And, of course, certain machines were living. This followed, since the watchbirds were machines and living.
God help you if you maltreated your radio. Turning it off meant killing it. Obviously--its voice was silenced, the red glow of its tubes faded, it grew cold.
The watchbirds tried to guard their other charges. Wolves were slaughtered, trying to kill rabbits. Rabbits were electrocuted, trying to eat vegetables. Creepers were burned out in the act of strangling trees.
A butterfly was executed, caught in the act of outraging a rose.
This control was spasmodic, because of the fewness of the watchbirds. A billion watchbirds couldn't have carried out the ambitious project set by the thousands.
The effect was of a murderous force, ten thousand bolts of irrational lightning raging around the country, striking a thousand times a day.
Lightning which anticipated your moves and punished your intentions.
"Gentlemen, please," the government representative begged. "We must hurry."
The seven manufacturers stopped talking.
"Before we begin this meeting formally," the president of Monroe said, "I want to say something. We do not feel ourselves responsible for this unhappy state of affairs. It was a government project; the government must accept the responsibility, both moral and financial."
Gelsen shrugged his shoulders. It was hard to believe that these men, just a few weeks ago, had been willing to accept the glory of saving the world. Now they wanted to shrug off the responsibility when the salvation went amiss.
"I'm positive that that need not concern us now," the representative assured him. "We must hurry. You engineers have done an excellent job. I am proud of the cooperation you have shown in this emergency. You are hereby empowered to put the outlined plan into action."
"Wait a minute," Gelsen said.
"There is no time."
"The plan's no good."
"Don't you think it will work?"
"Of course it will work. But I'm afraid the cure will be worse than the disease."
The manufacturers looked as though they would have enjoyed throttling Gelsen. He didn't hesitate.
"Haven't we learned yet?" he asked. "Don't you see that you can't cure human problems by mechanization?"
"Mr. Gelsen," the president of Monroe said, "I would enjoy hearing you philosophize, but, unfortunately, people are being killed. Crops are being ruined. There is famine in some sections of the country already. The watchbirds must be stopped at once!"
"Murder must be stopped, too. I remember all of us agreeing upon that. But this is not the way!"
"What would you suggest?" the representative asked.
Gelsen took a deep breath. What he was about to say took all the courage he had.
"Let the watchbirds run down by themselves," Gelsen suggested.
There was a near-riot. The government representative broke it up.
"Let's take our lesson," Gelsen urged, "admit that we were wrong trying to cure human problems by mechanical means. Start again. Use machines, yes, but not as judges and teachers and fathers."
"Ridiculous," the representative said coldly. "Mr. Gelsen, you are overwrought. I suggest you control yourself." He cleared his throat. "All of you are ordered by the President to carry out the plan you have submitted." He looked sharply at Gelsen. "Not to do so will be treason."
"I'll cooperate to the best of my ability," Gelsen said.
"Good. Those assembly lines must be rolling within the week."
Gelsen walked out of the room alone. Now he was confused again. Had he been right or was he just another visionary? Certainly, he hadn't explained himself with much clarity.
Did he know what he meant?
Gelsen cursed under his breath. He wondered why he couldn't ever be sure of anything. Weren't there any values he could hold on to?
He hurried to the airport and to his plant.
The watchbird was operating erratically now. Many of its delicate parts were out of line, worn by almost continuous operation. But gallantly it responded when the stimuli came.
A spider was attacking a fly. The watchbird swooped down to the rescue.
Simultaneously, it became aware of something overhead. The watchbird wheeled to meet it.
There was a sharp crackle and a power bolt whizzed by the watchbird's wing. Angrily, it spat a shock wave.
The attacker was heavily insulated. Again it spat at the watchbird. This time, a bolt smashed through a wing, the watchbird darted away, but the attacker went after it in a burst of speed, throwing out more crackling power.
The watchbird fell, but managed to send out its message. Urgent! A new menace to living organisms and this was the deadliest yet!
Other watchbirds around the country integrated the message. Their thinking centers searched for an answer.
"Well, Chief, they bagged fifty today," Macintyre said, coming into Gelsen's office.
"Fine," Gelsen said, not looking at the engineer.
"Not so fine." Macintyre sat down. "Lord, I'm tired! It was seventy-two yesterday."
"I know." On Gelsen's desk were several dozen lawsuits, which he was sending to the government with a prayer.
"They'll pick up again, though," Macintyre said confidently. "The Hawks are especially built to hunt down watchbirds. They're stronger, faster, and they've got better armor. We really rolled them out in a hurry, huh?"
"We sure did."
"The watchbirds are pretty good, too," Macintyre had to admit. "They're learning to take cover. They're trying a lot of stunts. You know, each one that goes down tells the others something."
Gelsen didn't answer.
"But anything the watchbirds can do, the Hawks can do better," Macintyre said cheerfully. "The Hawks have special learning circuits for hunting. They're more flexible than the watchbirds. They learn faster."
Gelsen gloomily stood up, stretched, and walked to the window. The sky was blank. Looking out, he realized that his uncertainties were over. Right or wrong, he had made up his mind.
"Tell me," he said, still watching the sky, "what will the Hawks hunt after they get all the watchbirds?"
"Huh?" Macintyre said. "Why--"
"Just to be on the safe side, you'd better design something to hunt down the Hawks. Just in case, I mean."
"All I know is that the Hawks are self-controlled. So were the watchbirds. Remote control would have been too slow, the argument went on. The idea was to get the watchbirds and get them fast. That meant no restricting circuits."
"We can dope something out," Macintyre said uncertainly.
"You've got an aggressive machine up in the air now. A murder machine. Before that it was an anti-murder machine. Your next gadget will have to be even more self-sufficient, won't it?"
Macintyre didn't answer.
"I don't hold you responsible," Gelsen said. "It's me. It's everyone."
In the air outside was a swift-moving dot.
"That's what comes," said Gelsen, "of giving a machine the job that was our own responsibility."
Overhead, a Hawk was zeroing in on a watchbird.
The armored murder machine had learned a lot in a few days. Its sole function was to kill. At present it was impelled toward a certain type of living organism, metallic like itself.
But the Hawk had just discovered that there were other types of living organisms, too-- Which had to be murdered.
JIMSY AND THE MONSTERS.
by Walt Sheldon
Hollywood could handle just about anything--until Mildume's machine brought in two real aliens.
Mr. Maximilian Untz regarded the monsters with a critical eye. Script girls, cameramen, sometimes even stars quailed under Mr. Untz's critical eye--but not these monsters. The first had a globelike head and several spidery legs. The second was willowy and long-clawed. The third was covered with hair. The prop department had outdone itself.
"Get Jimsy," said Mr. Untz, snapping his fingers.
A young earnest assistant producer with a crew cut turned and relayed the summons. "Jimsy--Jimsy LaRoche!" Down the line of cables and cameras it went. Jimsy ... Jimsy....
A few moments later, from behind the wall flat where he had been playing canasta with the electricians, emerged Jimsy LaRoche, the eleven-year-old sensation. He took his time. He wore powder-blue slacks and a sports shirt and his golden hair was carefully ringleted. He was frowning. He had been interrupted with a meld of a hundred and twenty.
"Okay, so what is it now?" he said, coming up to Mr. Untz.
Mr. Untz turned and glared down at the youth. Jimsy returned the glare. There was a sort of cold war between Mr. Untz and Master Jimsy LaRoche, the sort you could almost hear hotting up. Mr. Untz pointed to the monsters. "Look, Jimsy. Look at them. What do you think?" He watched the boy's expression carefully.
Jimsy said, "To use one of your own expressions, Max--pfui. They wouldn't scare a mouse." And then Jimsy shrugged and walked away.
Mr. Untz turned to his assistant. "Harold," he said in an injured tone. "You saw it. You heard it. You see what I've got to put up with."
"Sure," said Harold Potter sympathetically. He had mixed feelings toward Mr. Untz. He admired the producer's occasional flashes of genius, he deplored his more frequent flashes of stupidity. On the whole, however, he regarded himself as being on Mr. Untz's side in the war between Mr. Untz and the world and Hollywood. He knew Mr. Untz's main trouble.
Some years ago Maximilian Untz had been brought to Hollywood heralded as Vienna's greatest producer of musicals. So far he had been assigned to westerns, detectives, documentaries, a fantasy of the future--but no musicals. And now it was a psychological thriller. Jimsy played the killer as a boy and there was to be a dream sequence, a nightmare full of monsters. Mr. Untz was determined it should be the most terrifying dream sequence ever filmed.
Only up to now he wasn't doing so good.
"I would give," said Mr. Untz to Harold Potter, "my right eye for some really horrible monsters." He gestured at the world in general. "Think of it, Harold. We got atom bombs and B-29's, both vitamins and airplanes, and stuff to cure you of everything from broken legs to dropsy. A whole world of modern science--but nobody can make a fake monster. It looks anything but fake and wouldn't scare an eleven-year-old boy."
"It's a thought," agreed Harold Potter. He had a feeling for things scientific; he had taken a B.S. in college but had drifted into photography and thence into movie production. He had a wife and a spaniel and a collection of pipes and a house in Santa Monica with a workshop basement.
"I got to do some thinking," Mr. Untz said. "I believe I will change my clothes and take a shower. Come along to the cottage, Harold."
"Okay," said Harold. He never liked to say yes for fear of being tagged a yes-man. Anyway, he enjoyed relaxing in the office-cottage while Mr. Untz showered and changed, which Mr. Untz did some three or four times a day. When he got there Mr. Untz disappeared into the dressing-room and Harold picked up a magazine.
There was a knock on the door.
Harold got up and crossed the soft cream-colored carpet and opened the door and saw a goat-like person.
"Yes?" said Harold.
"Mildume," said the goat-like person. "Dr. John Mildume. Don't ask a lot of questions about how I got in. Had a hard enough time as it was. Fortunately I have several relatives connected with the studio. That's how I heard of your problem as a matter of fact."
"My problem?" said Harold.
Dr. Mildume pushed right in. He was no more than five feet five but had a normal sized head. It was domelike. Wisps of tarnished white hair curled about his ears and crown. He had an out-thrust underjaw with a small white beard on its prow. He was dressed in moderately shabby tweeds. He moved across the room in an energetic hopping walk and took the place on the sofa Harold had vacated.