"This," said the Franciscan, "is
my Automaton, who at the proper time will speak, answer whatsoever
question I may ask, and reveal all secret knowledge to
me." He smiled as he laid his hand affectionately on the iron
skull that topped the pedestal.
The youth gazed open-mouthed, first at the head and then
at the Friar. "But it's iron!" he whispered. "The head is iron,
"Iron without, skill within, my son," said Roger Bacon.
"It will speak, at the proper time and in its own manner, for
so have I made it. A clever man can twist the devil's arts to
God's ends, thereby cheating the fiend—Sst! There sounds vespers!
Plena gratia, ave Virgo—"
But it did not speak. Long hours, long weeks, the doctor
mirabilis watched his creation, but iron lips were silent and the
iron eyes dull, and no voice but the great man's own sounded
in his monkish cell, nor was there ever an answer to all the
questions that he asked—until one day when he sat surveying
his work, composing a letter to Duns Scotus in distant Cologne—one
"Time is!" said the image, and smiled benignly.
The Friar looked up. "Time is, indeed," he echoed. "Time
it is that you give utterance, and to some assertion less obvious
than that time is. For of course time is, else there were nothing
at all. Without time—"
"Time was!" rumbled the image, still smiling, but sternly
at the statue of Draco.
"Indeed time was," said the Monk. "Time was, is, and
will be, for time is that medium in which events occur. Matter
exists in space, but events—"
The image smiled no longer. "Time is past!" it roared in
tones deep as the cathedral bell outside, and burst into ten
"There," said old Haskel van Manderpootz, shutting the
book, "is my classical authority in this experiment. This story,
overlaid as it is with mediæval myth and legend, proves that
Roger Bacon himself attempted the experiment—and failed."
He shook a long finger at me. "Yet do not get the impression,
Dixon, that Friar Bacon was not a great man. He was—extremely
great, in fact; he lighted the torch that his namesake
Francis Bacon took up four centuries later, and that now van
I stared in silence.
"Indeed," resumed the Professor, "Roger Bacon might almost
be called a thirteenth century van Manderpootz, or van
Manderpootz a twenty-first century Roger Bacon. His Opus
Majus, Opus Minus, and Opus Tertium—"
"What," I interrupted impatiently, "has all this to do with—that?"
I indicated the clumsy metal robot standing in the
corner of the laboratory.
"Don't interrupt!" snapped van Manderpootz. "I'll—"
At this point I fell out of my chair. The mass of metal
had ejaculated something like "A-a-gh-rasp" and had lunged a
single pace toward the window, arms upraised. "What the
devil!" I sputtered as the thing dropped its arms and returned
stolidly to its place.
"A car must have passed in the alley," said van Manderpootz
indifferently. "Now as I was saying, Roger Bacon—"
I ceased to listen. When van Manderpootz is determined
to finish a statement, interruptions are worse than futile. As
an ex-student of his, I know. So I permitted my thoughts to
drift to certain personal problems of my own, particularly Tips
Alva, who was the most pressing problem of the moment. Yes,
I mean Tips Alva the 'vision dancer, the little blonde imp who
entertains on the Yerba Mate hour for that Brazilian company.
Chorus girls, dancers, and television stars are a weakness of mine;
maybe it indicates that there's a latent artistic soul in me. Maybe.
I'm Dixon Wells, you know, scion of the N. J. Wells
Corporation, Engineers Extraordinary. I'm supposed to be an
engineer myself; I say supposed, because in the seven years since
my graduation, my father hasn't given me much opportunity to
prove it. He has a strong sense of value of time, and I'm cursed
with the unenviable quality of being late to anything and for
everything. He even asserts that the occasional designs I submit
are late Jacobean, but that isn't fair. They're Post-Romanesque.
Old N. J. also objects to my penchant for ladies of the
stage and 'vision screen, and periodically threatens to cut my
allowance, though that's supposed to be a salary. It's inconvenient
to be so dependent, and sometimes I regret that unfortunate
market crash of 2009 that wiped out my own money, although
it did keep me from marrying Whimsy White, and van
Manderpootz, through his subjunctivisor, succeeded in proving
that that would have been a catastrophe. But it turned out
nearly as much of a disaster anyway, as far as my feelings were
concerned. It took me months to forget Joanna Caldwell and
her silvery eyes. Just another instance when I was a little late.
Van Manderpootz himself is my old Physics Professor, head
of the Department of Newer Physics at N. Y. U., and a genius,
but a bit eccentric. Judge for yourself.
"And that's the thesis," he said suddenly, interrupting my
"Eh? Oh, of course. But what's that grinning robot got
to do with it?"
He purpled. "I've just told you!" he roared. "Idiot! Imbecile!
To dream while van Manderpootz talks! Get out!
I got. It was late anyway, so late that I overslept more than
usual in the morning, and suffered more than the usual lecture
on promptness from my father at the office.
Van Manderpootz had forgotten his anger by the next
time I dropped in for an evening. The robot still stood in the
corner near the window, and I lost no time asking its purpose.
"It's just a toy I had some of the students construct," he
explained. "There's a screen of photoelectric cells behind the
right eye, so connected that when a certain pattern is thrown
on them, it activates the mechanism. The thing's plugged into
the light-circuit, but it really ought to run on gasoline."
"Well, the pattern it's set for is the shape of an automobile.
See here." He picked up a card from his desk, and cut
in the outlines of a streamlined car like those of that year. "Since
only one eye is used," he continued, "The thing can't tell the
difference between a full-sized vehicle at a distance and this
small outline nearby. It has no sense of perspective."
He held the bit of cardboard before the eye of the mechanism.
Instantly came its roar of "A-a-gh-rasp!" and it leaped
forward a single pace, arms upraised. Van Manderpootz withdrew
the card, and again the thing relapsed stolidly into its
"What the devil!" I exclaimed. "What's it for?"
"Does van Manderpootz ever do work without reason back
of it? I use it as a demonstration in my seminar."
"To demonstrate what?"
"The power of reason," said van Manderpootz solemnly.
"How? And why ought it to work on gasoline instead of
"One question at a time, Dixon. You have missed the
grandeur of van Manderpootz's concept. See here, this creature,
imperfect as it is, represents the predatory machine. It is
the mechanical parallel of the tiger, lurking in its jungle to leap
on living prey. This monster's jungle is the city; its prey is
the unwary machine that follows the trails called streets. Understand?"
"Well, picture this automaton, not as it is, but as van
Manderpootz could make it if he wished. It lurks gigantic in
the shadows of buildings; it creeps stealthily through dark alleys;
it skulks on deserted streets, with its gasoline engine purring
quietly. Then—an unsuspecting automobile flashes its image on
the screen behind its eyes. It leaps. It seizes its prey, swinging
it in steel arms to its steel jaws. Through the metal throat
of its victim crash steel teeth; the blood of its prey—the gasoline,
that is—is drained into its stomach, or its gas-tank. With
renewed strength it flings away the husk and prowls on to seek
other prey. It is the machine-carnivore, the tiger of mechanics."
I suppose I stared dumbly. It occurred to me suddenly that
the brain of the great van Manderpootz was cracking. "What
the—?" I gasped.
"That," he said blandly, "is but a concept. I have many
another use for the toy. I can prove anything with it, anything
"You can? Then prove something."
"Name your proposition, Dixon."
I hesitated, nonplussed.
"Come!" he said impatiently. "Look here; I will prove that
anarchy is the ideal government, or that Heaven and Hell are the
same place, or that—"
"Prove that!" I said. "About Heaven and Hell."
"Easily. First we will endow my robot with intelligence. I
add a mechanical memory by means of the old Cushman delayed
valve; I add a mathematical sense with any of the calculating
machines; I give it a voice and a vocabulary with the magnetic-impulse
wire phonograph. Now the point I make is this:
Granted an intelligent machine, does it not follow that every
other machine constructed like it must have the identical qualities?
Would not each robot given the same insides have exactly
the same character?"
"No!" I snapped. "Human beings can't make two machines
exactly alike. There'd be tiny differences; one would react
quicker than others, or one would prefer Fox Airsplitters as
prey, while another reacted most vigorously to Carnecars. In
other words, they'd have—individuality!" I grinned in triumph.
"My point exactly," observed van Manderpootz. "You
admit, then, that this individuality is the result of imperfect
workmanship. If our means of manufacture were perfect, all
robots would be identical, and this individuality would not exist.
Is that true?"
"Then I argue that our own individuality is due to our
falling short of perfection. All of us—even van Manderpootz—are
individuals only because we are not perfect. Were we perfect,
each of us would be exactly like everyone else. True?"
"But Heaven, by definition, is a place where all is perfect.
Therefore, in Heaven everybody is exactly like everybody else,
and therefore, everybody is thoroughly and completely bored!
There is no torture like boredom, Dixon, and—Well, have I
proved my point?"
I was floored. "But—about anarchy, then?" I stammered.
"Simple. Very simple for van Manderpootz. See here;
with a perfect nation—that is, one whose individuals are all exactly
alike, which I have just proved to constitute perfection—with
a perfect nation, I repeat, laws and government are utterly
superfluous. If everybody reacts to stimuli in the same way,
laws are quite useless, obviously. If, for instance, a certain event
occurred that might lead to a declaration of war, why, everybody
in such a nation would vote for war at the same instant. Therefore
government is unnecessary, and therefore anarchy is the
ideal government, since it is the proper government for a perfect
race." He paused. "I shall now prove that anarchy is not
the ideal government—"
"Never mind!" I begged. "Who am I to argue with van
Manderpootz? But is that the whole purpose of this dizzy robot?
Just a basis for logic?" The mechanism replied with its
usual rasp as it leaped toward some vagrant car beyond the
"Isn't that enough?" growled van Manderpootz. "However,"—his
voice dropped—"I have even a greater destiny in
mind. My boy, van Manderpootz has solved the riddle of the
universe!" He paused impressively. "Well, why don't you say
"Uh!" I gasped. "It's—uh—marvelous!"
"Not for van Manderpootz," he said modestly.
"But—what is it?"
"Eh—Oh!" He frowned. "Well, I'll tell you, Dixon. You
won't understand, but I'll tell you." He coughed. "As far
back as the early twentieth century," he resumed, "Einstein proved
that energy is particular. Matter is also particular, and now van
Manderpootz adds that space and time are discrete!" He glared
"Energy and matter are particular," I murmured, "and space
and time are discrete! How very moral of them!"
"Imbecile!" he blazed. "To pun on the words of van Manderpootz!
You know very well that I mean particular and
discrete in the physical sense. Matter is composed of particles,
therefore it is particular. The particles of matter are called
electrons, protons, and neutrons, and those of energy, quanta. I
now add two others, the particles of space I call spations, those
of time, chronons."
"And what in the devil," I asked, "are particles of space
"Just what I said!" snapped van Manderpootz. "Exactly
as the particles of matter are the smallest pieces of matter that
can exist, just as there is no such thing as a half of an electron,
or for that matter, half a quantum, so the chronon is the smallest
possible fragment of time, and the spation the smallest possible
bit of space. Neither time nor space is continuous; each is composed
of these infinitely tiny fragments."
"Well, how long is a chronon in time? How big is a
spation in space?"
"Van Manderpootz has even measured that. A chronon is
the length of time it takes one quantum of energy to push one
electron from one electronic orbit to the next. There can obviously
be no shorter interval of time, since an electron is the
smallest unit of matter and the quantum the smallest unit of
energy. And a spation is the exact volume of a proton. Since
nothing smaller exists, that is obviously the smallest unit of
"Well, look here," I argued. "Then what's in between
these particles of space and time? If time moves, as you say, in
jerks of one chronon each, what's between the jerks?"
"Ah!" said the great van Manderpootz. "Now we come
to the heart of the matter. In between the particles of space
and time, must obviously be something that is neither space,
time, matter, nor energy. A hundred years ago Shapley anticipated
van Manderpootz in a vague way when he announced his
cosmo-plasma, the great underlying matrix in which time and
space and the universe are embedded. Now van Manderpootz
announces the ultimate unit, the universal particle, the focus in
which matter, energy, time, and space meet, the unit from which
electrons, protons, neutrons, quanta, spations, and chronons are
all constructed. The riddle of the universe is solved by what
I have chosen to name the cosmon." His blue eyes bored into
"Magnificent!" I said feebly, knowing that some such word
was expected. "But what good is it?"
"What good is it?" he roared. "It provides—or will provide,
once I work out a few details—the means of turning energy
into time, or space into matter, or time into space, or—" He
sputtered into silence. "Fool!" he muttered. "To think that
you studied under the tutelage of van Manderpootz. I blush; I
One couldn't have told it if he were blushing. His face
was always rubicund enough. "Colossal!" I said hastily. "What
That mollified him. "But that's not all," he proceeded.
"Van Manderpootz never stops short of perfection. I now announce
the unit particle of thought—the psychon!"
This was a little too much. I simply stared.
"Well may you be dumbfounded," said van Manderpootz.
"I presume you are aware, by hearsay at least, of the existence of
thought. The psychon, the unit of thought, is one electron plus
one proton, which are bound so as to form one neutron, embedded
in one cosmon, occupying a volume of one spation, driven by
one quantum for a period of one chronon. Very obvious; very
"Oh, very!" I echoed. "Even I can see that that equals
He beamed. "Excellent! Excellent!"
"And what," I asked, "will you do with the psychons?"
"Ah," he rumbled. "Now we go even past the heart of the
matter, and return to Isaak here." He jammed a thumb toward
the robot. "Here I will create Roger Bacon's mechanical head.
In the skull of this clumsy creature will rest such intelligence
as not even van Manderpootz—I should say, as only van Manderpootz—can
conceive. It remains merely to construct my
"Of course. Have I not just proven that thoughts are as
real as matter, energy, time, or space? Have I not just demonstrated
that one can be transformed, through the cosmon, into
any other? My idealizator is the means of transforming psychons
to quanta, just as, for instance, a Crookes tube or X-ray
tube transforms matter to electrons. I will make your thoughts
visible! And not your thoughts as they are in that numb brain
of yours, but in ideal form. Do you see? The psychons of your
mind are the same as those from any other mind, just as all
electrons are identical, whether from gold or iron. Yes! Your
psychons"—his voice quavered—"are identical with those from
the mind of—van Manderpootz!" He paused, shaken.
"Actually?" I gasped.
"Actually. Fewer in number, of course, but identical. Therefore,
my idealizator shows your thought released from the impress
of your personality. It shows it—ideal!"
Well, I was late to the office again.
A week later I thought of van Manderpootz. Tips was on
tour somewhere, and I didn't dare take anyone else out because
I'd tried it once before and she'd heard about it. So, with nothing
to do, I finally dropped around to the professor's quarter,
found him missing, and eventually located him in his laboratory
at the Physics Building. He was puttering around the table
that had once held that damned subjunctivisor of his, but now
it supported an indescribable mess of tubes and tangled wires,
and as its most striking feature, a circular plane mirror etched
with a grating of delicately scratched lines.
"Good evening, Dixon," he rumbled.
I echoed his greeting. "What's that?" I asked.
"My idealizator. A rough model, much too clumsy to fit
into Isaak's iron skull. I'm just finishing it to try it out." He
turned glittering blue eyes on me. "How fortunate that you're
here. It will save the world a terrible risk."
"Yes. It is obvious that too long an exposure to the device
will extract too many psychons, and leave the subject's mind in
a sort of moronic condition. I was about to accept the risk,
but I see now that it would be woefully unfair to the world to
endanger the mind of van Manderpootz. But you are at hand,
and will do very well."
"Oh, no I won't!"
"Come, come!" he said, frowning. "The danger is negligible.
In fact, I doubt whether the device will be able to extract any
psychons from your mind. At any rate, you will be perfectly
safe for a period of at least half an hour. I, with a vastly more
productive mind, could doubtless stand the strain indefinitely,
but my responsibility to the world is too great to chance it until
I have tested the machine on someone else. You should be
proud of the honor."
"Well, I'm not!" But my protest was feeble, and after
all, despite his overbearing mannerisms, I knew van Manderpootz
liked me, and I was positive he would not have exposed
me to any real danger. In the end I found myself seated before
the table facing the etched mirror.
"Put your face against the barrel," said van Manderpootz,
indicating a stove-pipe-like tube. "That's merely to cut off extraneous
sights, so that you can see only the mirror. Go ahead,
I tell you! It's no more than the barrel of a telescope or
I complied. "Now what?" I asked.
"What do you see?"
"My own face in the mirror."
"Of course. Now I start the reflector rotating." There was
a faint whir, and the mirror was spinning smoothly, still with
only a slightly blurred image of myself. "Listen, now," continued
van Manderpootz. "Here is what you are to do. You
will think of a generic noun. 'House,' for instance. If you think
of house, you will see, not an individual house, but your ideal
house, the house of all your dreams and desires. If you think
of a horse, you will see what your mind conceives as the perfect
horse, such a horse as dream and longing create. Do you understand?
Have you chosen a topic?"
"Yes." After all, I was only twenty-eight; the noun I had
"Good," said the professor. "I turn on the current."
There was a blue radiance behind the mirror. My own face
still stared back at me from the spinning surface, but something
was forming behind it, building up, growing. I blinked; when
I focused my eyes again, it was—she was—there.
Lord! I can't begin to describe her. I don't even know
if I saw her clearly the first time. It was like looking into
another world and seeing the embodiment of all longings,
dreams, aspirations, and ideals. It was so poignant a sensation
that it crossed the borderline into pain. It was—well, exquisite
torture or agonized delight. It was at once unbearable and
But I gazed. I had to. There was a haunting familiarity
about the impossibly beautiful features. I had seen the face—somewhere—sometime.
In dreams? No; I realized suddenly
what was the source of that familiarity. This was no living woman,
but a synthesis. Her nose was the tiny, impudent one of
Whimsy White at her loveliest moment; her lips were the perfect
bow of Tips Alva; her silvery eyes and dusky velvet hair
were those of Joan Caldwell. But the aggregate, the sum total,
the face in the mirror—that was none of these; it was a face
impossibly, incredibly, outrageously beautiful.
Only her face and throat were visible, and the features were
cool, expressionless, and still as a carving. I wandered suddenly
if she could smile, and with the thought, she did. If she had
been beautiful before, now her beauty flamed to such a pitch
that it was—well, insolent; it was an affront to be so lovely; it
was insulting. I felt a wild surge of anger that the image before
me should flaunt such beauty, and yet be—non-existent! It was
deception, cheating, fraud, a promise that could never be fulfilled.
Anger died in the depths of that fascination. I wondered
what the rest of her was like, and instantly she moved gracefully
back until her full figure was visible. I must be a prude at heart,
for she wasn't wearing the usual cuirass-and-shorts of that year,
but an iridescent four-paneled costume that all but concealed
her dainty knees. But her form was slim and erect as a column
of cigarette smoke in still air, and I knew that she could dance
like a fragment of mist on water. And with that thought she
did move, dropping in a low curtsy, and looking up with the
faintest possible flush crimsoning the curve of her throat. Yes,
I must be a prude at heart; despite Tips Alva and Whimsy
White and the rest, my ideal was modest.
It was unbelievable that the mirror was simply giving back
my thoughts. She seemed as real as myself, and—after all—I
guess she was. As real as myself, no more, no less, because she
was part of my own mind. And at this point I realized that van
Manderpootz was shaking me and bellowing, "Your time's up.
Come out of it! Your half-hour's up!"
He must have switched off the current. The image faded,
and I took my face from the tube, dropping it on my arms.
"O-o-o-o-o-oh!" I groaned.
"How do you feel?" he snapped.
"Feel? All right—physically." I looked up.
Concern flickered in his blue eyes. "What's the cube root
of 4913?" he crackled sharply.
I've always been quick at figures. "It's—uh—17," I returned
dully. "Why the devil—?"
"You're all right mentally," he announced. "Now—why
were you sitting there like a dummy for half an hour? My idealizator
must have worked, as is only natural for a van Manderpootz
creation, but what were you thinking of?"
"I thought—I thought of 'girl'," I groaned.
He snorted. "Hah! You would, you idiot! 'House' or
'horse' wasn't good enough; you had to pick something with
emotional connotations. Well, you can start right in forgetting
her, because she doesn't exist."
I couldn't give up hope, as easily as that. "But can't you—can't
you—?" I didn't even know what I meant to ask.
"Van Manderpootz," he announced, "is a mathematician,
not a magician. Do you expect me to materialize an ideal for
you?" When I had no reply but a groan, he continued. "Now
I think it safe enough to try the device myself. I shall take—let's
see—the thought 'man.' I shall see what the superman
looks like, since the ideal of van Manderpootz can be nothing
less than superman." He seated himself. "Turn that switch,"
he said. "Now!"
I did. The tubes glowed into low blue light. I watched
dully, disinterestedly; nothing held any attraction for me after
that image of the ideal.
"Huh!" said van Manderpootz suddenly. "Turn it on, I
say! I see nothing but my own reflection."
I stared, then burst into a hollow laugh. The mirror was
spinning; the banks of tubes were glowing; the device was
Van Manderpootz raised his face, a little redder than usual.
I laughed half hysterically. "After all," he said huffily, "one
might have a lower ideal of man than van Manderpootz. I see
nothing nearly so humorous as your situation."
The laughter died. I went miserably home, spent half the
remainder of the night in morose contemplation, smoked nearly
two packs of cigarettes, and didn't get to the office at all the
Tips Alva got back to town for a week-end broadcast, but
I didn't even bother to see her, just phoned her and told her I
was sick. I guess my face lent credibility to the story, for she
was duly sympathetic, and her face in the phone screen was
quite anxious. Even at that, I couldn't keep my eyes away from
her lips because, except for a bit too lustrous make-up, they
were the lips of the ideal. But they weren't enough; they just
Old N. J. began to worry again. I couldn't sleep late of
mornings any more, and after missing that one day, I kept getting
down earlier and earlier until one morning I was only ten minutes
late. He called me in at once.
"Look here, Dixon," he said. "Have you been to a doctor
"I'm not sick," I said listlessly.
"Then for Heaven's sake, marry the girl! I don't care what
chorus she kicks in, marry her and act like a human being again."
"Oh. She's already married, eh?"
Well, I couldn't tell him she didn't exist. I couldn't say
I was in love with a vision, a dream, an ideal. He thought I
was a little crazy, anyway, so I just muttered "Yeah," and didn't
argue when he said gruffly: "Then you'll get over it. Take a
vacation. Take two vacations. You might as well for all the
good you are around here."
I didn't leave New York; I lacked the energy. I just mooned
around the city for a while, avoiding my friends, and dreaming
of the impossible beauty of the face in the mirror. And by and
by the longing to see that vision of perfection once more began
to become overpowering. I don't suppose anyone except me
can understand the lure of that memory; the face, you see, had
been my ideal, my concept of perfection. One sees beautiful
women here and there in the world; one falls in love, but always,
no matter how great their beauty or how deep one's love, they
fall short in some degree of the secret vision of the ideal. But
not the mirrored face; she was my ideal, and therefore, whatever
imperfections she might have had in the minds of others,
in my eyes she had none. None, that is, save the terrible one
of being only an ideal, and therefore unattainable—but that is
a fault inherent in all perfection.
It was a matter of days before I yielded. Common sense
told me it was futile, even foolhardy, to gaze again on the vision
of perfect desirability. I fought against the hunger, but I fought
hopelessly, and was not at all surprised to find myself one evening
rapping on van Manderpootz's door in the University Club.
He wasn't there; I'd been hoping he wouldn't be, since it gave
me an excuse to seek him in his laboratory in the Physics Building,
to which I would have dragged him anyway.
There I found him, writing some sort of notations on the
table that held the idealizator. "Hello, Dixon," he said. "Did
it ever occur to you that the ideal university cannot exist?
Naturally not since it must be composed of perfect students and
perfect educators, in which case the former could have nothing
to learn and the latter, therefore, nothing to teach."
What interest had I in the perfect university and its inability
to exist? My whole being was desolate over the non-existence
of another ideal. "Professor," I said tensely, "may I use that—that
thing of yours again? I want to—uh—see something."
My voice must have disclosed the situation, for van Manderpootz
looked up sharply. "So!" he snapped. "So you disregarded
my advice! Forget her, I said. Forget her because
she doesn't exist."
"But—I can't! Once more, Professor—only once more!"
He shrugged, but his blue, metallic eyes were a little softer
than usual. After all, for some inconceivable reason, he likes me.
"Well, Dixon," he said, "you're of age and supposed to be of
mature intelligence. I tell you that this is a very stupid request,
and van Manderpootz always knows what he's talking
about. If you want to stupefy yourself with the opium of impossible
dreams, go ahead. This is the last chance you'll have,
for tomorrow the idealizator of van Manderpootz goes into the
Bacon head of Isaak there. I shall shift the oscillators so that
the psychons, instead of becoming light quanta, emerge as an
electron flow—a current which will actuate Isaak's vocal apparatus
and come out as speech." He paused musingly. "Van
Manderpootz will hear the voice of the ideal. Of course Isaak
can return only what psychons he receives from the brain of
the operator, but just as the image in the mirror, the thoughts
will have lost their human impress, and the words will be those
of an ideal." He perceived that I wasn't listening, I suppose.
"Go ahead, imbecile!" he grunted.
I did. The glory that I hungered after flamed slowly into
being, incredible in loveliness, and somehow, unbelievably, even
more beautiful than on that other occasion. I know why now;
long afterwards, van Manderpootz explained that the very fact
that I had seen an ideal once before had altered my ideal, raised
it to a higher level. With that face among my memories, my concept
of perfection was different than it had been.
So I gazed and hungered. Readily and instantly the being
in the mirror responded to my thoughts with smile and movement.
When I thought of love, her eyes blazed with such tenderness
that it seemed as if—I—I, Dixon Wells—were part of
those pairs who had made the great romances of the world,
Heloise and Abelard, Tristram and Isolde, Aucassin and Nicolette.
It was like the thrust of a dagger to feel van Manderpootz
shaking me, to hear his gruff voice calling, "Out of it! Out of
it! Time's up."
I groaned and dropped my face on my hands. The Professor
had been right, of course; this insane repetition had only
intensified an unfulfillable longing, and had made a bad mess
ten times as bad. Then I heard him muttering behind me.
"Strange!" he murmured. "In fact, fantastic. Oedipus—oedipus
of the magazine covers and billboards."
I looked dully around. He was standing behind me, squinting,
apparently, into the spinning mirror beyond the end of the
black tube. "Huh?" I grunted wearily.
"That face," he said. "Very queer. You must have seen
her features on a hundred magazines, on a thousand billboards,
on countless 'vision broadcasts. The oedipus complex in a curious
"Eh? Could you see her?"
"Of course!" he grunted. "Didn't I say a dozen times that
the psychons are transmuted to perfectly ordinary quanta of
visible light? If you could see her, why not I?"
"But—what about billboards and all?"
"That face," said the professor slowly. "It's somewhat
idealized, of course, and certain details are wrong. Her eyes
aren't that pallid silver-blue you imagined; they're green—sea-green,
"What the devil," I asked hoarsely, "are you talking about?"
"About the face in the mirror. It happens to be, Dixon,
a close approximation of the features of de Lisle d'Agrion, the
"You mean—she's real? She exists? She lives? She—"
"Wait a moment, Dixon. She's real enough, but in accordance
with your habit, you're a little late. About twenty-five
years too late, I should say. She must now be somewhere
in the fifties—let's see—fifty-three, I think. But during your
very early childhood, you must have seen her face pictured everywhere,
de Lisle d'Agrion, the Dragon Fly."
I could only gulp. That blow was devastating.
"You see," continued van Manderpootz, "one's ideals are
implanted very early. That's why you continually fall in love
with girls who possess one or another feature that reminds you
of her, her hair, her nose, her mouth, her eyes. Very simple,
but rather curious."
"Curious!" I blazed. "Curious, you say! Everytime I
look into one of your damned contraptions I find myself in
love with a myth! A girl who's dead, or married, or unreal, or
turned into an old woman! Curious, eh? Damned funny, isn't it?"
"Just a moment," said the professor placidly. "It happens,
Dixon, that she has a daughter. What's more, Denise resembles
her mother. And what's still more, she's arriving in New York
next week to study American letters at the University here. She
writes, you see."
That was too much for immediate comprehension. "How—how
do you know?" I gasped.
It was one of the few times I have seen the colossal blandness
of van Manderpootz ruffled. He reddened a trifle, and
said slowly, "It also happens, Dixon, that many years ago in
Amsterdam, Haskel van Manderpootz and de Lisle d'Agrion
were—very friendly—more than friendly, I might say, but for
the fact that two such powerful personalities as the Dragon Fly
and van Manderpootz were always at odds." He frowned. "I
was almost her second husband. She's had seven, I believe;
Denise is the daughter of her third."
"Why—why is she coming here?"
"Because," he said with dignity, "van Manderpootz is here.
I am still a friend of de Lisle's." He turned and bent over the
complex device on the table. "Hand me that wrench," he
ordered. "Tonight I dismantle this, and tomorrow start reconstructing
it for Isaak's head."
But when, the following week, I rushed eagerly back to
van Manderpootz's laboratory, the idealizator was still in place.
The professor greeted me with a humorous twist to what was
visible of his bearded mouth. "Yes, it's still here," he said,
gesturing at the device. "I've decided to build an entirely new
one for Isaak, and besides, this one has afforded me considerable
amusement. Furthermore, in the words of Oscar Wilde,
who am I to tamper with a work of genius. After all, the
mechanism is the product of the great van Manderpootz."
He was deliberately tantalizing me. He knew that I hadn't
come to hear him discourse on Isaak, or even on the incomparable
van Manderpootz. Then he smiled and softened, and
turned to the little inner office adjacent, the room where Isaak
stood in metal austerity. "Denise!" he called, "come here."
I don't know exactly what I expected, but I do know that
the breath left me as the girl entered. She wasn't exactly my
image of the ideal, of course; she was perhaps the merest
trifle slimmer, and her eyes—well, they must have been much
like those of de Lisle d'Agrion, for they were the clearest emerald
I've ever seen. They were impudently direct eyes, and I could
imagine why van Manderpootz and the Dragon Fly might have
been forever quarreling; that was easy to imagine, looking into
the eyes of the Dragon Fly's daughter.
Nor was Denise, apparently, quite as femininely modest as
my image of perfection. She wore the extremely unconcealing
costume of the day, which covered, I suppose, about as much
of her as one of the one-piece swimming suits of the middle
years of the twentieth century. She gave an impression, not so
much of fleeting grace as of litheness and supple strength, an
air of independence, frankness, and—I say it again—impudence.
"Well!" she said coolly as van Manderpootz presented me.
"So you're the scion of the N. J. Wells Corporation. Every
now and then your escapades enliven the Paris Sunday supplements.
Wasn't it you who snared a million dollars in the market
so you could ask Whimsy White—?"
I flushed. "That was greatly exaggerated," I said hastily,
"and anyway I lost it before we—uh—before I—"
"Not before you made somewhat of a fool of yourself, I
believe," she finished sweetly.
Well, that's the sort she was. If she hadn't been so infernally
lovely, if she hadn't looked so much like the face in
the mirror, I'd have flared up, said "Pleased to have met you,"
and never have seen her again. But I couldn't get angry, not
when she had the dusky hair, the perfect lips, the saucy nose of
the being who to me was ideal.
So I did see her again, and several times again. In fact,
I suppose I occupied most of her time between the few literary
courses she was taking, and little by little I began to see that
in other respects besides the physical she was not so far from
my ideal. Beneath her impudence was honesty, and frankness,
and, despite herself, sweetness, so that even allowing for the
head-start I'd had, I fell in love pretty hastily. And what's more,
I knew she was beginning to reciprocate.
That was the situation when I called for her one noon and
took her over to van Manderpootz's laboratory. We were to
lunch with him at the University Club, but we found him occupied
in directing some experiment in the big laboratory beyond
his personal one, untangling some sort of mess that his
staff had blundered into. So Denise and I wandered back into
the smaller room, perfectly content to be alone together. I
simply couldn't feel hungry in her presence; just talking to her
was enough of a substitute for food.
"I'm going to be a good writer," she was saying musingly.
"Some day, Dick, I'm going to be famous."
Well, everyone knows how correct that prediction was. I
agreed with her instantly.
She smiled. "You're nice, Dick," she said. "Very nice."
"Very!" she said emphatically. Then her green eyes strayed
over to the table that held the idealizator. "What crack-brained
contraption of Uncle Haskel's is that?" she asked.
I explained, rather inaccurately, I'm afraid, but no ordinary
engineer can follow the ramifications of a van Manderpootz conception.
Nevertheless, Denise caught the gist of it and her
eyes glowed emerald fire.
"It's fascinating!" she exclaimed. She rose and moved over
to the table. "I'm going to try it."
"Not without the professor, you won't! It might be
That was the wrong thing to say. The green eyes glowed
brighter as she cast me a whimsical glance. "But I am," she
said. "Dick, I'm going to—see my ideal man!" She laughed
I was panicky. Suppose her ideal turned out tall and dark
and powerful, instead of short and sandy-haired and a bit—well,
chubby, as I am. "No!" I said vehemently. "I won't let you!"
She laughed again. I suppose she read my consternation,
for she said softly, "Don't be silly, Dick." She sat down, placed
her face against the opening of the barrel, and commanded.
"Turn it on."
I couldn't refuse her. I set the mirror whirling, then
switched on the bank of tubes. Then immediately I stepped
behind her, squinting into what was visible of the flashing
mirror, where a face was forming, slowly—vaguely.
I thrilled. Surely the hair of the image was sandy. I even
fancied now that I could trace a resemblance to my own features.
Perhaps Denise sensed something similar, for she suddenly
withdrew her eyes from the tube and looked up with a
faintly embarrassed flush, a thing most unusual for her.
"Ideals are dull!" she said. "I want a real thrill. Do you
know what I'm going to see? I'm going to visualize ideal horror.
That's what I'll do. I'm going to see absolute horror!"
"Oh, no you're not!" I gasped. "That's a terribly dangerous
idea." Off in the other room I heard the voice of van
"Dangerous—bosh!" Denise retorted. "I'm a writer, Dick.
All this means to me is material. It's just experience, and I
Van Manderpootz again. "Dixon! Dixon! Come here."
I said, "Listen, Denise. I'll be right back. Don't try anything
until I'm here—please!"
I dashed into the big laboratory. Van Manderpootz was
facing a cowed group of assistants, quite apparently in extreme
awe of the great man.
"Hah, Dixon!" he rasped. "Tell these fools what an Emmerich
valve is, and why it won't operate in a free electronic
stream. Let 'em see that even an ordinary engineer knows
Well, an ordinary engineer doesn't, but it happened that I
did. Not that I'm particularly exceptional as an engineer, but I
did happen to know that because a year or two before I'd done
some work on the big tidal turbines up in Maine, where they
have to use Emmerich valves to guard against electrical leakage
from the tremendous potentials in their condensers. So I started
explaining, and van Manderpootz kept interpolating sarcasms
about his staff, and when I finally finished, I suppose I'd been
in there about half an hour. And then—I remembered Denise!
I left van Manderpootz staring as I rushed back, and sure
enough, there was the girl with her face pressed against the
barrel, and her hands gripping the table edge. Her features
were hidden, of course, but there was something about her
strained position, her white knuckles—
"Denise!" I yelled. "Are you all right? Denise!"
She didn't move. I stuck my face in between the mirror
and the end of the barrel and peered up the tube at her visage,
and what I saw left me all but stunned. Have you ever seen
stark, mad, infinite terror on a human face? That was what I
saw in Denise's—inexpressible, unbearable horror, worse than
the fear of death could ever be. Her green eyes were widened
so that the whites showed around them; her perfect lips were
contorted, her whole face strained into a mask of sheer terror.
I rushed for the switch, but in passing I caught a single
glimpse of—of what showed in the mirror. Incredible! Obscene,
terror-laden, horrifying things—there just aren't words for them.
There are no words.
Denise didn't move as the tubes darkened. I raised her face
from the barrel and when she glimpsed me she moved. She
flung herself out of that chair and away, facing me with such mad
terror that I halted.
"Denise!" I cried. "It's just Dick. Look, Denise!"
But as I moved toward her, she uttered a choking scream,
her eyes dulled, her knees gave, and she fainted. Whatever she
had seen, it must have been appalling to the uttermost, for
Denise was not the sort to faint.
It was a week later that I sat facing van Manderpootz in his
little inner office. The grey metal figure of Isaak was missing,
and the table that had held the idealizator was empty.
"Yes," said van Manderpootz. "I've dismantled it. One
of van Manderpootz's few mistakes was to leave it around where
a pair of incompetents like you and Denise could get to it. It
seems that I continually overestimate the intelligence of others.
I suppose I tend to judge them by the brain of van
I said nothing. I was thoroughly disheartened and depressed,
and whatever the professor said about my lack of intelligence,
I felt it justified.
"Hereafter," resumed van Manderpootz, "I shall credit nobody
except myself with intelligence, and will doubtless be
much more nearly correct." He waved a hand at Isaak's vacant
corner. "Not even the Bacon head," he continued. "I've
abandoned that project, because, when you come right down to
it, what need has the world of a mechanical brain when it already
has that of van Manderpootz?"
"Professor," I burst out suddenly, "why won't they let me
see Denise? I've been at the hospital every day, and they let
me into her room just once—just once, and that time she went
right into a fit of hysterics. Why? Is she—?" I gulped.
"She's recovering nicely, Dixon."
"Then why can't I see her?"
"Well," said van Manderpootz placidly, "it's like this. You
see, when you rushed into the laboratory there, you made the
mistake of pushing your face in front of the barrel. She saw
your features right in the midst of all those horrors she had called
up. Do you see? From then on your face was associated in
her mind with the whole hell's brew in the mirror. She can't
even look at you without seeing all of it again."
"Good—God!" I gasped. "But she'll get over it, won't
she? She'll forget that part of it?"
"The young psychiatrist who attends her—a bright chap,
by the way, with a number of my own ideas—believes she'll be
quite over it in a couple of months. But personally, Dixon, I
don't think she'll ever welcome the sight of your face, though I
myself have seen uglier visages somewhere or other."
I ignored that. "Lord!" I groaned. "What a mess!" I
rose to depart, and then—then I knew what inspiration means!
"Listen!" I said, spinning back. "Listen, professor! Why
can't you get her back here and let her visualize the ideally
beautiful? And then I'll—I'll stick my face into that!" Enthusiasm
grew. "It can't fail!" I cried. "At the worst, it'll
cancel that other memory. It's marvelous!"
"But as usual," said van Manderpootz, "a little late."
"Late? Why? You can put up your idealizator again.
You'd do that much, wouldn't you?"
"Van Manderpootz," he observed, "is the very soul of generosity.
I'd do it gladly, but it's still a little late, Dixon. You
see, she married the bright young psychiatrist this noon."
Well, I've a date with Tips Alva tonight, and I'm going
to be late for it, just as late as I please. And then I'm going to
do nothing but stare at her lips all evening.
This etext was produced from A Martian Odyssey and Others published in
1949. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.