Isaac Asimov

(Petrovich, Russia: 1920 - New-York, April 1992)


Grotto - Part 5

Sophia Kaliinin

swirled back in and turned to Morrison:

- Are you wearing a watch or do you have anything metallic on you? - she asked crisply.

- I have no possessions on me at all, Dr Kaliinin. Nothing but the clothes I wear, the single pocket of which is empty. Even this identification bracelet that has been put on me seems to be of plastic.

- It is merely that there is a strong electromagnetic field and metal would be interfere.


Morisson said:

- Any physiological effects?

- None. Or at least none have yet been detected.


Morrison, who was waiting for them to give up their pretence of miniaturization and wondering how long they could carry on the fraud (he was growing more censorious over the matter by the minute), said, with just a touch of malice:

- Might not overexposure lead to birth defects should you ever get pregnant, Dr Kaliinin? - Kaliinin flushed:

- I have a baby. She is perfectly normal.

- Were you exposed during pregnancy?

- Once.


Boranova said:

- Is the inquisition over, Dr Morrison?

- Certainly.

- Then go ahead. I'm all eyes.


(How foolish of them, he thought sardonically. They would soon be claiming, of course, that something had gone wrong, but where would they go from there? What was it all about?


Boranova said:

- To begin with, Dr Morrison, would you lift the cage?


Morrison made no move to do so. He looked from one to the other of the three Soviets in suspicion and uncertainty.


Dezhnev said:

- Go ahead. It won't hurt, Albert. You won't even get your hands dirty and after all, hands were meant to become dirty at work.


Morrison put his hands on either side of the cage and lifted. It weighed about ten kilograms, he judged. He grunted and said:

- May I put it down now?

- Of course, said Boranova.


- Gently - said Kaliinin -. Do not disturb Katinka.


Morrison lowered it carefully. The rabbit, which had momentarily stopped feeding when the cage was lifted, sniffed the air curiously and returned tentatively to its unhurried chewing.


Boranova nodded and Sophia moved to one side of the room where a bank of controls were all but hidden by the cables. She looked over her shoulder at the cage as though estimating its position, then walked over to move it slightly. She returned to the controls and closed a switch.


A whining sound made itself heard and the cage began to glitter and shimmer as though something, all but invisible, had interposed itself between it and themselves. The shimmer extended beneath the cage, separating it from the stone-top table on which it had been resting.


Boranova said:

- The cage is now enclosed in the miniaturization field. Only the objects within the field will be miniaturized.


Morrison stared and a little worm of uncertainty began to stir within him. Were they going to try some clever illusion on him and make him think he had witnessed miniaturization? He said:

- And how exactly did you produce that so-called miniaturization field?

- That - said Boranova -, we do not intend to tell you. I think you understand what classified information is. Go ahead, Sophia.


The whine heightened in pitch and intensified somewhat. Morrison found it unpleasant, but the others seemed to endure it stolidly. In looking at them, he had taken his eyes off the cage. Now when he looked at it again, it seemed to have grown smaller.


He frowned, and bent his head so as to line up one side of the cage with a vertical line of a cable on the opposite wall. He held his head steady, but the side of the cage shrank away from the reference line. There was no mistake, the cage was distinctly smaller. He blinked his eyes in frustration.


Boranova smiled narrowly:

- It is indeed shrinking, Dr Morrison. Surely your eyes tell you so.


The whine continued - the shrinking continued. The cage was perhaps half its original linear measurement.


Morrison said, with obvious lack of conviction:

- There are such things as optical illusions.


Boranova called out:

- Sophia, stop the process for a moment.


The whine lowered into silence and the glitter of the miniaturization field dimmed and died. The cage sat on the table as before, a considerably smaller version than it had been. Inside was the rabbit still, a smaller rabbit, but one that was proportioned in every way as the original had been, munching on smaller leaves, with smaller pieces of carrot distributed across the floor of the cage.


Boranova said:

- Do you honestly think that this is an optical illusion?


Morrison was silent, and Dezhnev said:

- Come, Albert, accept the evidence of your senses. This experiment consumed considerable energy and if you remain unconvinced, our clever administrators will be annoyed with all of us for wasting money. What do you say, then?


And Morrison, shaking his head in rueful confusion, said:

- I don't know what to say.


Boranova said:

-Would you lift the cage again, Dr Morrison?


Again Morrison hesitated and Boranova said:

- The miniaturization field has not left it radioactive or anything like that. The touch of your unminiaturized hand will not affect it, nor will its state of miniaturization affect you. You see? - And she placed her hand, flatly and gently, on top of the cage.


Morrison's hesitation was not proof against that. Gingerly, he placed his hands on either side of the cage and lifted. He exclaimed in surprise for it could not be much over a kilogram in mass. The cage trembled in his grip and the miniaturized rabbit, alarmed, hopped to one corner of the cage, and huddled there in agitation.


Morrison put the cage down, and as nearly as he could estimate, did so in its original position, but Kaliinin walked over and made a small adjustment.


Boranova said:

- What do you think, Dr Morrison?

- It weighs considerably less. Is there some way you pulled a switch?

- Pulled a switch? You mean replaced the larger object with a smaller while you were watching, the smaller exactly like the larger in everything but size. Dr Morrison, please.


Morrison cleared his throat and didn't press the point. It lacked plausibility even to himself.


Boranova said:

Please, notice, Dr Morrison, that not only has the size been decreased, but the mass in proportion. The very atoms and molecules of which the cage and the contents are composed have shrunk in size and mass.  Fundamentally,  Planck's constant has decreased, so that nothing inside has changed relative to its own parts. To the rabbit, itself, its food, everything within the cage seems perfectly normal. The outside world has increased in size relative to the rabbit, but, of course, it remains unaware of that.


- But the miniaturization field is gone. Why don't the cage and its contents revert to ordinary size?

- For two reasons, Dr Morrison. In the first place, the miniaturized state is metastable. That is one of the great fundamental discoveries that make miniaturization possible. At whatever point we stop in the process it takes very little energy to maintain it in that state. And secondly, the miniaturization field is not entirely gone. It is merely minimized and drawn inwards so that it still keeps the atmosphere within the cage from diffusing outwards. It also leaves the walls of the cage touchable by unminiaturized hands... But we are not finished, Dr Morrison. Shall we continue?


Morrison troubled and unable to deny the direct experience, wondered, for a moment, if he had somehow been drugged into a kind of super-suggestibility that would make him experience whatever he was told he was experiencing. In a choked way, he said:

- You are telling me a great deal.

- Yes, we are, but only superficially. If you repeat this in America, you will probably not be believed, and nothing you say will give the slightest hint as to the core of the miniaturization technique. - Boranova lifted her hand and Kaliinin again threw the switch.


Will follow in next issue of AIR