Signal to Noise


christian_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Signal To Noise
Synopsis Two strangers intrude on private construction property in Harlem, and establish the beginnings of a common hobby: ham radio networking. Coincidentally, one happens to be an imported Federal Agent, the other a categorical terrorist.
Date November 4, 2008


Harlem stretches from the East River all the way to the Hudson, miles of tpacked residential districts filled with refugees and vagrants, a neighborhood stricken with crime and poverty. Harlem was, and has been for generations, one of the urban hearts of New York City. Before the bomb, this borough of Manhattan was the center of the Afircan American community in New York City. Now after the destruction of Midtown and the wake of social devastation brought in by the bomb, the borough has seen better days. Much of Harlem suffers from the same plight as much of New York — Overpopulation and crime in the wake of the collapse of infrastructure in 2006. With major traffic arteries cut off, power and water only recently restored, the area was in chaos for those first few terrifying weeks after the blast.

Before the bomb, Harlem had been shaping up, cleaning up its crime rate and working towards becoming a safe place for its residents. All of that hard work was laid to waste in a single night. Many of the buildings on the southern side of the neighrhood bordering on Central Park were gutted by arson in the chaotic weeks following the bomb, and the vast majority of them haven't been torn down yet, leaving the southern edge of the neighborhood a burned out and dangerous ruin. Even if it wasn't for the fires, the looting, vandalism and crime that spiked shortly after the bomb only made things worse for the Harlem residents, followed by the electricity and water stoppage from the damage done to the city's infrastructure.

With the major highways mostly repaired, Harlem is in a process of reconstruction and revitalization. Most of the neighborhood's historic landmarks still remain, and the region surrounding 125th street continues to be the urban pulse of Harlem as a whole, and from that street it's hard to tell anything has changes. It is the center of the reconstruction movement, constantly packed with repair crews, construction workers and mainetance teams.

Twelve AM on the Western edge of Harlem, and the pulse of life through the arteries of Harlem have slowed to a sluggish pace without surrendering entirely to silence. Squad cars continue to patrol the streets, hustlers and hookers trading off street corners with the few miserable pushers still forced by economic deprivation to keep their business outdoors instead of retreating to the relative warmth and merchandise security of their latch-locked apartments. Past sundown, the pickpockets have given way entirely to thieves who carry knives and guns.

'Illegal stuff.' The sort of neighborhood the tour guides at Columbia and Barnard tell you to stay out of, footnoted with a sideways murmur that it may be all right if you take a cab straight to Rapture, but the sprawling nightclub marks one of the very few places safe for an ordinary citizen to go. The skyline is skeletal here. Partially-completed construction work stands about in rebar naked of masonry, chained and walled off from public access but nevertheless perpetually victim to graffiti and hobo urine.

You can kind of tell what some of the buildings are eventually supposed to be like, though. Teo's currently standing on a bank. What will someday be a bank. It's huge, squat, a gargoyle of an establishment crouched ill-temperedly over the street bend. You get all kinds of things up here. A view of the starred sky, the distant, snaggletoothed silhouette of midtown's ruins, a sense of safety derived from the probability no one else would be stupid enough to navigate their way up the cranes and temporary elevator shafts.

Radio waves, too, but he doesn't think about that except to make sure, now and then, that he still has cellphone resemblence. He perambulates along the fifth floor and stops before he steps over the edge, craning his head around. A half-finished bottle of ale in his hand, an old Sicilian soccer chant in the back of his throat, .45 jammed in his pants underneath half a dozen layer of winter clothes.

Down through the gears, fourth, third, second. A stiff squeeze for the front brakes, and a swift shift in position to ease more weight foreward. He comes down off the pegs, sitting for once only as he pegs the rear brake. The rear knobby squeals in distress, locked and entirely devoid of traction. Then a subtle shift left, before pulling his weight down onto the right. The tall, lean Husqvarna quickly comes stable as the rear swishes neatly to one side in an apparent prelude to some sort've crash. What probably makes it to the bank first, isnt the sound of tires nor the sight of a sliding bike its likely that engine note. A wicked, guttural noise screamed out above the hiss and din of the city's night life. Smoke erupts in a neat rip curl as the rear tire finds power, spinning now hard enough to shift the bike's course round a corner and down the street Christian wanted. That long front suspension never quite lets the front wheel loose contact with the asphalt, but the shift in the bike's weight is immediately evident even at range.

Smoothly he eases the bike down, its rider rising to the pegs again as he gives a skyward glance towards the old bank. He rides past, checking things out before pinning the rear brake and whipping the bike in a quick low speed pivot. Then its up over the curb, and against the wall. Christian kills the motor quickly, before dismounting and deciding to simply leave the bike leaned up against the building rather than fiddle with the bike's rather anemic kickstand. After a quick glance over, he's off the sidewalk and into the building proper in search for the fastest way up.

Well that was loud as fuck. Teo halts an inch from the wuthering drop and turns his head a moment before he remembers to take a step back, trying to follow the wind-warped noise to its direction of origin. Below, certainly. Cardinal direction iiis— he rotates several times on his feet, trying to exploit the 'dark' buffer his own big dense boy-skull provides and the Doppler distortion of the northerlies— West. Curiosity draws him across the dusty floor.

Paranoia stops him a moment before he peers over the edge. Not that he's afraid of falling, mind you. No, merely unwilling to inconvenience himself with an arrest, or otherwise, a two-hundred pound security manager slapping him upside the head with an industrial steel flashlight. He scowls at nothing for a protracted moment, scratching his stubbled chin. Comes to a decision some two seconds later, pulling his hood up over his head, tightening it.

He creeps toward the elevator shaft and finds a pillar to spectate from behind, fingers tight on his ale bottle.

They don't typically have intact staircases on the first levels of these things, and hell this joint aint no different really. It takes Chris a moment before he finds the right spot, and then with a leap he snags a thick steel bar meant to secure a small ladder and allow access to the second level. Once he's pulled himself on up, he pauses to give a sniffle and proceed up without so much as a blink at the apparent effort. You see normally a person might baulk at the concept of free climbing up an elevator shaft, but Chris has important work. He has nerdity.

Still dressed as he is, and still wearing all his gear to boot its tough to confuse the big feller for a cop. Two floors up, he finds what he's really after and slips back out've the shaft proper to jog to an exposed scaffolding that grants access finally a far easier avenue of ascent.

In Sicilian, most insults the equivalents of the English bastard, asshole, fuckwit, so on, pretty much constitute a bank of interchangeable words your mom would wash your mouth out with gasoline for bringing to the table, indiscriminate annoyance and criticism. Thus, it's no real mark against Christian's character when Teo's brain hurls the whole bucket of them in his direction, when he realizes that this man's not just going to crawl the ground floor and distastefully shine beams of light up around and through the columns that effectively constitute the project's rectum, but he's going to come up.

Merda. Teo can't be sure if this isn't a spectacularly fastidious rent cop or a suicidal parkour artist. His thoughts completely evacuated from their earlier, more personal subject matter, he scuttles rapidly away from his column. Huddles down behind a few stacked crates of dowels and cabling.

It doesn't take too long, two maybe three minutes and then Teo aint exactly alone anymore. Christian pauses for a moment, exhaling coolly and working his hands a few times before he unfastens the velcro at his sleeves and neatly doffs his gloves. His helmet doesn't take too much longer, but this is a casual affair at best. Still he doesnt really give the entire place a careful study, he instead opts to set up shop largely where he finds himself. Taking a knee to tuck his gloves in his helmet, and set the mess aside before doffing that satchel of his.

Your standard two meter radio outfit was one of the large whole desk affairs that required a huge masted antenna on top of the house, but his positively teensy Elecraft was something of a freak device. Nots no larger than an 80's era cellphone, and its antenna is instead a 40ft reel of copper wire he simply throws over the side of the building. It comes to life with the softest of hisses, A hurried tweaking of knobs however immediately locates signal. Morse tones, coming in with a rapidity that's entirely too fast for any novice to keep up with.

That much noise implies equipment management. The kind that indicates, at least to one who's reasonably used to skulking around where he's not supposed to, that the person making all that ruckus is probably a little too distracted to notice if he's spared a moment's staring at from around a box of random shit. Thus, it's either scintillating logic or stupefying relief that this ain't a cop that gets the better of Teo after a half-beat's waiting; he cranes his head around a plywood corner.


That doesn't help, not really; he seriously doubts that this arcane image of wire and handheld contraption could be blamed on dust or scratch artefacts on his corneas. His brow furrows. He tilts his head, his right eye goes rounder than his left, grip still white-knuckled on his beverage. "Excuse me," he calls out. "Are you from the future?"

Now supposedly, Mr.Shark is supposed to be ever vigilant and some shit. Well, whatever. "Lord almighty son."His voice is -low- and as sufficiently southern for one to expect a wad of tobacco to be involved somewhere along the line. Smoothly he draws back from a crouch,to a seated position. Its not that he's comfortable with Teo sort've going all Ninja on him, rather its to get himself properly situated so Teo wont see the hand on his revolver."I don't rightly reckon ya'll care'te identifer ya'll self eh?"

.-...-….—-.-.-.-. goes the little radio, in the meantime.

The crouch resembles the one that Teo's in closely enough that he doesn't mistake the posture for one of relaxation. Either that, or the question and the ambient paranoia are enough to prime him to expect that much. The half a head visible around the crates blinks. Watches Christian watch him, stray dogs separated by a half-broken fence and circumscribed by someone else's property. "Shouldn't take His name in vain," Teo offers, after a moment. "I'm a student over at Columbia, amico.

"Just fucking around. Needed time to think." He'd almost assume some sort of demolitions were involved, if he didn't dimly recognize the absence of an immediate payload and the certainty that he'd only discover a truth like that once it sends a fireball into the sky somewhere on the horizon. "Teo. Like the fucked up Beetlejuice song, they tell me. You?"

He rises slowly, that hand sliding off his holstered iron but he stays bladed up and ready. "I ain't the type to reckon he much cares for the little shit, when he lets the big shit slide."He snorts and half turns to spit before he's sufficiently prepared to properly deal with Teo. "I'm Christian, I reckon its a right pleasure then Teo." His body posture slowly shifts before stepping forward to offer his outstretched hand. "I ain't never heard no Beetlejuice, and I take to mean that ya'll ain't rightly legal neither?"

He ain't much for people really, he was really more pleased when he thought he was alone but well that's not gonna happen now so instead its time to interrogate this guy. "I came up 'ere for the reception, Teo what brings ya'll."

"In New York? Passport, stamped, in the database, everything. Up here? 'Bout as much so as you are." As nebulous answers go, not very. There's little doubt in Teo's mind that this man's aware that neither of them are supposed to be up here, in the armpit of the evening and the yawning maw of Heaven of New York. He'd only swiveled the briefest glance to follow the glob of spit Christian had sent after the facetious notion of facetious appeals. Takes no offense, really.

He has no business taking offense, given it's one that he perpetrates semi-frequently, himself. He watches the man move his arms and straighten, reconfigure his posture into something that looks a little less ready to rip his head off. Decides, after a moment, to reciprocate, unfolding himself to his full six feet's height.

He lopes over casually, tracking his shoeprints across the dust, meeting Christian more than halfway; shakes hands. "Doing some thinking. Alone. I'm serious," he adds, realizing that must sound like bullshit to anybody who doesn't normally climb inchoate skyscrapers to seek solitude. Most people don't so much seek solitude period. He offers proof in the bottle: raises it so Christian can see, the meniscus seesaws haphazardly well below the halfway point. He motions at the corded antennae with his jaw and offers a compliment: "That's fucking on."

His handshake is warm and firm, but certain care is indeed to be polite rather than attempt to squeeze Teo's hand in half. He reckons if Teo was going to do something, he'd have done it by now so he cools down just a little. "I reckon it is."he offers, fwumping back down next to his radio as it beeps softly away. "I'm tryna key on in."he explains, before he returns to working on wiring up that clacker. "Its something of a big deal to have proof you've keyed in from all fifty states, now I aint the type to really favor such mess but this place aint good fer much else."he pauses to produce a notepad from his bag. "I really favor all this low power stuff, ain't many fellers who can figger out half this shit without the big lazy sorta rigs."

He casts a glance up at Teo, sort've an invitation to sit if he should feel so inclined. Then, he gets right to work during a break. Between the tones he cuts in with a rapid clickity-clack of his clacker, there's a short response and then he starts clacking out the Morse in true form. "Ain't nowhere else to get the signal where I want it, not without using a bigger rig'n all ya see?"

Definite interest sharpens Teodoro's eyes, visible in the distant lights from the ground as well as the waxing crescent moon. He peers at the notepad, then back at the copper tongue lolling off the edge of the floor. Almost startles when Christian begins to manually encode his own code segments, adding it to the clackety-clack until the stream seems continuous, almost at times a sussuration to his ordinary human hearing. He dawdles over next to the older man, holds his bottle up and out as he drops onto his butt, nozzle pointed away to minimize the possibility of spills.

"I see," he says, nodding his head like an acolyte. It doesn't sound like the mere lipservice that such an introduction might otherwise get out of a errant young drunkard. No, Christian's words aren't merely going in one ear and out the other. "But what are you receiving? I mean, if you don't mind." He swallows ale, then gestures at the handheld. "This isn't, um, 98.7 FM Radio or something, no?" If so, he's not altogether certain Christian understands the aesthetic principle of music.

He loves him some music, honest as long as its bluegrass. "Right now…" he stops… and just listens. "Some feller in North Dakota is tellin' me my signal keyed in alright, its apparently a little scratchy though." He glances up at Teo, not using that notepad yet. "It's a ham radio network, whole bunch of guys who think radio communications are really cool the world over. Sometimes its just a place to talk, been chattin' like this back in the twenties ya know?"he leans back some, and adjusts the frequency. Instantly the sound changes from the high tone, high speed beeps to a far softer one. The speed is slower too, and at times it comes and goes. Coming on stronger for awhile, before falling almost silent soon after. The words Christian is writing however, are not English. Strung together, with only occasional breaks is Italian. "I been listenin' to this one fer awhile."he notes, never pausing as he records the Morse into actual letters. After a bit he pauses, the signal's repeating. "There's that then." Before offering the notebook up to Teo… "Ya'll make any sense of it?"

"Shit," Teo says, succinctly, considering this revelation with a distinct sense of amusement. "Whole subcultures of people you never hear about. Makes a man wonder how much he never gets to learn before death or lack of talent catches him to him. That's fucking excellent.

"Since the twenties? The world over?" Unbidden, his thoughts start on an inward spiral, the academic in him undertaking the literary theory, and the temperamental Italian resurrecting almost irrelevant grudges— he stops that with effort, reminding himself of the floor underneath, the company nearby, and watches as someone begins turning their lights off in the apartment building two streets away. Windows go yellow to black, like somebody's knocking a cartoon's teeth in. He grins. "Nice survivalist trick, maybe? And I guess—

"That's one way to thwart cosmic isolation." He falls silent as Christian finally uncovers the notepad and begins lettering out of code, translating as fast as only fluent understanding and long practice could allow. Teo speaks enough languages to recognize that when it's there. Blue eyes blink quartz in the dark— he recognizes that, too. What Christian's scribbling. The verse.

"Hosea 12:4," he states, at length. "Jacob wrestles God. He's crippled for life, but ultimately wins the blessing he demands. Where'd you learn to do this? I should make more friends in the engineering school."

"Yeah," he responds plainly, turning off the radio as Teo speaks. "Yeah there's recordings of people back in world war two tryna tell the world about the holocaust, but signals were really primitive then. It took a powerful transmitter, and a big antenna to send or receive across the oceans. We didnt really understand the science, everyone was still sort've stumbling around in the dark."He sniffles some, calmly rolling the antenna up. "Its big with emergency nuts anyway, but ya know to use something like this you really need to be using Morse on a frequent basis." Then the clacker begins to come off, packing up shop.

"I learned from a book in the library, took a few years till I could read Morse without tryna write it all out and decode it afterward. When I was a boy we didn't have no money for a TV, and shit I didnt leave the county till I was fourteen. So I got into building radios, ya know at first just for music. We didn't have no records or nothin', so that's where I really first heard music. Then when I was a little older my pop and I built a more powerful rig, used to run it off a tractor battery. I heard the Shortwave then, I heard the BBC world service late one night when I was tryna stay up to watch shootin' stars. "he sniffles, tucking the radio in his satchel. "really changed my life, really made me understand that the world didn't end at the county line. Anyway.."he holds his hand out in trade, his card for his notebook. "My batteries are dying."

Though rapt while Christian speaks, Teo winds up staring at the written verse fragment for a moment that might be a moment too long, transcending a casual conversational lull into something that might be interpreted as rude or awkward, eyes straining, contemplative. His head snaps upright the next moment, expression apologetic. He returns the notebook and takes the card under a cold, callused thumb, studies it out of one eye while he downs rest of his drink, abruptly remembering he's holding it.

"I think that's recommended reading after my fucking midterms are over," he says. When he curses, his inflection is oddly without emphasis; a salute back either to his home culture or his own particular home subculture. "You still remember the book title? Or other good ones?" He palms the slip of paper, tucks it into his pocket even as he stands up, awkwardly but recklessly unmindful, as ever, of the nearby peril of a five-story fall.

"I think I had that revelation when I was seventeen," he adds after a moment. Realizing there was more out there, he means. He grins, coyote-bright. Turns up a hand, offering to help with the equipment— though he sincerely doubts Christian would want or need him anywhere near it. "Late bloomer, I guess. Any reason why you're writing down Italian Bible verses 'stead of tuning in to the election or something like that?"

"Christian Einliter, Federal Communications Commission." A fucking Fed, it was easier to cover his activities if his supposed occupation gave him cause to be quite as nosy as he was. "It aint worth my time, if its easy. How much time you spend readin' children's books?" He shrugs, smiling in his own little way. Rising finally and fetching the rest of his gear. "Anyway I reckon I need to turn in, why don't ya'll gimmie a ring some time though right? Ya'll just became the first person I ever met in New York." He didn't seem hurried or nothing, but he did seem tired. "I got more'n a couple of manuals on Morse, and I'm a licensed examiner and instructor. If ya'll are serious, ring me and we'll make sure you get licensed proper so you can start learnin' bout the world." And with that, Christian checks out. There's no grand exit, no long goodbye. He's just, off down the same way he came.

November 3rd: Out of the Fire, Into the Doghouse
November 4th: Exercises in Apolitical Prejudice
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