Friday, 12 June 2009 - 6:02 pm

Talk back

Tonight, our radio chirped.

We’ve been carrying the radio for weeks now, stolen from a boat and fixed up by Sax. Whenever there was a spare car battery to power it, we’ve scanned the frequencies for signs of life. It was something to do in the hours when it was raining and it was too early to sleep. I think we’ve all taken a turn at least once, poking at the dials and listening to the crackle, straining our ears for a trace of order behind the chaos of white noise.

The Wolverines thought we were crazy when they first saw it. Clinging to the shard of the world we’ve lost, desperately hoping for that technological contact with someone else. Maybe it is a little nuts, but we can’t be the only ones. We send out our messages in the hope that there’s someone out there doing the same thing.

“Hello, is anyone listening? We’re survivors, we’re the Seekers. If you can hear this, please talk back.”


I think we’d all given up hope of ever hearing a response. The searches had become rote, almost cursory. People started to add their own twists to the message, started telling jokes to the imaginary audience and refusing to give the punchline unless they answered. Even Masterson joined in, but never in a serious way. I don’t think he wanted to hear anything on the radio.

So, of course, he was the one fiddling with it when the chirp came through. Scanning through the frequencies, going, “Blip blip blip. Blip blip blip?” Like a bored kid with a plastic telephone.

I don’t know what the chirp was; I was in a different room. Nugget ran in and tugged on my sleeve, then on Matt’s, and ran out again. She was fetching everyone, and by the time we emerged to see what was going on, Masterson was in full denial mode.

“…don’t know what it was! It just sounded like something. It was probably just the radio… burping.” He was standing and backing away from the machine, hands held up as if he was afraid to touch it again.

Dillon was kneeling next to it, head cocked over the speaker, fingertips carefully toying with the dials. He looked up at me and shrugged, shaking his head; he couldn’t hear anything.

“Try sending a message,” I told him, ignoring the others and their demands to know what Masterson had actually heard.

“Hello, this is the Seekers. Is anyone out there? Anyone, hello?”

Everyone stopped talking to listen. I don’t think I was the only one holding my breath. The radio crackled, and crackled, and then burbled something incomprehensible.

“See?” Masterson demanded while the rest of us broke into grins.

It couldn’t be anything but good news, a sign of life, a sign of someone else out there trying to reach out. There was backpatting and excitement, and Dillon looked like a deer in headlights until I gestured for him to answer. He was nervous but puffed up with the responsibility.

“Hello, we can’t quite hear you. Can you send again? …over?”

We quietened to listen, but Dillon had to repeat himself three times before we heard any kind of answer. Again, it was garbled so badly we couldn’t make out words, but we were sure that it was a voice. A person trying to speak to us.

We kept trying, and wound up draining the battery it was hooked up to. Rather than suck another one dry, we decided to try for a better aerial and position before we send the call out again. That might help clear up the signal. It’s a job for tomorrow.

There’s someone else out there with power and a radio. They might be no better off than we are, but they’re reaching out. They’re trying to search for something better. Maybe it’s someone at the Emergency Control Centre, that place we’re heading towards whenever we can. Maybe they’re not all we hope they are, but we are still going to try to find them.

Cross our fingers for tomorrow and a better signal.