for the scifi'ers among us
There was a sudden high-pitched harmonic humming that seemed to come from everywhere in the room, then the machine (along with Dr. Stevenson) vanished, leaving behind only thin air and silence. Benjamin stared at the empty space on the laboratory floor and wondered.
Only moments before, the space on the floor (as well as much of the air) had been occupied by what was perhaps the most magnificent contraption ever conceived by man. Magnificent not just for the incredible function which it performed -- though this in itself might suffice for the superlative -- but for its amazing appearance, which could only be described as divine. Dr. Stevenson had built a traveling machine, a machine that could cross the far boundaries of interstellar space as easily as you could walk from the living room to the bathroom -- but how beautiful it was!
The machine consisted of an airtight capsule surrounded on all sides by a tenuous and intricate network of fibrils that extended about ten feet from each side. The network was always undulating slowly, being affected by the slightest of air currents. Marvellous that something so barely substantial could grip the mightiest trunk-strands underlying the universe's structure and pull along them with such infinite power!
When the machine had vanished it had entered hyperspace, which was also, according to Dr. Stevenson, the realm of the Soul, or higher psyche. Whether this was true, it seemed certain that wherever the Doctor was now, only God could help him if something went wrong. There was nothing Benjamin could do except wait and hope.
* * * * *
How long that wait would be, Benjamin could only guess. He had tried to broach the topic of danger but the Doctor had brushed aside his concerns. Dr. Stevenson was much more interested in the wonders knew he would find, danger was not something he would even consider. Benjamin, realizing he could not win, surrendered to the Doctor's enthusiasm.
Dr. Stevenson, like so many before him, was brilliant and single-minded. Benjamin had enjoyed the discussions of hyperspace and the building of the machine. But, lacking the Doctor's belief in his own infallibility, he could never lose sight of the potential for disaster. The waiting would only make this worse, Benjamin realized, but there was little else he could do. Success or failure was in the Doctor's hands, and it always had been.
He turned to walk to the lab door, deciding that waiting with a full stomach was better than waiting with an empty one. Benjamin had hardly moved a millimeter when he found himself face down on the lab floor. As he would remember it later, it was as if a large hand had pushed him in the back, knocking his feet out from under him and taking his breath away.
Benjamin turned himself over, wincing at the sudden pains in his head and chest, and looked over at the other side of the room. He was no longer alone in the lab. The machine had returned, and appeared little changed from before. The person, if one could call the shape in the pilot's seat a person, with it was not Dr. Stevenson, nor even vaguely human. Benjamin's premonitions of disaster seemed fully confirmed.
Trying to put a bold face on it, Benjamin decided to speak first.
"Dr. Codfish, I presume?" He was pleased; he had managed to keep the tremolo out of his voice, and even to inject an element of scorn.
"Slssh-sshh," his gormless interlocutor rejoined. "Yrsh harshv thesh ashvantatch ofsh meesh, shorr."
"My name is not any concern of yours, 'Doctor;' your concern right now is to explain to me precisely what you have done with Dr. Stevenson. If your explanation is not satisfactory, I shall have no recourse but to take steps certain to be to your grave disadvantage."
"Jusht ash moshmensht." The hideous mound of flesh adjusted itself, shuddered, and quite suddenly extruded a pseudopod. At the end of the pseudopod was a small, rigid object, like a beartrap designed to catch raccoons. This object the pseudopod abruptly jammed into the great sloppy orifice from which had been issuing Dr. Codfish's rude efforts to simulate human speech sounds.
After a few further shudders, the mound spoke again.
"Ah yesh. Mush bedder. My dear shurr, the eggshplanashun is shimplicity itshelf. You shee, I am here ash an emishary -- and Dr. Shtevenshon ish in terrible danger!"
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