Steganography.

1 Jul

Despite a year of effort at the Museum of Paleology, Moine continued to work in complete isolation, keeping his distance from all colleagues. After all, how could an expert in secret languages be accepted as an equal? There was something enigmatically arcane about cryptological translation of antique manuscripts. No, Moine realized that it was impossible for a stenographer who interpreted secret writings to fit in smoothly here or anywhere else.

An unexpected surprise occurred when a hermeneut named Fange came to his office to ask him for assistance with a problematic manuscript on sheep parchment.

The large, athletic veteran of research arrived without announcement or fanfare of any sort.

“Dr. Moine, can I see you about an important matter?”

Looking up from behind his ellipsoid desk, the specialist fixed emerald eyes on the tall man with greater seniority than himself. “Please, be seated,” he told the visitor.

“I have possession of an ancient script recently discovered at a ruin site. It was hidden in a rotting clay case, severely damaged by eons of time. Nothing but obscurity is in it. I cannot make the smallest sense of it. My conclusion is that the content is in cipher. I have never been so puzzled about anything from the past.”

Moine leaned his cube-like head forward.

“I take it that you want me to determine whether there is anything coded in it.”

The other nodded yes. “That is the only possible explanation. Otherwise, it all becomes nonsense.”

“Is there a title or caption of any sort to the writing?”

Fange made a sour grimace. “All that I was able to make out was this: “Story of the Watchdogs.” What could that mean? I have no clue.”

“Let me study the manuscript and try to find out,” replied the steganographer.

Ghain had been settled so many millennia ago that little knowledge of the migration to the planet remained beyond the surviving ancient records. Interest in early history was only a recent development. A crucial part of all the study being done was the decoding of cryptograms from the faraway past.

As soon as Moine received and examined the handwritten vellum, he recognized there was some hidden message within it.

On its outer surface, this was a clumsy, awkward fable about shepherd dogs that protect the flocks of mouflons brought to Ghain by the first settlers. The canines monitoring the animals were model guardians and protectors of the large, valuable herds. They were the secret resource of the early industry based on wool production, the source of the writing parchment used in early Ghain.

But what was the unseen memory concealed in the ancient letters, the forgotten, obsolete alphabet with its yod, zayin, alif, mim, nun, waw,and samek?

Moine decided to take the work home with him. He stared at its lines for hours until an unanticipated idea came into his mind. Might the glossematic method be successful on this?

He tried it, breaking the text apart into innumerable glossemes, the smallest units of possible meaning. This was the atomic level of language, there was nothing smaller, nothing at all.

Day after day, Moine worked till the task was completed. But the result was a disappointment. There was nothing hidden within or among the glossemes. But then the examiner notices how abrupt and interrupted was the flow of the watchdog narrative. What did that indicate? Was it a signpost of where he had to go to solve the enigma?

Moine decided to apply a tool he had never before dared to attempt: epexegesis.

This was an ancient technique dropped generations ago by steganographers. Exegetes of the classical literature had long before forgotten it. How could one defend the addition of words to a manuscript text? How could one justify something as intrusive as reading between the lines?

Today’s world did not accept the taking of arbitrary liberty with a document. It was forbidden by the rules of the profession.

But Moine was getting nowhere, so he located an old manual of epexegesis and used it in reading the “Story of the Watchdogs.”

He did not foresee the dimensions or the significance of what was to result from this radical action of his.

Fange had his office in the Hermeneutic Wing of the limestone structure holding the museum. Early one morning, Moine rushed in soon after the arrival of the one person who had initiated the project.

“I believe that a key is now available,” said the steganographer. “There is a concealed story behind the prosaic narrative. And it puts the migration to Ghain in a new, unprecedented light and gives an exciting interpretation. I dare to call it a revolutionary revelation.”

“What on the planet are you talking about?” frowned Fange.

Still standing, Moine revealed what he believed he had decoded.

“I applied some old methods and came up with a new perspective on the manuscript story. The dogwatchers are not animals, and neither are the sheep flocks. The latter are the human migrants to Ghain. They were transported here by another intelligent species who, for a long time, continued to shield them from danger. They came to be a monitoring authority over our ancestors, according to my reading of the inner story.”

The other man suddenly became animated.

“I saw no such descriptions in the written text,” he said with anger. “How did you ever reach such strange conclusions, Moine?”

“Epexegesis of the secret words,” answered the latter.

“To me, it sounds more like what is termed eisegesis. Do you know what that is?”

“Yes,” returned the cryptologist. “It means to interpret a text in a way based on one’s own fundamental ideas. It is a sort of exegesis that is highly personal, subjective, and individualized.”

“I am sorry to have to say that may have happened to you,” grumbled the hermeneut.

For several moments, the two stared blankly at each other.”

“I advise you to drop that perspective and return to ordinary steganography,” warned Fange, “otherwise, the manuscript might have to be given to someone else to work on.”

Moine turned around and stalked out of the room, his face red with emotional stress.

Plowing through the script once more that evening, the researcher began to perceive that it contained an entire cryptlect, a coded language of its own. He wrote down a glossary of all the metaphoric words he could locate in the ancient text, adding all the adscripts that he had himself contributed to make the narration smooth and connected.

At a moment he could never later identify or determine, an idea struck him.

Why not apply his new method and this cryptolect to other similar manuscripts waiting to be decoded? There had to exist folios from the earliest period on Ghain that could be tied to this history of the watchdogs. Why not explore the possibility of expanding his range of use? Other scripts might enlighten his interpretation of what Fange had found. They could provide confirmation of his conclusions. Support of his findings might result.

Early the next morning, Moine went to the museum’s archive and began an electrical search through the mnemonic catalog. He coded in the notation “watchdog”. The immediate result was null.

How was he to proceed? he asked himself. Another key term was necessary.

An attempt to find some connection to “monitor” came up empty. The same happened with “protector” and “guardian”.

On a gamble, Moine typed the word “tutelar” to see if anything was recorded.

Success came to him instantly.

The location of an antique manuscript dealing with this concept was presented on the electric shadow screen.

It took the searcher only a minute to find the cardboard folder holding the indicated ancient scroll.

In three days, Moine had a steganographic version of this second work to present to Fange. It was a spectacular sensation. Working the story out had electrified the cryptologist who was reading between the lines. He confidently entered the office of his colleague, a concise summary of what he had uncovered under his arm.

“Yes,” began Fange. “Do you have something new with you?”

“Indeed, I have a manuscript from the archives that provides a new understanding of the character of the watchdogs. But they are referred to by a different name: the tutelaries.”

The hermeneut grew excited. “What does it reveal?” he inquired.

“These tutelaries provided transport to our world for the human population. They came as a superior, governing species. As a small elite, these watchdogs controlled our ancestors. But they taught them their own science and technology, and that led to a revolt against tutelary rule. Eventually, the dominant species lost all of its power.”

“It sounds like an interesting fictional fable,” said Fange. “But what is its meaning for the real history of our planet’s early years?”

Moine rubbed his chin. “That I cannot say,” he replied. “My search must dive deeper to find that out.”

How was his steganographic probing to proceed?

Moine decided that he had to follow hidden clues in the second script. He went over the parchment again and again. What had been overlooked before? What other source might contain useful information?

His attention came to center upon one obscure sentence about a minor activity and interest of the mysterious tutelaries.

“They taught their underlings how to howl for pleasure and joy.”

What was the meaning of that statement? What did it exactly refer to? he asked himself.

Moine decided to make a mnemonic search for the term “howler”. At first, nothing turned up on the screen. But a parchment number soon appeared. He wrote it down and then went looking for it on the dusty shelves of the back area of the archive.

It was there that the researcher found the secrets of the howlers.

Not until late that night did the steganographer succeed in falling sleep.

A frightening dream based on what he had read in the archive arose from somewhere inside his subconscious mind.

The howlers were those tutelary watchdogs who took human women as their wives. All their descendants shared the same designation. Why did the name of howler prevail among them?

In his sleep vision, Moine perceived the reason for that.

They howled out of desire for women of the subordinate species. This craving flamed and burned like an instinctive passion. Love, lust, and hunger were combined into boiling emotion, Fresh, young howlers were born in each generation on the planet, until these tutelary watchdogs were swallowed into the broad river of human genetics. The progeny of howlers and humans became hybrids in whom the majority human traits were to dominate.

One single characteristic remained among those with a modicum of watchdog inheritance. It was a horny, ceratoid protuberance in the middle of the chest, over the tiny thymus gland. This hardness had been a protective shield for that organ in a previously inhabited world. It survived on Ghain as a functionless relic.

When he awoke, Moine had one task in mind. He recalled what he had often seen on his body. Opening his nightgown, the cryptographer examined himself by eye and touch.

Yes, he found the sign of howler survival there, the thymic knob existed on his own chest.

He himself possessed the genetic inheritance passed on by the howlers, realized Moine.

There is nothing more tragic than a scientist compelled to lie.

But that ended up being the way out for Moine, the chagrined steganographer.

It was a week after he returned the third script on parchment to its dusty place on the shelves that Fange came to his office to ask about his progress or the lack of it.

“How is your search going?” asked the hermeneut once inside the room.

“Not well at all, not at all,” said the prevaricator, attempting to avoid giving a direct, outright lie to the other.

Fange stared at him with curiosity. “Are you continuing to look for appropriate manuscripts?” he eagerly inquired.

“No,” said Moine with a truthful heart. “I no longer believe that anything useful can be discovered. The archive is fully exhausted on the score of watchdogs and tutelaries. There is nothing more concerning that imaginary species. The historical record will forever remain a blank.”

Without another word, Fange turned and left.

The howlers shall always remain an empty page, thought the decoder who had burned and destroyed the document containing the watchdog-tutelary-howler bloodline that stretched down to his own generation and himself.

Such hideous beings do not deserve scholarly acknowledgement.

It is best that they remain on forgotten parchments, decided the steganographer.

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