DEATH OF A MACHINE by Eric P. Nichols, KL7AJ R.F. Burns swiveled around in his chair in the engineering room and gazed at the fifteen-dollar Eico oscilloscope. The green trace of the CRT gyrated to the voice of Leon Rodale, the late night DJ who was enamored with the sound of his own wit. Leon wasn't a bad guy; it was just hard to be original after two in the morning. His choice of “music” left something to be desired, as well, but that could be excused based on ratings alone. Burns returned to his labors, reviewing the engineering plans for the transmitter and studio upgrade. A few moments later, he felt a strange heat on the back of his neck. Unfortunately, it wasn't strange enough; he knew exactly what it was. He swiveled around and glared at the ancient Westinghouse transmitter. Sure enough, the 833 vacuum tube behind the transmitter's right-hand window was glowing white hot. Burns jumped up, grasped the PLATE TUNING crank beneath the window and quickly cranked the control, gradually bringing the final amplifier tube's brilliant white incandescence down to its normal dull red glow. This ritual had been part of Burn's life for the past two months, as the transmitter, affectionately known as “Wes” registered his disapproval at being put out to pasture. He couldn't just die like a normal piece of hardware; he had to make life miserable for everyone around him in the process. Burns had conquered many intermittent electronics problems in his life, but Wes' refusal to respond to all the normal troubleshooting methods in the arsenal was frustrating to the point of distraction. Having calmed Wes down for the time being, Burns turned up the audio monitor, and listened to Leon's dulcet tones for a while. Other than the subject matter, the audio quality of the station's signal seemed none the worse for wear. Burns turned around and gazed at Wes again. He was a gargoyle of a machine if ever there was one. Wes was built during the mid-century “chrome” era, when everyone tried to make inanimate objects look like they had faces...cars, toasters, everything. Remember the 1949 Studebaker? Wes had a face too. He was constructed of three steel cabinets. There was a window on the right and left hand cabinets, each with a glowing 833 tube behind it, which served as his eyes. A row of indicator lamps at waist level on the center cabinet served as a nose. And a metal air filter grill below the nose was an evilly-grinning mouth. Wes weighed a ton, and had vast quantities of chrome trim which served no known purpose except to help control the surplus 1955 U.S. chromium supply. A vaguely greenish tinge to his gray paint always looked somewhat bilious. He had a face only a mother could love. Burns decided he needed another cup of coffee. He sauntered up the hallway toward the program room, nodding at Leon behind the soundproof glass of his padded cell. As Burns poured himself some sludge, Leon emerged from his studio and held out his mug for Burns to fill also. “So, what's new in your zoo?” Leon queried. Burns returned the pot to the burner. “Don't ask.” “Can't we just put him out of our misery?” Leon suggested. “Don't tempt me,” Burns yawned. “Well, if you need any help, just let me know,” Leon offered, striding back to his studio. “I'll keep that in mind,” Burns said, thoughtfully. **************** Three weeks passed, and to everyone's delight, the new transmitter had arrived, a modern, but boring looking, all solid-state Nautel. Although the transmitter had been delivered on Wednesday, Burns had decided to allow Wes to finish out the week; early Sunday morning, the station usually signed off for routine maintenance anyway. Awaiting for the big moment, Burns sat at his desk, reviewing the new Nautel's schematics. As the final strains of the National Anthem strained through the engineering shop speaker, Leon materialized at Burn's desk. He dropped a .44 Magnum on Burn's desk with a resounding thud. “What's this?” Burns gasped. “Your big chance, buddy. To finally put Wes out of our misery!” Burns gazed at Leon in disbelief...for a moment. He suddenly realized he now had the opportunity to do what every other broadcast engineer had only dreamed of. Slowly, deliberately, Burns picked up the revolver. Until that time, the most authoritative weapon he's ever fired had been a German Luger, a pistol that emitted little more than a mild pop when fired. He aimed the .44 point blank at Wes' right eye, which had just started to glow white in that insolent, defiant manner, as it had done countless times in the past week. Trembling with anticipating and some fear, Burns felt the trigger. “What are you waiting for?” Leon urged. Burns took a deep breath, closed his eyes and pulled. A deafening explosion rang out in the confined room. A shower of sparks ensued as Wes' right eye exploded. A few seconds later some relays chattered. After some further convulsions, Wes' entire electrical system shut down, his blowers slowly coasting down to a mournful low moan. Thirty seconds later, there was silence. The deed was done. A week after the new Nautel transmitter was installed, some surplus people came by to collect Wes' hulking carcass. All that remained to remind Burns of Wes' existence was a dull red stain on the concrete floor, where he had lived for over forty years.