The Last Transmission of Kosmos I-44

It was recorded in the early 80s: a transmission on 14.8MHz that shouldn’t exist.



Author’s Note


The Last Transmission of Kosmos I-44

My aunt was smart. That was about all I knew of Aunt Angelika. And in my family that doesn’t mean she was a complete genius. My mum would say “Ange ah… sie var Schlau…” and it would mean Aunt Ange was mathematical and had hobbies the family didn’t quite understand.

Aunt Ange, from what I know, became an engineer in one of Germany’s now largely defunct nuclear power plants. That’s not why I call her smart, though. She was curious and had a drive to learn. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but maybe she was too curious.

I had a faint memory of my mother telling me Aunt Ange had played with radios. That memory came back to me when, helping my parents downsize to a ground-floor flat, I pulled a dusty box out of their attic. In it was an old radio. It took me a bit of time to verify it, but my first thought was that it fit some image of a ham radio I’d seen in a movie or TV show set in the 60s or 70s. Tucked in beside the radio was a leather-bound journal and two unopened letters from someone I’d never heard of, addressed to Aunt Ange.

The journal didn’t have a date, so I’ve taken a guess. Aunt Ange died, it ruled a suicide, in January 1984, and The Buzzer, from what I can find on the internet, is thought to have started broadcasting on 4625kHz in 1982, though it may have been there earlier than that. From that and what she writes, my guess is that Aunt Ange’s journal dates from 1983.

Aunt Ange wrote her journal in English. Me having grown up in the UK, my German is patchy enough for that to have been a lucky find when I cracked the brittle book open. Why it’s in English, though, I can only assume, and my assumption is that it’s largely because Aunt Ange’s friend and fellow radio enthusiast, Marne – the one who wrote the unopened letters – sent them to Germany from Bristol, not far from where I live. As she writes in English, and from her name, I’m assuming she’s British. Still, it means I’ve been able to transcribe the journal easily, and what’s written in it is something I think more people should hear about.

And I’m pretty certain Aunt Ange wanted this read:

I will start at the beginning, so anyone can understand. I write this so it’s recorded. And maybe to make it clear in my head.

There’s that constant shush and crackle of shortwave radio I like. In the beginning, it was spooky. Especially listening on my own in this old war bunker. As you roll through the frequencies, the bursts of sound from a passionate revolutionary or a South American pop song will appear out of the noise.  If you stay on a frequency, the sound isn’t any more perfect. Louder and clearer then muted and overrun with static, the distorted sound resounding off the bunker’s cold concrete walls. Reaching nighttime in this old bunker, I’d often leave it jittery and jumping at shadows, like a child, in the beginning. Then I started to like it. That distortion, the bursts of sound as the needle passes through broadcasts, make the bunker like a secret theatre, the entire world on display.

When the Woodpecker started, it became eerie again. When I first heard the Woodpecker, I was listening to a Frenchman and an American attempt to talk to each other. I was amused. That was when the Woodpecker appeared, and I thought it was a helicopter descending above the bunker, at first. As though the rotary blades could interfere with radiowaves, making their talking punctuated by the rapid whap-whap-whap-whap of the descending helicopter. It scared me – made me think I was about to be discovered by the Soviets, though I wasn’t listening into them at the time. As though maybe the Soviets knew I had tried in the past to listen into their military communications – that I’d heard the odd bit of conversation I didn’t understand.

But I’ve heard it many times since then. Everyone has heard it. It disrupts radio so much people think the Woodpecker is Soviet mind control or some other notion. The American and Frenchman heard it too, and that made me realise then that it wasn’t a helicopter come to get me. It was everywhere. A mysterious pulsing that just appeared one day, reaching every radio on the globe.

We know what the Woodpecker is. It’s not hard to work out. People think it’s Soviet psycho-experiments, but the known answer is scarier than that. It’s an over-the-horizon radar in this Cold War, so the Soviets can bomb anyone who sends the first nuclear bomb at them. It’s an electromagnetic Soviet military bulwark. They made radars that are so powerful everyone can hear them, more powerful than they need to be – that get in the way of anyone else on the radio. And then stay secret about it.

For a while, “my” bunker – as I like to think it – was made spooky again by the Woodpecker. That shush and crackle that had become a friendly hobby went back to an eerie thrill. Just hearing that rhythmic pulsing making the speakers do a frantic dance would leave the faded green and white of the bunker’s walls feeling like an icy sarcophagus. It brought the otherworldly sense of war we want to banish back to the bunker’s utilitarian table, electric cables and piping on the walls, bare lightbulb, and the war-era radio communications equipment I’d found years before under a layer of dust.

But I got used to it. The greater shame was that it drove some people off the radio. Being able to talk to anyone in the world is only exciting for a short time when everything you say or listen to is interrupted by the sound that the Soviets are there. It is hard not to wonder if they are listening in.

That, and it’s an inconvenient disruption.

I write all of this to indicate that I’m used to feeling spooked in my bunker with the radio, and that I have gotten over it. To show that it is not only the experience of sitting in an old war bunker with military radio equipment that filled me with chills on, from my notes, the 27th of August.

I should also explain, for clarity, that I understand only a little Russian. I would like to understand more – and why shouldn’t I? I have family on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I have a radio antenna beside the bunker that’s far larger than any I could have erected myself. I can listen beyond where I can go. Into territory hidden from the rest of the world.

In the early morning of the 27th of August, I was here in the bunker, looking for someone to listen to. Maybe to talk to, if I felt the need. I started at 30 metres, tuning through higher frequencies, as they are best during the day in summer. Those would be the ones people would want to be talking on, to the east of me, at least.

There was little by way of broadcasts on the international frequencies, and less of conversation. The Woodpecker seemed louder that morning, and it was unusually continuous. There was only it to be heard disrupting the normal shush and crackle.

Sometimes it’s not a lost endeavour to roll through the frequencies. Broadcasts can start without warning, or new number stations appear, and they can be very interesting. So with my morning coffee, I kept rolling the dial. Until, into the weirdly constant whap-whap-whap and white noise, I tuned to something.

I’ve heard the occasional distress call on the radio. A ship run into a problem or, once, a factory explosion in India.

Some part of me knew it was a distress call, even before I’d tuned in properly. But not like one I’d heard before. The rapidly repeated words, the sound, like crying down a long tube – more distorted than I’d expect it to be as someone, a very upset someone, shouted at a microphone many kilometres away. It jumped me into a sort of panicked action I rarely feel, narrowing the frequencies and tuning until I could hear it more clearly, and hurrying to plug in my tape recorder.

Maybe part of that was that the transmission was louder than it should be. I know the volume of radio transmissions. That transmission made my coffee spill when I tuned into it, I remember perfectly. I’ve listened many times to my recording, though I won’t listen again. The voice gets louder after every whap of the Woodpecker. It’s not the slow in and out of a normal shortwave transmission. It’s as though the Woodpecker itself was amplifying the voice, making it louder right after each whap, and quieter right before the next. It’s unsettling, that change so quickly between the interference of the Woodpecker.

All of it was unsettling – terrifying. I scribbled what words I was able to understand down. I understood “cosmos” “Ivan” “forty-four” “failed” and “help”, some repeated many times. Then the tone changed. Just as I was getting my transmitting radio ready, the man became calmer. There was more noise on the transmission then, pops, warps, and rattles. It took me a moment to realise it wasn’t just that I was hearing it less, he did sound calmer. “Complete” was what I thought he said, in a longer message most of which I didn’t understand.

I had my transmitting radio ready. I must have recognised he was speaking Russian, though I was still surprised when I spoke, in Russian, back to him.

‘I listen. Where are you?’ is what I said. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s something I do know how to say.

I remember with a shiver his next words. It came out clearer, somehow, than the rest of it – easier for me to understand the Russian. I’m still not sure whether he heard my transmission and was responding, or was just talking on.

‘Cosmos Ivan forty-four… Space,’ he said, very calm. So calm it made my teeth clench and the chair under me suddenly seem to be holding an immense weight. And then, ‘We are dead.’

Then the transmission dropped out. I sat there with just the interference on the radio waves, momentarily quiet in the startling absence of the Woodpecker.

It was then that my bunker felt spooky all over again. Cold and isolating: a relic of that “other” of danger and war. And not just spooky. It felt wrong. Like I could feel the past in the communications room, Nazi soldiers sitting where I was, with secret messages and intelligence. People tortured or facing bombardment across this continent.  

There’s no wind in my bunker. No windows, the only door to outside closed. But the heavy metal door to the communications room creaked on its hinges, as though it too remembered shells exploding and making the earth shake. It made me shake, and jump to look, expecting something there but seeing nothing. I was alone in the bunker.

But the shells weren’t in the here and now. They were forty years ago. The space race isn’t a distant memory. Tin cans flying beyond the planet, to burn up in the atmosphere, those aboard screaming their last moments. Or to slam into the earth too fast to live. That was my impression of the distress call – a cosmonaut yelling out his last distress. I felt no thrill this time. Just awful, and spooked.

And I was very sure that the cosmonaut’s transmission was something I should never have heard. That I’d listened in to that “other”.

The frequency I’d heard the transmission on was 14.8MHz. Though I hesitated and my hands were shivering, I pushed the button to talk on my microphone.

‘Did anyone else hear that?’ I asked the world, speaking in English so more might understand. Then I took my finger off the button, and waited. Even while I was saying it, I already regretted speaking. Though it’d be hard for the Soviets to locate me from my two transmissions, I still felt I was revealing myself.

The crackle and shush was all there was on the radio for a long moment. The abrupt return of the Woodpecker made me jump and breathe more quietly, as though someone might hear me. Then, through that whap-whap-whap was a voice.

‘I did. What was that? Over.’

It was a man with, I thought, a Scandinavian accent. I wasn’t sure I wanted to respond. It wasn’t only the man who’d heard it though. I heard a female voice make the next transmission. She didn’t use a call sign either, staying anonymous.

‘I did too,’ she said. ‘I don’t know. Over.’

Even distorted by the radio, I could recognise Marne’s voice. It was a case of the only two female engineering students sticking together in university. We became friends. We shared that interest, and shared interest in radios. I didn’t respond to her over the radio, and she didn’t try to reach me directly. Instead, I wrote her a letter to discuss it and later sent her a copy of my recording. It was the more private option.

It was fortunate I didn’t have work that day. I would not have been able to focus. I sat in the bunker listening, over and over again, to my recording of the man I thought was a lost cosmonaut. And I wondered on and on about it. The more I thought, the less it made sense.

14.8MHz is not a good frequency for space communication. It’s the same reason why it is a good frequency for international communication: the waves bounce off the ionosphere. It would work if a craft wasn’t past the ionosphere, but if the man was in space, the transmission wouldn’t get through enough to be heard.

I thought that an indication that I should doubt that the man was in space. But with listen after listen, I was sure the Woodpecker amplified his transmission. That didn’t make sense either. An over-the-horizon radar doesn’t do that.

Except that the Soviets haven’t admitted that is what the Woodpecker is. They have kept this pulse heard around the world entirely secret, even as the world called it an over-the-horizon radar. And for it to reach the world – for it to distort even television – it is an insanely powerful radar. It makes me think the secret is bigger than that. The Woodpecker is the signature of a over-the-horizon radar. But maybe that isn’t all it is.

And the Woodpecker had never before been that loud or continuous on the radio. Up until the transmission ended, when it suddenly stopped.

I did wonder whether I was falling for a hoax. I know about the recordings made by the Italian brothers in the early 60s. I know about the one said to be a female cosmonaut crying “I’m hot” as her capsule reenters orbit and burns up. Maybe some of their recordings are real, that one isn’t. I have argued it with other enthusiasts. There was no way she could be transmitting during reentry.

Reentry was what I thought ended the man’s transmission I recorded. If he was a cosmonaut.

I remember by the end of the day, on the 27th of August, when I realised it was then late at night, I had nearly convinced myself I’d heard a hoax. Or that I’d mistranslated “space”, and I was being the stupid one, letting fears inform my judgement. I was sure my fear was irrational as I left my bunker still spooked and sure every shadow was a threat. I remember the clang of the bunker door when I closed it made me jump and look around, seeing every tree in the forest behind me look like someone watching me. I remember running up the hill back to my home, though I told myself I was being a silly child.

There is one thing, I couldn’t forget, that makes it all possible: the Iron Curtain. It is the right name, because we do not know what happens behind it. The Soviets could be doing anything, and we would not know.

But I thought back and forth even on that. Why would the man, if he was a cosmonaut, be using a public access shortwave frequency, if the mission was secret? Why would he not be using an encrypted transmission? I determined, once again, that I needed to have the recording translated. It was still possible the man was speaking in code.

And if it was a communication with ground control, why did I not hear ground control respond?

The one certainty, that night, was that I knew I couldn’t get the transmission out of my head. A fly buzzing around my kitchen sounded like his voice, squawky and distorted through tinny speakers. I lay down to sleep, and the fly was still there. Still sounding like I could hear Russian shouting in its buzz.

It took me a long time to sleep. I thought about everything, over and over again. I even worried that I hadn’t locked the bunker door, though I was sure I had. It was irrational fears, I told myself, but I still wanted to go down before work in the morning to check the recording I’d made hadn’t suddenly disappeared overnight – just gone, as though nothing had happened, and I would be left to only remember something I’d made sure I have proof of.

I’d thought I’d feel less spooked in the morning.

I woke up in the early dawn to someone speaking Russian inside my bedroom. They were calm, but I live alone. They became silent the moment I sat up and looked around. But I knew it clearly as I searched the house for an intruder. I had taken with me a long and steel spirit level to use as a weapon. I knew what I’d heard surely enough that I was ready to get into close combat with a person in my house. I thought maybe it was a Soviet agent. And I ran through my house, switching on lights, sure I’d need to fight to live.

But I found no one. I searched everything, prepared to smash in their head hopefully before they shot me. But there was no one inside or outside my house.

I took the level with me to my bunker. I’d needed to check that my tape was still there, containing the recording I’d made the day before. The bunker door was still locked, and there was no one inside the bunker either. The tape was still there, and I heard, in the fresh morning, the man’s distress call all over again, recorded and stored safely. But the bunker had me even more spooked that morning. It was empty, but the thick concrete walls, the almost bomb-proof roof, just felt like the weight of war on me. Alone in there, I didn’t let go of my level.

But I had a moment to think. I thought maybe it had been a dream. It was hard to be so sure I’d heard what I’d heard when the fear became a little less. I tried to remember then exactly what I’d heard, and wasn’t able to. That supported my idea it had been a dream.

I went to work, and I got home at night that day. I wasn’t tired. I should have been with such little sleep, but I was too focused on the things I’d heard. So I went to my bunker.

Again, there was nothing interesting but the pulsing sound of the Woodpecker. It was a greater obsession, I think, with the Soviets that had me tuning to a much lower frequency: 4625kHz. This is the Buzzer. It is more mysterious even than the Woodpecker, unless you are wondering, like I was, whether the powerful Woodpecker is more than just an over-the-horizon radar.

I first heard the Buzzer a few years ago. Unlike the Woodpecker, it is low power and narrow bandwidth. I am close enough and have an antenna big enough to receive it, though rarely in the daytime. So I like to listen sometimes. Most of the time, like the name, it is just a repeated buzz sound that is broadcast. Those lower shortwave frequencies are more used by amateur radio stations. I am sure the buzz-buzz-buzz on the frequency is to keep that frequency occupied so other people don’t use it. Why that frequency is owned in such a way, though, I do not know.

I do know it is Soviet, because I have heard Russian voices on it. They do not sound to be voices trying to reach spies in Europe, though. They have not used call signs, and they did not speak in code. I had them translated by a friend, the few I was able to record.

From those translations, and how they sound, I think the Buzzer is produced by a machine beside an open microphone. Because those voices sound like people speaking in the background. My image is of an otherwise empty room, somewhere in a Soviet military base, with a live microphone sitting in it beside a tone generator. Every once in a while, a person is overheard by that microphone speaking in the background. The transmissions I’ve recorded are merely of men asking where something is, or mentioning something has been noticed and they need to report it – as though they are walking past the microphone room as they talk. I have not previously gained any useful information from what is overheard through the Buzzer.

That is all the Buzzer has been used for, as far as I know: just a sound that occupies 4625kHz. But I wanted to listen, just to hear more Russian over the radio, if anyone was speaking in the background. In the past, I would listen because it was the only military broadcast I could reliably find from behind that Iron Curtain. Now, it is an unhealthy new obsession, I was sure even then.

The Buzzer, knowing it is likely Soviet military, is scary to listen to. Endlessly it buzzes, for unknown purposes. I felt cold even before I’d tuned my radio into the frequency, and had a chill make me shake.

There it was, only buzzing, as it always is. I felt the communications room of the bunker grow frightening again, listening. But I kept listening, for approximately an hour and a half.

As I said, I have never heard intentional voice transmission on 4625kHz. That night, I did. I heard a message I am sure was intentional, as the buzzer suddenly went silent, as though switched off, the voice sounded close to the microphone, and the transmission was just a series of person names or words and numbers. I picked up “cosmos” “Ivan” and “forty-four” in it again, and that was very relevant.

Because it was mostly person names and numbers, then it was an alphanumeric code. The Russian radio alphabet is mostly person names. Again I was jumping and anxious, hearing the transmission. It went through only once, no repeat. My tape recorder was still plugged in, and I recorded most of it.

I will transcribe the code, from what I managed to record of it, into the end of this journal. In case someone can decode it. I cannot. I have tried, and I do not know what was said.

Unlike the transmission of the day before, that also said “cosmos” “Ivan” and “forty-four”, this one sounded planned. With the buzzer being switched back on, as the man moved away from the microphone, I was left to listen to that repeated tone, ringing in the bunker. I thought the bare lightbulb swung above me, making me feel like I was below deck on a rocking iron ship.

If it was a planned and coded transmission, then I don’t think anyone can decode it unless they know the Soviets’ cipher. But I have what I was able to record of it.

But it told me, I was sure, that the distress transmission I had heard was significant. I do not know what was said about “cosmos” “Ivan” and “forty-four”, but hearing those words repeated indicated the Soviets knew something about the transmission the previous day on 14.8MHz.

After hours of listening to the Buzzer, I went to bed that night as spooked as I was before. There was no buzzing fly this night, but in the darkness and quiet near the forest, I thought I could hear the distress transmission. It was like a distant hum, coming through the air.

I woke up again, earlier than I needed to, with the sound of someone speaking Russian in my room. I searched my home and garden, and found no one again. I went to bed the night after with my spirit level and my biggest knife, and was woken by that Russian voice once again.

Again and again this happened. For just over one week, with me waking earlier and earlier in the morning. Then one night I didn’t really get to sleep. I was in something near real sleep when I realised it. I will take a moment to explain it properly:

I have heard of people speaking in their sleep. I had never before done it, that I know. I wasn’t really asleep when I noticed, that early morning, that my lips were moving. I next realised my own throat was working, making sound. It wasn’t German, and it wasn’t English, and those are the only languages I speak fluently. Yet I was speaking fluently, only in Russian.

I came more awake to the sense that I understood what I was saying. Until I was aware enough to jump up in bed. Then I stopped speaking, and I forgot what I had been saying. There, while I was partly asleep, then gone the moment I was fully awake.

I have not slept well since. For accuracy, I will say that, even if it makes anyone reading this doubt my recollection of events. I do know that if I say any of this story aloud, to anyone but Marne, they will decide me insane. It is why I am writing it.

Learning that it was me speaking in my bedroom in the morning did not stop me feeling I was in danger. I think it made me feel that more, because that I was speaking every night in my sleep, in a language I do not speak, is wrong. It is that “other”. I am a rational person. I did tell myself every day that I was only becoming obsessed, and that I was dreaming. A person can do anything in their dreams. Even speak what they think while asleep is Russian.

But I began to be more aware of my night talking. More and more mornings, I was aware of my mouth moving and my throat working. I became aware of it enough, even while asleep, that I tried to remember what I was saying while I was saying it. I thought, maybe, learning what I was saying while not completely awake may hold a clue. I hoped that clue was that I was really speaking nonsense when translated.

It was at this time that I met with my friend who is fluent in Russian. I will not name him, as he does not want to be named anywhere. I had to persuade him to help me. He has done it in the past, but he is always reluctant. When I described to him the transmission I’d recorded this time, he was even more reluctant. He too fears the power of those hidden by secrecy.

After my friend had written his translation, I sat listening to the man’s distress call as I read it again and again. Knowing the meaning behind his words makes the panic and anger in his yells much more real. I do not have the first part of the translation, as I did not manage to record the first part of his transmission.

This is what I do have:

“Help! Help! I cannot control anything! The panels have not deployed! The UHF does not work! Command – assist me! Kosmos I-44 – I need help!”

There is a short silence here, as though the man was waiting for a response. He didn’t receive one. Not that I heard, at least.

“Kosmos I-44 I cannot control anything! Help! Help!”

 Another silence. Then the man starts to sound angry and more panicked.

“Kosmos I-44! You knew it would be this! Unmanned crafts! They are all unmanned! You sent me up here to die! You knew I can’t control – assist from the ground! This craft is old and faulty! Command, I am begging you – assist!”

He waits again for a response he does not receive. When he speaks this time he is yelling into the microphone.

“Kosmos I-44 – what is this mission? Why have you sent me with no control? It has failed! I cannot do anything! I cannot orientate for re-entry! I cannot come back safely! Is there a parachute? You have sent me up here to die! You know it! You did it! What is the mission? Why am I up here? Why have you sent me?”

Another silence, shorter this time. He forgets his call sign now.

“Just beats on the radio! No response! Control – control – you have sent me to die!”

The transmission gains more interference here, rattling, dropping in and out, and distorting more. And this is where, after a longer pause, the man suddenly becomes very calm.

“Kosmos I-44 – reentry will occur in 16 hours 24 minutes. The air-conditioning system is malfunctioning. It is overheating and the oxygen levels are falling. I am at 17% oxygen. My heart rate is 136, my breathing rate is 34. I see the Earth. It is beautiful. The mission is complete. Over.”

At this point I responded.

“I listen. Where are you?”

His full message, translated, is still one I wonder is a response to me. It should not be possible that, with him in space, he would hear me. But it does sound like a response.

“Kosmos I-44 – they are in space. We are dead.”

As though it was the first time I was hearing it all over again, that final line, spoken so calmly, made my insides freeze. The transmission ends abruptly then, but not, as I first thought, because of reentry. I do not know why it ends. I think it scares me because I think he did hear me, somehow. He was responding, and he knew I was not ground control. But that is only my suspicion, informed by no good evidence.

There are a few things I understand I will explain:

“UHF” is translated so it is understandable in English. It stands for ultra high frequency. This is a radio wavelength with a higher frequency than shortwave radio, which uses high frequency. UHF, unlike almost all wavelengths in high frequency, is useful for communications to a spacecraft orbiting the earth because the waves goes through the atmosphere and out of the planet.

“Kosmos I-44” is translated as me and my friend assume it was intended. The literal translation is “Cosmos Ivan forty-four”. “Ivan” is the Russian radio alphabet word for “I” or “И” in the Russian alphabet. I think it was intended as “I-44”, though I cannot be certain.

I had known that the Kosmos missions had sent some Sputnik satellites into space. My friend informed me that there have been many Kosmos missions, sending many satellites and other items into space. But he says they are all named Kosmos followed by only a number. No letter or “Ivan”. And he says they are all supposed to be unmanned missions. It does not make sense that there is a Kosmos I-44, and it does not make sense for it to be manned.

If they are intended to be unmanned, then they would only be able to be controlled from the ground. That appears to be what the man aboard Kosmos I-44 was referring to. It also appears he had thought he would be able to control the craft. And that he had what would seem no way to communicate with the ground, if he had only a frequency as low as 14.8MHz to use.

If this is all true, I do not know how long he had been in space before his transmission. I do not know when he was launched. That information has not made it beyond the Iron Curtain. I have seen no reports in any newspapers or anywhere on the television or radio of the Soviets launching a manned craft that resembles this. It would be an embarrassment, I am sure, if it were to be known.

The Soviets have run what is known as a very mature and successful space race. They were first to send probes to Venus, that have transmitted back. They were the first to put a satellite in space, the first to have a living creature in orbit, a dog, though they left her to die. The first to send a man, Yuri Gagarin, into space, and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova. And many more important firsts, though they did not land the first man on the moon.

If this was an unplanned failure, then it would be an embarrassment to announce. If it was an intentional suicide mission, they would not report that either. Likely not even to their own people.

And if it was an intentional suicide mission, the question is “why?”. Why in the 1980s would they do so, when they have proved over and over they can bring people back safely from space?

There is much more I do not understand about this transmission, some I have already described. I do not understand why he would have only radio that shouldn’t be useful in the orbiting capsule. Though, it is possible it could communicate with other spacecraft or other things outside Earth. I do not understand why he may have been sent up in an old craft. Not unless it wasn’t expected of him to come back.

I do not know whether the “beats on the radio” he mentions is the Woodpecker. It might be. If I was hearing it, and it played an intermediary role in relaying his transmission, he may have heard it too. But I cannot confirm this.

And I do not know why he became calm, or what he meant by his final message. Maybe it was only hypoxia, though at 17% atmospheric oxygen, that would be unusual. It could be otherwise physiological, but his clear and concise communication doesn’t suggest physical distress. With the greater interference of the later part of the transmission, it is hard enough to hear what it is he is saying. I cannot hear anything more that would indicate physical distress. All that can be heard on the recording is the unexpected robotic calm of his words. Maybe he just remembered he was a tool to be used, and that changed him.

For “They are in space. We are dead.” I do not know at all. I have thought maybe it is that the Soviets are in space, and the pilots are dead. That does appear the most obvious answer, though I have my questions and doubts.

I had been spending every day scared. That day it changed, only a little. Leaving my bunker, I thought for the first time that it looked alien. A different kind of “other”. It is partly buried in the side of the hill. The entrance is recessed in grey concrete walls and covered by a rounded roof that is less vulnerable to bombardment. I am sure it is not alien, but that night, it did look like it.

It was a couple mornings later that I woke not only to knowing myself speaking Russian, but to a note on my bedside table. It is written, it looks, in my handwriting. It looks like I’d written it very calmly. But it isn’t in an alphabet I knew how to use. I cannot write in Russian.

I remember my heart froze and I sat on the side of the bed, more scared than I can describe. Awake, I could not read it. And I had no memory of writing it.

I don’t know why I never thought to before, but it was then that I thought to record myself overnight. And it was then that I first reconsidered those theories that the Woodpecker is Soviet mind control. I had dismissed them before, because I was sure the Woodpecker was only an over-the-horizon radar. But the evidence that something “other” was affecting me was too strong by then for me to dismiss those theories completely.

I recorded myself every night for a while. I listened to the recordings. It is terrifying to know you are speaking in a half-dream state. It is very much more terrifying to hear your own voice speaking fluently in a language you do not know.

Most of what I said I could translate. Many nights, from 3 a.m., I’d repeat the same words I heard the man from the distress call saying. I say, over and over again, the words “We are dead”, or “The mission is complete”, “I can see the Earth. It is beautiful”,  or “They are in space”.

But there was more I couldn’t translate. Words I couldn’t understand when I was awake. It took more to persuade my friend to translate it for me this time. He looked much more anxious and tired when I met with him again. He did not want to speak, and he did not want to translate it. But for me, he did.

I had still been hoping, up until my friend gave me the translations, that I had been speaking only nonsense. It wasn’t so.

“It is recovered. No survivors.”

I said this over five different nights.

“It got out.”

This was said on seven different nights. It is the most accurate translation possible without context.

And the last is just a single word, repeated over and over:


My friend didn’t ask about any of the recordings I provided him. He didn’t ask about the note either, but he did look at me with a question in his expression. I didn’t tell him. He didn’t want to know.

The note I have no memory of writing reads:

“It functions. We are dead.”

My friend does not want to translate anything more for me. I haven’t asked it of him since.

It has been weeks since then, and nothing has improved. I have become paranoid and exhausted. I know it. But I do not think I am imagining anything. Except, though I haven’t listened to my recording of the distress call for a while, I hear it in the silence or the empty shush and crackle of the radio. Every time I hear the Woodpecker, I can hear the man – hear the last transmission of a person who I do think now was a lost cosmonaut. I do think I am imagining hearing the distress call in the quiet.

I have stopped recording myself. I do not want any more evidence. I will hide this journal where only Marne and my family will know to find it. I would mail it to Marne, but that may put her in more danger, and I would need to find a way to do it where I couldn’t be traced.

I am worried for Marne, and worried now for my sister and her family in the UK. I regret sending Marne letters that spoke of this and a copy of the transmission. I know she received the tape, but the letter I received back from her looked opened and resealed before I read it. I think someone else read it.

I had thought it would be at least very hard to trace and locate me from my two transmissions on the radio. Anything is possible. I believe that more now. It is possible, too, that something else gave me away. It is possible I gave myself away by doing something, unknown to me, in my sleep. I no longer trust my sleeping mind.

There are Soviet sleeper agents all around this planet. I think some know about me. It wasn’t only Marne’s letter that made me think I am being watched. I answered a phone call from work and heard a quiet buzzing in the background. The call was only to tell me that I was needed at work to fix a problem. But I noticed the buzzing, and I pretended to hang up when the call ended by knocking the receiver near the button. In the silence, with my colleague having hung up, I heard the buzzing louder. And then I heard another click.  Only then did the faint buzzing cease.

I have heard similar things since, on the phone. I do not use it for any conversations that might reveal me. But I have heard strange pops and crackles in the background of conversations. Many times. Where I never heard them before. I am sure my phone is tapped.

I have started staying in my bunker, as I can secure it better than my home. I was coming to my bunker yesterday after work. It was dark. And I did see someone in the woods this time. I was not jumping at shadows. I was not seeing things. There was a dark shape, watching from the trees.

I believe I have been found.

I am not an aerospace engineer. I am a civil engineer, with speciality in nuclear engineering through experience. I will continue to investigate as I can, but I do not have answers.

What I have are questions. Maybe I can rationalise me speaking in comprehensible Russian in my sleep. I can say that maybe I know more than I realise, as I do understand some Russian, and am only capable when not doubting my own abilities.

But I cannot justify me writing comprehensibly in Russian. I do not know the words or alphabet well enough to do that. I have made no study of understanding the written word in that language. How is it possible that I wrote that note?

My thoughts return to Soviet mind control. Yet what have they gained if that distress call has somehow done it to me? I have gained abilities I should not have. I am paranoid. Is this of any benefit to them, overall? I am not military. I am a civilian with no power. Is it that I am a failed psycho-experiment? Or am I becoming too obsessed with a conspiracy?

It is possible, but I doubt all of this is my paranoia. There is another possibility. I wonder if maybe whatever has affected me is not of terrestrial origin. It sounds an absurd notion. But the distressed man was overtaken by calm, in a mysterious mission where it does not appear he was expected to come back alive. And the Soviets have been the pioneers in exploring the cosmos. They were the ones who landed those first probes on Venus. Do we really know what is out there? Was he sent up there to be affected by what is out there?

Is the Woodpecker, in part at least, a relay in exploration of the secrets of space? Is that why it is so powerful? Is that why the man was equipped with a radio that seemed only able to use frequencies not useful for space communication? Because the Woodpecker is strongest on those frequencies?

I do not know. I go around and around, thinking a thought absurd, before finding justification for it. I just do not know.

For now, I arm myself with my spirit level and knife, and secure the bunker’s door.

This is what I have of the coded message from the Buzzer’s frequency. I did not record all of it. I missed the beginning, so it was not translated into letters. That I remember and recorded in my notes, the message did not begin with a callsign. The beginning of the message said “Kosmos Ivan 44” followed by two or three words from the Russian radio alphabet. I do not know what those first words/letters were.

Ф 19 Ф E P 16 Д Р З 15 Л Й Х 3 Э Л Л 3 Ъ Н Ш

Or, as I recorded it with the radio alphabet:

“Fyodor, 19, Fyodor, Yelena, Roman, 16, Dimitri, Roman, Zinaida, 15, Leonid, Ivan kratkiy, Khariton, 3, echo, Leonid, Leonid, 3, tvyordiy znak, Nikolai, Shura”

It finished with the Russian term for “end of communication”.

Aunt Ange’s journal doesn’t end there. Up until this point it seems she is scared, but still clear of mind and rational enough to write this out logically. After this point, there are some short notes written in handwriting that looks more rushed. Some of them are in German, as though she hadn’t the presence of mind or time to write them in her second language. Two of them are in Russian Cyrillic. I could translate the German, and using the internet, I think I’ve translated the Russian too.

These notes become increasingly paranoiac. There is one where she plans a cryptic message intended to tell Marne over the radio to be careful, and for Marne to pass on to my mother the same warning. I don’t know if Aunt Ange sent this message, or if it was received by Marne. My mother has no memory of any friend of Ange’s telling her to be careful.

Another note, in German, warns any reader of the journal to never listen to that last transmission of Kosmos I-44. It finishes with “Do not be like me.”

After this one is the bit in Cyrillic. I’ve translated it as “We are dead”. It is written more legibly than the notes around it, and the following note is a scribbled one that says “It happened again. Will this not end?” in German. The one after that is another mention of a phone tap.

The notes become more nonsensical after this. One rants on at length about Ange’s guilt about her friend who provided the translations, as though she’s sure the same thing is happening to him, even though he only heard the recording, not the live transmission of the distress call. That is what I think she was thinking when she wrote it. I can’t be sure, as whole sentences just don’t make sense. Another seems to say she’s not leaving her bunker, but at the same time she talks about going to work. Yet another makes sense, but is cryptic, saying only “I should never have heard it.”

The very last note is the second one in Cyrillic. This one is very similar to the one before, and very calmly written compared to the notes before it. I’ve translated this one to be “You are dead.” Not “I” am dead, though I have a feeling this last one was written fairly soon before Ange did die, but “you”. I personally find this detail really strange, and can’t work out whether I think Ange had sleep-written to herself in second person, or if the “you” refers to someone else. When I’m indulging the idea of some kind of mind control, I do wonder whether those sleep messages were ones Ange was channelling, and they were someone or something else speaking to her.

I’m no kind of engineer or scientist, and I try to avoid falling into conspiracies. Also, though I was born before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and we did have family in East Germany, I don’t have that same level of fear and suspicion of the Soviet Union that Ange did or that I still see in my parents. It is fairly objective to say, though, that they kept a lot of their space race and military stuff secret for a while.

From digging into things online, I’ve found a lot of what Ange talks about. The Woodpecker, now known to have been produced by the Duga over-the-horizon radars, was certainly real, and largely as Ange described it. It’s the same with The Buzzer, which still occupies 4625kHz, has done near continuously for 40 years, and we know no better now why. I’ll admit, too, they are creepy to listen to alone in a dark room. I can’t imagine how much creepier they would be to hear in an old WW2 bunker.

There is, though, no Kosmos I-44 designation for any space mission. The Kosmos designations were used, as Ange says, for unmanned missions. All of the ones I’ve found are also just “Kosmos” followed by a number. There is no known launch of a spacecraft on or around the 27th of August, 1983, or 1982. I have found zero information about this “Kosmos I-44”, not even a mention of it as a hoax or something odd someone else once heard on the radio. From what I can find, it did not exist – officially or in any conspiracy online.

I also question why the call sign would be the same as the mission designation. From what I’ve found, all manned Soviet space missions had their own call signs, used as code words for the mission, and named after things like “dawn”, “cedar”, “snowstorm”, or “falcon”. Using a designation as a call sign is unusual.

Unless, if all this is real, this mission was never given its own call sign, as the man aboard was not supposed to survive or be able to communicate with the ground. Or, perhaps, Kosmos I-44 is not the mission designation, but a code word for it, to pretend the craft was unmanned.

I don’t know. I spiral into fanciful thoughts when I go down that line of thinking.

I have, of course, asked my mother about this. She really hated talking about it, but I believe her when she says she had no knowledge of any of this. She says she stopped hearing from Ange around the end of November 1983. She went to Ange’s home in Germany after Ange was found dead to help handle Ange’s affairs. Ange had been discovered after she didn’t report to work for a month.

Ange was found in her bunker with a fatal gunshot wound that was ruled self-inflicted. There was no mention of the bunker door needing to be smashed in to find her, and my mother doesn’t remember it looking damaged. My mother believes Ange did take her own life, and she thinks Ange became too isolated and that it was unhealthy to spend so much time in that bunker. That’s how she rationalises Ange’s death, though she admits never having seen any sign of mental illness in Ange before what was, for my mother, her sudden death.

When I questioned where Ange could have gotten the gun from, my mother just thinks it was something Ange could have wanted for protection living somewhat remotely. I’m not as sure, to be honest. Nowhere in Ange’s journal does she mention having or getting a gun. She very specifically states she’s relying on a spirit level and a knife.

The journal, my mother says, she found taped with the two letters from Marne under the sink in the bunker, hidden from sight behind the sink bowl and further blocked from sight by the large amount of food supplies stuffed into the under-sink cabinet. This, my mother says, is how Ange used to hide love letters when she was a teenager, that’s why my mother thought to look.

There were no tapes in the bunker. I asked specifically about this, and my mother says no recordings at all were there. She also, curiously, says there was no radio antenna beside the bunker. I mentioned Ange using one, and my mother was very confused by that. She is certain one wasn’t there. It was just, according to her, the ham radio my mother kept in that box in her attic.

I am of two minds here, and I can’t confirm either. Did Ange really just develop mental illness, and that is all this is? Or was her death not a suicide and the recordings she did have were taken? I don’t know. I go round and round on this, to the point where my mother has told me to just stop. She finds my theorising disgraceful to the sad memory of her sister, which, frankly, is fair enough.

But… there is Marne.

I had thought the letters unopened when I first found them. I’m not as certain now. The envelope seals of both looked more crinkled than I thought they should be, as though it was steamed off and resealed. That could just be age, though, or perhaps Ange resealed them herself.

I’ve read both letters. In the first, Marne speaks about hearing the bizarre transmission too, and says that the recording of it Ange sent her is exactly what she remembers. She speculates, in that letter, that Kosmos I-44 is the call sign of the craft, and likewise says that that doesn’t make sense. Ange must have sent her both the recording of Kosmos I-44’s last transmission, and the one Ange made of the code on The Buzzer, as Marne talks about trying to crack the cypher.

The second letter doesn’t carry on with this speculation or attempts to decode the message. In that letter, Marne describes very similar things to what Ange does. She talks about her husband reporting she’s started speaking Russian in her sleep, about her growing fear and worry, and about hearing the Kosmos I-44’s transmission in the static of her radio. Marne writes at length about being scared for her family, and wondering whether she should run away from them. She begs Ange to write back, as Ange is the only one who might understand.

I doubt Ange did write back, seeing as how she doesn’t seem to have even opened the letters. Again, I go back and forth on this, though reading Marne describe the same things was spooky as hell. A shared delusion? Or a common experience?

Marne’s return address now belongs to another family. Like I said, I live near where she did in Bristol. I knocked on the door, hoping just maybe I’d get to talk to Marne about it all. The man who lives there now had no idea who I was talking about. He says he bought the house a few years before, and it wasn’t from anyone with Marne’s name. The purchase history of the house supports this: it’s changed hands 3 times since the mid-1980s.

I didn’t give up after that, but finding Marne proved a really tough task. While I was searching, looking for leads, I couldn’t get the rest of the story out of my head. That scared me – made me worried I may go the same way into obsession as Ange did. But it didn’t stop me looking and looking for anything I could find.

Thing I’ve found, trying to look into all of this stuff, is that there are deep pockets of very sparse evidence and claims that can’t be substantiated in this history.

If Ange’s recording exists, it won’t be the first radio transmission said to be from a lost cosmonaut. Ange mentions the recordings made by the Italian Judica-Cordiglia brothers in the early 1960s, particularly the one Ange dismisses as a hoax of the lost female cosmonaut in 1963, which you can listen to here.

The deeper I dug into the backstory of these brothers’ recordings, the more conflicting the accounts became. I have only been able to listen to a few of them, as trying to find the others led me on a fruitless search to dead links. Again, I’m no expert and I can’t tell myself if the accent in that female cosmonaut recording is Italian, but I largely agree with Ange on this – I think it’s faked. Largely just because of Occam’s Razor: two brothers, with a conflicting backstory, manage to be the only people who record 9 different transmissions from the Soviet space program (despite US intelligence paying close attention in the Space Race)… and the transmissions each don’t quite make sense.

The one that gave me more pause is the supposed recording of Vladimir Komarov’s final words soon before the Soyuz 1 crashed into Earth and burned up in 1967. This one gets me more, as, unlike the unknown “female cosmonaut” or Ange’s unknown male one, Komarov is a named real person, and he really did die on that craft.

The general and heavily debated story is that Komarov knew he was going up in a faulty spacecraft, and he spent his last words angry and accusing the powers that were of sending him up in a botched ship to die. It’s a good story, but it is discounted by historians, and these words are not in the “official” transcript of Komarov’s communications with the ground.

What gets me so much about this one, is that while the story of him cursing out the Soviet Union’s authorities is said to originate from man who heard it while he was at a US military base in Turkey, there is no provenance for the audio recording itself. I cannot find anything that says the recording was released by the US military, or otherwise leaked from their records. I can’t find any claim about who recorded it or released the audio at all. Any talk of this story, or refutation of it, focuses only on something being overheard at this base in Turkey, and doesn’t mention the recording we can listen to of it. It’s as though all the debate about Komarov’s last words just conveniently pretends the recoding doesn’t exist – they don’t even call it out specifically as a hoax.

So I don’t know about that recording either. What can’t be dismissed, however, is that the 3 test flights of the Soyuz ship prior to sending it manned all failed badly. I find this clearly damning: there was no successful flight before it was deemed ready to be manned. Komarov was not only a pilot, but an aerospace engineer, and whether or not he knew of all the individual faults on the ship beforehand, he would likely have known the Soyuz had not had a successful test flight before he climbed aboard. It is true that the ship ran into serious issue after serious issue during his flight, which Komarov overcame, until he couldn’t anymore. I wouldn’t blame him, in those last moments, for being furious.

So I do believe, though in this instance it just sounds an unintentional disaster due to being negligent and hasty, that the Soviet space program did send at least one cosmonaut to die. However even this I don’t understand. In 1967, the Soviet Union was technological years ahead of the United States in space exploration. They had first after first and success after success under their belts, their number of successes outweighing the USA’s.

Why would they rush the Soyuz 1 so badly that it was this botched? From what we know, this was the first truly rushed, embarrassing, horrible, and predictable failure in their program. Or, and I delve into conspiracy here, is this just the first predictable cosmonaut death that is known about? Were there more before or since?

I don’t know, and trying to find more information about this or lost cosmonauts is the expected black hole muddle of potential hoax, conspiracy, and official transcripts I can’t honestly say I fully believe to not be doctored.

That rabbit hole dried up for me, but I did, eventually, find Marne’s son. Searching her name led me to a gravestone. She died in 1985, and was survived by her son, husband, and daughter. I followed names, messaged anyone with those names I could find, and eventually landed on a LinkedIn profile for a man who turned out to be her son.

I sent him an email, not knowing when I did that I’d found the right person, explaining why I was contacting him. Thankfully, he responded, and he wanted to hear more. I’ll call him “John” for anonymity.

Since he was a little kid, John lived with the knowledge that his mother had hung herself in a hotel room. He’s swayed by Ange’s conspiracy less even than I am, but he was interested in hearing this different view of the events prior to his mother’s death. I met with him, I showed him the journal and his mother’s letters, and he said he had the tape my Aunt Ange sent his mother.

I’ve got to say, his story feels the greatest tragedy out of all of this. His dad didn’t want to keep any of Marne’s radio things after she passed. Her son, being the younger of the siblings and less resentful of Marne and what had appeared her growing madness, had grabbed some of her tapes before his dad could throw them out.

I have the tape now. John gave it to me. He says he doesn’t want to listen to it, and never has. As a young boy he watched his mother descend into paranoia, then take off without word one day. She never came back. On the cassette he handed me, written onto a piece of masking tape, is “Never, ever, listen to this. Do not become like us.” Below that is Aunt Ange’s writing, labelling the tape as “Distress Transmission + Buzzer Coded Message”. John followed his mother’s order, though he kept the tape.

It’s a tale far too similar to Ange’s, even down to what John says about her worrying over phone taps and people watching the house. Marne heard that live transmission too, and her death, a year after Ange’s, is also ruled a suicide.

I know that having this tape means I can easily go further to proving or disproving this story. This is where I’m stuck, on Schrödinger’s cassette tape. I can listen to it, but at what risk? Both Marne and Ange believed the recording, not just the live transmission, of Kosmos I-44’s distress call can affect you the same way they were. Without being able to find Ange’s friend, who translated the recordings, I can’t confirm whether or not he too experienced what they did. And if I release the recording, for anyone to listen to, would I be proving the story as true, by hurting other people?

I know this is probably a very disappointing end to this story, having the tape but not being able to tell you what’s on it. It sends me back to talking only about questions or suppositions.

I have no idea who the Scandinavian man who also heard the last transmission of Kosmos I-44 is. I don’t know what happened to them. I still haven’t found anything, at all, online about this mission, and haven’t found anything I don’t suspect is rubbish about Soviet mind control experiments.

So, I suppose, I’ll end on last thoughts about the Duga radar that created this Woodpecker sound – that Ange says was louder on the 27th of August, and weirdly continuous until it suddenly dropped out at the end of the distress transmission.

The Woodpecker was last heard in 1989. There were two Duga radars, not including the test one. Duga 2 was in Siberia. Duga 1 was in the Ukraine, with the receiver in a secret military town in the woods called Chernobyl-2, right nearby the Chernobyl power plant. There is a theory building it there allowed it to make use of the nuclear reactors for the enormous amounts of power Duga 1 required. Today, the rusting remains of the massive Duga 1 receivers sit inside the nuclear radiation Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl disaster site.

What surprised me to learn, wasn’t just that it seems The Woodpecker was still audible on the radio after the Chernobyl Disaster, but that the Chernobyl Power Plant was still operational right up until the year 2000, using the reactors that weren’t blown up or burnt down. There were still workers going into this radiation zone for over 10 years after the 1986 disaster.

Chernobyl-2 is now a ghost town and was evacuated after the Chernobyl Disaster. But it still took into 1987 for Duga 1 to be shut down. And that was after US-KS satellite technology could take over its over-the-horizon radar role in detecting incoming missile strikes.

Ange wondered whether the Duga radars played a role in space exploration. I wonder why The Woodpecker was kept going even after the radars were sufficiently superseded by new technology, and one became a hotbed of radiation from the Chernobyl Disaster.

I haven’t cracked the code provided over The Buzzer’s station, though I’ve tried until my eyes roll simply at trying to recognise the complex Russian Cyrillic alphabet. If anyone else can, please let me know.

And if you want to listen to shortwave radio, you can do it online here. You’ll find The Buzzer at 4625kHz. It seems recently, and perhaps in response to the current brewing Ukraine conflict, trolls have made themselves known on the frequency.

Author’s Note

This is of course fiction inspired by reality. For a long time, I had “Duga Radars”, “Buzzer”, “lost cosmonaut conspiracy”, and “woke up speaking in sleep” written in my ideas notes – the last one because I woke up following what I think was a nap weirdly aware I was talking, feeling my mouth move and sound come out, with no knowledge of what I was saying in my sleep. The Duga Radar Wikipedia page actually sat open in a tab on my computer for perhaps about three years, with me having no idea what to do with that rabbit hole.

Then I went to work one day, interested in finally doing some story about shortwave radio, and was talking to a co-worker about it. Talking about it aloud, as it got dark around us, piled each of these different ideas together into one story, and for the first time in a while, I got excited about writing this sort of thing again.

I put a lot of research time into this story, trying to make sure I was accurate about the real stuff. I’m no engineer, space buff, or amateur radio enthusiast – and only a curious person rather than historian – so if I’m wrong anywhere, please feel free to point it out!


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