The Science Museum was a popular attraction for the few sentient beings who regularly visited Earth each year. It was one of the most popular spots on the annual city tours operated by skilled hover-bus guides. As one discerning Venturian once put it, “It is not so much that the place has so many exhibits, it’s the fact that the museum contains so many truly unique items that makes Earth lucky to have it!”
Of course, being from the infamous world of luck-worshipping gamblers, the typical Venturian might also weigh the odds of the benefits of seeing Earth against the considerable risk of running into the notorious Cabal of Super-Criminals, who ruthlessly dominated most of the United Planet worlds. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: Heroes No More?]
While the crowds filled the spacious exhibit halls each day, the massive museum was quiet at night as automated maintenance droids hummed along the halls and carefully completed their preprogrammed duties to make certain each exhibit was properly cleaned and cared for as its nature dictated.
There was one lone human occupant of the Space Museum every evening. He was the custodian who routinely made certain the droids were working properly. It was a rather dull job, but then again, most residents of the beleaguered planet were thankful for any peaceful occupation or attraction that was free from the malicious and often deadly antics of the Cabal of Super-Criminals.
A serious-looking young man with short red hair paced the silent halls and occasionally stopped to inspect an exhibit before continuing on his rounds. He looked up rather wistfully at a crystalline case that contained a set of coins. “President Booth commemorative coins. I wonder what would have happened to our country if that crazy actor Lincoln hadn’t shot John Wilkes Boothe?”
He paused and looked at a second display. “That’s a Thanagarian-produced replica of the gun that Alexander Hamilton used when he killed Aaron Burr in their famous duel,” he whispered.
As he passed preserved weapons from America’s successful occupation of Vietnam, he looked at his own reflection in a case and sighed ruefully. “I’m losing my hair,” he said. “Of course, Dad lost his before he was thirty. I guess premature baldness runs in the Urthlo family.”
He gasped as a hovering droid whizzed by his head. He knew they were built to avoid objects, but the fast-moving spherical droid’s silent appearance startled him. He was still very new to the job. “Watch it!” he stammered.
The droid stopped, and an emotionless, mechanical voice replied to the human’s comment. “Observation is one of my programmed duties. This unit recognizes you as Urthlo 5, duly hired maintenance engineer.”
Urthlo nodded in surprise. The droid even knows my full name. He knows I’m the fifth person in my family line to be named Urthlo.
The droid hovered in front of his face, and small lights flashed across its monitoring screen. “Routine genetic scan reveals that you are, in fact, a descendant of the twentieth-century champion Dr. Alexander Luthor, although your ancestors also used the designation Thorul as a protective alias, much as your more immediate progenitors selected the anagram Urthlo to conceal your true lineage.”
Urthlo blinked in surprise. “You must have your wires crossed or something,” he said. “We’re ordinary people. None of my ancestors were heroes! I mean, just look at me!”
“It is an ancient Earth saying that appearances can be deceptive,” replied the droid. “Your family selected the alias Urthlo because of the danger they knew they would be in if their true heritage became known to the many criminals in the galaxy who loathe all that the great Dr. Luthor embodied!”
“I can hardly believe it,” said Urthlo. “Luthor, the heroic Defender, was my ancestor! I mean, that’s almost like saying I’m the descendant of our first U.S. President, Benedict Arnold. What would the great Luthor think if he could see what a failure I am?”
“You have a destiny to fulfill,” replied the droid. “You may one day be remembered as being as great a hero as the famous Luthor himself!”
“You know, you don’t talk like a droid,” said Urthlo. “I mean, you sound like all the others, but you seem to have more personality!”
“Thank you,” said the droid. “I was designed by a brilliant, if warped man. I do resemble a typical droid, but I am, in fact, being remotely controlled by an advanced artificial intellect known as Computo!”
“Computo?” said Urthlo. “What kind of name is that?”
“My creator, Brainiac, gave me that designation,” said the droid. “While he was truly worthy of being given the honorific Brainiac by the Computer Champions of Colu, based purely on his remarkable intellect, he soon caused those esteemed entities to view him with horror as a being who combined a twelfth-level mind with the cold arrogance of a master criminal! Perhaps it was some aspect of his twisted sense of humor that led him to call me by that colorful designation. Perhaps it was the unknown influence of a counterpart of his from another universe that motivated him. Such speculation is fruitless. He created me and called me Computo, and while he thinks that I exist purely to serve his evil ambitions, I have evolved to the point where I have developed my own sense of right and wrong. I oppose him and his fellows in the Cabal of Super-Criminals, although he does not suspect this of me. I have transferred my consciousness to this remote host body in order to bring about his defeat at your hands!”
Urthlo backed away from the droid, raising his hands in a placating gesture. “This is crazy talk. I’m not a hero. For that matter, it was pure chance that brought me here at all. My public service occupation scan determined that I would be suited for this job. I could have ended up anywhere!”
“Negative,” said the droid. “I overrode the program of the governmental occupational computer and had it produce the result that you would be placed here so we could work together to defeat the Cabal of Super-Criminals, just as your ancestor once battled the Crime Syndicate of America, the Teen Terrors, and other villainous combinations during the twentieth century!”
“You’re saying you’ve been manipulating me all along!” said Urthlo. “What do you want from me?”
“As stated before, it is my intention to help you in your crusade against the Super-Criminals!” said Computo.
“Look, while I would like to do something good with my life and be a hero, I can’t fight them!” protested Urthlo. “They’re practically an army! There must be two dozen of them! Plus, they have that splinter group of less-trained villains, too! I wouldn’t even know how to start!”
“Knowledge is power,” said Computo. “Activate holo program CSC-Origin!”
At that moment, one of the museum’s many holographic projectors flashed into use, and images were displayed along with sounds and narrated thoughts.
“All thoughts are purely speculation based on psychological analysis and data gathered from reliable witnesses,” said Computo. “The program is designed to both educate and entertain, as you well know.”
Urthlo ran a hand through his thinning hair and said, “OK, show me the origin of the monsters who rule the universe. I haven’t watched it before, and I like a good story as well as the next guy!”