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Susan returned to Node 3. Her conversation with Strathmore had made her increasingly anxious about David’s safety. Her imagination was running wild.

“So,” Hale spouted from his terminal. “What did Strathmore want? A romantic evening alone with his head cryptographer?”

Susan ignored the comment and settled in at her terminal. She typed her privacy code and the screen came to life. The tracer program came into view; it still had not returned any information on North Dakota.

Damn, Susan thought. What’s taking so long?

“You seem uptight,” Hale said innocently. “Having trouble with your diagnostic?”

“Nothing serious,” she replied. But Susan wasn’t so sure. The tracer was overdue. She wondered if maybe she’d made a mistake while writing it. She began scanning the long lines of LIMBO programming on her screen, searching for anything that could be holding things up.

Hale observed her smugly. “Hey, I meant to ask you,” he ventured. “What do you make of that unbreakable algorithm Ensei Tankado said he was writing?”

Susan’s stomach did a flip. She looked up. “Unbreakable algorithm?” She caught herself. “Oh, yeah . . . I think I read something about that.”

“Pretty incredible claim.”

“Yeah,” Susan replied, wondering why Hale had suddenly brought it up. “I don’t buy it, though. Everyone knows an unbreakable algorithm is a mathematical impossibility.”

Hale smiled. “Oh, yeah . . . the Bergofsky Principle.”

“And common sense,” she snapped.

“Who knows . . .” Hale sighed dramatically. “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Shakespeare,” Hale offered. “Hamlet.”

“Read a lot while you were in jail?”

Hale chuckled. “Seriously, Susan, did you ever think that maybe it is possible, that maybe Tankado really did write an unbreakable algorithm?”

This conversation was making Susan uneasy. “Well, we couldn’t do it.”

“Maybe Tankado’s better than we are.”

“Maybe.” Susan shrugged, feigning disinterest.

“We corresponded for a while,” Hale offered casually. “Tankado and me. Did you know that?”

Susan looked up, attempting to hide her shock. “Really?”

“Yeah. After I uncovered the Skipjack algorithm, he wrote me‑said we were brothers in the global fight for digital privacy.”

Susan could barely contain her disbelief. Hale knows Tankado personally! She did her best to look uninterested.

Hale went on. “He congratulated me for proving that Skipjack had a back door‑called it a coup for privacy rights of civilians all over the world. You gotta admit, Susan, the backdoor in Skipjack was an underhanded play. Reading the world’s E‑mail? If you ask me, Strathmore deserved to get caught.”

“Greg,” Susan snapped, fighting her anger, “that back door was so the NSA could decode E‑mail that threatened this nation’s security.”

“Oh, really?” Hale sighed innocently. “And snooping the average citizen was just a lucky by‑product?”

“We don’t snoop average citizens, and you know it. The FBI can tap telephones, but that doesn’t mean they listen to every call that’s ever made.”

“If they had the manpower, they would.”

Susan ignored the remark. “Governments should have the right to gather information that threatens the common good.”

“Jesus Christ"‑Hale sighed‑"you sound like you’ve been brainwashed by Strathmore. You know damn well the FBI can’t listen in whenever they want‑they’ve got to get a warrant. A spiked encryption standard would mean the NSA could listen in to anyone, anytime, anywhere.”

“You’re right‑as we should be able to!” Susan’s voice was suddenly harsh. “If you hadn’t uncovered the back door in Skipjack, we’d have access to every code we need to break, instead of just what TRANSLTR can handle.”

“If I hadn’t found the back door,” Hale argued, “someone else would have. I saved your asses by uncovering it when I did. Can you imagine the fallout if Skipjack had been in circulation when the news broke?”

“Either way,” Susan shot back, “now we’ve got a paranoid EFF who think we put back doors in all our algorithms.”

Hale asked smugly, “Well, don’t we?”

Susan eyed him coldly.

“Hey,” he said, backing off, “the point is moot now anyway. You built TRANSLTR. You’ve got your instant information source. You can read what you want, when you want‑no questions asked. You win.”

“Don’t you mean we win? Last I heard, you worked for the NSA.”

“Not for long,” Hale chirped.

“Don’t make promises.”

“I’m serious. Someday I’m getting out of here.”

“I’ll be crushed.”

In that moment, Susan found herself wanting to curse Hale for everything that wasn’t going right. She wanted to curse him for Digital Fortress, for her troubles with David, for the fact that she wasn’t in the Smokys‑but none of it was his fault. Hale’s only fault was that he was obnoxious. Susan needed to be the bigger person. It was her responsibility as head cryptographer to keep the peace, to educate. Hale was young and naive.

Susan looked over at him. It was frustrating, she thought, that Hale had the talent to be an asset in Crypto, but he still hadn’t grasped the importance of what the NSA did.

“Greg,” Susan said, her voice quiet and controlled, “I’m under a lot of pressure today. I just get upset when you talk about the NSA like we’re some kind of high‑tech peeping Tom. This organization was founded for one purpose‑to protect the security of this nation. That may involve shaking a few trees and looking for the bad apples from time to time. I think most citizens would gladly sacrifice some privacy to know that the bad guys can’t maneuver unchecked.”

Hale said nothing.

“Sooner or later,” Susan argued, “the people of this nation need to put their trust somewhere. There’s a lot of good out there‑but there’s also a lot of bad mixed in. Someone has to have access to all of it and separate the right from wrong. That’s our job. That’s our duty. Whether we like it or not, there is a frail gate separating democracy from anarchy. The NSA guards that gate.”

Hale nodded thoughtfully. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Susan looked puzzled.

“It’s Latin,” Hale said. “From Satires of Juvenal. It means 'Who will guard the guards?'”

“I don’t get it,” Susan said. “'Who will guard the guards?'”

“Yeah. If we’re the guards of society, then who will watch us and make sure that we’re not dangerous?”

Susan nodded, unsure how to respond.

Hale smiled. “It’s how Tankado signed all his letters to me. It was his favorite saying.”