The broadcast stopped. It stopped dead. Betsy's screen went blank. Her wildly fluctuating standby light slowed gradually to a nearly normal rate of flicker.
"That's not a theory," said Howell dourly. "It's a statement in the broadcast. We saw the first transmission of this from the tape at the Pentagon. Then we saw it with the high-pitched parts slowed down and the deep-bass stuff speeded up. Then it was a human voice giving data on the scanning pattern and then rather drearily repeating that history said that intertemporal communication began with broadcasts sent back from 2180 to 1972. It said the establishment of two-way communication was very difficult and read from a script about social history, to give us practice in unscrambling it. It's not a theory to say the stuff originates in the future. It's a statement."
"Then it is a lie," said Lecky, very earnestly. "Truly, Howell, it is a lie!"
"Then where does the broadcast come from?" demanded Howell. "Some say it's a Compub trick. But if they were true they'd hide it for use to produce chaos in a sneak attack. The only other theory--"
Graves, the man with the short moustache, said jerkily: "No, Howell! It is not an extra-terrestrial creature pretending to be a man of our own human future. One could not sleep well with such an idea in his head. If some non-human monster could do this--"
"I do not sleep at all," said Lecky simply. "Because it says that two-way communication is to come. I can listen to these broadcasts tranquilly, but I cannot bear the thought of answering them. That seems to me madness!"
Sergeant Bellews said approvingly: "You got something there! Yes, sir! Did you notice how Betsy's standby light was wabbling while she was bringin' in that broadcast? If she could sweat, she'd've been sweating!"
Lecky turned his head to stare at the sergeant.
"Machines," said Bellews profoundly, "act according to the golden rule. They do unto you as they would have you do unto them. You treat a machine right and it treats you right. You treat it wrong and it busts itself--still tryin' to treat you right. See?"
"I do not quite see how it applies," he said mildly.
"Betsy's an old, experienced machine," said the sergeant. "A signal that makes her sweat like that has got something wrong about it. Any ordinary machine 'ud break down handlin' it."
Graves said jerkily: "The other machines that received these broadcasts did break down, Sergeant. All of them."
"Sure!" said the sergeant with dignity. "O' course, who's broadcastin' may have been tinkerin' with their signal since they seen it wasn't gettin' through. Betsy can take it now, when younger machines with less experience can't. Maybe a micro-microwatt of signal. Then it makes her sweat. If she was broadcastin', with a hell of a lot more'n a micro-microwatt--it'd be bad! I bet you that every machine we make to broadcast breaks down! I bet--"
Howell said curtly: "Reasonable enough! A signal to pass through time as well as space would be different from a standard wave-type! Of course that must be the answer."
Sergeant Bellews said truculently: "I got a hunch that whoever's broadcastin' is busting transmitters right an' left. I never knew anything about this before, except that Betsy was pickin' up stuff that came from nowhere. But I bet if you look over the record-tapes you will find they got breaks where one transmitter switched off or broke down and another took over!"
Lecky's eyes were shining. He regarded Sergeant Bellews with a sort of tender respect.
"Sergeant Bellews," he said softly, "I like you very much. You have told us undoubtedly true things."
"Think nothin' of it," said the sergeant, gratified. "I run the Rehab Shop here, and I could show you things--"
"We wish you to," said Lecky. "The reaction of machines to these broadcasts is the one viewpoint we would never have imagined. But it is plainly important. Will you help us, Sergeant? I do not like to be frightened--and I am!"
"Sure, I'll help," said Sergeant Bellews largely. "First thing is to whip some stuff together so we can find out what's what. You take a few Mahon units, and install 'em and train 'em right, and they will do almost anything you've a mind for. But you got to treat 'em right. Machines work by the golden rule. Always! Come along!"
Sergeant Bellews went to the Rehab Shop, followed only by Lecky. All about, the sun shone down upon buildings with a remarkably temporary look about them, and on lawns with a remarkably lush look about them, and signboards with very black lettering on gray paint backgrounds. There was a very small airfield inside the barbed-wire fence about the post, and elaborate machine-shops, and rows and rows of barracks and a canteen and a USO theatre, and a post post-office. Everything seemed quite matter-of-fact.
Except for the machines.
They were the real reason for the existence of the post. The barracks and married-row dwellings had washing-machines which looked very much like other washing-machines, except that they had standby lights which flickered meditatively when they weren't being used.
The television receivers looked like other TV sets, except for minute and wavering standby lights which were never quite as bright or dim one moment as the next. The jeeps--used strictly within the barbed-wire fence around the post--had similar yellow glowings on their instrument-boards, and they were very remarkable jeeps. They never ran off the graveled roads onto the grass, and they never collided with each other, and it was said that the nine-year-old son of a lieutenant-colonel had tried to drive one and it would not stir. Its motor cut off when he forced it into gear. When he tried to re-start it, the starter did not turn. But when an adult stepped into it, it operated perfectly--only it braked and stopped itself when a small child toddled into its path.
There were some people who said that this story was not true, but other people insisted that it was. Anyhow the washing-machines were perfect. They never tangled clothes put into them. It was reported that Mrs. So-and-so's washing-machine had found a load of clothes tangled, and reversed itself and worked backward until they were straightened out.
Television sets turned to the proper channels--different ones at different times of day--with incredible facility. The smallest child could wrench at a tuning-knob and the desired station came on. All the operating devices of Research Installation 83 worked as if they liked to--which might have been alarming except that they never did anything of themselves. They initiated nothing. But each one acted like an old, favorite possession. They fitted their masters. They seemed to tune themselves to the habits of their owners. They were infinitely easy to work right, and practically impossible to work wrong.
Such machines, of course, had not been designed to cope with enigmatic broadcasts or for military purposes. But the jet-planes on the small airfield were very remarkable indeed, and the other and lesser devices had been made for better understanding of the Mahon units which made machines into practically a new order of creation.
Sergeant Bellews ushered Lecky into the Rehab Shop. There was the pleasant, disorderly array of devices with their wavering standby lights. They gave an effect of being alive, but somehow it was not disturbing. They seemed not so much intent as meditative, and not so much watchful as interested. When the sergeant and his guest moved past them, the unrhythmic waverings of the small yellow lights seemed to change hopefully, as if the machines anticipated being put to use. Which, of course, was absurd. Mahon machines do not anticipate anything. They probably do not remember anything, though patterns of operation are certainly retained in very great variety. The fact is that a Mahon unit is simply a device to let a machine stand idle without losing the nature of an operating machine.
The basic principle goes back to antiquity. Ships, in ancient days, had manners and customs individual to each vessel. Some were sweet craft, easily handled and staunch and responsive. Others were stubborn and begrudging of all helpfulness. Sometimes they were even man-killers. These facts had no rational explanation, but they were facts. In similarly olden times, particular weapons acquired personalities to the point of having personal names--Excalibur, for example.
Every fighting man knew of weapons which seemed to possess personal skill and ferocity. Later, workmen found that certain tools had a knack of fitting smoothly in the hand--seeming even to divine the grain of the wood they worked on. The individual characteristics of violins were notorious, so that a violin which sang joyously under the bow was literally priceless.
And all these things, as a matter of observation and not of superstition, kept their qualities only when in constant use. Let a ship be hauled out of water and remain there for a time, and she would be clumsy on return to her native element. Let a sword or tool stay unused, and it seemed to dull. In particular, the finest of violins lost its splendor of tone if left unplayed, and any violin left in a repair-shop for a month had to be played upon constantly for many days before its living tone came back.
The sword and the tool perhaps, but the ship and the violin certainly, acted as if they acquired habits of operation by being used, and lost them by disuse. When more complex machines were invented, such facts were less noticeable. True, no two automobiles ever handled exactly the same, and that was recognized. But the fact that no complex machine worked well until it had run for a time was never commented on, except in the observation that it needed to be warmed up. Anybody would have admitted that a machine in the act of operating was a dynamic system in a solid group of objects, but nobody reflected that a stopped machine was a dead thing. Nobody thought to liken the warming-up period for an aeroplane engine to the days of playing before a disuse-dulled violin regained its tone.
Yet it was obvious enough. A ship and a sword and a tool and a violin were objects in which dynamic systems existed when they were used, and in which they ceased to exist when use stopped. And nobody noticed that a living creature is an object which contains a dynamic system when it is living, and loses it by death.
For nearly two centuries quite complex machines were started, and warmed up, and used, and then allowed to grow cold again. In time the more complex machines were stopped only reluctantly. Computers, for example, came to be merely turned down below operating voltage when not in use, because warming them up was so difficult and exacting a task. Which was an unrecognized use of the Mahon principle. It was a way to keep a machine activated while not actually operating. It was a state of rest, of loafing, of idleness, which was not the death of a running mechanism.
The Mahon unit was a logical development. It was an absurdly simple device, and not in the least like a brain. But to the surprise of everybody, including its inventor, a Mahon-modified machine did more than stay warmed up. It retained operative habits as no complex device had ever done before. In time it was recognized that Mahon-modified machines acquired experience and kept it so long as the standby light glowed and flickered in its socket. If the lamp went out the machine died, and when reenergized was a different individual entirely, without experience.
Sergeant Bellews made such large-minded statements as were needed to brief Lecky on the work done in this installation with Mahon-controlled machines.
"They don't think," he explained negligently, "any more than dogs think. They just react--like dogs do. They get patterns of reaction. They get trained. Experienced. They get good! Over at the airfield they're walking around beaming happy over the way the jets are flyin' themselves."
Lecky gazed around the Rehab Shop. There were shelves of machines, duly boxed and equipped with Mahon units, but not yet activated. Activation meant turning them on and giving them a sort of basic training in the tasks they were designed to do. But also there were machines which had broken down--invariably through misuse, said Sergeant Bellews acidly--and had been sent to the Rehab Shop to be re-trained in their proper duties.
"Guys see 'em acting sensible and obediently," said Bellews with bitterness, "and expect 'em to think. Over at the jet-field they finally come to understand." His tone moderated. "Now they got jets that put down their own landing-gear, and holler when fuel's running low, and do acrobatics happy if you only jiggle the stick. They mighty near fly themselves! I tell you, if well-trained Mahon jets ever do tangle with old-style machines, it's goin' to be a caution to cats! It'll be like a pack of happy terriers pilin' into hamsters. It'll be murder!"
He surveyed his stock. From a back corner he brought out a small machine with an especially meditative tempo in its standby-lamp flicker. The tempo accelerated a little when he put it on a work-bench.
"They got batteries to stay activated with," he observed, "and only need real juice when they're workin'. This here's a play-back recorder they had over in Recreation. Some guys trained it to switch frequencies--speed-up and slow-down stuff. They laughed themselves sick! There used to be a tough guy over there,--a staff sergeant, he was--that gave lectures on military morals in a deep bass voice. He was proud of that bull voice of his. He used it frequently. So they taped him, and Al here--" the name plainly referred to the machine--"used to play it back switched up so he sounded like a squeaky girl. That poor guy, he liked to busted a blood-vessel when he heard himself speakin' soprano. He raised hell and they sent Al here to be rehabilitated. But I switched another machine for him and sent it back, instead. Of course, Al don't know what he's doing, but--"
He brought over another device, slightly larger and with a screen.
"Somebody had a bright notion with this one, too," he said. "They figured they'd scramble pictures for secret transmission, like they scramble voice. But they found they hadda have team-trained sets to work, an' they weren't interchangeable. They sent Gus here to be deactivated an' trained again. I kinda hate to do that. Sometimes you got to deactivate a machine, but it's like shooting a dog somebody's taught to steal eggs, who don't know it's wrong."
He bolted the two instruments together. He made connections with flexible cables and tucked the cable out of sight. He plugged in for power and began to make adjustments.
The small scientist asked curiously: "What are you preparing, Sergeant?"
"These two'll unscramble that broadcast," said Sergeant Bellews, with tranquil confidence. "Al's learned how to make a tape and switch frequencies expert. Gus, here, he's a unscrambler that can make any kinda scanning pattern. Together they'll have a party doing what they're special trained for. We'll hook 'em to Betsy's training-terminals."
He regarded the two machines warmly. Connected, now, their standby lights flickered at a new tempo. They synchronized, and broke synchrony, and went back into elaborate, not-quite-resolvable patterns which were somehow increasingly integrated as seconds went by.
"Those lights look kinda nice, don't they?" asked the sergeant admiringly. "Makes you think of a coupla dogs gettin' acquainted when they're goin' out on a job of hunting or something."
But Lecky said abruptly, in amazement: "But, Sergeant! In the Pentagon it takes days to unscramble a received broadcast such as Betsy receives! It requires experts--"
"Huh!" said Sergeant Bellews. He picked up the two machines. "Don't get me started about the kinda guys that wangle headquarters-company jobs! They got a special talent for fallin' soft. But they haven't necessarily got anything else!"
Lecky followed Sergeant Bellews as the sergeant picked up his new combination of devices and headed out of the Rehab Shop. Outside, in the sunshine, there were roarings to be heard. Lecky looked up. A formation of jets swam into view against the sky. A tiny speck, trailing a monstrous plume of smoke, shot upward from the jet-field. The formation tightened.
The ascending jet jiggled as if in pure exuberance as it swooped upward--but the jiggle was beautifully designed to throw standard automatic gunsights off.
A plane peeled off from the formation and dived at the ascending ship. There was a curious alteration in the thunder of motors. The rate-of-rise of the climbing jet dwindled almost to zero. Sparks shot out before it. They made a cone the diving ship could not avoid. It sped through them and then went as if disappointedly to a lower level. It stood by to watch the rest of the dog-fight.
"Nice!" said Sergeant Bellews appreciatively. "That's a Mahon jet all by itself, training against regular ships. They have to let it shoot star-bullets in training, or it'd get hot and bothered in a real fight when its guns went off."
The lower jet streaked skyward once more. Sparks sped from the formation. They flared through emptiness where the Mahon jet had been but now was not. It scuttled abruptly to one side as concerted streams of sparks converged. They missed. It darted into zestful, exuberant maneuverings, remarkably like a dog dashing madly here and there in pure high spirits. The formation of planes attacked it resolutely.
Suddenly the lone jet plunged into the midst of the formation, there were coruscations of little shooting stars, and one-two-three planes disgustedly descended to lower levels as out of action. Then the single ship shot upward, seemed eagerly to shake itself, plunged back--and the last ships tried wildly to escape, but each in turn was technically shot down.
The Mahon jet headed back for its own tiny airfield. Somehow, it looked as if, had it been a dog, it would be wagging its tail and panting happily.
"That one ship," said Lecky blankly, "it defeated the rest?"
"It's got a lot of experience," said the sergeant. "You can't beat experience."
He led the way into Communications Center. In the room where Betsy stood, Howell and Graves had been drawing diagrams at each other to the point of obstinacy.
"But don't you see?" insisted Howell angrily. "There can be no source other than a future time! You can't send short waves through three-dimensional space to a given spot and not have them interceptible between. Anyhow, the Compubs wouldn't work it this way! They wouldn't put us on guard! And an extra-terrestrial wouldn't pretend to be a human if he honestly wanted to warn us of danger! He'd tell us the truth! Physically and logically it's impossible for it to be anything but what it claims to be!"
Graves said doggedly: "But a broadcast originating in the future is impossible!"
"Nothing," snapped Howell, "that a man can imagine is impossible!"
"Then imagine for me," said Graves, "that in 2180 they read in the history books about a terrible danger to the human race back in 1972, which was averted by a warning they sent us. Then, from their history-books, which we wrote for them, they learn how to make a transmitter to broadcast back to us. Then they tell us how to make a transmitter to broadcast ahead to them. They don't invent the transmitter. We tell them how to make it--via a history book. We don't invent it. They tell us--from the history book. Now imagine for me how that transmitter got invented!"
"You're quibbling," snapped Howell. "You're refusing to face a fact because you can't explain it. I say face the fact and then ask for an explanation!"
"Why not ask them," said Graves, "how to make a round square or a five-sided triangle?"
Sergeant Bellews pushed to a spot near Betsy. He put down his now-linked Mahon machines and began to move away some of the recording apparatus focused on Betsy.
"Hold on there!" said Howell in alarm. "Those are recorders!"
"We'll let 'em record direct," said the sergeant.
Lecky spoke feverishly in support of Bellews. But what he said was, in effect, a still-marveling description of the possibilities of Mahon-modified machines. They were, he said with ardent enthusiasm, the next step in the historic process by which successively greater portions of the cosmos enter into a symbiotic relationship with man. Domestic animals entered into such a partnership aeons ago. Certain plants--wheat and the like--even became unable to exist without human attention. And machines were wrought by man and for a long time served him reluctantly. Pre-Mahon machines were tamed, not domestic. They wore themselves out and destroyed themselves by accidents. But now there were machines which could enter into a truly symbiotic relationship with humanity.
"What," demanded Howell, "what in hell are you talking about?"
Lecky checked himself. He smiled abashedly: "I think," he said humbly, "that I speak of the high destiny of mankind. But the part that applies at the moment is that Sergeant Bellews must not be interfered with."
He turned and ardently assisted Sergeant Bellews in making room for the just-brought devices. Sergeant Bellews led flexible cables from them to Betsy. He inserted their leads in her training-terminals. He made adjustments within.
It became notable that Betsy's standby light took up new tempos in its wavering. There were elaborate interweavings of rate and degree of brightening among the lights of all three instruments. There was no possible way to explain the fact, but a feeling of pleasure, of zestful stirring, was somehow expressed by the three machines which had been linked together into a cooperating group.
Sergeant Bellews eased himself into a chair.
"Now everything's set," he observed contentedly. "Remember, I ain't seen any of these broadcasts unscrambled. I don't know what it's all about. But we got three Mahon machines set up now to work on the next crazy broadcast that comes in. There's Betsy and these two others. And all machines work accordin' to the Golden Rule, but Mahon machines--they are honey-babes! They'll bust themselves tryin' to do what you ask 'em. And I asked these babies for plenty--only not enough to hurt 'em. Let's see what they turn out."
He pulled a pipe and tobacco from his pocket. He filled the pipe. He squeezed the side of the bowl and puffed as the tobacco glowed. He relaxed, underneath the wall-sign which sternly forbade smoking by all military personnel within these premises.
It was nearly three hours--but it could have been hundreds--before Betsy's screen lighted abruptly.
The broadcast came in; a new transmission. The picture-pattern on Betsy's screen was obviously not the same as other broadcasts from nowhere. The chirps and peepings and the rumbling deep sounds were not repetitions of earlier noise-sequences. It should have taken many days of finicky work by technicians at the Pentagon before the originally broadcast picture could be seen and the sound interpreted. But a play-back recorder named Al, and a picture-unscrambler named Gus were in closed-circuit relationship with Betsy. She received the broadcast and they unscrambled the sound and vision parts of it immediately.
The translated broadcast, as Gus and Al presented it, was calculated to put the high brass of the defense forces into a frenzied tizzy. The anguished consternation of previous occasions would seem like very calm contemplation by comparison. The high brass of the armed forces should grow dizzy. Top-echelon civilian officials should tend to talk incoherently to themselves, and scientific consultants--biologists in particular--ought to feel their heads spinning like tops.
The point was that the broadcast had to be taken seriously because it came from nowhere. There was no faintest indication of any signal outside of Betsy's sedately gray-painted case. But Betsy was not making it up. She couldn't. There was a technology involved which required the most earnest consideration of the message carried by it.
And this broadcast explained the danger from which the alleged future wished to rescue its alleged past. A brisk, completely deracialized broadcaster appeared on Gus's screen.
In clipped, oddly stressed, but completely intelligible phrases, he explained that he recognized the paradox his communication represented. Even before 1972, he observed, there had been argument about what would happen if a man could travel in time and happened to go back to an earlier age and kill his grandfather. This communication was an inversion of that paradox. The world of 2180 wished to communicate back in time and save the lives of its great-great-great-grandparents so that it--the world of 2180--would be born.
Without this warning and the information to be given, at least half the human race of 1972 was doomed.
In late 1971 there had been a mutation of a minor strain of staphylococcus somewhere in the Andes. The new mutation thrived and flourished. With the swift transportation of the period, it had spread practically all over the world unnoticed, because it produced no symptoms of disease.
Half the members of the human race were carriers of the harmless mutated staphylococcus now, but it was about to mutate again in accordance with Gordon's Law (the reference had no meaning in 1972) and the new mutation would be lethal. In effect, one human being in two carried in his body a semi-virus organization which he continually spread, and which very shortly would become deadly. Half the human race was bound to die unless it was instructed as to how to cope with it. Unless-- * * * * *
Unless the world of 2180 told its ancestors what to do about it. That was the proposal. Two-way communication was necessary for the purpose, because there would be questions to be answered, obscure points to be clarified, numerical values to be checked to the highest possible degree of accuracy.
Therefore, here were diagrams of the transmitter needed to communicate with future time. Here were enlarged diagrams of individual parts. The enigmatic parts of the drawing produced a wave-type unknown in 1972. But a special type of wave was needed to travel beyond the three dimensions of ordinary space, into the fourth dimension which was time. This wave-type produced unpredictable surges of power in the transmitter, wherefore at least six transmitters should be built and linked together so that if one ceased operation another would instantly take up the task.