The Element: Chapter 21


Rusty walked down the one hundred foot brick alley, performing the Point-Man role for this meeting with the entire team in tow. They were on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. He stopped halfway down the alley and produced a gold coin from his pocket. Pushing on a brick inward to expose a coin slot, he promptly inserted the coin, which unlocked an adjacent wooden door where the team entered single file. Rusty promptly exposed his eye to a pin-hole where it was scanned, and a wall panel opened to reveal an elevator. It was an Otis, but not of this century.

Kentucky Alley


Team Leader: Test Drive
Point-Man: Rusty
First Defense-Man: Coach
Second Defense-Man: T
Rear Security: Freelance

“I am sure a crowd of people in the Roaring Twenties would feel right at home in this elevator,” Rusty said.

“What would have happened if you forgot the coin?” Freelance asked.

“The coin deactivates a toxic nerve agent defense system,” Rusty said.

Freelance looked over at Coach as he was removing a breathing device from his mouth.

“You could have told me about the risk before entering the elevator!”  Freelance exclaimed as he made a choking motion with his hands.

“Not to worry,” Coach laughed.  “It is only a sleeping agent.  Lesson learned from our last visit when the coin failed to deactivate the gas.  Both Rusty and I got a 2 hour nap.”

“It is a thing of beauty,” Test Drive uttered, as he marveled at the patterned cloth that was bordered with ornate hardwood trim. “It is a Toile de Jouy.”

“You can’t just stop with that!” exclaimed Coach.

“It started as a simple printing process that portrayed cultural scenes on fabric,” Test Drive said. “Typically a single color, originally using a carved wood block or a copper etched plate.”

“I sometimes wonder about you,” Coach said.

Test Drive grinned, knowing that his expert knowledge had supported many team missions. Just then Rusty placed his thumb on a square of clear glass, causing a modern keypad to be exposed. Tapping a combination of keys to begin the elevators plunge, well below the street level.

“All this top secret spy stuff drives me crazy,” Freelance said. “It would be so much easier if they installed a regular elevator with single buttons and floor numbers. How can you find anything around here if it is hidden from sight.”

“Very few know of its existence,” Coach said, “and there is a reason. It houses all of our audio libraries and equipment. There are millions of hours in recorded audio archived from our many missions.”

“Now it all makes sense,” Freelance said. “How do you get good at audio when we don’t have access to the tools.”

“It is not just the location,” T said. “Live recordings of audio require a certain set of skills, often honed over years of dedicated practice. All of us had our chances to start this journey years ago, but failed in our understanding of how large a role it would play in the future.”

The elevator finally stopped, where everyone exited and met with a familiar face.

“Greetings Wiretap,” Rusty said.

Wiretap was the code-name for the most talented audio professional at the Culture Spy Syndicate, CSS. She had worked with the entire team on many occasions. A true professional of the audio arts, with years of recording and audio remastering experience.

“I am happy that someone is finally taking an interest in audio,” Wiretap said. “Most people are reserved to using the written word for any type of communication, and especially when it comes to knowledge documentation for training purposes.”

“Our only experience is with Coach and his surveillance recordings,” Rusty said.

“Very good my boy,” Wiretap said. “Recording for surveillance has a totally different skill set than your current task. You are indeed going to face an ordeal where many have tried and failed. The art of audio has scorched many travelers while they attempt to master and tame this mighty demon.”

“That is exactly why we would like to be mentored by the best,” Rusty said.

“A kiss-up attitude will get you nowhere!” Wiretap snapped as she winked at Rusty. She knew she was the best in her trade and loved to share the skills acquired through years of practice. She also understood that the years of experience could not be physically handed over to the team, even though she would love to do just that. “I can point the way, but there is no substitute for training. I have heard you on many occasions during agent training sessions, talking about routine affirmation of the mission’s goal. The discipline and practice is no different with the goal of mastering audio. The more you practice, the better you will become. Go into this without a strong heart, underestimating the task at hand, and you will fail.”

“We always appreciate your honesty and optimism,” Rusty said.

“Heart,” Test Drive said, “from the Latin ‘cor’, the base word for courage. Very effective use of words for our journey. Will we need courage?”

“You will indeed,” Wiretap said with a grin.

She led the team into a room that had a desk, audio mixer, microphones and a computer.

“You will eventually be briefed on the equipment,” Wiretap said. “Do you have an idea of how your information will be presented?”

“Methodically,” Test Drive said. “There could be multiple episodes that map our topic, in an order that resembles the stages of adult learning. We have been guiding our research with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Adult Learning, where each step moves the user moving toward becoming an expert.”

“Boring!” Wiretap scoffed. “You guys are so pathetic, talking about some theory or self-help process that guides the path. Folks are looking for guidance. They do not want process, or some complex reference that is needed to decode it.”

“Excuse me?” Test Drive asked.

“Think of your favorite podcasts,” Wiretap said. “Now imagine yourself listening to a podcast with the most brilliant content, but nobody can understand it.”

“It only takes me a second to hit the forward button,” Freelance said.

“Ah,” T said, “so the podcast must have some entertainment quality.”

“Exactly!” Wiretap exclaimed. “Users love to be entertained, and since the beginning of human existence it has been done through storytelling. It makes the content memorable. Because you techy type folks like to get into the weeds with complexity and detail, you will need to get a bunch better at simplifying the content as well.  A newscaster with a jackhammer delivery does not gain the interest or create the fun atmosphere that you will be required from your team.  You need the users to want to listen, because they do have the option not to.”

“How might we create an educational podcast, that simplifies complex topics, and the user finds it entertaining?” Rusty asked.

“That is the question,” Wiretap said. “I have an assignment that will help bring some clarity. Investigate the Hero’s Journey.”

“What should we be looking for?” Rusty asked.

“I am not going to tell you,” Wiretap said. “What I will tell you is that you made a choice to contact me, and that was a thought in your brain to divert your attention to my mentoring guidance. This small action will produce a very large impact on your mission. It will produce something that is unknown, with an infinite number of outcomes. This same pattern is at the basis for good storytelling.”

“You are talking about the theory of chaos,” Rusty said. “Small differences in initial conditions can cause a disproportionate outcome. How does that relate to the Hero’s Journey?”

“Because a Hero’s Journey moves from ordinary life into the chaotic unknown, where a battle is waged to get back to the order of ordinary life!” Wiretap snapped. “And that is all I am going to say, so get your asses out of my office and do your homework! Hell, I did half of it for you already.

“And Rusty,” Wiretap said.

“Yes Mam,” Rusty replied.

“I hope that I don’t find you and Coach sleeping on the job again.  We get paid to be spies, not take naps in the middle of the day.”

“I know you disabled the coin slot that day,” Rusty said.  “I guess it is always good to keep testing our peers.  Just remember that payback can be just as sweet.”

Wiretap was a tough character, but very few were as loyal to the CSS and the teammates that she supported.  Rusty enjoyed her banter, and today she was playing at her best.

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