The Untouchable

by Stephen A. Kallis

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: You can see it--you can watch it--but mustn't touch!" And what could possibly be more frustrating. when you need, most violently, to get your hands on it for just one second....

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

The man finally entered the office of General George Garvers. As the door closed behind him, he saw the general, who sprang from his chair to greet him.

“Max! You finally came.”

“Got here as soon as I could. I wager half my time was taken up by the security check points. You are certainly isolated in here.”

“All of that,” agreed the general. “Have a seat, won’t you?” he asked, indicating a chair.

His friend sank into it gratefully. “Now, what’s this vital problem you called me about? You weren’t too specific.”

“No,” said Garvers, “I wasn’t. This is a security matter, after a fashion. It’s vitally important that we get technical help on this thing, and since you and I are friends, I was asked to call you in.”

“Well?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to make a story of it.”

“Quite all right by me, but don’t mind if I interject a question now and then. Mind if I smoke?”

“Go right ahead,” said Garvers, fumbling out a lighter. “Just don’t spill ashes on the rug.

“This all began on the Third of May. I was working here on some top-security stuff. I had suddenly got the feeling of being watched. I know it seems silly, what with all the check points that a potential spy would have to go through to get here, but that’s just how I felt.

“Several times I glanced around the office, but of course it was empty. Then I began to think that it was my nerves.”

“You always were a bit of a hypochondriac,” observed his friend.

“Be that as it may,” continued Garvers, “it was the only explanation I had at the time. Either someone was watching me, which seemed impossible, or I was beginning to crack under the strain.

“Well, I put my papers away and tried to take a short break. I was reaching into my drawer where I keep magazines when, so help me, a man stepped out of the wall into my office.”

“What? It seems as if you just said a guy stepped out of the wall.”

“That’s just what I did say. It sounds crazy, but let me finish, will you? I’m not kidding, and I’ll show you proof later if necessary.

“Anyway, this bird stepped straight out of the wall as if it had been a waterfall or something, but the wall itself was undamaged. The only proof I had that he had actually done it was the fact that he was in my office, but that was proof enough.

“To put it mildly, I was thunderstruck. After jumping to my feet, I could only stand there like an idiot. I was so shaken that I couldn’t speak a word. But he spoke first.

“‘General Garvers?’ he asked, just as if he had run into me at a cocktail party or on the street.

“I told him he was correct, and asked him who he was and what he wanted. And how he got into my office.

“He identified himself as a Henry Busch and explained that he was acting in behalf of a good friend of his, the late Dr. Hymann Duvall. Have you ever heard of Duvall, Max?”

His friend twisted his face in thought. “Can’t say that I have, off-hand. But the name seems to ring a bell somewhere.”

“Well, anyway, he said that Duvall had perfected an invention of great national importance shortly before his death and asked Busch to deliver it to the government if anything should happen to him. Then Duvall died suddenly of a heart attack.”

“And what was this invention?”

“Isn’t it obvious? A machine that would enable a man to walk through walls. And Busch has no idea how the thing works, other than the general explanation that Duvall gave him. And Busch was poles apart from Duvall. They were friends from college, but not because of professional interests. It seems they were both doublecrossed by the same girl.

“Duvall was a brilliant but obscure nuclear and radiation physicist. He was one of those once-in-a-lifetime fellows like Tesla. He was so shy that he didn’t bring himself to anybody’s attention, save for a few papers he published in the smaller physical societies’ magazines. It was only because he had inherited a considerable amount of money that he could do any research whatsoever.”

“Hm-m-m. I seem to remember a paper about wave propagation in one of the quarterlies. Quite unorthodox, as I recall,” said Max.

“Could be. But anyway, about Busch.

“Busch majored in psychology at college, but took special courses after he graduated and took a Master’s in English. He has written two novels and three collections of poems under various pen names. At the time of Duvall’s death, he was working on the libretto of an opera. He has had no technical training, unless you want to count a year of high school general science. So he wasn’t too much help in explaining how Duvall’s instrument works.

“And, just to make matters more juicy, Duvall kept no notes. He had total recall and a childlike fear of putting anything into writing that had not been experimentally verified.”

“And this machine, how is it supposed to work?”

Garvers got up and began to pace. “According to Busch, Duvall devised the instrument after stumbling into an entirely new branch of physics.

“This device of Duvall’s is a special case of a new theory of matter and energy. Matter is made up of subnuclear particles--electrons, protons and the like. However, Duvall said that these particles are in turn made up of much smaller particles grouped together in aggregate clouds. The size ratio of these particles to protons is somewhat like the ratio of an individual proton to a large star. They seem to be composed of tiny clots of energy from a fantastically complex energy system, in which electromagnetism is but a small part. Each energy-segment is represented by a different facet of each particle, and the arrangement of the individual particles to each other determines what super-particle they will form, such as an electron. Duvall called these sub-particles ‘lems’.

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