The Einstein See-saw

by Miles J. Breuer

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: In their pursuit of an unscrupulous scientist, Phil and Ione are swung into hyperspace--marooned in a realm of strange sights and shapes.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Tony Costello leaned glumly over his neat, glass-topped desk, on which a few papers lay arranged in orderly piles. Tony was very blue and discouraged. The foundations of a pleasant and profitable existence had been cut right out from under him. Gone were the days in which the big racket boss, Scarneck Ed, generously rewarded the exercise of Tony’s brilliant talents as an engineer in redesigning cars to give higher speed for bootlegging purposes, in devising automatic electric apparatus for handling and concealing liquor, in designing beam-directed radios for secret communication among the gangs. Yes, mused Tony, it had been profitable.

Six months ago the Citizens’ Committee had stepped in. Now the police department was reorganized; Scarneck Ed Podkowski was in jail, and his corps of trusty lieutenants were either behind the bars with him or scattered far and wide in flight. Tony, always a free spender, had nothing left but the marvelous laboratory and workshop that Scarneck Ed had built him, and his freedom. For the police could find nothing legal against Tony. They had been compelled to let him alone, though they were keeping a close watch on him. Tony’s brow was as dark as the mahogany of his desk. He did not know just how to go about making an honest living.

With a hand that seemed limp with discouragement, he reached into his pocket for his cigarette-case. As he drew it out, the lackadaisical fingers failed to hold it firmly enough, and it clattered to the floor behind his chair. With the weary slowness of despondence, he dragged himself to his feet and went behind his chair to pick up the cigarette-case. But, before he bent over it, and while he was looking fully and directly at it, his desk suddenly vanished. One moment it was there, a huge ornament of mahogany and glass; the next moment there was nothing.

Tony suddenly went rigid and stared at the empty space where his desk had stood. He put his hand to his forehead, wondering if his financial troubles were affecting his reason. By that time, another desk stood in the place.

Tony ran over this strange circumstance mentally. His mental processes were active beneath, though dazed on the surface. His desk had stood there. While looking fully at it, all his senses intact, he had seen it vanish, and for a moment there had been nothing in its place. While he stared directly at the empty space from which the desk had disappeared, another desk had materialized there, like a flash. Perhaps, there had been a sort of jar, a tremor, of the floor and of the air, of everything. But the point was that his own desk, at which he had been working one moment, had suddenly vanished, and at the next moment another desk had appeared in its place.

And what a desk! The one that now stood there was smaller than his own palatial one, and shabbier. A raw, unpleasant golden-oak, much scratched and scuffed. Its top was heaped and piled full of books and papers. In the middle of it stood a photograph of a girl, framed in red leather. Irresistibly, the sunny beauty of the face, the bright eyes, the firm little chin, the tall forehead topped by a shining mass of light curly hair, drew Tony’s first glance. For a few moments his eyes rested delightedly on the picture.

In a moment, however, Tony noticed that the books and papers on the desk were of a scientific character; and such is the nature of professional interest, that for the time he forgot his astonishment at how the desk had got there, in his absorption in the things heaped on top of it.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to give the impression that the desk was in disorder. It was merely busy; just as though someone who had been deeply engaged in working had for the moment stepped away. There was a row of books across the back edge, and Tony leaned over eagerly to glance at the titles.

“‘Theory of Parallels, ‘ Lobatchevsky; ‘Transformation of Complex Functions, ‘ Riemann; ‘Tensors and Geodesics, ‘ Gauss,” Tony read. “Hm--old stuff. But here’s modern dope along the same line. ‘Tensors, ‘ by Christoffel; ‘Absolute Differential Calculus, ‘ by Ricci and Levi Civita. And Schrödinger and Eddington and D’Abro. Looks like somebody’s interested in Relativity. Hm!”

He bent over, his constantly increasing interest showing in the attitude of his body; he turned over papers and opened notebooks crowded full of handwritten figures. Last of all he noted the batch of manuscript directly in front of him in the middle of the front edge of the desk. It was typewritten, with corrections and interlineations all over it in purple ink.

A title, “The Parallel Transformations of Equations for Matter, Energy, and Tensors,” had been crossed out with purple ink, and “The Intimate Relation between Matter and Tensors” substituted. Tony bent over it and read. He was so fascinated that it did not even occur to him to speculate on the happy circumstance that the mysteriously appearing desk had brought its own scientific explanation with it. The title of the paper told him that its sheets would elucidate the apparently supernatural phenomenon, and all he did was to plunge breathlessly ahead in his eager reading. The article was short, about seven typewritten sheets. He took out his pencil and followed through the mathematical equations readily. Tony’s mind was a brilliant, even though an erring one.

Under the first article lay a second one. One glance at the title caused Tony to stiffen. Then he picked up the typewritten script and carried it across the big room of his laboratory, as far away from the desk as he could get. He put the girl’s photograph in his pocket. Then he took heaps and armfuls of papers, books and notes and carried them from the desk to a bench in the far corner. For, as soon as he had read the title, “A Preliminary Report of Experimental Work in the Physical Manipulation of Tensors,” a sudden icy panic gripped his heart lest the desk and its papers suddenly disappear before he had finished reading to the end of the fascinating explanation.

We might add that it did not. For many weeks the desk remained standing in Tony’s shop and laboratory, and he had the opportunity to study its contents thoroughly. But it took him only a few hours to grasp its secret, to add his own brilliant conception to it, and to form his great resolve. Once more Tony faced the world hopefully and enthusiastically.


Vanishing Valuables

The police understood Tony’s share in the exploits of Scarneck Ed thoroughly, and, chagrined at their failure to produce proof that would hold in court, they maintained a close and constant watch on that gifted gentleman long after crime matters in the city seemed to have been cleaned up and forgotten. For one thing, they still had hopes that something would turn up to enable them to round off their work and lock him up with his former pals; for another, they did not fully trust his future behavior. Nevertheless, for three or four months it seemed as though Tony had genuinely reformed. He lived in and for his laboratory and shop. All day the scouts could see him laboring therein, and far into the night he bent over benches and machines under shaded lights. Then, some other astonishing occurrences distracted their attention from Tony to other fields.

One morning Mr. Ambrose Parakeet, private jewel broker, walked briskly out of the elevator on the fourteenth floor of the North American Building and unlocked the door of his office. He flung it open and started in, but stopped as if shot, uttered a queer, hoarse gurgle, and staggered against the door-casing. In a moment he recovered and began to shout:

“Help! Help! Robbers!”

Before long, several people had gathered. He stood there, gasping, pointing with his hand into the room. The eagerly peering onlookers could see that beside his desk stood an empty crate. It was somewhat old and weatherbeaten and looked as though it might have come from a buffet or a bookcase. He stood there and pointed at it and gasped, and the gathering crowd in the corridor wondered what sort of strange mental malady he had been seized with. The elevator girl, with trained promptness had at once summoned the manager of the building, who elbowed his way through the crowd and stood beside Mr. Parakeet.

“There! There! Look! Where is it?” Mr. Parakeet was gasping slowly and gazing round in a circle. He was a little gray man of about sixty, and seemed utterly dazed and overcome.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Parakeet?” asked the building manager. “I didn’t know you had your safe moved out.”

“But, no!” panted the bewildered old man. “I didn’t. It’s gone. Just gone. Last night at five o’clock I locked the office, and it was there, and everything was straight. What did you do? Who took it?”

The building manager conducted the poor old man into the office, shut the door, and asked the crowd to disperse. He sat Mr. Parakeet down into the most comfortable chair he could find, and then barked snappily into the telephone a few times. Then he sat and stared about him, stopping occasionally to reassure the old man and ask him to be patient until things could be investigated.

The building manager was an efficient man and knew his building and his tenants. He knew, as thoroughly as he knew his own office, that Mr. Parakeet had a medium-sized A. V. & L. Co.’s safe weighing about three tons, that could not be carried up the elevator when Mr. Parakeet had moved in, and had been hoisted into the window with block and tackle. He knew that it was physically impossible for the safe to go down any of the elevators, and knew that none of the operators would dare move any kind of a safe without his permission. Nevertheless, with the aid of a police-sergeant, his night-shift, and the night-watchmen of his building and adjacent ones, it was definitely established that nothing had been moved in or out of the North American Building during the preceding twenty-four hours, either by elevator or through a window to the sidewalk.

The newspapers took up the mystery with a shout. The prostrating loss suffered by Mr. Parakeet, amounting to over a hundred thousand dollars, added no little sensation to the story. A huge safe, disappearing into thin air, without a trace, and in its place an old wooden crate! What a mouthful for the scareheads! For several days newspapers kept up items about it, dwindling in size and strategic importance of position; for nothing further was ever found. Every bit of investigation, including that by scientific men from the University of Chicago, was futile; not a trace, not a suggestion did it yield.

Six days later the tall scareheads leaped out again: “Another Safe Disappears! Absolutely No Trace! Some time during the night, the six-foot steel safe of the Simonson Loan Company vanished into thin air. In the morning a dilapidated iron oil-cask was found in its place. The safe was so large and heavy that it could not have been moved without a large truck, special hoisting apparatus, a crew of men, and some hours of time. The store was brightly lighted during the entire night, and two watchmen patrolled it regularly. They report that they saw and heard nothing unusual, and were very much amazed when shown the oil-cask standing where the safe had been the night before.” The accounts in the various papers were substantially the same.

Newspaper readers throughout the city and its environs were very much intrigued. Such a thing was very exciting and mystifying; but it was so far out of touch with their own lives that it did not affect them very much at any time except when they were reading the paper or discussing it in conversation. The police were the ones who were doing the real worrying. And, when the following week two more safes disappeared, insurance companies began to take an interest in the matter; and everyone who had any considerable amount of valuables in store began to feel panicky.

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the last of the series, the fourth, were especially amazing. This was also a jewelry safe. Canzoni’s is a popular firm that rents a quarter of a floor in a big department store, and does a large volume of moderate-priced business. The receipts are stored in a heavy portable safe in a corner of the silverware section until evening, when they are carried to the large vault of the big store. One Saturday afternoon after a particularly busy day, Mr. Shipley, Canzoni’s manager, was watching the hands of the clock creep toward five-thirty. He leaned on a counter and watched the clerks putting away goods for the night; he glanced idly toward the safe which he intended to open in a few minutes. The doormen had already taken their stations to keep out further customers. Then he glanced back at the safe, and it wasn’t there!

Mr. Shipley drew a deep breath. The safe disappearances he had read about flashed through his mind. But he didn’t believe it. It couldn’t be! Yet, there was the empty corner with the birch panels forming the back of the show-windows, and no safe. In a daze, he walked over to the corner, intending to feel about with his hands and make sure the safe was really gone. Before he got there, there flashed into sight in place of the safe, a barrel of dark wood; and in a moment there was a strong odor of vinegar.

Things spun around with Mr. Shipley for a few moments. He grasped a counter and looked wildly about him. Clerks were hurrying with the covering of counters; no one seemed to have noticed anything. He stood a moment, gritted his teeth, and breathed deeply, and soon was master of himself. He stood and waited until the last customer was gone, and then called several clerks and pointed to where the safe had stood.

Within the space of a month, thirteen safes and three million dollars worth of money or property had disappeared. The police were dazed and desperate, and business was in a panic. Scientific men were appealed to, to help solve the riddle, but were helpless. Many of them agreed that though in theory such things were explainable, science was as yet far from any known means of bringing them about in actuality. Insurance companies spent fabulous sums on investigation, and, failing to get results, raised their premiums to impossible levels.


The Lady of the Picture

Phil Hurren, often known as “Zip” Hurren, reporter on the Examiner, felt, on the day the managing editor called him into the sanctum, that fortune could smile on him no more brightly. There wasn’t anything brighter.

“You stand well with the detective bureau,” his boss had said; “and you’ve followed this safe-disappearing stuff pretty closely. You’re relieved of everything else for the time being. Get on that business, and see that the public hears from the Examiner!”

Phil knew better than to say any more, for before he recovered from his surprise, the editor had turned his back, buried himself in his work on the desk, and forgotten that Phil was there. Nor did Phil waste any real time in rejoicing. That is why he was called “Zip.” When things happened, whether it was luck or system, Phil was usually there. In sixty seconds more, Phil was in a taxicab, whirling toward police headquarters.

Luck or system, he didn’t know, but he struck it again. The big wagon was just starting away from the station door when he arrived, crowded inside with bluecoats and plainclothes-men. The burly, red-faced man with chevrons on his sleeve, sitting beside the driver, saw Phil jump out, and motioned with his hand. Phil leaped up on the back step of the vehicle and hung on for dear life with his fingers through the wire grating as they careened through the streets. The men on the inside grinned at him; a number of them knew him and liked him. Gradually the door was opened and he crowded in. He found Sergeant Johnson and eyed him mutely.

“How the hell do you find these things out, I’d like to know,” the sergeant exclaimed. “Are you a mind-reader?”

“I don’t really know anything,” Phil admitted with that humility which the police like on the part of newspaper men and seldom meet with. “Do you mind?”

“No objection,” grunted the sergeant. “Been watching all the old crooks since these safes have been popping. Nothin’ much on any of them, except this slippery wop, Tony Costello. No, we haven’t caught him at anything. Seems to be keeping close and minding his own business. Working in his laboratory. Ought to make a good living if he turned honest; clever guy, he seems. But he’s been too prosperous lately. Lots of machinery delivered to his place; we traced it to the manufacturers and find it cost thousands. Big deposits in his banks. But, no trace of his having sold anything or worked at anything outside his own place. So, we’re running over to surprise him and help him get the cobwebs out of his closets.”

The raid on Tony Costello’s shop and laboratory disclosed nothing whatever. They surrounded the place effectively and surprised Tony genuinely. But a thorough search of every nook and cranny revealed nothing whatever of a suspicious nature. There was merely a tremendous amount of apparatus and machinery that none of the raiding party understood anything about. Tony’s person was also thoroughly searched, and the leather-framed photograph of the beautiful unknown girl was found.

“Who’s this?” the sergeant demanded. “She don’t look like anyone that might belong to your crowd.”

“I don’t know,” Tony replied.

“Whad’ya mean, don’t know?” The sergeant gave him a rough shake. “What’ya carryin’ it for, then?”

“I had really forgotten that it was in my pocket,” Tony replied calmly, at his ease. “I found it in a hotel room one day, and liked the looks of it.”

“I know you’re lying there,” the sergeant said, “though I’m ready to believe that you don’t know her. Too high up for you. Well, it looks suspicious and we’ll take the picture.”

“Boy!” gasped Phil. “What a girl she must be in person! Even the picture would stand out among a thousand. May I have the picture, Sergeant?”

“You can come and get a copy of it to-morrow. We’ll have it copied and see if we can trace the subject of it. That might tell us something.”

The following morning Phil was at Police Headquarters to pick up further information, and to get a copy of the girl’s photograph. Like the police, he could not keep his mind off the idea that there was some association between the crooked engineer and the disappearance of the safes. It seemed to fit too well. The scientific nature of the phenomena, Tony Costello’s well known reputation for scientific brilliance, and his recent affluence; what else could it mean? In some way, Tony was getting at these safes. But how? And how prove it? Most exhaustive searches failed to reveal any traces of the safes anywhere. If any fragment of one of them had appeared in New York or San Francisco, the news would have come at once, such was the sensation all over the country that the series of disappearances had caused. Tony’s calm insolence during the raid, his attitude of waiting patiently till the police should have had their fun and have it over with so that he might be left at peace again, showed that he must be guilty, for anyone else would have protested and felt deeply injured and insulted. He seemed to be enjoying their discomfiture, and absolutely confident of his own safety.

“There’s got to be some way of getting him,” Phil mused; and he mused almost absent-mindedly, for he was gazing at the photograph of the girl. For many minutes he looked at it, and then put it silently into his pocket.

Five o’clock in the evening of that same day came the news of another safe disappearance. Phil got his tip over the phone, and in fifteen minutes was at the scene. It was too much like the others to go into detail about; a six-foot portable safe had suddenly disappeared right in front of the eyes of the office staff of The Epicure, a huge restaurant and cafeteria that fed five thousand people three times a day. In its place stood a ragged, rusty old Ford coupe body. He went away from there, shaking his head.

Then suddenly in the midst of his dinner, he jumped up, and ran. An idea had leaped into his head.

“Right after one of these things pops is the time to take a peek at Tony,” he said to himself, and immediately he was on the way.

But how to get his peep was not so easy a problem. When he alighted from his cab a block away from Tony’s building, he was hesitant about approaching it. Tony knew him, and might see him first. Phil circled the brick building, keeping under cover or far enough away; all around it was a belt of thirty feet of lawn between the building and the sidewalk. Ought he have called the police and given them his idea? Or should he wait till darkness and see what he could do alone?

Then suddenly he saw her. Across the street, standing in the shelter of a delivery truck in front of an apartment, she was observing Tony’s building intently. The aristocratic chin, the brightness of the eyes, the waves of her hair, and the general sunny expression! It could not be anyone else. Post haste he ran across the street.

“Pardon me!” he cried excitedly, lifting his hat and then digging hastily into his inner pocket. “I’m sure you must be the--”

“Well, the nerve!” the young woman said icily, and pointing her chin at the opposite horizon she walked haughtily away.

By that time Phil had dug out his picture and was running after her.

“Please,” he said, “just a moment!” And he held the picture out in front of her face.

“Now, where in the world--?” She looked at him in puzzled and indignant inquiry, and then burst out laughing.

“It is you, isn’t it?” Phil asked. “What are you laughing at?”

“Oh, you looked so abject. I’m sure your intentions must be good. Now tell me where you got my picture.”

“Let us walk this way,” suggested Phil, leading away from Tony’s building.

And, as they walked, he told her the story. When he got through she stood and looked at him a long time in silence.

“You look square to me,” she said. “You’re working on my side already. Will you help me.”

“I’ll do anything--anything--” Phil said, and couldn’t think of any other way of expressing his willingness, for the wonderful eyes bore radiantly upon him.

“First I must tell you my story,” she began. “But before I can do so, you must promise me that it is to remain an absolute secret. You’re a newspaper man--”

Phil gave his promise readily.

“My father is Professor Bloomsbury at the University of Chicago. He has been experimenting in mathematical physics, and I have been assisting him. He has succeeded in proving experimentally the concept of tensors. A tensor is a mathematical expression for the fact that space is smooth and flat, in three dimensions, only at an infinite distance from matter; in the neighborhood of a particle of matter, there is a pucker or a wrinkle in space. My father has found that by suddenly removing a portion of matter from out of space, the pucker flattens out. If the matter is heavy enough and its removal sudden enough, there is a violent disturbance of space. By planning all the steps carefully my father has succeeded in swinging a section of space on a pivot through an angle of 180 degrees, and causing two portions of space to change places through hyperspace, or as you might express it popularly, through the fourth dimension.”

Phil held his hands to his head.

“It is not difficult,” she went on smiling. “Loan me your pocket knife and a piece of paper from your notebook. If I cut out a rectangular piece of paper from this sheet and mount it on a pivot or shaft at A B, I can rotate it through 180 degrees, just like a child’s teeter-totter, so that X will be where Y originally was. That is in two dimensions. Now, simply add one dimension all the way round and you will have what daddy is doing with space. He does it by shoving fifty or a hundred pounds of lead right out of space; the sudden flattening out of the tensors causes a section of space to flop around, and two portions of space change places. The first time he tried it, his desk disappeared, and we’ve never seen it again. We’ve thought it was somewhere out in hyperspace; but this terrible story of yours about disappearing safes, and the fact that you have this picture, means that someone has got the desk.”

“Surely you must have suspected that long ago, when the disappearances first began?” Phil suggested.

“I’ve just returned from Europe,” said Miss Bloomsbury. “I was tremendously puzzled when I got my first newspapers in New York and read about the safes. Gradually I gathered all the news on the subject, and it seemed most reasonable to suspect this gangster engineer.”

“Great minds and same channels,” Phil smiled. “But your father. Why didn’t he speak up when the safes began to pop?”

“Ha! ha!” she laughed a tinkly little laugh. “My father doesn’t know what safes are for, nor who is President, nor that there has been a war. Mother and I take care of him, and he works on tensors. He has probably never heard about the safes.”

“What were you going to do around here?” Phil asked, marveling at the courage of the girl who had come to look the situation over personally.

“I hadn’t formed any definite plans. I just wanted to look about first.”

“Well,” said Phil, “as you will soon see by the papers, another safe has puffed out. It occurred to me that we might find out something by spying about here immediately after one of the disappearances. That’s why I’m here. If you’ll tell me where you live, or wait for me at some safe place, I’ll come and report to you as soon as I find out anything.”

“Oho! So that’s the kind of a girl you think I am!” She laughed sunnily again. “No, Mr. Reporter. Either we reconnoiter together, or each on our own.”

“Oh, together, by all means,” said Phil so earnestly that she laughed again. “And since we’d better wait for darkness, let’s have something to eat somewhere. I didn’t finish my dinner.”

Phil found Ione Bloomsbury in person to be even more wonderful than her photograph suggested. Obviously she had brains; it was apparent, too that she had breeding. Her cheerful view of the world was like a tonic for tired nerves; and withal, she had a gentle sort of courtesy in her manner that may have been old-fashioned, but it was almost too much for Phil. Before the dinner was over, he would have laid his heart at her feet. It gave him a thrill that went to his head, to have her by his side, slipping along through the darkness toward Tony’s building.

This building was a one-story brick affair with a vast amount of window space. From the sidewalk they could see faint lights glowing within, but could make out no further details. They therefore selected the darkest side of the building, and made their way hurriedly across the lawn. Here, they found, they could see the crowding apparatus within the one long room fairly well. They looked into one window after another, making a circuit around the building, until Phil suddenly clutched the girl’s arm.

“Look!” he whispered. “Straight ahead and a little to the left!”

At the place he indicated stood a tall safe. Across the top of its door were painted in gold letters, the words: “The Epicure.”

“That’s the safe that went to-night,” whispered Phil. “That’s all we need to know. Now, quick to a telephone!”

“Oh,” said a gentle, ironic voice behind them, “not so quick!”

They whirled around and found themselves looking into two automatic pistols, and behind them in the light of the street lamps, the sardonic smile of Tony Costello.

“Charmed at your kind interest in my playthings, I’m sure,” he purred. “Only it leaves me in an embarrassing position. I’m not exactly sure what to do about it. Kindly step inside while I think.”

Phil made a move sidewise along the wall.

“Stop!” barked Costello sharply. “Of course,” his voice was quiet again, “that might be the simplest way out. I think I am within my legal rights if I shoot people who are trying to break into my property. Yet, that would be messy--not neat. Better step in. The window swings outward.”

At the point of his pistols they clambered through the window, and he came in after them. He kept on talking, as though to himself, but loud enough for them to hear.

“Yes, we want some way out that is neater than that. Hm! Violence distresses me. Never liked Ed’s rough methods. Yet, this is embarrassing.”

He turned to them.

“What did you really want here? I see that you are the Examiner’s reporter, and that you are the lady of the photograph. What did you come here for? Ah, yes, the safe. Well, go over and look at it.”

As they hesitated, he stamped his foot and shrilled crankily:

“I mean it! Go, look at the safe! Is there anything else you want to know?”

“Yes,” said Phil coolly, his self-control returning, “where are the other safes?”

“Oh. Anything to oblige. Last requests are a sort of point of honor, aren’t they. Ought to grant them. Stand close to that safe!”

He backed away, his guns levelled at them. He laid down the right one, keeping the left one aimed, and moved some knobs on a dial and threw over a big switch. A muffled rumbling and whirring began somewhere; and then, slowly, a block of tables and apparatus ten feet square rose upward toward the ceiling. A section of the floor on which they stood came up, supported by columns, and now formed the roof of a room that had risen out of the floor. In it were four safes.

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