Secret Origins: 1953: The Origin of Red Rocket and Tom Atomic, Chapter 3: The Gauntlet Thrown

by Dan Swanson

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“Hey!” Tom Atomic yelled. Flying away, he caught the thrown gauntlet before it could splash into the lake, and then he was back next to Red Rocket. Todd Drake had forgotten just how fast the anti-crime drug made people. Atomic was still talking. “I put a lot of work into that!”

Todd thought about backing away, but he realized he couldn’t get far enough away on the turtle’s shell to matter if there was a problem. He suddenly had a thought, and if he hadn’t been miles from shore in the middle of December, he would have ripped his costume off as well.

“OK, ‘Tom Atomic,’ I’ve just about had it with surprises from you for one day. You want us to play hero and save Chicago from this monster? Fine. But you listen to me while we do it, or I’ll leave you and ‘Super-Turtle,’ here, to the Air Force and the Army!”

“Hey, what’s the matter with you?” retorted Tom. “I’ve got the training for this, and I can do just fine without you telling me what to do. I am a Marine alum, you know!”

“And Marines are trained to fight human enemies, aren’t they? I’ve been trained to be a super-hero by some of the best in the business. Better hurry up and decide — the Coast Guard boats are almost here, and they’re going to start shooting as soon as they arrive! I’d just as soon not have them shooting at us!”

Tom Atomic thought fast. He didn’t like it, but he thought he would humor Todd this one time. “Marines know how to take orders, boss! But this conversation ain’t over — when we’re finished here, I’m gonna kick your butt ’til you cry uncle!”

They had never actually fought for real. Todd thought that Tomas had been a better boxer, while Todd might have been a better martial artist, back before Tomas got his super-powers. But Todd still knew some tricks Tomas had never seen, tricks he had been taught by Minute Man, and he thought he stood a fair chance in a fight with Tomas. He hoped he would never have to fight with his best friend. But he wasn’t going to put up with dangerous risks from Tom Atomic, either.

“OK, Tom Atomic, give me back my gauntlet. And tell me everything else I need to know about this suit!” Todd decided that Atomic was probably telling the truth about how safe the plasma thrower was. Anyway, if something did go wrong, he would never know it.

“The short story is this: the visor also has built-in radar; the earpieces hold a radio and some sophisticated ambient sound-amplifiers. If you go underwater, the costume has a waterproof mask that slides over your mouth and nose and draws oxygen from the water. There are some gadgets and other stuff in most of the utility belt pouches. That thing on the back of your left hand that looks like brass knuckles? Very powerful light source — aim it and concentrate. You can make it emit ultraviolet, infrared, or visible light. Just point and concentrate! And it should work pretty well as brass knuckles, too.” He thought for a moment.

“Oh, yeah — the material of the costume is waterproof, and it will stop small-arms fire. And keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. And Aki designed the costume, while I designed the gadgets. That’s all there is!”

Todd started to reply, but Atomic quickly added, “And, of course, all the capabilities you already know about.”

“You had better be accurate, Tom Atomic! My life may depend on it. Now, what does your suit do?”

“My goggles work just like your visor. My suit works just like your Bullet helmet used to — lets me fly, and generates a magnetic field that bounces bullets, only around my whole body, just like your Red Rocket costume. Helmet radio. Same material as yours, same designer. No other weapons or gadgets.”

“You built all these new toys into my costume, and you didn’t install any into your own? Darned if I believe that!” Tom Atomic looked hurt that his best friend might mistrust him.

“Well, since you don’t have my natural super-powers, I did your suit first. And I don’t want my suit to do exactly the same things yours does, so I’m still figuring out my ‘toys.'”

Todd — no, he was Red Rocket for now — had been thinking. “Just how much control do I have over the fusion process? Does it have to happen inside the mixing chamber? Could I cut way back on the hydrogen flow?”

“Some, I’m not sure, and of course,” Atomic responded. “What do you want to do?”

“If I could make the fusion hot spot occur about a foot from my hand, and direct only a very little hydrogen into the hot spot, and then I was to bring the hot spot into contact with something, what would happen?”

“My Lord, and you’re calling me crazy?! Essentially, anything within about a half-inch of the fusion point would just vaporize! You’d have a disintegration beam!

Red Rocket shook his head. “You have been taking reckless risks, and putting others at risk without giving them a choice. I’m trying to figure out how to stop this monster and save lives. I doubt I’ll be able to stop it with the flamethrower alone — all it would have to do is dive underwater. You and I together may not even be able to stop it. If you tell me I have a disintegrator, as a last-ditch effort, I can kill it by drilling a hole into its brain before it can submerge.”

Tom Atomic had been examining schematics in his head. “It’s not designed to work that way, but pretty much everything in that suit is under your mental control. I doubt if you could manifest the hot spot farther away than a foot, but anything up to a foot ought to be possible. The best thing to do would be to try it without any hydrogen. I can use the magnetic controls in my own suit as sensors to verify if you really are creating the hot spot where you want it to be.”

Red Rocket nodded. “OK, let’s test it really fast. We have to stop those Coast Guard patrol boats from shooting!” He armed the flamethrower, and then concentrated as he had before, but this time he concentrated on not having any flame.

Tom Atomic had both hands held out in front of him, and he slowly moved them back and forth. “The hot spot is activated in the mixing changer. Now see if you can get it to move.”

Red Rocket visualized the hot spot, the intersection of some very powerful magnetic fields, in the mixing chamber on the back of his gauntlet. He then visualized the fields extending farther, so they came together in front of his hand rather than above it. Tom Atomic shook his head. Red Rocket concentrated harder — he tried to extend his consciousness into that spot, and then move slowly away.

“It’s moving!” Atomic shouted excitedly. He pointed with both hands, so that Red Rocket had a visual indication of where the hot spot was, and slowly, the spot he was pointing at moved away from Rocket’s gauntlet. About nine inches away, it stopped.

“I can’t push it any farther. I guess that will have to be far enough!” Red Rocket grunted. “Stand back!” He then thought about a very small flame, and a bright flash appeared at the hot spot. He concentrated on a candle flame, and the hot spot then glowed continually.

“I’m going to have to add some kind of visual feedback if you are going to use this on a regular basis,” Atomic commented. Rocket moved his arm to bring the glowing hot spot into contact with the turtle’s shell. When it touched, a small patch of shell vaporized. Rocket wasn’t quite ready to kill the monster just yet. He quickly and easily carved an X several inches deep into the shell.

“Looks like it works OK. So we can probably kill it if we have to. Now let’s stop the Coast Guard boats.”

Atomic was confused. “Why stop them? We’ll probably have to kill it, anyway, so why not let them help us?”

Rocket was exasperated. “For some reason, you’ve stopped thinking. What’s this thing going to do the second a bullet hits it? Probably shoot fire, and that will destroy any patrol boat it hits. Even if it doesn’t flame on, it can dive underwater where they can’t reach it. What would happen if it came up under one of those boats? Or came up next to one and then chomped on it?”

Atomic was puzzled. “Oh, yeah! Why didn’t I think of that?” The fact that he hadn’t thought about it worried him, and he started to think about the things Red Rocket had said about his judgment. Then he realized that now was not a good time. He would follow Rocket’s lead for now, and worry about his judgment later.

Rocket was back in the air, headed toward shore. He could see the Coast Guard boats with his visor-vision. He radioed to them. “Red Rocket to the Coast Guard, come in. I recommend your boats not attack this monster, but just escort it for now. We’ve seen it in action. Your bullets probably won’t hurt it, and it is easily capable of destroying the boats. We will attempt to draw its attention away from Chicago. If we can get it to follow us, your boats can be spotters for the Army artillery.”

“Commander Smith here. Received and understood, Red Rocket. All boats surround the monster and then stand off a half-mile. No shots are to be fired — repeat, no shots are to be fired unless I command. Smith out!”

“Let’s see if we can get its attention,” Rocket suggested. “Maybe we can get it pissed off, and it will chase us.” He flew off ahead of the beast, turned around, and blasted it with the plasma-thrower. The monster let out a terrifying roar, louder than the loudest thunder Todd had ever heard, and returned fire for fire. The plasma was hotter, but the methane flame from the beast was much larger, and it sure smelled terrible. Red Rocket’s insulated suit protected him somewhat, but he was just about to move out of range when the turtle dived. Within seconds it was out of sight.

Both heroes were amazed that something that big could disappear so completely, even underwater. Seconds later, the radio blared.

“This is Captain Casey from the Coast Guard patrol boat Inland Sea. Our sonar operator reports that the monster dived to around one hundred fathoms–“ This was six hundred feet, the heroes knew. “–and now it is rising at very high speed! All hands rig for heavy water! Three… two… one… now!”

Amazingly, this monster, as big as a football stadium, launched itself entirely out of the water, and with an even louder roar, it was flying.

It shouldn’t be able to fly — it’s too large! Tom Atomic thought to himself.

“Tom, it’s chasing me! Go help the Coast Guard!” Rocket radioed as he quickly flew away toward the north and east, drawing the monster away from Chicago and toward the middle of the lake. He was faster and more maneuverable, and each time it seemed as if the monster was about to give up the chase, he would turn and blast it again.

Meanwhile, the immense upsurge of water had produced another gigantic ripple wave. All of the Coast Guard boats had managed to shift directions and were bow first into the wave, and most of them rode it out safely. But two were too close together, and the wave smashed them into each other. One boat was going down quickly, while the other was so damaged it wouldn’t stay afloat much longer. Rescue efforts were already underway for those sailors from the sinking boat, and the sailors on the other boat were in the process of orderly abandoning ship — to an astonished Tom Atomic, it looked as if a routine drill was in process.

Tom Atomic couldn’t tell if everyone had gotten off of the sinking boat, so he dived into the water and flashed underneath it, let the wreckage settle on to his shoulders, and then began to rise again. He was glad he’d taken the time to put the automatic underwater breathing mask into his costume as well as Red Rocket’s.

He lifted the wreckage until it was barely out of the water, and then slowly, gently moved it until he was near an undamaged boat. A couple of brave sailors clambered aboard and quickly searched as much of the boat as they could reach. They found one man in an internal compartment who had been trapped when something had fallen on him. He was coughing up water, but it seemed that he would live. They quickly carried him out of the wreckage. A head count of those still in the water, those already rescued, and the one man from the wreckage accounted for the entire crew.

Tom Atomic needed weapons to fight the monster turtle. He dived deeper under the wreckage, and as it started to sink again, he smashed his way into the engine compartment from below. He was hoping he could rip the engine free from the mounts that supported it, and use it as a missile or a hammer. However, although his gravity regulator and his shoulders were easily strong enough to carry the engine, his hands were not strong enough to break the steel motor mounts. He didn’t really want to carry the entire boat around for a long time.

Just before the wrecked boat went under for a final time, Tom Atomic managed to break off the radio mast, leaving him with a hollow steel spear about fifteen feet long. It wasn’t much, but it was all he was going to get here. He dropped onto one of the undamaged boats. “You guys don’t have anything explosive, do you?”

The boat’s commander signaled below, and within a few minutes, an ensign came up on deck with four hand grenades attached to an ammo belt. “Best we can do, son. We’ve got no reason to carry depth charges, but these sometimes work as a substitute.”

Atomic took the belt and strapped it on. “Thanks, Cap’n. I suggest you guys head back to base; when that monster falls back into the lake again, there’s gonna be a wave bigger than any we’ve seen so far!” And then he was away. The “flying football stadium” showed up clearly on his radar.

Red Rocket had been flying a zigzag path, staying ahead of the monster and keeping away from its breath. After a few minutes, the monster seemed to lose interest, and it started to wheel around and head back toward Chicago. It also seemed to tire, and it landed, not too gently, in the water. Red Rocket blasted the water in front of it, and it turned to steam. He kept blasting until there was a big fog bank completely surrounding the giant turtle, but it kept moving straight toward Chicago. How could it possibly know which way to go?

Rocket remembered something he had read once, the theory that many animals could sense the magnetic field of the Earth, and used that magnetic sense to navigate. Well, nothing else was working, so he flew closer to the head of the beast, then started fiddling with the magnetic controller. He increased the field strength, modulated the field, and flipped the polarity.

The monster slowed, then stopped, and its head started to swing around. Red Rocket moved to stay out of range, and once again, the monster’s head swung around. Rocket stopped, and the monster started swimming again — not toward Rocket this time, but off on a tangent. Then it reached a certain distance away and started to swing around again. Rocket figured it out. He moved slowly in the direction he wanted the monster to go, and it swam along parallel to his flight path.

Tom Atomic flashed out of the fog and popped up next to Red Rocket. “The Coast Guard boys are all OK. And they gave me these!” He showed off the grenades. “Although it looks like you aren’t going to need them. Looks like you’ve got yourself a new pet!”

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