"Not a thing touched," he assured the Secret Service men; "there he is, just the way we found him."
In the doorway between the bedroom and bath a body was huddled. Doctor Brooks knelt quickly beside it. His hands worked swiftly for a moment, then he rose to his feet.
"Dead," he announced.
"How long?" asked the Chief.
"Some time. Hours I should say—perhaps eight or ten."
"Cause?" the query was brief.
"It will take an autopsy to determine that. There is no blood or wound to be seen."
* * * * *
The doctor was again examining the partly rigid body. He opened one hand; it held a cake of soap. There was a grease mark on the hand.
Delamater supplied the explanation. "He touched some grease on the old car I was using," he said. "Must have gone directly to wash it off. See—there is water spilled on the floor."
Water had indeed been splashed on the tile floor of the bath room; a pool of it still remained about the heavy, foreign-looking shoes of the dead man.
Something in it caught Delamater's eye. He leaned down to pick up three pellets of metal, like small shot, round and shining.
"I'll keep these," he said, "though the man was never killed with shot as small as that."
"We shall have to wait for the autopsy report," said the Chief crisply; "that may give the cause of death. Was there anyone in the room—did you enter it with him last night, Del?"
"No," said the operative; "he was very much agitated when we got here—dismissed me rather curtly at the door. He was quite upset about something—spoke English none too well and said something about a warning and damned our Secret Service as inefficient."
"A warning!" said the Chief. The dead man's brief case was on the bed. He crossed to it and undid the straps; the topmost paper told the reason for the man's disquiet. It showed the familiar, staring eye. And beneath the eye was a warning: this man was to die if he did not leave Washington at once.
The Chief turned to the hotel manager. "Was the door locked?"
"But it is a spring lock. Someone could have gone out and closed it after him."
"Not this time. The dead-bolt was thrown. It takes a key to do that from the outside or this thumb-turn on the inside." The hotel man demonstrated the action of the heavy bolt.
"Then, with a duplicate key, a man could have left this room and locked the door behind him."
"Absolutely not. The floor-clerk was on duty all night. I have questioned her: this room was under her eyes all the time. She saw this man return, saw your man, here"—and he pointed to Delamater—"leave him at the door. There was no person left the room after that."
"See about the autopsy, Doctor," the Chief ordered.
And to the manager: "Not a thing here must be touched. Admit only Mr. Delamater and no one else unless he vouches for them.
"Del," he told the operative, "I'm giving you a chance to make up for last night. Go to it."
And Robert Delamater "went to it" with all the thoroughness at his command, and with a total lack of result.
* * * * *
The autopsy helped not at all. The man was dead; it was apparently a natural death. "Not a scratch nor a mark on him," was the report. But: "... next time it will be you," the note with the staring eye had warned the Secretary of State. The writer of it was taking full credit for the mysterious death.
Robert Delamater had three small bits of metal, like tiny shot, and he racked his brain to connect these with the death. There were fingerprints, too, beautifully developed upon the mysterious missives—prints that tallied with none in the records. There were analyses of the paper—of the ink—and not a clue in any of them.
Just three pellets of metal. Robert Delamater had failed utterly, and he was bitter in the knowledge of his failure.
"He had you spotted, Del," the Chief insisted. "The writer of these notes may be crazy, but he was clever enough to know that this man did see the Secretary. And he was waiting for him when he came back; then he killed him."
"Without a mark?"
"He killed him," the Chief repeated; "then he left—and that's that."
"But," Delamater objected, "the room clerk—"
"—took a nap," broke in the Chief. But Delamater could not be satisfied with the explanation.
"He got his, all right," he conceded, "—got it in a locked room nine stories above the street, with no possible means of bringing it upon himself—and no way for the murderer to escape. I tell you there is something more to this: just the letter to the Secretary, as if this Eye of Allah were spying upon him—"
The Chief waved all that aside. "A clever spy," he insisted. "Too clever for you. And a darn good guesser; he had us all fooled. But we're dealing with a madman, not a ghost, and he didn't sail in through a ninth story window nor go out through a locked door; neither did he spy on the Secretary of State in his private office. Don't try to make a supernatural mystery out of a failure, Del."
The big man's words were tempered with a laugh, but there was an edge of sarcasm, ill-concealed.
* * * * *
And then came the next note. And the next. The letters were mailed at various points in and about the city; they came in a flood. And they were addressed to the President of the United States, to the Secretary of War—of the Navy—to all the Cabinet members. And all carried the same threat under the staring eye.
The United States, to this man, represented all that was tyrannical and oppressive to the downtrodden of the earth. He proposed to end it—this government first, then others in their turn. It was the outpouring of a wildly irrational mind that came to the office of the harassed Chief of the United States Secret Service, who had instructions to run this man down—this man who signed himself The Eye of Allah. And do it quickly for the notes were threatening. Official Washington, it seemed, was getting jumpy and was making caustic inquiries as to why a Secret Service department was maintained.
The Chief, himself, was directing the investigation—and getting nowhere.
"Here is the latest," he said one morning. "Mailed at New York." Delamater and a dozen other operatives were in his office: he showed them a letter printed like all the others. There was the eye, and beneath were words that made the readers catch their breath.
"The Eye of Allah sees—it has warned—now it will destroy. The day of judgment is at hand. The battleship Maryland is at anchor in the Hudson River at New York. No more shall it be the weapon of a despot government. It will be destroyed at twelve o'clock on September fifth."
"Wild talk," said the Chief, "but today is the fourth. The Commander of the Maryland has been warned—approach by air or water will be impossible. I want you men to patrol the shore and nail this man if he shows up. Lord knows what he intends—bluffing probably—but he may try some fool stunt. If he does—get him!"
* * * * *
Eleven-thirty by the watch on Robert Delamater's wrist found him seated in the bow of a speed-boat the following morning. They patrolled slowly up and down the shore. There were fellow operatives, he knew, scores of them, posted at all points of vantage along the docks.
Eleven forty-five—and the roar of seaplanes came from above where air patrols were-guarding the skies. Small boats drove back and forth on set courses; no curious sight-seeing craft could approach the Maryland that day. On board the battleship, too, there was activity apparent. A bugle sounded, and the warning of bellowing Klaxons echoed across the water. Here, in the peace and safety of the big port, the great man-of-war was sounding general quarters, and a scurry of running men showed for an instant on her decks. Anti-aircraft guns swung silently upon imaginary targets—
The watcher smiled at the absurdity of it all—this preparation to repel the attack of a wild-eyed writer of insane threats. And yet—and yet— He knew, too, there was apprehension in his frequent glances at his watch.
One minute to go! Delamater should have watched the shore. And, instead, he could not keep his eyes from the big fighting-ship silhouetted so clearly less than a mile away, motionless and waiting—waiting—for what? He saw the great turreted guns, useless against this puny, invisible opponent. Above them the fighting tops were gleaming. And above them—
Delamater shaded his eyes with a quick, tense hand: the tip of the mast was sparkling. There was a blue flash that glinted along the steel. It was gone to reappear on the fighting top itself—then lower.
* * * * *
What was it? the watching man was asking himself. What did it bring to mind? A street-car? A defective trolley? The zipping flash of a contact made and broken? That last!
Like the touch of a invisible wire, tremendously charged, a wire that touched and retreated, that made and lost its contact, the flashing arc was working toward the deck. It felt its way to the body of the ship; the arc was plain, starting from mid-air to hiss against the armored side; the arc shortened—went to nothing—vanished.... A puff of smoke from an open port proved its presence inside. Delamater had the conviction that a deadly something had gone through the ship's side—was insulated from it—was searching with its blazing, arcing end for the ammunition rooms....
The realization of that creeping menace came to Delamater with a gripping, numbing horror. The seconds were almost endless as he waited. Slowly, before his terrified eyes, the deck of the great ship bulged upward ... slowly it rolled and tore apart ... a mammoth turret with sixteen-inch guns was lifting unhurriedly into the air ... there were bodies of men rocketing skyward....
The mind of the man was racing at lightning speed, and the havoc before him seemed more horrible in its slow, leisurely progress. If he could only move—do something!
The shock of the blasted air struck him sprawling into the bottom of the boat; the listener was hammered almost to numbness by the deafening thunder that battered and tore through the still air. At top speed the helmsman drove for the shelter of a hidden cove. They made it an instant before the great waves struck high upon the sand spit. Over the bay hung a ballooning cloud of black and gray—lifting for an instant to show in stark ghastliness the wreckage, broken and twisted, that marked where the battleship Maryland rested in the mud in the harbor of New York.
* * * * *
The eyes of the Secret-Service men were filled with the indelible impress of what they had seen. Again and again, before him, came the vision of a ship full of men in horrible, slow disintegration; his mind was numbed and his actions and reactions were largely automatic. But somehow he found himself in the roar of the subway, and later he sat in a chair and knew he was in a Pullman of a Washington train.
He rode for hours in preoccupied silence, his gaze fixed unseeingly, striving to reach out and out to some distant, unknown something which he was trying to visualize. But he looked at intervals at his hand that held three metal pellets.
He was groping for the mental sequence which would bring the few known facts together and indicate their cause. A threat—a seeming spying within a closed and secret room—the murder on the ninth floor, a murder without trace of wound or weapon. Weapon! He stared again at the tangible evidence he held; then shook his head in perplexed abstraction. No—the man was killed by unknown means.
And now—the Maryland! And a visible finger of death—touching, flashing, feeling its way to the deadly cargo of powder sacks.
Not till he sat alone with his chief did he put into words his thoughts.
"A time bomb did it," the Chief was saying. "The officials deny it, but what other answer is there? No one approached that ship—you know that, Del—no torpedo nor aerial bomb! Nothing as fanciful as that!"
Robert Delamater's lips formed a wry smile. "Nothing at fanciful as that"—and he was thinking, thinking—of what he hardly dared express.
"We will start with the ship's personnel," the other continued; "find every man who was not on board when the explosion occurred—"
"No use," the operative interrupted; "this was no inside job, Chief." He paused to choose his words while the other watched him curiously.
"Someone did reach that ship—reached it from a distance—reached it in the same way they reached that poor devil I left at room nine forty-seven. Listen—"
* * * * *
He told his superior of his vigil on the speed-boat—of the almost invisible flash against the ship's mast. "He reached it, Chief," he concluded; "he felt or saw his way down and through the side of that ship. And he fired their ammunition from God knows where."
"I wonder," said the big man slowly; "I wonder if you know just what you are trying to tell me—just how absurd your idea is. Are you seriously hinting at long-distance vision through solid armor-plate—through these walls of stone and steel? And wireless power-transmission through the same wall—!"
"Exactly!" said the operative.
"Why, Del, you must be as crazy as this Eye of Allah individual. It's impossible."
"That word," said Delamater, quietly, "has been crossed out of scientific books in the past few years."
"What do you mean?"
"You have studied some physical science, of course?" Delamater asked. The Chief nodded.
"Then you know what I mean. I mean that up to recent years science had all the possibilities and impossibilities neatly divided and catalogued. Ignorance, as always, was the best basis for positive assurance. Then they got inside the atom. And since then your real scientist has been a very humble man. He has seen the impossibility of yesterday become the established fact of to-day."
The Chief of the United States Secret Service was tapping with nervous irritation on the desk before him.
"Yes, yes!" he agreed, and again he looked oddly at his operative. "Perhaps there is something to that; you work along that line, Del: you can have a free hand. Take a few days off, a little vacation if you wish. Yes—and ask Sprague to step in from the other office; he has the personnel list."
* * * * *
Robert Delamater felt the other's eyes follow him as he left the room. "And that about lets me out," he told himself; "he thinks I've gone cuckoo, now."
He stopped in a corridor; his fingers, fumbling in a vest pocket, had touched the little metal spheres. Again his mind flashed back to the chain of events he had linked together. He turned toward an inner office.
"I would like to see Doctor Brooks," he said. And when the physician appeared: "About that man who was murdered at the hotel, Doctor—"
"Who died," the doctor corrected; "we found no evidence of murder."
"Who was murdered," the operative insisted. "Have you his clothing where I can examine it?"
"Sure," agreed the physician. He led Delamater to another room and brought out a box of the dead man's effects.
"But if it's murder you expect to prove you'll find no help in this."
The Secret Service man nodded. "I'll look them over, just the same," he said. "Thanks."
Alone in the room, he went over the clothing piece by piece. Again he examined each garment, each pocket, the lining, as he had done before when first he took the case. Metal, he thought, he must find metal.
But only when a heavy shoe was in his hands did the anxious frown relax from about his eyes.
"Of course," he whispered, half aloud. "What a fool I was! I should have thought of that."
The soles of the shoes were sewed, but, beside the stitches were metal specks, where cobbler's nails were driven. And in the sole of one shoe were three tiny holes.
"Melted!" he said exultantly. "Crazy, am I, Chief? This man was standing on a wet floor; he made a perfect ground. And he got a jolt that melted these nails when it flashed out of him."
He wrapped the clothing carefully and replaced it in the box. And he fingered the metal pellets in his pocket as he slipped quietly from the room.
* * * * *
He did not stop to talk with Doctor Brooks; he wanted to think, to ponder upon the incredible proof of the theory he had hardly dared believe. The Eye of Allah—the maniac—was real; and his power for evil! There was work to be done, and the point of beginning was not plain.
How far did the invisible arm reach? How far could the Eye of Allah see? Where was the generator—the origin of this wireless power; along what channel did it flow? A ray of lightless light—an unseen ethereal vibration.... Delamater could only guess at the answers.
The current to kill a man or to flash a spark into silken powder bags need not be heavy, he knew. Five hundred—a thousand volts—if the mysterious conductor carried it without resistance and without loss. People had been killed by house-lighting currents—a mere 110 volts—when conditions were right. There would be no peculiar or unusual demand upon the power company to point him toward the hidden maniac.
He tossed restlessly throughout the night, and morning brought no answer to his repeated questions. But it brought a hurry call from his Chief.
"Right away," was the instruction; "don't lose a minute. Come to the office."
He found the big man at his desk. He was quiet, unhurried, but the operative knew at a glance the tense repression that was being exercised—the iron control of nerves that demanded action and found incompetence and helplessness instead.
"I don't believe your fantastic theories," he told Delamater. "Impractical—impossible! But—" He handed the waiting man a paper. "We must not leave a stone unturned."
Delamater said nothing; he looked at the paper in his hand. "To the President of the United States," he read. "Prepare to meet your God. Friday. The eighth. Twelve o'clock."
The signature he hardly saw; the staring, open eye was all too familiar.
"That is to-morrow," said Delamater softly. "The President dies to-morrow."
* * * * *
"No!" exploded the Chief. "Do you realize what that means? The President murdered—more killings to follow—and the killer unknown! Why the country will be in a panic: the whole structure of the Government is threatened!"
He paused, then added as he struck his open hand upon the desk: "I will have every available man at the White House."
"For witnesses?" asked Delamater coldly.
The big man stared at his operative; the lines of his face were sagging.
"Do you believe—really—he can strike him down—at his desk—from a distance?"
"I know it." Delamater's fingers played for a moment with three bits of metal in his pocket. Unconsciously he voiced his thoughts: "Does the President have nails in his shoes, I wonder?"
"What—what's that?" the Chief demanded.
But Delamater made no reply. He was picturing the President. He would be seated at his desk, waiting, waiting ... and the bells would be ringing and whistles blowing from distant shops when the bolt would strike.... It would flash from his feet ... through the thick rug ... through the rug.... It would have to ground.
He paid no heed to his Chief's repeated question. He was seeing, not the rug in the Presidential office, but below it—underneath it—a heavy pad of rubber.
"If he can be insulated—" he said aloud, and stared unseeingly at his eagerly listening superiors—"even the telephone cut—no possible connection with the ground—"
"For God's sake, Del, if you've got an idea—any hope at all! I'm—I'm up against it, Del."
The operative brought his distant gaze back to the room and the man across from him. "Yes," he said slowly, thoughtfully, "I've got the beginning of an idea; I don't see the end of it yet.
"We can cut him off from the ground—the President, I mean—make an insulated island where he sits. But this devil will get him the instant he leaves ... unless ... unless...."
"Yes—yes?" The Chief's voice was high-pitched with anxious impatience; for the first time he was admitting to himself his complete helplessness in this emergency.
"Unless," said Delamater, as the idea grew and took shape, "unless that wireless channel works both ways. If it does ... if it does...."
The big man made a gesture of complete incomprehension.
"Wait!" said Robert Delamater, sharply. If ever his sleepy indolence had misled his Chief, there was none to do so now in the voice that rang like cold steel. His eyes were slits under the deep-drawn brows, and his mouth was one straight line.
* * * * *
To the hunter there is no greater game than man. And Robert Delamater, man-hunter, had his treacherous quarry in sight. He fired staccato questions at his Chief.
"Is the President at his desk at twelve?"
"Does he know—about this?"
"Does he know it means death?"
The Chief nodded.
"I see a way—a chance," said the operative. "Do I get a free hand?"
"Yes—Good Lord, yes! If there's any chance of—"
Delamater silenced him. "I'll be the one to take the chance," he said grimly. "Chief, I intend to impersonate the President."
"Now listen— The President and I are about the same build. I know a man who can take care of the make-up; he will get me by anything but a close inspection. This Eye of Allah, up to now, has worked only in the light. We'll have to gamble on that and work our change in the dark.
"The President must go to bed as usual—impress upon him that he may be under constant surveillance. Then, in the night, he leaves—
"Oh, I know he won't want to hide himself, but he must. That's up to you.
"Arrange for me to go to his room before daylight. From that minute on I am the President. Get me his routine for that morning; I must follow it so as to arouse no least suspicion."
* * * * *
"But I don't see—" began the Chief. "You will impersonate him—yes—but what then? You will be killed if this maniac makes good. Is the President of the United States to be a fugitive? Is—"
"Hold on, hold on!" said Delamater. He leaned back in his chair; his face relaxed to a smile, then a laugh.
"I've got it all now. Perhaps it will work. If not—" A shrug of the shoulders completed the thought. "And I have been shooting it to you pretty fast haven't I! Now here is the idea—
"I must be in the President's chair at noon. This Allah person will be watching in, so I must be acting the part all morning. I will have the heaviest insulation I can get under the rug, and I'll have something to take the shot instead of myself. And perhaps, perhaps I will send a message back to the Eye of Allah that will be a surprise.
"Is it a bet?" he asked. "Remember, I'm taking the chance—unless you know some better way—"
The Chief's chair came down with a bang. "We'll gamble on it, Del," he said; "we've got to—there is no other way.... And now what do you want?"
"A note to the White House electrician," said Robert Delamater, "and full authority to ask for anything I may need, from the U. S. Treasury down to a pair of wire-cutters."
His smile had become contagious; the Chief's anxious look relaxed. "If you pull this off, Del, they may give you the Treasury or the Mint at that. But remember, republics are notoriously ungenerous."
"We'll have to gamble on that, too," said Robert Delamater.
* * * * *
The heart of the Nation is Washington. Some, there are, who would have us feel that New York rules our lives. Chicago—San Francisco—these and other great cities sometimes forget that they are mere ganglia on the financial and commercial nervous system. The heart is Washington, and, Congress to the contrary notwithstanding, the heart of that heart is not the domed building at the head of Pennsylvania Avenue, but an American home. A simple, gracious mansion, standing in quiet dignity and whiteness above its velvet lawns.
It is the White House that draws most strongly at the interest and curiosity of the homely, common throng that visits the capital.
But there were no casual visitors at the White House on the seventh of September. Certain Senators, even, were denied admittance. The President was seeing only the members of the Cabinet and some few others.
It is given to a Secret Service operative, in his time, to play many parts. But even a versatile actor might pause at impersonating a President. Robert Delamater was acting the role with never a fumble. He sat, this new Robert Delamater, so startlingly like the Chief Executive, in the chair by a flat top desk. And he worked diligently at a mass of correspondence.
Secretaries came and went; files were brought. Occasionally he replied to a telephone call—or perhaps called someone. It would be hard to say which happened, for no telephone bells rang.
On the desk was a schedule that Delamater consulted. So much time for correspondence—so many minutes for a conference with this or that official, men who were warned to play up to this new Chief Executive as if the life of their real President were at stake.
* * * * *
To any observer the busy routine of the morning must have passed with never a break. And there was an observer, as Delamater knew. He had wondered if the mystic ray might carry electrons that would prove its presence. And now he knew.
The Chief of the U. S. Secret Service had come for a consultation with the President. And whatever lingering doubts may have stifled his reluctant imagination were dispelled when the figure at the desk opened a drawer.
"Notice this," he told the Chief as he appeared to search for a paper in the desk. "An electroscope; I put it in here last night. It is discharging. The ray has been on since nine-thirty. No current to electrocute me—just a penetrating ray."
He returned the paper to the drawer and closed it.
"So that is that," he said, and picked up a document to which he called the visitor's attention.
"Just acting," he explained. "The audience may be critical; we must try to give them a good show! And now give me a report. What are you doing? Has anything else turned up? I am counting on you to stand by and see that that electrician is on his toes at twelve o'clock."
"Stand by is right," the Chief agreed; "that's about all we can do. I have twenty men in and about the grounds—there will be as many more later on. And I know now just how little use we are to you, Del."
"Your expression!" warned Delamater. "Remember you are talking to the President. Very official and all that."
"Right! But now tell me what is the game, Del. If that devil fails to knock you out here where you are safe, he will get you when you leave the room."
"Perhaps," agreed the pseudo-executive, "and again, perhaps not. He won't get me here; I am sure of that. They have this part of the room insulated. The phone wire is cut—my conversations there are all faked.
"There is only one spot in this room where that current can pass. A heavy cable is grounded outside in wet earth. It comes to a copper plate on this desk; you can't see it—it is under those papers."
* * * * *
"And if the current comes—" began the visitor.
"When it comes," the other corrected, "it will jump to that plate and go off harmlessly—I hope."
"And then what? How does that let you out?"
"Then we will see," said the presidential figure. "And you've been here long enough, Chief. Send in the President's secretary as you go out."
"He arose to place a friendly, patronizing hand on the other's shoulder.
"Good-by," he said, "and watch that electrician at twelve. He is to throw the big switch when I call."
"Good luck," said the big man huskily. "We've got to hand it to you, Del; you're—"
"Good-by!" The figure of the Chief Executive turned abruptly to his desk.
There was more careful acting—another conference—some dictating. The clock on the desk gave the time as eleven fifty-five. The man before the flat topped desk verified it by a surreptitious glance at his watch. He dismissed the secretary and busied himself with some personal writing.
Eleven fifty-nine—and he pushed paper and pen aside. The movement disturbed some other papers, neatly stacked. They were dislodged, and where they had lain was a disk of dull copper.
"Ready," the man called softly. "Don't stand too near that line." The first boom of noonday bells came faintly to the room.
The President—to all but the other actors in the morning's drama—leaned far back in his chair. The room was suddenly deathly still. The faint ticking of the desk clock was loud and rasping. There was heavy breathing audible in the room beyond. The last noonday chime had died away....
The man at the desk was waiting—waiting. And he thought he was prepared, nerves steeled, for the expected. But he jerked back, to fall with the overturned chair upon the soft, thick-padded rug, at the ripping, crackling hiss that tore through the silent room.
* * * * *
From a point above the desk a blue arc flamed and wavered. Its unseen terminal moved erratically in the air, but the other end of the deadly flame held steady upon a glowing, copper disc.
Delamater, prone on the floor, saw the wavering point that marked the end of the invisible carrier of the current—saw it drift aside till the blue arc was broken. It returned, and the arc crashed again into blinding flame. Then, as abruptly, the blue menace vanished.
The man on the floor waited, waited, and tried to hold fast to some sense of time.
Then: "Contact!" he shouted. "The switch! Close the switch!"
"Closed!" came the answer from a distant room. There was a shouted warning to unseen men: "Stand back there—back—there's twenty thousand volts on that line—"
Again the silence....
"Would it work? Would it?" Delamater's mind was full of delirious, half-thought hopes. That fiend in some far-off room had cut the current meant as a death-bolt to the Nation's' head. He would leave the ray on—look along it to gloat over his easy victory. His generator must be insulated: would he touch it with his hand, now that his own current was off?—make of himself a conductor?
In the air overhead formed a terrible arc.
From the floor, Delamater saw it rip crashingly into life as twenty thousand volts bridged the gap of a foot or less to the invisible ray. It hissed tremendously in the stillness....
And Delamater suddenly buried his face in his hands. For in his mind he was seeing a rigid, searing body, and in his nostrils, acrid, distinct, was the smell of burning flesh.
"Don't be a fool," he told himself fiercely. "Don't be a fool! Imagination!"
The light was out.
"Switch off!" a voice was calling. There was a rush of swift feet from the distant doors; friendly hands were under him—lifting him—as the room, for Robert Delamater, President-in-name of the United States, turned whirlingly, dizzily black....
* * * * *
Robert Delamater, U. S. Secret Service operative, entered the office of his Chief. Two days of enforced idleness and quiet had been all he could stand. He laid a folded newspaper before the smiling, welcoming man.
"That's it, I suppose," he said, and pointed to a short notice.
"X-ray Operator Killed," was the caption. "Found Dead in Office in Watts Building." He had read the brief item many times.
"That's what we let the reporters have," said the Chief.
"Was he"—the operative hesitated for a moment—"pretty well fried?"
"And the machine?"
"Broken glass and melted metal. He smashed it as he fell."
"The Eye of Allah," mused Delamater. "Poor devil—poor, crazy devil. Well, we gambled—and we won. How about the rest of the bet? Do I get the Mint?"
"Hell, no!" said the Chief. "Do you expect to win all the time? They want to know why it took us so long to get him.
"Now, there's a little matter out in Ohio, Del, that we'll have to get after—"
Sound and light were transformed into mechanical action at the banquet of the National Tool Exposition recently to illustrate their possibilities in regulating traffic, aiding the aviator, and performing other automatic functions.
A beam of light was thrown on the "eyes" of a mechanical contrivance known as the "telelux," a brother of the "televox," and as the light was thrown on and off it performed mechanical function such as turning an electric switch.
The contrivance, which was developed by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, utilizes two photo-electric cells, sensitive to the light beam. One of the cells is a selector, which progressively chooses any one of three operating circuits when light is thrown on it. The other cell is the operator, which opens or closes the chosen circuit, thus performing the desired function.
S. M. Kintner, manager of the company's research department, who made the demonstration, also threw music across the room on a beam of light, and light was utilized in depicting the shape and direction of stresses in mechanical materials.
The Fifth-Dimension Catapult
A COMPLETE NOVELETTE
By Murray Leinster
The story of Tommy Reames' extraordinary rescue of Professor Denham and his daughter—marooned in the fifth dimension.
This story has no normal starting-place, because there are too many places where it might be said to begin. One might commence when Professor Denham, Ph. D., M. A., etc., isolated a metal that scientists have been talking about for many years without ever being able to smelt. Or it might start with his first experimental use of that metal with entirely impossible results. Or it might very plausibly begin with an interview between a celebrated leader of gangsters in the city of Chicago and a spectacled young laboratory assistant, who had turned over to him a peculiar heavy object of solid gold and very nervously explained, and finally managed to prove, where it came from. With also impossible results, because it turned "King" Jacaro, lord of vice-resorts and rum-runners, into a passionate enthusiast in non-Euclidean geometry. The whole story might be said to begin with the moment of that interview.
But that leaves out Smithers, and especially it leaves out Tommy Reames. So, on the whole, it is best to take up the narrative at the moment of Tommy's first entrance into the course of events.
He came to a stop in a cloud of dust that swirled up to and all about the big roadster, and surveyed the gate of the private road. The gate was rather impressive. At its top was a sign. "Keep Out!" Halfway down was another sign. "Private Property. Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted." On one gate-post was another notice, "Live Wires Within." and on the other a defiant placard. "Savage Dogs At Large Within This Fence."
The fence itself was all of seven feet high and made of the heaviest of woven-wire construction. It was topped with barbed wire, and went all the way down both sides of a narrow right of way until it vanished in the distance.
Tommy got out of the car and opened the gate. This fitted the description of his destination, as given him by a brawny, red-headed filling-station attendant in the village some two miles back. He drove the roadster through the gate, got out and closed it piously, got back in the car and shot it ahead.
He went humming down the narrow private road at forty-five miles an hour. That was Tommy Reames' way. He looked totally unlike the conventional description of a scientist of any sort—as much unlike a scientist as his sport roadster looked unlike a scientist's customary means of transit—and ordinarily he acted quite unlike one. As a matter of fact, most of the people Tommy associated with had no faintest inkling of his taste for science as an avocation. There was Peter Dalzell, for instance, who would have held up his hands in holy horror at the idea of Tommy Reames being the author of that article. "On the Mass and Inertia of the Tesseract," which in the Philosophical Journal had caused a controversy.
And there was one Mildred Holmes—of no importance in the matter of the Fifth-Dimension Catapult—who would have lifted beautifully arched eyebrows in bored unbelief if anybody had suggested that Tommy Reames was that Thomas Reames whose "Additions to Herglotz's Mechanics of Continua" produced such diversities of opinion in scientific circles. She intended to make Tommy propose to her some day, and thought she knew all about him. And everybody, everywhere, would have been incredulous of his present errand.
* * * * *
Gliding down the narrow, fenced-in road. Tommy was a trifle dubious about this errand himself. A yellow telegraph-form in his pocket read rather like a hoax, but was just plausible enough to have brought him away from a rather important tennis match. The telegram read:
PROFESSOR DENHAM IN EXTREME DANGER THROUGH EXPERIMENT BASED ON YOUR ARTICLE ON DOMINANT COORDINATES YOU ALONE CAN HELP HIM IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY COME AT ONCE.
A. VON HOLTZ.
The fence went on past the car. A mile, a mile and a half of narrow lane, fenced in and made as nearly intruder-proof as possible.
"Wonder what I'd do," said Tommy Reames, "if another car came along from the other end?"
He deliberately tried not to think about the telegram any more. He didn't believe it. He couldn't believe it. But he couldn't ignore it, either. Nobody could: few scientists, and no human being with a normal amount of curiosity. Because the article on dominant coordinates had appeared in the Journal of Physics and had dealt with a state of things in which the normal coordinates of everyday existence were assumed to have changed their functions: when the coordinates of time, the vertical, the horizontal and the lateral changed places and a man went east to go up and west to go "down" and ran his street-numbers in a fourth dimension. It was mathematical foolery, from one standpoint, but it led to some fascinating if abstruse conclusions.
* * * * *
But his brain would not remain away from the subject of the telegram, even though a chicken appeared in the fenced-in lane ahead of him and went flapping wildly on before the car. It rose in mid-air, the car overtook it as it rose above the level of the hood, and there was a rolling, squawking bundle of shedding feathers tumbling over and over along the hood until it reached the slanting windshield. There it spun wildly upward, left a cloud of feather's fluttering about Tommy's head, and fell still squawking into the road behind. By the back-view mirror, Tommy could see it picking itself up and staggering dizzily back to the side of the road.
"My point was," said Tommy vexedly to himself, speaking of the article the telegram referred to, "that a man can only recognize three dimensions of space and one of time. So that if he got shot out of this cosmos altogether he wouldn't know the difference. He'd still seem to be in a three-dimensioned universe. And what is there in that stuff to get Denham in trouble?"
A house appeared ahead. A low, rambling sort of bungalow with a huge brick barn behind it. The house of Professor Denham, very certainly, and that barn was the laboratory in which he made his experiments.
Instinctively, Tommy stepped on the gas. The car leaped ahead. And then he was braking frantically. A pipe-framed gate with thinner, unpainted wire mesh filling its surface loomed before him, much too late for him to stop. There was a minor shock, a crashing and squeaking, and then a crash and shattering of glass. Tommy bent low as the top bar of the gate hit his windshield. The double glass cracked and crumpled and bent, but did not fly to bits. And the car came to a halt with its wheels intricately entangled in torn-away fence wire. The gate had been torn from its hinges and was draped rakishly over the roadster. A tire went flat with a loud hissing noise, and Tommy Reames swore softly under his breath and got out to inspect the damage.
* * * * *
He was deciding that nothing irreparable was wrong when a man came bursting out of the brick building behind the house. A tall, lean, youngish man who waved his arms emphatically and approached shouting:
"You had no right to come in here! You must go away at once! You have damaged property! I will tell the Professor! You must pay for the damage! You must—"
"Damn!" said Tommy Reames. He had just seen that his radiator was punctured. A spout of ruddy, rusty water was pouring out on the grass.
The youngish man came up furiously. A pale young man, Tommy noticed. A young man with bristling, close-cropped hair and horn-rimmed spectacles before weak-looking eyes. His mouth was very full and very red, in marked contrast to the pallor of his cheeks.
"Did you not see the sign upon the gate?" he demanded angrily, in curiously stilted English. "Did you not see that trespassers are forbidden? You must go away at once! You will be prosecuted! You will be imprisoned! You—"
Tommy said irritably:
"Are you Von Holtz? My name is Reames. You telegraphed me."
The waving, lanky arms stopped in the middle of an excited gesture. The weak-looking eyes behind the lenses widened. A pink tongue licked the too-full, too-red lips.
"Reames? The Herr Reames?" Von Holtz stammered. Then he said suspiciously, "But you are not—you cannot be the Herr Reames of the article on dominant coordinates!"
"I don't know why," said Tommy annoyedly. "I'm also the Herr Reames of several other articles, such as on the mechanics of continua and the mass and inertia of the tesseract. And I believe the current Philosophical Journal—"
* * * * *
He surveyed the spouting red stream from the radiator and shrugged ruefully.
"I wish you'd telephone the village to have somebody come out and fix my car," he said shortly, "and then tell me if this telegram is a joke or not."
He pulled out a yellow form and offered it. He had taken an instinctive dislike to the lean figure before him, but suppressed the feeling.
Von Holtz took the telegram and read it, and smoothed it out, and said agitatedly:
"But I thought the Herr Reames would be—would be a venerable gentleman! I thought—"
"You sent that wire," said Tommy. "It puzzled me just enough to make me rush out here. And I feel like a fool for having done it. What's the matter? Is it a joke?"
Von Holtz shook his head violently, even as he bit his lips.
"No! No!" he protested. "The Herr Professor Denham is in the most terrible, most deadly danger! I—I have been very nearly mad, Herr Reames. The Ragged Men may seize him!... I telegraphed to you. I have not slept for four nights. I have worked! I have racked my brains! I have gone nearly insane, trying to rescue the Herr Professor! And I—"
* * * * *
"Four days?" he said. "The thing, whatever it is, has been going on for four days?"
"Five," said Von Holtz nervously. "It was only to-day that I thought of you, Herr Reames. The Herr Professor Denham had praised your articles highly. He said that you were the only man who would be able to understand his work. Five days ago—"
"If he's been in danger for five days," he said skeptically, "he's not in such a bad fix or it'd have been over. Will you phone for a repairman? Then we'll see what it's all about."
The lean arms began to wave again as Von Holtz said desperately:
"But Herr Reames, it is urgent! The Herr Professor is in deadly danger!"
"What's the matter with him?"
"He is marooned," said Von Holtz. Again he licked his lips. "He is marooned, Herr Reames, and you alone—"
"Marooned?" said Tommy more skeptically still. "In the middle of New York State? And I alone can help him? You sound more and more as if you were playing a rather elaborate and not very funny practical joke. I've driven sixty miles to get here. What is the joke, anyhow?"
Von Holtz said despairingly:
"But it is true, Herr Reames! He is marooned. He has changed his coordinates. It was an experiment. He is marooned in the fifth dimension!"
* * * * *
There was dead silence. Tommy Reames stared blankly. Then his gorge rose. He had taken an instinctive dislike to this lean young man, anyhow. So he stared at him, and grew very angry, and would undoubtedly have gotten into his car and turned it about and driven it away again if it had been in any shape to run. But it wasn't. One tire was flat, and the last ruddy drops from the radiator were dripping slowly on the grass. So he pulled out a cigarette case and lighted a cigarette and said sardonically:
"The fifth dimension? That seems rather extreme. Most of us get along very well with three dimensions. Four seems luxurious. Why pick on the fifth?"
Von Holtz grew pale with anger in his turn. He waved his arms, stopped, and said with stiff formality:
"If the Herr Reames will follow me into the laboratory I will show him Professor Denham and convince him of the Herr Professor's extreme danger."
Tommy had a sudden startling conviction that Von Holtz was in earnest. He might be mad, but he was in earnest. And there was undoubtedly a Professor Denham, and this was undoubtedly his home and laboratory.
"I'll look, anyway," said Tommy less skeptically. "But it is rather incredible, you know!"
"It is impossible," said Von Holtz stiffly. "You are right, Herr Reames. It is quite impossible. But it is a fact."
He turned and stalked toward the big brick barn behind the house. Tommy went with him, wholly unbelieving and yet beginning to wonder if, just possibly, there was actually an emergency of a more normal and ghastly nature in being. Von Holtz might be a madman. He might....
Gruesome, grisly thoughts ran through Tommy's head. A madman dabbling in science might do incredible things, horrible things, and then demand assistance to undo an unimaginable murder....
* * * * *
Tommy was tense and alert as Von Holtz opened the door of the barnlike laboratory. He waved the lean young man on ahead.
"After you," he said curtly.
He felt almost a shiver as he entered. But the interior of the laboratory displayed no gruesome scene. It was a huge, high-ceilinged room with a concrete floor. A monster dynamo was over in one corner, coupled to a matter-of-fact four-cylinder crude-oil engine, to which was also coupled by a clutch an inexplicable windlass-drum with several hundred feet of chain wrapped around it. There were ammeters and voltmeters on a control panel, and one of the most delicate of dynamometers on its own stand, and there were work benches and a motor-driven lathe and a very complete equipment for the working of metals. And there was an electric furnace, with splashes of solidified metal on the floor beside it, and there was a miniature casting-floor, and at the farther end of the monster room there was a gigantic solenoid which evidently had once swung upon gymbals and as evidently now was broken, because it lay toppled askew upon its supports.
The only totally unidentifiable piece of apparatus in the place was one queer contrivance at one side. It looked partly like a machine-gun, because of a long brass barrel projecting from it. But the brass tube came out of a bulging casing of cast aluminum and there was no opening through which shells could be fed.
* * * * *
Von Holz moved to that contrivance, removed a cap from the end of the brass tube, looked carefully into the opening, and waved stiffly for Tommy to look in.
Again Tommy was suspicious; watched until Von Holtz was some distance away. But the instant he put his eye to the end of the brass tube he forgot all caution, all suspicion, all his doubts. He forgot everything in his amazement.
There was a lens in the end of the brass tube. It was, in fact, nothing more or less than a telescope, apparently looking at something in a closed box. But Tommy was not able to believe that he looked at an illuminated miniature for even the fraction of a second. He looked into the telescope, and he was seeing out-of-doors. Through the aluminum casting that enclosed the end of the tube. Through the thick brick walls of the laboratory. He was gazing upon a landscape such as should not—such as could not—exist upon the earth.
There were monstrous, feathery tree-ferns waving languid fronds in a breeze that came from beyond them. The telescope seemed to be pointing at a gentle slope, and those tree-ferns cut off a farther view, but there was an impenetrable tangle of breast-high foliage between the instrument and that slope, and halfway up the incline there rested a huge steel globe.
Tommy's eyes fixed themselves upon the globe. It was man-made, of course. He could see where it had been bolted together. There were glassed-in windows in its sides, and there was a door.
* * * * *
As Tommy looked, that door opened partway, stopped as if someone within had hesitated, and then opened fully. A man came out. And Tommy said dazedly:
Because the man was a perfectly commonplace sort of individual, dressed in a perfectly commonplace fashion, and he carried a perfectly commonplace briar pipe in his hand. Moreover, Tommy recognized him. He had seen pictures of him often enough, and he was Professor Edward Denham, entitled to put practically all the letters of the alphabet after his name, the author of "Polymerization of the Pseudo-Metallic Nitrides" and the proper owner of this building and its contents. But Tommy saw him against a background of tree-ferns such as should have been extinct upon this earth since the Carboniferous Period, some millions of years ago.
He was looking hungrily at his briar pipe. Presently he began to hunt carefully about on the ground. He picked together half a handful of brownish things which had to be dried leaves. He stuffed them into the pipe, struck a match, and lighted it. He puffed away gloomily, surrounded by wholly monstrous vegetation. A butterfly fluttered over the top of the steel globe. Its wings were fully a yard across. It flittered lightly to a plant and seemed to wait, and abruptly a vivid carmine blossom opened wide; wide enough to admit it.
Denham watched curiously enough, smoking the rank and plainly unsatisfying dried leaves. He turned his head and spoke over his shoulder. The door opened again. Again Tommy Reames was dazed. Because a girl came out of the huge steel sphere—and she was a girl of the most modern and most normal sort. A trim sport frock, slim silken legs, bobbed hair....
Tommy did not see her face until she turned, smiling, to make some comment to Denham. Then he saw that she was breath-takingly pretty. He swore softly under his breath.
* * * * *
The butterfly backed clumsily out of the gigantic flower. It flew lightly away, its many-colored wings brilliant in the sunshine. And the huge crimson blossom closed slowly.
Denham watched the butterfly go away. His eyes returned to the girl who was smiling at the flying thing, now out of the field of vision of the telescope. And there was utter discouragement visible in every line of Denham's figure. Tommy saw the girl suddenly reach out her hand and put it on Denham's shoulder. She patted it, speaking in an evident attempt to encourage him. She smiled, and talked coaxingly, and presently Denham made a queer, arrested gesture and went heavily back into the steel globe. She followed him, though she looked wearily all about before the door closed behind her, and when Denham could not see her face, her expression was tired and anxious indeed.
Tommy had forgotten Von Holtz, had forgotten the laboratory, had forgotten absolutely everything. If his original suspicions of Von Holtz had been justified, he could have been killed half a dozen times over. He was oblivious to everything but the sight before his eyes.
Now he felt a touch on his shoulder and drew his head away with a jerk. Von Holtz was looking down at him, very pale, with his weak-looking eyes anxious.
"They are still all right?" he demanded.
"Yes," said Tommy dazedly. "Surely. Who is that girl?"
"That is the Herr Professor's daughter Evelyn," said Von Holtz uneasily. "I suggest, Herr Reames, that you swing the dimensoscope about."
"The—what?" asked Tommy, still dazed by what he had seen.
"The dimensoscope. This." Von Holtz shifted the brass tube. The whole thing was mounted so that it could be swung in any direction. The mounting was exactly like that of a normal telescope. Tommy instantly put his eye to the eyepiece again.
* * * * *
He saw more tree-ferns, practically the duplicates of the background beyond the globe. Nothing moved save small, fugitive creatures among their fronds. He swung the telescope still farther. The landscape swept by before his eyes. The tree-fern forest drew back. He saw the beginning of a vast and noisome morass, over which lay a thick haze as of a stream raised by the sun. He saw something move in that morass; something huge and horrible with a long and snake-like neck and the tiniest of heads at the end of it. But he could not see the thing clearly.
He swung the telescope yet again. And he looked over miles and miles of level, haze-blanketed marsh. Here and there were clumps of taller vegetation. Here and there were steaming, desolate pools. And three or four times he saw monstrous objects moving about clumsily in the marsh-land.
But then a glitter at the skyline caught his eye. He tilted the telescope to see more clearly, and suddenly he caught his breath. There, far away at the very horizon, was a city. It was tall and gleaming and very strange. No earthly city ever flung its towers so splendidly high and soaring. No city ever built by man gave off the fiery gleam of gold from all its walls and pinnacles. It looked like an artist's dream, hammered out in precious metal, with its outlines softened by the haze of distance.
And something was moving in the air near the city. Staring, tense, again incredulous, Tommy Reames strained his eyes and saw that it was a machine. An air-craft; a flying-machine of a type wholly unlike anything ever built upon the planet Earth. It swept steadily and swiftly toward the city, dwindling as it went. It swooped downward toward one of the mighty spires of the city of golden gleams, and vanished.
* * * * *
It was with a sense of shock, of almost physical shock, that Tommy came back to realization of his surroundings to feel Von Holtz's hand upon his shoulder and to hear the lean young man saying harshly:
"Well, Herr Reames? Are you convinced that I did not lie to you? Are you convinced that the Herr Professor Denham is in need of help?"
Tommy blinked dazedly as he looked around the laboratory again. Brick walls, an oil-spattered crude-oil engine in one corner, a concrete floor and an electric furnace and a casting-box....
"Why—yes...." said Tommy dazedly. "Yes. Of course!" Clarity came to his brain with a jerk. He did not understand at all, but he believed what he had seen. Denham and his daughter were somewhere in some other dimension, yet within range of the extraordinary device he had looked through. And they were in trouble. So much was evident from their poses and their manner. "Of course," he repeated. "They're—there, wherever it is, and they can't get back. They don't seem to be in any imminent danger...."
Von Holtz licked his lips.
"The Ragged Men have not found them yet," he said in a hushed, harsh voice. "Before they went in the globe we saw the Ragged Men. We watched them. If they do find the Herr Professor and his daughter, they will kill them very slowly, so that they will take days of screaming agony to die. It is that that I am afraid of, Herr Reames. The Ragged Men roam the tree-fern forests. If they find the Herr Professor they will trace each nerve to its root of agony until he dies. And we will be able only to watch...."
"The thing is," said Tommy feverishly, "that we've got to find a way to get them back. Whether it duplicates Denham's results or not. How far away are they?"
"A few hundred yards, perhaps," said Von Holtz wearily, "or ten million miles. It is the same thing. They are in a place where the fifth dimension is the dominant coordinate."
Tommy was pacing up and down the laboratory. He stopped and looked through the eyepiece of the extraordinary vision apparatus. He tore himself away from it again.
"How does this thing work?" he demanded.
Von Holtz began to unscrew two wing-nuts which kept the top of the aluminum casting in place.
"It is the first piece of apparatus which Professor Denham made," he said precisely. "I know the theory, but I cannot duplicate it. Every dimension is at right angles to all other dimensions, of course. The Herr Professor has a note, here—"
He stopped his unscrewing to run over a heap of papers on the work-bench—papers over which he seemed to have been poring desperately at the time of Tommy's arrival. He handed a sheet to Tommy, who read:
"If a creature who was aware of only two dimensions made two right-angled objects and so placed them that all the angles formed by the combination were right angles, he would contrive a figure represented by the corner of a box; he would discover a third dimension. Similarly, if a three-dimensioned man took three right angles and placed them so that all the angles formed were right angles, he would discover a fourth dimension. This, however, would probably be the time dimension, and to travel in time would instantly be fatal. But with four right angles he could discover a fifth dimension, and with five right angles he could discover a sixth...."
* * * * *
Tommy Reames put down the paper impatiently.
"Of course" he said brusquely. "I know all that stuff. But up to the present time nobody has been able to put together even three right angles, in practise."
Von Holtz had returned to the unscrewing of the wing-nuts. He lifted off the cover of the dimensoscope.
"It is the thing the Herr Professor did not confide to me," he said bitterly. "The secret. The one secret! Look in here."
Tommy looked. The objective-glass at the end of the telescope faced a mirror, which was inclined to its face at an angle of forty-five degrees. A beam of light from the objective would be reflected to a second mirror, twisted in a fashion curiously askew. Then the light would go to a third mirror....
Tommy looked at that third mirror, and instantly his eyes ached. He closed them and opened them again. Again they stung horribly. It was exactly the sort of eye-strain which comes of looking through a lens which does not focus exactly, or through a strange pair of eyeglasses. He could see the third mirror, but his eyes hurt the instant they looked upon it, as if that third mirror were distorted in an impossible fashion. He was forced to draw them away. He could see, though, that somehow that third mirror would reflect his imaginary beam of light into a fourth mirror of which he could see only the edge. He moved his head—and still saw only the edge of a mirror. He was sure of what he saw, because he could look into the wavy, bluish translucency all glass shows upon its edge. He could even see the thin layer of silver backing. But he could not put himself into a position in which more than the edge of that mirror was visible.
"Good Lord!" said Tommy Reames feverishly. "That mirror—"
"A mirror at forty-five degrees," said Von Holtz precisely, "reflects light at a right angle. There are four mirrors, and each bends a ray of light through a right angle which is also a right angle to all the others. The result is that the dimensoscope looks into what is a fifth dimension, into which no man ever looked before. But I cannot move other mirrors into the positions they have in this instrument. I do not know how."
* * * * *
Tommy shook his head impatiently, staring at the so-simple, yet incredible device whose theory had been mathematically proven numberless times, but never put into practice before.
"Having made this device," said Von Holtz, "the Herr Professor constructed what he termed a catapult. It was a coil of wire, like the large machine there. It jerked a steel ball first vertically, then horizontally, then laterally, then in a fourth-dimensional direction, and finally projected it violently off in a fifth-dimensional path. He made small hollow steel balls and sent a butterfly, a small sparrow, and finally a cat into that other world. The steel balls opened of themselves and freed those creatures. They seemed to suffer no distress. Therefore he concluded that it would be safe for him to go, himself. His daughter refused to permit him to go alone, and he was so sure of his safety that he allowed her to enter the globe with him. She did. I worked the catapult which flung the globe in the fifth dimension, and his device for returning failed to operate. Hence he is marooned."
"But the big catapult—"
"Can you not see that the big catapult is broken?" demanded Von Holtz bitterly. "A special metal is required for the missing parts. That, I know how to make. Yes. I can supply that. But I cannot shape it! I cannot design the gears which will move it as it should be moved! I cannot make another dimensoscope. I cannot, Herr Reames, calculate any method of causing four right angles to be all at right angles to each other. It is my impossibility! It is for that that I have appealed to you. You see it has been done. I see that it is done. I can make the metal which alone can be moved in the necessary direction. But I cannot calculate any method of moving it in that direction! If you can do so, Herr Reames, we can perhaps save the Herr Professor Denham. If you cannot—Gott! The death he will die is horrible to think of!"
"And his daughter," said Tommy grimly. "His daughter, also."
* * * * *
He paced up and down the laboratory again. Von Holtz moved to the work-bench from which he had taken Denham's note. There was a pile of such memoranda, thumbed over and over. And there were papers in the angular, precise handwriting which was Von Holtz's own, and calculations and speculations and the remains of frantic efforts to work out, somehow, the secret which as one manifestation had placed one mirror so that it hurt the eyes to look at it, and one other mirror so that from every angle of a normal existence, one could see only the edge.
"I have worked, Herr Reames," said Von Holtz drearily. "Gott! How I have worked! But the Herr Professor kept some things secret, and that so-essential thing is one of them."
Presently he said tiredly:
"The dimension-traveling globe was built in this laboratory. It rested here." He pointed. "The Herr Professor was laughing and excited at the moment of departure. His daughter smiled at me through the window of the globe. There was an under-carriage with wheels upon it. You cannot see those wheels through the dimensoscope. They got into the globe and closed the door. The Herr Professor nodded to me through the glass window. The dynamo was running at its fullest speed. The laboratory smelled of hot oil, and of ozone from the sparks. I lifted my hand, and the Herr Professor nodded again, and I threw the switch. This switch, Herr Reames! It sparked as I closed it, and the flash partly blinded me. But I saw the globe rush toward the giant catapult yonder. It leaped upward into the huge coil, which whirled madly. Dazed, I saw the globe hanging suspended in mid-air, two feet from the floor. It shook! Once! Twice! With violence! Suddenly its outline became hazy and distorted. My eyes ached with looking at it. And then it was gone!"
* * * * *
Von Holtz's arms waved melodramatically.
"I rushed to the dimensoscope and gazed through it into the fifth dimension. I saw the globe floating onward through the air, toward that bank of glossy ferns. I saw it settle and turn over, and then slowly right itself as it came to rest. The Herr Professor got out of it. I saw him through the instrument which could look into the dimension into which he had gone. He waved his hand to me. His daughter joined him, surveying the strange cosmos in which they were. The Herr Professor plucked some of the glossy ferns, took photographs, then got back into the globe.
"I awaited its return to our own world. I saw it rock slightly as he worked upon the apparatus within. I knew that when it vanished from the dimensoscope it would have returned to our own universe. But it remained as before. It did not move. After three hours of anguished waiting, the Herr Professor came out and made signals to me of despair. By gestures, because no sound could come through the dimensoscope itself, he begged me to assist him. And I was helpless! Made helpless by the Herr Professor's own secrecy! For four days and nights I have toiled, hoping desperately to discover what the Herr Professor had hidden from me. At last I thought of you. I telegraphed to you. If you can assist me...."
"I'm going to try it, of course," said Tommy shortly.
He paced back and forth. He stopped and looked through the brass-tubed telescope. Giant tree-ferns, unbelievable but real. The steel globe resting partly overturned upon a bank of glossy ferns. Breast-high, incredible foliage between the point of vision and that extraordinary vehicle.
* * * * *
While Tommy had been talking and listening, while he had been away from the eyepiece, one or other of the occupants of the globe had emerged from it. The door was open. But now the girl came bounding suddenly through the ferns. She called, though it seemed to Tommy that there was a curious air of caution even in her calling. She was excited, hopefully excited.
Denham came out of the globe with a clumsy club in his hand. But Evelyn caught his arm and pointed up into the sky. Denham stared, and then began to make wild and desperate gestures as if trying to attract attention to himself.
Tommy watched for minutes, and then swung the dimensoscope around. It was extraordinary, to be sitting in the perfectly normal brick-walled laboratory, looking into a slender brass tube, and seeing another universe entirely, another wild and unbelievable landscape.
The tree-fern forest drew back and the vast and steaming morass was again in view. There were distant bright golden gleams from the city. But Tommy was searching the sky, looking in the sky of a world in the fifth dimension for a thing which would make a man gesticulate hopefully.
He found it. It was an aircraft, startlingly close through the telescope. A single figure was seated at its controls, motionless as if bored, with exactly the air of a weary truck driver piloting a vehicle along a roadway he does not really see. And Tommy, being near enough to see the pilot's pose, could see the aircraft clearly. It was totally unlike a terrestrial airplane. A single huge and thick wing supported it. But the wing was angular and clumsy-seeming, and its form was devoid of the grace of an earthly aircraft wing, and there was no tail whatever to give it the appearance of a living thing. There was merely a long, rectangular wing with a framework beneath it, and a shimmering thing which was certainly not a screw propeller, but which seemed to draw it.
* * * * *
It moved on steadily and swiftly, dwindling in the distance, with its motionless pilot seated before a mass of corded bundles. It looked as if this were a freight plane of some sort, and therefore made in a strictly utilitarian fashion.
It vanished in the haze above the monster swamp, going in a straight line for the golden city at the world's edge.
Tommy stared at it, long after it had ceased to be visible. Then he saw a queer movement on the earth near the edge of the morass. Figures were moving. Human figures. He saw four of them, shaking clenched fists and capering insanely, seeming to bellow insults after the oblivious and now invisible flying thing. He could see that they were nearly naked, and that one of them carried a spear. But the indubitable glint of metal was reflected from one of them for an instant, when some metal accoutrement about him glittered in the sunlight.
They moved from sight behind thick, feathery foliage, and Tommy swung back the brass tube to see the globe again. Denham and his daughter were staring in the direction in which Tommy had seen those human figures. Denham clutched his clumsy club grimly. His face was drawn and his figure tensed. And suddenly Evelyn spoke quietly, and the two of then dived into the fern forest and disappeared. Minutes later they returned, dragging masses of tree-fern fronds with which they masked the globe from view. They worked hastily, desperately, concealing the steel vehicle from sight. And then Denham stared tensely all about, shading his eyes with his hand. He and the girl withdrew cautiously into the forest.
* * * * *
It was minutes later that Tommy was roused by Von Holtz's hand on his shoulder.
"What has happened, Herr Reames?" he asked uneasily. "The—Ragged Men?"
"I saw men," said Tommy briefly, "shaking clenched fists at an aircraft flying overhead. And Denham and his daughter have hidden the globe behind a screen of foliage."
Von Holtz licked his lips fascinatedly.
"The Ragged Men," he said in a hushed voice. "The Herr Professor called them that, because they cannot be of the people who live in the Golden City. They hate the people of the Golden City. I think that they are bandits; renegades, perhaps. They live in the tree-fern forests and scream curses at the airships which fly overhead. And they are afraid of those airships."
"How long did Denham use this thing to look through, before he built his globe?"
Von Holtz considered.
"Immediately it worked," he said at last, "he began work on a small catapult. It took him one week to devise exactly how to make that. He experimented with it for some days and began to make the large globe. That took nearly two months—the globe and the large catapult together. And also the dimensoscope was at hand. His daughter looked through it more than he did, or myself."
"He should have known what he was up against," said Tommy, frowning. "He ought to have taken guns, at least. Is he armed?"
Von Holtz shook his head.
"He expected to return at once," he said desperately. "Do you see, Herr Reames, the position it puts me in? I may be suspected of murder! I am the Herr Professor's assistant. He disappears. Will I not be accused of having put him out of the way?"
"No," said Tommy thoughtfully. "You won't." He glanced through the brass tube and paced up and down the room. "You telephone for someone to repair my car," he said suddenly and abruptly. "I am going to stay here and work this thing out. I've got just the glimmering of an idea. But I'll need my car in running order, in case we have to go out and get materials in a hurry."
* * * * *
Von Holtz bowed stiffly and went out of the laboratory. Tommy looked after him. Even moved to make sure he was gone. And then Tommy Reames went quickly to the work bench on which were the littered notes and calculations Von Holtz had been using and which were now at his disposal. But Tommy did not leaf through them. He reached under the blotter beneath the whole pile. He had seen Von Holtz furtively push something out of sight, and he had disliked and distrusted Von Holtz from the beginning. Moreover, it was pretty thoroughly clear that Denham had not trusted him too much. A trusted assistant should be able to understand, at least, any experiment performed in a laboratory.
A folded sheet of paper came out. Tommy glanced at it.
"You messed things up right! Denham marooned and you got nothing. No plans or figures either. When you get them, you get your money. If you don't you are out of luck. If this Reames guy can't fix up what you want it'll be just too bad for you."
There was no salutation nor any signature beyond a scrawled and sprawling "J."
Tommy Reames' jaw set grimly. He folded the scrap of paper and thrust it back out of sight again.
"Pretty!" he said harshly. "So a gentleman named 'J' is going to pay Von Holtz for plans or calculations it is hoped I'll provide! Which suggests—many things! But at least I'll have Von Holtz's help until he thinks my plans or calculations are complete. So that's all right...."
Tommy could not be expected, of course, to guess that the note he had read was quite astounding proof of the interest taken in non-Euclidean geometry by a vice king of Chicago, or that the ranking beer baron of that metropolis was the man who was so absorbed in abstruse theoretic physics.
* * * * *
Tommy moved toward the great solenoid which lay askew upon its wrecked support. It had drawn the steel globe toward it, had made that globe vibrate madly, twice, and then go hazy and vanish. It had jerked the globe in each of five directions, each at right angles to all the others, and had released it when started in the fifth dimension. The huge coil was quite nine feet across and would take the steel globe easily. It was pivoted in concentric rings which made up a set of gymbals far more elaborate than were ever used to suspend a mariner's compass aboard ship.
There were three rings, one inside the other. And two rings will take care of any motion in three dimensions. These rings were pivoted, too, so that an unbelievably intricate series of motions could be given to the solenoid within them all. But the device was broken, now. A pivot had given away, and shaft and socket alike had vanished. Tommy became absorbed. Some oddity bothered him....
He pieced the thing together mentally. And he exclaimed suddenly. There had been four rings of metal! One was gone! He comprehended, very suddenly. The third mirror in the dimensoscope was the one so strangely distorted by its position, which was at half of a right angle to all the dimensions of human experience. It was the third ring in the solenoid's supports which had vanished. And Tommy, staring at the gigantic apparatus and summoning all his theoretic knowledge and all his brain to work, saw the connection between the two things.
"The time dimension and the world-line," he said sharply, excited in spite of himself. "Revolving in the time dimension means telescoping in the world-line.... It would be a strain no matter could endure...."
* * * * *
The mirror in the dimensoscope was not pointing in a fourth dimension. It did not need to. It was reflecting light at a right angle, and hence needed to be only at half of a right angle to the two courses of the beam it reflected. But to whirl the steel globe into a fifth dimension, the solenoid's support had for one instant to revolve in time! For the fraction of a second it would have literally to pass through its own substance. It would be required to undergo precisely the sort of strain involved in turning a hollow seamless metal globe, inside out! No metal could stand such a strain. No form of matter known to man could endure it.
"It would explode!" said Tommy excitedly to himself, alone in the great bare laboratory. "Steel itself would vaporize! It would wreck the place!"
And then he looked blank. Because the place had very obviously not been wrecked. And yet a metal ring had vanished, leaving no trace....
Von Holtz came back. He looked frightened.
"A—a repairman, Herr Reames," he said, stammering, "is on the way. And—Herr Reames...."
Tommy barely heard him. For a moment, Tommy was all scientist, confronted with the inexplicable, yet groping with a blind certainty toward a conclusion he very vaguely foresaw. He waved his hand impatiently....
"The Herr Jacaro is on the way here," stammered Von Holtz.
* * * * *
Tommy blinked, remembering that Von Holtz had told him he could make a certain metal, the only metal which could be moved in the fourth dimension.
"Jacaro?" he said blankly.
"The—friend of the Herr Professor Denham. He advanced the money for the Herr Professor's experiments."
Tommy heard him with only half his brain, though that half instantly decided that Von Holtz was lying. The only Jacaro Tommy knew of was a prominent gangster from Chicago, who had recently cemented his position in Chicago's underworld by engineering the amalgamation of two once-rival gangs. Tommy knew, in a vague fashion, that Von Holtz was frightened. That he was terrified in some way. And that he was inordinately suspicious of someone, and filled with a queer desperation.
"Well?" said Tommy abstractedly. The thought he needed was coming. A metal which would have full tensile strength up to a certain instant, and then disrupt itself without violence into a gas, a vapor.... It would be an alloy, perhaps. It would be....
He struck at his own head with his clenched fist, angrily demanding that his brain bring forth the thought that was forming slowly. The metal that could be revolved in time without producing a disastrous explosion and without requiring an impossible amount of power....
* * * * *
He did not see Von Holtz looking in the eyepiece of the dimensoscope. He stared at nothing, thinking concentratedly, putting every bit of energy into sheer thought. And suddenly, like the explosion he sought a way to avoid, the answer came, blindingly clear.
He surveyed that answer warily. A tremendous excitement filled him.
"I've got it!" he said softly to himself. "By God, I know how he did the thing!"
And as if through a mist the figure of Von Holtz became clear before his eyes. Von Holtz was looking into the dimensoscope tube. He was staring into that other, extraordinary world in which Denham and his daughter were marooned. And Von Holtz's face was utterly, deathly white, and he was making frantic, repressed gestures, and whispering little whimpering phrases to himself. They were unintelligible, but the deathly pallor of his cheeks, and the fascinated, dribbling fullness of his lips brought Tommy Reames suddenly down to earth.
"What's happening?" demanded Tommy sharply.
Von Holtz did not answer. He made disjointed, moaning little exclamations to himself. He was twitching horribly as he looked through the telescope into that other world....
Tommy flung him aside and clapped his own eye to the eyepiece. And then he groaned.
* * * * *
The telescope was pointed at the steel globe upon that ferny bank, no more than a few hundred yards away but two dimensions removed from Earth. The screening mass of tree-fronds had been torn away. A swarm of ragged, half-naked men was gathered about the globe. They were armed with spears and clubs, in the main, but there were other weapons of intricate design whose uses Tommy could not even guess at. He did not try. He was watching the men as they swarmed about and over the steel sphere. Their faces were brutal and savage, and now they were distorted with an insane hate. It was the same awful, gibbering hatred he had sensed in the caperings of the four he had seen bellowing vituperation at an airplane.
They were not savages. Somehow he could not envision them as primitive. Their features were hard-bitten, seamed with hatred and with vice unspeakable. And they were white. The instant impression any man would have received was that here were broken men; fugitives, bandits, assassins. Here were renegades or worse from some higher, civilized race.
They battered hysterically upon the steel globe. It was not the attack of savages upon a strange thing. It was the assault of desperate, broken men upon a thing they hated. A glass pane splintered and crashed. Spears were thrust into the opening, while mouths opened as if in screams of insane fury. And then, suddenly, the door of the globe flew wide.
The Ragged Men did not wait for anyone to come out. They fought each other to get into the opening, their eyes glaring madly, filled with the lust to kill.
A battered and antiquated flivver came chugging down the wire-fenced lane to the laboratory, an hour later. It made a prodigious din, and Tommy Reames went out to meet it. He was still a little pale. He had watched the steel globe turned practically inside out by the Ragged Men. He had seen them bringing out cameras, cushions, and even the padding of the walls, to be torn to bits in a truly maniacal fury. But he had not seen one sign of a human being killed. Denham and his daughter had not been in the globe when it was found and ransacked. So far, then, they were probably safe. Tommy had seen them vanish into the tree-fern forest. They had been afraid, and with good reason. What dangers they might encounter in the fern forest he could not guess. How long they would escape the search of the Ragged Men, he could not know. How he could ever hope to find them if he succeeded in duplicating Denham's dimension-traveling apparatus he could not even think of, just now. But the Ragged Men were not searching the fern forest. So much was sure. They were encamped by the steel sphere, and a scurvy-looking lot they were.
Coming out of the brick laboratory, Tommy saw a brawny figure getting out of the antiquated flivver whose arrival had been so thunderous. That brawny figure nodded to him and grinned. Tommy recognized him. The red-headed, broad-shouldered filling station attendant in the last village, who had given him specific directions for reaching this place.
"You hit that gate a lick, didn't you?" asked the erstwhile filling station attendant amiably. "Mr. Von Holtz said you had a flat and a busted radiator. That right?"
* * * * *
Tommy nodded. The red-headed man walked around the car, scratched his chin, and drew out certain assorted tools. He put them on the grass with great precision, pumped a gasoline blow-torch to pressure and touched a match to its priming-basin, and while the gasoline flamed smokily he made a half dozen casual movements with a file, and the broken radiator tube was exposed for repair.
He went back to the torch and observed placidly:
"The Professor ain't around, is he?"
Tommy shook his head.
"Thought not," said the red-headed one. "He gen'rally comes out and talks a while. I helped him build some of them dinkuses in the barn yonder."
Tommy said eagerly:
"Say, which of those things did you help him build? That big thing with the solenoid—the coil?"
"Yeah. How'd it work?" The red-headed one set a soldering iron in place and began to jack up the rear wheel to get at the tire. "Crazy idea, if you ask me. I told Miss Evelyn so. She laughed and said she'd be in the ball when it was tried. Did it work?"
"Too damn well," said Tommy briefly. "I've got to repair that solenoid. How about a job helping?"
The red-headed man unfastened the lugs of the rim, kicked the tire speculatively, and said, "Gone to hell." He put on the spare tire with ease and dispatch.
"Um," he said. "How about that Mr. Von Holtz? Is he goin' to boss the job?"
"He is not," said Tommy, with a shade of grimness in his tone.
* * * * *
The red-headed man nodded and took the soldering iron in hand. He unwound a strip of wire solder, mended the radiator tube with placid ease, and seemed to bang the cooling-flanges with a total lack of care. They went magically back into place, and it took close inspection to see that the radiator had been damaged.
"She's all right," he observed. He regarded Tommy impersonally. "Suppose you tell me how come you horn in on this," he suggested, "an' maybe I'll play. That guy Von Holtz is a crook, if you ask me about him."
Tommy ran his hand across his forehead, and told him.
"Um," said the red-headed man calmly. "I think I'll go break Mr. Von Holtz's neck. I got me a hunch."
He took two deliberate steps forward. But Tommy said:
"I saw Denham not an hour ago. So far, he's all right. How long he'll be all right is a question. But I'm going after him."
The red-headed man scrutinized him exhaustively.
"Um. I might try that myself. I kinda like the Professor. An' Miss Evelyn. My name's Smithers. Let's go look through the dinkus the Professor made."
They went together into the laboratory. Von Holtz was looking through the dimensoscope. He started back as they entered, and looked acutely uneasy when he saw the red-headed man.
"How do you do," he said nervously. "They—the Ragged Men—have just brought in a dead man. But it is not the Herr Professor."
Without a word, Tommy took the brass tube in his hand. Von Holtz moved away, biting his lips. Tommy stared into that strange other world.
* * * * *
The steel sphere lay as before, slightly askew upon a bank of glossy ferns. But its glass windows were shattered, and fragments of everything it had contained were scattered about. The Ragged Men had made a camp and built a fire. Some of them were roasting meat—the huge limb of a monstrous animal with a scaly, reptilian hide. Others were engaged in vehement argument over the body of one of their number, lying sprawled out upon the ground.
Tommy spoke without moving his eyes from the eyepiece.
"I saw Denham with a club just now. This man was killed by a club."
The Ragged Men in the other world debated acrimoniously. One of them pointed to the dead man's belt, and spread out his hands. Something was missing from the body. Tommy saw, now, three or four other men with objects that looked rather like policemen's truncheons, save that they were made of glittering metal. They were plainly weapons. Denham, then, was armed—if he could understand how the weapon was used.
The Ragged Men debated, and presently their dispute attracted the attention of a man with a huge black beard. He rose from where he sat gnawing at a piece of meat and moved grandly toward the disputatious group. They parted at his approach, but a single member continued the debate against even the bearded giant. The bearded one plucked the glittering truncheon from his belt. The disputatious one gasped in fear and flung himself desperately forward. But the bearded man kept the truncheon pointed steadily.... The man who assailed him staggered, reached close enough to strike a single blow, and collapsed. The bearded man pointed the metal truncheon at him as he lay upon the ground. He heaved convulsively, and was still.
The bearded man went back to his seat and picked up the gnawed bit of meat again. The dispute had ceased. The chattering group of men dispersed.
* * * * *
Tommy was about to leave the eyepiece of the instrument when a movement nearby caught his eye. A head peered cautiously toward the encampment. A second rose beside it. Denham and his daughter Evelyn. They were apparently no more than thirty feet from the dimensoscope. Tommy could see them talking cautiously, saw Denham lift and examine a metal truncheon like the bearded man's, and force his daughter to accept it. He clutched a club, himself, with a grim satisfaction.
Moments later they vanished quietly in the thick fern foliage, and though Tommy swung the dimensoscope around in every direction, he could see nothing of their retreat.
He rose from that instrument with something approaching hopefulness. He'd seen Evelyn very near and very closely. She did not look happy, but she did look alert rather than worn. And Denham was displaying a form of competence in the face of danger which was really more than would have been expected in a Ph.D., a M.A., and other academic distinctions running to most of the letters of the alphabet.
"I've just seen Denham and Evelyn again," said Tommy crisply. "They're safe so far. And I've seen one of the weapons of the Ragged Men in use. If we can get a couple of automatics and some cartridges to Denham, he'll be safe until we can repair the big solenoid."
"There was the small catapult," said Von Holtz bitterly, "but it was dismantled. The Herr Professor saw me examining it, and he dismantled it. So that I did not learn how to calculate the way of changing the position—"