It is early in November of 1942 and a simply unbelievable amount of shit is going on, all at once, everywhere. Zeus himself would not be able to sort it all out, not even if he mobilized the caryatidstell them never mind what we told you, just drop those loads. Temples collapsing everywhere, like spyglasses, hed send those caryatidsand any naiads and dryads he could scare upto library school, issue them green visors, dress them in the prim asexual uniforms of the OPAMS, the Olympian Perspective Archive Management Service, put them to work filling out three-by-five cards round the clock. Get them to use some of that vaunted caryatid steadfastness to tend Hollerith machines and ETC card readers. Even then, Zeus would probably still lack a handle on the situation. Hed be so pissed off he would hardly know which hubristical mortals to fling his thunderbolts at, nor which pinup girls and buck privates to molest.
Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is as Olympian as anyone right now. Roosevelt and Churchill and the few others on the Ultra Mega list have the same access, but they have other cares and distractions. They cant wander around the data flow capital of the planet, snooping over translators shoulders and reading the decrypts as they come, chunkity-chunkity whirr, out of the Typex machines. They cannot trace individual threads of the global narrative at their whim, running from hut to hut patching connections together, even as the WRENs in Hut 11 string patch cables from one bombe socket to another, fashioning a web to catch Hitlers messages as they speed through the ether.
Here are some of the things Waterhouse knows: the Battle of El Alamein is won, and Montgomery is chasing Rommel westwards across Cyrenaica at what looks like a breakneck pace, driving him back toward the distant Axis stronghold of Tunis. But its not the rout it appears to be. If Monty would only grasp the significance of the intelligence coming through the Ultra channel, he would be able to move decisively, to surround and capture large pockets of Germans and Italians. But he never does, and so Rommel stages an orderly retreat, preparing to fight another day, and plodding Monty is roundly cursed in the watch rooms of Bletchley Park for his failure to exploit their priceless but perishable gems of intelligence.
The largest sealift in history just piled into Northwest Africa. It is called Operation Torch, and its going to take Rommel from behind, serving as anvil to Montgomerys hammer, or, if Monty doesnt pick up the pace a bit, maybe the other way around. It looks brilliantly organized but its not really; this is the first time America has punched across the Atlantic in any serious way and so a whole grab bag of stuff is included on those shipsincluding any number of signals intelligence geeks who are storming theatrically onto the beaches as if they were Marines. Also included in the landing is the American contingent of Detachment 2702a hand-picked wrecking crew of combat-hardened leathernecks.
Some of these Marines learned what they know on Guadalcanal, a basically useless island in the Southwest Pacific where the Empire of Nippon and the United States of America are disputingwith rifleseach others right to build a military airbase. Early returns suggest that the Nipponese Army, during its extended tour of East Asia, has lost its edge. It would appear that raping the entire female population of Nanjing, and bayoneting helpless Filipino villagers, does not translate into actual military competence. The Nipponese Army is still trying to work out some way to kill, say, a hundred American Marines without losing, say, five hundred of its own soldiers.
The Japanese Navy is a different storythey know what they are doing. They have Yamamoto. They have torpedoes that actually explode when they strike their targets, in stark contrast to the American models which do nothing but scratch the paint of the Japanese ships and then sink apologetically. Yamamoto just made another attempt to wipe out the American fleet off the Santa Cruz Islands, sank Hornet and blew a nice hole in Enterprise. But he lost a third of his planes. Watching the Japanese rack up losses, Waterhouse wonders if anyone in Tokyo has bothered to break out the abacus and run the numbers on this Second World War thing.
The Allies are doing some math of their own, and they are scared shitless. There are 100 German U-boats in the Atlantic now, operating mostly from Lorient and Bordeaux, and they are slaughtering convoys in the North Atlantic with such efficiency that its not even combat, just a Lusitanian-level murder spree. They are on a pace to sink something like a million tons of shipping this month, which Waterhouse cannot really comprehend. He tries to think of a ton as being roughly equivalent to a car, and then tries to imagine America and Canada going out into the middle of the Atlantic and simply dropping a million cars into the oceanjust in November. Sheesh!
The problem is Shark.
The Germans call it Triton. It is a new cypher system, used exclusively by their Navy. It is an Enigma machine, but not the usual three-wheel Enigma. The Poles learned how to break that old thing a couple of years ago, and Bletchley Park industrialized the process. But more than a year ago, a German U-boat was beached intact on the south coast of Iceland and gone over pretty thoroughly by men from Bletchley. They discovered an Enigma box with niches for fournot threewheels.
When the four-wheel Enigma had gone into service on February 1st, the entire Atlantic had gone black. Alan and the others have been going after the problem very hard ever since. The problem is that they dont know how the fourth wheel is wired up.
But a few days ago, another U-boat was captured, more or less intact, in the Eastern Mediterranean. Colonel Chattan, who happened to be in the neighborhood, went there with sickening haste, along with some other Bletchleyites. They recovered a four-wheel Enigma machine, and though this doesnt break the code, it gives them the data they need to break it.
Hitler must be feeling cocky, anyway, because hes on tour at the moment, preparatory to a working vacation at his alpine retreat. That didnt prevent him from taking over what was left of Franceapparently something about Operation Torch really got his goat, so he occupied Vichy France in its entirety, and then dispatched upwards of a hundred thousand fresh troops, and a correspondingly stupendous amount of supplies, across the Mediterranean to Tunisia. Waterhouse imagines that you must be able to cross from Sicily to Tunisia these days simply by hopping from the deck of one German transport ship to another.
Of course, if that were true, Waterhouses job would be a lot easier. The Allies could sink as many of those ships as they wanted to without raising a single blond Teutonic eyebrow on the information-theory front. But the fact is that the convoys are few and far between. Just exactly how few and how far between are parameters that go into the equations that he and Alan Mathison Turing spend all night scribbling on chalkboards.
After a good eight or twelve hours of that, when the sun has finally come up again, theres nothing like a brisk bicycle ride in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
Spread out before them as they pump over the crest of the rise is a woods that has turned all of the colors of flame. The hemispherical crowns of the maples even contribute a realistic billowing effect. Lawrence feels a funny compulsion to take his hands off the handlebars and clamp them over his ears. As they coast into the trees, however, the air remains delightfully cool, the blue sky above unsmudged by pillars of black smoke, and the calm and quiet of the place could not be more different from what Lawrence is remembering.
"Talk, talk, talk!" says Alan Turing, imitating the squawk of furious hens. The strange noise is made stranger by the fact that he is wearing a gas mask, until he becomes impatient and pulls it up onto his forehead. "They love to hear themselves talk." He is referring to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. "And they dont mind hearing each other talkup to a point, at least. But voice is a terribly redundant channel of information, compared to printed text. If you take text and run it through an Enigmawhich is really not all that complicatedthe familiar patterns in the text, such as the preponderance of the letter E, become nearly undetectable." Then he pulls the gas mask back over his face in order to emphasize the following point: "But you can warp and permute voice in the most fiendish ways imaginable and it will still be perfectly intelligible to a listener." Alan then suffers a sneezing fit that threatens to burst the khaki straps around his head.
"Our ears know how to find the familiar patterns," Lawrence suggests. He is not wearing a gas mask because (a) there is no Nazi gas attack in progress, and (b) unlike Alan, he does not suffer from hay fever.
"Excuse me." Alan suddenly brakes and jumps off his bicycle. He lifts the rear wheel from the pavement, gives it a spin with his free hand, then reaches down and gives the chain a momentary sideways tug. He is watching the mechanism intently, interrupted by a few aftersneezes.
The chain of Turings bicycle has one weak link. The rear wheel has one bent spoke. When the link and the spoke come into contact with each other, the chain will part and fall onto the road. This does not happen at every revolution of the wheelotherwise the bicycle would be completely useless. It only happens when the chain and the wheel are in a certain position with respect to each other.
Based upon reasonable assumptions about the velocity that can be maintained by Dr. Turing, an energetic bicyclist (let us say 25 km/hr) and the radius of his bicycles rear wheel (a third of a meter), if the chains weak link hit the bent spoke on every revolution, the chain would fall off every one-third of a second.
In fact, the chain doesnt fall off unless the bent spoke and the weak link happen to coincide. Now, suppose that you describe the position of the rear wheel by the traditional [theta]. Just for the sake of simplicity, say that when the wheel starts in the position where the bent spoke is capable of hitting the weak link (albeit only if the weak link happens to be there to be hit) then [theta] = 0. If youre using degrees as your unit, then, during a single revolution of the wheel, [theta] will climb all the way up to 359 degrees before cycling back around to 0, at which point the bent spoke will be back in position to knock the chain off And now suppose that you describe the position of the chain with the variable C, in the following very simple way: you assign a number to each link on the chain. The weak link is numbered 0, the next is 1, and so on, up to l - 1 where l is the total number of links in the chain. And again, for simplicitys sake, say that when the chain is in the position where its weak link is capable of being hit by the bent spoke (albeit only if the bent spoke happens to be there to hit it) then C = 0.
For purposes of figuring out when the chain is going to fall off of Dr. Turings bicycle, then, everything we need to know about the bicycle is contained in the values of [theta] and of C. That pair of numbers defines the bicycles state. The bicycle has as many possible states as there can be different values of ([theta], C) but only one of those states, namely (0, 0), is the one that will cause the chain to fall off onto the road.
Suppose we start off in that state; i.e., with ([theta] = 0, C = 0), but that the chain has not fallen off because Dr. Turing (knowing full well his bicycles state at any given time) has paused in the middle of road (nearly precipitating a collision with his friend and colleague Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, because his gas mask blocks his peripheral vision). Dr. Turing has tugged sideways on the chain while moving it forward slightly, preventing it from being hit by the bent spoke. Now he gets on the bicycle again and begins to pedal forward. The circumference of his rear wheel is about two meters, and so when he has moved a distance of two meters down the road, the wheel has performed a complete revolution and reached the position [theta] = 0 againthat being the position, remember, when its bent spoke is in position to hit the weak link.
What of the chain? Its position, defined by C, begins at 0 and reaches 1 when its next link moves forward to the fatal position, then 2 and so on. The chain must move in synch with the teeth on the sprocket at the center of the rear wheel, and that sprocket has n teeth, and so after a complete revolution of the rear wheel, when [theta] = 0 again, C = n. After a second complete revolution of the rear wheel, once again [theta] = 0 but now C = 2n. The next time its C = 3n and so on. But remember that the chain is not an infinite linear thing, but a loop having only l positions; at C = l it loops back around to C = 0 and repeats the cycle. So when calculating the value of C it is necessary to do modular arithmeticthat is, if the chain has a hundred links (l = 100) and the total number of links that have moved by is 135, then the value of C is not 135 but 35. Whenever you get a number greater than or equal to l you just repeatedly subtract l until you get a number less than l. This operation is written, by mathematicians, as mod l. So the successive values of C, each time the rear wheel spins around to [theta] = 0, are
Ci = n mod l, 2n mod l, 3n mod l,. . .,in mod l
where i = (1, 2, 3, . . . [infinity])
more or less, depending on how close to infinitely long Turing wants to keep riding his bicycle. After a while, it seems infinitely long to Waterhouse.
Turings chain will fall off when his bicycle reaches the state ([theta] = 0, C = 0) and in light of what is written above, this will happen when i (which is just a counter telling how many times the rear wheel has revolved) reaches some hypothetical value such that in mod l = 0, or, to put it in plain language, it will happen if there is some multiple of n (such as, oh, 2n, 3n, 395n or 109,948,368,443n) that just happens to be an exact multiple of l too. Actually there might be several of these so-called common multiples, but from a practical standpoint the only one that matters is the first onethe least common multiple, or LCMbecause thats the one that will be reached first and that will cause the chain to fall off.
If, say, the sprocket has twenty teeth (n 20) and the chain has a hundred teeth (l 100) then after one turn of the wheel well have C 20, after two turns C = 40, then 60, then 80, then 100. But since we are doing the arithmetic modulo 100, that value has to be changed to zero. So after five revolutions of the rear wheel, we have reached the state ([theta] = 0, C = 0) and Turings chain falls off. Five revolutions of the rear wheel only gets him ten meters down the road, and so with these values of l and n the bicycle is very nearly worthless. Of course, this is only true if Turing is stupid enough to begin pedaling with his bicycle in the chain-falling-off state. If, at the time he begins pedaling, it is in the state ([theta] = 0, C = 1) instead, then the successive values will be C 21, 41, 61, 81, 1, 21, . . . and so on foreverthe chain will never fall off. But this is a degenerate case, where "degenerate," to a mathematician, means "annoyingly boring." In theory, as long as Turing put his bicycle into the right state before parking it outside a building, no one would be able to steal itthe chain would fall off after they had ridden for no more than ten meters.
But if Turings chain has a hundred and one links (l = 101) then after five revolutions we have C = 100, and after six we have C = 19, then
So not until the 101st revolution of the rear wheel does the bicycle return to the state ([theta] = 0, C = 0) where the chain falls off. During these hundred and one revolutions, Turings bicycle has proceeded for a distance of a fifth of a kilometer down the road, which is not too bad. So the bicycle is usable. However, unlike in the degenerate case, it is not possible for this bicycle to be placed in a state where the chain never falls off at all. This can be proved by going through the above list of values of C, and noticing that every possible value of Cevery single number from 0 to 100is on the list. What this means is that no matter what value C has when Turing begins to pedal, sooner or later it will work its way round to the fatal C = 0 and the chain will fall off. So Turing can leave his bicycle anywhere and be confident that, if stolen, it wont go more than a fifth of a kilometer before the chain falls off.
The difference between the degenerate and nondegenerate cases has to do with the properties of the numbers involved. The combination of (n = 20, l = 100) has radically different properties from (n = 20, l = 101). The key difference is that 20 and 101 are "relatively prime" meaning that they have no factors in common. This means that their least common multiple, their LCM, is a large numberit is, in fact, equal to l × n = 20 × 101 = 2020. Whereas the LCM of 20 and 100 is only 100. The l = 101 bicycle has a long period it passes through many different states before returning back to the beginningwhereas the l = 100 bicycle has a period of only a few states.
Suppose that Turings bicycle were a cipher machine that worked by alphabetic substitution, which is to say that it would replace each of the 26 letters of the alphabet with some other letter. An A in the plaintext might become a T in the ciphertext, B might become F, C might be come M, and so on all the way through to Z. In and of itself this would be an absurdly easy cipher to breakkids-in-treehouses stuff. But suppose that the substitution scheme changed from one letter to the next. That is, suppose that after the first letter of the plaintext was enciphered using one particular substitution alphabet, the second letter of plaintext was enciphered using a completely different substitution alphabet, and the third letter a different one yet, and so on. This is called a polyalphabetic cipher.
Suppose that Turings bicycle were capable of generating a different alphabet for each one of its different states. So the state ([theta] = 0, C = 0) would correspond to, say, this substitution alphabet:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r
s t u v w x y z
q g u w b i y t f k v n d o h e p x l z r c a s j m
but the state ([theta] = 180, C = 15) would correspond to this (different) one:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r
s t u v w x y z
b o r i x v g y p f j m t c q n h a z u k l d s e w
No two letters would be enciphered using the same substitution alphabetuntil, that is, the bicycle worked its way back around to the initial state ([theta] = 0, C = 0) and began to repeat the cycle. This means that it is a periodic polyalphabetic system. Now, if this machine had a short period, it would repeat itself frequently, and would therefore be useful, as an encryption system, only against kids in treehouses. The longer its period (the more relative primeness is built into it) the less frequently it cycles back to the same substitution alphabet, and the more secure it is.
The three-wheel Enigma is just that type of system (i.e., periodic polyalphabetic). Its wheels, like the drive train of Turings bicycle, embody cycles within cycles. Its period is 17,576, which means that the substitution alphabet that enciphers the first letter of a message will not be used again until the 17,577th letter is reached. But with Shark the Germans have added a fourth wheel, bumping the period up to 456,976. The wheels are set in a different, randomly chosen starting position at the beginning of each message. Since the Germans messages are never as long as 450,000 characters, the Enigma never reuses the same substitution alphabet in the course of a given message, which is why the Germans think its so good.
A flight of transport planes goes over them, probably headed for the aerodrome at Bedford. The planes make a weirdly musical diatonic hum, like bagpipes playing two drones at once. This reminds Lawrence of yet another phenomenon related to the bicycle wheel and the Enigma machine. "Do you know why airplanes sound the way they do?" he says.
"No, come to think of it." Turing pulls his gas mask off again. His jaw has gone a bit slack and his eyes are darting from side to side. Lawrence has caught him out.
"I noticed it at Pearl. Airplane engines are rotary," Lawrence says. "Consequently they must have an odd number of cylinders."
"How does that follow?"
"If the number were even, the cylinders would be directly opposed, a hundred and eighty degrees apart, and it wouldnt work out mechanically."
"I forgot. It just wouldnt work out."
Alan raises his eyebrows, clearly not convinced.
"Something to do with cranks," Waterhouse ventures, feeling a little defensive.
"I dont know that I agree," Alan says.
"Just stipulate itthink of it as a boundary condition," Waterhouse says. But Alan is already hard at work, he suspects, mentally designing a rotary aircraft engine with an even number of cylinders.
"Anyway, if you look at them, they all have an odd number of cylinders," Lawrence continues. "So the exhaust noise combines with the propeller noise to produce that two-tone sound."
Alan climbs back onto his bicycle and they ride into the woods for some distance without any more talking. Actually, they have not been talking so much as mentioning certain ideas and then leaving the other to work through the implications. This is a highly efficient way to communicate; it eliminates much of the redundancy that Alan was complaining about in the case of FDR and Churchill.
Waterhouse is thinking about cycles within cycles. Hes already made up his mind that human society is one of these cycles-within-cycles things* and now hes trying to figure out whether it is like Turings bicycle (works fine for a while, then suddenly the chain falls off, hence the occasional world war) or like an Enigma machine (grinds away incomprehensibly for a long time, then suddenly the wheels line up like a slot machine and everything is made plain in some sort of global epiphany or, if you prefer, apocalypse) or just like a rotary airplane engine (runs and runs and runs; nothing special happens; it just makes a lot of noise).
"Its somewhere around . . . here!" Alan says, and violently brakes to a stop, just to chaff Lawrence, who has to turn his bicycle around, a chancy trick on such a narrow lane, and loop back.
They lean their bicycles against trees and remove pieces of equipment from the baskets: dry cells, electronic breadboards, poles, a trenching tool, loops of wire. Alan looks about somewhat uncertainly and then strikes off into the woods.
"Im off to America soon, to work on this voice encryption problem at Bell Labs," Alan says.
Lawrence laughs ruefully. "Were ships passing in the night, you and I."
"We are passengers on ships passing in the night," Alan corrects him. "It is no accident. They need you precisely because I am leaving. Ive been doing all of the 2701 work to this point."
"Its Detachment 2702 now," Lawrence says.
"Oh," Alan says, crestfallen. "You noticed."
"It was reckless of you, Alan."
"On the contrary!" Alan says. "What will Rudy think if he notices that, of all the units and divisions and detachments in the Allied order of battle, there is not a single one whose number happens to be the product of two primes?"
"Well, that depends upon how common such numbers are compared to all of the other numbers, and on how many other numbers in the range are going unused . . ." Lawrence says, and begins to work out the first half of the problem. "Riemann Zeta function again. That thing pops up everywhere."
"Thats the spirit!" Alan says. "Simply take a rational and common-sense approach. They are really quite pathetic."
"Here," Alan says, slowing to a stop and looking around at the trees, which to Lawrence look like all the other trees. "This looks familiar." He sits down on the bole of a windfall and begins to unpack electrical gear from his bag. Lawrence squats nearby and does the same. Lawrence does not know how the device worksit is Alans inventionand so he acts in the role of surgical assistant, handing tools and supplies to the doctor as he puts the device together. The doctor is talking the entire time, and so he requests tools by staring at them fixedly and furrowing his brow.
"They arewell, who do you suppose? The fools who use all of the information that comes from Bletchley Park!"
"Well, it is foolish! Like this Midway thing. Thats a perfect example, isnt it?"
"Well, I was happy that we won the battle," Lawrence says guardedly.
"Dont you think its a bit odd, a bit striking, a bit noticeable, that after all of Yamamotos brilliant feints and deceptions and ruses, this Nimitz fellow knew exactly where to go looking for him? Out of the entire Pacific Ocean?"
"All right," Lawrence says, "I was appalled. I wrote a paper about it. Probably the paper that got me into this mess with you."
"Well, its no better with us Brits," Alan says.
"You would be horrified at what weve been up to in the Mediterranean. It is a scandal. A crime."
"What have we been up to?" Lawrence asks. "I say we rather than you because we are allies now."
"Yes, yes," Alan says impatiently. "So they claim." He paused for a moment, tracing an electrical circuit with his finger, calculating inductances in his head. Finally, he continues: "Well, weve been sinking convoys, thats what. German convoys. Weve been sinking them right and left."
"Yes, exactly. The Germans put fuel and tanks and ammunition on ships in Naples and send them south. We go out and sink them. We sink nearly all of them, because we have broken the Italian C38m cipher and we know when they are leaving Naples. And lately weve been sinking just the very ones that are most crucial to Rommels efforts, because we have also broken his Chaffinch cipher and we know which ones he is complaining loudest about not having."
Turing snaps a toggle switch on his invention and a weird, looping squeal comes from a dusty black paper cone lashed onto the breadboard with twine. The cone is a speaker, apparently scavenged from a radio. There is a broomstick with a loop of stiff wire dangling from the end, and a wire running from that loop up the stick to the breadboard. He swings the broomstick around until the loop is dangling, like a lasso, in front of Lawrences midsection. The speaker yelps.
"Good. Its picking up your belt buckle," Alan says.
He sets the contraption down in the leaves, gropes in several pockets, and finally pulls out a scrap of paper on which several lines of text have been written in block letters. Lawrence would recognize it anywhere: it is a decrypt worksheet. "Whats that, Alan?"
"I wrote out complete instructions and enciphered them, then hid them under a bridge in a benzedrine container," Alan says. "Last week I went and recovered the container and decyphered the instructions." He waves the paper in the air.
"What encryption scheme did you use?"
"One of my own devising. You are welcome to take a crack at it, if you like."
"What made you decide it was time to dig this stuff up?"
"It was nothing more than a hedge against invasion," Alan says. "Clearly, were not going to be invaded now, not with you chaps in the war."
"How much did you bury?"
"Two silver bars, Lawrence, each with a value of some hundred and twenty-five pounds. One of them should be very close to us." Alan stands up, pulls a compass out of his pocket, turns to face magnetic north, and squares his shoulders. Then he rotates a few degrees. "Cant remember whether I allowed for declination," he mumbles. "Right! In any case. One hundred paces north." And he strides off into the woods, followed by Lawrence, who has been given the job of carrying the metal detector.
Just as Dr. Alan Turing can ride a bicycle and carry on a conversation while mentally counting the revolutions of the pedals, he can count paces and talk at the same time too. Unless he has lost count entirely, which seems just as possible.
"If what you are saying is true," Lawrence says, "the jig must be up already. Rudy must have figured out that weve broken their codes."
"An informal system has been in place, which might be thought of as a precursor to Detachment 2701, or 2702 or whatever we are calling it," Alan says. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first. It is ostensibly an observation plane. Of course, to observe is not its real dutywe already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observedthat is, to fly close enough to the convoy that it will be noticed by the lookouts on the ships. The ships will then send out a radio message to the effect that they have been sighted by an Allied observation plane. Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspiciousat least, not quite so monstrously suspicious that we knew exactly where to go."
Alan stops, consults his compass, turns ninety degrees, and begins pacing westwards.
"That strikes me as being a very ad hoc arrangement," Lawrence says. "What is the likelihood that Allied observation planes, sent out purportedly at random, will just happen to notice every single Axis convoy?"
"Ive already calculated that probability, and Ill bet you one of my silver bars that Rudy has done it too," Turing says. "It is a very small probability."
"So I was right," Lawrence says, "we have to assume that the jig is up."
"Perhaps not just yet," Alan says. "It has been touch and go. Last week, we sank a convoy in the fog."
"In the fog?"
"It was foggy the whole way. The convoy could not possibly have been observed. The imbeciles sank it anyway. Kesselring became suspicious, as would anyone. So we ginned up a fake messagein a cypher that we know the Nazis have brokenaddressed to a fictitious agent in Naples. It congratulated him on betraying that convoy to us. Ever since, the Gestapo have been running rampant on the Naples waterfront, looking for the fellow."
"We dodged a bullet there, Id say."
"Indeed." Alan stops abruptly, takes the metal detector from Lawrence, and turns it on. He begins to walk slowly across a clearing, sweeping the wire loop back and forth just above the ground. It keeps snagging on branches and getting bent out of shape, necessitating frequent repairs, but remains stubbornly silent the whole time, except when Alan, concerned that it is no longer working, tests it on Lawrences belt buckle.
"The whole business is delicate," Alan muses. "Some of our SLUs in North Africa"
"Special Liaison Units. The intelligence officers who receive the Ultra information from us, pass it on to field officers, and then make sure it is destroyed. Some of them learned, from Ultra, that there was to be a German air raid during lunch, so they took their helmets to the mess hall. When the air raid came off as scheduled, everyone wanted to know why those SLUs had known to bring their helmets."
"The entire business seems hopeless," Lawrence says. "How can the Germans not realize?"
"It seems that way to us because we know everything and our channels of communication are free from noise," Alan says. "The Germans have fewer, and much noisier, channels. Unless we continue to do stunningly idiotic things like sinking convoys in the fog, they will never receive any clear and unmistakable indications that we have broken Enigma."
"Its funny you should mention Enigma," Lawrence says, "since that is an extremely noisy channel from which we manage to extract vast amounts of useful information."
"Precisely. Precisely why I am worried."
"Well, Ill do my best to spoof Rudy," Waterhouse says.
"Youll do fine. Im worried about the men who are carrying out the operations."
"Colonel Chattan seems pretty dependable," Waterhouse says, though theres probably no point in continuing to reassure Alan. Hes just in a fretting mood. Once every two or three years, Waterhouse does something that is socially deft, and nows the time: he changes the subject: "And meanwhile, youll be working it out so that Churchill and Roosevelt can have secret telephone conversations?"
"In theory. I rather doubt that its practical. Bell Labs has a system that works by breaking the waveform down into several bands. . ." and then Alan is off on the subject of telephone companies. He delivers a complete dissertation on the subject of information theory as applied to the human voice, and how that governs the way telephone systems work. It is a good thing that Turing has such a large subject on which to expound, for the woods are large, and it has become increasingly obvious to Lawrence that his friend has no idea where the silver bars are buried.
Unburdened by any silver, the two friends ride home in darkness, which comes surprisingly early this far north. They do not talk very much, for Lawrence is still absorbing and digesting everything that Alan has disgorged to him about Detachment 2702 and the convoys and Bell Labs and voice signal redundancy. Every few minutes, a motorcycle whips past them, saddlebags stuffed with encrypted message slips.