Memoir: Northern Lights to Hosedown

A record of HAM Radio communications between two operators, Northern Lights (Astra) and Hosedown (Andrea)

Andrea is exhausted as she climbs down into the old bomb shelter. How long ago had Pa dug this, always swearing that you never knew when the Cylons would be back, that the young generation couldn't understand what those days were like? Glancing around, she sees the old radio, and with a sad smile, she walks over and switches it on. It's been days since the bombs fell, but in that time human communications had steadily been falling off the grid…

A thin crackling sound, and then a voice. A woman's voice, but the accent is distinctly not from Aerilon. Aquarian? There is a squawk of electronic interference, and then it comes clear. "—on. Hold on. Espie…" There is a garbled voice, weak, wavering, hard to pick up. Then the woman's voice comes again, reciting a prayer for the dying. There is the sound of two quick shots, and the woman, weeping softly, finishes the prayer. "Rest in peace, Espie."

Andrea sits back in the chair, and sighs deeply. She then activates her own transmitter. "So say we all." There is a long pause. "This is Hosedown, just on the air."

There is a startled squawk, and then the woman on the other end clears her throat. "This is Northern Lights," comes the voice on the other end, weary. "Welcome aboard…" Sniffles, and the sound of a couple of children in the background. "You settled all right, Hosedown? Are you with anyone else?"

Andrea leans back in her chair, rubbing her face for a moment. "All the comforts of home, but alone. Had a few people with me earlier but they scattered." She looks around. It's all true… water drawn from the deep table, plenty of preserved foodstuffs, the radio and batteries that could be recharged by the stationary bicycle. The place was even reasonably well hidden. Just alone. "How about you?"

"Bunch of us here," answers the woman's voice. "Couples, families…. Think we have a couple more coming in…" There are some garbled sounds, and a distinct, "Zander, no, your bag is over that way. Thanks…" A soft laugh. "Sorry. I'm helping out with some of the children."

Andrea nods. No details for detection… no knowing who is listening. All in all, doesn't leave much to say, does it? "I am sorry about… Espie. She was found?"

"Killed herself." The words come bleak, without preamble. "Too close to the blasts, no anti-rads. Please tell me you have anti-rads…" A soft, half-choked sound. "Killed herself and her son before the radiation did it. Asked me to stay on with her."

"Oh Gods…" Andrea breathes. The Cylons were killing people everywhere, but how many people were doing the Cylon's jobs for them? "That's… that's horrible. Yeah, I have anti-rads, though that's the most limited of my supplies." Another long pause. "Feels weird, doesn't it? Like with a radio, we should be able to call for help… but call who?"

"Don't know. Have a beacon, working on power for it. It's… pretty old. And yeah, it's horrible, but she got caught pretty bad. Said her hair was already falling out." There is a soft sigh. "Don't know who to call. Don't know what this is all about. Hope someone comes before our food gives out. Hosedown… you promise me to check in, okay?"

"Yeah, I promise. Better get to setting this place up, maybe hide the entrance better. I'll check in later, Northern Lights. You all stay safe. Hosedown out."
(Some time later…)

"Tilly, come in, Tilly? Tilly, this is Northern Lights, come in…" Astra sits on a pile of crates, softened only with a thin blanket, folded. She shakes her head, makes a mark on a list in front of her. "Dogscratch, come in, over? Dogscratch, this is Northern Lights." Her voice is soft, sad, and she shakes her head, makiing another mark. She gets up then, and she passes out a few crackers to four tattered children before sitting down again. "Hosedown, come in, this is Northern Lights. Hosedown? Roll-call time."

A signal, a bit more scattered than usual, comes through. It also sounds as if the voice is whispering. "This is Hosedown…"

Astra tilts her head, then adjusts the controls, looking at a list of instructions. The signal clears, narrows. "Hey Hosedown." She, too, drops her voice to scarce above a whisper. "Don't talk if it's not safe. Just tap once yes, twice no. Are you safe? Is your signal detected? Location compromised? Shall I hold the line ah… radio silent and stay with you?"

"I don't know, but if they traced the call I don't have long, anyway. I think a transport just landed above me." The whispering is only barely there. "Gods, Northern Lights, there's nothing to do but wait until they find me or take off again, I can't even see what they're doing up there…"

"You hang tight. Hang tight, you hear me?" Astra's voice comes soft but urgent. "May the aegis of the gods be over you. My they stand beside you and protect you with their might, their shield. May their strength surround you, their light surround you. And I'm here, Hosedown. I'm here. I'll cycle the signal on my end; maybe it'll help. I'll stay with you. You're not alone. You got that? Not alone, ever."

There is a long pause. "I thought the garden was hidden… just a few plants scattered in the weeds of the fields, how could they spot that? And the signal…" Another pause. "Thank you. I'm trying not to… are any of the kids in there? This goes bad, we may not want them to hear this…"

"Lot of interference, and we've been careful. The kids are outside, gathering nuts." Astra closes her eyes, then wipes at her cheeks. Her face has gone quite pale, but she forces a confidence into her voice. "You're gonna be just fine, Hosedown. It's not gonna go bad. You'll be all right. You're safe. You're safe." Her voice is firm, as if by the force of her will she could make it so. "Just hang tight. Don't bolt unless you have to."

"No where to go. I'm home. Pa built this place years ago." The Aerilonian accent comes through particularly strong, there. "I never did ask. Where is home for you?"

"Aquaria. Insley Island. It's a little speck in the middle of the Northern Sea. Skerry Province." Astra smiles faintly, remembering. "Look forward to getting home. I miss the fish." A gentle laugh. "When help comes, you'll have to visit me. I'll take you to Tulley's Sand Shack. Best food in the province." She bites at her lip. "And I'll help here, somehow. It'll all work out. You'll see."

"You are, with those kids. You're doing good stuff. I'm just breathing the air. But if they open that door, I still have my sidearm. I'll take a few of the frakkers with me…"

"You do that, I'll count 'em as they fall. So it's remembered." A fierceness to Astra's voice. "But that's not what's gonna happen. They're gonna walk away, not find you, not even realize someone's there. You'll be fine."

"It's just the waiting that I hate, they're constantly…" suddenly she cuts out completely, the signal suddenly gone.

"Oh gods, oh gods…" Astra grips the microphone, closing her eyes and shaking, only just keeping herself from screaming out the woman's name. She bows her head, covering her face with her hands. "Gods keep her. And if you have to bring her home, do it quickly, without pain." She shuts off the transmit, but leaves the set open for reception. Then she sits, waiting, as if by her vigil she can keep the woman at the other end safe.

A few minutes pass, but then a blast of static comes from the speakers, with words slowly breaking through the mess. "…spond… ights… is any… there? Bad Inter…nce…"

Astra struggles with the controls, but there is little change in the reception. She transmits on a narrow band, hoping it will get through. "I copy, Hosedown. Northern Lights copies. You okay, there? Over?"

"I think I heard a takeoff… and then suddenly everything cut out, but I'm ok. Don't think I'm gonna open the hatches for awhile, though." There is an audible sigh over the receiver. "I think I'm okay here, Northern. Thanks for the prayers…"

"Yeah, hang tight, all right. And, no need to thank me. It's what I'm here for." Astra shakes her head. "Look, probably best we not talk long now, just in case. But you check in this evening, and in the morning. And I'll sleep by the radio in case you need a friend in the dark. Okay? You just remember that I'm here, Hosedown."

"Same to you, Northern Lights. Don't get too lonely up there… you still got me around." The smile is audible in her voice. "Meantime, can I borrow a deck of cards? May as well work on my Solitaire game. Hosedown out."

Andrea is sitting still, her journal finished and her canned meal eaten, leans over and flips on the reciever. "Northern Lights, Hosedown. You around?"

Static. Crackle. Then a soft voice, Astra's, sounding half-listless. "Northern Lights here, Hoesdown. How's your solitaire championship going?"

"I tell you, when I get out of here, I am heading straight to Delphi, and they are going to owe me some MONEY." She leans forward. "How are you all doing out there?"

"Niklas died of his illness. I don't think they're coming back, the others. I… I think my husband's dead." Astra's voice quavers. "Oh gods, Hosedown… no. that's not right. This morning… I know he's dead. Leto. They found some bones. Hosedown… food's not gonna keep us too long, unless we can find some good roots and berries. Oh gods…"

"Oh gods, northern, I'm sorry… so sorry." Andrea stiffens. What the hell was she talking about gambling for? "Listen to me, Northern. You've been about outside. Have you seen a plant.. looks like a weed, four leaves, tapered, dull yellow flower? It's a weed and grows everywhere, and won't taste good… but you can eat it, and it'll help you keep going…" Damn, she never thought she would recommend Dryweed to anyone…

"Yeah, I've seen it. I'll start collecting it. I've got six kids here now, and only one set of parents between them. And those two… not long, ya know?" Astra's voice catches. "I didn't want to tell Leto… he would've worried more but… I'm expecting, Hosedown. Is it still safe to eat?" A soft hiccup. "Gods, I'm sorry. How… how much will they owe you at Delphi, huh?"

"Oh my Gods, Northern…" She closes her eyes. Eating Dryweed was a prank you pulled on kids who were on a survival walk, or gave to folks who got choosy with their food. Could you give it to a pregnant woman? "I honestly don't know, Lights, but it's gotta be better than not eating…" Andrea's voice catches. "How… how long along, do you think?"

"I'm not sure, really. Four, five? I've never been, and there's no medic here. We've a first aid kit." Astra shakes her head. "And what we could raid from the settlement. "I just know the baby has to live. Has to. The voices are fading out, Hosedown. Tibbs is gone, and Dogscratch. Haven't heard from Swampy, either, though he might be drunk again. When will help come?"

Andrea closes her eyes. She had thought, had hoped, that the Cylons had gotten to hit Aerilon because it was, well, Aerilon. Resistance would be on Picon, Caprica. But the fleet should have sent something by now. Aerilon fed billions, they needed their breadbasket. Unless there was no one left to feed. "It has to be soon, Astra. The fleet was caught by surprise, is all. It has to be soon."

"Thanks, Hosedown. I tell you, I… frak. Something's triggered perimeter, and Lothair's getting too old. I'll be back, okay? I have to go check."

"Be careful, Northern. Check in tonight, ok? Hosedown out."

Hours pass, and finally there is a crackle on the line. It's late, very late. "Hosedown?" Astra's voice is kept low. "You there? Going for a new high score? It's Northern Lights, over?"

"Hard to beat that one from a couple weeks ago, Northern. Hosedown here." Andrea sits down in front of the Radio. "You had me worried, there. Are you all doing okay?"

"Yeah, doing okay here. Picked up another stray. She's sitting across the room from me right now. Can't be older than four. Her hair's half-burned… must have been way too close to a firestorm. Gods, Hosedown, she's a little feral thing. Broken. Skin and bones. I'm going to save her, Hosedown. I have to. All these kids." There creeps a fierce note into her tone. "I will save the lot of them."

"They do seem to keep appearing up there, don't they?" Hosedown muses. "I haven't seen any… maybe I'm not looking hard enough. I just don't know how you do it, Northern. All those kids… they're real lucky to have you."

"Have to do something." Astra's voice is a bit shaky with exhaustion. "I suck at solitaire. Besides…" Her voice drops. "From what we can see, there's lots of fires south of us. Fires, and that haze from the… the fallout. I spose people as don';t have anti-rads or a hidey-hole have to go somewhere. Besides…. Well." She sighs again. "Well… it's no big deal. It's what I do. I… I need to sign off, Hosedown. Need to find the new batteries befo—" The line goes dead.
(Some time later…)

Late August. Already the night is cold, and the wind blows hard from the north. Astra sits at the radio, heavily pregnant. There is a generator running; its noise can be heard from a few rooms away. The children sleep in one pile, huddled for warmth and comfort. The woman rubs at her belly, and she sighs, flicking on the radio. She shakes her head at the flickering of the control lights. "This is Northern Lights, Northern Lights on the air. Is anyone there? Hello?"

The voice is low, far lower than anything she has heard from this source. "Northern Lights, Hosedown. Ahhh, frak…"

"I didn't copy that, Hosedown, please repeat?" Astra lowers her voice too, leaning forwards as much as the girth of her belly will permit. "Is everything all right there?"

"Either I'm having sympathetic birth pains, or… ahhhhhrgh." There is a burst of static. "I don't think that last tin of beans was a good idea. I thought it looked a little sketchy…"

"Considering I'm not giving birth yet…" Astra shakes her head. "You got something to make you vomit, Hosedown? If you do, you'd probably best take it." She shakes her head. "You take it, all right? I'll stay with you. I'm not going to lose you too."

"Yeah, a finger and a throat. Ok, but it won't be pleasant." A few minutes of silence. "Ok, yeah, that was gross…"

"I think I'd go even for tainted beans, right now," Astra replies, relaxing a little. "Did it help? I…" She rubs at her belly, shaking her head. "This is going to be my last transmission… tonight. The battery's shot, and there aren't anymore. Can't hook up to any other sources; wiring and fittings are frakked up. Are you okay?"

"I think so, I'll drink some of the last whiskey to kill anything else down there." There is a pause. "You… you're going off the air? After Breakage went quiet… there aren't a lot of left." Another pause. "I think I'll be fine. How are you all?"

"Hungry, Hosedown. Hu… Frak, who am I kidding? We're otherwise fine, but we're starving. We're going to harvest some roots. Maybe we'll catch a deer. But it's just me and the kids. Lothair's dead. The battery's almost gone. I might be able to send an all-clear code, but that's it. Don't have the juice for more transmits. Gods, Hosedown… I'm gonna miss talking to you. Gonna miss it a lot."

"Don't you dare give up on me. Keep planting those flowers like I told you, they grow like weeds. Frak me, they are weeds. Save your last juice for when rescue comes. I… I have an idea, and I'm gonna try it. I'll see you again soon, I promise. You're not alone out there, Northern Lights. You hear me? You aren't alone!"

"I'm not alone." Astra smiles, and her voice is gentle. "We got the beacon running. If anyone comes, they'll find us. They'll find us." She sighs softly. "My name's Astra. Astra Koios. I'll see you soon… and we'll have that dinner."

"Andrea." She can't give her last name… Cylons might have found records, and that would just lead them to the farm. "And we'll have that drink. Gods bless, Northern Lights. Keep shining."

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