Duval said: "Notice how the nerve action ends at the clot. That's visible evidence of nerve damage; possibly irreversible. I wouldn't swear that we can help Benes now, even if we remove the clot."

"Good thinking, doctor," said Michaels sarcastically. "That excuses you, doesn't it?"


"Shut up, Michaels," said Grant, coldly.

Duval said, "On with the swim-suit, Miss Peterson. This had got to be done right now. -And put it on inside out. The antibodies are sensitized to its normal surface and there may be some about."

Michaels smiled wearily. "Don't trouble yourselves. It's too late." He pointed to the Time Recorder, which was just making the slow, slow change from 7 to 6.

He said, "You couldn't possibly perform the operation in time to allow us to get to the removal point in the jugular. Even if you succeed in the removal of the clot, we'll end by de-miniaturizing right here and killing Benes. "

Duval did not stop in his donning of the suit. Nor did Cora. Duval said, "Well, then, he'll be no worse off than he will be if we don't operate."

"No, but we will. We'll get larger slowly at first. It may take us a whole minute to reach a size that will attract the attention of a white blood cell. There are millions of them around this site of injury. We'll be engulfed."


"I doubt that either the Proteus or we could withstand the physical strain placed upon us by the compression within a digestive vacuole inside a white cell. Not in our miniaturized state, and not after all the ship and we have already gone through. We'll continue expanding, but when we are back to full size, it will be as a crushed ship and crushed human beings. -You had better leave here, Owens, and make it as quickly as you can for the removal point."

"Hold it," interposed Grant, angrily. "Owens, how long will it take us to removal point?"

-- Advertisement --

Owens said, faintly, "Two minutes!"

"That leaves us four minutes. Maybe more. Isn't it true that de-miniaturization after sixty minutes is a conservative estimate? Couldn't we remain miniaturized for longer, if the field holds a little longer than expected."

"Maybe," said Michaels, flatly, "but don't kid yourself. A minute longer. Two minutes at the outside. We can't beat the Uncertainty principle."

"All right. Two minutes. And mightn't it take longer to de-miniaturize than we're counting on?"

Duval said, "It might take a minute or two, if we're lucky."

Owens put in. "It's because of the random nature of the basic structure of the universe. With luck, if everything breaks our way ..."

"But only a minute or two," said Michaels, "at most."

"All right," said Grant, "we've got four minutes, plus maybe two minutes extra, plus maybe a minute of slow de-miniaturization before we do damage to Benes. That's seven minutes of our long time-distorted variety. Get going, Duval."

"All you'll succeed in doing, you crazy fool, is to get Benes killed and us with him," yelled Michaels. "Owens, get us over to removal point."

Owens hesitated.

Grant moved quickly to the ladder and climbed up to Owens' bubble. He said quietly. "Turn off the power, Owens. Turn it off."

Owens' finger moved to a switch, hovered over it. Grant's hand moved quickly to it and flicked it into the OFF position with a strenuous gesture. "Now get down. Come on down."

He half-pulled Owens out of his seat, and both came down. The whole had taken a few seconds and Michaels had watched, open-mouthed, too startled to move.

"What the devil have you done?" he demanded.

"The ship is staying right here," said Grant, "till the operation has succeeded. Now Duval, get on with it."

Duval said, "Get the laser, Miss Peterson." Both were in their swim-suits now. Cora's looked sadly seamed and lumpy.

She said, "I must be a rare sight."

Michaels said, "Are you mad? All of you? There is no time. All this is suicide. Listen to me," he was almost frothing with anxiety, "you can't accomplish anything."

Grant said, "Owens, operate the hatch for them."

Michaels flung himself forward, but Grant seized him, whirled him around, and said, "Don't make me hit you, Dr. Michaels. My muscles ache and I don't want to have to use them but if I hit, I will hit hard and, I promise you, I will break your jaw."

Michaels lifted his fists almost as though he were ready to accept the challenge. But Duval and Cora had disappeared into the hatch and Michaels, watching them leave, became almost pleading.

"Listen, Grant, don't you see what's happening? Duval will kill Benes. It will be so easy. A slip of the laser and who will tell the difference? If you do as I say, we can leave Benes alive, get out and try again tomorrow."

"He may not be alive tomorrow and we can't miniaturize for quite a while, someone said."

"He might be alive tomorrow; he'll certainly be dead if you don't stop Duval. Other people can be miniaturized, tomorrow, even if we can't."

"In another ship? Nothing but the Proteus can manage, or is available."

Michaels became shrill. "Grant, I tell you Duval is an enemy agent."

"I don't believe that," said Grant.

"Why, because he's so religious? Because he's so full of pious platitudes? Isn't that just the disguise he'd choose? Or have you been influenced by his mistress, his..."

Grant said, "Don't finish that sentence, Michaels! Now, listen. There's no evidence that he's an enemy agent, and there's no reason for me to believe that."

"But I'm telling you..."

"I know you are. The fact is, though, I happen to believe that you are the enemy agent, Dr. Michaels.

"Yes. I have no real evidence for that either; nothing that could hold up in a law-court, but once security is through with you, such evidence will be found, I think."

Michaels pushed away from Grant and stared at him with horror. "Of course, I see now. You are the agent, Grant. Owens, don't you see? There were a dozen times when we could have gotten out safely, when it was obvious that the mission couldn't succeed, and wouldn't. He kept us in here every time. That's why he worked so hard replenishing our air supply at the lung. That's why ... Help me, Owens. Help me."

Owens stood irresolute.

Grant said, "The Time Recorder is about to move to 5. We now have three minutes more. Give me three minutes, Owens. You know that Benes won't live unless we remove the clot in those three minutes. I'll go out and help them and you keep Michaels immobilized. If I'm not back by the reading of 2, get out of here and save the ship and yourself. Benes will die and maybe we will, too. But you'll be safe and you can put the finger on Michaels."

Owens still said nothing.

Grant said, "Three minutes." And he began putting on his suit. The Time Recorder said 5.

Owens said, finally, "Three minutes, then. All right. But only three minutes."

Michaels sat down wearily. "You're letting them kill Benes, Owens, but I've done what I could. My conscience is clear."

Grant worked his way through the hatch.

Duval and Cora swam quickly in the direction of the clot, he carrying the laser, she the power unit.

Cora said, "I don't see any white cells, do you?"

"I'm not looking for them," said Duval, brusquely.

He looked thoughtfully ahead. The beam of the ship's headlight and their own smaller ones were weakened by the tangle of fibers that seemed to encase the clot just on the other side of the point at which the nerve impulses seemed to stop. The wall of the arteriole had been abraded by the injury and was not entirely blocked by the clot which embraced the section of nerve fibers and cells tightly.

"If we can break up the clot and relieve the pressure without touching the nerve itself," muttered Duval, "we will be doing well. If we leave only a basic scab to keep the arteriole plugged - Let's see now."

He maneuvered for position and raised the laser, "And if this thing works."

Cora said, "Dr. Duval, remember you said that the most economical stroke would be from above."

"I remember exactly," said Duval, grimly, "and I intend to hit it precisely."

He pressed the laser trigger. For the barest moment, a thin beam of coherent light flashed into being. "It works," cried Cora, gladly.

"This time," said Duval; "but it will have to work a number of times."

For a moment, the clot had stood out in relief against the unbearable brilliance of the laser beam and a line of small bubbles formed and marked out its path. Now the darkness was greater than before.

Duval said, "Close one eye, Miss Peterson, so that its retina will not require resensitization."

Again the laser beam and when it was over, Cora closed her open eye and opened the closed one. She said, excitedly, "It's working, Dr. Duval. The glitter is progressing out of sight now. A whole dark area is lighting up."

Grant was swimming up to them. "How's it coming, Duval?"

"Not bad," said Duval. "If I can cut it through transversely now and relieve the pressure on one key spot, I think the entire nerve pathway will be freed."

He swam to one side.

Grant called after him, "We have less than three minutes."

"Don't bother me," said Duval.

Cora said, "It's all right, Grant. He'll do it. Did Michaels make trouble?"

"Some," said Grant, grimly. "Owens has him under guard."

"Under guard?"

"Just in case . . ."

Inside the Proteus, Owens cast quick glances outward. "I don't know what to do," he muttered.

"Just stand here and let the murderers work," said Michaels, sarcastically. "You'll be held responsible for this, Owens."

Owens was silent.

Michaels said, "You can't believe I'm an enemy agent"

Owens said, "I'm not believing anything. Let's wait for the two minute mark and if they're not back, we'll leave. What's wrong with that?"

"All right," said Michaels.

Owens said, "The laser is working. I saw the flash. And you know..."


"The clot. I can see the sparkle of the nerve action in that direction where it couldn't be seen before."

"I don't," said Michaels, peering outward.

"I do," said Owens. "I tell you, it's working. And they'll be back. It looks as though you were wrong, Michaels."

Michaels shrugged, "All right, so much the better. If I'm wrong and if Benes lives, I could ask for nothing more. Only," his voice grew tightly alarmed. "Owens!"


"There's something wrong with the escape hatch. That darned fool Grant must have been too excited to close it properly. Or was it excitement?"

"But what's wrong? I don't see anything?"

"Are you blind? It's seeping fluid. Look at the seam."

"It's been wet here since Cora and Grant got away from the antibodies. Don't you remember?"

Owens was, staring down at the hatch and Michaels' hand, having closed around the screw-driver Grant had used to open the wireless panel, brought its handle down hard upon Owens' head.

With a muffled exclamation, Owens dropped to his knees, dazed.

Michaels struck again in a fever of impatience and began jamming the limp figure into its swim-suit. Perspiration stood out on his bald head in great drops. Opening the escape hatch, he thrust Owens into it. Quickly, he let the hatch fill with water then opened the outer door by the panel controls, losing a precious moment searching for it.

Ideally, he should now have flipped the ship to make certain that Owens had been thrown clear, but there was no time.

No time, he thought, no time.

Frantically, he leaped to the bubble and studied the controls. Something would have to be thrown to start the engine. Ah, there! A thrill of triumph surged through him as he felt the distant drumming of the engines begin again.

He looked ahead toward the clot. Owens had been right. A glitter of light was racing down the length of a long nerve process which until then had been dark.

Duval was aiming the laser beam in short bursts now at quick intervals.

Grant said, "I think we've just about had it, doctor. Time's gone."

"I'm just about done. The clot has crumbled away. Just one portion. Ah ... Mr. Grant, the operation has been a success."

"And we've got maybe three minutes to get out, maybe two. Back to the ship, now ..."

Cora said, "Someone else is here."

Grant veered, lunged toward the aimlessly swimming figure. "Michaels!" he cried. Then, "No, it's Owens, What ..."

Owens said, "I don't know. He hit me, I think. I don't know how I got out here."

"Where's Michaels?"

"On the ship, I sup..."

Duval cried, "The ship's motors have started."

"What!" said Owens, startled, "Who ..."

"Michaels," said Grant. "Obviously he must be at the controls."

"Why did you leave the ship, Grant?" demanded Duval, angrily.

"It's what I'm asking myself now. I had hoped Owens ..."

"I'm sorry," said Owens, "I didn't think he was really an enemy agent. I couldn't tell ..."

Grant said, "The trouble is I wasn't completely certain of it myself. Now, of course ..."

"An enemy agent!" said Cora, with horror.

Michaels voice sounded. "All of you, back off. In two minutes, the white cells will have come and by that time, I'll be on the way out. I'm sorry, but you had your chance to come out with me."

The ship was angling high now, and making a large curve.

"He's got it under full acceleration," said Owens.

"And," said Grant, "I think he's aiming at the nerve."

"Exactly what I'm doing, Grant," came Michaels' voice, grimly. "Rather dramatic, don't you think. First, I'll ruin the work of that mouthing saint, Duval, not so much for the sake of that alone as to do the kind of damage that will call a cohort of white cells to the scene at once. They'll take care of you."

Duval shouted, "Listen! Think! Why do this! Think of your country!"

"I'm thinking of mankind," shouted back Michaels, furiously. "The important thing is to keep the military out of the picture. Unlimited de-miniaturization in their hands will destroy the earth. If you fools can't see that ..."

The Proteus was now diving directly for the just-relieved nerve process.

Grant said desperately. "The laser! Let me have the laser!"

He snatched at the instrument from Duval, forcing it away. "Where's the trigger? Never mind. I've got it."

He angled upward, trying to intercept the hurtling ship. "Give me maximum power," he called to Cora.

"Full power!"

He took careful aim and a,pencil-wide beam of light emerged from the laser, and flickered out.

Cora said, "The laser gave out, Grant."

"Here, then, you hold it. I think I got the Proteus, though."

It was hard to tell. In the general dimness there was no way to see clearly.

"You struck the rudder, I think," said Owens. "You've killed my ship." Behind his mask, his cheeks were suddenly wet.

"Whatever you struck," said Duval, "the ship doesn't seem to be handling very well."

The Proteus was shaking now indeed, its headlight flashing up and down in a wide arc.

The ship pulled downward, crashed through the arteriole wall, missed the nerve by a hand's breath and lunged downward into a forest of dendrites; catching and breaking free and catching again, until it lay here, a bubble of metal, entangled in thick, smooth fibers.

"He missed the nerve," said Cora.

"He did damage enough," growled Duval. "That may, start a new clot-or maybe not. I hope not. In any case the white cells will be here. We had better leave."

"Where?" said Owens.

"If we follow the optic nerve, we can make it to the eye in a minute or less. Follow me."

"We can't leave the ship," said Grant. "It will de-miniaturize."

"Well, we can't take it with us," said Duval. "We have no choice but to try to save our own lives."

"We can still do something, perhaps," insisted Grant. "How much time do we have left?"

Duval said emphatically, "None! I think we're beginning to de-miniaturize now. In a minute or so we'll be large enough to attract the attention of a white cell. "

"De-miniaturizing? Now? I don't feel it."

"You won't. But the surroundings are slightly smaller than they've been. Let's go."

Duval took a quick view of his surroundings for orientation. "Follow me," he said again, and began swimming away.

Cora and Owens followed and, after a last moment of hesitation, Grant followed them.

He had failed. In the last analysis, he had failed because, feeling not entirely convinced that Michaels was an enemy on the basis of some uncertain reasoning, he had vacillated.

He would turn himself in, he thought bitterly, as a jackass unfit for his job.

"But they're not moving," said Carter, savagely. They stay there at the clot. Why? Why? Why?"

The Time Recorder read 1.

"It's too late for them to get out now," said Reid.

A message came through from the electroencephalographic unit. "Sir, EEG data indicates Benes' brain action is being restored to normal."

Carter yelled, "Then the operation is a success. Why are they staying behind?"

"We have no way of knowing."

The Time Recorder moved to 0 and a loud alarm went off. Its shrill jangle filled the entire room with the clang of doom and remained so.

Reid raised his voice to be heard. "We've got to take them out."

"It will kill Benes."

"If' we don't take them out, that will kill Benes, too." Carter said, "If there's anyone outside the ship, we won't be able to get him out."

Reid shrugged, "We can't help that. The white cells may get them or they may de-miniaturize unharmed."

"But Benes will die."

Reid leaned toward Carter, and shouted, "There's nothing to be done about that. Nothing! Benes is dead! Do you want to take a chance on killing five more uselessly."

Carter seemed to. shrink within himself. He said, "Give the order!"

Reid went to the transmitter. "Remove the Proteus," he said quietly, then went on to the window overlooking the operating room.

Michaels was only semi-conscious at best when the Proteus came to rest in the dendrites. The sudden veering that had come after the bright flash of the laser-it must have been the laser-had thrown him against the panel with great force. The only sensation he had from his right arm now was one of frightful pain. It had to be broken.

He tried to look behind him, fighting off the haze of agony. There was a tremendous cavity in the rear of the ship and viscous blood plasma bulged inward, held back partly by the pressure of the miniaturized air within the ship and partly by its own surface tension.

The air he had left would last him for the minute or two that would remain before de-miniaturization. Already, even as he watched, it seemed to his dizzying senses that the dendrite cables had narrowed a bit. They couldn't really be shrinking, so he had to be expanding-very slowly just at first.

At full-size, his arm could be taken care of. The others would be killed by white cells and be done with. He would say-he would say-something that would explain the broken ship. And in any case, Benes would be dead and indefinite miniaturization would die with him. There would be peace - peace ...

He watched the dendrites while his body remained limply draped over the control panel. Could he move? Was he paralyzed? Was his back broken as well as his arm?

Dully, he considered the possibility. He felt his sense of comprehension and awareness slipping away as the dendrites became clouded over with a milky haze.

Milky haze?

A white cell!

Of course, it was a white cell. The ship was -larger than the individuals out in the plasma, and it was the ship that was at the site of damage. The ship would be the first to attract the attention of the white cell.

The window of the Proteus was coated with sparkling milk. Milk invaded the plasma at the break in the ship's hull in the rear and struggled to break through the surface tension barrier.

The next to the last sound Michaels heard was the hull of the Proteus, fragile in its makeup of miniaturized atoms, strained to the breaking point with what it had already been through, cracking and splintering under the assault of the white cell.

The last sound he heard was his own laughter.

-- Advertisement --