Friday, July 31, 2015

The Voynich Madness

The Voynich Madness
Bobby Derie

The angular blade of her black utility knife cut gently through the tape and bubble wrap. Layer after layer peeled away to reveal the dark prize within, a thick mass of pages in a floppy dark brown cover that felt warm and slightly furry under her fingertips. With a manicured nail she traced the letters on the front cover, then carefully opened the book, inspecting the binding, the paper. Her eyes looked over the familiar alien glyphs, the vivid greens and browns of the strange plants, flipped past charts of stars and squat, rotund, naked women in tubes and baths...

"What's that?"

Vivian crept into the room, yoga pants clinging on for dear life. Following her was a panting, skittering, unwieldy thing like a mop without a handle, only a tiny pink ribbon holding up enough fur so that the brainless dog could see where it was going. Shoggoth waddled up to the fallen packaging and gave it an engrossing sniff, tiny tuft of a tail wagging.

"The Voynich manuscript," Aribel turned to one of the fold-outs, crude stars drawn in strange zodiac circles. "A facsimile, anyway."

Vive crept up behind her bookworm, propping her head up on Aribel's head, her breasts pressing into the smaller girl's neck. A flush rushed across Aribel's cheeks, and Vivian smiled. "Another mysterious book." She let one long-nailed finger rake gently down the back of Aribel's arm.

"The most mysterious book in the world." Vivian turned another page, showing the strange, almost crude jars or containers with their little labels. "No one knows when it was written, or by whom. We don't even know what language it's in, or if it's a code. No one's ever deciphered it...never even come close to deciphering it. No one can identify the plants or what these charts mean or..."

"But I bet you have a theory," Vive breathed in her ear, her left hand stroking Aribel's collarbone. Shoggoth ceased sniffing the fallen packaging to give herself a generous scratch, working, with grunts and pants, as if to discharge something from her ear with her back paw, occasionally stopping to lick it.

"I..." Aribel was panting now, but with an effort stopped her hands from shaking, and turned back to the first page. "It's not that simple. It's a trap. A madness."

Something warm and wet slipped into Aribel's ear, with just a hint of teeth. When it left, she had to stop herself from shaking her head.

"It's like...we don't know what script the text is written in, or what language that script is meant to represent. We don't know if it's ciphertext or plaintext. But we do know we've never seen it before, or anywhere else. So if it's a script for writing a natural language - the kind people speak - it's one we've never seen before. That's fair enough, that kind of thing crops up every now and again. But it also doesn't follow the rules for any natural language we know - so if it's a script for a natural language in plaintext, it's one we don't recognize or it's extinct."

Vive's inquisitive hand slipped down into Aribel's shirt, languidly exploring the valley between her pert little breasts.

"But it does have rules, or it looks like it does. So it isn't just gibberish - or if it is gibberish, it's gibberish that's been generated by some system or procedure to not look like gibberish. I', that's not quite right. Let me try again." She took a deep breath as Vivian's hand cupped her right breast, thumb idly pressing on the nipple.

"It's real, or its a hoax. If it's a hoax, it's one that somebody went to a lot of trouble to make - over 250 pages of pseudo-text with illustrations. Probably took more than one scribe, plus an artist - not a great artist - and some expensive pigments and vellum. There's a definite layout to the whole thing, the text is too neat, wraps around the could still be a hoax, something dreamed up to fool a prince with more gold than sense. But say it isn't purely a hoax, that there is some information content to the text. That gives four broad possibiliTIES."

Aribel yelped as Vivian squeezed her nipple between thumb and forefinger, and began laying light kisses along the smaller woman's neck, letting her breasts drag down Aribel's back.

"It's plaintext or enciphered; it's a known language, or an unknown language. We can rule out plaintext in a known language - no language we know has characters like these - so it's either plaintext in an unknown language, or a known or unknown language that's been enciphered somehow."

She leaned her head back and opened her mouth, and Vive swooped down for a long kiss, wrapping her right arm around Aribel's belly in a back-hug. Shoggoth stopped scratching herself long enough to sit up and wag her tail at the scene.

"The script...we've never seen that exact script. But we've seen scripts sort of like it. There are things like old Arabic numerals, which we know were used in some old code systems, there are aspects of the script that look like miniscule, shorthand, old encryption systems...the gut reaction is that it's an encoded text. It looks really simple. But nothing falls out. The only thing we know is what it isn't. It isn't a simple cipher. It doesn't follow the rules of any known language. It might - based on radiocarbon dating of the vellum, and the general nature of the text and the drawing style, and a couple of little details, like the shape of a crossbow and the crenelations on a castle - be from northern Italy in the early-to-mid 1400s. But that's it, that's all we know."

Vivian nuzzled. "But you have a theory."

"I...I think..." Aribel gulped, "I think that the text is too sure and too long to be something complicated. I think, if this isn't a hoax, it was a book that was meant to be read. I think there is a system behind this, whatever it is - whether it's an unknown language or a known one, plaintext or ciphertext. But I can't say more than that. I won't say more than that."

Shoggoth began licking herself. Vivian smiled between kisses.

"That's the madness, you see. This is the reef that people have run themselves aground on. Smart people. Historions, doctors, cryptologists. I don't have the expertise to evaluate this...don't have the time to dig through manuscripts, try to tease hints from old herbals and astronomical manuscripts, don't have the knowledge of statistics and cryptoanalysis to crunch the numbers, don't know enough about codicology and paleography to talk about the book itself and how it was written..."

"But you want to?"


"Madness," Vivian buried her face in Aribel's hair as the bookworm closed the facsimile, the bold words staring upwards from the warm brown leather cover. Shoggoth skittered happily behind them as they adjoined to the bedroom.


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