Meanwhile, the Palmer home became a place under siege as five angry and frightened people rampaged across the lawn and tried to smash their way inside. “Come out, Palmer!” cried one man. “We know you are the cause of the shrinking! Your crazy experiments won’t ruin our lives anymore!” A crash echoed as the front window shattered.
Jean Loring ran down the stairs and met Melanie Larvan, who gazed at her in concern. “Are they crazy?” cried Melanie. “They act like Ray is to blame for the shrinking we heard about on the news!”
Jean nodded and said, “The doors and windows won’t keep them out. We’re going to have to stand and fight or make a getaway!”
“I think I can stop them!” said Melanie, whirling to race back into the laboratory.
A loud voice cried out, “You freak! We’ll run you out of town!”
Jean yelled back, “Leave us alone! Ray’s not responsible for this! He’s trying to stop it!” She grabbed a chair and brought it down across the shoulders of a burly man who was crawling through the broken window. Before she could retreat, a rock soared into the room and hit her in the shoulder.
At that moment, Melanie returned with a small device. “This will activate the robo-bugs I made,” she said. “They can drive them away without really hurting them… I hope!”
Jean nodded as crashes echoed, and her door started to buckle under from the force being brought against it. As the wood and metal shattered and the foursome came closer, Melanie caused a swarm of tiny metallic bugs to fly into their midst, and a loud, humming sound started to ring out. “I hope the high-pitched drone will drive them away,” she said. Jean covered her ears as the two women crouched down together and waited.
The metal bugs did the trick, as the gang slowly turned away. Melanie had been forced to use a low-voltage sting to drive a few of the more furious rioters away, but no serious injuries had occurred.
Jean sighed in relief, tentatively placing an arm around the girl. “You did it!” she said. “I may never look at one of your wonderful little bugs in the same way again!” Melanie smiled and allowed the older woman to pull her into a brief hug.
At that moment, Ray Palmer and Ira Quimby entered the house from the rear. Jean flung herself into Ray’s arms as he tried to calm her down. “Jean, I saw them running and heard the drone noise! I owe a debt to Bert Larvan for this… and to you, Melanie!”
“Ray, I’ve been brainwashed, kidnapped, and threatened by the best, but I never felt as afraid as I did when I saw that mob,” said Jean. “They were so full of fear and pain that they became a thing. They were like a swarm or a wave. They just seemed to surge into the house like a storm!”
“I fear they will return, too,” said Ira.
Ray frowned and made a mental note to coach Ira on people skills in the future. “We’re going to stop them by finding the source of the fear. If we cure their loved ones, they will leave us alone. We’ve confirmed that a ray is causing this. It is a projected beam that reacts with the human metabolism and causes people to shrink in size. I think, based on the tests I’ve done on Juliet and a few of the police at Baxter’s office, I can identify the energy used to accomplish the deed, and I can trace it.”
“Oh, I never doubted you’d solve the problem, but how can even you fix the loss of trust we’ve experienced with the community?” asked Jean.
“I don’t know if I can,” sighed Ray.
Later, a nervous Ferrar Venderkellen stood outside his limousine and waited in an open field under a full moon, holding a briefcase in one hand. The portly millionaire frowned as he recalled an earlier conversation he’d had with the Atom.
“I’m not worried about the recovery of the ransom money,” he had said. “I’m afraid the madman will just kill me and take it! Then what will become of my family and friends?”
The Atom had promised him that not only would he be safe, but that following the instructions on the ransom note would ensure the safe return of the shrunken captives. Thus the wealthy man had agreed to go to the fields beyond Ivy Town University and wait with the money.
Now, as a slight chill filled the night air, Vanderkellen hoped the tiny titan’s word could be relied upon. “The Atom’s never failed Ivy Town before, and I have to believe he’ll make good on his promise this time as well.” He swung the briefcase with restless energy until he saw a brilliant flash of light fill the night sky.
He gasped and dropped the suitcase as he began to shrink. Retaining his wits, he darted aside as a figure appeared and came out of the shrubs.
The man smiled and grabbed the fallen briefcase. He wore a dark suit and had slightly shaggy hair. “I’ll take this!” he said. “If you manage to get back to the police before a rabbit or dog attacks you, then tell them I’ll restore you when you return here with an additional million dollars!”
Ferrar shook in a mixture of helpless anger and fear. “You promised you’d restore my family!” he cried. “You promised!“
The man looked down and said, “I’m a criminal genius. In case you’ve failed to grasp this fact about us from the media, I’ll admit that, as a class, we simply can’t be trusted!” Laughter echoed in the night as the man ran away. He knew that no one was following him, since he had projected his shrinking ray across the entire field moments before. Thus, any police that might have hidden away in the woods nearby were no longer any threat to him.
He also had little fear of the Atom, since he used an ornate ring to bathe the case in a red light before he left the scene. When he heard nothing, he continued on his way. “My neural disrupter would have left any tiny stowaways in intense and obvious agony,” he said. “I’m glad to see the Atom heeded my warning not to interfere. I’d half-expected the little pest to conceal himself within the money.”
Little did he know that the Atom was indeed watching and following him, but Adam Cray’s dark-costumed form was traveling by a means unlike any the original Atom had ever regularly used. He soared through the sky far above the fields and woods below. He was positioned like an athlete within a bobsled as this remarkable craft flew at an impressive speed with near total silence, being no bigger than a narrow shoe.
I have to give Ira credit for turning his old aeroshoes into vehicles for shrunken heroes, thought the tiny titan. I doubt there will be a big market for them unless that Doll Man from Earth-X Ray once told me about shows up here again, but I sure get a kick out of using them. This way, I can track our mystery villain from high above his vantage point. Thanks to Ray and Ira, I have an idea where he’s heading, anyway.
He guided the craft to an old house near the top of Widow’s Hill. He landed the aerosled, climbed out, and entered through a cracked window. Earlier, Ray traced the shrinking energy to this gloomy old place. It looks more like Dracula’s summer home than a super-secret criminal lab, but then again, beggars can’t be choosers, and this does offer privacy and altitude.
The Atom made his way deeper into the house and saw a strange scene. Boxes lined a table, and each box had many air holes punched in the sides. I’ve found the missing people! he realized. He’s keeping them in boxes, like a kid’s pet turtle or something!
He gasped as a beam of energy blasted out of the darkness to narrowly miss his dodging body. I didn’t expect to be detected while I was that small, he thought.
The man in the dark suit stepped forward and removed a shaggy dark wig to reveal a bald head and slightly pointed ears. “The Atom!” he said. “I see your miniature movements failed to confound my mechanical friend!”
The Atom reduced his weight and sailed across the room until dim moonlight coming through a window revealed a robotic being that moved on heavy treads and tracked his every movement with eyes of red light. Heat-seeking or infrared sensors, he mused.
Sailing through the air, he found himself repelled from the proximity of the robot by an unseen force. “That Vulcan-eared creep is Mister Poseidon,” Adam said to himself, recognizing from the JLA files the villain formerly known as Mister Neptune, who had fought both the Sea Devils years ago and was a member of the Forgotten Villains that fought Superman and the Forgotten Heroes just before the Crisis. (*) “Ray had him on his list of potential suspects. After all, there aren’t that many crooks that use shrink rays.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Bottleful of Sea Devils,” Sea Devils #2 (November-December, 1961) and “Triad of Terror,” DC Comics Presents #77 (January, 1985).]
Moonlight gleamed on the metal being as it extended a narrow clamp and tried to crush the hero. “Mechano has a personal force-field. They’re all the rage these days, you know!” gloated the bald man.
The Atom reduced his size again and sailed directly through the unseen barrier to emerge within the robot. Riding a beam of moonlight was easy! he thought. I saw light could penetrate the force-field, and the rest was merely a matter of altering my size to a microscopic level.
He dashed through the inside of the robot and sliced a gaping path with his pocket laser, which he carried with his other specially devised tools in his weapons vest. Bless Ray and Ira for coming up with these things! he thought. Before Ira added his own inventive genius to the project, Ray could not reduce objects and have them retain stability. They would blow up eventually. He smiled as the damage caused the robot to lurch to a sudden stop.
Emerging, the Atom faced Mechano’s maker with both fists raised. “Now, Mister Poseidon, what do you do for a second act?” he said in a mocking tone.
Mister Poseidon cursed and said, “You infernal pest! I have battled Superman himself! Do you really think I’m impressed by your tricks?”
“Before you get too busy patting yourself on the ego,” said the Atom, “I’d suggest you recall the score card from your battle with Superman. I think it would show that he won, and you ended up in jail.”
“Perhaps it is fitting that we meet,” said Mister Poseidon. “After all, I was the one who came up with my shrinking process long ago and used it against the Sea Devils. Fate had to match me against the only other expert on size reduction in time!”
“I don’t get your way of thinking,” said the Atom. “You had funding enough to build your killer vacuum over there, but you decided to use your ray to extort more money from folks. You could have lived well from what you spent on that metal toy.”
Mister Poseidon scowled and thought, Professor Wye financed my inventions in exchange for my promise to use them on random folks in Ivy Town. She wanted to start a panic in which the blame for the shrinking attacks was placed on Ray Palmer. It was all part of some grand sociological work of her own devising! Well, I’ve repaid that debt while securing a nice sum for myself on the side! The pretty professor didn’t count on my adding a bit of extortion while doing her little task. He raised his hand and aimed the ornate ring at the Atom, who waited and then timed a reduction perfectly.
The neural disruption missed him, and the Atom grew again to connect with a blow to Mister Poseidon’s head. He received a punch in return and then ducked a second swing to grab the older man’s arm and ram a knee into his stomach. Working out with Starman and Steel is paying off, he thought.
He pulled Mister Poseidon into a wrestling hold and brought him crashing down to the ground. “I’ll take that fancy ring,” he said. “From what little I know about you from the JLA’s files, you shrink things or yourself with it.” He removed the ring and left the beaten scientist on the floor.
“Don’t worry, everyone! We’ll have you safely home and returned to normal size in no time!” he announced as he stepped closer to look down at the captured people in the boxes.
Later, the Atom stood beside Ray Palmer as he addressed the press at Police Headquarters, while Chief Gil Baxter stood by his size. “Everyone, Mister Poseidon is in jail,” explained Ray. “He was the evil genius who caused all the shrinking. All of his victims have been rescued and cured, thanks to teamwork from the Atom, Chief Baxter and his men, Ira Quimby, and myself.”
A reporter asked, “Dr. Palmer, during the madness there were a few cases of disgruntled or frightened people blaming you for the whole mess. I suppose this clears you of all suspicion. What do you have to say about the crisis?”
Chief of Police Gil Baxter interrupted and said, “Ray Palmer is a hero. He’s one of us, as far as this department is concerned. He was never under suspicion by official channels. This was nothing more than a case of a criminal trying to use his talents for personal enrichment. Dr. Palmer was not to blame for that.”
Ray cleared his throat and said, “I beg to differ, Chief. As kind of you as it is to back me up like this, I have to say that I feel like I was to blame in the sense that Poseidon targeted Ivy Town because I live here. He’s admitted as much. He was asked to use his ray here by an ally of his that he refuses to identify. He claims he can’t reveal the person’s name. In any case, he did say this unknown enemy wanted to make things rough for me.
“I can only say that I am sorry for all the suffering that happened,” he continued. “I love living here. This is my home. I can’t pretend that my presence here won’t bring in some peril from time to time. I’m a target to every petty crook or world-beater who ever crossed my path back in my costumed days. However, my friends and I will always do our level best to protect you all from such menaces. Some of you would kindly say that that’s the work of a hero. I differ. I’d say that’s the work of a good neighbor.”
Applause rang out from the crowd, and the Atom patted Ray on the back. “They believe in you,” he said. “Only a handful of people were fooled into blaming you. That says a lot for what you mean to this community.”
That same conclusion had been reached elsewhere by Professor Andrea Wye. She had departed from Ivy Town earlier in a bit of a huff. “Poseidon betrayed me,” she said to herself. “I paid him to spread panic, and he defied me by also abducting those people and sending in a ransom note. That tactic, in and of itself, led to his downfall. My experiment can be viewed as a failure. Still, I did see that the real Hero does not lose the support of his followers without exceptional circumstances of a sustained duration. That will suffice for now.”
She gazed down at a map at her feet and said, “Where shall I go next? Gotham City? Central City? Star City?” She smiled as her glance fell on one additional map.
“Perfect!” she said softly.