Interception of an Enciphered Message From Orc-held Territory

Some of my previous stories have involved what would be state-of-the-art radio communication for pre-WW1. While reading up electronic warfare during a slow day at work (or at least, the Wikipedia page on it), I noticed that the earliest recorded instance of this was the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Just prior to the Battle of Tsushima, one of the Russian cruisers was denied permission to try jamming a Japanese cruiser that had located them. Between that and Drachinifel’s excellent video on the British effort at tapping German radio during WW1…here’s a related story.

World War 1 hasn’t happened in this universe yet, and I’m considering turning it into a long-term, low-intensity conflict. As part of that, the British military have created a unit specifically for monitoring radio and telegraph traffic, known as the “Wireshark Corps”, and some of them are stationed around Connemara to catch any possible radio transmissions from somebody supplying the orcs.


The crackle of static in his ears and the flashing blue light to his left caused Able Seaman Davis to shoot upright from where he had slouched in the wooden chair, his right hand resting idly on the notepad on his workstation. Pressing his left hand to his earphones, he leaned forwards and hurriedly transcribed the short, staccato bleeps and longer creeps in the approved shorthand terminology.

“Found something, Davis?” the Lieutenant asked. He automatically nodded, focussing on converting the shorthand transcription into something more legible. Even as he finished and moved onto translating the dots and dashes into possible letters, something about it started to niggle at the back of his mind. It almost looked as though…

“Sir, I don’t think this is English.” He handed the piece of flash paper over to the Lieutenant, who accepted it with a raised eyebrow that turned into a quizzical frown as he perused the message. Davis glanced over at the door into the main passageway, satisfying himself that it was closed. On the wall next to the door was a poster of a shark looming up from the deep, aiming straight for a stream of letters on the surface. He turned back to his wireless set, listening for any other messages.

“Definitely not. Nor Gaelic, French, German…possibly a cipher,” the Lieutenant mused, reaching for the telephone to the bridge with one hand and pointing with his other at the third person in the wireless room. “Jacobson, prepare a message to the Caledonia. Wireless room to bridge. We have just intercepted a message coming from port. Requesting current bearing and location.” He jotted down the response, acknowledged the current bearing was one hundred eighty-three, and waited. Seconds later, he repeated the apparent latitude and longitude. Fifty-three degrees and thirty minutes west, ten degrees north and thirty-two minutes north.

Jacobson had already finished his draft English report to relay back to the main control station aboard the Caledonia. Glancing over it again, he carefully drew a bold line on either side of the intercepted message and began to translate his draft into Morse.

“You don’t think that was a Fomorian transmission?” Davis asked. Both of his comrades snorted, though he could have sworn that Jacobson had paled slightly. The orcish homeland in Connemara – what was once the Dwarven Homeland Region – wasn’t that far away. In fact, the entire reason that the Wiresharks had been added to the naval cordon on the coast was that somebody was decided it was possible – no, a certainty– that somebody else would attempt to supply the Fomorians by submarine.

Up until that point, he would have thought it completely ludicrous and that they’d be better served tapping the telegraph cables between Norway and Iceland. But with a possibly coded transmission coming from the east – from the orc-occupied coast – it was starting to look as though they were going to earn their hazard pay. At least he wasn’t freezing his arse out on an airship further out like Rob.

ψ


Approximately twenty miles away, a Fomorian woman lowered her own earphone. The earphone, in contrast to those worn by her unsuspecting counterparts aboard the warship, was clearly assembled from a haphazard collection of parts instead of being hand-crafted in a Marconi-approved factory. The receiver itself was something they would have easily recognised as such, but cruder and exposed to the air. Even her clothes looked like a fashionable woman’s, albeit of of several decades past.

The Fomorian herself would have been instantly known as such, courtesy of the fangs that poked up from her lips and the green patches of fungus on her forehead and neck. Anyone who had survived repeated contact with the Fomorians would, in hindsight, note that her lips were unnervingly still and that her brown eyes were just a little too intense to pass for a human or dwarf. The only sign of any emotion as she finished translating the Morse to Irish was a brief, muted frown, something that would have caused many to immediately label her an even lesser imitation of a woman than most Fomorians.

“What is this?” she asked in a flat, monotonous voice that was far louder than intended. As she perused it again, she absently began to draw circles around some of the nonsensical collection of letters and annotate each with a small, neat numeral. When she had finished, she began to lay out the annotations below the message, not even sure why she had noticed them. It wasn’t until she had read it a third time that she realised there were patterns to it.

Her left hand began to stroke the blue scarf draped around her neck as she considered the patterns. One thing stood out: the same two letters appeared quite regularly, almost as though somebody had repeatedly misspelled “an” or “ar”. Her frown returned as she realised it was almost certainly a cipher. That was a pity; the previous messages she’d picked up had been in plain old Gaelic or some form of English. Something else about it-

The knock at the door came as a complete surprise, causing her to instinctively cover her ears. After over a year living on the surface instead of the echoing tunnels of the Twelve Bens, she still found herself starting at unexpected noises. Some days she really hated her sensitive hearing, not that she could explain it to anyone.

“Gráinne?” somebody called from outside the room as she turned to face the door. A second later, the door swung open to reveal a dark-skinned male Fomorian in a red waistcoat, smiling amusedly. “Lunch is in twenty minutes. Did you get caught up in something again?” His smile disappeared as he took in the state of her workbench and the piece of paper in her hand. “Did you receive another message?”

“I think I did!” she blurted out, looking at his mouth instead of his grey eyes. “But it seems to be a cipher.”

He frowned at that. “That’s new. I’ll let Ciaran know.”

“He will not care. All he will say is,” Gráinne replied, briefly adopting a parody of a guttural voice, ‘Aidan, don’t bother me with your wife’s crap unless I can use it’ and then ignore it.” She paused, and continued to herself, “That was a bad impression.”

Aidan’s frown deepened with his grimace, though he didn’t contradict her. “Is there anything else you can tell me about it?”

She tilted her head slightly to her left. The part that had struck her as odd was… “It was much louder and clearer than most of the others I have received. Almost like it was coming from closer to us or from a more powerful transmitter, but I cannot tell how much closer.”

“Closer. As in, somebody built one of these transmitters nearby? How big would it have to be?”

She shrugged again. “The biggest part would be the aerial. That would probably need to be out in the air, but the rest of the equipment would need protection from the rain.” Something else occurred to her as she stood up. “The only people I can think of who would have one are the British and the League. Would they have any reason to build one nearby?”

ψ


Aidan scowled at the map on the wall. It covered the entirety of the wall, intricately detailing the coastline from Turbot Island in the south, up past Omey Island to the Aughrusbeg peninsula and then east into Cleggan Bay. From there, it traced to the east into Ballynakill Harbour, under the watchful eye of Tully Mountain to the north and Diamond Hill to the south of Letterfrack – home, or at least where he’d been found and raised. Out to the northwest of Cleggan lay Inishbofin and Inishark, the former still occupied by the Leagueists and their British allies. He had been racking his brains for the last hour, trying to figure out where the arseholes-

“Something bothering you?” Ciaran growled as he entered the room. “Don’t bother hiding it; you’re looking at that like it was them labour agents came here-”

“This has nothing to do with the slavers, uncle Ciaran,” Aidan replied, still glowering at the map.

“What then?” the Baron snorted. “No, wait, don’t tell me. Gráinne picked up another message, and you chose not to tell me?”

“You did say you didn’t want to be bothered with her unless it was something you could use.” Aidan turned to look at his uncle. “It was enciphered, but apparently louder and clearer than usual. She thinks there’s a new transmitter nearby, and the only people either of us can think of are the League or the British.”

The older man had initially raised a greying eyebrow, long since inured to the gun-barrel gaze that Aidan had developed when vexed, and still not convinced that his crazy niece-in-law was doing anything other than wasting time. Hearing that there was possibly a new transmitter nearby was enough for him to briefly grimace and reflexively reach for his hip flask as he realised just how serious Aidan was. “Any idea where?”

Aidan turned back to the map. “Not Inishbofin. We know they’ve had one for a while, and Father Aodh picked up another from them asking what the hell that message was.”

Ciaran snorted. “Remind me again how you got him to help? You’re a fucking secularist, for crying out loud.”

Aidan sighed and lowered his face into his right palm for a moment. “He offered to help, and as little as I agree with him on the existence of any god, he is one of the few people in Cleggan who can read at the same level as ourselves, Áine or Gráinne. And he himself admitted that he’s getting too old to do much else. But that’s neither here nor there. Inishbofin has had one for a while, so we can exclude them and probably Inishark as well.”

“Which leaves…oh, the entire coastline. Would the League build one of these on Aughrusbeg?”

“No.” Aidan emphatically shook his head. “Too exposed and too close to us. Omey’s out for the same reason – not enough of a gap for them to fortify.”

“What about High Island or Friar Island?” Ciaran pointed to the west of Aughrusbeg. Aidan’s eyes followed his finger towards a pair of misshappen islands. The closer of the two, which the map reported as Friar Island, was just under a mile off the coast. High Island was about a half mile further out to the west. Ciaran continued, “There were some observation posts out there at one point.”

“Possibly. They’d need to be supplied, so we should be able to see a few supply runs out there from Inishbofin. But now that you mention them, what about Cruagh?” Aidan pointed towards another island, just to the west of Omey.

“That place is haunted,” the Baron muttered with a shudder. Both knew what he really meant by that.

“I bet you a pound that the League or the Brits either don’t know about that or don’t care. They might even find it useful to try keeping us away,” Aidan countered, in the tone of one who knew that what he said was completely unnecessary.

“A pound? Not a chance. I’ll leave you to handle it.” Ciaran turned to leave the room, but stopped at the door as something else occurred to him. “Don’t tell anyone else about this wireless shite. None of them will understand.”

Aidan privately kept his thoughts on that last part to himself.

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