Don't get me wrong. It's a clever mechanism. I just never figured out why they made it to automatically turn off instead of on. You'd think it would be the other way 'round.
It's all powered by the sun. Those windows on the sides? They're not windows. They're special frames of dark glass that soak up the sun and convert the light to electricity. It powers the lights in the storage rooms, powers the heater in the winter, powers the fence, powers everything. The sun charges up that disk glued to the back wall, too, but not with electricity. When the sun goes down, the disk glows in the dark. When it's so dark the disk is the only thing I can see inside the room, I throw the switch, and that turns on the signal plume.
I know what you're thinking after reading that last bit. Same thing I thought: why didn't they just train a dog? But you see, the whole point of the signal plume is to let the ship know there are still people alive here. Or at least one person. Or, at least... me.
There's an alarm clock, and I can set it to whatever time I want. Whoever was here before me had it going off right before sunset, but I like to wake up in the afternoon. I get to see some daylight, walk around in the field behind the tower a bit, then when the sky turns red I head inside and climb up to the observation room.
On a clear night, if I open the window and lean right out, I can see another signal plume, off to the northwest. They're very distinctive, the plumes — long blue-green feathers of photons caught from the sun during the day. Back when I lived in town, someone told me they were made that way so the people on the ship would know they meant people were living here, and it wasn't just a dead town with the lights left on.
The other tower looks like it's built in a clump of trees. I wonder if I knew the person who got put in that tower.
A month ago, last full moon, it finally occurred to me that the tower isn't high enough to improve my view by that much. On bright nights I've taken to walking the field at night, making sure I keep a good watch on the ocean.
No going out today — it's raining. I've hated the rain for as long as I can remember. I can still hear the warning siren from the tower. It's easy to imagine everyone scurrying for safety.
The rain coats the sides of the tower. The tower doesn't seem to dissolve in it the way the buildings in town gradually do, but I always go down to the empty storage room and stay there. It doesn't have any windows, so it feels safer. Every once in a while I check the alarm clock for the time, because it's so dark out the disk is glowing already, even though it's probably way too early.
They didn't say whether to watch for ships when it rains. I just always figured they wouldn't be able to go out in it.
The second storage room is still mostly full of food and bottled water. I'm not sure what happens when I run out. I'm not the first signaler, so they must fill up the storage rooms again. Don't they?
Even through the tower walls I can hear the thunder tonight. I don't like it.
And then there's another sound, low and strong like the thunder, but sustained, like a horn. So I run upstairs to look out the only window.
It's too dark and the rain is too thick to see anything, but the sound comes again, and it's coming from the ocean.
It's too early, and it's the middle of a rainstorm, and I'm not supposed to throw the switch until sundown....
But I throw the switch anyhow, and the window frame reflects blue-green.