The four‑hundred‑pound Sys‑Sec stood motionless, hands resting atop his head in a freeze‑frame of disbelief. He’d ordered a power shutdown, but it would be a good twenty minutes too late. Sharks with high‑speed modems would be able to download staggering quantities of classified information in that window.
Jabba was awakened from his nightmare by Soshi rushing to the podium with a new printout. “I’ve found something, sir!” she said excitedly. “Orphans in the source! Alpha groupings. All over the place!”
Jabba was unmoved. “We’re looking for a numeric, dammit! Not an alpha! The kill‑code is a number!”
“But we’ve got orphans! Tankado’s too good to leave orphans‑especially this many!”
The term “orphans” referred to extra lines of programming that didn’t serve the program’s objective in any way. They fed nothing, referred to nothing, led nowhere, and were usually removed as part of the final debugging and compiling process.
Jabba took the printout and studied it.
Fontaine stood silent.
Susan peered over Jabba’s shoulder at the printout. “We’re being attacked by a rough draft of Tankado’s worm?”
“Polished or not,” Jabba retorted, “it’s kicking our ass.”
“I don’t buy it,” Susan argued. “Tankado was a perfectionist. You know that. There’s no way he left bugs in his program.”
“There are lots of them!” Soshi cried. She grabbed the printout from Jabba and pushed it in front of Susan. “Look!”
Susan nodded. Sure enough, after every twenty or so lines of programming, there were four free‑floating characters. Susan scanned them.
“Four‑bit alpha groupings,” she puzzled. “They’re definitely not part of the programming.”
“Forget it,” Jabba growled. “You’re grabbing at straws.”
“Maybe not,” Susan said. “A lot of encryption uses four‑bit groupings. This could be a code.”
“Yeah.” Jabba groaned. “It says‑'Ha, ha. You’re fucked.' “He looked up at the VR. “In about nine minutes.”
Susan ignored Jabba and locked in on Soshi. “How many orphans are there?”
Soshi shrugged. She commandeered Jabba’s terminal and typed all the groupings. When she was done, she pushed back from the terminal. The room looked up at the screen.
PFEE SESN RETM MFHA IRWE OOIG MEEN NRMA
ENET SHAS DCNS IIAA IEER BRNK FBLE LODI
Susan was the only one smiling. “Sure looks familiar,” she said. “Blocks of four‑just like Enigma.”
The director nodded. Enigma was history’s most famous code‑writing machine‑the Nazis’ twelve‑ton encryption beast. It had encrypted in blocks of four.
“Great.” He moaned. “You wouldn’t happen to have one lying around, would you?”
“That’s not the point!” Susan said, suddenly coming to life. This was her specialty. “The point is that this is a code. Tankado left us a clue! He’s taunting us, daring us to figure out the pass‑key in time. He’s laying hints just out of our reach!”
“Absurd,” Jabba snapped. “Tankado gave us only one out‑revealing TRANSLTR. That was it. That was our escape. We blew it.”
“I have to agree with him,” Fontaine said. “I doubt there’s any way Tankado would risk letting us off the hook by hinting at his kill‑code.”
Susan nodded vaguely, but she recalled how Tankado had given them NDAKOTA. She stared up at the letters wondering if he were playing another one of his games.
“Tunnel block half gone!” a technician called.
On the VR, the mass of black tie‑in lines surged deeper into the two remaining shields.
David had been sitting quietly, watching the drama unfold on the monitor before them. “Susan?” he offered. “I have an idea. Is that text in sixteen groupings of four?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Jabba said under his breath. “Now everyone wants to play?”
Susan ignored Jabba and counted the groupings. “Yes. Sixteen.”
“Take out the spaces,” Becker said firmly.
“David,” Susan replied, slightly embarrassed. “I don’t think you understand. The groupings of four are—”
“Take out the spaces,” he repeated.
Susan hesitated a moment and then nodded to Soshi. Soshi quickly removed the spaces. The result was no more enlightening.
Jabba exploded. “ENOUGH! Playtime’s over! This thing’s on double‑speed! We’ve got about eight minutes here! We’re looking for a number, not a bunch of half‑baked letters!”
“Four by sixteen,” David said calmly. “Do the math, Susan.”
Susan eyed David’s image on the screen. Do the math? He’s terrible at math! She knew David could memorize verb conjugations and vocabulary like a Xerox machine, but math . . . ?
“Multiplication tables,” Becker said.
Multiplication tables, Susan wondered. What is he talking about?
“Four by sixteen,” the professor repeated. “I had to memorize multiplication tables in fourth grade.”
Susan pictured the standard grade school multiplication table. Four by sixteen. “Sixty‑four,” she said blankly. “So what?”
David leaned toward the camera. His face filled the frame. “Sixty‑four letters . . .”
Susan nodded. “Yes, but they’re—” Susan froze.
“Sixty‑four letters,” David repeated.
Susan gasped. “Oh my God! David, you’re a genius!”