(part 3) (review)
This is the fourth and final installment of "The Invisible Finite" by Robert A. Wait, a Gernsback Era science fiction story published for the first and only time in the May 1929 issue of Amazing Stories.
The story so far:
Professor Moore lectures a class on various efforts to make objects invisible. That afternoon, two graduate students join Moore in his laboratory as he continues to talk about the subject. Finally one of them asks him what they're doing there, and he answers that he has invented an invisibility process. He proceeds to demonstrate the process to them . . .
* * *
A full ten minutes had passed since the four-minute reducing period was to have ended. The plates of alloy were removed carefully and, contrary to the fears of the professor, they seemed to be perfect and unharmed by the over-reduction. Strange it was indeed to handle this pile of nearly invisible foil. The grey void of the anodes was seen again. There was the clamp with a grey, dark-appearing mass, with an elusive, shapeless appearance, between its jaws.
"We will proceed with our experiment," said the professor, placing the plates without the clamp in the quartz box, leaving the open top with no cover. He slid this into the X-ray machine immediately below the funnel-like aperture and in the path of the rod-like crystal light.
"Before I turn on the current to make the final test of success or failure, I want to explain the real action of this machine. Have you ever seen a band leader or orchestra leader wave his baton where the light is rather poor? If so, you have noticed that the baton appears to stutter or vibrate through the light -- a sort of poor motion picture, where one sees the wand in one place, then sees nothing for a short space with a quick reappearance beyond, and so on to produce a stuttered appearance. This phenomenon is due to light interference. In places the light reflected by the baton is interfered with and lost to the eye -- a sort of 'now you see it, now you don't' idea. I take advantage of this in causing these Roentgen rays to interfere with each other, making a sort of staggered but regular pulsation of X-rays. Some of the rays generated never get to their destination, but because of interference are used up in producing this red glow and beam. The five anodes enable me to control the speed of the interference, thus getting any vibration I want, through interference from two to five separate rays. The pulsating X-rays thus generated are sent through the funnel-like apparatus, where all but the rays passing straight through are absorbed into the walls. Thus, all rays going through the slit-like opening will be parallel in motion -- no cross rays. In other words, I polarize the pulsating X-rays. The cold light, or crystal light, is this stream of polarized, pulsating X-rays. By throwing this ray onto any solid or liquid matter, I can cause the pulsation to synchronize with the natural period of the vibrating molecule, and slowly but surely speed up the motion and elongate the path of vibration until the invisibility effect is noticed."
So saying, the doctor switched on the current and the crash of large spark gaps again filled the room. Once more the room was suffused in a red glow and the crystal light steadied to a rigid bar of blinding brilliance. The three leaned forward toward the machine in close and excited observation of the plates of alloy. No great change seemed to occur. Dr. Moore, however, smiled and, motioning the boys away from the machine, opened two switches on a local bank of five on the machine's neat brown switchboard. Immediately the noise of spark gaps decreased and the red shaft of light softened to a hazy beam; the glow in the room faded to a pink sunset-light.
"I have cut off two of the circuits." The professor spoke loudly to be heard distinctly above the crackle of the spark coils. "It was evident that the five were not producing the correct pulsation to synchronize with the natural period of vibration of the molecules of the alloy or its platinum coating. We must blindly feel for the correct interference effect with different numbers of circuits going at one time. A sort of trial and error method. We are but babes in the field of higher science, and so we do not see clearly what we are attempting to do."
The pile of plates was now undergoing a color change -- a sort of passing through the color spectrum from red to violet. Gradually the color steadied to a clear violet.
"Dr. Moore, I believe we are observing a gradual increase in the speed of those molecules of alloy which takes us through the vibrations of colored light. The red, being slower vibrations, we see that color first and as the vibration speed increases we get the advance along the spectrum in color to the rapid waves of violet light. Why does the color remain at violet and not pass on into the extremely rapid short waves of ultra-violet light?"
At last Murphy was flushed with excitement over what he had questioned but a short time ago. To him it was obvious that the whole experiment was going to be an unqualified success. Manoras spoke to the professor before an answer came.
"Don't you think that all that has occurred is a speeding up of the particle motion? I doubt if the path of motion has been elongated much; in fact, I should judge that the color change would indicate a shortening of the path to suit the increase in speed. Perhaps the only really necessary thing is to cause an extremely rapid vibration, taking the particles up to the vibration of ultra-violet or other invisible light at which point the object would be invisible."
* * *
Slowly the professor turned a large black lever to the right. The sputtering gaps fairly jumped off the machine in their activity. The noise increased to a roar. No change occurred in the color of the plates of alloy.
"Guess you are both right," the professor shouted, "Try turning on that number four circuit again please, Jerry."
As the fourth circuit sprang into action, the pile of violet colored sheets seemed to fade into thin air.
"Holy Mother!" Manoras spoke as if in prayer. "Professor, I congratulate you. I have never seen anything so wonderful."
The doctor was smiling through tears. His kindly nature was overwhelmed by this success.
"Marvelous, Dr. Moore." Jerry was almost speechless with amazement.
"Now, my friends, we will apply the last test. If we can make visible things invisible, we should be able to make invisible things visible. If we can cause our stream of Z-rays to pulsate in a manner to interfere with the vibration of the molecules you no longer see before you, we should be able to so hinder them that they again slow down to a normal speed of visibility.
Throwing the switch to the fifth circuit, the professor turned back the black lever controlling the intensity of the spark across the gaps. Slowly the violet color appeared, trembled, and with a flash of light the colors of the rainbow cascaded down the now visible pile of alloy sheets. An intense heat radiated from the stack of foil Suddenly it flared brilliant white, and the once rigid pile fused and slid to a liquid in the bottom of the quartz dish standing there.
"Too much internal energy loosed all at once. We will have to be more careful in stopping the very violent vibration we set up to cause invisibility. All that energy released at once naturally comes away as heat and light." The professor reached for the quartz dish in which the molten alloy ran about.
"Professor!" Murphy shrieked a hoarse warning, but too late. Dr. Moore's hand was already under the rod of crystal light. A kaleidoscope of color, a cry of anguish, and before a move could be made by either of the boys, the professor had completely disappeared.
Carlos sobbed aloud. Murphy swore violently. Both were wide-eyed and horror stricken.
"Dr. Moore! Are you here? Where are you? Answer us!" Manoras was hysterical. "That damned machine. Why, oh why, did it ever come to be! Never will it harm another!"
Seizing a huge iron bar, he raised it high above his head and brought it down with a terrific smash on the glowing red bulb of the machine. A blinding explosion shook the room. Bottles fell from shelves, furniture crashed into the walls -- all was a turmoil. The Z-ray machine literally melted to the floor, a fused mass of wreckage.
"Carlos!" Dr. Moore's voice, faint but sharp, cut through the momentary silence that followed the demolishing of the machine. "Alas, lad, you have cut off forever my hopes of returning to you. Had you not ruined the machine, you might have again brought me to my natural state, as with the alloy sheets. By careful and slow treatment you could have slowed the motion of my molecules till they were again normal. Now it is too late."
"Professor! Where are you?" Murphy fairly shrieked his question.
"Here, Jerry, among you. Yes, really among you, for I find I can pass through your body without your knowledge. I have discovered a great secret, but it has cost me my human existence. My voice is failing. Listen closely, for ere long I shall not be able to speak in a voice you can hear."
"Forgive me! I was wild with rage at the machine I thought destroyed you."
"You are forgiven, Carlos. Now listen. When the visible becomes invisible, it is dematerialized. I find I have no feeling, no nerves. I have no material body. My faculties are gradually passing to a higher plane of vibration than those you possess: they follow my body. Soon my voice will be inaudible to you. Already I see through walls, see through the earth, any material thing. I move with no effort. I have no weight. My will controls my motion. I feel no pain, no cold, no heat. My hearing involves no sound -- only a consciousness of what you say. I cannot touch you. I cannot hold or grasp the material things -- they slip through my grasp as air would through yours. Mine alone is the secret of the machine which destroyed my human habitat. It has been destroyed and only my hand and brain could rebuild it. Since I am no longer capable of physical action and my voice fades even now, I can never again regain my human form. Mourn me not. I am not dead, there is no death for me. Perhaps I shall know you again -- in -- some -- future -- e --"
The voice trailed into nothingness and the two young men stared with set faces and tear filled eyes into a void and space they could not fathom.
Have you ever felt that someone was present when you knew you were alone? It is the professor seeking, searching, looking for some one who can understand his sole means of communicating with us. Only through our intelligences and minds can he reach us. What wondrous tale has he of an existence beyond our ken? Will we ever be able to learn more about it?
(part 3) (review)