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Signal to Ground

Chris Wheatley is a music journalist and writer from Oxford, UK. He has a passion for jazz and vintage rock 'n' roll and owns far too many records. Chris is indebted to his amazing son and his amazing wife for their inspiration and support.
At around ten pm in the Lincoln West Bunker, five miles from the front, radio operator Mike Jackson leapt from his seat so fast he tore the headphone jack clear from the console.
"Jesus Mike," said Private Schwartz, who was the only other person present in the cramped and darkened room.
Jackson stared at the radio wide-eyed. "I don't believe it," he said.
"For Christ's sake, Mike, what's the matter?" said Schwartz.
"The aliens are dying," said Jackson. "They're all dying."
"Are you nuts?"
"There was a voice," said Jackson. "The voice said they were dying."
Schwartz looked at the dangling wire. "Plug the damn thing back in."
Jackson jumped to it. He put the headphones to his ears. "No," he said, "no."
"What now?"
"It's gone," said Jackson, putting his face in his hands. "I've lost it."
"Maybe it was never there," said Schwartz.
"You don't believe me?"
Schwartz shook his head. "Eight months we've been fighting these things, ever since they landed, and in all that time nobody's seen one of those slugs outside a their machines, living or dead. Hell, even the nukes didn't scratch em. Now you're telling me they're dropping like flies? I don't buy it."
"I heard it," said Jackson, turning the dial.
"You heard something," said Schwartz, "a prank maybe, or a trick."
"A trick?"
"Who knows what those things'll try."
"No," said Schwartz, "this was real. The reporter--"
"Reporter?" said Schwartz. "There ain't no journalists out there."
"I heard it," said Jackson again.
Schwartz sighed. "We ought to pass it upwards," he said.
"I thought you didn't believe me?"
"I don't. Still, we ought to report it."
Jackson pulled out the typewriter. His hands paused over the keys. Everything was manual now. Computers, electronic signals of any kind, were the sole domain of the invader.
"What shall I say?"
"Say what you heard," said Schwartz. "What you think you heard," he added.
Jackson bit his lips. He typed, and when the message was finished he marked it urgent and passed it on to the runner in the corridor. "Operations," he instructed, "top priority."
"You hear it again," said Schwartz, "you start recording."
A full ten minutes passed before the door opened and Captain Richards came in. "What news?" he said.
Schwartz started to speak but was interrupted by Jackson gesturing excitedly. "It's back," he said. "It's back."
"Report, man," said the Captain.
"Private Jackson picked up a transmission," said Schwartz, "that said that the aliens were dying."
"Dying?"
"I'm recording," said Jackson, fumbling with the tape reel. "I'm recording."
"Let me listen," said Richards.
Jackson relinquished the headphones. Richards sat. Schwartz and Jackson crowded round.
For a good few seconds Richards listened. Then slowly he removed the headphones. With his face in his hands he slumped forward so that his forehead touched the top of the console.
Jackson and Schwartz exchanged looks.
Richards sat up. He ran a hand through his hair. He stood.
"I'm sorry boys," he said, "it's not what you thought."
"Sir?"
"It's a radio show," said Richards. "I've heard it before, when I was a child. War of the Worlds is its title."
"You mean--" began Jackson.
"It's a story," said Richards. "A drama, in which aliens invade Earth and are killed off by our native bacteria. Something of a classic."
"But where did it come from?" said Schwartz. "Nobody's broadcasting."
"Who knows," said Richards. At the door he paused. "I heard a tale once. Some radio chaps in the old days started to pick up transmissions that were decades old. They theorized the signals had radiated out into space and at some point had collided with an object, a planet, a moon, even, and bounced back to Earth."
"A voice from the past," said Jackson. His shoulders slumped.
"You're doing good work," said Richards. "Keep at it."
After the captain had left there were long moments of silence. Jackson went back to his headphones. Schwartz monitored the radar.
"I told you so," he said, after a time, but not so loudly that Jackson could hear.
Outside, the war raged on unabated.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 28th, 2017


This story was inspired by an article concerning the fate of radio signals emanating from Earth, which can occasionally meet a celestial object and bounce straight back. These echoes of times past are little pockets of moving history, which could be picked up by Earth-bound receivers at any time.

- Christopher Wheatley

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