Pop reflected hungrily that it was something else to be made permanent and inspected from time to time. But he wanted more than a drawing of this! He wanted to make the memory permanent and to extend it-- If it had not been for his vacuum suit and the cannister he carried, Pop would have rubbed his hands.
Tall, jagged crater-walls rose from the lunar plain. Monstrous, extended inky shadows stretched enormous distances, utterly black. The sun, like a glowing octopod, floated low at the edge of things and seemed to hate all creation.
Pop reached the rocket. He climbed the welded ladder-rungs to the air lock. He closed the door. Air whined. His suit sagged against his body. He took off his helmet.
When the red-headed man opened the inner door, the hand-weapon shook and trembled. Pop said calmly: "Now I've got to go handle the hoist, if Sattell's coming up from the mine. If I don't do it, he don't come up."
The red-headed man snarled. But his eyes were on the cannister whose contents should weigh a hundred pounds on Earth.
"Any tricks," he rasped, "and you know what happens!"
"Yeah," said Pop.
He stolidly put his helmet back on. But his eyes went past the red-headed man to the stair that wound down, inside the ship, from some compartment above. The stair-rail was pure, clear, water-white plastic, not less than three inches thick. There was a lot of it!
The inner door closed. Pop opened the outer. Air rushed out. He climbed painstakingly down to the ground. He started back toward the shack.
There was the most luridly bright of all possible flashes. There was no sound, of course. But something flamed very brightly, and the ground thumped under Pop Young's vacuum boots. He turned.
The rocketship was still in the act of flying apart. It had been a splendid explosion. Of course cotton sheeting in liquid oxygen is not quite as good an explosive as carbon-black, which they used down in the mine. Even with magnesium powder to start the flame when a bare light-filament ignited it, the cannister-bomb hadn't equaled--say--T.N.T. But the ship had fuel on board for the trip back to Earth. And it blew, too. It would be minutes before all the fragments of the ship returned to the Moon's surface. On the Moon, things fall slowly.
Pop didn't wait. He searched hopefully. Once a mass of steel plating fell only yards from him, but it did not interrupt his search.
When he went into the shack, he grinned to himself. The call-light of the vision-phone flickered wildly. When he took off his helmet the bell clanged incessantly. He answered. A shaking voice from the mining-colony panted: "We felt a shock! What happened? What do we do?"
"Don't do a thing," advised Pop. "It's all right. I blew up the ship and everything's all right. I wouldn't even mention it to Sattell if I were you."
He grinned happily down at a section of plastic stair-rail he'd found not too far from where the ship exploded. When the man down in the mine cut off, Pop got out of his vacuum suit in a hurry. He placed the plastic zestfully on the table where he'd been restricted to drawing pictures of his wife and children in order to recover memories of them.
He began to plan, gloatingly, the thing he would carve out of a four-inch section of the plastic. When it was carved, he'd paint it. While he worked, he'd think of Sattell, because that was the way to get back the missing portions of his life--the parts Sattell had managed to get away from him. He'd get back more than ever, now!
He didn't wonder what he'd do if he ever remembered the crime Sattell had committed. He felt, somehow, that he wouldn't get that back until he'd recovered all the rest.
Gloating, it was amusing to remember what people used to call such art-works as he planned, when carved by other lonely men in other faraway places. They called those sculptures scrimshaw.
But they were a lot more than that!
THE MACHINE THAT SAVED THE WORLD.
By Murray Leinster
They were broadcasts from nowhere--sinister emanations flooding in from space--smashing any receiver that picked them up. What defense could Earth devise against science such as this?
The first broadcast came in 1972, while Mahon-modified machines were still strictly classified, and the world had heard only rumors about them. The first broadcast was picked up by a television ham in Osceola, Florida, who fumingly reported artificial interference on the amateur TV bands. He heard and taped it for ten minutes--so he said--before it blew out his receiver. When he replaced the broken element, the broadcast was gone.
But the Communications Commission looked at and listened to the tape and practically went through the ceiling. It stationed a monitor truck in Osceola for months, listening feverishly to nothing.
Then for a long while there were rumors of broadcasts which blew out receiving apparatus, but nothing definite. Weird patterns appeared on screens high-pitched or deep-bass notes sounded--and the receiver went out of operation. After the ham operator in Osceola, nobody else got more than a second or two of the weird interference before blowing his set during six very full months of CC agitation.
Then a TV station in Seattle abruptly broadcast interference superimposed on its regular network program. The screens of all sets tuned to that program suddenly showed exotic, curiously curved, meaningless patterns on top of a commercial spectacular broadcast. At the same time incredible chirping noises came from the speakers, alternating with deep-bass hootings, which spoiled the ju-ju music of the most expensive ju-ju band on the air. The interference ended only with a minor break-down in the transmitting station. It was the same sort of interference that the Communications Commission had thrown fits about in Washington. It threw further fits now.
A month later a vision-phone circuit between Chicago and Los Angeles was unusable for ten minutes. The same meaningless picture-pattern and the same preposterous noises came on and monopolized the line. It ceased when a repeater-tube went out and a parallel circuit took over. Again, frantic agitation displayed by high authority.
Then the interference began to appear more frequently, though still capriciously. Once a Presidential broadcast was confused by interference apparently originating in the White House, and again a three-way top-secret conference between the commanding officers of three military departments ceased when the unhuman-sounding noises and the scrambled picture pattern inserted itself into the closed-circuit discussion. The conference broke up amid consternation. For one reason, military circuits were supposed to be interference-proof. For another, it appeared that if interference could be spotted to this circuit or this receiver it was likely this circuit or that receiver could be tapped.
For a third reason, the broadcasts were dynamite. As received, they were badly scrambled, but they could be straightened out. Even the first one, from Osceola, was cleaned up and understood. Enough so to make top authority tear its hair and allow only fully-cleared scientific consultants in on the thing.
The content of the broadcasts was kept considerably more secret than the existence of Mahon units and what they could do. And Mahon units were brand-new, then, and being worked with only at one research installation in the United States.
The broadcasts were not so closely confined. The same wriggly patterns and alien noises were picked up in Montevideo, in Australia, in Panama City, and in grimly embattled England. All the newspapers discussed them without ever suspecting that they had been translated into plain speech. They were featured as freak news--and each new account mentioned that the broadcast reception had ended with a break-down of the receiving apparatus.
Guarded messages passed among the high authorities of the nations that picked up the stuff. A cautious inquiry went even to the Compubs.
The Union of Communist Republics answered characteristically. It asked a question about Mahon units. There were rumors, it said, about a new principle of machine-control lately developed in the United States. It was said that machines equipped with the new units did not wear out, that they exercised seeming intelligence at their tasks, and that they promised to end the enormous drain on natural resources caused by the wearing-out and using-up of standard-type machinery.
The Compub Information Office offered to trade data on the broadcasts for data about the new Mahon-modified machines. It hinted at extremely important revelations it could make.
The rest of the world deduced astutely that the Compubs were scared, too. And they were correct.
Then, quite suddenly, a break came. All previous broadcast receptions had ended with the break-down of the receiving instrument. Now a communicator named Betsy, modified in the Mahon manner and at work in the research installation working with Mahon-modified devices, began to pick up the broadcasts consistently, keeping each one on its screen until it ended.
Day after day, at highly irregular intervals, Betsy's screen lighted up and showed the weird patterns, and her loudspeakers emitted the peepings and chirps and deep-bass hootings of the broadcasts. And the high brass went into a dither to end all dithers as tapes of the received material reached the Pentagon and were translated into intelligible speech and pictures.
This was when Metech Sergeant Bellews, in charge of the Rehab Shop at Research Installation 83, came into the affair. Specifically, he entered the picture when a young second lieutenant came to the shop to fetch him to Communications Center in that post.
The lieutenant was young and tall and very military. Sergeant Bellews was not. So he snorted, upon receipt of the message. He was at work on a vacuum cleaner at the moment--a Mahon-modified machine with a flickering yellow standby light that wavered between brightness and dimness with much more than appropriate frequency. The Rehabilitation Shop was where Mahon-modified machines were brought back to usefulness when somebody messed them up. Two or three machines--an electric ironer, for one--operated slowly and hesitantly. That was occupational therapy. A washing-machine churned briskly, which was convalescence. Others, ranging from fire-control computers to teletypes and automatic lathes, simply waited with their standby lights flickering meditatively according to the manner and custom of Mahon-modified machines. They were ready for duty again.
The young lieutenant was politely urgent.
"But I been there!" protested Sergeant Bellews. "I checked! It's a communicator I named Betsy. She's all right! She's been mishandled by the kinda halfwits Communications has around, but she's a good, well-balanced, experienced machine. If she's turning out broadcasts, it's because they're comin' in! She's all right!"
"I know," said the young lieutenant soothingly. His uniform and his manners were beautiful to behold. "But the Colonel wants you there for a conference."
"I got a communicator in the shop here," said Sergeant Bellews suspiciously. "Why don't he call me?"
"Because he wants to try some new adjustments on--ah--Betsy, Sergeant. You have a way with Mahon machines. They'll do things for you they won't do for anybody else."
Sergeant Bellews snorted again. He knew he was being buttered up, but he'd asked for it. He even insisted on it, for the glory of the Metallurgical Technicians' Corps. The big brass tended to regard Metechs as in some fashion successors to the long-vanished veterinary surgeons of the Farriers' Corps, when horses were a part of the armed forces. Mahon-modified machines were new--very new--but the top brass naturally remembered everything faintly analogous and applied it all wrong. So Sergeant Bellews conducted a one-man campaign to establish the dignity of his profession.
But nobody without special Metech training ought to tinker with a Mahon-modified machine.
"If he's gonna fool with Betsy," said the Sergeant bitterly, "I guess I gotta go over an' boss the job."
He pressed a button on his work-table. The vacuum cleaner's standby light calmed down. The button provided soothing sub-threshold stimuli to the Mahon unit, not quite giving it the illusion of operating perfectly--if a Mahon unit could be said to be capable of illusion--but maintaining it in the rest condition which was the foundation of Mahon-unit operation, since a Mahon machine must never be turned off.
The lieutenant started out of the door. Sergeant Bellews followed at leisure. He painstakingly avoided ever walking the regulation two paces behind a commissioned officer. Either he walked side by side, chatting, or he walked alone. Wise officers let him get away with it.
Reaching the open air a good twenty yards behind the lieutenant, he cocked an approving eye at a police-up unit at work on the lawn outside. Only a couple of weeks before, that unit had been in a bad way. It stopped and shivered when it encountered an unfamiliar object.
But now it rolled across the grass from one path-edge to another. When it reached the second path it stopped, briskly moved itself its own width sidewise, and rolled back. On the way it competently manicured the lawn. It picked up leaves, retrieved a stray cigarette-butt, and snapped up a scrap of paper blown from somewhere. Its tactile units touched a new-planted shrub. It delicately circled the shrub and went on upon its proper course.
Once, where the grass grew taller than elsewhere, it stopped and whirred, trimming the growth back to regulation height. Then it went on about its business as before.
Sergeant Bellews felt a warm sensation. That was a good machine that had been in a bad way and he'd brought it back to normal, happy operation. The sergeant was pleased.
The lieutenant turned into the Communications building. Sergeant Bellews followed at leisure. A jeep went past him--one of the special jeeps being developed at this particular installation--and its driver was talking to someone in the back seat, but the jeep matter-of-factly turned out to avoid Sergeant Bellews. He glowed. He'd activated it. Another good machine, gathering sound experience day by day.
He went into the room where Betsy stood--the communicator which, alone among receiving devices in the whole world, picked up the enigmatic broadcasts consistently. Betsy was a standard Mark IV communicator, now carefully isolated from any aerial. She was surrounded by recording devices for vision and sound, and by the most sensitive and complicated instruments yet devised for the detection of short-wave radiation. Nothing had yet been detected reaching Betsy, but something must. No machine could originate what Betsy had been exhibiting on her screen and emitting from her speakers.
Sergeant Bellews tensed instantly. Betsy's standby light quivered hysterically from bright to dim and back again. The rate of quivering was fast. It was very nearly a sine-wave modulation of the light--and when a Mahon-modified machine goes into sine-wave flicker, it is the same as Cheyne-Stokes breathing in a human.
He plunged forward. He jerked open Betsy's adjustment-cover and fairly yelped his dismay. He reached in and swiftly completed corrective changes of amplification and scanning voltages. He balanced a capacity bridge. He soothed a saw-tooth resonator. He seemed to know by sheer intuition what was needed to be done.
After a moment or two the standby lamp wavered slowly from near-extinction to half-brightness, and then to full brightness and back again. It was completely unrhythmic and very close to normal.
"Who done this?" demanded the sergeant furiously. "He had Betsy close to fatigue collapse! He'd ought to be court-martialed!"
He was too angry to notice the three civilians in the room with the colonel and the lieutenant who'd summoned him. The young officer looked uncomfortable, but the colonel said authoritatively: "Never mind that, Sergeant. Your Betsy was receiving something. It wasn't clear. You had not reported, as ordered, so an attempt was made to clarify the signals."
"Okay, Colonel!" said Sergeant Bellews bitterly. "You got the right to spoil machines! But if you want them to work right you got to treat 'em right!"
"Just so," said the colonel. "Meanwhile--this is Doctor Howell, Doctor Graves, and Doctor Lecky. Sergeant Bellews, gentlemen. Sergeant, these are not MDs. They've been sent by the Pentagon to work on Betsy."
"Betsy don't need workin' on!" said Sergeant Bellews belligerently. "She's a good, reliable, experienced machine! If she's handled right, she'll do better work than any machine I know!"
"Granted," said the colonel. "She's doing work now that no other machine seems able to do--drawing scrambled broadcasts from somewhere that can only be guessed at. They've been unscrambled and these gentlemen have come to get the data on Betsy. I'm sure you'll cooperate."
"What kinda data do they want?" demanded Bellews. "I can answer most questions about Betsy!"
"Which," the colonel told him, "is why I sent for you. These gentlemen have the top scientific brains in the country, Sergeant. Answer their questions about Betsy and I think some very high brass will be grateful.
"By the way, it is ordered that from now on no one is to refer to Betsy or any work on these broadcasts, over any type of electronic communication. No telephone, no communicator, no teletype, no radio, no form of communication except viva voce. And that means you talking to somebody else, Sergeant, with no microphone around. Understand? And from now on you will not talk about anything at all except to these gentlemen and to me."
Sergeant Bellews said incredulously: "Suppose I got to talk to somebody in the Rehab Shop. Do I signal with my ears and fingers?"
"You don't talk," said the colonel flatly. "Not at all."
Sergeant Bellews shook his head sadly. He regarded the colonel with such reproach that the colonel stiffened. But Sergeant Bellews had a gift for machinery. He had what amounted to genius for handling Mahon-modified devices. So long as no more competent men turned up, he was apt to get away with more than average.
The colonel frowned and went out of the room. The tall young lieutenant followed him faithfully. The sergeant regarded the three scientists with the suspicious air he displayed to everyone not connected with Mahon units in some fashion.
"Well?" he said with marked reserve. "What can I tell you first?"
Lecky was the smallest of the three scientists. He said ingratiatingly, with the faintest possible accent in his speech: "The nicest thing you could do for us, Sergeant, would be to show us that this--Betsy, is it?--with other machines before her, has developed a contagious machine insanity. It would frighten me to learn that machines can go mad, but I would prefer it to other explanations for the messages she gives."
"Betsy can't go crazy," said Bellews with finality. "She's Mahon-controlled, but she hasn't got what it takes to go crazy. A Mahon unit fixes a machine so it can loaf and be a permanent dynamic system that can keep acquired habits of operatin'. It can take trainin'. It can get to be experienced. It can learn the tricks of its trade, so to speak. But it can't go crazy!"
"Too bad!" said Lecky. He added persuasively: "But a machine can lie, Sergeant? Would that be possible?"
Sergeant Bellews snorted in denial.
"The broadcasts," said Lecky mildly, "claim a remarkable reason for certainty about an extremely grave danger which is almost upon the world. If it's the truth, Sergeant, it is appalling. If it is a lie, it may be more appalling. The Joint Chiefs of Staff take it very seriously, in any case. They--"
"I got cold shivers," said Sergeant Bellews with irony. "I'm all wrought up. Huh! The big brass gets the yellin' yollups every so often anyhow. Listen to them, and nothin' happens except it's top priority top secret extra crash emergency! What do you want to know about Betsy?"
There was a sudden squealing sound from the communicator on which all the extra recording devices were focussed. Betsy's screen lighted up. Peculiarly curved patterns appeared on it. They shifted and changed. Noises came from her speaker. They were completely unearthly. Now they were shrill past belief, and then they were chopped into very small bits of sound, and again they were deepest bass, when each separate note seemed to last for seconds.
"You might," said Lecky calmly, "tell us from where your Betsy gets the signal she reports in this fashion."
There were whirrings as recorders trained upon Betsy captured every flickering of her screen and every peeping noise or deep-toned rumble. The screen-pattern changed with the sound, but it was not linked to it. It was a completely abnormal reception. It was uncanny. It was somehow horrible because so completely remote from any sort of human communication in the year 1972.
The three scientists watched with worried eyes. A communicator, even with a Mahon unit in it, could not originate a pattern like this! And this was not conceivably a distortion of anything transmitted in any normal manner in the United States of America, or the Union of Compubs, or any of the precariously surviving small nations not associated with either colossus.
"This is a repeat broadcast!" said one of the three men suddenly. It was Howell, the heavy-set man. "I remember it. I saw it projected--like this, and then unscrambled. I think it's the one where the social system's described--so we can have practice at trying to understand. Remember?"
Lecky said, as if the matter had been thrashed out often before: "I do not believe what it says, Howell! You know that I do not believe it! I will not accept the theory that this broadcast comes from the future!"