The Last Pony on Earth

by Starscribe

Chapter 19: June 16

Dear Journal,

Holy crap have I been stupid. Majorly, royally, inhumanly stupid. Give me some credit: I’m not human. My head is smaller than it used to be, I figure my brain must be smaller too. Some of that might be smaller body to control, but it can’t all be that simple. Some of it’s got to be less brains. Maybe we’ll do an MRI or something and figure out the specifics.

Maybe you'd like to ask why I was so stupid. If you've been reading my journal straight through until this point, you probably already know. You've probably noticed what I didn't, and are probably screaming at my stupid book about what I should've done. What haven't I been doing?

You know I've been listening to my short-range radios, had a handset and a HAM and all that crap and I've been scanning those. That's how I found Cloudy Skies in the first place, so obviously I'm not a complete failure on that front.

Unfortunately, I neglected the shortwave. That radio that might be able to reach the greatest distance, from anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world. There are even emergency channels specifically designed for times like this. Why didn't I check sooner? Why wasn't that the very first thing I did? Maybe I was too concerned with short-term survival and not concerned enough about what I was going to do long-term. Maybe I would have sooner if I hadn't found other survivors. I don't think I'd trade Sky (or even Joseph) for having acted sooner, but it's still pretty lame.

You can probably see where this is going. When I was setting up the system that would monitor the frequency I indicated for responses in my broadcast, I did a little cursory scanning of the airwaves, more playing than anything else. There was nothing on the frequency I asked survivors to use to respond. There WAS something on one of the reserved emergency frequencies, though. Yeah. Exactly where I should have listened in the first place. Exactly where even crappy radios could've tuned to at a moment's notice. There are tiny solar handsets and crank radios that could've tuned into it for "sale" in hundreds of stores all over the city.

Maybe if I had acted sooner, I might know what the message actually was. It's still broadcasting now, on an endless loop exactly like mine. The transmission is full of static (not all that unusual for shortwave), but it's still clear. There's a synthesized female voice reading, and it sounds like this... "22-13-23-13-22-24-3-6-5-19-4-8-23-1-11-11-13-23-23-14-1-18-8-4-19-8-13-24-5-12-13-4-11-13-8-19-14-8-23-1-22-24-5-24-19-22-23-9-8-3-18-13-2".

Are these the words of another survivor? Or a ghost of dead humanity striking out from beyond the grave? Obviously I have no idea what it's supposed to mean. I can't believe that anybody would take the trouble to transmit something that wasn't a message for somebody. But what's the message, and why are they sending it in code? It's got to be a code. I don't know how to pinpoint a shortwave radio signal like I can with other kinds (there might be a way, but I've never heard of it). It could be bouncing here from anywhere in the world, right?

I don't know for sure that it started after the disaster (though I can't imagine a pirate radio broadcast violating an emergency channel lasting for long prior to everyone vanishing). Maybe it's some off-grid soviet tower running from a cold-war nuclear battery, too weak when there were other signals but now coming to the forefront.

Or maybe it isn't, and there's some government organization that survived. Or a group of at least one (not really a group then) skilled survivor(s). But why would other survivors want to hide messages and send them in code? God, if anything of the government or military survived, would they be trying to help what few US citizens are left?

I don't know if maybe the early transmissions explained how to use the code, and since we missed them we just won't be able to get any of those important messages now. There could be a whole colony already going, and we won't be able to know how to get there!

Of course, this is all speculation. That transmission might be instructions for the second shooter in the Kennedy Assassination for all I know. Even Joseph seems interested in figuring this out. Apparently he did his master's thesis on automated decryption with neural networks or something else that makes no sense to me. I'm not hopeful about his chances, but this does seem like the sort of puzzle he might actually have some hope solving. When he found out about this, he went on and on about what he was going to do, but none of it made sense to me. I'm an auto mechanic, not a codebreaker!

All of us hope it's a post-disaster transmission, as you might imagine. There's no proof of course, and no guarantees. We might not ever get a chance to know what it really means. I’ll keep pressuring Joe, but I doubt I’ll need to. Unlike the practical matters of survival, this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he needs reminding about. Puzzles are fun!

Meh. I haven’t even talked about anything else that happened today. Like I said, I’ve started to feel that we should start paying attention to security. If there are mysterious codes floating around, then there might also be ponies (animals, humans, monsters, gods) who want to hurt us. Fighting will be a secondary concern, but I would like to make sure the house itself is secure and that we’ll be warned if anything comes our way. Picked up about a dozen ultra-bright solar motion floodlights, and put them up on the house facing the backyard and in the backyard facing over the fence. Going out there at night (tried it) is like some kind of eighties lightshow as they all come on one after another. Okay, probably not. I wasn’t actually alive during the eighties, so I might just be assuming that based on what I’ve heard. Big manes and big tails, lots of neon.

Okay, we didn’t have those. The lights go off pretty quick once the motion is gone, but that’s plenty to see. I wonder if we ought to get night vision goggles or something and fit headsets to wear them. I think I’m getting better at forcing myself to stay up if I really want to. At least until the world’s caffeine reserves run dry.

I feel a little safer now that at least nobody could sneak up on the house without us knowing. Not to mention all the lights today gave me an idea: what about a searchlight? Those things hog power like nobody’s business, but one of those nearby and people would be able to see the house for miles and miles around at night. Even if they were too tired to travel (I wouldn’t want to leave the property these days with the level of canine activity outside after dark), they would at least see there was someone else out there and be able to know the general direction.

It would probably take a dedicated generator or a significant increase in renewable power to get one of those running, probably a nice battery-bank too. I’m sure there are plenty to find if I drive down to Hollywood. Maybe Sky and I could drive down there tomorrow and take a look. Might take the “homes of the stars” tour while we’re there. After this crap with the radio, it would be nice to blow off a little steam and do something fun.

I asked Sky what her favorite movie was, and do you know what she told me? “I never really got to watch movies before.” Yeah, really. She couldn’t even remember the name of a single one, not even “It’s a Wonderful Life” or something from Christmas. Seriously, what kind of life did she live? Is she serious?

I’d go back to that apartment I found her in and check, but I remember seeing pictures in there and they didn’t look anything like her. Wait, that’s not as stupid as it sounds. I mean it looked like older men had lived there, and she’d just picked the place by chance. I haven’t bothered trying to pressure her for more, since the few times I’ve tried that only makes her shut down faster. I guess my own curiosity is less important than her mental health, but it’s still pretty frustrating.

Not to know the people you’re around. Particularly when you like the people you’re around.

She can’t hear me, can she?