Grant, not knowing how to prepare, sat where he was. Michaels rose with an almost convulsive suddenness, looking about as though making a last-minute check of all facilities.

Duval, having put his charts aside, began to fumble at his harness.


"May I help, doctor?" asked Cora.

He looked up, "Eh? Oh, no. It's just a matter of getting this buckle straight. Here we are."


"Yes?" He looked up again and was suddenly all concern over her apparent difficulty in expressing herself. "Is anything wrong with the laser, Miss Peterson?"

"Oh, no. It's just that I'm sorry I was the cause of unpleasantness between yourself and Dr. Reid."

"That was nothing. Don't think of it."

"And thank you for arranging to have me come."

Duval said, seriously, "It is quite necessary for me to have you. I couldn't rely on anyone else as I do on you."

Cora moved to Grant who, having turned to watch Duval, was now fiddling with his own harness.

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"Do you know how to work that?" she asked.

"It seems more complicated than the ordinary aircraft seat-belt."

"Yes, it is. Here, you've got this hooked incorrectly. Allow me." She leaned across him and Grant found himself staring at one cheek at close quarters and catching the understated delicacy of light scent. He restrained himself.

Cora said in a low voice. "I'm sorry if I've been hard on you, but my position is a difficult one."

"I find it delightful at the moment . . . No, forgive me. That slipped out."

She said, "I have a position at the CMDF quite analogous to that of a number of men but I find myself blocked at every step by the completely extraneous fact of my sex. Either I receive too much consideration or too much condescension and I want neither. Not at work, at any rate. It leaves me a bundle of frustration."

Grant thought the obvious answer but didn't say it. I was going to be a strain if he were going to continual refrain from the obvious; more, perhaps, than he would able to bear.

He said, "Whatever your sex, and at this point I'll be careful not to commit myself, you're the calmest person here except for Duval, and I don't think he knows he's here."

"Don't underestimate him, Mr. Grant. He knows he's here, I assure you. If he's calm, it's because he realizes that the importance of this mission is greater than that of his individual life."

"Because of Benes' secret?"

"No. Because this will be the first time miniaturization has been used on this scale; and that it is being used for the purpose of saving life."

Grant said, "Will it be safe to use that laser? After what it nearly did to my finger?"

"In Dr. Duval's hands that laser beam will destroy the clot without disturbing one molecule of the surrounding tissue."

"You have a high estimate of his ability."

"It is the world's estimate. And I share it with reason. I have been with him ever since I got my master's degree."

"I suspect he shows you neither too much condescension nor too much consideration merely because you are a woman."

"No, he doesn't."

She returned to her seat and slipped on her own harness in one fluid motion.

Owens called. "Dr. Michaels, we're waiting."

Michaels, having stepped from his seat and moved slowly about the cabin seemed, for the moment, abstracted and uncertain. Then, looking quickly from one strapped person to another said, "Oh, yes," sat down and adjusted his own harness.

Owens swung down from his bubble, checked each harness quickly, mounted again and put on his own. "Okay, Mr. Grant. Tell them we're ready."

Grant did so and the loudspeaker sounded almost at once:


The voice stopped and Grant could find nothing more original with which to encourage his sinking spirits than, "This is it!"

To his own surprise, he found he had said it aloud.

Michaels, next to him, said, "Yes, it is," and managed a s weak smile.

In the observation tower, Carter waited. He caught himself wishing he were in the Proteus, rather than outside it. It would be a difficult hour and it would be easier to be in a position where he would know each moment the events of that moment.

He quivered at the sudden sharp tapping of the wireless message over an open circuit. The aide at the receiving end spoke quietly: "Proteus reports all secured."

Carter called out, "Miniaturizer!"

The proper switch, labelled MIN, at the proper panel was touched by the proper finger of the proper technician. It's like a ballet, thought Carter, with everyone in place and every Motion prescribed, in a dance the end of which none could see.

The touch upon the switch was reflected in the fading to one side of the wall at the end of the miniaturizing room and the revelation, bit by bit, of a huge, honeycombed disc, suspended from a rail running along the ceiling. It moved toward and over the Proteus, making its way silently and without friction on air-jets that kept its suspension arm a tenth of an inch above the railing.

To those inside the Proteus, the geometrically-riddled disc was clearly visible, approaching like a pock-marked monster.

Michaels' forehead and bald head were unpleasantly beaded with perspiration. "That," he said, in a muffled voice, "is the miniaturizer."

Grant opened his mouth, but Michaels added hurriedly, "Don't ask me how it works. Owens knows, but I don't."

Grant cast an involuntary glance up and back toward Owens, who seemed to be tightening and growing rigid. One of his hands was clearly visible and was grasping a bar which, Grant guessed, was one of the ship's more important units of control; grasping it as though the sensation of something material and powerful lent him comfort. Or perhaps the touch of any part of the ship he had himself designed was consoling. He, more than anyone, must know the strength - or the weakness - of the bubble that would keep them surrounded by a microscopic bit of normality.

Grant looked away and found his eye stumbling over Duval, whose thin lips were faintly stretched into a smile.

"You look uneasy, Mr. Grant. Is it not your profession to be in uneasy situations without being uneasy?"

Darn it! For how many decades had the public been fed fairy-tales about undercover agents?

"No, doctor," said Grant, levelly. "In my profession to be in an uneasy situation without being uneasy is to be quickly dead. We are expected only to act intelligently, regardless of the state of our feelings. You, I take it, do not feel uneasy."

"No. I feel interested. I feel saturated with-with a sense of wonder. I am unbearably curious and excited. -Not uneasy."

"What are the chances of death, in your opinion?"

"Small, I hope. And in any case, I have the consolations of religion. I have confessed, and for me death is but a doorway."

Grant had no reasonable answer to that and made none. For him, death was a blank wall with but one side, but he had to admit that however logical that seemed to his mind, it offered little consolation at the moment against the worm of uneasiness that (as Duval had correctly noted) lay coiled inside that same mind.

He was miserably aware that his own forehead was wet, perhaps as wet as that of Michaels, and that Cora was looking at him with what his sense of shame immediately translated into contempt.

He said, impulsively, "And have you confessed your sin Miss Peterson?"

She said, coolly, "Which sins do you have in mind, M Grant?"

He had no answer for that either, so he slumped in his chair and looked up at the miniaturizer which was no exactly overhead.

"What do you feel when you are being miniaturized, Dr Michaels?"

"Nothing, I suppose. It is a form of motion, a collapsing inward, and if it is done at a constant rate there is no more sensation in that than in moving down an escalator at constant speed."

"That's the theory, I suppose," Grant kept his eyes fixed on the miniaturizer. "What is the actual sensation.,

"I don't know. I have never experienced it. However, animals in the process of miniaturization never act in the slightest bit disturbed. They continue their normal actions without interruption, as I have personally noted."

"Animals?" Grant turned to stare at Michaels in sudden indignation. "Animals? Has any man ever been miniaturized?"

"I'm afraid," said Michaels, "that we have the honor of being the first."

"How thrilling. Let me ask another question. How far down has any living creature-any living creature at all-been miniaturized?"

"Fifty," said Michaels, briefly.


"Fifty. It means the reduction is such that the linear dimensions are one-fiftieth normal."

"Like reducing me to a height of nearly one and a half inches."


"Only we're going far past that point."

"Yes. To nearly a million, I think. Owens can give you the exact figure."

"The exact figure does not matter. The point is it's much more intense a miniaturization than has ever been tried before."

"That is correct."

"Do you think we can bear up under all the honors we are being showered with in the way of pioneering?"

"Mr. Grant," said Michaels, and from somewhere he dredged up the touch of humor that marked his words, "I'm afraid we must. We are being miniaturized now; right now; and obviously you don't feel it."

"Great guns!" muttered Grant, and looked up again with kind of frozen and fixed attention. The bottom of the miniaturizer was glowing with a colored light that blazed without blinding. It did not seem to be used with the eyes, but with the nerves generally so that lien Grant closed his eyes, all actual objects blanked out but the light was still visible as a general, featureless radiance.

Michaels must have been watching Grant close his eyes pointlessly, for he said, "It's not light. It's not electromagnetic radiation of any sort. It's a form of energy that is not part of our normal universe. It affects the nerve-endings and our brain interprets it as light because it knows of no other way of interpreting it."

"Is it dangerous in any way?"

"Not as far as is known, but I must admit that nothing has ever been exposed to it at this intense a level."

"Pioneering again," muttered Grant.

Duval cried out, "Glorious! Like the light of creation!" The hexagonal tiles beneath the vessel were glowing in response to the radiation and the Proteus was itself ablaze from within and without. The chair in which Grant sat might have been made of fire, but it remained solid and cool.

Even the air about him lit up and he breathed cold illumination.

His fellow-passengers and his own hand were frigidly aglow.

Duval's luminous band marked out the sign of the cross in a sparking movement and his shining lips moved.

Grant said, "Are you suddenly afraid, Dr. Duval?"

Duval said softly, "One prays not only out of fear, but out of gratitude for the privilege of seeing the great wonders of God."

Grant acknowledged himself, inwardly, to be the loser of that exchange, too. He wasn't doing at all well.

Owens cried out, "Look at the walls."

They were drifting away in all directions at a visible rate of speed now and the ceiling was moving upward. All ends of the large room were shrouded in thick, increasing gloom, all the thicker for being seen through shining air. The minlaturizer was now an enormous thing, its limits and boundaries not quite visible. In each indentation of its honeycomb there was a fragment of the unearthly light; a regular marching of so many brilliant stars in a black sky.

Grant found himself losing his nervousness in the excitement of it. With an effort, he glanced hastily at the others. All of them were looking upward, hypnotized by the light, by the vast distances that had been created out of nowhere, by a room that had enlarged into a universe, and a universe that had grown out of ken.

Without warning, the light dimmed to a dull red and the wireless signal sounded in staccato bursts with a sharp, echoing ring. Grant started.

Michaels said, "Belinski at Rockefeller said subjective sensations must change with miniaturization. He was largely ignored, but that signal certainly sounds different."

Grant said, "Your voice doesn't."

"That is because you and I are both equally miniaturized. I'm talking about sensations that must cross the miniaturization gap; sensations from out there."

Grant translated and read out the message that had come in: MINIATURIZATION TEMPORARILY HALTED. IS ALL WELL? REPLY AT ONCE!

"Is everyone all right?" Grant called out, sardonically. There was no answer and he said, "Silence gives consent." and tapped out: ALL WELL.

Carter licked lips that remained dry. He watched with painful concentration as the miniaturizer took on its glow and he knew that everyone in the room down to the least essential technician was doing the same.

Living human beings had never been miniaturized. Nothing as large as the Proteus had ever been miniaturized. Nothing, man or animal, living or dead, large or small, had ever been miniaturized so drastically.

The responsibility was his. All responsibility in this continuing nightmare was his.

"There she goes!" came an almost exultant whisper from the technician at the Miniaturization button. The phrase came clearly over the communications system, as Carter watched the Proteus shrink.

It did so slowly at first, so that one could only tell it was happening by the change in the way it overlapped the hexagonal structures that made up the floor. Those that were partially revealed beyond the edge of the ship's structure crept outward, and eventually tiles that had earlier been completely hidden began to show.

All around the Proteus, the hexagonals emerged, and the rate of miniaturization accelerated until the ship was shrinking like a patch of ice on a warm surface.

Carter had watched miniaturization a hundred times, but never with quite the effect upon himself that he was experiencing now. It was as though the ship were hurling down a long, infinitely long, hole; falling in absolute silence and growing smaller and smaller as the distance increased to miles, to tens of miles, to hundreds.

The ship was a white beetle now, resting upon the central hexagon immediately under the miniaturizer; resting upon the one red hexagon in the world of white ones-the Zero Module.

The Proteus was still falling, still shrinking, and Carter, with an effort, raised his hand. The glow of the minaturizer faded to a dull red and miniaturization stopped.

"Find out how they are before we continue."

They might conceivably be dead or, just as bad, unable to perform theirs-tasks with minimum efficiency. In that case, they had lost and it would be well to know now.

The communications' technician said, "Answer returned and reads: ALL WELL."

Carter thought: If they're unable to operate, they might be unable to realize they're unable.

But there would be no way to check that. One had to pretend all was well if the crew of the Proteus said all was well. Carter said, " Elevate the, ship."

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