The Atom: The Adventures of Ray Palmer, Theoretical Physicist, Chapter 1: Baby Steps

by JSAGL

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Ivy Town, Connecticut:

In his office at Ivy Town University, Ray Palmer — the theoretical physicist formerly known as the Atom — was working on his latest research project. The university’s board of regents had approved a grant for Ray to study the existence of parallel worlds and how things differed from world to world. The existence of Earth-Two, home of the legendary Justice Society of America, was well-known to the general populace of this world, referred to as Earth-One. In truth, Ray had a different agenda: to discover a way to breach the barrier between worlds that had become impassable after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. On his chalkboard, Ray was scribbling formula after formula, using mathematics that were beyond the ken of most ordinary human beings.

Ray was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He hit the speaker button, saying, “Yes, Ricki?”

“Sorry to bother you, Ray, but Carter Hall from the Midway City Museum is on line one.”

“Thanks,” Ray said as he sat down at his desk. “Hello?”

From the speaker came the voice of Carter Hall, also known as Hawkman. “Hello, Ray. I’ve got the information you asked J’onn for.”

“Wow, that was quick. I appreciate you doing that, considering I’m now a former member of the League.”

“Nonsense, Ray. Once a Leaguer, always a Leaguer. I was thinking of dropping it by personally, if that’s OK.”

“That would be great. Say, why don’t you and Shay both come by? I’ll call Jean and see if she’s up for a little get-together. It’s been years since we’ve done that.”

“You and Jean an item again?”

“Well… I don’t know. We’re taking baby steps right now, but I certainly think we’re headed in the right direction.”

“Excellent. We’ll see you at seven, then.”

***

Looking up at his wall clock, Ray noticed it was 5:30 P.M. Time to go, he thought as he laid his chalk down. He grabbed his coat and turned off the lights. To his surprise, his assistant Enrichetta Negrini was still at her desk, working away.

“Ricki, what in the world are you still doing here? It’s past five o’clock. Go home!”

Ricki looked up at Ray with amusement. “Go home? You’re serious? The Ray Palmer I remember thought nothing of staying here overnight when he had a project to work on!”

Ray laughed, “This is the new and improved version. My work is important, but it’s not my life anymore. So, go home!

“OK, OK, I’ve got one more thing to do, and then I’m out of here.”

“All right, Ricki,” Ray said as he headed out the door, “Enjoy your night.”

Five minutes later, Ricki Negrini was headed out the door herself when a strangely garbed man approached her. He was wearing some sort of vest with an ascot and the strangest-looking glasses Ricki had ever seen.

“Excuse me, is this Professor Palmer’s office?”

Ricki eyed the man suspiciously. “Yes, but he’s already left for the day. Is it something I can help you with?”

“No, no, I’m a visiting professor here at Ivy Town U., and I was interested in the research that Professor Palmer is working on.”

“I see. Well, I’ll be happy to tell him tomorrow that you dropped by. Do you have a name?”

“Of course. Let him know that Professor Ira Quimby was here.”

***

Jean Loring looked over the house. OK, the cleaning staff did an excellent job, and the caterer will be bringing dinner by at 6:30 to set up, she thought. Perfect. Katar and Shayera will be here at seven, and knowing them, they will be very punctual. As much as she hated to admit it, Jean was really looking forward to this. She missed the old JLA gang, Katar and Shayera, Hal and Carol, Barry and Iris, even Oliver and Dinah. The only thing that worried her is that if Ray got close to the JLAers again, he might be tempted to put on his Atom outfit once more.

“OK, get yourself together, woman. You’re getting worried over nothing.”

“Worried about what?” Ray said, suddenly appearing next to Jean.

“Ahh! Raymond Palmer! I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that! If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you do it on purpose!” Jean said with a half-grin, swatting Ray on the arm.

Ray raised his arm to defend himself against the onslaught, falling backward onto the sofa. “All right, all right, I give. Sheesh, you’re tougher than the Bug-Eyed Bandit!”

“All right, buster, now you asked for it! Even someone like that squirrel G.L. Ch’p could beat the Bug-Eyed Bandit,” Jean said as she jumped on top of Ray.

A little play wrestling, and suddenly Jean and Ray found themselves a whole lot closer. “Why, counselor, aren’t we getting a little rambunctious for two people who aren’t together anymore?”

Jean looked down at Ray and brushed her hair back. “That depends on your definition of aren’t is. We do have about twenty minutes before the caterer gets here.”

“And just what did you have in mind, Ms. Loring?”

Jean leaned down to kiss Ray. “Why, something totally unprofessional, Mr. Palmer…”

***

Ira Quimby, AKA the notorious villain known as I.Q., was back at Ray’s office. He was careful to check the building and was satisfied that he was alone. Pulling a small device out of his pocket, I.Q. aimed it at the office door lock. The electronic device flashed a series of colors, and then it clicked. I.Q. turned the knob and entered. He opened the inner door to Ray’s office and turned on the light.

“I’ll have quite a surprise for my dear old friend, the Atom…”

***

The home of Jean Loring, 7:30 P.M.:

At either end of the table sat Jean and Ray, making the most sickeningly sweet faces you could possibly have imagined. They were so into each other, that Katar and Shayera Hol couldn’t help but smile and at each other and laugh.

“You know, Jean,” Shayera said with a twinkle in her eye, “this has got to be the most vile and disgusting stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Jean looked over at Shayera. “Hmm? Oh, thanks, Shay; I’m glad you liked it. I spent a couple of hours putting it together.”

Katar laughed, “So, have you and Ray set a date yet?”

Ray and Jean snapped out of their little world quickly. Ray replied, “What in the world gave you that idea, Katar?”

“Oh, I don’t know, let’s see: I asked you about your work, and you passed me the green beans. Shay said she hated the food, and Jean thanked her for it. Not to mention the fact that you two have been making googly eyes at each other all night.”

Ray busted out laughing. “Googly eyes?”

Jean and Shay both burst into laughter as well.

Katar just folded his arms. “Oh, well, excuse me!”

“Katar, my love, Ollie was right, you are a square!”

Ray was almost on the floor. “Googly! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Their amusement was interrupted by a familiar buzzing from both Katar’s and Shayera’s belts.

“Hmmph. Saved by the bell. Look like the JLA needs Hawkman and Hawkwoman,” Katar said as he rose. He went to the living room and brought back his case and Shayera’s, revealing the costumes of the Thanagarian warriors.

Shayera wiped her eyes and took the case from Katar. “Ray, you feel like joining us?”

Jean sat upright, her jovial mood evaporated by that innocent question from Hawkwoman. Jean looked over at Ray expectantly. Either her worst fears or her greatest hope would reveal itself at this moment.

Ray walked over to the Hawks, who were putting their masks on, and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. “Katar, Shayera, as much as I appreciate the thought, I’m now just Ray Palmer, theoretical physicist. If you need the Atom on this case, call Adam Cray.”

Katar hooked a mace to his belt. “As you wish, old friend. I don’t think I could ever give up being Hawkman, but I have to respect your wishes.”

Ray walked the winged warriors to the door. “Godspeed.”

Hawkwoman took Jean’s hand and squeezed. “I wish you all the best. May you know the happiness that Katar and I have.”

Jean hugged Shay. “Thank you. I think we just might.”

Jean and Ray held each other, watching the Hawks soar into the night. Quickly they faded from sight, heading toward Ivy Town University, where the JLA teleporter was located.

Ray and Jean walked back into the house and closed the door behind them. They sat down on the couch, and Jean curled up against Ray. He began slowly running his fingers through her hair.

“You were worried.”

Jean closed her eyes. “No, not worried — scared, I think, would be a better word. This all seems so new and fragile. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I expect someone to pull the rug out from under us.”

Ray held Jean closer. “I know, but with God as my witness, my days as the Atom are over.”

***

Back in Ray’s office, I.Q. was working furiously to prepare Ray’s surprise. Quimby caught a movement out of the corner of eye. He turned to the window and saw a sight that chilled him to the bone.

“Hawkman and Hawkgirl! How could they know I was here?

Quimby watched, not moving a muscle, as the Hawks swooped toward the window and then up away from Ray’s office. He exhaled.

Of course! The JLA teleporter must be on the top of the roof here, he thought. They don’t even have a clue that I’m around. Now, back to the drawing board.

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