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!”
“Seven minutes!” a technician called out.
“Eight rows of eight!” Susan shouted, excited.
Soshi typed. Fontaine looked on silently. The second to last shield was growing thin.
“Sixty‑four letters!” Susan was in control. “It’s a perfect square!”
“Perfect square?” Jabba demanded. “So what?”
Ten seconds later Soshi had rearranged the seemingly random letters on the screen. They were now in eight rows of eight. Jabba studied the letters and threw up his hands in despair. The new layout was no more revealing than the original.
P F E E S E S N
R E T M P F H A
I R W E O O I G
M E E N N R M A
E N E T S H A S
D C N S I I A A
I E E R B R N K
F B L E L O D I
“Clear as shit.” Jabba groaned.
“Ms. Fletcher,” Fontaine demanded, “explain yourself.” All eyes turned to Susan.
Susan was staring up at the block of text. Gradually she began nodding, then broke into a wide smile. “David, I’ll be damned!”
Everyone on the podium exchanged baffled looks.
David winked at the tiny image of Susan Fletcher on the screen before him. “Sixty‑four letters. Julius Caesar strikes again.”
Midge looked lost. “What are you talking about?”
“Caesar box.” Susan beamed. “Read top to bottom. Tankado’s sending us a message.”
“Six minutes!” a technician called out.
Susan shouted orders. “Retype top to bottom! Read down, not across!”
Soshi furiously moved down the columns, retyping the text.
“Julius Caesar sent codes this way!” Susan blurted. “His letter count was always a perfect square!”
“Done!” Soshi yelled.
Everyone looked up at the newly arranged, single line of text on the wall‑screen.
“Still garbage,” Jabba scoffed in disgust. “Look at it. It’s totally random bits of—” The words lodged in his throat. His eyes widened to saucers. “Oh . . . oh my . . .”
Fontaine had seen it too. He arched his eyebrows, obviously impressed.
Midge and Brinkerhoff both cooed in unison. “Holy . . . shit.”