As Gault made strangled noises, Pillbot stared interestedly. "Why--its like some of the designs in his doodling," he exclaimed.
"And made with some of my best modeling clay for reproducing geometric solids!" rasped Gault. He wheeled upon Harper.
"Get that thing out of here! I won't stand for such rot in this laboratory. Throw it into the hall for the janitor!"
"Ye-yessir," said Harper, gulping. He took hold of the statue, pulled at it.
"It--it won't budge," he exclaimed amazedly.
"Eh? Won't move? It's not heavy, is it?" demanded the Professor.
"No--about thirty pounds, but it wont move!"
Gault took hold of one of the angles of the thing, jerked at it savagely. He gave it up with an oath, returned to Harper's desk muttering.
Harper suddenly noticed the top portion of the statue. It didn't seem to be all there! He was positive there had been another section on top, shooting off at an angle, representing a problem in tangential stress. What had happened to that top section?
He would figure that out later, when the occasion was more propitious. Right now, he realized that only the presence of Dr. Pillbot prevented Gault from firing him. He cast an apprehensive glance toward his employer.
With trepidation, he saw Gault reach for something projecting from behind a bench. Gault pulled it out, held it dangling before him. A strangled exclamation of wrath came from him. His long nose pointed accusingly toward Harper, like a finger pointing out a criminal.
"I was afraid of that!" he grated. "Cutting paper dolls!" Gault was holding up a large paper cutout of a human figure--a long, rangy man.
"This is the last straw," Gault went on, his voice rising. "I have stood enough--"
"It--it wasn't me, sir," Harper cried quickly, with visions of his job and $50,000 vanishing. "It was your ten year old nephew, Rudolph, when he was here yesterday. He cut it out, said it looked like--like his uncle--"
Harper stopped as Gault seemed about to explode. Then the mathematician subsided, a malicious expression crept over his face.
"H-m-m," he said. "Might be just what I need to explain things to Dr. Pillbot."
"I shall take this matter before the Psychiatric Society," Pillbot was saying excitedly. "Undoubtedly you have some strange faculty--an instinctive perception of four dimensional laws ... what was that, Professor?"
"I said if you will step over to this desk I will explain to you in elementary terms--very elementary and easy to understand--why you will never be able to study four dimensional beings--if any exist!" Gault's voice was tinged with sarcasm.
Pillbot came over, followed by Harper, who was interested in any explanations about the fourth dimension--even elementary ones....
Gault, with a glint in his eye, pressed the paper figure flatly on the surface of Harper's desk.
"This paper man, we will say, represents a two dimensional creature. We lay him flatly against the desk, which represents his world--Flatland, we mathematicians call it. Mr. Flatlander can't see into our world. He can see only along the flat plane of his own world. To see us, for instance, he would have to look up, which is the third dimension, a direction inconceivable to him. Now, Doctor, are you beginning to understand why we can never see four dimensional beings?"
Pillbot frowned thoughtfully, then looked up. "And what about the viewpoint of the four dimensioners themselves--what would prevent them from seeing us?"
Harper hardly heard the Professor's snort of disgust. This two dimensional cutout in "Flatland" fascinated him. An idea occurred to him. Now, just supposing the....
As Gault and Pillbot argued, Harper grasped the paper cutout, and bent it, "jacknifed" it, creasing it firmly in the middle. Then he raised the upper half so that it rose vertically from the desk, while the lower half was still pressed flatly against the desk surface.
"Now," he murmured to himself, "the Flatlander would appear to his fellows to have vanished from the waist up, because from the waist up he is bent into the third dimension ... so far as they are concerned...."
At the wavering scream, Harper looked up quickly. Pillbot was staring frozenly in front of him, toward the floor. Harper followed his glance--and saw it.
Professor Gault had vanished from the waist up.
His lower body still stood before Pillbot, swaying slightly, but the upper body was unconditionally missing. From the large feet planted solidly on the floor, long legs rose majestically, terminating in slim, angular hips--and from thence vanished abruptly into nothingness. It was as though the upper body had been sheared away, neatly and precisely, at the waist.
Pillbot stared from the visible portion of Gault to slack-jawed Harper and back again, sweat splashing from his puffy face.
"Why, why really my dear fellow," he quavered, addressing the half-figure. "This--this is a bit rude of you, vanishing in the midst of my sentence. I--I trust you will--ah, return at once!" Then, as the full import of the phenomenon penetrated to his understanding, his eyes became glazed and he backed away.
The portion of Professor Gault addressed failed to give any indication it had heard the remonstrance. Slowly, the legs began to feel their way, like a blind man, about the floor.
Harper stared wildly, white showing around his pale blue irises.
"No!" he bleated. "The Professor didn't do it himself--I caused it to happen. I bent the paper cutout, and--and Something saw me do it, and imitated me by bending the Professor into the fourth dimension!" Harper moaned faintly, wringing his hands.
Pillbot at the moment got little satisfaction from this demonstration of his point about four dimensional life. He glanced fearfully at the half-figure.
"You--you mean to say," he quailed, "that we are under scrutiny by some Being of the fourth dimension?"
"That's it," replied Harper with a whinny. "I--I know it, I can feel it. It became aware of our three dimensional life in some way, and its attention is now concentrated on the laboratory!" He wrung his hands. "I just know something else terrible is going to happen!" He backed away quickly as the occupied pair of pants moved toward him.
His retreat was halted by his desk, upon which reposed two large California oranges, an inevitable accompaniment to Harper's lunch. To him, orange juice was a potent, revivifying drink. Now he automatically reached for one of the oranges, as a more hardy individual might reach for a whisky and soda in a moment of mental shock.
His eyes wide on the shuffling approach of Gault's underpinnings, Harper nervously dug sharp fingernails into the orange, tore off large chunks of skin.
A sudden blur seen from the corner of his eyes pulled his gaze back to the desk. The other orange had vanished.
It dropped to the floor before Harper, but now it was a squashy mess, the insides standing out like petals, the juice running from it.
The other orange slipped from Harper's nerveless fingers, rolled along the desk top. Harper pounced on the squashy thing on the floor, feverishly pushed back the projecting insides, closely examined it. He looked up wide-eyed at Pillbot.
"Turned inside out," he gasped hoarsely, "without breaking its skin!"
Pillbot's expression indicated that the scientific attitude was slowly replacing his former fright. He snapped his fingers.
"Imitation again!" he said, half to himself. He looked at Harper. "When you bent the paper figure this--this fourth dimensional entity imitated your action by bending the Professor. Now, as you started to peel the orange, your action was again imitated--in a four dimensional manner--by this entity turning the other orange inside out."
His voice dropped, as he muttered, "Imitativeness--the mark of a mind of low evolutionary order, or of ..." his words faded off, his expression thoughtful.
More white showed around Harper's eyes. "You--you mean I am being specially watched by this Being--that He--It--imitates everything I do...?"
"That's it," clipped Pillbot. "Because you possess this strange perception of Its realm the Being has been especially attracted to you, imitates whatever you do, but in a four dimensional manner. A Being of inexplicable powers and prerogatives, with weird power over matter, but with a mentality that is either very primitive, or--"
Harper leaped into the air with a yell, as Professor Gault's abbreviated body sidled up to him from behind. As he leaped, the inside out orange flew out of his grasp.
"I just know," he quavered, "that Professor Gault wants me to do something, is probably barking orders at me from that other dimension--oh dear, I've dropped the orange on the Professor's--where his stomach should be!"
The squashy orange had landed on the area of Gault that was the line of demarkation between his visible and invisible portions--the area that his stomach would occupy normally. It rested there in plain sight of the two startled men.
"I--I'd better remove it," said Harper weakly. He moved with a dreadful compulsion toward the swaying half-figure, one slender hand extended tremblingly toward the inverted orange.
Abruptly, the orange vanished. Harper halted like he'd run into a brick wall. Staring blankly ahead, he put his hands to his stomach, moaning faintly.
"What's the matter?" cried Pillbot.
"The orange--it's in my--stomach!"
"See, what did I tell you," exulted Pillbot. "Another act of imitativeness. It saw you drop the orange on Gault's--where his stomach should be, and imitated by putting the orange in your stomach. It proves I'm right about the Being--glug!" With a loud belch, Pillbot broke off. He stared blankly at Harper, then his hands slowly came up to clutch at his stomach.
Harper looked quickly at the desk top.
"The other orange," he gasped. "It's gone!"
"Into--my--stomach!" groaned Pillbot. "Be--be careful what you do! My God, don't do anything. Don't even think. This--this four dimensional creature will surely imitate whatever you do in some weird manner."
Rubbing his stomach, Pillbot glanced about at the various articles of furniture. He blanched. "I wouldn't want any of that stuff inside of me," he yammered.
Harper flicked a despairing glance at the half-body, now gliding along in the vicinity of the paper cutout.
"We--we must do something to get the Professor back," he said worriedly.
He thought incongruously of a restaurant where he used to order lemon pie--and invariably get apple. Finally he found that he could get lemon by ordering peach. Now the problem was, what did he have to "order" to get his employer extricated from being stuck between dimensions, like a pig under a fence? Anything he did would be imitated in a manner that might prove tragic.
The upright portion of the cutout was leaning over backward, the head drooping down like a wilted flower, as the tension at the crease slowly lessened.
Gathering together what resolution he could, Harper determined to take the bull by the horns. He would get the Professor returned by pressing the upper portion of the cutout flatly onto the desk surface. With trembling hands, he pressed down on it--then sprang back with a muffled yell.
Three feet above the half-body, the Professor's head had flashed into visibility.
"You only pressed the head onto the desk," said Pillbot disgustedly, "so the Being only impressed Galt's head back into the laboratory. Now press down the rest of the body."
The Professor's head, suspended above the body, glared about, affixed Harper with a smouldering glance. The mouth moved rapidly, but no words came.
"Professor, I can't hear you," whimpered Harper. "Your lungs and vocal cords are in the other dimension. Here, I'll have you completely returned." He reached a hand toward the cutout, the torso of which still bulged upward from the desk.
Gault's head wagged in vigorous negation of Harper's contemplated act. His mouth moved in what, if audible, would have been clipped, burning accents.
Harper drew back his hand as if he had touched a red hot poker. "The Professor doesn't want me to touch the cutout," he said helplessly.
Gault's head hovered over the cutout like a gaunt moon. It swooped down toward the paper figure, seemed to be studying its position on the desk closely. Pillbot watched him for a sign of his intentions or wishes.
Harper wandered distractedly over toward the high wall bench. He had it! He would distract the attention of the Entity from Gault by making another cutout. He would then experiment with that second one, without endangering Gault. He'd be careful not to make this one thin and tall, so as not to resemble the Professor in outline. Perhaps with it, he could trick the Entity into releasing the missing part of Gault's body....
He scraped in the bench drawer for the scissors, and started to sheer through a large stiff piece of paper.
A moment later he looked up as Pillbot walked over.
"Gault has some reason for not wanting his silhouette touched," he said. "Can't quite make out his lip movements, but he seems afraid some permanent mark may be left on him by his return. He wants time to figure out--why, what are you doing?"
"I've made another cutout for experiment," explained Harper. "And this one doesn't look like the Professor, isn't tall and thin. See--?" He lifted the second cutout from the flat surface of the bench, held it suspended before him.
"This one is short and fat--" Harper halted abruptly, the breath whooshing from his lungs.
There was no use talking to thin air. Pillbot had been whisked into nothingness. Where the portly figure of the eminent psychiatrist had stood was now nothing, not even a half man.
Too late, Harper realized that when he had lifted the paper figure from the surface of the bench, the Entity had imitated him by "lifting" Pillbot into the fourth dimension. Belatedly, he knew that the cutout which he held dangling, resembled Pillbot in outline.
Harper dashed back and forth in little rushes, carrying the paper figure. He dared not put it down, for fear of seeing some segment of Pillbot flash back. He did not know what to do with it.
Finally he compromised by suspending it to a low hanging chandelier, where it dangled swaying in the slight air currents.
Gault was watching his assistant's antics with a bleak expression that changed to sardonic satisfaction as he realized Pillbot was in a predicament like his--only more so. Abruptly he frowned, staring ahead, and Harper guessed that Pillbot had located Gault's torso in the other realm, was nudging him to indicate the fact.
Suddenly Harper knew that he himself must enter this fourth dimensional realm. That strange instinct told him the solution to everything was there--somewhat as a woman's intuition impels her to act in a certain way, without knowing why.
How to get there? Another paper cutout? He glanced toward the Professor--the occupied trousers, and swimming above it, the man's head. The head was watching him, the expression savage.
No, there must be no more cutouts, Harper decided. While the four dimensional entity distinguished between the outlines of a thin silhouette and a fat one, something in between, like Harper's form, would be testing It too far.
He, Harper would take the place of his own cutout!
Gault's head reared up, glared fixedly at his assistant as the young man swung his legs onto the desk, then lay down flat. A moment he lay there, in "Flatland"--then leaped to his feet.
It was as though he had leaped into a different world. He was no longer in the laboratory. He wasn't on any, floor at all, as far as he could make out. His feet rested on nothing--and yet there was some sort of tension under him--like the surface tension of water.
He was--he suddenly knew it--standing on a segment of warped space! There was a spacial strain here that acted as a solid beneath him!
Harper looked "up"--that is, overhead. There was nothing there but vast stretches of emptiness--at first. Then he saw that this emptiness was lined and laced with filmy striations, like cellophane. They bore a strange resemblance to his "doodlings," as though that strange faculty of his enabled him to somehow perceive this place of the fourth dimension. And instinctively Harper knew that these lacings were the boundaries of a vast enclosure--a four dimensional enclosure, the "walls" of which consisted of joined and meshed space-warps.
Abruptly he became aware of movement. He became aware of solidity there above him. And the solidity was in motion.
Harper knew he was gazing upon a being of the fourth dimension--doubtless the Entity that had caused the phenomena in the laboratory, which had snatched him into the fourth dimension, and was even now observing him with its four dimensional sight! There was a shape above him that strained his eyes, gave hint of Form just beyond his comprehension.
Harper hardly noticed that Pillbot was beside him, shaking him. He had suddenly grasped a fundamental law of spacial stresses, and he whipped out a pad and pencil, began scribbling down the mathematical formula of these laws. He began to see now why skyscrapers encountered the "stress-barrier" at a certain height. He understood it just as a person of innate musical ability, hearing music for the first time, would understand the laws of that music.
"Look out, It's moving, descending!" Pillbot was yelling into his ear. "It is about to act. Became active the moment you got here. How did you induce it to bring you here?"
"Huh?" Harper looked up from his scribbling. "Oh." Harper explained quickly how he had induced the Being to act on himself.