The A to Z Challenge – 2023 — Z is for Zanzibar

My hobby was something that only a select few had, and that was searching rubbish dumps for useful items.

But there was one exception. 

I didn’t search the average rubbish dump, only those I knew were used by organisations and companies that dumped old technology,

If I was lucky, it would be a government department, and the stuff deemed no longer useful to anyone.  I often found old computers, without memory or storage of course, but otherwise intact, and I had an excellent museum of computers, from almost the very first.

It was amazing what some companies disposed of, and in one instance I picked a complete, working, mainframe computer.  It filled a substantial part of the barn.

Then there were a half dozen communication radios, not the sort that had a short range, no, these devices had almost worldwide coverage.  They were also long-wave radio receivers, and I was able to pick up AM radio stations all over the word, and, sometimes, CB transmissions.  It came with several sets of manuals, very thick books that made it daunting reading, so they remained in a wooden crate until boredom set in.

But the radios, were, for now, my new toys to play with.

Late one night I was switching between frequencies, looking for anything that might be interesting, and just caught the end of a transmission, “This is a code Zanzibar, I repeat a Code Zanzibar.  Will call same time tomorrow.”

Code Zanzibar?

It had to be someone out there somewhere in the world playing a prank.

Perhaps there would be more, so I would tune in tomorrow, fifteen minutes earlier to see if there was any more to the message.

Meantime, full of curiosity, I wondered if there would be anything in any of the books that came with the radios.

I didn’t sleep that night, going through each one practically page by page because the indexes were missing.  It was one of those unexplainable oddities, that made me wonder if there was anything in them that the owners hadn’t wanted anyone to find.  That in itself seemed even more odd because if it was the case, why didn’t they destroy them?

Somewhere around shortly before dawn, tired, and bored from reading, I fell asleep.

After yet another bollocking from my father about letting my foolish hobby get in the way of work, I had to work extra hard to make up for it and was too tired to continue my studies.  I meant to read more before the transmission time, but luckily remembered to set the alarm,

When the alarm went off, I woke with a jolt and nearly forgot why I set it.  I got to the radio just before the transmission.

Then I heard it.

“This is a code Zanzibar; I repeat a Code Zanzibar.  Attack is imminent, I repeat attack is imminent.”

I flicked the switch to send a message, and said, “This is station M.  This is station M.  Can you identify yourself?”

I had discovered in the documentation that the radio set had been set up in what was designated Station M, and that it was one of 26 around the country.

There was no reply, just the same message, “This is a code Zanzibar; I repeat a Code Zanzibar.  Attack is imminent, I repeat attack is imminent.” For exactly three minutes, then the sign-off, “Will call same time tomorrow.”

Back to the books, I was in the middle of the sixth of seven volumes, at page 1,457, of 2,500 when I saw the heading “Warning Codes”, and then shuffled through 26 pages until I found “Zanzibar”.

When I read the explanation my heart almost stopped.

“Zanzibar – The threat of an alien attack is imminent – designates that actual alien aircraft have been positively identified and heading towards earth”

What the…

When I read some of the other codes, it showed varying descriptions for a number of events involving aliens, and at first, I thought this referred to other countries than our own, but then, on another page I realised that aliens meant aliens from outer space.

And the fact everyone but a few debunked the idea there was other life out there, it made no sense.  That transmission could not have come from anywhere on Earth.  At least, I didn’t think so, because there had been nothing in the documentation about similar stations in other countries.

Still utterly gobsmacked, I kept reading and found a page where certain information hadn’t been redacted.  That was something else.  Before the books had been thrown away, a lot of information had been redacted.

Why hadn’t it been destroyed, if it was that sensitive?

This page had a name, Professor Edward Bones.  It looked like it had been missed.

Perhaps I could call and ask him what this all meant.

I spend hours trying to match the surname with the locale of where I found the stuff, thinking the original Station M would be nearby.  It wasn’t easy because the name wasn’t in the current phone book, so I had to dig a little deeper and find where historical phone records were kept.

That got me the Professor’s address and phone number, and the University he worked at.  A search on his name told me he was associated with SETI which had to do with tracking communications, if any, from outer space.

I called the number, but it was decommissioned.  No surprise.  If I did the math, the Professor would be a hundred and twenty-two if he was still alive, I did the next best thing, I went to the address.

It was a hundred and fifty miles, a long way to go and pin hopes on finding something.  The university was on the other side of the country so going there was out of the question.  It was hard enough to get my father to let me have the day off for this trip.

It was a gated community just off the main highway, a group of houses set aside on their own, now looking rather worse for wear.  There was no longer a gate, but the was a guard house, holes on the roof and broken windows, a divided driveway with what was once lawn and flower beds, all now overgrown leading to a fountain in the middle of a roundabout that led, one way to houses, one way to a shopping centre and the other, sports fields.

It looked to me like this was a purpose-built community, perhaps to look after the radio receivers, waiting for a call that may never come.

And just had.

I drove to the Professor’s house and parked out front.  It looked in better condition than those on either side, and when I looked in, saw signs of habitation.  Someone was living in it.  Not the professor’s ghost I hope.

I waited.

It was nearly dark before a battered Ford pickup stopped in the driveway and what looked to be an old man get out.

He saw me as I got out of my car, and come towards him.  He didn’t look surprised, which was worrying.

“Did you know Professor Bones,” I asked?  It was unlikely.

“My father, yes.  Are you from the government?  I have nowhere else to go.”

“No.  I’m not.  Did you know much about what your father did?”

“Why?  Is this going to be another character assassination piece?  Are you a reporter?”

“Me?  No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I came to ask someone, anyone, if they knew what Cade Zanzibar really means.  It can’t possibly mean there’s an imminent alien invasion.”

His expression changed instantly, and it was clear he did know what it meant.

“How do you know anything about Station M, that was top secret, and no one knows, no one still alive that is, other than a few fools back in Washington.”

“I rescued the radio receivers and documents from a dump.  I collect old technology.  It was just sitting there.  I took it home, connected it up, and listened.  For the last two nights, there’s been this transmission, ‘This is a code Zanzibar; I repeat a Code Zanzibar.  Attack is imminent, I repeat attack is imminent’.

“My God.  Where are they now?”

“My place.”


I told him.

“We have to go.  Now.  Take me.  I’ll fill you in on the way.”

It was the stuff of science fiction comics.  Transmission had been received, many years back, from what was believed an alien race under attack from another.  He hesitated before he said it was believed there was life on Mars, but selling the idea there were Martians didn’t go too well.  However, the government decided to piggyback onto the moon landings, and several other missions, one on the Moon, one to Mars, one to Jupiter and another to Saturn.

Not on the planets. But space stations orbiting the planets, sort of early warning stations.  That first transmission had the implied threat that the aggressive aliens were heading towards Earth.

Apparently not as fast as was suspected.  The stations were built, volunteers were sent on the premise they might never come home, and supplies were sent via a launching pad on the moon.  While we were still discussing the possibility of launching missions to the other planets, it had already been done, And no one knew.

Expect the Professor, who lost the plot when the government shut down the program and virtually abandoned these people in the outer space stations.

And that was the purpose of Station M.  To maintain communications with the space stations, and the moon base.  When they were closed, the stations disappeared.  Where I visited the Professor’s son, that was the whole base, kept isolated, and under very tight security.

“All I can think of is that one of the space stations is still in operation, manned by someone who has to be one of the oldest people alive, or they figured out how to automate a message given certain parameters.  Anyway, if there’s a transmission tonight, we’ll soon find out.”

All I could think of was that I’d just unearthed the biggest secret of all time. One that it was likely I could never tell anyone about.

Unless there really were aliens coming to attack us.

A minute or so later, the transmission came in, “This is a code Zanzibar; I repeat a Code Zanzibar.  Attack is imminent, I repeat attack is imminent”.

Bones had already looked over the units and certified they were in full working order and showed me the sequence of switches that turned on two-way communications.

After the message, he switched to transmit, “This is Station M, repeat, this is Station M receiving you.  Please advise details.”

He switched back to receive and static burst out of the speaker.  This went on for a minute, then a weak voice.  “Is that you Freddie?”

“Yes.  The Prof’s son.  Who are you?”

“Alistair Montgomery.  I was last to arrive when I was six.  There are two of us left.  I think Saturn and Mars have ceased.  What happened back there?”

“Funding.  Lack of results.  Bean-counting accountants thought ramping up for wars at home was more important.  We knew it would happen one day.

“Five years, Freddie.”

“Your transmission?  Code Zanzibar.  Is it relevant, or just to get our attention?”

“It’s real.  We saw about 50 large ships go by on the long-range radar.  Heading for the earth, not moving very fast.  I estimate they would take several days to reach to outer limits of our Thermosphere.”

“They didn’t come to see you?”

“No.  Sad, because I was hoping to be the first to meet an alien.  That might yet be you.”

“Are you going to be OK up there?  I can’t tell you we coming to get you.”

“We knew what we were signing on for.  But it would be nice if you could keep in touch/.”

“Do what I can.  Over and out.”

He went around the back of the unit, and I heard what sounded like the ejecting of a cassette tape.  When he came back, he showed it to me.  “This should make the bastards sit up and take notice.”

He grabbed his coat.  “We have to go.  Take me to the nearest airport.”

We made it outside to the car when three black SUV’s pulled up abruptly and a dozen armed men got out and surrounded us.

Then a man in a suit got out of the lead vehicle and came over.

Bones recognised him.

“I didn’t think it would take you long.  Been monitoring for transmissions, have you?”

“We knew your father didn’t follow orders but had no proof.  Who are you,” he glared at me.

“I rescued the radios.”

He sighed.  “Bloody contractors.  Never do as they’re told.”  He shook his head.  “Cuff them and throw them in the car.”

They might have, had it not been for one minor matter.  In the half-light of night, it suddenly went quite dark, except for the car headlights, until suddenly the whole area was lit up like a movie studio.  We all looked up and…

The aliens had arrived.

©  Charles Heath  2023

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