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Standing before the huge plate‑glass window in his Tokyo skyrise, Numataka took a long pull on his cigar and smiled to himself. He could scarcely believe his good fortune. He had spoken to the American again, and if all was going according to the timetable, Ensei Tankado had been eliminated by now, and his copy of the pass‑key had been confiscated.

It was ironic, Numataka thought, that he himself would end up with Ensei Tankado’s pass‑key. Tokugen Numataka had met Tankado once many years ago. The young programmer had come to Numatech Corp. fresh out of college, searching for a job. Numataka had denied him. There was no question that Tankado was brilliant, but at the time there were other considerations. Although Japan was changing, Numataka had been trained in the old school; he lived by the code of menboko‑honor and face. Imperfection was not to be tolerated. If he hired a cripple, he would bring shame on his company. He had disposed of Tankado’s resume without a glance.

Numataka checked his watch again. The American, North Dakota, should have called by now. Numataka felt a tinge of nervousness. He hoped nothing was wrong.

If the pass‑keys were as good as promised, they would unlock the most sought‑after product of the computer age‑a totally invulnerable digital encryption algorithm. Numataka could embed the algorithm in tamper‑proof, spray‑sealed VSLI chips and mass market them to world computer manufacturers, governments, industries, and perhaps, even the darker markets . . . the black market of world terrorists.

Numataka smiled. It appeared, as usual, that he had found favor with the shichigosan‑the seven deities of good luck. Numatech Corp. was about to control the only copy of Digital Fortress that would ever exist. Twenty million dollars was a lot of money‑but considering the product, it was the steal of the century.


“What if someone else is looking for the ring?” Susan asked, suddenly nervous. “Could David be in danger?”

Strathmore shook his head. “Nobody else knows the ring exists. That’s why I sent David. I wanted to keep it that way. Curious spooks don’t usually tail Spanish teachers.”

“He’s a professor,” Susan corrected, immediately regretting the clarification. Every now and again Susan got the feeling David wasn’t good enough for the commander, that he thought somehow she could do better than a schoolteacher.

“Commander,” she said, moving on, “if you briefed David by car phone this morning, someone could have intercepted the—”

“One‑in‑a‑million shot,” Strathmore interrupted, his tone reassuring. “Any eavesdropper had to be in the immediate vicinity and know exactly what to listen for.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “I would never have sent David if I thought it was dangerous.” He smiled. “Trust me. Any sign of trouble, and I’ll send in the pros.”

Strathmore’s words were punctuated by the sudden sound of someone pounding on the Node 3 glass. Susan and Strathmore turned.

Sys‑Sec Phil Chartrukian had his face pressed against the pane and was pounding fiercely, straining to see through. Whatever he was excitedly mouthing was not audible through the soundproofed glass. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“What the hell is Chartrukian doing here?” Strathmore growled. “He’s not on duty today.”

“Looks like trouble,” Susan said. “He probably saw the Run‑Monitor.”

“Goddamn it!” the commander hissed. “I specifically called the scheduled Sys‑Sec last night and told him not to come in!”

Susan was not surprised. Canceling a Sys‑Sec duty was irregular, but Strathmore undoubtedly had wanted privacy in the dome. The last thing he needed was some paranoid Sys‑Sec blowing the lid off Digital Fortress.

“We better abort TRANSLTR,” Susan said. “We can reset the Run‑Monitor and tell Phil he was seeing things.”

Strathmore appeared to consider it, then shook his head. “Not yet. TRANSLTR is fifteen hours into this attack. I want to run it a full twenty‑four‑just to be sure.”

This made sense to Susan. Digital Fortress was the first ever use of a rotating cleartext function. Maybe Tankado had overlooked something; maybe TRANSLTR would break it after twenty‑four hours. Somehow Susan doubted it.

“TRANSLTR keeps running,” Strathmore resolved. “I need to know for sure this algorithm is untouchable.”

Chartrukian continued pounding on the pane.

“Here goes nothing.” Strathmore groaned. “Back me up.”

The commander took a deep breath and then strode to the sliding glass doors. The pressure plate on the floor activated, and the doors hissed open.

Chartrukian practically fell into the room. “Commander, sir. I . . . I’m sorry to bother you, but the Run‑Monitor . . . I ran a virus probe and—”

“Phil, Phil, Phil,” the commander gushed pleasantly as he put a reassuring hand on Chartrukian’s shoulder. “Slow down. What seems to be the problem?”

From the easygoing tone in Strathmore’s voice, nobody would ever have guessed his world was falling in around him. He stepped aside and ushered Chartrukian into the sacred walls of Node 3. The Sys‑Sec stepped over the threshold hesitantly, like a well‑trained dog that knew better.

From the puzzled look on Chartrukian’s face, it was obvious he’d never seen the inside of this place. Whatever had been the source of his panic was momentarily forgotten. He surveyed the plush interior, the line of private terminals, the couches, the bookshelves, the soft lighting. When his gaze fell on the reigning queen of Crypto, Susan Fletcher, he quickly looked away. Susan intimidated the hell out of him. Her mind worked on a different plane. She was unsettlingly beautiful, and his words always seemed to get jumbled around her. Susan’s unassuming air made it even worse.

“What seems to be the problem, Phil?” Strathmore said, opening the refrigerator. “Drink?”

“No, ah‑no, thank you, sir.” He seemed tongue‑tied, not sure he was truly welcome. “Sir . . . I think there’s a problem with TRANSLTR.”

Strathmore closed the refrigerator and looked at Chartrukian casually. “You mean the Run‑Monitor?”

Chartrukian looked shocked. “You mean you’ve seen it?”

“Sure. It’s running at about sixteen hours, if I’m not mistaken.”

Chartrukian seemed puzzled. “Yes, sir, sixteen hours. But that’s not all, sir. I ran a virus probe, and it’s turning up some pretty strange stuff.”

“Really?” Strathmore seemed unconcerned. “What kind of stuff?”

Susan watched, impressed with the commander’s performance.

Chartrukian stumbled on. “TRANSLTR’s processing something very advanced. The filters have never seen anything like it. I’m afraid TRANSLTR may have some sort of virus.”

“A virus?” Strathmore chuckled with just a hint of condescension. “Phil, I appreciate your concern, I really do. But Ms. Fletcher and I are running a new diagnostic, some very advanced stuff. I would have alerted you to it, but I wasn’t aware you were on duty today.”

The Sys‑Sec did his best to cover gracefully. “I switched with the new guy. I took his weekend shift.”

Strathmore’s eyes narrowed. “That’s odd. I spoke to him last night. I told him not to come in. He said nothing about switching shifts.”

Chartrukian felt a knot rise in his throat. There was a tense silence.

“Well.” Strathmore finally sighed. “Sounds like an unfortunate mix‑up.” He put a hand on the Sys‑Sec’s shoulder and led him toward the door. “The good news is you don’t have to stay. Ms. Fletcher and I will be here all day. We’ll hold the fort. You just enjoy your weekend.”

Chartrukian was hesitant. “Commander, I really think we should check the—”

“Phil,” Strathmore repeated a little more sternly, “TRANSLTR is fine. If your probe saw something strange, it’s because we put it there. Now if you don’t mind . . .” Strathmore trailed off, and the Sys‑Sec understood. His time was up.

* * *

“A diagnostic, my ass!” Chartrukian muttered as he fumed back into the Sys‑Sec lab. “What kind of looping function keeps three million processors busy for sixteen hours?”

Chartrukian wondered if he should call the Sys‑Sec supervisor. Goddamn cryptographers, he thought. They just don’t understand security!

The oath Chartrukian had taken when he joined Sys‑Sec began running through his head. He had sworn to use his expertise, training, and instinct to protect the NSA’s multibillion‑dollar investment.

“Instinct,” he said defiantly. It doesn’t take a psychic to know this isn’t any goddamn diagnostic!

Defiantly, Chartrukian strode over to the terminal and fired up TRANSLTR’s complete array of system assessment software.

“Your baby’s in trouble, Commander,” he grumbled. “You don’t trust instinct? I’ll get you proof!”