Who is Doctor Atomic? Is he some sort of demented figment of a handily damaged mind? Or, rather, is he a larger-than-life cosmic missionary of science and adventure? Perhaps a little of both? Rumors abound; it's been said that the good doctor is a scholar, author, musician, megalomaniac, collector, critic, and orchestrator of world events. They say he's built Shakespeare sets on remote South Pacific islands, and tested micro-sine capacitors in his grandmother's garage. His rapier wit has skewered not only political leaders, but also their more popular siblings. His theories on ego-enhancement among the world's vegetative masses-along with groundbreaking experimentation-have lead to both Nobel prize nominations and warrants for his arrest.
But maybe that's all a load of crap.
The early years of Dr. Atomic remain shrouded in mystery, as do facts concerning his actual date of birth and his real name. (Though some suspect that he was, in fact, born of one Mr. and Mrs. Atomic. This is less of a coincidence than one would imagine; if your last name was Atomic and you had a touch of ADD, might not you become a cosmic scientist and adventurer?)
In fact, very few people can say with any certainty exactly which branch of science Dr. Atomic has his doctorate in. While some suggest physics, there is no actual documentation that Atomic knows more about the field than the small nuggets of information he picked up while running wild with Einstein and, later, Oppenheimer. Chemistry, geology, and biology have also been ruled out as possible areas of expertise. When questioned, both Dr. Atomic and members of the ARC refuse to comment, and the exact nature of Dr. Atomic's studies remain, thus far, top secret.
So what do we know? Or, rather, since this is being written by Dr. Atomic (who, either through pretension or schizophrenia, chooses to use the third person), what is being voluntarily revealed?
The Reverend Dr. Atomic was active as early as 1918, though some references date his activities as starting even earlier. During the years immediately following WWI, he held a number of odd jobs, including that of merchant marine, presidential advisor, rabble rouser, medicine man, carnival freak (two instances, once as the invisible man, and once as Kobor, the Insect Man), journalist, house painter, CEO, movie star, and dog walker. Bored of such a shiftless existence, in 1921 Dr. Atomic attempted to contact various secret organizations within the government. By 1922, he dropped off the face of the earth.
It's at this point that we turn to an odd snippet of information. Written by an anonymous source, this bit of conjecture has scattered supporting evidence, and it is reprinted here out of some whim, but also a sense of biographical evenhandedness. Judge for yourself, reader, its validity.
In December of 1929, just after the stock market crashed, a lone scientist, working for the ARC in isolation on an obscure island in the South Pacific, stumbled on a rather fantastic discovery. While attempting to isolate a particularly slippery theoretical particle, the un-named scientist was accidentally bombarded with radiation. When the ordeal ended, the scientist was surprised to discover that not only was he alive, but he was also 20 years younger than he had been only an hour earlier. Theorizing that he had stumbled on at least a minor aspect of temporal dynamics, the scientist handed his previous studies off to an assistant and devoted himself entirely to the study of this new phenomena. And that's when things got very strange.
Late one night, as the scientist was trying for the nth time to recreate his initial discovery, he finally got the equation right, though with completely surprising results. With what recently discovered journal entries describe as "a crackle of energy, a puff of smoke, and the unnerving smell of licorice," the scientist was, quite suddenly, confronted with himself.
According to those same journals, the scientist found himself staring straight into the eyes of what can only be described as his clone. Not a future self, not a past self, not an alternate self in any way. Simply himself, existing alongside the original. And as he watched, his second self seemed to age. And die.And then undergo a rebirth, before repeating the whole process again and again.
The scientist was used to unexplained phenomena, but even he was shaken by the sight of his own death (as it were). Then he made his first mistake (scholars seem to agree that, until this point, he was behaving as any good scientist would have behaved. Whether or not that was, itself, a mistake is up for grabs). Reaching out, the scientist touched his second self, though whether out of an attempt at comfort or simply for purposes of observation may never be known. What is certain, however, is that as soon as scientist prime made contact with scientist secondum, a cosmic chain reaction occurred at a quantum level.
The scientist was torn apart in infinite directions, stretched for infinite miles, for an infinite amount of time. And then, contrary to the above statement, the experience ended. One scientist remained, and the look on his face was one of blissful respite, as if he had accomplished some great task and was now ready for a cool drink and a nap. Two days later, he made his second, even more catastrophic, mistake.
Unfortunately, records at this point become spotty, and we're not quite certain what, exactly, that mistake was.
The scientist, it has been suggested, is none other than Dr. Atomic.
Fast forward a number of years. The rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, and the world's subsequent plunge into war, set the stage for the next confirmed sighting of a man who may, or may not, be Dr. Atomic. As the war progressed, it became increasingly apparent to President Roosevelt and the United States government that Hitler was working on an atomic bomb. A letter from Einstein eventually convinced the president that the U.S. should itself initiate a program to develop the weapon; though he would later become a devout advocate against nuclear weapons, at the time, Einstein understood what it would mean to have the Nazis gain control of the atom. Thus, General Leslie R. Groves and Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, along with hundreds of the country's top scientists, found themselves stationed in Los Alamos, New Mexico, with a single mission: complete the bomb.
Once again we turn to the anonymous source, and another apparent appearance of the elusive Dr. Atomic.
July 16, 1945, the testing of the atomic bomb. What few people know is that, besides the US Military, there were a number of other groups present at the New Mexico test sight as the first bomb was detonated. Intergovernmental rivalries practically dictated that the Office of Strategic Services had to maintain a presence at any and all events concerning national defense. And of course, the FBI and the Justice Department couldn't let the OSS have more information than they themselves were privy to. Hence the presence of Special Agent for the FBI [Editor's note: There is some agreement that this agent is, in fact, Special Agent Greene, and is noted here as such], slathered in sunscreen, in a concrete bunker surrounded by military and scientific personnel, and awaiting an explosion that would take place six miles away.
History books tell us that the test went as planned. At 5:29:45 a.m., the United States government's first Atomic Bomb detonated. The flash lit the surrounding mountains brighter than the noon sun, while the accompanying roar broke windows as far as 120 miles away. In a single instant, scientists had released energy equal to all the bombs dropped on London by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe during the Blitz. The heat was so intense that it vaporized the tower holding the bomb and melted the sand underneath into a green glass later dubbed Trinitite. A mile away, exposed surfaces were heated to 750 degrees. At 10 miles, the heat still felt like the open mouth of a fireplace, witnesses reported.
"I am become death, the shatterer of worlds," murmured physicist Robert Oppenheimer, quoting a Hindu text.
"Now we are all sons of bitches," agreed Trinity director Kenneth Bainbridge as he watched the column of fire and dust climb seven miles in the sky.
Recently, military film footage shot during the explosion, from inside the bunker, reveals a rather curious chain of events. This tape, it should be noted, was stored in a top-secret vault beneath a hidden army base in the middle of the New Mexico desert. It was deposited on the desk of this biographer by an anonymous courier who listed no return address. It's authenticity has been verified by half-a-dozen film, photograph, and video experts, as well as two nationally known government watch groups. Two days ago [date unconfirmed-Editors], all six experts were found dead though apparently natural causes, and the government watch groups suddenly lost their funding and disbanded. Their chairmen are also dead. Police refuse to launch an investigation into what they consider to be simply the results of fate and bad luck.
The footage reveals that, during the moment of detonation, a man [Dr. Atomic?-Editor] appeared before [Agent Greene], who was, apparently, standing right next to the camera. While everything within three feet of the man appeared to be perfectly normal (i.e., [Agent Greene], the camera itself), anyone outside this radius stands frozen, as if a statue. For five whole minutes. A clock on the wall refused to tick. The light in the room, which should have dimmed as soon as the explosion passed, remains the same. A mode of dust, caught in the glare of the bomb's light, remains suspended in midair.
The film contained no audio track, so it is impossible to know just what was said between the man and Agent Greene. But the camera witnessed the two of them grasp hands and disappear before animation once again, quite suddenly, returned to the bunker and the world around it.
We don't know whether time stopped moving or whether the two men and the camera existed in a bubble of condensed time, but the end result is that when the military deemed it safe to exit the bunker, one less man emerged than went in.
No trace of this original film exists, and the identity of either man is impossible to verify with any conclusiveness.
Dr. Atomic remained a random and discordant figure after the war and throughout the Fifties. Until 1949, he was often found in the offices of legendary science fiction magazine editor John W. Campbell (Astounding Science Fiction, Unknown, Analog), or with any number of sf writers, including Ted Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and A.E. Van Vogt. When Campbell began expressing an increased interest in L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics in 1950, however, his and Atomic's relationship became strained, and the doctor evidently began curtailing his visits. While the two would remain cordial, and Dr. Atomic would always admit to admiring Campbell's editorial prowess, the two never interacted on a social level again. Dianetics, it seems, was too weird for even the weirdest of men.
But Dr. Atomic maintained his connection to the science fiction community, befriending Galaxy editor Horace L. Gold in 1950, as well as such authors as Alfred Bester, William Tenn, Hal Clement, and other literary luminaries of the period. It's around this time that he began frequenting the homes of rocket expert Willy Ley and space artist Chelsey Bonestell (both of whom produced the legendary book, Conquest of Space). Hollywood also embraced Dr. Atomic in this period; he was a common figure on the sets of movies by producer George Pal. In fact, it's suggested that Atomic sat in on most production meetings between Pal and Heinlein on the movie Destination Moon.
But the Fifties weren't all fun and games for Atomic. Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954, his testimony eventually became the stuff of political legend. It's rare to see a man like Senator Joseph McCarthy openly weep during a hearing. But while the many citizens applauded the doctor's performance during these trying times, the Committee was unimpressed. No legal ramifications resulted from their deliberations, but an angered McCarthy did attempt to launch a smear campaign against Atomic, a move that proved largely ineffective, due to the following events.
May 8, 1955. Dr. Atomic's house blows up. His body is never found, and the police report lists him as deceased.
McCarthy drops his inquiry, life moves on.
June 8, 1955. Needless to say, it was with some surprise, and no little consternation, that the world greeted the large floating sphere found hovering over the Capitol building. Some 1200 feet in diameter, and composed completely of a featureless silver metal, the ball proved an unsolvable enigma as it spend a week hanging in the air just like a large metal ball should not. Naturally, the nation's collective military, political, and scientific leaders first thought the unidentified object was a strange sort of Russian probe, until, on the seventh day, a small portal opened on the underside of the sphere. A thin line descended from this aperture, lowering a small canister. Upon investigation, the container was found to hold a note, which read (according to top-secret Army Intelligence files):
Thank you for making the last year of my life a living hell. It has enabled me to do what I need to do without remorse, without regret, without guilt. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but I think that, in lieu of the inconvenience you caused me, I can be allowed this indulgence.
Later generations might look at this upcoming act and ask, 'Why?' In all honesty, I can only answer, 'Because.' Perhaps humanity will learn to understand; I doubt it. But I like to think that, one day, I shall be remembered with something other than hatred. But if not, so be it. Like I said, this was brought on yourselves and I feel nothing but calm about my decision to proceed with a plan that, admittedly, only came to me last week.
Good luck, humanity. You'll need it.
The Reverend Doctor Atomic.
At this point, the General did his best to clear the area. His imagination, schooled as it was in the art of destruction, foresaw many possible outcomes of the next five minutes, none of them good. In fact, the sphere was already rising into the sky, a gleaming pearl that defied the very laws of physics, and, most likely, the United States. The fact that it was apparently manned by a mad scientist with a chip on his shoulder did nothing to sooth the general's thoughts.
The sphere quickly reached a mile high, judging by later analysis of the events. Suddenly, it seemed as though it's anti-gravity abilities cut out, for the unnatural object plunged straight towards the White House. People trampled each other in their attempts to get out of the area, knowing in their hearts that they were well within the blast zone of whatever type of nuclear explosion was about to go off.
And then it was over.
The sphere hit the white house with a deafening bang.
And people stood stock still, staring in amazement at a White House suddenly gone purple. As thick color dripped lazily down the building's walls and the smell of paint filled the air, America knew, once and for all, that Dr. Atomic was nothing if not a man with a sense of humor.
Since that day, the Reverend Dr. Atomic spent the last fifty years in seclusion. No one is certain as to his activities or his whereabouts during this time. That he was engaged in work for the ARC is likely, though unconfirmed.
Then, quite suddenly, in 2001, he reappeared as the frontman to the band Atomic Box.
No, we don't get it either.