Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Tenn disengaged the flywheel on the powerbike and coasted to a stop against the curb.
He steadied the bike with both feet on the ground, glancing down as he did at the rough-shaven scalp of the man seated next to him on the sidewalk. An old bakelite cassette player sat beside the man on the dirty bamboo mat they shared, a tightly coiled cable snaking to a worn pair of over-ear headphones perched crookedly on his head, his left ear exposed, flakes of the ear padding sticking to the stubble on his head where the foam was decomposing with age.
The man reached into a plastic flip-top cooler and retrieved a metal canister with a screw top, which he passed up to Tenn.
“Past the fences again,” he mumbled, “gasoline for motor.”
Tenn unscrewed the fuel cap on the bike’s tank, then opened and transferred the contents of the container into it, before closing both and returning the empty vessel.
“Take a message,” the cross-legged man spoke again, “under four minutes”. He disconnected one end of the cable from his headphones and passed it up to Tenn.
Tenn fished through one of his saddlebags for his message recorder, and a blank wax cylinder, and through the other saddle bag for a hard cylinder on which was handwritten ‘Lady Grinning Soul: 3.54’ on a faded label at the top.
Plugging the offered cable into the box, he pressed the ‘play’ and ‘record’ keys on its side. A needle traced the groove in the hard cylinder, producing an old song, while a similar needle cut a groove into the wax of the other cylinder making a perfect copy. He listened as the audio track transferred from one cylinder to the other, the sound tinny without amplification.
As it recorded, the quiet little man typed a message from memory into a transcoding device in his lap, each keypress converted to sound and fed to the recorder where it was mixed into the song in a continuous stream.
When he was finished, he reached up a hand expectantly and waited for the audio cable to be unplugged and returned.
The transcoder disappeared into a pocket, and the cord was plugged back into the headphones, the man finding the jack for the cable end by feel.
“Don’t get caught,” the man said, before settling the headphones straight on his ears and folding his hands in his lap, signaling the end of the transaction.
If he was pursued and feared discovery, a gas burner in the saddlebag with the recording would heat the wax, effectively erasing any trace of the recording, and the message.
Tenn produced a pen from a jacket pocket, and wrote ‘Stardust’ on the label of the fresh recording, before returning it, the master, and the recorder itself carefully to their respective saddlebags on the powerbike.
The fences. The magnetic fields there would render any electronics useless, so he’d need to run the gas motor well in advance to build up enough flywheel speed to carry him through. It would be a long, slow, dangerous walk pushing the bike if he lost momentum.
Code-talkers, music mixers, and analog-tech gear-heads, ducking the omnipotent eyes to which no digital communications, encrypted or otherwise, and no code-warriors could remain unknown.
He remembered a time when technology was an asset, not a liability.
Fortunately, he remembered a time before that too. Who knew the future would be so retro subversive.
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