Ada Lace, Take Me to Your Leader
Chapter One RADIO SILENCE
Ada pressed the button on the mic and opened her mouth to speak. That was the exact moment when Ms. Lace burned the toast. The smoke alarm on the stairs went off, and George the robot rolled around the room crying, “Fire! Fire!”
“NO!” Ada yelled. “George, there is no fire!”
Then the sprinkler in the center of Ada’s bedroom ceiling rained down on her bed, her rug, and her desk. Ada threw her raincoat over the radio, but she wasn’t sure she was quick enough.
“George, the fire’s out!” called Ada.
“Emergency averted,” answered George. The fire alarm stopped beeping, the sprinkler stopped sprinkling. Elliott ran into Ada’s room with his new Batman umbrella.
“Aw, I missed it again.”
“Ada,” said Mr. Lace from the doorway, “you may need to fine-tune George.”
“Mom may need to fine-tune the toaster.”
“Ada . . . ,” said Mr. Lace.
“I know, Dad. I’ll fix him.” Ada had engineered her robot, George, to keep her room safe, but she had already had to replace her rug after their neighbor Jacob grilled his steak in the courtyard and the smoke poured into Ada’s room. Clearly, George was doing his job a little too well.
“Safety first,” said George. It was as if he’d read her thoughts.
“That’s creepy, George,” said Ada.
The night-light on George’s head lit up. “This will comfort you,” he said. Soothing music drifted out of his speakers.
“Thanks, George, I feel better now. You can go to sleep,” said Ada. He rolled into the corner and turned off.
Ada pulled the raincoat off her ham radio and dried it off. Then Nina showed up. Ada looked at the clock and realized she was supposed to meet her friend five minutes ago to walk to school.
• • •
“Hey, you were late, so I thought I would just run over here. Whoa! Is that a ham radio?”
“Yes! Mr. Peebles gave it to me the other day. I’m still trying to figure it out. How did you know?”
“I was just reading about them in my book World of Weird Book 3: Across the Void! Have you contacted a parallel universe yet?”
“I’m not sure I can even talk to Mr. Peebles now. George may have broken it.”
“George used it?”
“It’s a long story. I can tell you on the way to school.”
• • •
As they walked, Ada told Nina about George’s false alarm, and Nina told Ada about her book. In it a group of kids used a ham radio in their clubhouse. First, they talked to people all over the world, then, from . . . other worlds.
“That sounds cool,” said Ada. “I wish I could do that with my radio.”
“Maybe you can!” said Nina.
“At this point I’d be happy just to talk to someone in Oakland.”
• • •
After school, Ada invited Nina over to help her work on the radio. Nina had all kinds of advice.
“You know, in the book Nate and Fiona wore tinfoil hats.”
“Oh. Really? Why?”
“Gee, Ada, I thought you knew about this
stuff. That way the evil energy from the other world couldn’t seep into their brains.”
“I think I’ll just start with trying to figure out how to talk to someone in the Bay Area first. Baby steps. Anyway, you need a different kind of radio to speak to other parts of the world. And, uh, probably other worlds, I guess.”
“Why is it called a ham radio anyway?” asked Nina.
Ada’s dad was passing Ada’s room. He couldn’t resist a chance to answer. “Well, rumor has it that Marconi was a little hungry when he invented radio. So, the first thing he did when he got it working was order a ham sandwich!”
“Dad!” called Ada.
“Is that true?” asked Nina.
“Of course not!” said Ada.
“Yeah, you’re right. Marconi was Italian.
He probably would have ordered capicola or prosciutto.”
“Ugh!” said Ada.
Nina didn’t seem to know whether to be amused or confused.
“No one really knows why it’s called a ham,” said Ada. “Some people think it’s an acronym for the three radio innovators: Hertz, Armstrong, and Marconi, but there are other explanations too.”
Ada took the cover off the radio and revealed a bunch of brightly colored wires and little nodes fixed to a green circuit board.
It’s so pretty. The cover should be see-through!” said Nina.
“That’s a cool idea. Maybe I’ll work on that after I figure out the talking part.”
• • •
There was very little moisture inside from the fire emergency. Still, Ada patted the whole thing down with a towel, just in case. Then she put the casing back on, flicked on the switch, and pressed the button on the microphone.
Kilo Delta Eight Papa Kilo Romeo. Anyone out there? Over.
KD8PKR looking for someone to talk to. Anyone? Mr. Peebles?
“What’s KD whatchamacallit? Is it a secret code?”
“It’s my call sign. I got it with my radio license. I have to use it whenever I talk on ham radio. It’s like a . . . special radio name.”
The radio answered with static. Ada grabbed an antenna she had saved from her dad’s old transistor radio. It was longer than the antenna on the ham, so she swapped them. Still, all she heard was static.
“I don’t understand why it’s not working.”
“Can we add something to it? Like a paper clip?”
“I don’t know about a paper clip . . . but I
think I saw somewhere that people use aluminum foil.”
“I’ll go get it!” said Nina.
Nina ran down to the kitchen and grabbed a roll of aluminum foil. She brought it back upstairs. They ripped a piece off and attached it to the antenna.
After a few hours of tinkering, it was time for dinner.
“I can’t believe the signal is still so weak,” said Ada. “Maybe the buildings are blocking it.”
“Maybe we should try a Ouija board,” said Nina.
“Like I said, I think we have to start with somewhere in our own realm first,” said Ada. “Anyway, I don’t have a Ouija board. I think the antenna needs to be higher up.”
“Like on the roof!” said Nina.
Ada asked for Mr. Lace’s help. Her parents had set some pretty firm rules about Ada climbing things after she’d broken her ankle over the summer. Mr. Lace went through the attic window and attached Ada’s ham antenna to the roof, just above Ada’s window. Even with the extra height, though,
Ada and Nina heard mostly static.
• • •
Ada and Nina tried for the rest of the night to contact someone but they had no luck.
“Bedtime! Bedtime!” said George.
“It’s not a school night, George,” said Ada. “I can go to bed a little later tonight.”
“Ada!” called Ms. Lace. “It’s time for bed.”
Ada looked at the clock. It was ten.
“Wow,” said Ada. “You were right, George.”
Ada was about to turn off the radio, then stopped.
“Maybe we should keep it on. You know, in case it starts working,” said Ada.
“You know, you’re right. It could be morning for them in the middle of the night,” said Nina.
“For whom?” asked Ada.
“The beings from the other world!”