May 17, 1960
Oberkast sat in a jail cell, on a simple cot, behind iron bars, waiting. The trial was set for next month. In the meantime he cooled his heels here in a run-of-the-mill jail in a police station next to regular criminals. Was this how they treated notorious supervillains? The indignity! Not even a high security cell for the mastermind behind an entire decade of brilliant criminal schemes? Had he not earned that much?
As he stewed, he failed to notice a man approach his cell. It took a moment for him to realize it wasn’t a cop. The man had a nondescript face and wore nondescript clothing. He could have been a corporate executive, a government agent, or a door to door salesman. But his voice was instantly recognizable.
“Still sitting in here? You’ve lost your touch, Oberkast,” the man said.
“Hello, fellow Kapitan of Industry,” Oberkast said, laying the accent on thick. “How did you get past the guards?”
“They let me in,” the man replied. Oberkast eyed the man warily. “I hold a great amount of influence in this city. It expedites that which I wish expedited and makes inconveniences disappear.”
“Must be nice,” Oberkast replied.
“And I don’t like my time wasted,” the man said. His voice had a hard edge to it that Oberkast didn’t like.
“Of course not. Well, what are we waiting for? Use that influence of yours to set me free so we can get on with our project.”
“Convince me that I still need you.”
“What are you talking about? How could you not need me? I’m the brilliant mind behind all this. Without me, you’d be years behind schedule,” Oberkast said, exasperated and annoyed. The man waited for him to continue. “I-I I developed the technology, built the platform and the array.”
“Which are all finished and able to be operated by any competent scientific mind. I said convince me that I still need you.”
“You ungrateful little… You got this far thanks to me. No other supervillain could have delivered control over the heavens themselves into your hands. Did one of the Crime Lords put you up to this? Did they? Those simpletons wouldn’t know true criminal genius if it bit them in the face!”
“The Crime Lords aren’t in charge here,” the man said, his jaw clenched. “Do you realize your blunder could have cost me everything? If the American Hero Society heard even the faintest whispers about Project Zeus, they would have come down on us like angry gods on a sinful earth. Years of work would have been wiped out because you couldn’t handle one simple heist without showboating. And now here you sit, unable to escape a basic jail cell.”
“How dare you? I am Captain Oberkast! The Society are yesterday’s news. I fly circles around them. But I see the kind of character you bring to this endeavor. You’re like a third world politician or a robber baron businessman, only thinking what you can get out of people. How best to use them. Well let me tell you, if you turn your back on me, I will happily sell the lot of you to the Society. You hear me? I will not abide a betrayal like this. I am Oberkast! The heavens dance to my tune!”
“I think I’ve made my decision,” the man said, pulling a gun out of his coat pocket.
“What is this?”
“You didn’t convince me.”
“No! Wait!” Oberkast yelled, sounding very un-German now. “You can’t. Not in the middle of a police station.”
“Can’t I?” the man asked, clicking the hammer back. “Auf Wiedersehen, you pathetic joke.”
“Officers! Help! Please!”
The man shot Oberkast right between the eyes. Oberkast fell back into his cot and slumped down.
Officer Cook showed up a moment later. The man tossed the gun to Cook.
“Clean this up. Make it look… self-inflicted.”
“Yes, sir.” Cook said, opening up the cell.
“Wait for morning to ‘find the body’. I have a lot of work to do tonight and I don’t want to be disturbed by this.”
“We’re still in the clear right?” Cook asked.
“For now,” said the man.
“And you’re sure Jet Ryder hasn’t caught wind of anything?”
“The effete pansy pretending to be a superhero?” the man asked, turning to leave. “Slim chance.”
Halfway across the city, Jet Ryder and his date had retired to his loft. After a night of rubbing elbows with the city’s elite at a gala being held in honor Jet City’s resident superheroes, it was nice to unwind and let it all hang out. It was just one of the many galas being held before the Semi-Centennial came around and he’d been invited to every single one of them. It was truly exhausting work. He wasn’t one for socializing with the upper crust. He’d much rather be flying, or tinkering with his planes.
From the comfortable loveseat, the two of them could see most of downtown. She was beautiful, even in the light of the half moon creeping in from between the storm clouds. The rain and wind were picking up, turning a chilly night even chillier. Their wet coats and shoes were still by the door, the first in a trail of clothing she hoped would lead to the bedroom.
“I’ve always wanted to be a stewardess,” she said. Her legs were crossed so that her heel touched his leg.
“A stewardess. Is that right?” Jet replied, trying to sound interested.
Honestly, he didn’t even remember her name. He felt bad about it, but as an eligible bachelor, he was almost expected to be seen with some fine looking company at these events. He wasn’t looking for arm candy, though. He wasn’t looking for anyone or anything to tie him down. What he wanted was someone who challenged him, who made him soar to ever greater heights.
“Mmm hmm. Ever since I was a little girl. I thought they looked so pretty in their uniforms. Oh, I’d love to fly around the world. I’d visit so many places,” she said, dreamily.
“You know, I might be able to help with that,” Jet said with a friendly smile. She leaned in closer.
“Oh? And how’s that, Mr. Ryder?” she asked. He leaned back just a hair. It wasn’t his idea to bring her here. She’d been very insistent and he couldn’t find it in him to say no. So here they were, enjoying the view from his loft while he entertained her questions and listened to her hopes and dreams. For the sake of appearances of course.
“Well, a friend of mine works for Pan Am. I can get in touch with him if you’d like. See about making your stewardess dream come true.”
“You wouldn’t. You couldn’t! Oh Jet, please don’t toy with me,” she said, flustered, blushing, touching his shoulder playfully.
“True as the Sun is bright. It’s no sweat. Honest,” Jet said.
“That is so kind of you. Is there… anything I can do? In return for such a kind gesture?” she asked, her eyes waiting, expectant, her hand wandering down from his shoulder to his arm and then his hand. Jet grabbed her hand and kissed it softly.
“Actually, there is something you can do for me,” he said.
“Yes?” she asked, practically leaning into him.
“Promise me something.”
“Anything,” she said, her eyes closing, lips coming together into a pucker.
“Promise me you’ll be the best damn stewardess there’s ever been,” he said. She blinked. She waited. When he didn’t continue she cleared her throat.
“Um, ahem, are you sure there isn’t anything else I can do?” she asked, still awkwardly leaning on him.
“Positive,” he said, gently moving her off of him. Her heart sank. Her attempt at foreplay had apparently landed her a gig at Pan Am and not the romantic summer fling she was looking for. Still, if he wasn’t pulling her leg about it, being a stewardess sounded like a fun way to spend her summer too. “Do me a favor, would you?” he said, pulling off his tie and unbuttoning his shirt.
“Yes?” she quickly asked, a rosy blush spreading on her face.
“Yes. It’s a simple favor,” he said, taking off his shirt.
“Oh Jet!” she said, covering her gasp.
“Please call my driver. Tell him I’m on my way to the airfield,” he said, slipping into his signature jump suit.
“Th-that’s it? Which airfield?” she asked.
“Mine, of course.”
The rain was coming down in torrents now. Ryder was used to Jet City’s grey skies, but tonight, the rain seemed especially fitting. He’d hoped by now that he would have gotten more comfortable with Trent’s crazy plan, but his feelings about it swirled like a storm in his head and in his heart. The car pulled in past the security gate and parked by the metal half cylinder hangar where the project was currently being housed. Mayor Trent and Dr. Brighton were already there and, it seemed, in the middle of an important discussion.
“Ryder! Over here, boy. Jeremiah and I were just about to start,” Trent beckoned when he saw the young hero.
“Sorry I’m late,” Jet called out, sprinting through the rain to the waiting duo.
“It’s fine. It’s fine, my boy. You’re the star of the show. We couldn’t hope to pull this off without you,” Trent said genially. Jet was glad Trent was in a good mood. When it soured, he could be a real tyrant.
“Where are we on the project?” Jet asked, shaking his suit dry and following the other two inside.
“All systems are running smoothly and communicating with each other. I must say, your jet plane designs are very intuitive. Simply sublime,” Brighton observed.
“I aim to make it idiot proof,” Jet said with a charming laugh.
“Yes. Of course. I often forget your soft spot for the rabble,” Brighton said, almost to himself.
“Flying should be for everyone,” Jet replied, as he often did.
“More fliers means more paying customers after all!” Trent agreed heartily. Jet sighed. It was a wonder the three of them worked together at all.
The Triumvirate, they were called. Between them, no one was more responsible for turning Jet City into what it was today. A gleaming metropolis. The city of tomorrow. A center of learning, innovation and invention. Trent was the catalyst for it all. His vision had turned the backwater town of Jetty into the industrial powerhouse it was now. Ryder’s Jet Works was a pioneer in aviation technology. No one made better planes and Jet City’s economy reflected that fact. And Brighton’s contributions to criminal investigation science, law enforcement technology and standardized superhero tech would make a list a mile long but suffice it to say the JCPD was the most well equipped modern police force on earth. Crime had come to a grinding halt and supercriminals found little purchase within Jet City’s limits.
And now, here they were, attempting to do the seemingly impossible once again. Jet took a minute to look over his plane. It was beyond bleeding edge technology. Everything from the airframe to the engines to the electronic components on the inside were far beyond anything even the government was working with. Only a super genius like Brighton had any chance of understanding it, let alone integrating his own device into it.
“We should be able to have our first test flight tomorrow,” Brighton continued.
“Tomorrow. I can’t believe we’re so close,” Jet said.
“How many Nobels you think they’ll hand out after this?” Trent wondered.
“For making peace on Earth a reality? They may have to invent a new category just for us,” Brighton said, sounding excited himself.
A company of Brighton’s best scientists and Jet Works’ best engineers worked with haste to attach the complex mechanism to the underbelly of the fuselage. It was a complicated process and for every step forward they seemed to take three steps back. But slowly, and surely, they were getting close to their goal.
“What was the effective range of the wave again?” Jet asked.
“Several miles at the very least but I hope to push it to several hundred by phase two,” Brighton replied as he hurriedly flipped through blueprints. Jet whistled, impressed.
“You ever read those scientifiction magazines back in the day?” Jet asked. Brighton turned up his nose, insulted at the thought.
“Of course! I loved those old pulp stories. The covers were dynamite,” Trent laughed. Jet nodded in agreement.
“I’m reminded of one tale about a man who shot a ray on the entire world,” Jet said with a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “He was a mad scientist, of course, but his ultimate aim happened to be the betterment of mankind, though the governments of the world didn’t know it. The final twist in the end was that his ray unleashed the worst in humanity instead of the best and the world was plunged into a chaotic whirlwind of violence the likes of which it would never recover from.”
“Not getting cold feet are we?” Trent asked thoughtfully.
“No,” Jet replied. “I just worry that we’re messing around with forces we barely understand and the genie we’re fixing to unleash can never be put back in the bottle.”
“Do you trust Brighton’s science?” Trent asked.
“Yes,” Jet replied. “But no matter how smart we think we are, the world has a way of making fools of us all. That cussed stubbornness is something every engineer learns to adapt to.”
“Well, do you trust me?” Trent asked a little quieter now.
“Of course. But…” Jet wasn’t sure what to say.
“Can I count on you to do the right thing when the time comes?” Trent asked, clapping Jet’s shoulder with his meaty hand.
“You know you can,” Jet replied.
“That’s why you’re here. You have the strongest sense of conviction I’ve ever seen in a man. A conviction to do the right thing, no matter what. You trust your gut and I trust you, so when you’re up there and your gut tells you something doesn’t feel right, you listen to it. You hear me?”
“Even after all this time and money? All this preparation?” Jet asked, surprised. Trent leaned closer.
“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right isn’t it?” he asked. Jet nodded. “This could be what saves the world or damns us all so you make damn sure we’re saving the world and not ending it. I ain’t gonna put my name on something that sends humanity down the shitter.”
“Glad our priorities are in order,” Brighton muttered.
“I… I will. You can count on it,” Jet said, not so surprised anymore. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons was better than the alternative, he told himself. The three of them took a moment to admire their handiwork.
“She needs a name still,” Trent said, nodding toward the plane.
“How about… the Endeavor?” Jet offered. Trent rolled it over in his mind.
“Fitting. Maybe I should let you name more things, Ryder,” he said, laughing before chomping down on his third cigar of the day.
Three more nights of work, Jet thought, and they would change the world.