Lines of Communication

Midnight Rose 1991


Early one evening, Vincent and Catherine walked hand in hand through the tunnels of his underground home. The twisting roads of pipe overhead clattered with messages in the tunnelís special Morse code. Pipecode, as it was called, was really a distant cousin of Morse code because its pattern of taps and pauses were based more on words rather than single letters. Many of the common words and phrases were reduced to abbreviations and acronyms.

Although elaborate in its makeup, pipecode was very simple to relay. All one needed was a hard object, such as a stone, stick, or piece of pipe, to tap out a message. Each transmission began with a salutation---the name of the person to the name of the person receiving (which was reduced to the first three letters of a personís name). It was common courtesy to ignore a message that did not include your name in the salutation and in this way messages which everyone could hear were kept somewhat private. However, one would never admit to eavesdropping if they happened to hear their name mentioned in the middle of anotherís conversation.

It had taken Catherine over a year to learn the basic language patterns of pipecode and she was still working on mastering it. Vincent had been the most patient teacher. Now, as she walked in the comfortable silence with her golden companion, she mentally translated the passing tapped conversation. She did not think the senders, Eric and Geoffrey, would mind because they were busy insulting each other. It was an opportunity to sharpen her skills and ears.

"Pascal must be away from his post," Vincent remarked quietly. He kept a discreet ear out for messages sent by the children in case they were in trouble.

"Why do you say that?" Catherine inquired.

The tawny man gestured to the pipes above their heads. "Pascal does not tolerate mindless chatter clogging up his pipes."

Pascal was the Pipemaster. A short, balding, Jewish man with a gentle, quiet manner who could always be found working tirelessly in the main pipe chamber, where the jungle of twisting pipes converged, coming in from every direction and from every corner of the great city of New York. Pascal was never away from his command center for long. Most of the time he had to be forced away by something important to leave at all. The willow branch of a man had even set up a cot in the Pipe chamber so he could keep an aroundĖthe-clock vigil. Some doubted he ever slept.

Pascalís father was the tunnel pioneer who had created the pipecode from a lesser Morse code variation first used by the underground community. Like his son, who took over the tunnel pipes after the elder died, he lived, ate, and slept to the constant clang of his ringing pipes. Pascal considered the pipes his birthright.

As the strolling couple turned back toward the hub of the tunnel community, a sound unfamiliar to any Catherine had heard Below echoed through the passageway. Actually, it was a very common sound but completely out of place in this subterranean world.

Birds. Catherine heard the whistling voices of tweets and twitters. Birds in the Tunnels?

Catherine turned to her tall noble friend who walked beside her undisturbed by the birdcalls. "Vincent, I hear birds."

"Yes," He replied in his deep resounding tones. "The children are practicing their communication skills."

Vincent offered no more. Catherineís eyebrows knit together as she reasoned aloud. "If they were practicing pipecode wouldnít they be banging on scrap pipe or practice wood?"

Vincent cocked his golden head and his reflective eyes danced in the nearby torchlight. The golden man brought the walk to a halt. "They are, Catherine. Listen to the rhythm of the whistles."

Catherine listened, trying to think of the seemingly random bird-songs as messages and was surprised to find that it was true. The notes had a childís simplicity but the messages were clear to an ear trained to hear them.

"Amazing," Catherine breathed in awe. "I would have never guessedÖ"

"The pipecode is the backbone of our communication system. It has many voices."

Vincent turned Catherine to face him and raised her hand, palm up, in his. " The Pipecode cannot only be tapped out on a pipe or whistled, it can also be tapped into a palm. We call this touchcode."

Vincent demonstrated this by tapping Catherineís palm with a single finger. He had to repeat the message twice before she caught it. It was hard for her to reorient a heard code into a touched one.

Vincent to Catherine. I love you. (Vin-Cat-I-L-U)

Catherine blushed and returned the message into Vincentís callused palm.

Catherine to Vincent. I love you. (Cat-Vin-I-L-U) She laughed. This was fun.

"Or even more subtle---pressed." Vincent held her hands in his and repeated the message by gently pressing his index finger into her right palm.

"A loverís touch," Catherine cooed with a whisper. Her green eyes sparkled with love.

Vincent dipped his golden head just so; in the enduring way Catherine adored and leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "We call it the Loverís code and pass sweet nothings to our sweethearts."

Catherine blushed redder under Vincentís secret keeping, dancing gaze.

The couple resumed their walk and Vincent went on to explain the versatility of pipecode. "As long as there is a surface to send a message on and someone to receive it, pipecode can be used on anything."

"And the whistling?" Catherine asked.

Vincent explained. In many of the lower levels there were no pipes. The only way to send a message was by messenger and this was time consuming and exhausting for the person climbing between levels. Someone came up with the idea of whistling the pipecode through a series of relay points and it worked as well as if there had been pipes to ring.

"Whistling has been used in the lower tunnels for many years."

Mischief reared in Catherineís shy green eyes. "Can you whistle, Vincent?"

Vincent grinned showing a canine. Vincent to Catherine Are you surprised I can? (Vin-Cat-R-U-Srprsd-I-Cn) The sung reply was clean and clear. Because of the odd shape of his month, Vincent produced a whistle a bit differently then others yet he had no trouble making himself heard for quite a distance.

Catherine was delighted. "I never doubted for a moment." She winked at him.

Vincent just smiled, his blue eyes dancing merrily.

Vincent took a left at the next junction, the connecting tunnel taking the couple to the Whispering Gallery where the children were practicing.

"The bird calling was my idea," Vincent revealed shyly.

Catherineís brows rose. Whistling was a skill; sounding like a bird was an art.

"When the tunnel folk are scattered in the city above, there was no way of communicating." Vincent went on to explain. "In daylight, sign language is possible over a certain distance. At night, we have no way of staying in contact with each other. Pipecode or whistling could draw attentionÖ"

"The sound of birds would blend." Catherine finished for him. How clever, she mused to herself.

She recalled that there were evenings in the park when she would meet some of the tunnel urchins playing at the playground. All of a sudden, by some unknown signal, the children would stop what they were doing and scatter toward the many entrances that led Below. Catherine could never remember to ask Vincent about it. Now, it made perfect sense.

"Would you like a lesson?" Vincent asked as they reached the Gallery.

"I would love one."

The children gathered around the couple as they entered the cavernous trench that cut across the underground. The tall, tawny mentor was bombarded with requests and pleads to demonstrate the calls of different birds and help the children to learn to make the proper sounds.

Lined up like birds on a high wire, their feet swinging merrily over the void below, Vincentís pupils listened as he repeated his incredible repertoire of bird calls and whistles. Soon the Whispering Gallery was the Whistling Gallery as the chaos of bird songs echoed off its sheer walls.

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