The Girl in the Golden Atom
by Ray Cummings
Table of Contents|
Part 1 and part 3
appear in this issue.
part 2 of 9
Chapter II: Into the Ring
THE cigars were lighted and dinner over before the Doctor broached the subject uppermost in the minds of every member of the party.
“A toast, gentlemen,” he said, raising his glass. “To the greatest research chemist in the world. May he be successful in his adventure tonight.”
The Chemist bowed his acknowledgment. “You have not heard me yet,” he said smiling.
“But we want to,” said the Very Young Man impulsively.
“And you shall.” He settled himself more comfortably in his chair. “Gentlemen, I am going to tell you, first, as simply as possible, just what I have done in the past two years. You must draw your own conclusions from the evidence I give you.
“You will remember that I told you last week of my dilemma after the destruction of the microscope. Its loss and the impossibility of replacing it, led me into still bolder plans than merely the visual examination of this minute world. I reasoned, as I have told you, that because of its physical proximity, its similar environment, so to speak, this outer world should be capable of supporting life identical with our own.
“By no process of reasoning can I find adequate refutation of this theory. Then, again, I had the evidence of my own eyes to prove that a being I could not tell from one of my own kind was living there. That this girl, other than in size, differs radically from those of our race, I cannot believe.
“I saw then but one obstacle standing between me and this other world — the discrepancy of size. The distance separating our world from this other is infinitely great or infinitely small, according to the viewpoint. in my present size it is only a few feet from here to the ring on that plate. But to an inhabitant of that other world, we are as remote as the faintest stars of the heavens, diminished a thousand times.”
He paused a moment, signing the waiter to leave the room.
“This reduction of bodily size, great as it is, involves no deeper principle than does a light contraction of tissue, except that it must be carried further. The problem, then, was to find a chemical, sufficiently unharmful to life, that would so act upon the body cells as to cause a reduction in bulk, without changing their shape. I had to secure a uniform and also a proportionate rate of contraction of each cell, in order not to have the body shape altered.
“After a comparatively small amount of research work, encountered an apparently insurmountable obstacle. As you know, gentlemen, our living human bodies are held together by the power of the central intelligence we call the mind. Every instant during your lifetime your subconscious mind is commanding and directing the individual life of each cell that makes up your body. At death this power is withdrawn; each cell is thrown under its own individual command, and dissolution of the body takes place.
“I found, therefore, that I could not act upon the cells separately, so long as they were under control of the mind. On the other hand, I could not withdraw this power of the subconscious mind without causing death.
“I progressed no further than this for several months. Then came the solution. I reasoned that after death the body does not immediately disintegrate; far more time elapses than I expected to need for the cell-contraction. I devoted my time, then to finding a chemical that would temporarily withhold, during the period of cell-contraction, the power of the subconscious mind, just as the power of the conscious mind is withheld by hypnotism.
“I am not going to weary you by trying to lead you through the maze of chemical experiments into which I plunged. Only one of you,” he indicated the Doctor, “has the technical basis of knowledge to follow me. No one had been before me along the path I traversed. I pursued the method of pure theoretical deduction, drawing my conclusions from the practical results obtained.
“I worked on rabbits almost exclusively. After a few weeks I succeeded in completely suspending animation in one of them for several hours. There was no life apparently existing during that period. It was not a trance or coma, but the complete simulation of death. No harmful results followed the revivifying of the animal. The contraction of the cells was far more difficult to accomplish; I finished my last experiment less than six months ago.
“Then you really have been able to make an animal infinitely small?” asked the Big Business Man.
The Chemist smiled. “I sent four rabbits into the unknown last week,” he said.
“What did they look like going?” asked the Very Young Man. The Chemist signed him to be patient.
“The quantity of diminution to be obtained bothered me considerably. Exactly how small that other universe is, I had no means of knowing, except by the computations I made of the magnifying power of my lens. These figures, I know, must necessarily be very inaccurate. Then, again, I have no means of knowing by the visual rate of diminution of these rabbits, whether this contraction is at a uniform rate or accelerated. Nor can I tell how long it is prolonged, for the quantity of drug administered, as only a fraction of the diminution has taken place when the animal passes beyond the range of any microscope I now possess.
These questions were overshadowed, however, by a far more serious problem that encompassed them all.
“As I was planning to project myself into this unknown universe and to reach the exact size proportionate to it, I soon realized such a result could not be obtained were I in an unconscious state. Only by successive doses of the drug, or its retardant about which I will tell you later, could I hope to reach the proper size. Another necessity is that I place myself on the exact spot on that ring where I wish to enter and to climb down among its atoms when I have become sufficiently small to do so. Obviously, this would be impossible to one not possessing all his faculties and physical strength.”
“And did you solve that problem, too?” asked the Banker.
“I’d like to see it done,” he added, reading his answer in the other’s confident smile.
The Chemist produced two small paper packages from his wallet. “These drugs are the result of my research,” he said. “One of them causes contraction, and the other expansion, by an exact reversal of the process. Taken together, they produce no effect, and a lesser amount of one retards the action of the other.” He opened the papers, showing two small vials. “I have made them as you see, in the form of tiny pills, each containing a minute quantity of the drug. It is by taking them successively in unequal amounts that I expect to reach the desired size.”
“There’s one point that you do not mention,” said the Doctor. “Those vials and their contents will have to change size as you do. How are you going to manage that ?”
“By experimentation I have found,” answered the Chemist, “that any object held in close physical contact with the living body being contracted is contracted itself at an equal rate. I believe that my clothes will be affected also. These vials I will carry strapped under my armpits.”
“Suppose you should die, or be killed, would the contraction cease?” asked the Doctor.
“Yes, almost immediately,” replied the Chemist. “Apparently, though I am acting through the subconscious mind while its power is held in abeyance, when this power is permanently withdrawn by death, the drug no longer affects the individual cells. The contraction or expansion ceases almost at once.”
The Chemist cleared a space before him on the table. “In a well-managed club like this,” he said, “there should be no flies, but I see several around. Do you suppose we can catch one of them?”
“I can,” said the Very Young Man, and forthwith he did.
The Chemist moistened a lump of sugar and laid it on the table before him. Then, selecting one of the smallest of the pills, he ground it to powder with the back of a spoon and sprinkled this powder on the sugar.
“Will you give me the fly, please?”
The Very Young Man gingerly did so. The Chemist held the insect by its wings over the sugar. “Will someone lend me one of his shoes?”
The Very Young Man hastily slipped off a dancing pump.
“Thank you,” said the Chemist, placing it on the table with a quizzical smile.
The rest of the company rose from their chairs and gathered around, watching with interested faces what was about to happen.
Copyright © 1919 by Ray Cummings