The Blue Beetle piloted his unique flying craft, the Bug, with skill born of practice. As he flew closer to the place Booster Gold had first battled the time cop Broderick, he looked at the Question, who sat nearby in silence. Only minutes ago he had picked up his ally in nearby Crown City, and he explained the situation with Booster Gold and the time cop, Broderick, leaving out the fact that Booster had stolen a time machine to travel to this era. The Question had been silently thinking ever since.
“How well do you know Booster Gold?” the Question finally asked him. “I don’t know him as well as you do. I know you consider him a close friend.”
“He’s one of my best friends… just like you are,” said Blue Beetle, avoiding his eyes. “A man with your superior investigative skills can read people. You know he’s OK. There’s no need to keep picking fights with him.”
The Question sighed. “I know I can be abrasive at times. That’s part of my charm. Gold buys into the publicity machine so readily that it rubs me the wrong way. The fact is, I really don’t think he’s a lowlife. He’s just so self-absorbed that I could see him being used by more scheming types. I don’t like to see that kind of potential fall into the wrong hands.”
Blue Beetle grinned and said, “See? Now that’s the Vic Sage I’ve come to know and love. You have a real heart of gold beneath that cheap suit!”
The Question did not reply.
Skeets flew into the front of the craft and said, “Master Ted, we are over the scene of the fight. I concur with your earlier assumption that any scientist who scanned Booster’s costume would have to have been here in this neighborhood and would in fact be using abnormal levels of electrical power for such a laboratory. By accessing utility records, I have determined that the house at 1309 Elmhurst fits such criteria.”
Blue Beetle said, “Skeets, you’re going to give Mike Mauser a run for his money in the gumshoe field if you keep this up. Good job, pal!”
“Elmhurst is to the right,” said the Question. “The place looks deserted. Obviously, the owner isn’t worried about appearances. At least he’s not part of the whole gentrification racket. Mad scientists I can stand, but yuppies are a different story.”
“Bug, hover,” commanded Blue Beetle. The amazing craft responded to its owner’s voice command and remained in position while the azure avenger and the faceless crime-fighter swiftly lowered themselves down on a ladder.
As they passed by an upper window, the Question noted, “It is a laboratory. The walls have more technological gadgets than some Radio Sheds I’ve been to.”
“You should see my room back home,” joked Blue Beetle. “It’s all Tracey can do to vacuum the place!”
The Question swung back on the ladder and said, “Vacuum? I’m surprised you don’t have some kind of Jetson-like droid to do that. The woman should file for divorce.” He crashed through the window, using his raised arms to shield his eyes.
The Blue Beetle followed, and they swiftly collared a very startled man of around forty-five years of age. He had graying hair and a slightly portly built.
“What is the meaning of this?” he sputtered.
The Question deftly removed the man’s wallet and said, “Dr. Anton Dey? Wasn’t that the name Sarge Steel gave you when you checked in with him on the way here?”
Blue Beetle nodded and said, “Dr. Dey was the originator of the Atomic Knights Project back in the post-World War II days. He vanished after his experiments were deemed to be failures. Judging by his appearance, he either had plastic surgery or traveled directly to this time.”
“Don’t harm me!” pleaded Dr. Dey. “I’ll explain it all. During the final days of my project, when funding was about to be cut, I performed one final experiment on my last subject. Quantum energy was released. The lab was illuminated with a brilliant light, and the next thing I knew I was waking up on a barren lot. It was the site where my lab had been, but it was no longer standing. The world had changed. I had been shunted through time to the year 1982. I suppose my colleagues never learned what had happened to me. Since arriving in this strange new era, I have lived reclusively and supported myself with minor repair work for unknowing locals. The majority of my time was spent trying to equip myself to cope with all the changes that had swept across the world since my true era.”
The Question turned to his fellow Sentinel. “What’s he working on? I know you can tell.”
“I think we hit the jackpot,” replied Blue Beetle. “What you see spread around you are the makings of a rudimentary battle-suit — like Booster’s but cruder.”
“I admit it,” said Dr. Dey. “I used certain devices here to scan the equipment worn by Booster Gold and one of his foes when a battle took place nearby. I’ve yet to fully come to terms with it all. It is amazingly advanced from my perspective. Surely mere scientific curiosity is no crime. Or have you come for me after all this time for a murder charge?”
“We have to confiscate your materials here,” said the Question. “That armor and its secrets are based on property belonging to a Sentinels of Justice member and must remain confidential. As for murder, maybe you’d better keep talking.”
Sighing, Dr. Dey ran one hand through his thinning hair and said, “I told you that it was my last experiment that accidentally brought me here. What I neglected to say was that I didn’t perform the experiment on myself. I was merely caught in a backlash. That man was a soldier named Cameron Scott. I’ve never known what happened to him when the quantum energy exploded.”
“Dr. Dey, we didn’t come here to arrest you,” said Blue Beetle. “We merely need to prevent you or anyone else from duplicating Booster Gold’s equipment. He owns it. You can understand that would make it protected by law. Action-heroes have rights, too!”
“I know,” replied Dey. “I can’t justify my actions except to say I lost all sense of right and wrong in my thirst to learn more.”
The Question spoke. “Dr. Dey, as for this Scott character, how do you know he died? Perhaps he ended up here as well.”
“I have theorized as much,” Dey said. “I even put together a device to detect quantum field fluctuations. I’ve found no data to indicate that poor man came here intact.”
Blue Beetle nodded thoughtfully. He had another theory about the fate of Cameron Scott, but he didn’t want to voice it prematurely.
Back on Project X, Broderick the time cop reacted to the Blue Beetle’s story with excitement. “Booster, we can feel vindicated,” Broderick said. “Our time in this era had nothing to do with the birth of the Monarch. Dr. Dey’s scans never made it past the tinkering stage! I can’t express how much that relieves me! I’ve felt as if I was the man who doomed the future!”
Booster Gold smiled. “Yes, I was feeling the same way. I was worried about my sister and my mother. After all, if the Monarch enslaved their future, then what was to stop him from beginning his conquests during their lifetimes?”
“I don’t think history is that fluid, even for that techno-stealing creep,” said Blue Beetle. “However, I do think we’ve hit upon his possible origin.”
“Cameron Scott,” said Captain Atom. “You think the missing soldier who took part in the final Atomic Knights experiment was transformed into the Monarch?”
“Exactly,” said the Beetle, grinning. “If quantum energy shoved Dr. Dey to this era, it may very well have transported Scott to the far future where he could have acquired weapons and then journeyed a couple centuries into what would have been the past to him. He could have conquered that era with weapons from centuries later. It would be like a World War II-era soldier bringing a tank back to caveman days.”
Booster winced, “Poor Fred Flagstone!”
“It is simple detection,” said the Question. “Can you whip up something to track quantum energy? That kind of power should have left a trail we could follow right to Scott. We could find out if he died or if he became the Monarch.”
Nightshade interrupted the group suddenly. “Peacemaker reported in. He managed to hold off an attack by a pair of Knights on Count Viper in Weatherbee Correctional Institute. Apparently, the so-called living vampire was mutated by his father’s involvement with the project.”
“I got off lucky,” said the new Liberty Belle. “Now that I know how the experiment turned some descendants into monsters, I have to really be thankful.”
Booster said, “Trust me, honey, from where I sit, you are no creature-feature creature!”
“He says that to all the leggy action babes, but in your case it is the complete truth,” said the Beetle.
Belle smiled ruefully. She was grieving for Leeza and for her sister Caroline all over again, but she also felt a certain closure. History was final. She had to accept her losses and move onward.
“I feel the same way,” said Adam Thompson. “My talents have always been seen as gifts, not curses, but I can imagine being one slip of chromosomes away from being deformed or inhuman.”
Nightshade winked at him and said, “Trust me, honey, from where I sit, you are no creature-feature creature!”
Booster Gold rolled his eyes. “I should have trademarked that line. It could be a catchphrase bigger than where’s the beef.”
“I think if you’ll help me with a few parts, I could develop a crude tracker,” said Broderick. “After all, this quantum power travel is merely a variation of time travel.”
After several hours of work on the tracker, Broderick smiled grimly. “I have it! It shows a clear dual spike in quantum field fluctuation. Dr. Dey and Cameron Scott were launched from their era at the same moment, but while Dey ended up in the early 1980s, Scott landed in the forty-fifth century! Imagine how he could use that era’s science to dominate the time of the thirtieth or thirty-first centuries!”
“That’s the stuff of nightmares!” said Blue Beetle.
“Science in the wrong hands can breed tyranny,” said the Question. “Look at how Hitler used science in the ’40s, or how the commies use it now.”
“Say, that gives me an idea,” said Blue Beetle. “Broderick, who wins the Cold War? Do we triumph in the end, or does the future look Red?”
“Any future is but one possibility of many, but I can say that in my era we have a world government, not many smaller nations with conflicting ideologies.”
“As long as brave men are willing to fight for freedom, democracy will always survive and flourish,” said Captain Atom.
“Should I salute now or wait until after the game?” said the Question.
“This is no game,” said Broderick. “I propose we go directly to the Monarch’s era and challenge him. By now, he will have learned that he can’t secure his present by changing the past. The only way to end his tyranny is to fight him face to face.”
“I agree,” said Nightshade. “Still, you sound like a man with nothing to lose.”
“I’m a fugitive in every era,” said Broderick. “I won’t even have a time to call my own if we can’t remove him.”
“We’ve never back away for a fight before, and we won’t start now,” said Captain Atom. “But I can see difficulties ahead. How can we reach his era? Your equipment is limited in terms of how much it can carry.”
Skeets swooped down and said, “A tightly controlled release of quantum energy along the precise frequency and level of the original experiment should carry all in the proximity to the designated era.”
“I think the little robot wants to nuke us,” said the Question.
Blue Beetle shook his head. “No. We can regulate the release so precisely that there should be little peril and only a slight chance of diffusion. Remember, our equipment along with that Broderick carries could do far more than anything Dr. Dey had back in his era.”
“So I’m going to do it,” said Booster. “I’m actually going to go back to the future!”