Graves said nervously: "I think I see. You are trying to make this communicator react as Betsy did. When it does, you will consider that your generator is creating a wave like the broadcasts from nowhere."
"Yeah," said Bellews. "It ain't scientific, but it's the best I can do."
He worked the generator-controls with infinite care. Once the communicator's standby light approached sine-wave modulation. He hastily shifted away from the settings which caused it. He muttered: "Close!"
Then, suddenly, the communicator's lamp began to waver in an extraordinary, hysterical fashion. Sergeant Bellews turned down the volume swiftly. He wiped sweat off his forehead.
"I--I think I got the trick," he said heavily. "It's a hell of a wave-type! Are you guys game to feed it into this communicator's output amplifier?"
"I have six sets of cold chills running up and down my spine," said Lecky. "I think you should proceed."
Howell said angrily: "It's got to be tried, hasn't it?"
"It's got to be tried," acknowledged Sergeant Bellews.
He shifted the generator's cable from the communicator's input to the feed-in for preamplified signal. The communicator's screen went dark. It no longer received a simulated broadcast signal. It was now signalling--calling. But the instant the new signal started out, the standby light flickered horribly. Sergeant Bellews grimly plugged in other machines--to the three scientists they looked like duplicates of Gus and Al--to closed-circuit relationship with Betsy's twin. The standby light calmed.
"Now we test," he said grimly. "Got a watch?"
Lecky extended his wrist.
"Watch it," said Sergeant Bellews.
He stepped up the output.
"My watch has stopped," said Lecky, through white lips.
Graves looked at his own watch. He shook it and held it to his ear. He looked sick. Howell growled and looked at his own.
"That wave stops watches," he admitted unwillingly.
"But not Mahon machines easy," said Sergeant Bellews heavily, "and not us. There was almost three micro-micro-watts goin' out then. That's three-millionths of a millionth of a ampere-second at one volt. We--"
His voice stopped, as if with a click. The screen of Betsy's factory-twin communicator lighted up. A man's face peered out of it. He was bearded and they could not see his costume, but he was frightened.
"What--what is this?" cried his voice shrilly from the speakers.
Sergeant Bellews said very sharply: "Hey! You ain't the guy we've been talking to!"
The screen went dark. Sergeant Bellews put his hand over the microphone opening. He turned fiercely upon the rest.
"Look!" he snapped. "We were broadcastin' their trick wave--the wave they used to talk to us! And they picked it up! But they weren't expectin' it! They were set to pick up the wave they told us to transmit! See? That guy'll come back. He's got to! So we got to play along! He'll want to find out if we got wise and won't broadcast ourselves to death! If he finds out we know what we're doin', they'll parachute a transmitter down on us before we can do it to them! Back me up! Get set!"
He removed his hand from the microphone.
"Callin' 2180!" he chattered urgently. "Calling the guy that just contacted us! Come in, 2180! You're not the guy we've been talking to, but come in! Come in, 2180!"
Howell said stridently: "But if that's 2180, how'd we parachute--".
Lecky clapped a hand over his mouth with a fierceness surprising in so small a man. He whispered desperately into Howell's ear. Graves absurdly began to bite his nails, staring at the communicator-screen. Sergeant Bellews continued his calling, ever more urgently.
His voice echoed peculiarly in the Rehab Shop. It seemed suddenly a place of resonant echoes. All the waiting, repaired, or to-be-rehabilitated machines appeared to listen with interest while Sergeant Bellews called: "Come in, 2180! We been trying to reach you for a coupla weeks! We got somebody else instead of you, and they been talkin' to us, and they say that they're 3020 instead of 2180, but we've got to contact you! They don't know anything about that germ that's gonna mutate and bump us off! It's ancient history to them. We got to reach you! Come in, 2180!"
The flickering yellow lights of the machines wavered as if all the quasi-living machines were listening absorbedly. The Rehab Shop was full of shadows. And Sergeant Bellews sat before the dark-screened communicator with sweat on his face, calling cajolingly to nothingness to come in.
After five minutes the screen grew abruptly bright again. The brisk, raceless broadcaster of the earlier broadcast--not the bearded man--came back. He forced a smile: "Ah! 1972! At last you reach us! But we did not hope you could make your transmitters so soon!"
"We tried to analyze your wave," said Sergeant Bellews, with every appearance of feverish relief, "but we only got it approximate. We tried callin' back with what we got, and we got through time, all right, but we contacted some guys in 3020 instead of you! We need to talk to you!--Can you give me the stuff about that bug that's gonna wipe out half of us? Quick? I got a recorder goin'."
The completely uncharacterizable man in the screen forced a second smile. He held something to his ear. It would be a tiny sound-receiver. Obviously the contact in time or place or nowhere was being viewed by others than the one man who appeared. He was receiving instructions.
"Ah!" he said brightly, "but now that you have the contact, you will not lose it again! Leave your controls where they are, and our learned men will tell your learned men all that they need to know. But--3020? You contacted 3020? That is not in our records of your time!"
He listened again to the thing at his ear. His expression became suddenly suspicious, as if someone had ordered that as well as the words which came next.
"We do not understand how you could contact a time a thousand years beyond us. It is possible that you attempt a joke. A--a kid, as you would say."
Sergeant Bellews beamed into the screen which so remarkably functioned as a transmitting-eye also.
"Hell!" he said cordially. "You know we wouldn't kid you! You or our great-great-great-grandchildren! We depend on you! We got to get you to tell us how not to get wiped out! In 3020 the whole business is forgotten. It's a thousand years old, to them! But they're passin' back some swell machinery--"
He turned his head as if listening to something the microphone could not pick up. But he looked appealingly at Lecky. Lecky nodded and moved toward the communicator.
"Look!" said Sergeant Bellews into the screen. "Here's Doc Lecky--one of our top guys. You talk to him."
He gave his seat to Lecky. Out of range of the communicator, he mopped his face. His shirt was soaked through by the sweat produced by the stress of the past few minutes. He shivered violently, and then clamped his teeth and fumbled out sheets of paper. He beckoned to Graves. Graves came.
"We--we got to give him a doctored circuit," whispered Sergeant Bellews desperately, "and it's got to be good--an' quick!"
Graves bent over the paper on which the sergeant dripped sweat. The sergeant murmured through now-chattering teeth what had to be devised, and at once. It must be the circuit-diagram for a transmitter to be given to the man whose face filled the screen. The transmitter must be of at least twenty-kilowatt power. It must be such a circuit as nobody had ever seen before.
It must be convincing. It should appear to radiate impossibly, or to destroy energy without radiation. But it must actually produce a broadcast signal of this exotic type--here the sergeant described with shaky precision the exact constants of the wave to be generated--and the broadcaster from nowhere must not be able to deduce those constants or that wave-type from the diagram until he had built the transmitter and tried it.
"I know it can't be done!" said the sergeant desperately. "I know it can't! But it's gotta be! Or they'll parachute a transmitter down on us sure."
Graves smiled a quick and nervous smile. He began to sketch a circuit. It was a wonderful thing. It was the product of much ingenuity and meditation. It had been devised--by himself--as a brain-teaser for the amusement of other high-level scientific brains. Mathematicians zestfully contrive problems to stump each other. Specialists in the higher branches of electronics sometimes present each other with diagrammed circuits which pretend to achieve the impossible. The problem is to find the hidden flaw.
Graves deftly outlined his circuit and began to fill in the details. Ostensibly, it was a circuit which consumed energy and produced nothing--not even heat. In a sense it was the exact opposite of a perpetual-motion scheme, which pretends to get energy from nowhere. This circuit pretended to radiate energy to nowhere, and yet to get rid of it.
Presently Lecky could be heard expostulating gently: "But of course we are willing to give you the circuit by which we communicate with the year 3020! Naturally! But it seems strange that you suspect us! After all, if you do not tell us how to meet the danger your broadcasts have told of, you will never be born!"
Sergeant Bellews mopped his face and moved into the screen's field of vision.
"Doc," he said, laying a hand on Lecky's arm. "Doc Graves is sketchin' what they want right now. You want to come show it, Doc?"
Graves took Lecky's place. He spread out the diagram, finishing it as he talked. His nervous, faint smile appeared as the mannerism of embarrassment it was.
"There can be no radiation from a coil shaped like this," he said embarrassedly, "because of the Werner Principle.... Yet on examination ... input to the transistor series involves ... energy must flow ... and when this coil...."
His voice flowed on. He explained a puzzle, presenting it diffidently as he had presented it to other men in his own field. Then he had been playing--for fun. Now he played for perhaps the highest stakes that could be imagined.
He completed his diagram and, smiling nervously, held it up to the communicator-screen. It was instantly transmitted, of course. To nowhere. Which was most appropriate, because it pretended to be the diagram of a circuit sending radiation to the same place.
The face on the screen twitched, now. The hand with the tiny earphone was always at the ear of the man on the screen, so that he plainly did not speak one word without high authority.
"We will--examine this," he said. His voice was a full two tones higher than it had been. "If you have been--truthful we will give you the information you wish."
Click! The screen went dark. Lecky let out his breath. Sergeant Bellews threw off the transmission switch. He began to shake. Howell said indignantly: "When I make a mistake, I admit it! That broadcast isn't from the future! If it hadn't been a lie, he'd have known he had to tell us what we wanted to know! He couldn't hold us up for terms! If he let us die he wouldn't exist!"
"Y-yeah," said Sergeant Bellews. "What I'm wonderin' is, did we fool him?"
"Oh, yes!" said Graves, with diffident confidence. "I don't know but three men in the world who could find the flaw in that circuit." He smiled faintly. "But it radiates all the energy that's fed into it." He turned to Sergeant Bellews. "You gave me the constants of a wave you wanted it to radiate. I fixed it. It will. But why that special type--that special wave?"
Sergeant Bellews pulled himself together.
"Because," he said grimly, "that was the wave they wanted us to broadcast. What I'm hoping is that you gave 'em a transmitter to do exactly the same thing as the one they designed for us. If they're fooled, they'll broadcast the wave they told us to broadcast. If it busts machines, it'll bust their machines. If it stops all dynamic systems dead--includin' men--they'll be stopped dead, too." Then he looked from one to another of the three scientists, each one reacting in his own special way. "Personally," said Sergeant Bellews doggedly, "I'm goin' to have a can of beer. Who'll join me?"
The world wagged on. The automatic monitors in Communications Center reported that another broadcast had been received by Betsy and undoubtedly unscrambled by Al and Gus, working as a team. The reported broadcast was, of course, an interception of the two-way talk from the Rehab Shop.
The tall young lieutenant, working with his eyes kept conscientiously shut, extracted the tapes and loaded them in a top-security briefcase. A second courier took off for Washington with them. There a certified, properly cleared major-general had them run off, and saw and heard every word of the conversation between the Rehab Shop and--nowhere. He howled with wrath.
Sergeant Bellews went into the guardhouse while plane-loads of interrogating officers flew from Washington. Howell and Graves and Lecky went under strict guard until they could be asked some thousands of variations of the question, "Why did you do it?" The high brass quivered with fury. They did not accept decisions made at non-commissioned-officer level.
Communication with their great-great-great-grandchildren, they considered, should have been begun with proper authority and under high-ranking auspices. They commanded that 2180 should immediately be re-contacted and properly authorized and good-faith conference begun all over again. The only trouble was that they could get no reply.
The dither was terrific and the tumult frantic. When, moreover, even Betsy remained silent, and Al and Gus had nothing to unscramble, the high brass built up explosive indignation. But it was confined to top-security levels.
The world outside the Pentagon knew nothing. Even at Research Installation 83 very, very few persons had the least idea what had taken place. The sun shone blandly upon manicured lawns, and the officers' children played vociferously, and washing-machines laundered diapers with beautiful efficiency, and vacuum cleaners and Mahon-modified jeeps performed their functions with an air of enthusiastic contentment. It seemed that a golden age approached.
It did. There were machines which were not merely possessions. Mahon-modified machines acquired reflections of the habits of the families which used them. An electric icebox acted as if it took an interest in its work. A vacuum cleaner seemed uncomfortable if it did not perform its task to perfection. It would seem as absurd to exchange an old, habituated family convenience as to exchange a member of the family itself. Presently there would be washing-machines cherished for their seeming knowledge of family-member individual preferences, and personal fliers respected for their conscientiousness, and one would relievedly allow an adolescent to drive a car if it were one of proven experience and sagacity....
The life of an ordinary person would be enormously enriched. A Mahon-modified machine would not even wear out. It took care of its own lubrication and upkeep--giving notice of its needs by the behavior of its standby-lamp. When parts needed replacement one would feel concern rather than irritation. There would be a personal relationship with the machines which so faithfully reflected one's personality.
And the machines would always, always, always act toward humans according to the golden rule.
But meanwhile the Rehab Shop was taken over by officers of rank. They tried frantically to resume the communication that had been broken off. Suspecting that Sergeant Bellews had shifted controls, they essayed to shift them back. The communicator which was Betsy's factory twin went into sine-wave standby-modulation, and suddenly smoked all over and was wrecked. The wave-generator went into hysterics and produced nothing whatever. Then there was nothing to do but pull Sergeant Bellews out of the clink and order him to do the whole business all over again.
"I can't," said Sergeant Bellews indignantly. "It can't be done. Those guys are busy buildin' a transmitter according to the diagram Doc Graves gave them. They won't pay no attention to anything until they'd tried to chat with their great-great-great-grand-children in 3120. They were phonys, anyhow! Pretendin' to be in 2180 and not knowin' what Mahon units could do!"
Lecky and Graves and Howell were even less satisfactory. They couldn't pretend even to try what the questioning-teams from the Pentagon wanted them to do. And Betsy remained silent, receiving nothing, and Gus and Al waited meditatively for something to unscramble, and nothing turned up.
And then, at 3:00 P.M. Greenwich mean time, on August 9, 1972, nearly every operating communicator in the fringe of free nations around the territory of the Union of Communist Republics--all communicators blew out.
There were only four men in the world who really knew why--Sergeant Bellews and Lecky and Graves and Howell. They knew that somewhere behind the Iron Curtain a twenty-kilowatt transmitter had been turned on. It produced a wave of the type and with the characteristics that would have been produced by a transmitter built from the diagram sent through Betsy and Al and Gus for people in the United States to build. Obviously, it had been built from Graves' diagram broadcast to somewhere else and it broadcast what the United States had been urged to broadcast.
It blew itself out instantly, of course. The wave it produced would stop any dynamic system at once, including its own. But it hit Stockholm and traffic jammed as the dynamic systems of cars in operation were destroyed. In Gibraltar, the signal-systems of the Rock went dead. All around the fringe of the armed Communist republics machines stopped and communications ended and very many persons with heart conditions died very quietly. Because their dynamic systems were least stable. But healthy people--like Mahon-modified machines--had great resistance ... outside the Iron Curtain.
There was, though, almost a vacuum of news and mechanical operations at the rim of a nearly perfect circle some four thousand miles in diameter, whose center was in a Compub research installation.
It was very bad. Such a panic as had never been known before swept the free world. Some mysterious weapon, it was felt, had been used to cripple those who would resist invasion, and the Compub armed forces would shortly be on the march, and Armageddon was at hand. The free world prepared to die fighting.
But war did not come. Nothing happened at all. In three days there were sketchy communications almost everywhere outside that monstrous circle of silence. But nothing came out of that circle. Nothing.
In two weeks, exploring parties cautiously crossed the barbed-wire frontier fences to find out what had happened. Those who went farthest came back shaken and sick. There were survivors in the Compubs, of course. Especially near the fringes of the circle. There were some millions of survivors. But there was no longer a nation to be called the Union of Communist Republics. There were only frightened, starving people trudging blindly away from cities that were charnel-houses and machines that would not run and trees and crops and grasses that were stark dead where they stood. It would be a long time before anybody would want to cross those lifeless plains and enter the places which once had been swarming hives of homes and people.
And presently, of course, Sergeant Bellews was let out of the guardhouse. He could not be charged with any crime. Nor could Graves nor Lecky nor Howell. They were asked, confidentially, to keep their mouths shut. Which they would have done anyhow. And Sergeant Bellews was asked with reluctant respectfulness, just what he thought had really happened.
"Some guys got too smart," he said, fuming. "A guy that'll broadcast a wave that'll wreck machines ... I haven't got any kinda use for him! Dammit, when a machine treats you accordin' to the golden rule, you oughta treat it the same way!"
There were other, also-respectful questions.
"How the hell would I know?" demanded Sergeant Bellews wrathfully. "It coulda been that we did make contact with 2180, and they were smart an' told the Compubs to try out what we told 'em. But I don't believe it. It coulda been a kinda monster from some other planet wanting us wiped out. But he learned him a lesson, if he did! And o' course, it coulda been the Compubs themselves, trying to fool us into committing suicide so they'd--uh--inherit the earth. I wouldn't know! But I bet there ain't any more broadcasts from nowhere!"
He was allowed to return to the Rehab Shop, and the flickering standby lights of many Mahon-modified machines seemed to glow more warmly as he moved among them.
And he was right about there not being any more broadcasts from nowhere.
SPIES DIE HARD!.
By Arnold Marmor