Weeks later, a bitter man, hardened from a lifetime of placing his needs above all others, ran one hand in an almost tender caress across a circular band of metal as he placed it on his brow. His name was Alistair Thomas Kord, and as a brilliant inventor and ruthless businessman he had little patience for human frailty and had the scientist’s clinical disregard for emotions like fear or compassion.
He looked once around the laboratory he now occupied at the company he had founded many years before, when he and his brother Jarvis had been young men. Jarvis was dead now. If Alistair mourned his loss, he had never made any public comment on the subject. His only remaining relation was his son Ted, and the two were estranged now over matters of loyalty and ethics. Ted Kord had refused to obey his father’s orders, and this disobedience had cost the older man money and a great deal of anger. He knew his son’s loyalties had always been misplaced. For years the young man had hero-worshiped Dan Garrett.
Ted had even followed the noble Garrett’s example by taking on the name of the Blue Beetle and assuming the role of an action-hero. Alistair had learned this fact years before and had ignored it, because unless his son’s actions somehow damaged his own interests, he had little inclination for giving them any thought at all.
He modified my designs to create his mobile lab — the Bug — and I allowed it, since it was nothing to me if he indulged some foolish boyhood passion to be a knight in armor waging war on evil, mused Kord. However, when he dared defy me by removing Project Automaton and gaining the government’s protection for his actions, he crossed a line he’ll regret!
Not long ago, Ted Kord had refused to surrender an artificial woman the older Kord had created in secret some two decades before. Ted had defended Alice Medley’s right to live her own life as a free woman, in spite of the fact that it was clear that, beneath her artificial skin and her implanted false memories of a fictional childhood and adolescence, she was a mere machine. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Action-Hero Team-Up: Blue Beetle and Booster Gold: Tomorrow Never Knows.]
The circular band Alistair had placed on his head was a device called a memory recorder, though he didn’t really need it to recall every detail of the day not long before when he had faced off with his son Ted upon Alistair’s return to the States to reclaim his company. He remembered the moment his son had accepted the truth that the cheerful secretary he knew as Alice Medley was not a woman.
“It’s all true,” Ted had sighed. “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,” Alistair had insisted. “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?”
Ted had slipped his mask back on as he turned to face his father. “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 wanted to challenge me?” said the elder Kord. “Well, you’ll pay for it. Now get off my property — all of you!”
Now, in the present, Alistair Kord shook his head with possibly the smallest sign of regret on his aged face.
Adjusting the device, he said, “This device used to function as a template that copied memories and data from one mind to another. Now, with the modifications our mutual lady friend provided us from her amazing science, it will allow me to project my own thoughts and my every mental wish across the world and reshape events to suit my thoughts!”
A muscular man in red and black shrugged and said, “Or so she says! Remember, she made me a lot of promises, too! She better be able to keep them!” He clenched his gloved fists and shook with rage, or something more personal — perhaps a sense of loss.
“You remind me of my son in more ways than the obvious ones. No wonder she brought us together! You’re as emotional as he is!” sneered Kord.
The costumed man slammed his fist on a table and said, “I’m going out. I need action. Unlike the Beetle you know, I don’t like labs and messing with test tubes!”
Alistair nodded and said, “Go on, but put on the other costume I gave you. Take the Bug as well.”
The man in red and black nodded and said, “Yeah. Whatever!”
After the costumed figure had departed, Alistair Kord shook his head with disdain. A mere trained gorilla, and nothing more! he thought. At least Ted has a real brain. Too bad it is clouded by rank sentimentality. This thug merely lives for violence! He is the perfect pawn!
As he concentrated, his eyes widened as pain shot through his skull until his vision blurred, and he knew no more.
Hours later, he recovered and regained his footing.
“I’ll master this thing yet!” he vowed. “If it takes a bit of pain to achieve my goals, then so be it!”
The Cyberpunks bellowed as they raced down the streets on their stylized motorcycles. They wore garish outfits and boasted exotic hairstyles and piercings like the fictional characters that populated the films from which they had drawn their images and name.
“Man, we cleaned out that fancy jewel shop like taking candy from a baby!” gloated their leader, Crazy Karl.
Nearby, a burly thug with a shaven head grinned in agreement as he guided his cycle. “Yeah! Smash and grab, baby!” he said.
But he grunted with pain as a figure swung down out of the air to kick him in the face and off the speeding cycle.
“Sounds like a plan to me, punk!” said the blue-costumed man as he released his grip on a rope ladder that snaked skyward to a hovering craft shaped like a giant beetle.
“The Blue Beetle!” gasped one of the other thugs as he aimed his motorcycle at the hero.
Sneering in contempt, the Blue Beetle stood his ground until the bike came close enough for the agile hero to vault over its front and knock the driver off. He spun around and crashed the motorcycle into two others, then dived to safety as the less-agile bikers slammed into the pavement.
The Beetle whirled around to see the fleeing figure of Crazy Karl disappearing around the corner. The head rat deserted the sinking ship that was his gang! he thought.
Activating a device in his glove, he summoned the Bug and caught the rope ladder as it towed him skyward, then soared after the biker. He smiled grimly as he slid into his pilot’s chair aboard the Bug and thought, The poor creep doesn’t have a chance.
Lowering the Bug into a dive, he allowed one of the artificial limbs of the insect-shaped craft to knock Karl off his bike. The impact was sharp and sudden, and left the biker a broken man in the gutter.
“Help me, man! I’m dying!” he groaned.
The Blue Beetle smiled to himself and flew away. That was the general idea, loser, he thought.
As he guided his craft skyward, he shook his head in disgust. “The real Blue Beetle won’t stand a chance against me. If old man Kord and that weird babe don’t restore my lost power source, I’ll kill them all and let this sorry world learn to fear the Scarlet Scarab!”