Secret Origins: 1953: The Origin of Red Rocket and Tom Atomic, Chapter 4: Clash of Giants

by Dan Swanson

Return to chapter list

“So what do we do now?” Tom Atomic asked. “I don’t understand why we don’t just kill it. After all, it wiped out that whole town! And just think what it might have done to Chicago!”

“I know, I know!” Red Rocket replied. “If it causes any danger to people, we will, but I feel very uncertain about just killing it — ‘in cold blood,’ as it were. But we can’t lead it around the lake forever. So what do we do with it?”

“Maybe we can put it on ice,” said Atomic. Rocket snorted at that. “Don’t laugh! What about a giant Peltier heat pump?” As they both knew, a Peltier heat pump moved heat from Point A to Point B — or, looking at it another way, it moved cold from Point B to Point A — using no apparatus but electrical current and two dissimilar conductors. “I can fly to shore and find us some cables. We should be able to figure out some way to use the magnetic controllers in our suits to generate electrical current. If we’re careful, Terry Turtle, there, will never know what’s going on until he starts to ice up!”

“It sounds like a plan,” replied Rocket. “Get moving, and I’ll keep ol’ ‘Terry,’ here, heading north.”

Tom Atomic was barely out of sight when he was yelling into the radio. “Oh, my Lord! Rocket, we are in deep $#!* — there’s two of them, and Terry’s the friendly one!”

Before he had gone more than a mile, Tom Atomic came out of a fog bank upon a horrible scene. At first he had thought it was an island, but there shouldn’t be any islands out here. As he got closer, he realized it was another monster — floating on its back. And there was something on its chest. Atomic finally realized that it was the smashed ruins of a large cabin cruiser.

The damned monster was eating the contents of the cabin cruiser like an otter would eat a clam. Atomic wanted to be sick, but his combat training had taught him that, if he lived through a battle, there would be time to be sick later, and the time for avenging was now.

Pulling two grenades from his belt, he armed them both, then dived on the floating monster. He made out more details the closer he got, and he realized that he really was too late for a rescue, but just in time to attack. From about two-hundred feet overhead, he dropped both grenades on the monster’s stomach. They bounced once and then exploded.

Tom Atomic couldn’t really tell how badly the monster was hurt. Before the smoke from the explosion had cleared, the beast rolled over so its stomach was down, raised its head from the water, and let out a tremendous screech. If the wheels on God’s subway train squealed, the noise would surely sound very like this monster’s battlecry.

Atomic was surprised to see that the monster wasn’t actually a turtle, despite their Terry the Turtle nickname for it. The head and tail were very turtle-like, but there was no shell, and its back was densely covered with a forest of giant spines, each as tall as Tom Atomic.

At this exact instant, Red Rocket and Tom Atomic received a broadcast from the Coast Guard. But neither was able to hear it over the tremendous roar that the turtle creature made when it was flying.

Atomic turned his head toward the source of the roar, and his enhanced vision allowed him to discern Terry the Turtle flashing in his direction. Even his enhanced reflexes wouldn’t have saved him if the turtle monster had not had a different target. But the turtle stooped on the other monster, blasting fire.

The other monster opened its mouth and also blasted forth a gout of flame. The two flames met and cancelled each other out. Tom Atomic decided he would be better off farther away. He also realized that Red Rocket was yelling at him via the radio, warning him that the turtle was approaching. “I’m OK, Red. But it looks like these two don’t like each other! They are ignoring me and fighting each other!”

Reaching the scene, Red Rocket joined Tom Atomic, and together they watched this incredible clash of giants.

Red Rocket decided that they ought to name the new beast, to make it easier for them to identify the monsters to each other. “The new one’s name is Balor!” he said, pulling a name he remembered from Celtic myth.

Terry was just pulling out of his dive, and suddenly, a half-dozen quills leaped from Balor’s back like missiles. They smashed into Terry’s underside and stuck, but didn’t seem to do any major damage. As the beasts warily drew apart again, Tom Atomic noticed blood in the water near Balor’s stomach. The grenades had hurt him, after all.

“What should we do now?” Red Rocket said aloud. “Maybe it’s time to call the Air Force in.”

“I think it’s still unsafe. As long as Terry can fly, the bombers would be in danger, and we don’t know yet if Balor can fly, too.” Rocket was glad to realize that his friend was back to normal.

Suddenly, Terry dived from the sky and disappeared under the water. Balor let out another God-sized squeal, and also dived beneath the waves. For a few seconds it was almost peaceful. Suddenly, a tremendous bubble burst through the surface, broke, and unleashed a cloud of steam. One or both of the monsters had apparently tried to use their flame-breath underwater.

A few seconds later, Balor broke the surface again, its gigantic beak closed on Terry’s neck, just above the shell. It was dragging Terry, and the turtle did not seem to be resisting. The tough skin on Terry’s neck was resisting, but Balor was shaking its head like a shark, and Terry’s skin was starting to tear.

Both heroes had fought with Terry, but somewhere along they way they had developed a proprietary interest in him. Additionally, Tom Atomic had earlier seen Balor finish his horrible meal. Seeing the new monster about to kill their monster spurred them both into action.

Red Rocket blasted the back of Balor’s head with his plasma-thrower, and Tom Atomic dropped another grenade in the middle of his back. When the flame struck, Balor released Terry and turned to blast back at Red Rocket with his own flaming breath, and then the grenade exploded. The explosion set off some reflex, and many quills from the skin near the explosion were launched.

Although Tom Atomic’s superhuman reflexes allowed him to dodge the few quills that flew in his direction, Red Rocket wasn’t so lucky. He was still blasting his plasma flame at Balor, and was barely able to sweep the flame around and over the quill that was heading toward him, and the front half of the missile was vaporized. The remaining piece was not aerodynamic, and it started tumbling, so Rocket took an incredible blow from the side of the quill, rather than the point. That, and the super-tough material of his costume saved his life, at least temporarily. Still, it was as if he had been hit in the chest and stomach area by a baseball bat swung by Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He heard ribs crack, and his breath was knocked out of him, and then he fell into darkness as his consciousness fled, dropping into the lake below.

Tom Atomic had no time to spare to rescue his partner. Although there was now a shallow crater on Balor’s back, it didn’t seem to affect it, and it was angry. Fortunately for Atomic, this monster didn’t seem to be able to fly, but he still had his hands full.

No matter where Atomic flew, Balor’s head seemed to be tracking him like radar, and every time he slowed down for an instant, a single quill would be launched at him. It seemed as if Balor was learning from observation, because about the fifth or sixth time he dodged a single quill, he dodged right into the flight path of a second one. Still, his reflexes were adequate. Not only was he able to dodge, but he quickly flew after the missile, and when he caught up to it, he wrapped both arms around it and slowed it down.

He had only two hand grenades left. Somewhere along the way, his original spear — the radio mast broken from the wrecked Coast Guard patrol boat — had vanished into the lake. But this spine might be an adequate replacement lance. Wonder how Balor is going to like some of his own medicine, he thought.

Balor was swimming toward the floating body of Red Rocket, but somehow Terry the Turtle was in his way. Terry’s movements seemed slow and uncertain, but he interfered with Balor just enough to enable Tom Atomic to return to the attack.

Atomic swooped in front of the monster, flying at high speed toward its head. Balor raised his head, and again breathed flame. Atomic had been expecting this, so he did something unexpected, and dived below the flames and into the lake. He drove his gravity controller to the limit and was able to maintain his speed and even go a little faster while underwater, and he managed to burst from the water an instant later near Balor’s head.

He was still accelerating when he rammed the spine into the joint between the monster’s neck and his shoulders. He was momentarily gratified when the quill pierced the tough skin, and he was able to drive at least four feet of his weapon into the monster’s neck. His grip on the quill had slowed him down somewhat, but he still slammed into Balor’s neck at high velocity. He had known this would happen; he had gambled that his costume and his enhanced strength would protect him, and that what he had suspected about Balor’s quills was true.

In the instant before he smashed into the monster, Tom Atomic had an ironic thought. Would Red Rocket have thought that this attack was too reckless?

Return to chapter list