Saturday 21 June 2014

'All Well, All Well' by Ian Lewis

At the top of an unmade road in the grounds of a cemetery the 'shack' creaked underfoot for the one evening a week that it was occupied.

A hand cranked mast towered and swayed, despite being held tight by sturdy guys. At its highest point a beam resembling an iron bedstead faced the western horizon, sagging. 

Michael made tea in cups that were brown on the inside, in a kitchen with a cracked sink, spilling it up the uncarpeted stairs to where Stan was hunched over a radio set beneath a bare light bulb. 

'They must be using low power themselves,' said Stan. 'It's certainly a long way away. Mid pacific is my guess.'

Michael searched online for clues. 

'Could be Tahiti,' he said. 'We had a good one from there earlier so we know it's open. That was on 100 watts and clear as a bell.'

'Be better if it were one of the other islands. If it's the same station in Tahiti but on low power I'd be very annoyed.'

They had been in the shack for hours, drinking tea, sucking humbugs, operating their station with great focus. Michael was still a teenager and Stan almost eighty but they were as alike as twins and worked well together. 

'I think the call sign starts with an L. Then a number. Don't want Argentina again. Same direction though. Roughly.'

'Tahiti is all F zero,' said Michael. 'I wonder if it's a ship?'

'I'd like that,' said Stan.

He tapped away at his sixty year old morse key and then paused, listening to the ether. 

The faint ribbon of dahs and dits became a little clearer. 

'Definitely L. Lima. India. Two. Bravo. Got it!'

'I'll Google it,' said Michael. 

Stan tweaked his squelch and rotated the beam by one degree. 

'Lovely,' he said, and listened. 

‘All well, all well. Then the call sign again. Odd.'

'Very odd,' said Michael. He moved the laptop to where Stan could see it easily. 
They read:

"The call sign LI2B was used on the Kon-Tiki raft expedition (1947). Kon-Tiki's transmitters were powered by batteries and a hand-cranked generator and operated on the 40, 20, 10, and 6-meter bands.
The radio receiver used throughout the voyage once required a thorough drying out after being soaked during a shipwreck. An "all well, all well" message was sent via LI2B to notify would-be rescuers of the crew's safety."

The pair sucked their humbugs and faced one another with wide eyes. 

'A ghost ship!' said Stan laughing. 'Has to be a hoax. There's no other explanation.'

'But that signal,' said Michael, 'is coming from the mid-pacific and on low power.'

'A good hoax, I grant you.’

They studied the equipment.

'But why would anybody bother?' asked Michael.

Stan shrugged.

The thin trill of dahs and dits from five thousand miles away and sixty years ago filled the room as the room’s ill-fitting window frame rattled in the wind.

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