(A Tale of Earth 1.75)
NOTE: Chronologically, this takes place between SWORD OF THE ATOM SPECIAL #2 / 3 and just after Ray Palmer's appearance in "Hellsister", part 1. All characters are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
Call me Atom.
I was born Ray Palmer, almost 40 years ago. But I was reborn over a year ago, in the Brazilian jungle. I have, in that time, found love, and she knows me as Atom...not the Atom, but simply Atom. So Atom I will be.
Nonetheless, Ray Palmer is still within me. Since this is my story, written for me by a scribe of Morlaidh (yes, Rentai, you may place your name within this scroll), and since it will possibly be read by people of the tribe in future ages, who have no idea of the ways of the large folk, nor much of myself--well, then, I must tell you about Ray Palmer.
So. Ray Palmer was a brilliant physicist, if I may say so myself. If I may not, I might refer you to the many degrees in my discipline which I earned at my university and at others besides. I was a man of science and learning, a lecturer in my field at the place of learning, and an experimenter within my craft--a savant, you might say.
This was during my former life, when I was twelve times the height of any man of Morlaidh, in a land that lies far to the north of the continent which I presently tread. We called that land the United States of America. We called my village Ivy Town.
My parents were Robert and Lili Palmer and they were good to me and supportive of my learning. My father was a scientist, like myself. He worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. That has a little to do with my name, though not as much as you might expect.
When I became a young man, I was packed away to my place of learning and never really left it. There I met a beautiful woman on a blind date. This was a custom by which two people who had never met each other were arranged to meet and see if they wished to possibly bond with one another. The woman's name was Jean Loring and she had black hair to her shoulders and shining black eyes and I very much wished to bond with her. But she was also a student, of the law of our people, and there were not many women who made a success of that profession among my people, at that time.
Thus, Jean put aside our time of bonding until such time as she judged herself successful in her work and that we were worthy, one to the other. Perhaps I should have been wise enough to tell such signs for the omens of future parting. But no man, I think, is that wise. If Jean was that wise, she did not tell me.
We both graduated from our place of learning and I remained in it, as savant / lecturer. She remained in our village and practiced the law before the justices of our tribe. At that time, I asked her to bond with me once a week, at the very least, and she refused me just as many times. Yet, we still loved each other, at least to the best of our knowledge.
Several years afterward, a great sign was seen in the sky, which changed my life forever.
This was the appearance of a falling star.
The star which fell to Earth was what remained of the core of a dead star, what one might call, in the words of my people, a White Dwarf. It was merely a small fragment of a core. What collision, among the stars, caused the shattering of its parent core, I have no definite information. I have speculated that it struck another such starcore, and that which was chipped away fell upon our world.
The properties of the star fragment were altered, somehow, before it fell to Earth. It was not as weighty as it should have been, or it would have sunk deep within the ground. It was not as hot as it might have been, or it might have burned our entire village to ashes. Do not ask me what caused this alteration. It is still beyond my science. When and if I meet God, I will ask Him.
As it was, I was able to lay hands on this small bit of star, to lift it, as heavy as it was, and to bear it away to my place of experimentation. There I ground a lens from it, through which I focused light of a kind which we call ultraviolet. I wished to learn how to compress solid objects, reducing them from great size to small proportions. It worked, but not for very long: the objects, after being shrunk, would explode.
There came a day, some weeks afterward, when Jean and I accompanied a group of friends on an exploration into a nearby cavern. I carried the lens in my pocket, not wishing it to be far separated from me and possibly be lost to thieves or jealous men. While we probed into the cave, a falling of rock sealed the entrance from us. We appeared to be trapped, and might die of starvation, or from an outbreak of natural gas.
I searched for another path out of the cavern, and only saw a hole, some feet above my head (which, I asssure you, would have been far above yours), too small for a person of my race to have passed through.
But I had the lens, and I had a diamond ring which I had planned to give to Jean as a love pledge.
I devised a plan which might seem as daring as it was reckless, and perhaps senseless.
Placing the lens upon a gap between two table-shaped pieces of rock, where a ray of light from a hole in the ceiling far above would pass, I put myself within its beam.
Within seconds, I had gone from the titanic height of one of my people to the statue of a man of Morlaidh. This was one-twelfth of my former height.
It was, as you might expect, an incredible shock.
But I had no time to contemplate my new state. Instead, I took the ring...now so large, it fit over my shoulder...and used its hard gem to break through a crack in the stone wall and enlarge it wide enough for my loved one and friends to escape through. I did not know how I would be welcomed by my great-sized friends when I encountered them again. It flashed through my mind that making love to my lady Jean would be impossible, now. I recalled a tale I had seen in a place of drama, concerning just such a shrinking man and his great difficulties. But I would deal with such things in the future, after I had saved my friends.
As it was, I did not have to deal with them. I passed underneath the lens again as I returned, and the beam of sunlight focussed through it restored me to my normal height. This was an incredible thing to experience, and I vowed to keep the experience and my discovery secret, till I could learn more.
I did indeed lead Jean and the others to safety. I took the lens back from the cave with me, noting that some substances from the cave's roof had dripped upon it, and altered its properties. Experimenting with it further, I learned that I could shrink myself by sending a ray of ultraviolet light through the lens, and enlarge myself by using infrared light. My enlarged height was limited to my then-normal state of six feet. My reduced height seemed to know no limits. As far as I was aware, I could shrink infinitely.
Below the size of an atom.
An atom is one of the basic particles of matter, and from this particle I would take my new name.
However, I learned that I could only safely shrink myself with my new lens. If I attempted to shrink anything else, it would explode, in a counterreaction to the compression of its matter. I was the only person who could benefit from this new discovery.
How would I use it?
I wished to serve my fellow man in some way, and did so with my science. But I became aware of other men and women in my native land, who possessed great powers and fought for justice, wearing colorful uniforms and taking bogus names to hide their true identities. They seemed to have no dearth of enemies to fight.
Such a prospect, frankly, excited me.
My life within the university of Ivy was not a far-famed one. Few outside of the faculty, my students, and those savants in my field knew of the name of Ray Palmer. But if I became one of the league of costumed men, who were called super-heroes, I might gain fame in another identity, and experience the thrill that those heroes did when they battled evil. Perhaps they, too, would accept me as one of their own, if I fought well enough.
Thus, my decision was made. From the white dwarf star I wove a uniform of blue and red, the very uniform I wear today with little alteration. It would adhere to my body, but, when I grew to over a foot in height, would be unseen and untouchable. The lens and the lights I incorporated into a mechanism in my belt, and, by controlling the flow of the different lights through the lens, I controlled the rate of my shrinkage or enlargement. I could also control my weight, by a similar manner. My usual fighting height would be six inches, one-twelfth of what I normally stood.
When the uniform was finished, I donned it, turned the control on my
belt, and once again shrank.
I had become the Atom.
As the Atom, I established myself as a super-hero. I became known as a fighter of thieves, spies from enemy lands, and occasional villains who also adopted costumes and second names. Before a year had passed, I was accepted into the most famous band of super-heroes in our larger world, the Justice League of America. I was very proud. I also made the acquaintance of my two greatest friends among the super-heroes, persons from another star who used wings fashioned after birds to propel them through the air, who called themselves Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The rulers of my country often asked me to help them in matters of espionage, and I frequently took trips through time, using a light-pool created by a fellow savant.
But love still eluded me.
I thought I would obtain it by marrying Jean, and, after several years, I did this. With the heroes who were my friends in attendance--by now, they were almost my only friends--I wed my Jean, and made love to her.
Perhaps that is an incorrect term. We bonded. But love? Well, at best, that is an imprecise word. I believe that I loved her, and that she loved me. But our loves had different bases, I suppose. I thought she would accept me, as her husband, as a savant, and as a shrunken super-hero. But she thought, perhaps, that I would mature out of those things, that she would occupy a greater place in my life than all of them combined.
In that, and it hurts me to confess it, she was wrong.
Perhaps we had waited too long to marry. Perhaps I had become too fond of my laboratory, which is a place of savantic experimentation, and too cool to human beings. Perhaps I found such romance in my life as the Atom that I had too little to find with my wife.
I could add a thousand more perhapses. Would any of them, or all of them combined, be the correct answer?
What is definite, and cannot be debated, is that the flame of our marriage grew dim and cold.
I learned that the night I found her in the arms of another man. He was a fellow worker at her place of law. They saw me as well. I ran away, in the rain, and she followed. We attempted to reconcile.
It was not possible.
I betook myself to the land which my people called South America, on a trip of research. But the craft I travelled on was piloted by brigands and thieves, and I was forced to battle them and bail from the craft, which was struck by a bolt of lightning as I fell from it.
I fell as the Atom.
I soon learned, however, that the controls in my belt which changed my size were fused by the bolt, and that I remained a man of what would be very tiny stature to my people.
This proved dangerous to me when, upon landing, I was attacked by a snake. Had I been able to become a man of great size again, it would have been avoidable. As it was, I was in peril of my life.
Then the great snake was struck down by arrows fired by people of my size, people whose skin had a yellowish hue as compared to my own, more reddish tint. Yes, Rentai, these were your people. They bore weapons, and used them to take me prisoner.
And during that incident, I first beheld the Princess Laethwen.
Yellow in hue she was, but this did not matter to me. I had seen people of many colors and kinds as a Justice Leaguer, from worlds far away or close at hand, races that most Americans would never behold in their lifetime. I was fortunate neither she nor the others gave much of a care that I was pink..."white", in the parlance of my race.
It was more important to me that she was beautiful, and kind, and strong. Things princesses frequently were, in the storybook adventures I had read as a child, but rarely were in life.
I had met humans of my size and smaller before, so I was not very surprised at their--at your--existence. I would learn later than they were colonists from a world far beyond my own. It was enough, at the moment, to learn that I was prisoner, that a fellow captive named Taren was a rebel leader, that we were scheduled to fight great rats in the arena, and that he was blinded by his captors before he could fight them.
That convinced me to join their rebellion, as much as my attraction to Laethwen.
As for the battle that ensued, and the deposing of her father, are they not spoken of in the Annals of Morlaidh? So I will direct the reader to those scrolls. Perhaps I will write my first-person account of the war someday. But not today, for I have other matters of which to speak.
A mishap occurred at the end of that adventure, and I was returned to my former height, my former world, and my former love, Jean. None of those three suited me anymore. I vowed to someday find Morlaidh again, and Laethwen. In time, I did. I lost the belt which would change my height and weight, powers which were proving inimical to my body. I lost my wife, which caused some pain, but both of us knew our love had gone sour and had to be pulled like an abcessed tooth. So it was.
After the incident in which I rescued Laethwen from the Skul-Riders, those warriors who rode on the backs of birds, I was found by a woman who had the power to find even a tiny man in a jungle as remote as mine. She was called Harbinger, and summoned me to take part in a Crisis which affected this world and many besides. The threat was resolved, but not without the death of one of our greatest heroes. Then I remained to attend the wedding of my friend who is named Superman, for which another friend, by name Green Lantern, restored me to my former height for a time. The process of expansion and reduction is now quite painful to me and I will not endure it again.
After the wedding, Green Lantern restored me to my six-inch height and, looking at me, said, "I might be able to cure your size-changing problems with my ring, Ray. After all, I can use it to shrink myself, and I've never had any side effects."
I told him, "I appreciate it, Hal, but a six-incher is the way I want to stay from here on in. I've got a new life and a new woman, and none of it involves big people. So send me home, would you please?"
"Just tell me where it is and I'll do it," he said.
The Green Lantern's power ring contains a green energy which you who read this might call magic. Indeed, even though my knowledge of it is far beyond yours, I might call it magic myself. He has only to think of an object, and the ring creates it for him. The object he thought of on my behalf was a small rocket ship. A beam stabbed out from his ring and engulfed me. Green metallic walls surrounded me, strong but transparent, and I found myself within the confines of a rocket just my size. It rose from the ground on a propulsion system the likes of which I cannot guess, and within seconds I was high above the Earth.
You have no idea what our world looks like from so high a perspective. Could you believe that the jungle in which you spend your entire life is but a tiny part of a much greater shelf of land, known as a continent, across which you could spend your life walking and not come to the edge without aid? Can you imagine that this shelf of land is merely part of a great round ball of land, air, and water, turning about at an unbelievable pace, suspended in a realm populated by planets like and unlike itself, and great stars--suns--which provide them warmth and light, but which is overwhelmingly composed of a cold, dark, nothing?
Perhaps it is best you do not know.
I had become used to the vertigo which accompanies fast air travel of the sort I experienced. The rocket which surrounded me quickly arced above Earth and headed downward to the sector of jungle in the region we call the Amazon, in which our tribe exists. We exist without notice from the Big People. They seldom see us, and, when they do, either consider us hallucinations from coca leaves or fear us as supernatural entities. These myths serve us well.
But when my green rocket went below the cover of tall trees and vines, when I came within view of the settlement of New Morlaidh, the sight that greeted me brought me into shock.
Once again, my people were at war. Once again, we appeared to be losing.
The tiny yellow-skinned ones of my tribe were being strafed by warriors of two tribes, both of which I had encountered before. One was known to my people. These were the Skul-Riders, soldiers who mounted trained hawks and flew them into battle. We had met them and defeated them recently, and destroyed their chief, Torbul. I had thought the Kathartan tribes were united under me after that event, but I was tragically in error. The bird-men resented me, and would follow a new leader, if he offered them a chance at revenge.
The Skul-Riders were doing more than just having their birds snatch away people in their talons, or impaling them on their lances. They had small pouches tied to their harnesses, which, when lit and thrown, exploded into fire when they touched the ground--or when they touched people. I saw some of my tribe, their flesh burning, running, screaming, seeking water or sand to smother the flames or, simply, death.
I recognized the fire-substance as something from my land. Something no Kathartan had any knowledge of.
We called it napalm.
The second tribe only I had encountered before, and they were far, far, from their chosen lands. Like the Skul-Riders, they rode flying beasts. Unlike them, they wore yellow and green armor, had lances charged with an energy like lightning, which we call electricity, and fought with more restraint, stunning rather than killing. But their weapons had enough power to destroy some of the buildings in our settlement, and, considering the effort we had recently put into them, this hurt me in a fashion distinct from the killing being done by the Skul-Riders.
The beasts they rode were nocturnal animals called bats, and the warriors, from the cavern-lands of Elvara in my old nation of America, were called the Bat-Knights. They were not, of themselves, evil. In fact, I had counted them my friends. But they were driven into a killing rage whenever they saw Big People, or when their minds were addled by great sounds.
So why were they attacking my people, the Kathartans?
I had no answer.
I did not see Princess Laethwen anywhere. For this, I thanked my God and hoped the luck which had spared her harm in our adventures thus far would hold true once again.
But my adopted people were endangered, and the Atom had to get into the fight.
Within seconds, my small rocket had landed on the outskirts of New Morlaidh, its passage barely missing a Skul-Rider and drawing the attention of both them and the Bat-Knights. Its metal structure dissolved in an instant, its purpose fulfilled. By the time I no longer saw green before my eyes, I was in motion.
A Bat-Knight was coming for me, and I encouraged him by standing stock-still, as if paralyzed by fear. Though my costume was somewhat different than the last time we met, I felt he recognized me. Nonetheless, he flew at me, diving on an open-jawed cave-bat, the tip of his lance glowing with lightning power.
I have been in many such conflicts, against many such opponents. I no longer possess the ability to control my size and weight, but I did know how to fight.
At the appropriate moment, I dodged, and was able to avoid the lance and its paralyzing energy. Turning and rolling, I was able to grab the forepart of the bat's wing as it went overhead in a dive that made its paws scrape dirt. In another moment, I was on its back, my forearm around the Bat-Knight's throat, my other arm keeping his lance-arm occupied. The warrior was powerful, but whatever his motivation was, I had a better one: the fate of my people, and of Laethwen.
Within a short time, he plunged towards the ground, and I held his lance and his stead on the bat.
Gratifyingly, the bat-steed accepted my control almost as well as it had its former rider's, as long as I held its reins. I turned it in the air towards one of the hawk-riders. The other saw me and, with a cry of fury (for he knew the colors I wore, and the man who wore them), spurred his hawk in my direction. His lance was in one hand, but with his other he held a napalm-pouch, and he threw it with great accuracy.
Thankfully, the charge of the Bat-Knight's lance could be modified to throw an electrical charge across some distance. It hit the pouch in mid-air and scattered the contents on the ground below and between us. I hoped that it had not hit any of my tribesmen, but could not be certain.
The hawk was a more powerful steed than my bat. In seconds its claws were tearing at my mount's breast, and the mammal's death-squeals were terrible to hear. Even as it screamed, the Skul-Rider and I were crossing lances. With his free hand he drew a dagger from his belt and held it ready for a thrust, should I come within range. His lancemanship was skillful enough to keep the electrified tip of my weapon away from both himself and the hawk.
At that point I abandoned my lance, grabbed hold of his with both my arms, and, swinging up from my dying mount, managed to plant my foot in his face. It rocked him backward. Even thus, he managed to keep a grip on his knife. Both of us had our legs now locked about the great hawk, which was soaring upward, its reins released. We were facing one another. One of my hands was kept busy trying to keep his knife hand away from my body. Each of our other hands were seeking a hold on each other's throat.
I felt the strength in his fingers and knew it surpassed my own. Breath was becoming almost impossible, and the fading of my consciousness would mean the downstroke of his knife. There was only one avenue open to me, as I saw it. I loosened my grip from his throat. He bore down harder.
I was still able to grasp one of the napalm-pouches tied to the side of his harness and dash it in his face.
It was not lit, but the jellied fuel it held splattered onto his eyes, and my foe screamed for all he was worth. At that point, I gave thanks for the classes I had taken ages ago in my university, in a certain fighting art known as judo. With this, I grasped his knife-arm and threw him from the seat. He fell, and I am fairly certain from the abbreviated howl I heard that he broke his neck when he hit the ground.
Such a thing would have bothered me greatly in the world that I came from. It bothered me still, but to a much lesser degree. That, to me, seems most disturbing of all. But I had no time for reflection.
I wheeled the mount back down from the sky and dove back into the fray, wondering what to do next. I had no lance now of either the electrical nor common variety. But luck had been with me so far, and I knew I could find another weapon.
As it was, I found about five more, and all of them were aimed at me.
The Bat-Knights had assembled in a line before me, and, ere I could turn my hawk-mount, triggered their weapons.
The charge, thankfully, was set to stun me. I had no defense. I was unable even to make a leap at them.
All I remember, before my consciousness faded, was the familiar face of one Bat-Knight, whom I knew to be my old friend, Olin Parr. That, and the three words he spoke to me:
"I am sorry."
When my senses returned to me, I felt my arms almost numbed behind my back, and the vine-ropes that bound them about my biceps and wrists chafing me. I was lying within a large chamber of polished stone, on my back.
Before my eyes opened, I heard a woman's voice saying, "He's waking." Another one, which belonged to the woman I loved, thanked the deity of our tribe that I was alive to waken.
I looked up and saw three women, all of my height, all of different colors, all known to me. One was my beautiful Princess Laethwen, who threw herself atop me, unable to embrace me for the vines which likewise bound her arms and legs. "Atom, I live!" she cried. "Thanks be to the gods who have brought you home."
The second was a Bat-Knight woman in purple and white costume, blonde, lovely, and known to me as Hestara. "Greetings, Atom," she said to me, sitting against a wall. "I regret what my warriors did to you. Please understand that it was forced upon them."
"Forced?" I tried to raise myself up, Laethwen notwithstanding. "By whom?"
The third woman answered me. She was even more beautiful than the others (though Laethwen, should she read this, must know that there are no other rivals for my heart), in a brief red costume that left her legs and arms bare, with blonde hair and green skin. Her name was Maya, and I knew her for a Dryad woman of another dimension, an existence parallel to ours and breached only by magical means.
She, too, was bound, and looked regretful as she said to me, "If you see me, Atom, then you know the answer to that question."
I heard footsteps of a distinct tone that indicated the being who made them was a Big Person, but more than that. The sounds of his feet hitting the stone were different from the flesh-covered feet of a man, either Big or Small.
They were the sounds of wooden stumps being lifted and placed down again, in rhythm. He came within view, and I saw him once again, as I had seen him in our last encounter.
He was a man composed entirely of wood.
"Indeed," said Jason Woodrue, who is called the Floronic Man.