Slowly, the Zero Module began to lift from the floor, a smooth hexagonal pillar, with red top and white sides, bearing the inch-wide Proteus upon itself. When the top was four feet above the floor it stopped.

"Ready for Phase Two, sir," came the voice of one of the technicians.


Carter looked briefly at Reid, who nodded. "Phase Two," said Carter.

A panel slid open and a handling device (a gigantic "waldo"-so named by the early nuclear technicians from a character in a science fiction story of the 1940's, Carter had once been told) moved in on silent air-jets. It was fourteen feet high and consisted of pulleys on a tripod; pulleys which controlled a vertical arm, dangling down from a horizontal extensor. The arm itself was in stages, each shorter and on a smaller scale than the one above. In this case, there were three stages and the lowest one, two inches long, was fitted with steel wires a quarter-inch thick, curved to meet each other in interlocking fashion.

The base of the device carried the CMDF insigne and below it was the inscription: -MIN PRECISION HANDLING.

Three technicians had entered with the handling device and behind them a uniformed nurse waited with visible impatience. The brown hair under her nurse's cap looked overhastily adjusted as though on that one day she had other things on her mind.

Two of the technicians adjusted the arm of the waldo directly over the shrunken Proteus. For the fine adjustment, three hair-thin beams of light reached from the arm support to the surface of the Zero Module. The distance of each beam from the center of the module was translated into light intensity upon a small circular screen divided into three segments, meeting in its center.

The light intensities, clearly unequal, shifted delicately as the third technician adjusted a knob. With the skill of practice, he brought the three segments to equal intensity in a matter of seconds; equal enough to wipe out the boundaries between them. The technician then threw a switch and locked the waldo into position. The centering lines of light flicked off and the broader beam of a searchlight illuminated the Proteus by indirect reflection.

Another control was manipulated, and the arm sank toward the Proteus. Slowly and gently it came down, the technician holding his breath. He had probably handled more miniaturized objects than anyone in the country; possibly than anyone in the world (although no one knew all the details of what was going. on Over There, of course) but this was something unprecedented.

He was going to lift something with a greater normal mass by many times than he had ever done before, and what he was going to lift contained five living human beings. Even a small, barely visible tremor might be enough to kill.

The prongs below opened and slowly slipped down over the Proteus. The technician stopped them and tried to have his eyes assure himself that what his instruments told him was true. The prongs were accurately centered. Slowly, they closed, bit by bit, until they met underneath the ship and formed a close-knit, precision-adjusted cradle.

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The Zero Module then dropped and left the Proteus suspended in the cradle claws.

The Zero Module did not stop at floor level, but sank below. Underneath the suspended ship was, for a few minutes, nothing but a hole.

Then, sheer glass walls began to rise upward from within the gap left by the Zero Module. When those walls, clear and cylindrical, had emerged a foot and a half, the meniscus of a clear liquid showed. When the Zero Module had emerged to floor level again, what was resting upon it was a cylinder, one foot wide and four feet tall, two-thirds filled with fluid. The cylinder rested on a circling cork base on which the lettering read: SALINE SOLUTION.

The arm of the waldo, which had not budged during this change, was now suspended over the solution. The ship was held within the upper portion of the cylinder, a foot above the solution level.

The arm was dropping now, slowly and more slowly. It stopped when the Proteus was almost at solution level, and then began moving with a velocity scaled down by a factor of ten thousand. The gears under the technician's immediate control moved rapidly while the ship lowered at a rate invisible to the eye.

Contact! The ship lowered further and further till it was half-submerged. The technician held it so for a moment, and then, as slowly as ever, he disengaged the, claws and, making sure the individual wires would clear the ship, lifted them free of the solution.

With a subdued, "Yahoo," he ran up the arm and unclamped the waldo. "Okay, let's get it out of here," he said to the two on either side and then, remembering, barked out in altered, official tones, "Ship in ampule, sir!"

Carter said, "Good! Check on the crew!"

The transfer from Module to Ampule had been dainty enough from the standpoint of the normal world, but had been anything but from within the Proteus.

Grant had radioed back the ALL WELL signal and then, overcoming the initial moment of nausea, at the sudden lurch upward as the Zero Module began to rise, said, "What now? More miniaturization? Anyone know?"

Owens said, "We'll have to submerge before the next stage of miniaturization."

"Submerge where?" but Grant received no answer to that. He looked out again into the dim universe of the miniaturization room and caught his first glimpse of the giants.

They were men, moving toward them-towers of men in the dim outer light, men foreshortened downward, foreshortened upward, as though viewed in giant distorting mirrors. A belt-buckle was a square of metal, a foot either way. A shoe, far below, might have been a railroad car. A head far above seemed a mountainous nose surrounding the twin tunnels of the nostrils. They moved with odd slowness.

"Time-sense," muttered Michaels. He was squinting upward and then looking at his watch.

"What?" asked Grant.

"Another one of Belinski's suggestions; that the time-sense alters with miniaturization. Ordinary time seems to lengthen and stretch so that right now, five minutes seems to last, I should judge, ten minutes. The effect grows more intense with extent of miniaturization but exactly what the relationship is, I can't say. Belinski needed the kind of experimental data we can now give him. -See." He.held out his wristwatch.

Grant looked at it, then at his own. The sweep secondhand did seem to be crawling at that. He held the watch to his ear. There was only the faint whirr of its tiny motor but the tone of that whirr seemed to have deepened.

"This is good," said Michaels. "We have an hour, but it may seem like several hours to us. A good number, perhaps."

"Do you mean we will move more quickly?"

"To ourselves we will move normally; but to an observer in the outer world, I suspect we will seem to be moving quickly - to be squeezing more activity into a given time. Which would, of course, be good, considering the limited time we have."


Michaels shook his head, "Please! I can't explain better than that. Belinski's bio-physics I think I understand, but his mathematics is beyond me. Maybe Owens can tell you."

Grant said, "I'll ask him afterward. If there is an afterward."

The ship was suddenly in the light again; ordinary white light. Motion caught Grant's eyes and he looked up. Something was descending; a giant pair of prongs moved down on either side of the ship.

Owens called out. "Everyone check their body harness."

Grant did not bother. He felt a yank behind him, and twisted automatically as far as the harness would allow.

Cora said, "I was checking to see if you were being tightly held."

"Only by the harness," said Grant, "but thanks."

"You're welcome." Then, turning to her right, she said, solicitously, "Dr. Duval. Your harness."

"All right. Yours."

Cora had loosened the harness so that she might reach Grant. She tightened it now and barely in time. The prongs had moved below eye-level now and were coming together like a gigantic crushing jaw. Grant automatically stiffened. They halted, moved again, and made contact.

The Proteus jogged and jarred and all aboard were thrown violently to the right and then, less violently, to the left. A harsh, reverberating clang filled the ship.

There was then silence and the clear sensation of suspension over emptiness. The ship swayed gently and trembled even more gently. Grant looked down and saw a vast red surface sinking and growing dim and dark-and vanishing.

He had no way of knowing what the distance to the floor was, on their present size-scale, but the sensation was like that he would have had if he had leaned out a window on the twentieth floor of an apartment building.

Something as small as the ship now was, falling that distance, ought not to sustain serious damage. Air resistance would slow them to safe velocities. -At least, if their smallness were all there were to it.

But Grant had a lively remembrance of the point made by Owens during briefing. He himself was at this moment made up of as many atoms as a full-sized man and not of as few as an object actually his present size would be. He was correspondingly more fragile and so was the ship. A fall from this height would smash the ship and kill the crew.

He looked at the cradle holding the ship. What they seemed to a normal man, Grant did not stop to consider. To himself, they were curved steel pillars ten feet in diameter, meshed neatly into a continuous cradle of metal. For the moment, he felt safe.

Owens called out in a voice that cracked with excitement, "Here it comes."

Grant looked quickly in various directions before making out what "it" was.

The light was glinting off the smooth transparent surfaces of a circle of glass big enough to surround a house. It rose smoothly and rapidly; and far below-directly below-was the sudden iridescent and twinkling reflection of lights upon water.

The Proteus was suspended over a lake. The glass walls of the cylinder were rising on all sides of the ship now and the surface of the lake did not appear to be more than fifty feet below them.

Grant leaned back in his chair. He had no trouble guessing what came next. He was prepared, therefore, and felt no nausea whatever when his seat seemed to drop from under him. The sensation was very much like that he had once experienced in the course of a power-dive over the ocean. The plane that had engaged in that maneuver had pulled out as it was meant to, but the Proteus, suddenly an airborne submarine, was not going to.

Grant tensed his muscles, then tried to relax them in order to let the harness rather than his bones take the blow.

They hit and the shock nearly jarred his teeth from their sockets.

What Grant expected to see through the window was spray, a wall of water shooting high. What he saw instead was a large, thick swell, smoothly rounded, speeding oilily away. Then, as they continued to sink, another and another.

The claws of the cradle unhooked and the ship jounced madly and came to a floating stop, slowly turning.

Grant let out a long breath. They were on the surface of a lake, yes, but it was like no surface he had ever seen.

Michaels said, "You expected waves, Mr. Grant?"

"Yes, I did."

"I must confess I rather did myself. The human mind, Grant, is a funny thing. It expects always to see what it had seen in the past. We are miniaturized and are put in a small container of water. It seems like a lake to us so we expect waves, foam, breakers, who knows what else. But whatever this lake appears to us to be, it is not a lake but merely a small container of water, and it has ripples and not waves. And no matter how you enlarge a ripple, it never looks like a wave."

"Interesting enough, though," said Grant. The thick rolls of fluid, which on an ordinary scale would have made tiny ripples, continued to race outward. Reflected from the distant wall, they returned and made interference patterns that broke the rolls into separate hills, while the Proteus rose and fell in drastic rhythms.

"Interesting?" said Cora, indignantly. "Is that all you can say? It's simply magnificent."

"His handiwork," added Duval, "is majestic on every scale of magnitude."

"All right," said Grant, "I'll buy that. Magnificent and majestic. -Check. Only a little nauseating, too, you know."

"Oh, Mr. Grant," said Cora, "You have a knack for deflating everything."

"Sorry," said Grant.

The wireless sounded and Grant sent back the ALL WELL signal again. He resisted the impulse to send back "All sea-sick."

Still, even Cora was beginning to look uncomfortable. Perhaps he shouldn't have put the thought into her mind.

Owens said, "We'll have to submerge manually. Grant, slip out of your harness and open valves one and two."

Grant rose unsteadily to his feet, delighted at the feeling' of even the limited freedom of walking, and moved to a butterfly valve marked ONE on the bulkhead.

"I'll take the other," said Duval. Their eyes met for a moment, and Duval, as though embarrassed by the sudden intimate awareness of another human being, smiled hesitantly. Grant smiled back and thought indignantly, Now how can she get sentimental over this mass of unawareness?

With the valves open, the surrounding fluid flowed into the appropriate chambers of the ship, and the liquid rose all about again, higher and higher.

Grant moved part-way up the ladder to the upper bubble and said, "How does it look, Captain Owens?"

Owens shook his head. "It's hard to say. The readings on the dials lack significance. They were designed with a real ocean in view. Darn it, I never designed the Proteus for this."

"My mother never designed, me for this, either, if it comes to that," said Grant. They were completely submerged now. Duval had closed both valves and Grant returned to his seat.

He put on his harness once again with an almost luxurious feeling. Once beneath the surface the erratic rise and fall of the tiny swell was gone, and there was a blessed motionlessness.

Carter tried to unclench his fists. So far, it had gone well. The ALL WELL had sounded from within the ship, which was now a small capsule glimmering inside the saline solution.

"Phase Three," he said.

The miniaturizer, the brilliance of which had remained subdued through all the second phase, lifted into white glory again, but only from the centermost sections of the honeycomb.

Carter watched earnestly. It was hard to tell at first if what he saw were objectively real, or the straining of his mind. -No, it really was shrinking again.

The inch-wide beetle was reducing in size and so, presumably, was the water in its immediate vicinity. The focus of the miniaturizing beam was tight and accurate and Carter expelled another held breath. At each stage, there was a danger peculiar to itself.

Glancingly, Carter imagined, what might happen if the beam had been slightly less accurate; if half the Proteus had miniaturized rapidly, while the other half, caught at the boundary of the beam, had miniaturized slowly or not at all. But it hadn't happened and he strove to put it out of his mind.

The Proteus was a shrinking dot now, smaller, smaller, down to the barest edge of sight. Now the entire miniaturizer sprang into brilliance. It wouldn't do to try to focus the beam on something too small to see.

Right, right, thought Carter. Do the whole thing now.

The entire cylinder of liquid was now shrinking, more and more quickly, until finally it was a mere ampule, two inches high and half an inch thick, with somewhere in the miniaturized fluid an infra-miniaturized Proteus, no larger than the size of a large bacterium. The miniaturizer dimmed again.

"Get them," said Carter, shakily. "Get some word from them."

He breathed through a tightened throat until the ALL WELL was once more announced. Four men and a woman who, not many minutes before, had stood before him in full size and life, were tiny bits of matter within a germ-sized ship-and were still alive.

He put out his hands, palms downward, "Take out the miniaturizer on the double."

The last dim light of the miniaturizer flicked out as it moved rapidly away.

A blank circular dial on the wall above Carter's head now flashed into a dark 60.

Carter nodded to Reid. "Take over, Don. We've got sixty minutes from this instant."

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