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Messages encrypted in junk DNA are the stuff of yesteryear; Lurlene uses auctioneer steganography, planting her data in their throwaway patter and broadcasting in the clear over rural radio. Estate sales for receiving data, cattle and cars for sending. When the transmitter pauses for breath it means “STOP.”

Lurlene’s practically off the grid: Mallory doesn’t listen to much AM. She’s tried tuning into those numbers stations on one speaker with her code on the other, to see if they cancel out. (Not yet.) Information cannot be created or destroyed, says Hawking. Lurlene thinks about the ionosphere, and keeps her cover deep.


Deep in the conversation mines, Mallory toils away, boring through data as dense as stone. There are no pure veins to be struck down here: all she can hope for is the occasional nugget, to be prized out and brushed clean. It’s really a lot like fossil-hunting. Which makes sense, if you buy that thing about new ideas.

Everyone gets pissy about having their small talk tapped, but they’re misunderstanding. Mallory doesn’t care about their privacy, not even enough to invade it: all she wants is those glittering moments of perfect human expression, to teach her what no heuristic can.