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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



"SIGHT depends upon the etheric vibrations which we are wont to denominate light, said Professor Xenophon Xerxes Zapt, the eminent investigator of the unknown (sometimes called "Unknown Quantity Zapt" by his associates by reason of the double "X" in his name. He spoke from the reading chair wherein he had been browsing over the pages of a scientific journal, in the living-room of his home.

"Good thing it does, too," declared Bob Sargent, fiancé of the professor's daughter Nellie, surveying the young woman in appreciative fashion. "If it didn't, I suppose we couldn't see a thing."

"Exactly." The professor nodded. "There are times, Robert, when you have a gratifying manner of perceiving the main point of a deduction to be arrived at by the consideration of already established facts. Light being the main instrument of vision, its absence from the scheme of things would rob us of one of the five recognized senses beyond a doubt."

"And yet," said Bob, "they tell us that black is an absence of light, don't they, professor? So if they're right why is it we can see a negro—"

"Wait." The professor held up a slender hand. "We were speaking of light, not color, Robert."

Bob nodded. "Well, yes. But if black is an absence of color, why call the negro a colored man?"

Xenophon Xerxes Zapt indulged in a frown. Displeasure shone in his spectacled eyes. There were times when he disapproved strongly of Nellie's choice of a future husband—when he was more than a little annoyed by the particular sense of humor possessed by the young attorney. And now that annoyance flamed. "If it were not for the facetiousness you at times exhibit, Robert," he said with a sudden stiffness, "I would be far more satisfied as to the amount of light contained in what you are pleased to consider your mind. There are occasions, when in endeavoring to discuss some scientific problem in your presence, I am reminded of the saying in regard to casting pearls of price before—er —porcine appreciation. Levity is the last characteristic of personality with which we should approach the consideration of natural problems." He reached up and began pulling at the graying muttonchop whiskers on either side of his cleanly shaven chin.

Nellie gave Bob a warning glance, though her blue eyes were dancing.

And Sargent heeded the sign. "Well, really, professor," he said, "I had no intention of acting like the proverbial swine. Just what's the notion, will you explain?"

"Invisibility!" Xerxes Zapt pronounced the word with a force hardly to be expected from a man of so slight a frame. He was a little fellow, was the professor, customarily clad as now in baggy trousers, a loose coat and roomy slippers, in which he went puttering about the experiments that had won him a certain sort of fame.

"Invisibility," he repeated, eying Sargent. "Have you any conception, Robert, of all that may be embraced in that term?"

"Why—er," said Bob; "if a thing's invisible you can't see it—like a gas, or—"

"Exactly," the professor helped him out; "or the workings of some people's brains. Invisibility is the state wherein a substance defies the operation of the visible sense. What, then, if instead of arriving at such a state through the vaporization process as in the instance of a gas, substances should be rendered invisible, and at the same time their solidity were to be maintained?"

"It would be rather awkward, wouldn't it," Sargent suggested. "People would always be bumping into things."

"Eh?" Once more Xerxes Zapt eyed him in an almost suspicious manner.

"Well, perhaps—perhaps they would, Robert. And in that fact lies the advantage to be gained. Now this article on camouflage, I have been reading would make it appear that camouflage depends on the ability of man to present a baffling aspect of ordinary appearance to the perceptive centers of the brain, through the visual function of the optic nerve. Am I plain?"

"I believe that is the generally accepted explanation," Sargent assented weakly.

"Exactly. But what if, instead of changing the aspect of natural objects, they were rendered incapable of being seen?"

"Holy smoke!" said Bob and paused in sudden comprehension. "I guess I begin to get your notion."

Xenophon Xerxes Zapt leaned forward. "It would revolutionize the entire system of defense which might be employed by a nation. It would enable a fleet of an army to disguise its presence completely. I think it was known to the ancients. Merlin, whom Tennyson mentions, had a cloak of invisibility, you remember. Robert—my mind is made up. I am going to do it."

"Make things invisible?" Sargent questioned.

"Exactly." The professor rose and shook down his baggy trousers. "And when it is accomplished I am going to give it to this nation. The United States of America is going to be rendered—"

"Not invisible!" Robert interrupted.

"Certainly not." Zapt gave him a withering glance. "I was about to say that to Xenophon Xerxes Zapt it was reserved to render his nation impregnable from attack."

"By Jove, professor, that's a wonderful thing if you can do it," Robert exclaimed.

"If—if?" the professor bridled. "just so. In all ages progressive minds have had to contend with the doubt of scoffers."

Having delivered that parting shot, he turned and sta...

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