Language Without Words



Scene Title Language Without Words
Synopsis Elaine Darrow attends a mysterious meeting and receives a curious request.
Date March 2, 2021

The text message had been simple.

From a phone number she didn’t recognize.

Without any sign-off from the sender.

I need your help.

Just four words, an address, and a time.

Elaine Darrow had gotten some strange messages in her time, so the message isn't entirely off-putting. While most of her work tended to be direct and above board, her set of skills had put her in a unique position during the war. From time to time, people she'd met reached out, friends of friends, asking for things that were incredibly simple for her to do. She always liked being useful, even if it didn't seem like much work. It was rarely a challenge.

Usually, though, there was some kind of indicator of who it was or at least where they'd caught wind of her. This was entirely different. Not only was it from an unknown source, it wasn't a request. It was a statement of fact.

Nite Owl Diner
7:52 pm
March 2, 2021

Entering the diner just before the appointed hour, Elaine Darrow stares at rows of occupied booths, many host to groups of three or four, some to couples, but only one granted to a singular diner. He’s a man with brown hair coiffed just so, his suit a shade of understated slate green, accented with a silver satin pocket square. Tungsten wireframe glasses adorn his face, the faintly tinted lenses just obscuring the color of his eyes.

If that doesn’t look like the sort of person to call a clandestine meeting, she can’t imagine who does. No one else seems to take any notice of entrance, beyond a waitress who greets her with a smile and tells her it’ll be about a ten minute wait if she’s looking for a table. The man lifts his chin, and Elaine can feel his eyes looking in her direction.

With a slightly raised eyebrow, her attention rests on the solo diner. She doesn't approach initially, a quick glance around the other patrons to make sure that no one else seemed like they were looking for her. Satisfied that the man is clearly the one she's looking for, Elaine makes her way towards the table. A well-pressed pantsuit of gray and lavender makes it fairly clear she hadn't bothered to change from what she wore to work. It makes the meeting feel a little more professional to her as it seemed to her as if the text wasn't someone asking for a personal favor.

The redhead offers a smile in his direction as she comes to a stop in front of the booth, casting her attention fully on the man there. "Sorry to bother you, were you waiting for someone?" After all, clandestine meetings could easily turn into an awkward misunderstanding.

Elaine’s query is met with confusion by the man. Now that she’s closer, she can see that he’s somewhere between his late thirties to mid-forties. HIs suit is as impeccable up close as it looks from a distance, a dark wool coat carefully folded in the booth beside him. On the table before him, apart from an untouched cup of coffee, is a newspaper with a pencil atop it, the number puzzle on the back part way to being filled out.

The diner looks up with mild surprise, having more or less ignored her approach until it was quite clear he was her intended target. “I am, as it happens.” He smiles, a knife-sharp thing that makes no attempt to slip between her ribs. “Ah, please forgive my manners.” He stands up from the booth and gestures to the unoccupied side. “Please, have a seat.” That smile becomes rueful, accompanied by a shake of his head. “I must apologize for not recognizing you immediately, but I’ve only seen you in black and white. I thought you would have brown hair. The red — striking as it is — was unexpected. I should have greeted you sooner.”

"Black and white," Elaine muses, carefully sliding into the booth and settling in before she notes the newspaper and its unfinished puzzle. "I was about to ask how strange it would be to see me in black and white somewhere, but I'm assuming it must be something from a news article. I sometimes forget that some people still enjoy reading their news and information not on a screen. I clearly need to get out of Yamagato Park more."

Her demeanor, while cheerful and friendly enough, shifts just slightly as she observes him across the table. "Your message seemed… dire?"

“I’m still fond of anachronistic things, I suppose. Someone has to keep the print industry alive.” His smile is thin, but without strain. While it’s all smalltalk, it seems to be something he doesn’t see as an annoying formality, even if it may well be prelude to what’s truly important.

When Elaine cuts to the heart of things, he takes off his glasses and slides them across the table. “Have you seen these before? State of the art. They can tell you everything from what your schedule looks like for the day, to the weather, news updates, your messages…” Again, he gestures. “Give them a try.”

"Even in a world of technology, paper has its benefits," Elaine notes with a nod towards the puzzle before she reaches over to take the glasses. She seems curious, squinting at them for a moment as she picks them up, turning them over briefly in her fingertips before opening the arms of the glasses and putting them on.

"Technology is a marvel, isn't it?"

She has a hunch the glasses aren't just there to be a pretty example of the cutting edge of futuristic fashion and convenience.

And she’d be right.

Hello, Elaine Darrow.

The message appears in her field of vision, while somehow not obstructing it. The text is purple, and follows the movements of Elaine’s eyes, never quite being left to languish in her periphery.

Thank you for meeting on such short notice.
I’m sorry for the clandestine nature of all this, but I don’t know who I can trust.

Can I trust you, Elaine?

Elaine's gaze rests casually on the man sharing her booth, but her attention is on what she sees. "I think people have found me trustworthy over the years. I have to say I'm intrigued, although I admit this feels more like something out of a Bond movie than I'm used to dealing with."

She flashes a smile across to the man. "Why, it's even got the weather."

The man’s eyes crinkle at the corners with genuine amusement, and not at her expense. “You’re very good,” he commends. “I have to give most people the equivalent of the stop touching your ear talk when they put a pair of those on for the first time.” He leans back in the booth, draping one arm across the back of it casually. They’re just having a conversation. “They’re quite handy, aren’t they? I know I said I enjoy anachronistic things, but I can’t deny that all of this future tech has its benefits.” He gives her a nod. “Just keep talking with me.”

I hoped you would be. Someone close to us both placed their trust in you,

The letters almost seem to stutter for a moment, a small visual glitch. Perhaps the technology isn’t perfected yet.

and I’m inclined to trust their judgement.
The man across from you has no clue what I’m saying to you. I’d prefer if it can remain this way, but he was also chosen for this task based on his own trustworthiness.
Although his is bought.
If yours has a price as well, you need but name it, and it’s yours.

"Technology tends to be expensive," the redhead replies, a slight gesture up towards the glasses. "But I can't say money's ever something I've focused on too much. For me, things have always been about purpose, passion, putting one's self into what one does." She flashes a smile across the table. "Clearly the people creating things like this put a lot of themselves into it. I bet for them it's not even just a simple piece of technology."

I understand what was seen in you.
I think what I have to propose might help fulfill your sense of purpose.

There’s a knowing smile from the man across the table, like he understands they must be discussing the topic of compensation - his or otherwise. “You’ve got the right idea,” he tells her instead. “You’re something of a dying breed.” He holds up one hand quickly as if to say no threat intended. Like maybe he’s the type to engage in that sort of double-speak.

I want to build a language. Something new. Without words. I need something that can only be broken by a single cipher. One that can be changed.
Can you do this, Elaine Darrow?

"Call me an old soul. There are comforts money can bring, but if there's anything I've learned from life it's that sometimes you have to go with what you're most passionate about. If you put effort into that, you'll find a way to make things work," Elaine notes, though she pauses to think about what she's reading in the glasses in front of her.

"I've always liked puzzles," she gestures to the newspaper. "Something about how there's a specific word that fits in those boxes that only works in harmony with the others around it. That's the sort of thing that gets me up in the morning. It's always good to be passionate about what you're good at. I think there's a lot that I can do, I just haven't had the opportunity to spread my wings."

When Elaine looks down at the series of puzzles, she notices now that instead of traditional sudoku — which it is — the only numbers filled into the boxes are 1s and 0s. “You’re quite the intelligent woman,” the liaison between Elaine and this digital entity commends. “Probably smarter than most of us.”

I’d be delighted to see you soar.
Ask the man if he managed to repair your old phone.

The puzzle reads: 01110100 00110001

"I think everyone has the potential to be intelligent, it's just a matter of finding what you're good at," the redhead replies, shifting slightly in her seat. "I just feel like I've found what I'm good at a lot faster than most." Elaine's eyes scan over the puzzle for a moment, raising an eyebrow before she lets her gaze rest on the man once more. "I meant to ask… did you manage to repair my old phone?" The smile seems genuine. It doesn't seem to faze her too much to play along with the multiple layers of conversation at once.

“Lucky you,” he responds without bitterness. From within the fold of his coat he retrieves the absolutely indestructible brick of a Nokia phone and sets it down in front of Elaine. “I did,” he confirms, then checks his watch — an analogue thing. “Sorry to run out on you, but I have another appointment to keep.” He peels out a pair of fifties and leaves them on the table. “Stay as long as you want.” He pats the bills before gathering his coat, pulling it on, and departing after another polite nod.

Look to your left, next to the sugar packets.

Next to the container is a small black case that contains an earpiece.

I’m afraid I currently cannot hear you. Put that in, enter 81* on the keypad, turn off the screen and put the phone into your pocket.
This will allow us to keep our voice link now that your liaison has left. You’ll simply look as though you’re speaking with a friend.

“No worries, it was a pleasure,” Elaine replies, giving a nod in his direction as a farewell. With that said, the earpiece is retrieved and the instructions are followed. With the device in her ear, she turns the screen off, and slides the phone into a pocket.

“Hello?” She tests. That and it at least looks like she’s answering a call.

Hello again, Elaine Darrow. It’s good to hear your voice more clearly.

For a moment, Elaine thinks she can see the image of a woman, small and distorted by scanlines, but with sparkling eyes and a kind, Mona Lisa sort of smile.

Give my proxy a few more moments headstart, then I’d like you to get up from your seat and leave the diner.
Follow the street west two blocks. There’s an apartment building, red brick with a black door. Let yourself inside, take the elevator up to the eighth floor and enter apartment 8-1.
Lock the door behind you. There, we can speak freely.

Are you willing to do this?

“I have to admit, this must be important. So yes, I’m more than willing. Consider me curious.”

Elaine relaxes in her seat for a short period of time, long enough, she feels, for it not to seem odd that she was also leaving. With a polite smile in the direction of the waitress, she makes her way to the door.

“I’ll see you shortly.”

The walk is uneventful. No ambush awaits. No dark SUVs waiting to throw her into the back seat and speed off. The only thing she gets is some side eye from a diner at the counter on the way out, apparently annoyed by the phone chatter.

The building has seen better days. There aren’t roaches, but wallpaper peels in the hallways, the stairwells could use a fresh coat of paint. The nail that should hold the top of the 8 on the apartment door has come away, leaving the number to hang upside down, but the door is open and there’s no one waiting inside.

Just a comfortable chair, a coffee table and a coffee maker that springs to life on the kitchen counter after the lock is engaged on the door.

The coffee’s a coincidence. I tried to guess when you’d arrive. There’s a limit to my reach.

Despite the communique being strictly in text, Elaine can almost hear the smile in the words.

I could have approached you myself. Made an appointment with you at the Yamagato Fellowship. I know you’re a public facing figure.
But it isn’t secure there. This is the best I can do.

You can call me T1siphone.
Or T1, if you prefer.


“The coffee is appreciated either way. The hospitality is nice,” Elaine notes before she settles down on the chair. “I never imagined I’d be in any sort of public facing position. It has certainly taken some time to get used to. But if secrecy is important, whatever makes you the most comfortable is best.”

She takes a moment to glance around the spectacularly uninteresting apartment, simply to have somewhere to direct her gaze other than just the text. The introduction gets a small smile. “T1… like the binary in the puzzle. Nice touch there.” The combination of numbers had been clear enough to her at just a glance.

“So you need a language of some sort, something difficult to crack with only a single cipher? That’s certainly an unusual request.”

I’m so glad that you think so.
I understand how much trust I’m asking of you and hope to be as hospitable as I can.
My intent is not to harm you, or to see you harmed.

Maybe that’s not the comfort it’s meant to be, but there’s something earnest in the message all the same.

On the counter next to the coffee is a grinder for beans, a vacuum sealed container sitting nearby with a label on it to indicate that it’s Elaine’s preferred brand and roast. When she’s ready for it, a sticky note on the side of the brewer reads fresh cream in the fridge.

Elaine recognizes the handwriting, but she can’t immediately place it.

Again, Elaine feels as though she can see the lineation of a woman. It flickers in her periphery, the lines that make up the form lacking the cohesion to stay together and move as one. Still, she gets the impression of a smile.

Yes. Like the binary.
You’re as perceptive as I hoped for.

I don’t have your skill.
I’ll let you in on a secret.

I’m not actually fluent in binary.

The coffee makes a quiet beep to signify it’s finished brewing and filling the small two cup carafe.

But I’m in danger, and the people I love and care for will be too if I try to reach out for help.
This is a risk I had to take. I hope that it’s paying off.

“Language is something used to portray meaning. Binary is just one not using letters. Not many people can just read it on sight, but my ability helps me learn and retain those languages in any form. If someone is trying to express something, there’s a good chance I’ll understand it. Even if it’s something I’ve never run across, it doesn’t take long.”

Elaine seems comfortable chatting even as she prepares the coffee. While it’s odd to chat with someone who doesn’t appear in the room, it doesn’t seem to bother her much as she opens the fridge to retrieve the cream. “I can understand wanting to protect yourself and those around you. I’m willing to help, but I need something from you to assure me I’m not just handing information over to someone who plans on using it for some kind of nefarious purposes.”

She pauses for a brief moment, pouring creamer into her mug. “And you have to understand that, while I can make you a strong cipher, I’ll always be able to understand it. And if someone has a similar ability to mine they might be able to, in time, learn it as well. The likelihood of that is low. I’ve never heard of anyone with anything similar to what I do.”

I wish I had more than my word and my money to give to you, Elaine Darrow.

But you’re right. I’ve never encountered anyone else like you either.
If I had, I wouldn’t have the need to attempt to contract someone on Yamagato’s payroll.

It shouldn’t be possible, but T1 somehow seems to convey some sense of amusement, even without the mysterious image present. Somehow, it’s as though the tone comes through the text alone. Or maybe that’s just Elaine’s gift at play. In some ways, it’s not unlike speaking with Jiba.

From you, I fear nothing.
You’re a good person.

You started at the Lighthouse,
but you became a beacon yourself.

You’ve always tried to do what’s right.
Even when it wasn’t easy.
You want to protect people.

T1siphone, whoever they are, has done their homework.

That’s what I want, too.

I haven’t always been good. I’ll tell you that secret, too.
People I care for are in danger.
Maybe people you care for as well, but I can’t say for certain.

In other words, it isn’t a threat leveled against the omnilinguist by the… Hacker? AI?

If you can think of something that would suffice to you as a show of good faith, name it.

I’ve never been in a profession that gives people much cause for trust.

In spite of all best intentions.

While stirring her coffee, it’s easy enough to miss the little details in the space with all the text to pay attention to, but T1’s pace is measured, considerate for the length of time someone might be required to read it. There are pauses. It’s in one of these pauses that Elaine finds her vision clear enough to drift to the note about the cream, and she sees something curious there.

On the paper is an imprint from the sheet above it, maybe two sheets. A previous note written by someone with a somewhat heavy hand. With the writing on this note, it’s hard to see what the one before it said. What is clear, however, is the decoration at the edges. Hearts of varying sizes and stars.

But not just any stars. These aren’t the typical intersecting lines drawn by a hurried hand. These are open stars with rounded points. It’s the sort of drawing that someone practices at to make so perfect.

And Elaine knows exactly who uses them as the tittles on their exclamation points. She’s seen it many times in her very own apartment.

Elaine gently blows on the hot coffee, sipping it just slightly to test the temperature before she replies to the text in front of her. "I'm pretty sure you just gave me your show of good faith, even if it might not seem like you did. You're honest, I don't think you're just feeding me a line to get me to help. No one is always good, but I always have respect for people who can recognize it in themselves. Life doesn't make easy paths for any of us."

She takes a slow sip of the coffee, then moves back to sit down. "I also have a deep respect for people taking care of their own. If you think I can honestly help protect those people you care about, I'm happy to help." She pauses. "Besides, this sounds like something that would be a fun challenge. I've done some dabbling in cryptology during the war, but nothing so complicated. It would be a delight to make something like that, even if no one's going to know I did it."

The digital countenance of T1siphone appears again in Elaine’s periphery. This time there’s no smile, just a confused furrow of brows, and then it’s gone again.

I’m glad you’re willing to assist me, Elaine.

I need a way to communicate with the others who would help me.
I need it to be indecipherable by those who would cause them harm.
I need it to be indecipherable by computer algorithm or other AI.

Is this possible? I believe it will save lives.
Not just our own, but lives of innocents. Uninvolved.
I took a vow once to protect people. It’s time I make good on that again.

“Tricking an AI when it comes to language is easier than you might think. It compares to languages it already knows, and it lacks the nuances that a human might pick up. It relies on a common pattern that it detects from what currently exists. If it has no database to draw from, it would certainly be something to confuse an AI.”

Elaine’s expression is one of intense concentration. She’s already thinking of the possibilities. “I think it might be possible. It would take me a little time to add layers to it to prevent any computer tampering. The more I can add to it, the harder it will be to crack, both by AI and people. If it would save lives… I’ll find a way to do it.”

It will. And I believe you’re very capable of this task if you say you are.
I merely didn’t want to assume the applications of your particular power, let alone your cooperation or participation.

There’s a pause that follows. If T1siphone were a flesh and blood person occupying space in this room, the dead air might seem companionable. Even a voice on a phone line would have the indication of a continued connection. The way this stretches on, it’s easy to wonder if Elaine’s been dismissed or if perhaps their link has been severed.

Finally, the glasses light up again.

In exactly 18 minutes, a cab will be at the curb to collect you.
It is safe to take this cab all the way back to the Cresting Wave, if you should want.
It can also take you anywhere else you may wish to go in the city.

To get in touch with me again, simply do what you did before.
Enter 81* on this phone and put on your glasses once you receive notification that the connection’s been established.
I try to answer promptly, but you know how life is.

"Understood," Elaine replies, glancing towards the door at the mention of a cab before she looks back to… well, given that she's not really talking with anyone in person, she looks in the vague direction of where she appears to be picturing T1siphone. "I'll be sure to keep in touch. Life's busy but we've all got our day-to-day lives on top of actually finding a way to deal with things a little less than ordinary."

She smiles, though she's not sure if that will come across in anything other than her voice. "I'll be in touch. And I'll be careful about it. While this is the first time I've done anything to this magnitude… it's not my first rodeo with taking care of messages and communications. I'll be safe."

Another ghost of a smile appears in Elaine’s periphery, disappearing almost as soon as it’s noticed.

Don’t take any unnecessary risks. I will monitor you as I am able. You aren’t alone.

And now, neither is T1.

There’s a quiet beep from the phone. Where the text once appeared, now the forecast sits for Elaine’s perusal.

True to the stranger’s word, a cab pulls up to the curb exactly when indicated. Elaine is greeted as Mrs. Smith and asked where she wants to go. This is going to be an interesting partnership indeed.

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