From the journal of Ray Palmer:
I awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon wafting through the house. Rummaging through Jean’s closet, I admit I wasn’t all that surprised to find some of my old clothes. Pulling an old robe down, I put it on and headed to the kitchen.
I was pleasantly surprised to find eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee waiting for me. Jean was dressed for the office, scribbling some information down on a notepad. I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
“Ewww, Ray! I’d forgotten about your terrible morning breath!” Jean said with a smile.
“Oh, thanks, counselor! What a way to start the day!” I said sarcastically, then gave her a look of appreciation. “Seriously, though, thank you for breakfast. You didn’t have to do this.”
Closing her briefcase up, Jean headed to the door. “Don’t go expecting this every morning, Mr. Palmer, unless you start cooking, too…”
I looked intently at Jean. “Does this mean you want me to be here every morning?”
She blew me a kiss. “I plead the fifth.”
I just knew this was going to be a great day.
At nine A.M., I was walking toward my office when I noticed the door was slightly ajar. Odd, I remember thinking, Ricki said she was going to be late this morning. Opening the door, I saw the light on in my office. Cautiously, I stepped inside.
“Ah, Professor Palmer, do come in.”
I was surprised, to say the least. There, sitting at my desk, was a man I instantly recognized. “I.Q.! What are you doing here? Why are you in my office?”
I.Q. stood and pointed a device at me. “Fulfilling destiny, my dear Atom. Fulfilling destiny…”
It was one of those moments when a lot of things in your life become crystal clear. I was standing there, looking into my office at one of Hawkman’s old enemies, I.Q. — Ira Quimby. He had never been a big-time menace; usually the Hawks had no problem taking care of him. He somehow managed to engage the League at one point, but they, too, made quick work of him. This time, though, it was different. I wasn’t the Atom anymore.
Instinctively, I reached for the size and weight controls that were normally invisible when I wasn’t six inches tall. They weren’t there. How was I going to handle Quimby as plain old Ray Palmer? The answer: I wasn’t. One thing I still held onto was my JLA signal device.
Batman had insisted that I keep it on me. “Your identity isn’t a secret anymore,” he’d told me. “Everyone knows that Ray Palmer was the Atom, including your old enemies. If you’re serious about no longer being the Atom,” he warned, “at least keep it on you. It could save your life.” As always, Batman was batting a thousand.
As I reached to press my belt buckle, I.Q. pointed some sort of weapon at me. The signaller was dead. I was beginning to think I was, too.
“I anticipated your response, Professor. This device was designed to nullify your shrinking controls as well as your JLA signal device. Close the door, please, and do come in.”
All right, I thought, if I’m going to be I.Q.’s captive, or worse, I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of knowing how bad my knees are shaking.
“All right, Quimby. What do you want? Hawkman and Hawkwoman will be here soon. You won’t get away this.”
Hmmm… sounded like something out of a comic-book I once read. I.Q.’s response was also very cliched.
“I already have, my dear Professor. I already have.”
“I’ll ask you again, Quimby, what do you want?”
My stomach was in knots, my fists balled up, my knuckles turning white. I wondered how much of Dinah’s martial arts training I remembered. Just when I expected the worst, I.Q. did something totally unexpected. He sat down.
“I guess old habits die hard, Professor,” Quimby said as he leaned back in the chair. “I have not come here to be a menace, but to be of assistance. I must admit, though, to some trepidation. I thought perhaps you would not be willing to hear me out, so I took some precautions.”
OK, now I was completely lost. What the hell was I.Q. babbling about, I wondered. “What kind of assistance, Quimby?”
I.Q. gestured to the chalkboard. “See for yourself.”
I walked closer to the board, taking it all in. I.Q. had taken some of my calculations and added some of his own. Quite frankly, it was brilliant. I stared and pondered for what seemed like centuries, when he interrupted me once again.
“I’m sorry, I just… this is fascinating. I never even thought of this type of application. What made you think of it?”
Quimby smiled. “Prison gives one a lot of time for nothing else but thought, Professor. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to find ways to conquer the world, but only ended up succeeding in being brought down by Hawkman time and again.”
He handed me the device in his hand. “This wouldn’t have harmed you in any way. Its sole function was to nullify your shrinking controls, but as I can see, you don’t have them anymore. After my last parole, I decided that getting pounded to a pulp by Hawkman and Hawkgirl made for a very empty existence, so I decided that I would put my brilliant mind to good use. Of course, when one has a criminal record such as mine, it’s very difficult to secure above-the-board employment, but I finally found a small university that was willing to give me a chance.”
“Really?” I said to him, sitting down across from I.Q. at my desk. “That’s wonderful, but what brought you here?”
“A magazine article. I was reading the interview you did with People magazine and how you were working on a way to breach the veil between Earth-One and Earth-Two. I thought, my God, now there’s a challenge worthy of my intellect. It then occurred to me that your Alpheus Hyatt’s time pool might provide the perfect vehicle to do just that.”
I shook my head in amazement. “Tell me more.”
Later on, at Jean’s home, her reaction was understandable.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Jean looked at me like I had suddenly developed two heads. Hmm, I think that actually did happen to Superman once, under the influence of red K.
“No, I spoke with Professor Hyatt, and he was thrilled at the idea, so now all three of us are working on the project!”
Jean just rolled her eyes. “Well, I suppose stranger things have happened, but are you sure it’s really a good thing working with a criminal like I.Q.?”
I took Jean’s hand. “Ex-criminal, honey. It’s either this, or he ends up working for Mrs. Waller and getting killed.”
Jean shuddered. “OK, that’s a fate worse than death! So tell me, with your new partner, you two aren’t going to get so involved in your work that you’re going to forget about your personal lives, are you?”
I ran my fingers through Jean’s hair, the smell of her perfume gently wafting through the air. “No, never that, counselor. Besides, I introduced I.Q. to a couple of my graduate interns, and I think one of them has a date with Mr. Quimby this evening.”
“Really? You’d let one of your female students go out unsupervised with Ira Quimby?”
I smiled at that. “Umm, I never said it was a female student, Jean.”
“What? What do you mean it’s not…? Oh… ohhh!” Jean said, doing her best Edith Bunker impression. “Have I met this student?”
“Yes, it’s Keith. You know, the quiet, blond-haired kid.”
“Oh, that’s right. He’s the one that was always bringing you coffee and gave you that really nice painting, and… wait, he had a crush on you, didn’t he?”
I feigned indignation. “Is there something wrong with that? I have several students that have crushes on me, I’ll have you know. Of course, all the others are female.”
“Just so long as you remember that you’re a married man, Mr. Palmer!”
Suddenly, the world turned serious. Had Jean just said what I thought she said? I looked into her eyes, and I think she was just as shocked saying it as I was hearing it.
She put her finger to my lips. “No, I’m sorry, Ray. It just slipped out. I don’t want you to think…”
I leaned over. “Better take the fifth, counselor, before you incriminate yourself,” I said, and then I began kissing Jean. This time, I think, we were both on the same page.