The last few notes of the song Altair recognized vaguely but couldn't name faded out quietly on the old radio he had set up in the observatory. The graduate student smiled and looked through the telescope lens carefully, waiting for the mellow voice he knew would be coming next.
"Hello, all my listeners! This is Conrad, like every night, and it's 10:34 pm. If you're still awake listening to classical music, you might want to get to bed soon so you don't fall asleep with the radio on. If you have to stay up all night, what are you listening to classical music for? Anyway, we have a period for anyone and everyone to call in now." He rattled off the number, but Altair had added it to his cell phone. He picked it up and selected the correct number out of his address book.
The phone rang a couple of times while Altair turned the radio down. He found out the first night he had called that if he didn't, hearing the conversation over the radio with the slightest delay from actually participating in it would make his head buzz and make it impossible to focus on participating.
"Hi. I guess I called in."
"Oh, okay." The radio DJ paused. "Anything you wanted to stay to all the classical music fans out there?"
"At this hour? Go to bed!"
Conrad laughed. "Is there a reason you aren't taking your own advice, mystery caller?"
"Yeah, I'm stuck in an observatory. If I fall asleep on the job, I'll get fired."
"I see. You have a name you want to share?"
"Nope, only a weird one I'd be too embarrassed to admit to on air like this."
Altair wracked his brain for something to say. He'd known he was going to call in today. He should have made a plan of what to say to Conrad earlier. He sighed.
"Something wrong, mystery man?"
"Uh, no. I guess I should let you go, huh? In case anyone else wants to call in?"
"Oh, right," Conrad agreed hesitantly. "Well, thanks for calling in."
Conrad hung up the phone and Altair turned up the radio volume as he set his own cell aside. His conversations were getting stupid. He'd discovered the radio station a month ago, and had started calling him a week ago. Something about the DJ's voice over the radio seemed...lonely. Or maybe that was Altair projecting the emptiness of the observatory onto him.
He still hadn't learned much about Conrad, though. There was so much that it didn't seem right to ask over a radio call-in, and Conrad didn't seem to welcome talking about himself. Conrad never seemed to want to talk for long, and Altair didn't understand why. It wasn't as if anyone else ever called in, and he was never rude.
Not that he had any right to talk. After all, he wouldn't even tell Conrad his name.
Of course, their relationship had progressed from what it had been originally; a nuisance. Altair spent his nights in the astronomy observatory, after all, and the observatory had lots of equipment besides telescopes. Radio signals were just as important.
When the equipment suddenly started recording a human voice, Altair had a nasty start.
He eventually figured out the problem and changed the frequency the equipment recording away from the ones the few local stations used to broadcast their stuff. But the sweet voice of the DJ playing classical music in the middle of the night stuck in his head until he brought a small radio into the observatory to listen to the station while the instruments recorded what they were supposed to.
He listened every night, but didn't make a phone call. He wasn't supposed to make personal calls while he was working. The music was peaceful, and that was all he needed.
It hadn't been until between Altair's Astronomy Instrumentation class and his paper for Stellar Astrophysics during the third week of listening that he figured out what he needed to do. If he couldn't forget about Conrad, he needed to contact him. He would have preferred to send a message with the weak transmitters the astronomy lab had, but he didn't know if the DJ had receivers as well as his transmitter, and he certainly wouldn't know what frequency to send the messages to.
The next time he heard Conrad's plea for a phone call that never came, he picked up his cell and dialed in.