Tuesday, 21 July 2009 - 7:36 pm

Words on the waves

Last month, our radio caught the whisper of a voice in the air. We couldn’t make it out but it was definitely there. We’ve been searching for that signal ever since.

Today, we went up to the roof to try our luck again, hoping that elevation might help. Maybe the crisper air was a good thing too. We wrapped our aerial wire around the big metal fork stapled to the roof and started to scan, searching for a breath of something. Anything.

I was up there with Scott and Conroy and glad to be out in the open air. We had to be careful about sweeping the snow away from our feet in case it ate through our boots, but it was still better than being stuck downstairs. I could have gone out with the foragers, but they know what they’re doing and I’m more use here.

Besides, the view from up there was amazing. With the snow’s frosting, the scorched, denuded earth was less obvious. It reflected back the orange glow of the sky, tinting like a lens that wasn’t quite screwed on properly. Buildings stood out in sharp relief, hard lines under the snow’s softer wrap. There were no trees with crazy branches or hidden lumps of bushes. Just the poke of manmade structure above the roll and swell of the land, unadorned except for its frosted fur coat.

The strangest thing was that there was no movement at all. Not a flutter or a stumble, not even in the distance. I stood there for a long time, just looking, searching for a sign of life out there in this strange, pristine, tainted world.

The sign came from behind me. A screech and a crackle, and Conroy’s fiddling finally came across a gap in the static. Sound slipped all over the radio’s speakers until he tuned it more finely. Then there it was: a male voice, speaking calmly and steadily, passing words out across the tide-swelling air to us.

“…for survivors. We’re gathered… …mount. We have supplies. If you can… …message, come to the Greenberry J… …hope you are out there. Good….”

The signal stopped, drifting back into the empty waves. Conroy scrabbled with the controls of the radio and stuttered out a reply to let them know that we’re here, we’re survivors, we hear them. Scott and I bounced on our toes, straining to hear a reply come through. He spoke and waited and spoke again, and then looked at me.

“Am I doing it right?”

I was standing beside the radio and shrugged; he looked like he was doing it the right way to me. There was no response, though.

When Conroy gave up, Scott picked up the handset and tried his luck, though he soon stopped too. The Wolverine and I tried to work out what the message had said, what it meant and where these senders are. At least there shouldn’t be many Greenberrys on the map and they had to be relatively close for the signal to reach us at all.

Then we heard it again. Scott blinked and rocked back from the radio in surprise, turning to look at us.

“I didn’t touch it,” he said, then hushed to listen.

It was the same voice, the same calm tone, the same words riding the radiowaves. Exactly the same. I felt my stomach roil itself into a tight knot.

“It’s on a loop,” Conroy said, confirming what I suspected but didn’t have the technical terminology for. It was a recording; we weren’t listening to a real person at all.

I have no idea if the person we heard is alive or dead now. Is it the same message that we caught a whisper of last month? Anything could have happened in that time. What about the supplies it mentioned? What if they’ve run out by now? How long has the message been running for?

I think of all that has changed in the last few weeks alone and shiver. The message could be no help to us at all.

“Someone has to be there. Otherwise there wouldn’t be power to send it any more,” Conroy pointed out.

That helped. That loosened the knot in my gut and let me hope a little. Someone was keeping that message going. Power meant people, so someone had to be there. That was worth smiling about, and I did.

The boys ran downstairs to spread the news, telling the story of the message in loud, excited voices. They repeated the performance when the foragers returned ahead of the daily snowfall. There were smiles all around, belated and tentative in places, but present. A couple of backs were slapped and Conroy and Scott beamed like the best puppies in the world.

We got out our map and searched for Greenberry. There’s a Greenberry Junction out west a way – no short distance from here but no further than anywhere we’ve been before. We have added a dot to it, another marker on our list of places to go.

Looking at the map, at all the ground we have yet to cover, my heart lifted. South to the Emergency Coordination Centre, to Dillon’s family, and now west to Greenberry. The Seekers still have a long way to go and I’m not the only one ready to move on.

It feels good to have something to strive for and look forward to.