"Right. Basically the macroscope is a monstrous chunk of unique crystal that responds to an aspect of radiation unrelated to any man has been able to study before. This amounts to an extremely weak but phenomenally clear spatial signal. The built-in computer sifts out the noise and translates the essence into a coordinated image...
..."Alien broadcasts. Artificial signals in the prime macroscopic band. A one-way contact. We can't send, we can only receive. We know of no way to tame a macron, but obviously some species does."
"So some stellar civilization is sending out free entertainment?" His words sounded ridiculous as he said them, but he could think of no better immediate remark.
"It isn't entertainment. Instructional series. Coded information."
"And you can't decode it? That's why you need Schön?"
"We comprehend it. It is designed for ready assimilation, though not in quite the manner we anticipated."
"You mean, not a dit-dot building up from 2 / 2 or forming a picture of their stellar system? No, don't go into the specifics; it was rhetorical. Is it from a nearby planet? A surrender ultimatum?"
"It originates about fifteen thousand light-years away, from the direction of the constellation Scorpio. No invasion, no ultimatum."
"But — that's deliberate contact between intelligent species! A magnificent breakthrough! Isn't it?"
"Yes it is," Brad agreed morosely. On the screen, the hulking mound of indolent probs continued its futile activity. "Right when we stand most in need of advice from a higher civilization. You can see why all the other functions of the macroscope have become incidental. Why should we make a tedious search of space, when we have been presented with a programmed text from a culture centuries ahead of us?"
"What's stopping you then?"
"The Greek element."
"The — ?"
"Bearing gifts; beware of."
"You said the knowledge would not hurt us by itself — and what kind of payment could they demand, after fifteen thousand years?"
"The ultimate. They can destroy us."
"Brad, I may be a hick, but — "
"Specifically, our best brains. We have already suffered casualties. That's the crisis."
"What is it — a death-beam that still has punch after ten or fifteen thousand years? Talk about comic books — "
"Yes and no. Our safeguards prevent the relay of any physically dangerous transmission — the computer is interposed, remember — but they can't protect our minds from dangerous information. Five of the true geniuses of Earth are imbeciles, because of the macroscope. Something came through — some type of information — that destroyed their minds. This alien signal caused a mental degeneration involving physical damage to the brain. All this through concept alone. We know the hard way: there are certain thoughts an intelligent mind must not think."
"But you don't know the actual mechanism? Just that the beamed program — I mean, the radiated program — delivers stupefaction?"
"Roughly, yes. It is a progressive thing. You have to follow it step by step, like a lesson in calculus. Counting on fingers, arithmetic, general math, algebra, higher math, symbolic logic, and so on, in order. Otherwise you lose the thread. You have to assimilate the early portion of the series before you can attempt the rest, which makes it resemble an intelligence test. But it's geared so that you can't skip the opening; it always hits you in the proper sequence, no matter when you look. It's a stiff examination; it seems to be beyond the range of anyone below what we term IQ one fifty, though we don't know yet how much could be accomplished by intensive review. A group of workmen viewed it and said they didn't go for such modernistic stuff. Our top men, on the other hand, were fascinated by it, and breezed through the entire sequence at a single sitting. Right up until the moment they — dropped off."
"Yes. The question is, what is it hiding?
"You are able, with your macroscope, to inspect any point in space — or on Earth?"
"Naturally not," Borland was saying. "Certain persons might not take kindly to such observation. Some might even feel so strong a need to protect their privacy that they would institute stringent measures. Do you follow me?"
"Yes," Brad said, his tone showing his disgust.
"Now we've got the superscope, and we can diddle in our stellar neighbor's business, as though our own weren't enough. Now how do you figure a smart ET who likes his privacy is going to stop you from peeking — when there's maybe a fifteen-thousand-year time-delay?"
The station personnel looked at each other in dismay. Obvious — yet none of them had thought of it! A mind-destroying logic-chain that wiped out the peeping tom, wherever and when
ever he might be. The most direct and realistic answer to snooping... "A program," Borland said musingly. "A mousetrap in a harem. But why make up a show like that, instead of simply lobbing a detonator into the sun?"
"Evidently the originator isn't against all
life," Brad said. "This is selective. It only hits the space-traveling, macroscope-building species like ourselves. The snoopers. So long as we keep our development below a certain level, we're safe. You figure they're afraid of the competition from some smart-aleck new species?"
"Fifteen thousand years late? And if we had a light-speed drive, which we never will, it would still take us another fifteen millennia to reach them. We can't even reply to their 'message' sooner than that. So it's really a delay of thirty thousand years. And I don't see how they could be sure we'd be ready to receive or reply in that time."
"Could be a long-term broadcast. For all we know, it's been going on a million years," Borland said. "Just waiting for us to catch up. Maybe time is slower for them? Like fifteen thousand years being a week or so, their way?"
"Not when the broadcast is on our
time scheme. We haven't had to adjust to it at all. If they lived that slowly, we'd have a cycle running a thousand years, instead of a few minutes."
"Maybe. You figure they're crazy with hate for any intelligent race, any time?"
"Xenophobia? It's possible. But again, that time-delay makes it doubtful. How can you hate something that won't exist for tens of millennia?"
"An alien might. His mind — if he has one — might work in a different way than mine."...
Brad glanced at Ivo, saw that he wasn't leaving, and slapped a button under the table. The television screen that filled the far wall burst into color. All three rotated to face it.
Shape appeared, subtle, twisting, tortuous, changing. A large sphere of red — he could tell by the shading that it represented a sphere, in spite of the two-dimensionality of the image — and a small blue dot. The dot expanded into a sphere in its own right, lighter blue, and overlapped the other. The segment of impingement took on a purple compromise.
Ivo's intuition caught on. His freak ability attuned to this display as readily as it had to the game of sprouts. This was an animated introduction to sets, leading into Boolean Algebra, with color as an additional tool. Through set theory it was possible to introduce a beginner to mathematics, logic, electronics and all other fields of knowledge — without the intervention of a specific language. Language itself could be effectively analyzed by this means. One riddle solved; the aliens had the means to communicate.
The colors flexed, expanded, overlapped, changed shapes and intensities and number and patterns in a fashion that to an ordinary person might seem random... but was not. There was logic in that patterning, above and beyond the logic of the medium. It was an alien logic, but absolutely rational once its terms were accepted. Rapidly, inevitably, the postulates integrated into an astonishingly meaningful whole. The very significance of existence was —
Ivo's intuition leaped ahead, anticipating the denouement. The meaning was coming at him, striking with transcendent force.
He knew immediately that the sequence should be stopped. He tried to stand, to cry out, but his motor reflexes were paralyzed. He could not even close his eyes.
He did the next best thing: he threw them out of focus. The writhing image lost definition and its hold upon him weakened. Gradually his eyelids muscled down; then he was able to turn his head away.
His entire upper torso dropped on the table. He was too weak to act.
The Senator was slumped farther down the table. The doctor went to him next and performed an intimate check.
"He's dead," he said.
..."No. But I'm convinced there is galactic information on that channel, if only we could get past the barrier. No one has ever looked beyond
that opening sequence." Was there anything beyond, he wondered abruptly, or did it merely repeat endlessly?
hurt you — yet. What possible thing could you learn worth the risk?"
"I don't know." That was the irony of it. He had no evidence there was anything to find. "But if there is
any help for us, that's where it has to be. They — the galactics, whatever they are — must be hiding something. Otherwise why have such a program at all? They can't really be trying to destroy us, because this is a self-damping thing. I mean, a little of it warns you off, just as it did for the probs. But the discouragement would really be more effective if there were no signal at all. The signal itself is proof there is something to look for. It is tantalizing. It's as though — well, interference." He hoped.
"Interference!" she said, seeing it. "To prevent someone else's program from getting through!"
"That's the way I figure it. Must be something pretty valuable, to warrant all that trouble."
(ed note: Ivo manages to skirt around the destroyer broadcast, to see what is on the other side)
"And beyond it — I guess you'd call it the galactic society."
"You saw who sent the killer signal?" Groton.
"No. That's a separate channel, if that's the word. It's all done in concept, but one is superimposed upon another, and you have to learn to separate them. Once you isolate the destroyer, the rest is all there for the taking."
"Other concepts?" Afra.
"Other programs. They're like radio stations, only all on the same band, and all using similar symbolic languages. You have to fasten on a particular trademark, otherwise only the strongest comes through, and that's the destroyer."
"I follow." Groton. "It's like five people all talking at once, and it's all a jumble except for the loudest voice, unless you pay attention to just one. Then the others seem to tune out, though you can still hear them."
"That's it. Only there are more than five, and you really have to concentrate. But you can pick up any one you want, once you get the feel for it."
"How many are there?" Afra.
"I don't know. I think it's several thousand. It's hard to judge."
They looked at him.
"One for each civilized species, you see."
stations?" Afra, still hardly crediting it. "Whatever do they broadcast?"
"Information. Science, philosophy, economics, art — anything they can put into the universal symbology. Everything anybody knows — it's all there for the taking. An educational library."
?" Afra. "What do they get out of it, when nobody can pick it up?"
"I'm not clear yet on the dating system, but my impression is that most of these predate the destroyer. At least, they don't mention it, and they're from very far away. The other side of the galaxy. So if it took fifteen thousand years for the destroyer to reach us, these others are taking twenty thousand, or fifty thousand. Maybe the local ones shut down when the destroyer started up, but we won't know for thousands of years."
"I still don't see why
," Afra said petulantly. She was less impressive when frustrated, becoming almost childlike. "It doesn't make sense to send out a program when you know you'll be dead long before it can be answered. Three million years! The entire culture, even the memory of the species must be gone by now!"
why," Ivo said. "The memory isn't
gone, because everyone who picks up the program will know immediately how great that species was. It's like publishing a book — even paying for it yourself, vanity publishing. If it's a good book, if the author really has something to say, people will read it and like it and remember him for years after he is dead."
He took her in, sliding delicately around the destroyer with less of the prior horror and finishing at the surface of the galactic stream of communications.
"Oh, Ivo," she exclaimed, her voice passing back into the physical world and making a V-turn to reach him down his azimuth. "I see it, I see it! Like a giant rainbow stretching across all the stars. What a wonderful thing!"
And he guided her down, seeking the particular perfume, the essential music, on through the splendor of meaning/color, to the series of concepts that spoke of the very substance of life.
The patterns of import opened up, similar at first to those of the destroyer, but subtly divergent and far more sophisticated. Instead of reaching into a hammer-force totality, these delved into a specific refinement of knowledge — a subsection of the tremendous display of information available through this single broadcast. Ivo knew the way, and he took her in as though walking hand in hand down the hall of a mighty university, selecting that lone aspect of education that offered immediate physical salvation.
"But the other doors!" she cried, near/distant. "So many marvelous — "
He too regretted that they could not spend an eternity within this macronic citadel of information. This might be merely one of a hundred thousand broadcasts available — the number began to suggest itself as he grasped more nearly the scope of the broadcast range — yet it might have in itself another hundred thousand subchambers of learning. University? It was an intergalactic educational complex of almost incomprehensible vastness. Yet they, in their grossly material imperatives, had to restrict themselves to the tiniest fragment, ignoring all the rest. They were hardly worthy...