September Showcase: September 11th.
I spent the weekend at WashingCon, deliberately without a Chromebook or laptop, because I wanted to concentrate on running games. But let's get back to it, shall we?  Today's offering is "Fonts and the Art of War." There's a book in there somewhere, I swear it.


The Terran Ambassador to the court of His Imperial Majesty, The Lord of All Stars, He Whose Name Is Unworthy To Be Spoken by Aliens, and a bunch of other titles so long that even the Imperials just flashed them on a screen at this point, found it remarkably easy to get a captured Terran spy out of detention. It was, in fact, almost offensively easy for the Ambassador to do it. The Imperials seemed instantly ready to believe the absurd story that the Ambassador had thrown together about a lost courier who went through the wrong door; true, the spy hadn't managed to actually get any data, but it still shouldn't have been as easy as it was to bust him loose. The Imperials didn't even bother to hide the tracking devices, either. 

Clearly, something was going on, and while it was something useful, nobody in the Terran diplomatic service believed in trusting their luck. Too many human lives counted on things going right. Or at least not too wrong. As far as any Terran could tell, Galactic diplomacy was a snakepit of baroque rules, hidden exceptions, paralyzing formalities, and the faint, yet real and constant possibility that some other alien species might decide to throw a rock at your planet at relativistic speeds. It was nerve-wracking, if you allowed yourself the luxury of nerves. Or, for that matter, ignorance.

Fortunately, the Ambassador knew just who to ask about why the Imperial Planetary Court thought Terrans were too stupid to be spies...

"So how did you convince the Court that Terrans are all functional illiterates?" In response, the Marine captain who acted publicly as Head of Security and privately as the Terrans' spymaster simply handed over a printout, complete with an ever-so-slightly smug expression. The diplomat looked down. "This font is... interesting, Captain."

The smug expression got wider. "It's not just interesting, Ambassador. It's the work of some of the DIA's finest graphic artists. We got hold of quite a bit of Imperial handwritten correspondence, all of which was certified by local sources to be the latest word in atrocious handwriting. Then we analyzed the whole batch, found the common elements, and built a special font around them. It's still perfectly legible to us, but to the average Imperial courtier it looks almost exactly like their equivalent of clumsy chicken-track scrawls done by a seven year old."

"And since they can't be bothered to learn our language anyway..."

"Exactly, Ambassador. They're letting their translation programs handle getting the gist of our correspondence that they're 'intercepting,' but since the Imperials by now think that we're all barbarian idiots they're not bothering to double-check for missing nuance. I'm pretty sure that at this point they think human beings aren't even really capable of subtlety. Hearty, bluff plains apes from the savanna, that's us."

"That would explain why they talk very slowly around me, telegraph every diplomatic move that they're making, and keep offering my staff ridiculously obvious bribes."

"Sorry, Ambassador."

"Don't be, Captain. It's damned useful. Thank you."