Morse Magicka

At the Red Dragon Club, Taminwe had something new to show him. Varulae's signal ball had given Uzgash an idea, and they'd been working on it while he was away. The espionage networks had been using them for secure communication for years, of course, but up to now thay'd only been used for simple information, like "come to Falkreath". The pair of balls would be lit steadily, and another pair had to be used for an acknowlegement signal.

Uzgash's idea was that they could send a flashing signal by covering the sending ball with an inverted tankard. "We played around with the idea for a while, and the best way to get a message across was to have a code of short and long flashes that represented a letter or number. With a few special codes, like one for the end of the message, so you'd know whose turn it was to send, we could handle quite complicated information," Taminwe told him.

"We asked Tar-Meena, at the University Archives, and it turns out that it's not entirely a new idea, and there was an existing code that was used with mirrors reflecting sunlight. We've started training some of the girls in the code, and we've made some improvements in the apparatus."

She took him into a room down the corridor, where Uzgash was working on the latest version of the signal device. There was a metal shroud around the ball, with an aperture in it that was covered by a shutter. When she pressed on a lever, the shutter was opened, and the light from a candle fell on the ball, and lit up the one on the other side of the table. When she let go, a spring closed the shutter, and the other ball darkened again. "Much faster and less effort than lifting a tankard, and you just leave the shutter closed when you're receiving a message, instead of having to leave the tankard over the candle. That usually makes the candle go out, if you're not careful."

Taminwe sat at the other end of the table from Uzgash and asked the reporter to write down a message for her to send. He did so, without showing it to Uzgash, and Taminwe began tapping on the lever on her apparatus. Uzgash watched the ball at her end, and wrote down the letters Taminwe was sending. When she'd finished, she had the same message to show him. A couple of letters were wrong, but the meaning wasn't lost. "If the spelling is important for a word, we have a code that lets us repeat it for confirmation. And really critical messages get sent back to make sure they arrived intact," Uzgash informed him.

"The only way you can intercept these messages is to steal the apparatus. The balls are enchanted together, and won't send to anywhere else. Mostly they're pairs, like these, but the mages tell me they can enchant a group so we could send out a broadcast message from one to all the others. I can't figure out how you'd have a conversation with more than two, though."

Taminwe had another detail for him. "The larger clear crystal balls can also be used to send messages, of course. You can write on a slate, and someone at the other end can read it. But it's much harder to find large pieces of clear crystal to make those, so they're expensive to produce. These can be made much more cheaply, so we can make a lot more of them."

He wondered aloud why they were telling him all this.

Taminwe informed him that he needed to learn the code. At least to be able to read a message straight from the flashing ball. Sending was not much harder to learn, but that came afterward. "And if you want to teach the code to Varulae and her sailors, that's fine. The code doesn't need to be secret. You don't need that with a secure link, and anyway it's possible to encrypt a message just like you could if it was to be carried written down. It's probably best if everyone who uses crystal balls this way uses the same code. That way we can recruit operators who are already trained in future!"

There was still something missing. Why him, and why now?

Taminwe explained. "We figure that this apparatus should be made and sold to the general public, so it's not regarded as being for spies only. We don't want our agents getting arrested just for having this stuff. So we need someone else to have a legitimate use for it. What use would whores and exotic dancers have for this?"

"What use would an author have for it?"

"I don't know about an author, but the manager of a brothel in the city, which is owned by the Count of Kvatch, might need it to communicate with the Count."

"So the Champion and I get our own link, and I have to be seen using it. And I assume the one at his end will need to be just as visible."

"We're thinking that you might even provide a public service to send messages between the Imperial City and Kvatch. If it catches on, extra apparatus takes over the public messages, and you and the Champion get your private link back."

"So you think it might develop into a messenging service that anyone could use? Just bring your message to an office in a city, and have it sent to another one. It would still need a local courier to deliver it," he mused.

"Oh, yes, and if yours is successful, a lot of others will copy it. And the existing courier services will be the first to adopt it, and cut down the horse traffic between the cities. The riders will be retrained on the apparatus, and just carry packages instead of letters. The Black Horse Courier will get all its incoming reports this way. They'll still print in the city, and deliver by horse, of course, but the reporters won't have to meet up with a rider, or come to the city themselves."

Uzgash told him that she'd be travelling down to Kvatch to operate that end to start with. She'd train a local or two to take over, and then return to her regular job. He'd do the same here in the city, operating out of Imbel Manor to start with. Taminwe would help the Black Horse Courier people set up their own network, and they'd see what grew out of those.

"Once it gets started, Ocato will provide the provincial rulers with secure channels to the Palace," Uzgash informed him. "Then my father and I can get back in regular contact. That's the real reason I want all this to work!"

"The enemies of the Imperium will find it just as useful," he reminded them. "We won't be the only ones with secure communication."

"We aren't now," Taminwe pointed out. "Varulae's already in contact with the Serpent's Wake, and I'm sure she didn't invent that method. Whoever found out how to link crystal balls that way must have seen the possibilities. You know that the Champion is also Arch-mage these days, since Traven's death. He's aware of a lot of the Mages Guild members using the larger clear crystal balls for messages. I'm sure he knows the linking spell himself. The only thing we're doing is making it easier and cheaper for everyone else to use."

"Then I'd have thought that we'd already have channels like that with the provincial capitals," he continued. "Expense wouldn't be an issue there."

"Well, the other issue is privacy," Taminwe responded. "With the clear ones, each end can see everything at the other end all the time. That's not such a popular idea, even if you can put the thing in a room that's only used for sending messages, and cover it up when it's not in use. These new ones can't receive anything that's not deliberately sent, so there's much less to object to."

Uzgash concurred with that point. Gortwog wouldn't accept the clear channel, (he'd dealt with Queen Elysana too much to be the trusting kind), but she didn't think he'd have any objections to this one.