. I’m willing to do anything to keep other people from suffering at the swords of those killers.”
They returned to where the fallen Knights had been, only to find them gone.
“I didn’t expect them to stay around, but I did slip my Sentinels communicator inside the shattered armor of one of them,” said Captain Atom with his normal confidence. “I can call one of my allies by regular phone, and they can get a bead on them. We’ll track them right back to their headquarters.”
Thompson said, “That sounds great, although I have to admit that I’m not sure if I’m fully awake or if this is all some wild dream.”
They flew off after Captain Atom had contacted Nightshade at her home, and she had assured him that she would follow through on his plan.
On the Project X satellite, an astonished Blue Beetle said, “I understand. History can’t be changed, but you’ve proven that a certain sequence of events can be nudged, if you will, in a new direction. Just like you arranged it so Leeza died in place of Candy, Candy thinks she can take the place of her own sister Caroline by switching places with her during the Crisis!”
“Poor brave girl!” said Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. “I want to go with you. Perhaps we can catch her before she makes the switch. After all, you have more experience, even though I now suspect the Dean girls both had a mutant gift for readily acquiring skills or talents. That’s how she learned how to use your belt so rapidly.”
Broderick said, “I can only take two people back with me, and Booster needs to be one of the party. He and I have traveled in time before, and residual chronal energies within our bodies make such passages a bit smoother. The era we’re going to is rife with cosmic disruptions as it is.”
“I’m not exactly a science whiz,” said Booster Gold, “but could this gift for picking up physical or intellectual skills be a power or genetic mutation Candy gained in some odd way from her folks, and that latent power is what made her a target for the Monarch and his Atomic Knights? Listen to me — I sound like that old guy on Top Twenty Countdown!”
“Of course!” said Blue Beetle. “After all, Broderick said potential heroics are what determined who the tyrant went after.”
“Gentlemen, join me in proximity,” said Broderick. “We can’t waste any more time.”
“Booster, let me borrow Skeets,” said Blue Beetle. “I want to try to scan the neighborhood where you and Broderick had your one and only encounter before. If anyone living there had a lab capable of scanning or duplicating your high-tech gear, then my Bug and Skeets should be able to detect that high level of electrical usage. You can’t run a lab like that on normal levels of power.”
The corporate crusader grinned and said, “Sure. Skeets will take care of you guys. Maybe you can actually catch this would-be Monarch in the making before he finishes his copy of our equipment. After all, even a genius couldn’t have done such a bang-up job in only a few months.”
“Booster, Thunderbolt, we need to go now!” said Broderick.
The three men vanished, and when they next found their senses returning to normal after a brief period of brilliant light and loss of sound, they witnessed a horrible scene. Several costumed figures were locked in deadly battle with terrible villains from multiple alternate Earths, even as New York Harbor burned with chemical fumes in the background. The time was July, 1985. It was the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Booster Gold whistled softly. “It’s like a war! I never imagined it was like this.”
Thunderbolt said, “None of us truly remember exactly what happened in detail. Time alterations of more than one nature made that impossible.”
Booster pointed skyward to where a giant inhuman figure called Chemo glowed a toxic green, towering amidst the smoke over New York City. “How in the name of Heather Locklear does a guy forget something like that monster?”
Back on the satellite in the present, Nightshade entered and swiftly explained to Blue Beetle what Captain Atom had requested. She reacted with her customary professionalism even as she digested the news about the peril facing her friend, Liberty Belle. “Atom’s on his way here, too,” she explained, “but he wanted us to try to establish a trace on his foes.”
Blue Beetle said, “I’ve tried that already with Belle’s device, but perhaps the second time is the charm.” He worked rapidly and didn’t look up as Captain Atom himself entered along with Adam Thompson.
“I know a lot is happening,” said Captain Atom. “Here’s my own summary: Adam Thompson here is a super-powered youngster whose grandfather took part in a government experiment called the Atomic Knights Project. Now armored goons are trying to hunt down and kill all the subjects or their descendants. I think he fears these people so much in spite of his awesome power, and that means they have the potential to stop him. I saw Candy Dean’s name on the list of test subjects, but I failed to immediately connect her with our Liberty Belle.”
“They work for a futuristic madman named Monarch,” explained Blue Beetle without looking up from his work. “This is all part of a whole. Monarch fears a foe will come from the line of those who were experimented on in the original Atomic Knights Project study. Liberty Belle’s parent was part of the test as a soldier subject. That’s why she was hunted down. And Broderick the time cop comes from the future. He says the tyrant who rules that era originated here, and his doom might also come from here in the form of one of the descendants of the Atomic Knights Project.”
“So I’m a danger to this futuristic tyrant?” asked Adam Thompson. “I would never have even become aware of him if he hadn’t tried to kill me and you heroes became involved.”
“That’s about right, kid,” said Nightshade, smiling warmly at the attractive young man. “We’re loaded with time paradoxes… paradoxi… whatever!”
“No signal!” said Blue Beetle finally. “The Knight you bugged doesn’t register.”
“If they come from the future,” said Nightshade, “then they could be anywhere in time.”
“My own powers are more physical in nature,” said Thompson, “but I guess Liberty Belle and I both owe our gifts to the fact that someone in our line participated in that experiment.”
Captain Atom said, “Sarge Steel already assigned Guardian, Lady Quark, Peacemaker, and our allies in the British Union to protect the remaining potential targets. That will give us time to finish the matter.”
“I’m going to meet up with the Question,” said Blue Beetle. “We’re going to investigate one possible origin for the Monarch with some help from Skeets.”
“Well, that leaves me and the two Adams!” said Nightshade. “We’ll keep the home fires burning until you return.”
“I don’t like being inactive,” said Captain Atom, “but I’d enjoy testing your powers more, son. How about we have a workout in the gym?”
Adam Thompson smiled and said, “My pleasure. This is like some science-fiction movie to me!”