“8:19AM Wednesday, December 18, 2012”
Here’s how this escapade started…
I had fallen asleep early on the evening of December 17, 2012 after a hard workout where I’d lifted the equivalent weight of two 1958 Buicks. Normally I wake pretty alert but on this particular morning I was feeling a little behind the power curve, not completely unaware, more like just not firing on all cylinders.
Regardless, I’d still been able to sign onto my three, yes three email accounts, only to find that I’d received nothing either worrisome or rewarding. Having accomplished that simple mission I signed out of the accounts, closed the connection to cyber space, and asked my laptop to shutdown—the shutdown process is where the journey began.
The pivotal observation came just as my laptop’s screen started its normal dance sequencing from living in cyberspace to that of becoming a blackened field of unexcited liquid crystal diodes. What I’d seen on the screen during the transition brought about an intense sensation of déjà vu—a sense of having been there seen that which was far stronger than any I had experienced before. The déjà vu alone was intriguing, but what was more interesting was the content that had produced the sense of repetition.
There’s no telling what can reveal itself unexpectedly on a computer when navigating between website addresses, or when asking your device to change from one mode of operation to another. But what I’d seen for the briefest of instants was not something that would have been a lingering remnant from my having visited a specific website, nor a problematic aspect associated with the laptops systems, or even a vestige from a past download, because it was too esoteric, too obscure.
I’d seen the imagery before, imagery from my long distant past.
Long distant past is a relative term, but for me it represents just over four decades. What I’d briefly seen had become part of a knowledge base acquired during my Para-military experiences where almost forty-five years distant, during an unlikely life experience, I served as a very youthful field operative for a very quiet government agency.
It was the kind of work where speaking softly was the preferred method for accomplishing business at hand, as opposed to the use of large sticks—however, if needed; we were authorized to use a wide variety of bludgeons. However, it had been my good fortune for my future mental and emotional health that I’d not had to inflict any lasting harm to anyone.
That era was a time of great turmoil within and outside the homeland, and for me it was a time that had a profound and prolonged effect on what was to become a surprisingly lengthy life.
Back then, as it remains today, it was the modus operandi of agencies and agents that operate beneath the radar, to be continuously involved in the processes of training and cross training in preparation for participation in highly demanding missions. Standard operating policy was to cross train all team members in at least one discipline of a fellow teammate to ensure three hundred and sixty degree redundancy within the team.
The training was difficult and time consuming but produced very capable people. Such hard work required a corresponding opposite activity to keep morale high, so we played as hard as we trained. The end result of the play was typically a bump in the birth rates in the surrounding civilian population. While probably not as prolific as a modern day professional basketball team moving from city to city on a day-to-day basis, we in our own right did succeed in having horizontal relations with multitudes of many willing female patriots.
But it was the non-sexual portion of that era of my life that exposed me to high-level secretive forms of communications. One element of a very comprehensive communications training process provided historical understanding about a variety of coding systems, some of which were still then in use, and others that had long fallen obsolete.
Understanding ancient ciphers was vital. The viability of a specific code during its era of usage was important to our fundamental understanding of how ciphers were developed—and the most meaningful historical and active ciphers were part and parcel of our training.
On the serendipitous morning in question, during my laptops transition from being a window into cyberspace and returning to the condition of being a collection of tranquilized electrons—a webpage full of a very effective but dormant code caught my attention. What I’d seen for less time than it takes the human eye to reflexively open and close was a web page full of Pigpen.
Pigpen was a code developed by the Free Masons over two hundred years ago in order to keep their accounting systems private. It was later used with great effectiveness for reasons far more dire in prison camps during the American Civil War.
It was the latter use of the clever code that had made a lasting mark on my memory. During the entire War between the States not a single intercepted pigpen coded message was deciphered, until a providential stroke of luck befell the Union Army when one of their three best cryptanalysts, [who were known as the “Sacred Three”], recognized the code as one he’d seen used as an unlikely price marker in a Pittsburgh retail store. Aside from that improbable event, pigpen was an unbroken code during its tenure of use.
Pigpen remains extremely clever—genius in its simplicity and Devilish in its ability to foil anyone attempting to decipher its countless permutations, and I marveled at its history.
I would soon wonder beyond what would be considered normal, as to why pigpen was the content of that ghost like vestige from cyberspace. And had it not been something that I was familiar with, had it not moved me emotionally, I doubt that I’d have given it a second thought—let alone become preoccupied.