TECH - The Autoscriar

I spend a lot of my time developing the contemporary period of Crossroads. It's a bit like the USA's 1990s, but the tech isn't exactly the same so it doesn't quite line up?

Anyway, one of the pieces of tech that comes up a lot is the Autoscriar, a sort of magical, light-based equivalent of the telephone. In recent years, it has taken up a similar position to dial-up modems, giving the setting a taste of the early internet. To understand it, we need to also understand conventional scrying.

A Scrying spell lets you link two reflective surfaces so that light that would hit one surface is instead emitted from the paired surface. Done with two mirrors, it means that you can peer through the mirror to see the view from the other one. Like the portals from Portal, except sound and objects can't pass through, just photons.

Scrying Spells

The first way of doing this - Positional - works by pure wizardry and requires you to know the positions and orientations of the two mirrors with some precision. This lets you make contact with ANY mirror, as long as you know its coordinates and normal. So standing mirrors are reliable as long as you don't rearange the furniture too much.

The second way - Associative - employs a bit of witchcraft, and requires the use of physical objects, known as keys. A Key is something with a strong association to a mirror. Keys are usually a piece of the mirror frame, or even a cut fragment of the mirror itself. If the key for mirror A is brought in contact with Mirror B, a connection is made.

History of communication in scrying.

The scrying spells in Thalia date back to the mid Inter-Imperial period, and they had spread throughout Tyr, Aun, and Vira by the start of the Arkano-Imperial period.

Early Scriar communication consisted of making connections at predetermined times and relaying messages by writing the message and holding it up to the mirror. Remember; the spell only transmits light, not sound. A separate spell could handle sound, but not as reliably, and not at the same speed.

Unsurprisingly, scrying was a very useful tool in espionage; hacking into a politiican's mirror was easy as long as you knew where it was and made sure not to call while they were using it. If the mirror was moved often or a compact mirror was the target, then Associative Scrying could be used, if only you had a fragment of the frame or backing. Of course, all the careful preparation in the world would be useless if you were faced with someone who covered their mirrors with cloth when not using them. Unless you were EXTRA clever, and planted a mirror in their house. Glass fragments lodged in the cracks of ceilings or walls gave just enough light collection to see by. And aparently one spy used a very dark room and a pair of sunglasses to let their partner see the layout of a building they had been let into.

Spells do tend to interact in strange ways if they are brought too close together. Some companies capitalized on this by making mirrors that could float in midair AND were unable to support Scriar connections. At last, you could be fashionable AND safe from scandal. And for the discerning socialite, some Scriar mirrors had an enchantment that prevented connections from being finalized unless the other party agreed to connect. Much like how a telephone will only finalize a connection if the other person picks up the reciever.

Despite the lack of reliable sound, Scriars also became used in entertainment, specifically for rich folk who wanted to watch a match of (insert sport here) or occasionally a production of (insert opera here) from the comfort of their own homes.

Lord Elir (of horse-decapitating fame) reportedly set up one of the first remote meetings using full-length mirrors so his generals could report or interject as if they were actually at the table. A similar setup was almost certainly used by other countries and nobles, but he was, unfortunately, the first to write it down.

Scriars as a way to send signals.

This was alright to start with. As long as the mirrors were clear enough to see through. And as long as the other party's handwriting was legible. And then, some bright spark working on something called a "typewriter" wondered if they could send and recieve messages at keyboard speed. No more hurriedly scribbling on card, or fumbling for an unbroken pencil. Just tap out the message on your shiny new typewriter. You'd even end up with a typed-out transcript of your conversation!

The first teletype machine sent messages through the mirror using tiny shutters, and read them using fragments of raw Stygium, a highly magical metal whose physical properties change when exposed to light. One shutter would be opened per key pressed on Typewriter A, sending light through Mirror A at a specific location. At mirror B, a lens would focus the light onto a Styigum strip, pulling a thread and driving the key of Typewriter B. The area of the mirror not taken up by the transciever could be used to communicate the old fashioned way. This worked well enough, until the mechanism was jostled and the motion was read as a reaction of the stygium receptors.

It did not catch on very quickly in the Pre-Turning era, except in the business of news, where editors could write out an article from the field almost in real time. From warzone to press in minutes, where otherwise, it would require a couple transcriptions and lots of arguing back and forth. It became a little more urgent during and after The Turning, when you needed to know if your loved ones were alright but didn't have a key.

Sound was a much trickier proposition, and one that was sought after much more heavily than whatever was going on with that typewriter nonsense. It took the development of more than rudimentary electronics to really solve it. The invention of the telephone was largely the same as it was on Earth. Early audio-sciars used specialized shutters with very fast reaction times and magnetic rather than mechanical Stygium receptors. The quality was absolutely ABYSMAL, but at least it was something.

Electric light and the development of the tranisistor helped a LOT. At last, the microphone could be spoken into without the buzzing of shutters to distract. The ability to amplify electrical signals was also a great help. But radio was still a MUCH more reliable form of sound transimission, especially in areas with magical interference, which were getting more common by the day.

The facsilimile machine, on the other hand, was very easy to develop, since entire images could be shared on the mirror and scanned by a device on the other end. No more syncronization needed, except for signals telling the sender to turn to the next page. There were even some fax machines that used sheets of Thermygium - a synthetic material that reacts to light by heating up - and heat-sensitive paper and functioned very similarly to Earth thermal fax machines, except much, much faster. And more dangerous to one's health.

Scriar Exchanges and early Autoscriars

Of course, all the clever signal transmission schemes in the world won't help you if you have neither coordinate nor key. And that's where the first Exchanges come in.

Scriar exchanges work by using a very clever variation on the base Scriar spell, where connections can passed on from one mirror to another. An Entry mirror is first created and thousands of Keys of it created. Keys can be bought by customers who want to pay to use the exchange, or the coordinates can be released if it's toll-free.

The Entry mirror will immediately pass on the call to another mirror where a worker will communicate with the user to find out who they want to call. If the recipient is in the local Exchange's library of keys, then that key is used. Otherwise, the Exchange would have to connect to another Exchange closer to the recipient.

Another Scriar and a key to the appropriate target Scriar are produced and the connection is made. The mirrors are then placed almost touching each other so as little light as possible is lost across the connection, but activity can still be detected. When both callers are done, the mirrors are taken apart and freed for the next caller.

Commercial exchange services started giving numbers to keys they gave out and recieved, letting them make a connection very easily if the customer knew the recipient's key number. It was much easier than going back and forth, charades-like, with someone who doesn't have a match for "My Ron who lives down by the new cobbler's". Soon, Scriar devices were being given signal sections and dials to enter numbers or letters on, and Exchanges began asking people to just enter the number so they could find the key using the typed-out stub they just got. Eventually, automated exchanges started to crop up, fetching the right key or coords for the Scriar number in record time.

Sound familiar?