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They were broadcasts from nowhere – sinister emanations flooding in from space – smashing any receiver that picked them up. What possible defence could Earth devise against science such as this?
56 pages, with a reading time of ~1.0 hour (14,005 words), and first published in 1957. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2016.
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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.