"A Matter of Size" (1934) by Harry Bates
Thursday 2 March 2017, by
We found this imaginative and rather charming story by the author of Farewell to the Master (The Day the Earth Stood Still), about one personable and very resourceful scientist’s encounter with the emissary of a surprisingly-advanced civilization that requires his services for an unnamed but really pretty basic function, in one of the — and one of the best ever — major anthologies of science-fiction stories and novellas: the remarkable 1000-page "Adventures in Time and Space", edited by Raymond J. Healy and G.J. Francis McComas, that first appeared in August 1946.
This very readable and fast-paced sci-fi adventure tale was first published in the April 1934 issue of Astounding Stories, whose striking cover by Howard G. Brown can be admired here.
The complete text is complemented here with the original May 1934 Astounding artwork by M. Marchioni.
An e-book is available for downloading below.
A MATTER OF SIZE
THOUGH his head was as stuffed with cotton, the details of the scene in his New York laboratory that night came back with insistent clearness. It was long past the turn of the clock, and he bad been working for hours on a monograph on the Mutrantian Titans, which would establish indubitably the biological brotherhood of those colossi of Saturn’s Satellite Three with the genus Homo of Earth. He was deeply immersed, and the muted night murmurs of the great city around and below washed unheeded through his ears.
Then something, perhaps a slight motion, an extraneous noise, caused him to look up—and there, within the lamplight on the far side of his desk, stood the most amazing figure of a man that he, ethnologist though he was, had ever seen.
His visitor wore sandals and a loose-fitting blue robe. He stood all at ease, a slight, enigmatic smile on his face.
That man! He could see him now, as clear in every point as if he were present.
The head was massive, the cranium oval, and not one hair adorned its smooth and shining surface. Beneath the deep corrugations of the forehead the face sloped gently backward past a snub nose as far as the mouth, where it fell sharply away, leaving but the merest excuse of chin and lower jaw. The neck was long, the shoulders sloping; the whole apparition was grotesque. But he was not tempted to smile. No one could have looked into that man’s face and smiled. The eyes, large, light, and piercing, would have prevented that.
"You are Doctor Arthur Allison," the man had said. "I’ve come a long way to see you."
"You’re certainly not from Earth?" Allison said, gaping, stating the fact rather than asking it.
"Then"—he could not restrain the question—"then, for Heaven’s sake tell me, are you sport or typical?"
The other smiled. "Always the scientist, I see! I am typical."
Allison rose in amazement and went around the side of the desk. "But—but that can hardly be!" he exclaimed. "The solar system’s been pretty thoroughly explored, and no race such as yours has ever been discovered."
The stranger’s smile faded. "That discovery has been reserved for you," he said significantly. He paused. "May I come to the point of my visit?"
"Please do. I—I’m tremendously interested. Will you sit down?"
"Thank you—no. There is not much time."
He locked the ethnologist with his eyes.
"I am the emissary of a people unknown to you," he began. "Our abode lies within the solar system a reasonable distance away, and for sufficient reasons no uninvited man of your race has ever laid questioning eyes on it, and no man of your generation but you ever will. Our racial strain is cousin to yours, but our science and civilization are ahead by more than 40,000 years. Our powers exceed what might be your wildest imaginings. In terms of death, for instance, we could, in fourteen days, destroy every trace of crustal life on Earth and all her tributary planets; or we could, in that same space of time, reduce every single vertebrate to a state of impotent slavery.
"We would never do these things, however. We have neither the need nor the desire; we are not inhumane and not, of course, so stupid. Our self-determined developmental cycle will not bring us into intimate contact with you Earthmen for tens of thousands of years, and meanwhile we will remain as we are, aloof and inaccessible, happy within reason and practically self-sufficient.
"You note that I say ’practically.’ Once in every twenty-five years we invite one carefully chosen Earthman to do us a service. You, without knowing it, have ever since your graduation from college been our most promising candidate. We have had you under observation for seven years, have investigated your ancestors back for ten generations, and in heredity, manhood, intellect, and achievement you are all that we ask; so it is to you, alone of your generation, that I come now to offer this highest honor that could fall to a man of your time.
"I may not tell you what your service to us will be. You must trust me implicitly, obey me blindly. You will come to no danger or hurt. You must leave with me immediately, for a destination and by a route that will be kept secret from you. You will be gone four months. Those four months will be the high point of your intellectual, scientific, and, I might add, emotional life. Are you ready?"
"You make an extraordinary request!" the ethnologist said, when he found words.
"Ours is an extraordinary race," was the instant answer.
"If I refuse?"
"I could use force, and you’d be just as valuable to us under coercion as without; but I won’t. You will not refuse. Not one of the men that has ever been approached has refused."
"Has this ’service’ anything to do with my specialty?"
The man’s eyes showed the faintest trace of amusement. "I may say yes:’ he replied. "It is applied and very, very practical ethnology."
"I shall be returned here without hindrance when this service is done?"
"Of course; and you may bring back with you all the knowledge of our science that you can absorb and retain."
Allison considered a moment. He asked: "May I see your feet?"
The out-worlder smiled. He sat on a chair and removed one sandal, exposing a foot such as no man on Earth had ever yet possessed. The big toe was very large, and was flanked by another only a little bit smaller. The three outer toes were vestigial. Here was the foot of the human race, thousand of years in the future.
Allison’s eyes bulged. The knowledge there would be!
As if reading his mind the stranger said: "Your Mr. Wells said it long ago. ’Think of the new knowledge!’ "
The words were a light in Allison’s brain. He turned away. The stranger replaced the sandal and rose.
"Think of the new knowledge!" he repeated.
The ethnologist turned to him. "What is your name?" he said.
The other smiled. "I am sometimes called Jones," he replied.
And they were the last words that had been spoken. Allison remembered that he, too, had smiled; that he had spontaneously held out his hand in tacit acceptance; that as his palm touched the out-worlder’s there had been a sharp sting as of a needle; and then all his senses had left him, and he sank down and down into oblivion.
FOR ONE and a half Earth hours Allison lay loggy on the immaculate white cot, only the changing expression of his opened eyes telling of the chaos within. Then slowly and by insensible degrees his delirium became more physical, and he strained at the broad cloth bands that held him down, tossed within their narrow confines, muttered gibberish in three languages.
A thousand horrific menaces disputed his long way up to consciousness, each a nightmare shape spawned out of unknown frustrations in the abysmal unconscious. By twos and by threes he battled them—all the long dark arms, the fire eyes, the scale-skinned, and the amorphous, and those worse ones without name or substance which enveloped him with intangible oppression. It was most unfair, for no combat was ever decisive; always the shapes eluded him; and indeed they changed their identity as he faced them and were never twice the same.
Except three. Three there were that remained a little apart, but which came again and again and were always clear and undistorted. First was the out-wordly stranger. Then the blue-eyed girl. And last the interminable rows of doll faces, each a likeness of his own; each one himself.
As the hours passed and he fought upward it became increasingly necessary to identify these recurring images. They were somehow enormously important. They were bound with his life, or had been, or would be; it was very obscure, which; and they were all a mystery and a menace in their own fashion.
To trap their secret he constructed colossal edifices of metaphysical cunning, performed prodigies of deduction, all the while he swam oceans, plunged through fire, sank through bottomless ooze in his running fight with the demons that beset him; but always at the moment of knowing he would forget what he was looking for and have to begin all over.
Who was the out-worldly stranger? Who, the blue-eyed girl? Those rows of doll faces—why were they his faces? Why was each one himself?
He would try new cunning. He would close his eyes for a long while, then open them suddenly, and he’d know.
– The man on the immaculate white cot closed his eyes and lay still; and then began the long, deep sleep that was to restore him to himself.
ALLISON awoke gently and lay quiet a moment, dully wondering where he might be and how he had arrived there. The room was unfamiliar, with its close, square walls and the peculiar but soothing soft amber haze that filtered evenly from horizontal tubes set well up near the ceiling. There was no trace of a window, but a metal-framed door showed indistinctly in the wall at his right. He turned toward it—and found himself restrained.
A surge of alarm ran through his veins and brought him fully awake. He arched upward and discovered that a broad cloth band had been passed over his chest and another over his thighs. His arms were free, and his exploring hands soon found a buckle which was easily loosened. He sat up and released his legs, then was at once out of bed and making for the door.
He found it locked.
"Not so good," he thought, pushing back his shock of yellow hair and turning and surveying the room. But at the head of the bed was a small table—the only other article of furniture. Placed opposite under the ceiling were grilles which he decided were for ventilation. The walls looked like marble: cream-colored, and apparently synthetic.
He turned back to the door; pounded on it; yelled out: "Hey, Jones"; listened. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard a faint answering noise outside. He repeated his call; but no one came, and, irritated, he went back to the cot and sat on its edge, head in hands, until "Jones" should come and release him.
It was clear he had been anesthetized, and he supposed he couldn’t complain, for it had been part of their agreement that both route and destination be kept secret; but how deucedly prompt the man had acted!
And how long he must have been unconscious! A quarter-inch growth of beard scratched the palms held to his cheeks! Well, no doubt he had arrived.
The ethnologist rose from the cot and stalked about the room. He was not over-congratulating himself for the sheep-like docility with which he had acceded to the out-worlder’s amazing offer. There were a hundred questions to ask, and hardly one had been answered; there were affairs of importance to be put in order before leaving Earth, and not one had been attended to. Confound Jones, for the outrageous promptness of his action! Where was he now, anyway?
Again he banged on the door and yelled, and again it was fruitless. He resumed his pacing.
"Jones!" Of all names for the outworlder to go by! Practical, though, of course. His real name was probably Ugkthgubx, or some such jaw-breaker. Would match his face—
The Earthman stopped short. Into his stream of consciousness had floated a figment that would not be identified. Something about a girl, blue-eyed and beautiful. And something else—connected with her—rows and rows—frightening—himself there, somehow—
It sank and was gone.
He sat again on the cot, tense, "open", delicately fishing it back up. It came—went—came clearly.
Interminable rows of doll faces — But why were they his faces? Why Was each one himself?
A thrill of fear swept up his back. Had something been done to him while he was unconscious?
Later: Why the emotion, why the fear that accompanied that memory?
Still later: Why that flash that something may have been done to me while I was unconscious?
He hung suspended, fishing for answers that would not come. Gradually the image faded, leaving in its place an intangible feeling of oppression. He got up and walked to throw off the spell; muttered:
"God help Jones if he did monkey with me!"
There was a noise at the door, and, turning, he beheld the massive bald head that never could he forget. Smiling, Jones entered.
"You are recovered?" he asked cordially.
An exclamation of anger rose to Allison’s lips—and died there. Behind the out-worlder stood a girl. She was clad in a simple, loose-flowing crimson robe, gathered at the waist. She was blue-eyed and beautiful.
Jones beckoned to her. "Doctor Allison," he said, "let me present our Miss CB-301."
ALLISON did not distinguish himself for ease of manner in that introduction, for he was wondering how it could be that this girl, whom he was now meeting for the first time, could be the very one whose image already dimly lurked in his memory. None of his awkwardness was to be charged to any romantic "falling for" her; no mistake is to be made about that. A score of girls had hitherto found he was quite immune—though a psychoanalyst might have discovered that what he called "a scientific disinterest in the sex" could be reduced to the absurd fact that he was simply a little afraid of them.
The ethnologist, becoming aware that Miss So-and-So had said "How do you do!" in the most conventional of Earth fashions, in turn nodded and mumbled something himself. Jones smiled broadly and, stepping to the door, begged to be excused, saying he was overwhelmed with work.
"Miss CB-301 speaks your language perfectly," he said, "and will explain such things as are permitted. I’ll be back presently." And the door clicked closed behind him, leaving an off-balanced young ethnologist very much alone with an unabashed young maiden with freckles on her nose and the light of admiration in her eyes.
Allison stood stiffly uncomfortable. Who could have thought that this would happen? And so suddenly? Confound that Jones again; he was certainly one fast worker.
What should he say to the female? Nice day? No—better, flattery. He complimented her on the lack of accent in her speech. It suggested unusual brains in one so young.
"Oh, but no—I’m really terribly dumb!" the young thing gushed sincerely. "I could hardly get through my fourth-dimensional geometry! But English is easier. Don’t you think so?"
Yes; he certainly thought so. He warmed toward her a little. "Then let me congratulate you," he said, "for admitting your dumbness. I’m not accustomed to such extraordinary modesty on the part of women. I may say I find it very becoming."
The girl smiled her delight, and Allison smiled, too. Then, struck by an unpleasant thought, her face took on a woebegone look.
"I’m an atavism," she said.
What was the polite comment on that?
The ethnologist in Allison rose to the surface. "Let me see your feet," he said with sudden eagerness. "Oh, no—don’t ask that! Please!" She shrunk from him.
"Why not?" he demanded.
"Because they’re so ugly!" the girl exclaimed wretchedly. "I don’t want you to see them! Ever!"
"Sit down and take off your sandals!" he ordered. After all, she was only a kid, and her reluctance was unwarranted and foolish.
Tremblingly the girl obeyed, and Allison looked down upon as beautiful a pair of five-toed feet as he had ever seen. Extremely interesting, so complete a divergence from what must be the present racial type. He smiled, and she, seeing, felt better and hastened to put her sandals on again.
"After all," she said rising, "even though I am an atavism, you’re a primitive, and—and—well, it could be terribly thrilling!"
She looked up at him adoringly—hopefully.
Allison laughed. He was all at his ease now with the young thing, and, it must be repeated, he was thoroughly immune.
"It sounds as if you’re proposing," he said.
"We’re to be married," she confided. "I hope you don’t mind too much."
This was ominous and led to a sudden terrible suspicion.
"Is this why I was brought from Earth—to marry you?" he demanded angrily.
"Oh, no! Not just for me!" she answered; then, as if conscious of having made a slip, she added quickly: "I saw you when they brought you in and asked then. You see, you’re the only man I’ve ever met who is like me. I never felt funny about any one else the way I feel funny about you."
He was reassured, but it left the problem of rebuffing her. He had done nothing to commit himself, and it was just her hard luck if she had to go and "feel funny" where one so hopeless as he was concerned. He had better nip her romantic notions in the bud.
"Young lady, I like you very much," he said, "but my interest is largely ethnological. I’m sorry, but it can never be anything more. I—I’ll be a—a big brother to you," he concluded asininely.
The girl was hurt, and her face fell. It was very awkward for a moment. Allison affected a cheeriness he did not feel.
"Come," he said, "tell me about your people. Do they all look like the man who brought me here? Are you the only one of your kind in the whole country?"
She brightened a little. "Yes," she replied; "I’m the only one like you. You wouldn’t care for the others at all. Look—I’ll show you."
She lifted her left wrist and showed him, strapped thereto, what looked like an enameled wrist watch with a large bezel; only the dial of this was blank, and radiating from the sides were five gnarled stems.
"Do you have these on Earth?" she asked. He admitted they did not. "Look," she said, turning her body at an angle and adjusting the stems.
AS ALLISON looked, close by her side, the dial took on an opalescent glow, and dimly there appeared on it threads and shadows which under her adjustments cleared into a picture, animated—the heads and figures of half a dozen women.
"Television," he said. "You’re receiving this from a broadcasting studio."
"No," she corrected; "a search-beam, portable. I can focus it at a distance on whatever I choose. It passes through almost anything." Allison marveled. "But that’s not the point," she objected; "look at those women. Do you find them more beautiful than I?"
He certainly did not. They were, each one, the feminine counterpart of the man Jones. Their necks were as columnar, their shoulders as sloped, and their heads were nothing less than disgusting, considering that they belonged to bodies of what is commonly called the "fair sex." They had wide faces, flat, with bulging foreheads and utterly degenerated jaws, with a rim of thin hair that circled their craniums as might a fringed girdle, an egg.
Allison shuddered. "I pass!" he said.
The girl probably did not understand his words, but she read aright the expression on his face. "You see!" she cried triumphantly, as if it were thereby decided that he was to marry her. "That is part of the line of waiting brides to be. You’ve got to marry one of us!"
"Well, I’m not going to marry one of you!" the ethnologist exclaimed angrily. "Why do you say I do?" he demanded, the ominous suspicion again taking shape in his mind. "Why? Why?" he repeated, following her as she backed away.
The girl was on the verge of tears. "I can’t tell you, and I won’t!" she said. "But it’s a shame, ’cause I thought it would be so easy and nice! Because you’re a primitive."
Allison turned away; there was no satisfaction to be had from her. She was a throwback, all right. He suddenly wanted very much to see the man called Jones. He had plenty of explanations coming to him, and it seemed to him he’d been treated rather shabbily so far. He turned back to the girl.
"Miss—Miss—" He came to a stop. "Pardon me—what is your name again?"
"Ah, yes. May I call you Miss Brown? Uh—Miss Brown, will you go find Mr. Jones—the man who introduced us? I want to see him at once.
"Or maybe I can go to him?" he quickly suggested.
"Oh, no, you can’t do that. I’ll go bring him here." She seemed a little afraid of her primitive. She added, more brightly; "I think I want to see him myself."
"Will you lend me that search-beam till you get back?"
She hesitated, as if she should not, then, pathetically eager to please him, she unstrapped and placed it about his left wrist. She’s beautiful, all right, he thought, as she fastened it on. Hair, and plenty of it. Thick and dark and tastefully drawn through that jeweled clasp at the nape of her neck. Those other women’s!
She tapped on the door, and it was opened by a brown-robed figure outside. For a moment she looked softly into Allison’s eyes, and then she was gone.
What had she meant by saying he had to marry "one of us"? Had to! Yes; Jones had plenty of explanations piling up.
The ethnologist sat on the edge of the cot and held up his wrist. What a marvel of ingenuity the little device was! Tentatively he turned the stem she had first touched. The dial glowed, then meaningless shadows appeared on it. The slightest movement of his body changed these shadows for new ones. He turned other stems and got what seemed to be a wall. Delicately he manipulated in the attempt to probe beyond. The blurred figure of a man appeared, came cleared, and then Allison got a shock. The image that lay on the glowing round dial was point for point his own.
In his amazement he moved, and the man was gone. Pulse throbbing, he fished him back. No doubt about it—the outlines were fuzzy, but the resemblance was there. All oversize, shoulders, head, proportions, clothing. Even the room he occupied was identical. He stood leaning against the wall, arms folded, looking in angry fashion straight ahead, and on his face was a short thatch of yellow beard.
Out of Allison’s unconscious came the memory he had had before. Interminable rows of doll faces. Each face his own face, and each one, somehow, himself.
Mystery lay all around him. Jones, so strangely in out of the night. His extraordinary offer. The sudden unconscious journey. The unknown out-world civilization that hemmed him in. The rows of doll faces with their freight of fear. This man who looked so like himself. What devil’s work could be under way?
There was movement on the glowing dial. The door of the room opened, and the man known as Jones entered, followed by a surgeon-like figure in white smock and helmet who pushed before him a rubber-wheeled table. At sight of them the man left the wall and advanced menacingly. They talked, and Jones’s manner was wholly conciliatory.
Then, suddenly, it was over. Jones stepped to the man’s side and touched him lightly on the shoulder with the palm of his hand. He slumped to the floor, from which in businesslike fashion he was picked up, laid on the table and wheeled out through the door.
Allison stared with amazement. It was the same trick that had been worked on him. The shoulder instead of the hand.
The men were gone from the dial. He set himself quickly to picking them up again. Angling his body slightly did it. They had paused outside the door.
They moved; grew blurred; he found a stem that brought them sharper again. He followed them down a square corridor into which many doors were set at equal distances on each side. As they progressed they dwindled to the size of match heads, but he found the way to make them larger. Other figures passed by, two in white smocks and helmets, others in colored gowns, their ugly heads fully exposed; and as Allison looked at them, his group was gone.
An anxious moment, then he found them. They were a little lower to one side, descending in an elevator. Lost them! Again his heart stood still while he felt them out. It was as if that unconscious man on the table—that man who so resembled him—were he himself. Where were they taking him? What was to be done with him, all unresisting?
There passed an interval during which a jumble of walls, shadows, people, strange apparatus, and blurs were all that came to his dial. Once, even, a conical green bush; or perhaps it was a tree. Then Allison by pure chance found his men again. An imposing picture lay on the dial when he had brought them to size and clarity. They stood waiting behind a low railing at one end of a large auditorium. Behind them, the other side of the railing, half a hundred rows of seats, laced by aisles, rose upward to the ceiling, and every seat was occupied by men and women of the strange race whose prisoner he was. In front of them, the focal point of every eye in that vast gathering, was a glittering cage, within which rested two chairs, meshed by wires together, and placed in front of a complicated battery of scientific apparatus whose nature Allison didn’t know.
QUICKLY, with perfect coordination, the ensuing scene took place. The table bearing the unconscious man was wheeled within the cage, and he was removed and made to sit upright in one of the chairs. At the same time a woman of the race, escorted by an official, entered the space within the railing from a doorway to the right and was conducted to the other chair. She was touched, palm on shoulder, by Jones, and immediately slumped back unconscious. Metallic headbands attached to the chairs were fastened about their foreheads. Then all left the cage and the door was closed.
Jones went to a large panel to one side and threw a switch, and for one instant a glow of varicolored light flooded the cage. When it had died he and the others reentered, freed the two subjects, and, in a way Allison could not catch, revived them. Then the handsome young man with the blond hair and the ugly woman with the fringed bald head and corrugated brow proceeded out of the cage to a small desk by the railing, where they stopped, looked deeply at each other, and in full view of the assembled thousands kissed each other ardently on the mouth.
Idols of Pluto! Allison was flabbergasted, but, more than that, he was nauseated. For that blond young man who so disturbingly resembled him was subtly, somehow, himself. He, too, felt he had kissed that woman.
For a moment he could not look, and when he did he found the actors gone. The audience, however, remained, and most of them were smiling. What could it all mean?
The ethnologist let his wrist fall, brushed his forehead, tried to consider. Should he confront Jones with this new knowledge when he saw him? If he were slated to figure in such proceedings himself, it would surely be as scientist rather than subject. And just as surely, in spite of his subconscious feeling of oppression, the man he had been following could have no relation to him.
Speaking out to Jones would get the girl in trouble.
As he was thinking, the man himself entered in his quick and quiet way. Allison rose, with care keeping his left wrist to his side.
"Doctor Allison," the out-worlder said without preamble, "may I ask if you feel any—uh—sentimental inclination toward the young lady I introduced you to?"
"It happens I do not," the ethnologist answered sharply. The question irritated him. "May I in turn ask when I’m to be allowed to leave this room?" he asked.
The other made an appealing gesture. "Please," he said, "you’ve only just regained consciousness." He made a promise. "I’ll see to it that you leave within fifteen minutes."
"It would seem that my arrival is of not quite the importance you led me to anticipate," Allison said with bitterness.
The out-worlder smiled inscrutably. "On the contrary," he objected, "it is. You’ve caused a tremendous excitement. Thousands are now busy with the preparations to receive you."
Was he alluding to anything in connection with the scene in the auditorium? How could he sound him without betraying the girl? There seemed no way.
"Exactly what is the nature of this service you’ve asked me to render?" he asked at last.
The other was at the door. "I’ll tell you when I come back," Jones promised. "But I might say, for the time being, that it is of vital importance to the fecundity of our race."
And with these cryptic words, before Allison could recover, Jones was gone.
SITTING on the cot, Allison tried to bring to order his scattered thoughts. He felt his position grew moment by moment more dangerous, but why, it was difficult to discover. Jones had as yet made no overt act, nor had he done anything that might be construed as contrary to their agreement. The fellow was not very likable, but then he was an outworlder, of unpleasant face and figure, and Allison well knew how wrong superficial estimates of such characters were apt to be. He had always acted friendly, even if he was a trifle—to him—high-handed and abrupt. The girl could not be charged against him, for she was acting largely on her own. Allison rather liked her, anyway. She was a credit.
What else was there? Well, the scene he had witnessed by means of the search-beam. But in itself that was only interesting and amusing, except, perhaps, to the blond chap concerned. It was just the confusion of the fellow’s resemblance to himself that summoned those nameless fears. He could conclude that somebody, very much like himself, had simply undergone some sort of scientific ceremony ending with a kiss.
But that was not a ceremonial kiss —it was shamelessly ardent. Could there be love—mating—between two such opposites? A wedding, perhaps, since it was public.
A wedding! Jones’s last words, anent his "service," still rang in his ears. "It is of vital importance to the fecundity of our race." No forced marriage of his to one of those top-heavy heads—even to Miss Brown—would have any effect on that.
Another remark of Jones. His "service" had to do with "applied and very, very practical ethnology."
The worst was certainly those interminable rows of doll faces. He could never have actually seen them, surely; they would have to be symbols of the unconscious, standing for something else. But what else?
And why the resemblance of that young fellow to himself—and, therefore, to the doll faces? That could not be coincidence.
Allison gave it up. He knew only that a nameless oppression sat on his heart, and that he, who had seldom been afraid, was now afraid.
He was roused by a light knock on the door. He rose; Miss Brown entered; and some one in brown closed the door behind her. She was smiling radiantly and held in her hands a curious fruit something like a very large soft-skinned sapodilla.
"Eat it," she said. "It is very nourishing and very good."
Allison thanked her, broke it and gave her half. He found it good indeed. He had not realized he was so hungry. She watched him with an expression of joy that would not come off.
"Why do you smile so?" he asked. "You weren’t feeling so cheerful when you left."
She laughed and shook her head, and would not tell him.
"You’ll find out!" she promised.
Something occurred to Allison, and he sat on the cot and pulled the girl gently down by his side. The watch-like search-beam was still adjusted to the auditorium, and he turned his wrist delicately in various directions till he found it again.
"What is that place?" he asked.
She gave him a look of fright. "Please don’t ask!" she begged. "I can’t tell you! I—I’ll get in awful trouble!"
She nodded. He debated whether to ask her the explanation of what he had witnessed and decided it was useless. He peered into the dial of the instrument. Her soft hand came to take it away, but he guarded it with his own and kept on looking.
He touched a stem, and the picture came clearer. The audience was there as before, and the space within the railing empty; but, as he watched, two familiar figures entered from a doorway on the left, and between them rolled a third on the wheeled table. Jones and his surgeon-like accessory were bringing in another victim.
The girl reached forth her hand again. "Please don’t!" she pleaded softly. "I shouldn’t have let you have it, only—only—"
"In a minute!" he cried irritably, keeping her hand away.
The figures had started for the cage. As before, the man was placed in one chair and a native woman, promptly entering, in the other. She was anesthetized, and both were fitted with the headbands. Then all left. Jones pulled the switch, and there was the expected burst of varicolored light.
Allison kept his eyes glued to the man, unable to make him out through the glass, fearful, deep down, of what he might see. Jones and the others reentered the cage. The man and woman were revived; freed, went out; and far away in his little room in the building Allison started with shock. The man who had emerged, the man who even then was kissing ardently that ugly woman—he, too, looked like himself.
Prickles of fear ran all over the Earthman’s body. "Who was that man?" he demanded of the girl. "Who was it?" he repeated, roughly grasping her arms.
She shook her head and sobbed out she dared not tell. He let her go; rose and paced about the room.
After a little she came to him. "Don’t be mad with me," she pleaded softly. "I’ll tell you some of it—a little." She paused, gathering courage, then said: "That instrument’s the way we make people fall in love with each other here. It does something in their heads."
Allison stood still, struck with amazement at her words. She pulled his sleeve; took his hands.
"Arthur," she said tenderly. "Arthur." He looked down at her. "Don’t be mad," she went on, smiling a little, but we will marry. You will love me. I just arranged it with Mr. Jones. He’s coming up for us next. Though I didn’t have to be made to fall in love with you. Arthur—aren’t you listening? We’ll be so happy, and then you won’t have to marry one of those ugly other women, and then you’ll never want to go back to your horrid Earth! Never!"
FOR SOME time Allison looked at her; then he freed his hands and turned toward the door. "Sister, I’m checking out!"
She suspected what he meant. "What are you going to do?" she cried. "You can’t go away! Mr. Jones won’t let you!"
"Miss 891-X, you’ve no idea how good I am at handling guys like that. I’m a primitive, you know."
He felt worlds better, already. It was the waiting, a helpless prisoner facing the unknown, that had got him so down before. Now he had made a decision, and the promise of action, even of conflict, tuned him to his old accustomed pitch.
But the girl would fight to keep him. She threw herself on his chest and begged and pleaded.
"But Arthur," she said, "you’ll like it after you’re changed. You’ll never know any difference, except that you’ll love me. Don’t you see?"
He held her off. "Miss Brown, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to like to be any other way than I am now. You go down to that damn machine; get ’em to make you fall in love with some nice local boy." °
A noise was heard at the door. At once he jumped and wedged his body behind it. "Hide! Here they are!" he whispered. "Quick! Under the bed! There may be trouble."
Trembling, the girl obeyed. Allison stepped back. Jones entered, and his hooded assistant followed with the wheeled table and closed the door.
The ethnologist wasted no time. "Jones," he said, "it’s all off. You will kindly arrange to send me back to Earth."
The out-worlder showed less surprise than Allison expected.
"But my dear Doctor Allison," he objected, "you can’t mean to change your mind now. You are here; thousands of our scientists are assembled; we’ve come even now to conduct you to the place where your service is to begin."
He drew close. Allison turned a little, and watched him like a hawk. Jones continued, soothingly :
"Your trepidations are natural, but in a few minutes you’ll be laughing at yourself for ever having entertained them. You just see."
He raised his right hand to clap Allison in good-fellow manner on the shoulder, but the pat never landed. Quick as a cat the Earthman wheeled and caught his wrist. The man, surprised, persisted, and he was strong; but Allison was stronger, and, clasping his left arm about the other’s body, putting all his power behind short, savage jabs, he forced the hand back in toward its owner’s chest.
"Take—some of—your own—medicine—doctor!"
The hand turned, and without a word Jones slumped to the floor, unconscious.
At once Allison was leaping toward the assistant, and before the fellow knew what had happened he lay sprawling on the floor beside the other. Harmless as he had seemed, the ethnologist took no chances. He reached for the relaxed right arm of Jones and pressed its palm into the prone man’s arm. He went limp immediately. Allison rose.
"Act two," he said. "And two curtains."
He looked under the cot and laughed to see the way the wide-eyed girl there was trembling.
"Come out, Miss 23—PDQ," he said. "The war’s over."
She pushed out and stood up. He went and knelt over Jones. "Ingenious little weapons you have hereabouts," he commented. A thin, rubberish sack lay flat in the man’s palm, and from it led a tube to a short, hollow-tipped needle placed projecting from the lower end of the heel, just out of reach of the fingers. The instrument stuck there of itself. He pulled it off and placed it in his own right palm.
"They’ll kill you!" the girl said, tears in her eyes.
"I hope not," he answered lightly. "I’ll be moving pretty fast." He laughed. "You should know how I escaped from the Mutrantian Titans!
"Is anybody outside that door?" he asked, pointing.
He went to it, took position on one side and knocked. The door opened slightly, and a hand, wrist, and sleeve showed. Allison touched the hand with the heel of his right palm —and pulled an unconscious, white-clad attendant into the room. He laid him neatly by the others and looked again at the needle.
"Aye, ingenious!" he said.
"How are you going to get away?" the girl asked.
For answer, he queried: "Where’s your space port?"
"Oh, it’s way over on the other side of the city. They’d catch you." "Do you have air-cars?"
"Where can I get one? On the roof, maybe?"
"Yes," she said reluctantly. "There are stairs down the hall," she added, indicating.
This looked promising. Allison was sure he could work anything that could fly.
He searched the three men, finding no weapon; then, suggesting that Miss Brown turn her back, he exchanged clothes with the assistant in white. The helmet was much too large, but he remedied that by padding it with a strip torn off the hem of the attendant’s robe.
With this in hand he stood for a moment before the slender girl. He remembered the search-beam; removed it and strapped it again on her wrist. She had remained surprisingly passive.
"You must get out of here!" he warned her. Her eyes were full of tears.
He took her in his arms and kissed her lips. "Good-by, little one," he murmured. "Good, good luck to you!"
He put on the helmet. Only his square shoulders might give him away outside. He would depress them as much as possible. He stepped to the partly opened door —and then at last she spoke.
"Oh, Arthur," she cried, "be careful! Get safe away! But don’t forget me! Come back to me some day, if you call! I’ll be here always, waiting!"
Allison squeezed her hand, then turned and went out. Sweet girl, he thought. He liked her very much.
ONLY ONE man was in sight, a man in brown like one Allison had overcome, and he was approaching along the way Allison himself had to go. Walking rapidly, eyes straight ahead, he passed him without attracting attention.
The corridor was of the kind he had seen with the search-beam. Scores of doorways, identical with the one he had left, lined both its sides. Ahead might be the elevator, if he was headed in the right direction.
He was; and he came to it quickly —and had there a bad moment. On drawing abreast, the car came level with his floor, and off stepped two men clad like himself, trundling another wheeled table between them. One called after him a barbarous-sounding phrase, but he continued on, affecting not to hear. An open spiral staircase showed at his left, and with relief he turned in and started up. He would like to have run, but did not dare. He might meet some one.
As he climbed he wondered how many poor victims were being taken unconscious to that scientific hymeneal altar. Those fellows had enjoyed their marriage kiss! In his mind he could hear them at their love-making. "How brightly shine the stars on your incomparable scalp to-night!" "How lovely that line where your lips kiss your neck!" Ugh!
He shuddered and climbed faster, passed the landing next above, and continued up to where a closed door barred his way. He opened it, stepped through, and found himself on the roof.
It was daylight, and a small sun shone warmly. Blinking in its sudden glare, he made out that he was in the middle of a large flat open area floored with pink marble. In several scattered places were other roof doors like the one he had emerged from, and straight ahead stood a row of transparent objects that had to be the air-cars. One massive-headed man in purple was loitering near them, but he was the only person in sight. Allison strode casually over to the nearest car, studying it closely as he went.
It, like the others, was small, hardly five feet high, with open sides and streamlined shells of a stuff like glass, front and back. Within was one wide seat, in front of which were three control levers which led to a boxed space below. It rested on three splayed legs. And that was all there was. No motive device was apparent, and there were no wings or vanes whatever.
Allison was not pleased to have a witness to his first flight, but he stepped into the nearest car without hesitation and gingerly raised the lever he guessed would be the elevator. The car lifted. Slight pulls on another lever turned the nose of his craft, and the third gave forward velocity. It was extremely simple. A glance at the man below showed that he wasn’t even looking. Boldly, now, Allison ordered the controls, and within a minute he was climbing silently a hundred feet above the edge of the roof to where other air-cars like elongated soap bubbles were scattered through the sky above.
Below, and shrinking as he climbed, lay a beautiful city. Broad ribbons of white streets stretched away to all sides, and within them lay low, curved, and angled buildings, each its own delicate pastel tint. Greens, blues, yellows, and purples, octagons of pink, and open green plazas everywhere between. It was not large, but it was such a place as modern architects back on Earth were still dreaming of.
On the far side should be the space port, according to the poor little girl of the numbers. Allison anxiously searched, but could spot nothing that looked like one—no great open place sprinkled with silver ovaloids that would be the ships. There was one silver shape well off on the right, but it was far too big for a space ship, he told himself. Still, he’d have a look. He turned his car and speeded up.
As he drew closer he saw that it was a ship, and, to his astonishment, that he knew it. It was the one belonging to the Mutrantian Titans. Two years before, Earth, in making overtures for the friendship of Saturn’s somewhat backward Satellite Three, had caused to be made and presented as a gift to its government a space ship of tremendous size after the famous RV-3 model, so popular with her own private owners. The ship below was unmistakably that model, and, from its size, could only be the one presented to the Mutrantians.
What could its presence here mean? Were some of the Titans, like himself, here as instruments in the schemes of the ultra-scientists?
Allison reached the ship and hovered high overhead. She lay alone in a large circular area, bare except for several scattered rows of long, buff-colored buildings with rounded tops. This was the space port after all; the buildings were hangars, and their local craft must all be housed inside. He lowered, circled, studied that bit of terrain. Everything depended on the raid he was about to make. How should he go about it? The scene was peaceful enough in appearance, and he could not at his altitude make out a single figure; but he had a great respect for the danger potential of a people so advanced in science.
What were the space ships inside those hangars like? Had he not been a bit too cocky in his assurance that he could navigate one? They might operate by entirely different principles from those he was familiar with—like the air-car he was in, for instance. He might stand like a child before an atomic engine in the presence of their motivating device.
As he hesitated, a preposterous idea invaded his mind. He rejected it at once, but it returned, and soon, as he faced it, he began to glow with the possibilities. Why not try for the Mutrantian ship? He was at least thoroughly familiar with it, and its operation was automatic in flight and foolproof. The one great problem was the matter of size. The ship had been made to a scale ten times that of the Earthmen’s, and that meant that such a comparative midget as he might face extraordinary difficulties making the trip in it.
In the cool stillness five thousand feet in the air Allison laughed. He had the answer for that. It would be the Titan ship, by all means. He much preferred it, now.
But first he had to get it, and that might not be so easy. Especially if one of the Titans was inside. He lowered the elevating lever and dropped cleanly down.
AT THREE thousand feet, even at one, no guard or other field attendant showed. The port looked deserted. "I can make a pretty good guess why," Allison told himself with a grin. "Big reception over in town. Thousands getting ready for the appearance of one Doctor Arthur Allison, pick of Earth!
"Earth’s dumb-bells!" he corrected.
He lowered still more; hovered motionless fifty feet over the mammoth length of silver. A fifth of a mile, it lay stretched out. It was three hundred feet in the beam.
He set his ship in a glide down and around the gently curving flank. The ground rose to meet him; the side turned sheer. He saw that the midship port was open. A gangway from the field reached up and touched its lower lip.
There was still no sign of any one about. He lowered his car to the yawning forty-foot-wide cavern; peered; turned his ship and nosed through. Beyond the port lock, seventy feet within, he sunk to a landing and stepped out.
He was within, but not safe. There might be a Mutrantian, or a guard. He would have to reconnoiter.
For ten minutes he disappeared into the dark bowels of the ship, and when he emerged he was dragging the limp form of a man, whom he placed on the top of the gangway. There had been a guard.
A few seconds later he had returned to his car and ascended the forward wall. Faintly, he saw what he wanted. Hovering motionless, he reached out and pushed hard on two buttons the size of saucers. Behind him the two massive lock doors knifed closed, enveloping him within pitch darkness.
Then, with extreme of caution, foot by foot, he directed his car ahead. After a little he turned right, toward where a dim light came from the control room, far up in the nose of the ship. More rapidly now he proceeded, through the long, longitudinal passageway and into the Gargantuan reach of wanly lighted control room. He climbed higher, and aimed for the panel of huge disks that were the control buttons.
Hovering by their side, he reached out and pushed at three he knew.
The floor started rapidly to rise. The ship was lifting. With all the skill he had, he met the floor.
ALLISON did not gloat at his luck in getting off, for it was far from certain that he would be able to win clear. Thousands of people would see the ship rise, and that might bring quick action. He had no idea what the offensive weapons of the natives might be. At the worse, they might bring him down with some destroying ray; but he counted on their not doing that. He was supposed to be a valuable property, and they unquestionably would want to take him alive. He could afford to chance their powers.
In his comparatively diminutive size, and faced by the danger of quick discovery, it had been impossible to investigate the stores of the ship before taking off, but in this he did not take so great a chance as may be thought. There were, primarily, only the factors of air, temperature, food, water, starting power, and navigation, and in all of these the probabilities were in his favor.
He was so tiny that there should be enough air in the craft to last him for a long trip even if the air-renewers were idle. The temperature was maintained automatically. As for food and water, the ship would at least have the "iron rations" and reserve tanks of water which interplanetary flying regulations required ships at all times to carry against emergency.
That the ship had the necessary starting power was already proved by the fact that She had lifted and her acceleration was being maintained. She was of the more recent type that utilized solar rays in transit, and there was therefore no concern over energy once she had got out into the airless void where the sun’s rays shone always burning hot. Navigation was all but automatic and would not concern him until he was sure he was out of the atmosphere.
His immediate concern was light, and to get it he would use the unusual tool provided to his hand—the air-car. It would be a space ship within a space ship. It would serve him for the transportation. He laughed at his audacity in having thought of it.
Carefully he took off, and rose into the dangerous dimness that enveloped him on all sides. One error with the controls and he might dash into a wall, or the ceiling, and the end of his career as a scientist-adventurer would be a hundred-foot fall to the floor of what would turn out to be his coffin. He knew about where the switch was, but the multiplied height and the darkness made finding it critical. It was necessary to control his air-car with one hand while he felt with the other over the surface of the wall.
It took a little time, but eventually he found it. Using all his strength, he turned it on.
At sight of the vast control room under full light lie got a new sense of his audacity—and his insignificance. Around him stretched a chamber three hundred feet long, and fully two thirds that in width and height. He had lived with the Mutrantians, and so had experience with interiors multiplied in size, but these dimensions for the control room of a space ship took his breath away. The chart table alone reached thirty feet up from the floor. Only an air-car would so much as enable him to get around.
He decided to investigate the food situation while the ship was getting out of the atmosphere. Carefully turning his car, the ethnologist glided down to within- ten feet of the floor, and from that height skimmed back through the doorway into the corridor, where he came to a stop amidships, on the port side, in front of the galley door.
Here, for the first time, he had trouble. The door was closed, and there was the job of opening it. He found the handle, a curved, thick, iron bar more than a yard long, without difficulty, but all the strength of his right arm would not serve to lift it. He rested a moment and thought it over. Any tools he might find up in the tool locker would be far too heavy for him to work with from the car, so he decided to use the car itself.
Delicately maneuvering, he got the knobbed end of the handle hooked over the footboard of his car. Then, ready, he raised the elevator control of the car and at the same time directed its nose hard inward. The handle lifted and the door opened.
"Problem and solution," he thought, pleased, pushing the door back with the nose of his craft as elephants were used to push circus freight cars around. Allison prided himself on his capacity to solve problems.
Inside, there was again the need of finding the light switch, and this time, the room being in pitch darkness, he had far more trouble; but at length he found it and turned it on. No fresh provisions were in evidence anywhere; so he skimmed across to the row of gigantic lockers where canned food and water should be found.
EVERY locker was closed, so once more Allison used the car to pry up one of the handles, this time pulling, instead of pushing. He found this harder—and more dangerous. For as the door started slowly open under the force he was exerting, the end of the handle slipped off the floor board and he suddenly found himself hurtling at dizzying speed into the opposite wall. Only in the nick of time did he cut his controls and zoom, to lose momentum at the ceiling.
"Phew!" he exclaimed. He realized that he was getting dull and tired. He could not have come out of that long period of enforced unconsciousness with much reserve of strength.
He glided down to the locker and looked in. There were the cans, just as in the Earthmen’s ships—rows and rows of giant tin containers, stacked a hundred feet to the ceiling. Synthetic food tablets, all of one kind, from the labels in English.
With more care he opened the locker adjoining and found there similar cans of water. He felt considerably relieved. He was certain, at least, to eat and drink.
He now flew back to the main cabin for the one last thing to be done. The ship until then had been flying outward blindly; it remained for him to set it on its course for Earth. He climbed his little craft over to the great chart table to the forward end of the room where were the banks of dials and the rows of colored buttons whereby the ship was controlled.
A glance at a dial half as large as his ship showed a negligible amount of air outside, so he advanced thirty feet to hover like a humming bird in front of a green button with a large 3 on its face, and, feeling a little sentimental, reached out and pushed it in. Farther on he pushed in another, which would give him the ship’s maximum acceleration. Then he glided to a landing on the immense flat top of the chart table and sat down. The rest was up to the ship’s automatic navigator.
It was equal to the job. Its ultra-sensitive receivers picked up and identified every major planetary body in the solar system and sent the information through an overlapping labyrinth of seventy-two circuits where every navigation factor of location, spacial relation, planetary gravital pulls, ship’s speed and acceleration and deceleration, planetary speeds and orbits, ship’s destination, and so forth, were second by second electrically arranged and coordinated into the necessary resultant course; and it put the ship on that course, and corrected infinitesimal strayings, and would without attention start deceleration at the proper time, and bring the ship gently to ground in a place reserved for it in Earth’s great space port at New York. All that Allison had to do, therefore, was set the buttons for destination and acceleration.
The ethnologist was tired and lay down where he was. He had done all that was possible. If his enemies followed and took steps to destroy him, it was too bad, but there was nothing he could do about it. This was a private ship and was equipped with no defensive screens or ray batteries.
At that, death was preferable to life with his normal instincts so altered by their devilish ingenuity that he would be a happy slave to them for the rest of his days. A man had an inalienable right to his own personality, and as a free citizen of the Federation of Earth he was never going to submit to having his taken away. Miss Brown wasn’t so bad, but what if they were to marry him to one of those chinless damsels? What of his career in ethnology, so brilliantly started?
Well, the outcome was now in the hands of the gods.
He was surprised at how fatigued he was. He was hungry and thirsty, too, but he’d have to attend to that later; he hadn’t strength just now to undertake the task of getting stuff out of those gigantic tins; or even to go back in the darkness of the stern and seek out one of the mammoth beds that would be there. He would sleep where he was.
He did sleep, a bearded doll on the chart table thirty feet up off the floor. He was almost the length of the sharp-pointed dividers a dozen yards away, and against the ruler that lay by his side he measured exactly six inches.
ALLISON awoke stiff and aching but refreshed, and in high good humor. He seemed to have slept for some time and was not yet burned to a cinder by a heat-ray, or dissolved into nothingness by a disintegrator; the solar motors of the ship were whining faintly but evenly; and before him stretched an adventure such as no man had ever had before.
He was going home. He was going to arrive safely. And he was going to descend spectacularly, in the greatest space ship ever built, with a story that would set three thousand million tongues a-wagging, and with a marvelous little air-car whose motive power was a mystery that all the physichemists of Earth would pounce happily on until they had its secret unraveled for Earth’s own use.
And on the way he would have the pleasure of meeting, with his wits, all the bizarre problems which his discrepancy to the size of the ship would bring.
Buoyantly he jumped into his air-car and guided it to the galley; a drink first, and then food. But the water tins were twelve feet high, of tough, thick metal, sealed tight, and must have weighed, each one, several tons. Here was his first problem. The best solution lay in melting his way in with a hand heat-ray. He found one, a cylinder eight feet long and two thick, in one of the control-room tool lockers, after he had lifted up its lid with the help of his car.
With lengths of rope he found there, and again aided by the lifting power of his car, he got the heat-ray out of the box and into the middle of the galley floor. Next problem: how to get it aimed at the top edge of the bottom tin in one of the stacks. He flew back to the tool box and brought back, slung underneath, a seven-foot file. Then, changing the ropes to the heat-ray again, he lifted it to rest on the file; and after many trials, and getting out of his car each time to sight along the cylinder, he got it at approximately the angle he wanted.
He had taken pains to leave the push-button switch facing upward, and now he vaulted to a seat on the rear end of the cylinder and worked his way up to it. When he got there he pushed to his feet and stepped on it with all his weight.
A thin pinkish beam speared out, and a glow appeared on the side of the tin, a little lower than he had wanted. In seconds the metal melted, and before Allison could remove his foot a geyser of steam and scalding water shot out, spattering the floor in all directions. Some of it hit his arm, burning him painfully even through the sleeve, and causing him to lose his balance and slip to the floor.
The heat over there was terrific, but when the water in the tin had cooled, he would be able to get a drink. He smiled, a little grimly. Opening that tin had taken three hours.
While it was cooling he repeated the process on a tin of synthetic food in the locker adjoining, this time stepping briefly on and off the button several times, until he saw that the hole had been made.
This took another hour. And still he couldn’t approach the lockers. He wiped his forehead and sat down to wait. He was exhausted with his exertions and faint from lack of food. It was not quite the lark he had anticipated, pitting his wits against the problems that arose from his comparative lack of size.
The little air-car might have meant the difference between life and death. He had called on it heavily for many hours, and had no means of knowing how much longer it would function without its energy giving out. Hereafter, he decided, he would use it as little as possible.
He lay back, and before he knew it was asleep. When he awoke he found the tins cooled, and ate and drank, and then slept some more. And when he awoke for the third time the long, deadly monotonous routine of his journey began.
THERE WAS nothing to do. The navigation of the ship was entirely automatic, so Allison could have no concern in that. The two tins he had opened had provided him with food and water that would last many times the probable duration of his trip back home. It was highly concentrated, predigested stuff, so that no time could be expended in its preparation. He had no duties. There were nowhere any books which might afford an opportunity for reading or translation.
Even the solar engine, the automatic navigator, and other machinery were locked inaccessibly in the spaces above the ceiling and below the floor, so he could not watch and study them. Had he dared to use the air-car as much as he wanted, he might in time have opened almost every door, locker, and cubby in the space ship ; but many of them, including the radio cubby, were locked, and a few others stubborn, so their contents, if any, could not be reached. Only too well had the big ship been cleaned and all accessories put away after the Mutrantian’s arrival at that land of mystery.
Men can spend their time sleeping, eating, working, and in recreation. Allison slept all he could; stretched out his meals of sandy, tasteless food tablets as long as he could. He made a bed under the chart table out of one of the coarse sheets from a Mutrantian bunk.
He started a complicated mechanism which would enable him to hang suspended before the eyepiece of the telescope which gave vision of the outside, and from there manipulate its controls, some of them thirty feet away—to stop when it became apparent that it would take far longer than the duration of his journey to finish it. And also he, for four or five hours each day, continued his monograph on the Mutrantian Titans by scratching the words laboriously on the floor of the control room with the points of the hundred-pound dividers left on the chart table.
For the rest of the time he prowled about the floor of the ship, investigating every corner like a rat without a hole. A toy man in those spaces, he skulked about ; ran, to keep in condition; paced up and down, integrating ethnological data stored in his memory. And dreamed of the day when the ship would alight on the welcome bosom of Earth, and he’d be freed of the intolerable burden of life under the handicap of surroundings so colossal.
Days passed so, and weeks. The ship had long since been decelerating. The desire to get back into normal surroundings became an obsession in his mind. To sit at a table again! Friendly faces on the other side! Food, real food! And books, and work, and the theater, and human voices, and spring beds, and tools that would fit the hand, and things that he could lift! Mobility!
Sometimes he thought of the crowded events of the few short hours in the strange civilization left behind. Jones. The beautiful girl of the numbers. She had really loved him. He hoped she had not got in trouble.
Sometimes his thoughts were darker. Those two men—should he have made some wild quixotic attempt at their rescue?
Perhaps there were yet others locked in those rooms.
Why did those men so resemble him? And why that still-recurring image of the doll faces? Interminable rows of them. Each one with his own face, and each one, somehow, himself!
Now he would never know.
He was sitting thinking these thoughts in a corner of the control room one day when a jar, accompanied by a dull rumble, went over the ship, and her motors stopped. Allison sprang to his feet. He had landed! The journey was over! The great ship had brought him back at last to Earth!
He ran to his little air-car, parked under the telescope mounting, and jumped inside. He would give his welcomers a surprise. He would open the port doors and skim nonchalantly out over their heads. Within seconds he was gliding down the corridor and turning left along the transverse passage to where the port-lock buttons were located.
He pushed them, inner and outer in turn, and the huge metal doors slid back. Outside it was night, but a bright light flooded the wide opening. Fifty feet in the air, far above the heads of those who would be waiting, he skimmed out.
But he never received the welcome he expected. A titanic figure stepped forth and blocked his way; a hand eight feet across stabbed out and grabbed his little car ; a thumb and forefinger that were colossal reached in and plucked him out.
For a second he was carried in dizzying flight through the air—and then he was dropped lightly into a Gargantuan side coat pocket.
ALLISON was stunned. All he could think was that he had landed on Saturn’s Satellite Three and was again in the hands of the Mutrantian Titans. The ship, not obeying the button marked 3, had taken him back to the land where it was owned. He was in the hands of the enemy; they’d not forget the damage he had done in his spectacular escape from them a few months before.
Tears of rage filled his eyes, that the long difficult journey had come to this. He had apparently been expected, and was being taken even now to the place where revenge would be taken. Out of the frying pan! He knew the Mutrantians.
He could hardly hope to escape again, but the instinct for self-preservation was strong, and he set about seeing what might be done. The pocket he was in was deep; his upraised hands did not come within two feet of the top. But he thought he could make it. Grasping the canvas-like stuff he pulled himself up, inch by inch, until he got a grasp on the top edge, and then, straining mightily in the close press of the folds about him, he pulled himself up and got his arms hooked over, beneath the flap.
No sooner was he there than there came a stunning pressure through the flap, and he was shaken violently back down.
For a while he rested; and then, more quietly, he repeated the attempt. But the Titan was on his guard and again, more roughly, he was shaken down.
Only now, for the first time, did panic sweep over him. As best he could he controlled his feelings and considered what to do. But what could any one do, with his insignificant size in that extraordinary position? He was being carried half a hundred feet from the ground; even if he could get out of the pocket, how could he hope to get down and away? With a knife he might do some minor damage to the Titan and then try to cut his way out—but his knife was gone. He had searched himself a dozen times on the space ship, for to have had one then would have saved him many hours of toil; but all his pocket things had been removed while he was unconscious.
Nevertheless, almost automatically, by old habit, he started the search—and at what he found hope sprang to his heart and his nerves keyed to new possibilities. He still had the hypodermic. For the whole of the trip the little sack and needle, unneeded, had lain wrapped in a piece of bedding in his pocket. Carefully he got it out and uncovered it. It seemed in good order.
If only it would have effect on a creature so large!
He attached it in his palm. He could not use it as he was, for the coat pocket was swinging free from the Titan’s body, and its tiny needle would never reach. He would have to bring his carrier’s hand to the pocket, as before.
To do it he set up a terrific commotion in the narrow space where he was. He bent and sprang and kicked and flung his arms about violently—and, as he had expected, from the other side of the pocket came a smothering pressure. Now was the time! Violently twisting his right arm free, he plunged its palm three times with all the strength he had at the nearest place the canvas pressed inward. At once the pressure from outside was removed; he had the sensation of falling, upsupported; and with a terrific jolt he came to a dead stop, dazed, bruised, and almost smothered.
He twisted free of the cloth against his face and rested, listening. There was no sign of motion, now. Cautiously, then, he squirmed his way up to the top of the pocket and got out.
He saw that he had brought the giant down on the sidewalk of an immense, deserted street—and, to his dismay, that he was lying on his left side, on top of the pocket which he had counted on to contain the air-car. Not having it would greatly lessen his chances of getting away; but there was nothing to be done about salvaging it. He could only set out on foot and travel as great a distance as possible before the unconscious Titan came to, or was discovered. His objective would be the space ship he had just left, for only that ship offered a way to get free of the planet.
From the Titan’s position Allison could tell the direction he had been going, and without further delay he started running back in the other direction.
The street he was on was of fabulous proportions, and in spite of his former experiences among the Mutrantians he took in his surroundings with awe. The street, from curb to curb, was over one hundred and fifty yards in width, and the sidewalk he was on not less than fifty. On his side, hundreds of yards into the sky, towered one colossal building of many stories, and along the other was a hundred-foot fence, all of wooden planks ten feet wide. Electric street lamps shone like fixed star-shells at long intervals down the street to where, half a mile away, shone neon and other colored tubes marking an important intersection.
Allison slowed down to a walk. A hundred yards ahead loomed the glass-and-metal canopy before the entrance of the great house he was passing, and just to one side, already outlining him in its powerful rays, was a street lamp. That meant danger. His safest course would be to get down into the street and pass by close to the curb.
He crossed to the edge of the pavement and looked down. It was an eight-foot drop.
Sitting first, then turning and holding by his hands, he lowered himself over the stone ledge and dropped to the street. From there, hugging close to the sheltering curb wall, he passed safely under the light and beyond in one long sprint; but as he slowed to a walk he began to worry how he ever would be able to cross the street he was coming to. If he had only been able to get his air-car!
TWO EYES of fire turned Allison’s way in the distance and quickly grew to alarming proportions. Could they belong to some gigantic animal? He tried to scramble up over the curb onto the pavement; but it was too high, and, paralyzed by fear, he crouched low at its base, instead, and saw the eyes grow to the size of hogsheads, and grow and grow, devouring him with merciless light—till at the terrific speed of two hundred and fifty miles an hour they passed him with queer noises only twenty feet away, pulling him head over heels after in the wind displaced by their passage. As he picked himself up and looked back he saw a titanic bulk with one evil red eye diminish down the street.
That was strange. The Mutrantians had very few automobiles.
Anyhow, he had again been lucky. It had not stopped for—or seen—the Titan he had left unconscious behind.
He hurried on; alternated walking and running for a while. His victim might revive any second, for the tiny amount of fluid he had injected would hardly keep him under long, and he was still in his immediate vicinity.
As he approached the intersecting street he saw other autos pass by there, and the shape of them was several times familiar. A fear that would not down took possession of him, and goose-flesh rose all over his body as he hurried yet nearer. It was preposterous, it was too horribly fantastic, the fear he had; but there was no mistaking those body lines; and the glass-and-metal canopy before the entrance of the great house he still was passing—that, too, now that he thought of it, had looked familiar.
He was very close to the street now, and seeing a ten-foot piece of newspaper in his way he picked it up and placed it over his head. It seemed to him to be as heavy as stiff cardboard. Under cover of this, still hugging the protecting wall of the curb, he stole furtively nearer.
People were passing; colossi; but they wore the costumes of Earthmen! And the letters on that window high up way over there certainly looked like "Restaurant."
Heart in his throat, Allison ventured closer and closer to the corner. The legend did read restaurant; the passing autos were of American make; the very newspaper that was his camouflage bore printing in gigantic English! And up by the street lights were name plates such as he had seen a million times before—and the numbers on their faces told him that he was at Forty-ninth Street and First Avenue.
He was back on Earth. In the heart of New York City. Of a New York grown colossal, in every dimension, and that had left him and him only far down from normal size.
Or, more probable, it was his surroundings that were normal, and he reduced in size.
What had Jones done to him? Why? Why?
Stunned, stupid with shock, he stood there, until he came to full realization of his tragic plight. And then he sat down under his paper and cried.
Allison sat there in the gutter for a long time, and for a while went quite out of his mind. A few yards away the night traffic of a great metropolitan artery streamed up and down, while he, the only one of his size on Earth, sat utterly helpless and hopeless under the miserable sheet of wind-blown newspaper that alone hid his degradation from the eyes of his kind.
In gallant spirit he had taken up the out-worlder’s offer and trusted him. When it seemed that he was to be betrayed he had with high, clear courage won free; run that great space ship back to Earth; and only now was he to see that it had all been for worse than nothing. The irony was a knife in his heart; and his shame, in that mouse-like size, was unendurable.
The traffic thinned; store lights went out. The tears on the face of the miserable little atom under the paper dried away, and in their place came an expression of gaunt courage. Allison knew what he would do.
He would kill Jones.
That Jones would return for him, he had no doubts. He "knew too much," and the out-worlder would have either to recapture or destroy him. Already he had made the attempt—for who, other than some agent of his, could it have been that had kidnapped him from the space ship?
He would come to Allison’s laboratory, and Allison would be ready for him.
Until then, only two men would ever see him as he was—his best friend, Doctor Heiler, the physicist who occupied the other half of the top floor where he lived and worked at 301 W. 22nd Street, and his old college mate Jack Peyton, a struggling writer who lived around the corner from First Avenue on Fiftieth Street. Peyton would have to know in order to take him to Heiler, for alone he could never get to the house where he lived without discovery, or into Heiler’s quarters without great danger of running right into the out-worlder.
It would be extremely difficult to so much as get to Peyton. The short block he lived north, twenty to the Earthman’s mile, was over half a mile to him, and the night traffic along First Avenue, mainly trucks, was considerable. But Allison thought he could do it.
ALLISON waited a while longer under his newspaper camouflage, then, making a hole in the middle of it for his eyes, advanced cautiously under it to the great round curve which was the curb corner itself, and sneaked around. There were then few passers-by—only the trucks, titanic monsters that shook the ground under his feet as they appeared at terrific speed and passed in a discordant jangle of sounds quite unlike those heard by normal ears.
He walked at half speed and stopped still when, over the verge of the curb, he saw a pedestrian approach, or, down the street, a truck; and all that any one glancing his way might have seen was a sheet of old newspaper that occasional light gusts of wind was blowing along the gutter.
He could not keep his eyes where his feet were stepping, and several times he tripped and fell, once over a stone in his path, and again over a twisted package that had contained cigarettes. From time to time he reached a parked automobile, and then he would run until he reached its farther side. He found he was getting hungry; and, realizing what was yet before him, he at one place stopped with his paper over a banana peeling, lifted back, with an effort, one of its flaps, and ate briefly of the bit of pulpy fruit that remained in its end.
It took him exactly thirty-seven minutes to walk that short block north, and by the time he had rounded the curb wall on Fiftieth Street and seen the vast stretch that still lay ahead of him he was growing tired.
Peyton, being very poor, lived in one of the few old-fashioned cold-water tenement houses that remained in New York, a house on the north side of the street, with a stoop of half a dozen high brownstone steps. It being June, both doors should be open, and allow entrance into the dark, bare, smelly hall, halfway back, in which were steps which led upward, and which he would somehow have to climb to reach the second-story where his friend’s room was. As he remembered it, the house was about one third the long east-west block from the corner—nearly a mile, to him. He hoped devoutly he would be able to recognize it.
He crossed the hundred and fifty yards of street-width in one long sprint, and fetched up breathless on the other side. He got there just in time. A seventy-foot young man and a sixty-five foot young woman turned the corner and started west up the street. Under the street light, house-high over his head, he saw the man talking earnestly to the girl. Slowly, his great lips opened and closed; but no words could be heard. The vibration frequency of their tones was far too low for his tiny eardrums. Only low rumbles and a comic jabber of squeaks and squawks—overtones and errant noises made by imperfections in the vocal apparatus—reached his ears.
And it was all that would ever reach his ears. Unless Doctor Heiler could make some instrument—
He waited for the two to get well ahead. They were probably sweethearts, he reflected bitterly. How could there ever be love for him—a circus side-show freak, whose toy proportions could only arouse vulgar gawks from the many and pity from the few! He was very proud, and pity he would never be able to endure. Quite, quite alone, a ludicrous watch charm of a man, he would live, until that time when his one purpose in life was realized and he free to end the whole ironic jest forever.
He thought of the girl of the numbers. She had loved him. Somewhere in the solar system, in a place unknown and unattainable, she, a girl of his size, was perhaps thinking of him. She, alone of all others, held or could hold a place of warmth for him in her cheerful, lovely little heart.
He held on to that thought, for it was good.
But there was hard, bitter work ahead. He discarded his paper; walked and ran along the curb until lie came to the building which he recognized as his destination. The curb there was his own height, and with a jump and vigorous press-up he rolled over the edge onto the pavement. Above him the two house doors stood open, but between rose five steps, each eight feet high. Inside, up to the second floor, there would be a score more. How was he to get up them?
At his height of six inches he was exactly one seventeen hundred and twenty-eighth of his old self, and his strength was in proportion. He weighed one and one half ounces.
ALLISON needed a ladder. He would try to make one. It called for two upright stems at least six feet long; but less than three shorter pieces for rungs, and cord. He set about scouring the vicinity of the house for things that would serve. It was very dark, but he was so close to the ground that anything not black could be easily discerned.
Eighty yards from the southwest corner of the first step he found a fine long stick of straight tough stuff that would do for a rung. Its end was bulbous and charred. It was a used match.
One hundred and twenty yards farther, near the curb, he found another, a little shorter, and carried it back to the first, and both to the step. Ten minutes later, over the edge of the curb in the street, he saw no less than two, only a few yards apart. He went down over the side and lifted them up, then climbed back and carried them, one under each arm, over to the others. Four would be enough, for the rungs.
He still needed cord and uprights. He went forth and searched hard, but after fifteen minutes he had not found a thing. That pavement was kept all too clean.
He sat down a moment to rest. What might he reasonably hope to find for uprights among the trifling litter of normal-sized human beings? Nothing, that he could think of.
He fared forth again. Bending low, and sometimes feeling with his finger tips, he searched the gutter and pavements of an immense area extending as far as four houses away; and after one hour and twenty minutes he returned lugging three hairpins and one long length of dirty white rope—string, he once would have called it—after him.
It took all the strength he had to bend the hairpins to single length, and he might have failed altogether had he not been so fortunate to find a pretty good crevice angling slightly from the straight side of one of the blocks that made the pavement—a crevice that held securely to one side of the hairpin while he could apply leverage to the end of the other. In one of them, the shortest, he rebent a hook near one end.
Harbingers of dawn were streaking the eastern sky as at last he started getting his materials together. It did not take long. The one length of rope, since he had no means of cutting it, could be carried in turn to all the rungs on one side, and then around to all those on the other. When he finished he had a heavy ladder five feet high, with four rungs each one foot wide.
With an effort he carried and placed it against the first step. It lacked three feet of reaching the top, but he had arranged for that. Grasping the remaining shorter hairpin, lie climbed his ladder to the top, pushed the hairpin over the edge of the step above, and followed up after. Then, using the hook on the shorter hairpin, he pulled the ladder up after him.
He had climbed the first step.
In fifteen minutes he was in the open vestibule, dragging his hook and ladder after him in the long trip to mid-hall where the stairway to the upper floors was.
Allison was never to forget the weary time he had climbing that new set of steps. Already tired to exhaustion, he had for eighteen more times to go through with the back-breaking routine of climbing eight inches upward—pushing his hook up and over, before, and with it pulling his heavy ladder up, after. Daylight came on apace, and through the dirty window, halfway up, revealed him as a tiny purposeful doll in a long white dress. When the last step had been surmounted, Allison sat right down where he was for a moment of rest.
He needed it. His labors since leaving the space ship had been titanic, his emotions had taken their own heavy toll—and his metabolic rate was much higher in toy size than when normal.
He got up refreshed, but already a little stiff. It occurred to him that he might be able to make enough noise on Peyton’s door to rouse him from sleep; so, rather anxious, dragging his hook and ladder after him, he started down the long stretch of wooden planking to the rear, where his friend’s room opened off the left.
He arrived and knocked; then, suspecting that he had made pitifully little noise, he turned his back to the door and kicked hard with the heel of his shoe. There was no answer. As he had feared, he was unable to make himself heard.
The crack under the door, however, was almost an inch—a foot—in depth, and, with considerable relief, he found he was able to squeeze in under it. There was much more light on the other side. There was enough for him to see at once that the couch which served his friend for a bed was covered with its usual daytime cover and was unoccupied.
This was a major misfortune. He had never considered the possibility that his friend might not be there.
He dropped his hook and ladder on the floor and looked around. Two windows, one in the back wall and one, partly opened, on the left, showed up a dirty and disordered room. Along the right wall was the unoccupied couch; in front of the remaining one a sink and a four-foot cupboard on whose top rested a gas plate; and between the windows stood a chair and flimsy card table which Peyton used as a desk. These made up most of the furnishings of the room.
Allison walked over to the cupboard, the door of which stood slightly ajar. He was weak for food and hoped desperately that something loose might be lying around that he could eat. He was unable to pull the door open any farther, so he stepped right through the narrow opening above the one-foot board that formed its base.
There was nothing there. Only a row of canned goods—baked beans and salmon, in six-foot tins. How he hated the sight of tins! He disappeared around the side of one and rummaged in the back—and when he came into view again he held five, large stale crumbs in his left hand and was eating heartily from a six-inch piece of cheese in his right.
He had found a baited mousetrap. And food had never tasted so good.
Munching his cheese and gnawing with his side teeth one of the rock-hard crumbs he had found, he went over and sat down against one leg of the couch. His position was still precarious; chiefly in the matter of food. He had no air-car. What was he to do?
AS HE ATE and considered, Allison was suddenly aware of movement off under the far end of the couch to his right. Startled, he looked, and in the dimness he saw two unblinking eyes of yellow fire. It was Peyton’s cat. He had utterly forgotten that Peyton had a cat.
The hair rose on the back of his neck, and with one push he was on his feet. The cat at his movement bellied forward a few yards, a nerve-taut orange tiger, tail lashing. It was stalking him.
And he was fair prey. Only shoulder-high to the cat would he stand; he’d be but one fiftieth its weight. Lighter than a mouse.
He tried frantically to remember the cat’s name, but for the life of him he couldn’t. It bellied a little closer. Desperately he called out soothing cat talk; but words that at other times might have caused it to purr, now had absolutely no effect. It was preposterous! That cat had been his friend; he had petted it a score of times; and now in his helpless size it no longer knew him and was preparing to take his life. For all of his human brains, he, weaponless, would not fare even so well as a mouse.
With a thrill he remembered that he was not weaponless. Out came. Jones’s hypodermic, and in a second was fitted into his palm. It was a poor-enough weapon against the lightning speed of a cat’s claw, but it would have to do.
He advanced boldly against the cat. He would not have had time to reach the cupboard, and he had always found it safest, when possible, to attack.
In this, brains showed. The cat, surprised, backed; circled; crouched again. He followed it up. Noiselessly it backed toward the door; crouched; circled from there. Allison could then have backed out through the crack under the door; but that would have got him nothing; and moreover a strange new elation had come to him—the lust to conquer. He felt, with that weapon, that he could win. Forward to the cat, then, he went; back and to the side it retreated, crouching every time it stopped. It clearly was disconcerted by his unexpected advance.
At the wall under the card table it stood its ground, and Allison felt that that would be the place to see the end. He advanced to within its own length of it; stood ready, right arm out. The cat opened its mouth in a noiseless hiss, and he was drenched with the creature’s breath.
He gestured with his arm. The cat’s front quarters lifted from the floor, and, ears flat, made a lightning swipe at his hand. It touched; the cat fell slowly to its side; and like that it was over.
Allison brought up his forearm—numb, from the violence with which it had been hit back. His hand was slit deeply in two places, and dark blood was dripping copiously from the openings. But it had been better to take the cat’s claws there than over his body. And it would have been his body if he had not forced the creature to make a swipe that was half defensive.
He lost no time in tying up the cat with a piece of cord found under the sink; and then, staggering with fatigue, trembling all over with the reaction to the encounter, he was setting himself to think of a way to climb to the basin and get water out of the spigot, when to his overpowering joy he found a saucer of it nearly full, that had been left on the floor for the cat.
He drank, as deeply as he dared, then washed and tended his wounds. Then, on the cat’s own cushion under the couch, he lay down and slept.
The sun showed mid-afternoon through the western window when he awoke. Terribly stiff, aching all over, he got up, saw that the cat still lay unconscious, sat a while in thought and then set to work.
He did many curious things, all under the terrific handicap usual to the predicament of his size. He routed out a cardboard box that dental powder had come in; removed the corrugated paper inside; opened both ends of the box so that it could be pressed flat, and pushed box and paper under the hall door.
He found some medical cotton and pushed that under; also a long unsharpened pencil. He did the same with a long piece of string, to which, at one end he had tied several paper clips. He took a piece of manuscript paper from the table; wrote some large words on it; found some stamps and a razor blade—and pushed them under. Then he squeezed under himself and returned after nearly an hour.
But then the sun had gone down, and he was exhausted again. He ate a little more of the mouse’s cheese, drank some more water from the cat’s saucer, and then lay down once more on the cushion and went to sleep.
IT WAS pitch dark when Allison awoke. He got up at once, released the still-unconscious cat, drank all the water he could hold, and pushed out under the door. He could not be sure, but after reconnoitering the second-floor hall he came to the conclusion that it was after midnight, and time for what he had in mind, so he returned to the hall door and dragged to the stairhead what he had secreted there. It was the tooth-powder box, now wrapped up, and, within, visible through one end, the corrugated pasteboard, cotton, razor blade, string with the clips, and the long unsharpened pencil.
The coast seemed clear; he pushed the box containing all this through the rungs of the banister to the main-floor landing below, then followed down himself by way of the steps—sitting, turning over the edge, letting himself down by his arms and then dropping—all these eighteen times until he was at the bottom.
There, he retrieved his box, filled it as before, and dragged it to the vestibule, where he cautiously surveyed the street. It was dark and obviously very late. Nothing stirred, except the occasional trucks and taxis far down the corner of First Avenue. Assured, he pushed the box and its contents off onto the broad top step, lowered himself there, then pushed it off the side to the pavement and again followed down.
Fifteen minutes later, dragging his box laboriously behind him, he arrived at a letter box precisely halfway in the block toward Second Avenue; and that was his destination.
He proceeded to work with unhesitating efficiency. First he took the pencil out of the box and laid it on the ground. Then he removed the string and tied its free end to the base of the letter box. After four tries he succeeded in casting the clip-tied end over the top of the letter box; and when its weight had carried the string down on the other side climbed that string to the top.
He sat there a moment—a bloody, bearded, six-inch gnome, still in his dirty white dress—and after he was rested rose, tied the string by its middle to the letter-drop door, and slid down one string to the ground.
And now had his string tied at one end of the base of the letter box, a slack length leading from there up to the letter-drop knob, and the long loose clip end hanging free.
He tied the, tooth-powder box to this clip end.
Next, he stuck the pencil, head high, in a loop he made in the string attached at both ends, and began, in the fashion of one tightening a tourniquet, to twist. He twisted it many scores of times, and when he had finished, the letter-drop door was held open.
He rested a little, then once more climbed hand over hand to the top of the letter box. There, he rested again, then pulled up the tooth-powder box to position in the open mouth of the letter drop. And, that done, he got down in the mouth alongside his box, and took out the razor blade and cut both strings.
The letter-drop door closed, and he and the little box fell down into the inside of the letter box.
Fifteen minutes later he himself was in the little tooth-powder box, and it was closed, the outer paper gathered at the end and tied.
He had mailed himself. How else was he to get to Doctor Heiler?
THERE WAS no telling when Peyton would return; probably not for some time, from the window he had left open for the cat to get in and out by way of the fire escape. If Allison had waited, he might have starved, for he was none too sure that he would have been able to open one of those cans of beans, helpless and without tools as he was.
It was better, anyway, that Peyton did not know. That would leave only Heiler.
Snug in his cotton-padded box, Allison tried to sleep. Once more he was dog-tired. The acts that were casual nothings to normal people had required titanic energies on his part. He was lame all over, and his right arm, now that it was no longer being used, was beginning to ache intolerably.
He thought back over the amazing events of the last twenty-four hours —Jones’s agent, whom he had left lying unconscious back on Forty-ninth Street—the heart-bursting discovery that he had been reduced to a pitiful toy—his colossal labors in getting to Doctor Heiler. He had performed feats that once he would have called impossible; but now the worst was over. His friend would take him in; would guard his secret; and would help him prepare a way to kill without possible failure that traitor Jones when he should call on him once more.
It was good that Heiler lived just down the hall from him. He would have perfect protection, and yet be close to his own laboratory.
Sleep came gradually, and when it did it was filled with the face of Jones, and a lovely girl, his own size, whom he would never see again, and two men who looked remarkably like himself—and always, ever returning, doll faces, rows of them, each one identical with himself, and each one somehow himself.
He was rudely awakened by the shock of his plunge into the postman’s bag, and knew, then, it must be morning.
There was no sleep after that. He rode; was jolted; rested; was jolted, rode, and rested some more; and then was off in a carrier’s bag on the way to his own house. He could hear nothing, but could tell when he was being carried up the steps and given to the maid. She would now be carrying him up to his old friend Heiler.
A pause, and he came to rest.
Another pause, but Allison couldn’t wait. He pushed aside the string and paper at the top end of the box and looked out. He was on the desk in his own laboratory. Fearfully he continued out and looked around.
His high-backed swivel chair pivoted; a colossus was seated there. And the high-looming features of the colossus were those of the man called Jones.
FOR A moment Allison crouched there, petrified. Then the great features above spread up in a smile, and that released him, and in instant wild panic he was scrambling back over the surface of the desk looking for a way to get down. Jones’s hand came swooping through the air, but before it could close over him he had made one wild jump out beyond the edge of the table to the cord leading up to the reading lamp, had closed his arms about it and was sliding down its rough, wavy length.
He was skinned and bleeding when he reached the floor, but at once he was away and looking for a place—any place—to escape into. Nothing near by offered. The desk was placed forty yards out from the wall, and far to one side, in the corner, stood a high, heavy, specimen cabinet. If he could make that!
The colossal feet under the desk were moving; Jones’s head and arm appeared into view above them. Allison seized his chance and ran with all his might over the hundred-yard open space to the cabinet. After him charged Jones; but he reached it safely and retired far under its base. Its height was such that he just had room to stand erect.
He got out his hypodermic. He was cornered; but let Jones’s fingers come near enough and he was as good as dead!
Heart beating like a frightened mouse, Allison waited. What would his enemy do? Get the broom and sweep him out? Then bat him to death as one would a cockroach?
He watched the man’s feet. They lifted out of sight, lowered, slowly, one at a time; receded: he was returning to the desk. A pause, then the feet returned. Knees appeared, and hands; the man’s head showed. He was wearing over his head and mouth an apparatus not unlike that of a telephone operator. Then Allison heard words, the first since he had left the other’s civilization, weeks—it seemed years—before. The word-sounds were extremely attenuated; he could not recognize them as belonging to Jones.
"Come out, Allison," they said. "I won’t hurt you."
"Come and get me!" the ethnologist challenged, hoping fervently that he would reach in and try.
"All right; but throw out the hypodermic first," came the long-drawn-out reply.
"Like hell I will!" exclaimed Allison passionately. Jones knew! He was prepared! Despair seized him. He was lost.
He waited to see what would happen next. Jones wasted no more words, but returned to the desk and occupied himself there in a manner Allison could not see. Then he returned, and knelt down again.
"All right, 372, if you will," he said.
What did these cryptic words mean?
Allison waited, tense, far back under the cabinet. Jones’s cupped hands lowered near the front edge; one was removed; and off the other stepped a tiny man, his own size. He wore a soft-green robe and sandals; was clean and freshly shaven; and in figure, face, and bearing he was another himself!
He stepped under the front edge of the cabinet and looked around. Allison, amazed and frightened, cowered farther back. Jones’s face appeared at the floor, watching.
"I say, Allison, how are you?" exclaimed the double, seeing the other and starting heartily over to him.
"Who are you?" Allison asked fearfully, backing still more. The fellow had his own voice!
"372." The other laughed. "You’re 793—though I know you aren’t aware of it. But heavens, man—how you look!"
Allison looked the wreck he was. His dress-like costume was torn and filthy; his arm was burned; his hands were skinned, swollen, raw, and bleeding; and on his face was a tangled, matted three-inch yellow beard.
"Who are you?" Allison repeated, crouching, devouring him with bloodshot eyes, ready at a flash to run or strike, like a man cornered by his own ghost.
"Come on out, old fellow, and I’ll explain," said the double kindly. He made as if to grasp Allison’s upper arm.
"If you touch me, you die!" growled the ethnologist intensely, avoiding his hand.
Jones’s voice floated in. "Watch out! He has a hypodermic!"
"Oh!" said the double and held himself with more caution. "Allison," he said seriously to the other, "you’ve been a damn fool. We’re not here to hurt you. Come on out and—"
"Go away!" Allison interrupted, crouching lower, a wild light in his eyes. "Go away! Go away!" he repeated shrilly, utter desperation in his voice.
The double took a step back. "I think he is a little mad," he said to Jones.
The two men faced each other tensely. They were the same person, except that one stood erect, fresh, confident, and in full health and strength, and the other was bruised, battered, bloody, spent, and crouched like a cornered rat about to spring.
"Give me that needle," the double said.
Allison’s head went a little lower. His lips drew back over his teeth like an animal’s. Without warning he jumped and struck out.
LIKE A mongoose dodging a cobra the double leaped back, and his own right arm flashed forth, caught the other’s by the wrist and held it. It was his fresh strength against the last reserves of the ethnologist’s, and the balance was all for him. He twisted the wrist; the arm gave backward; and both fell to the floor, he on top. Carefully, still holding the wrist at the breaking point, he removed the sack and threw it out to Jones. Then he dragged his wildly threshing prisoner out in the open.
Jones was waiting to relieve him. Gently, so as to give no hurt, he enfolded Allison in one hand, took the double up in the other, and carried both over to the desk. There he placed the two on the blotter, ringed them with his hands, and sat down.
Allison at once shied away from the double.
"I admire you, 793," Jones said. "But you’ve put me to an extraordinary amount of trouble."
The ethnologist turned and looked up at him. "And look what you’ve done to me I" he yelled back, panting. "I accepted your offer in all good faith. I was to come to no harm. And the first thing I discovered was that I was just another victim whose mind you intended to pervert. Jones, you’re the system’s lowest, most treacherous skunk!"
The out-worlder smiled a little; but Allison found it impossible to read his face when it was so big. The double at his side startled him, speaking up in defense
"No, no—you’re all wrong! Let him explain."
"Explain how he kept his agreement by reducing me to this size?" Allison retorted bitterly. "Who are you, anyway?"
"Tell him," the double said to Jones.
"Will you listen to what I have to say?" the out-worlder asked in his slow-creeping voice.
"I don’t see that I have any choice," Allison spat back.
There was a pause.
"I’ll have to start far in the past," the colossus began at last.
"Forty-five thousand years ago the human race was one, and lived only on Earth. One segment of that race, living on a great warm island in the South Pacific, developed a mighty civilization. You Earthmen of today who live in what you call the scientific age are but in the early groping stages of the civilization that was your forbears’ at that time.
"Among other things, the human race had perfected space ships and ventured out into the void. It set up colonies on other planets, suitable. And when the day predicted for centuries by its geologists came, and the great island that was its home began to sink under the surface of the sea, it was ready, and in thousands of space ships set forth, for some, out-world portions of the solar system, and the rest, to other and more stable parts of Earth.
"There was but one blood. The Mutrantian Titans, who in your work under preparation will be held up as a cousin strain to that of Earthmen, are so in fact. They are the descendants of one colony of the Earthmen of forty-five thousand years ago. Their size resulted from local conditions which I need not go into.
"I am of a race you would call pygmies; but we, for good reasons, deliberately reduced ourselves to that size. We have for a long time known how to do it. I, to attain my present size, for purposes of mixing among you Earthmen, simply underwent the reverse of the process. But I and my kind are of the human race. We are the descendants of another colony.
"We have always been a small colony, for our environment did not encourage a great population. In time we were exposed to the dangers of inbreeding. We did the logical thing. Every so often we obtained from our brother colonies new stock, with varied and vigorous hereditary factors different from those in us. This new stock we scientifically infiltrated through our own; and so we kept the fecundity and the vigor of our strain—"
"Jones," interrupted Allison hotly, "you’re lower than a dog to have taken me, and others like me, for use as studs in the series of matings which would be necessary for that result!"
The out-worlder showed no anger. "There are no ’series of matings,’ and won’t be," he answered. "And you—Allison—were the only Earthman we took."
"I have positive knowledge that you mated off other Earthmen while I was there," contradicted the ethnologist.
"I know what you know," the other said "Miss CB-301 voluntarily came and told me. But in spite of what you saw through the search-beam, you were the only Earthman concerned."
"You’re a liar!" Allison flung back.
STILL the out-worlder showed no sign of anger. Patiently he went on:
"You learned a little, but not enough. When you escaped it became necessary to follow and bring you back, for we could not have you disseminating false information, or indeed any. It was thought most expedient to take you upon your arrival here. To that end I arranged for the private grounding of my space ship, which you had appropriated, and one of my men was there waiting.
"You know what happened. You got away from him, and went I don’t know where. But it was certain that you would try to return to your home, so I came here and waited for you. And, naturally, your friend, Doctor Heiler, was watched, and your suspicious package brought in to me.
"Now," he concluded, "I am going to take you back."
"I prefer to be destroyed!"
"You won’t, later."
"That’s the damnable part of it! What, then, will you do with me?"
"I will hold you to your part of our agreement."
"Meaning, you’ll force me to marry a never-ending series of your disgusting females with the prognathous foreheads—and like it."
"You will mate only with one."
"One is too many. I shall never arrive back there alive."
"You will be watched," the colossus said significantly. He smiled a little.
"It happens, though," he went on, "that I have promised you to Miss CB-301. Would that be so painful? She loves you. If," he added, "you could find it in your heart to love her, I think we might make an exception in your case and not force you by the means we have."
Allison was in the man’s power; why should he grant favors? He was skeptical.
"Jones," he said, "I don’t trust you and don’t believe you. My mating with that girl—or any one of your women, no matter how prolific she might be—would have no effect whatever on the racial stock of a city like yours."
Jones smiled. "Doctor Allison has already mated with 1722 of our women," he said.
For a moment the ethnologist could not believe his ears. Then he dismissed the remark with an expression of irritation. "You talk crazy!" he said.
"Do you not know," the outworlder asked calmly, "that theoretically it is possible to divide in half the various molecules which make up an object and reassemble them to make two of that object, exactly like it, only smaller? Some day you Earthmen will learn to do it; but we can do it already. We can split objects into fifties, hundreds; we can do it with the living human body!
"Shortly after Doctor Allison had come to us, he, the original 178-pound Doctor Allison, was split up into 1728 little ones, each identical with the original except in the matter of size. You are one of those little ones. Mr. 372, here, is another. You each weigh approximately one and a half ounces."
A great light burst over Allison’s mind. He saw again that fearful recurring image of the doll faces. Interminable rows of them. Each face his face, and every one somehow himself.
They had been those doll faces! Sometime during the process he in the large size had become aware of the scene before him and had subconsciously remembered.
He gaped foolishly at the outworlder. The new vista of possibilities which his words had opened up was overpowering. Jones smiled.
"Yes," he said, "1728 little ones, and 1722 are already mated with our women.
"I’m sorry," he added, "but five died, for various reasons out of our control. When you all are eventually recombined, Doctor Allison will weigh several ounces less. I don’t think he will mind, though, for he can more than make that up in one good meal."
Allison still stood as if turned to stone. The man really did seem to be telling the truth. He must have been sincere all along.
"You will recall," Jones went on, "that I promised Doctor Allison he would be returned here unharmed after four months. He will be. All your—well, brothers, now so happily married, will just before that time undergo the reverse of the process whereby we made them fall in love; and then all will be assembled. You will be one of them. I am in conscience bound to see that every one of his living partitions are present."
The colossal face smiled. "Of course, for all that desire it, there will be a suitable ceremony of divorce."
The smile faded. There was a pause. "Has it occurred to you," Jones asked, "that I am reasoning with you, not just snatching you? On the face of it, I might be telling the truth."
Allison no longer doubted, but his thoughts were elsewhere. 1723 matings! That many homes—angles —environments! All parts of himself, later to be recombined into himself !
"Think of the new knowledge!" Jones said.
Was the man smiling?
"Why hasn’t any one ever brought his knowledge back to Earth with him?" Allison asked with sudden sharp suspicion.
"Before leaving, we removed it from, their minds," came the frank, easy answer. "We’ll of course do that with Doctor Allison too."
So! Well, if he ever had that knowledge in one person, he’d come back with it! Somehow! Somehow.
He hesitated, still shaken, thinking, a doll beside another doll on the great table over which leaned the colossus who had been his enemy. He felt a touch on his arm. It was 372.
"Don’t be deterred by thoughts of that ugly young atavism," the fellow said encouragingly. "They’ll get you some one more beautiful than she." His face lighted up. "Personally, I’ve had the greatest of luck. I understand about the machine; but deep down I know right well there’s something more than that between KS-971 and myself. It’s beyond words. Even to see her! Her mouth! Her scalp—not a hair! Her high, wide, wrinkled forehead!"
He’d been in the machine, all right.
Allison still hesitated. So all his struggles had come to this! "Service." "Applied, and very, very practical ethnology." Yes; and one very, very widely applied ethnologist.
There was that lovely girl of the numbers. She loved him. Even Jones had said she loved him. He was bruised and weary; he needed very much to have some one lovely and kind and warm—
"After all, you don’t have any choice," the out-worlder reminded him.
793 shrugged. "All right," he said with a sigh. "If you will agree to enlarge Miss CB-301 to earth-size and permit her to return with me."
Jones smiled. "As you wish," he said. He rose and picked up the two tiny men. He put them in a little box in his pocket and walked out of the door.