Spain. I sent David to Spain. The commander’s words stung.
“David’s in Spain?” Susan was incredulous. “You sent him to Spain?” Her tone turned angry. “Why?”
Strathmore looked dumbfounded. He was apparently not accustomed to being yelled at, even by his head cryptographer. He gave Susan a confused look. She was flexed like a mother tiger defending her cub.
“Susan,” he said. “You spoke to him, didn’t you? David did explain?”
She was too shocked to speak. Spain? That’s why David postponed our Stone Manor trip?
“I sent a car for him this morning. He said he was going to call you before he left. I’m sorry. I thought-”
“Why would you send David to Spain?”
Strathmore paused and gave her an obvious look. “To get the other pass-key.”
“What other pass-key?”
Susan was lost. “What are you talking about?”
Strathmore sighed. “Tankado surely would have had a copy of the pass-key on him when he died. I sure as hell didn’t want it floating around the Seville morgue.”
“So you sent David Becker?” Susan was beyond shock. Nothing was making sense. “David doesn’t even work for you!”
Strathmore looked startled. No one ever spoke to the deputy director of the NSA that way. “Susan,” he said, keeping his cool, “that’s the point. I needed-”
The tiger lashed out. “You’ve got twenty thousand employees at your command! What gives you the right to send my fiance?”
“I needed a civilian courier, someone totally removed from government. If I went through regular channels and someone caught wind-”
“And David Becker is the only civilian you know?”
“No! David Becker is not the only civilian I know! But at six this morning, things were happening quickly! David speaks the language, he’s smart, I trust him, and I thought I’d do him a favor!”
“A favor?” Susan sputtered. “Sending him to Spain is a favor?”
“Yes! I’m paying him ten thousand for one day’s work. He’ll pick up Tankado’s belongings, and he’ll fly home. That’s a favor!”
Susan fell silent. She understood. It was all about money.
Her thoughts wheeled back five months to the night the president of Georgetown University had offered David a promotion to the language department chair. The president had warned him that his teaching hours would be cut back and that there would be increased paperwork, but there was also a substantial raise in salary. Susan had wanted to cry out David, don’t do it! You’ll be miserable. We have plenty of money-who cares which one of us earns it? But it was not her place. In the end, she stood by his decision to accept. As they fell asleep that night, Susan tried to be happy for him, but something inside kept telling her it would be a disaster. She’d been right-but she’d never counted on being so right.
“You paid him ten thousand dollars?” she demanded. “That’s a dirty trick!”
Strathmore was fuming now. “Trick? It wasn’t any goddamn trick! I didn’t even tell him about the money. I asked him as a personal favor. He agreed to go.”
“Of course he agreed! You’re my boss! You’re the deputy director of the NSA! He couldn’t say no!”
“You’re right,” Strathmore snapped. “Which is why I called him. I didn’t have the luxury of-”
“Does the director know you sent a civilian?”
“Susan,” Strathmore said, his patience obviously wearing thin, “the director is not involved. He knows nothing about this.”
Susan stared at Strathmore in disbelief. It was as if she no longer knew the man she was talking to. He had sent her fiance-a teacher-on an NSA mission and then failed to notify the director about the biggest crisis in the history of the organization.
“Leland Fontaine hasn’t been notified?”
Strathmore had reached the end of his rope. He exploded. “Susan, now listen here! I called you in here because I need an ally, not an inquiry! I’ve had one hell of morning. I downloaded Tankado’s file last night and sat here by the output printer for hours praying TRANSLTR could break it. At dawn I swallowed my pride and dialed the director-and let me tell you, that was a conversation I was really looking forward to. Good morning, sir. I’m sorry to wake you. Why am I calling? I just found out TRANSLTR is obsolete. It’s because of an algorithm my entire top-dollar Crypto team couldn’t come close to writing!” Strathmore slammed his fist on the desk.
Susan stood frozen. She didn’t make a sound. In ten years, she had seen Strathmore lose his cool only a handful of times, and never once with her.
Ten seconds later neither one of them had spoken. Finally Strathmore sat back down, and Susan could hear his breathing slowing to normal. When he finally spoke, his voice was eerily calm and controlled.
“Unfortunately,” Strathmore said quietly, “it turns out the director is in South America meeting with the President of Colombia. Because there’s absolutely nothing he could do from down there, I had two options-request he cut his meeting short and return, or handle this myself.” There was along silence. Strathmore finally looked up, and his tired eyes met Susan’s. His expression softened immediately. “Susan, I’m sorry. I’m exhausted. This is a nightmare come true. I know you’re upset about David. I didn’t mean for you to find out this way. I thought you knew.”
Susan felt a wave of guilt. “I overreacted. I’m sorry. David is a good choice.”
Strathmore nodded absently. “He’ll be back tonight.”
Susan thought about everything the commander was going through-the pressure of overseeing TRANSLTR, the endless hours and meetings. It was rumored his wife of thirty years was leaving him. Then on top of it, there was Digital Fortress-the biggest intelligence threat in the history of the NSA, and the poor guy was flying solo. No wonder he looked about to crack.
“Considering the circumstances,” Susan said, “I think you should probably call the director.”
Strathmore shook his head, a bead of sweat dripping on his desk. “I’m not about to compromise the director’s safety or risk a leak by contacting him about a major crisis he can do nothing about.”
Susan knew he was right. Even in moments like these, Strathmore was clear-headed. “Have you considered calling the President?”
Strathmore nodded. “Yes. I’ve decided against it.”
Susan had figured as much. Senior NSA officials had the right to handle verifiable intelligence emergencies without executive knowledge. The NSA was the only U.S. intelligence organization that enjoyed total immunity from federal accountability of any sort. Strathmore often availed himself of this right; he preferred to work his magic in isolation.
“Commander,” she argued, “this is too big to be handled alone. You’ve got to let somebody else in on it.”
“Susan, the existence of Digital Fortress has major implications for the future of this organization. I have no intention of informing the President behind the director’s back. We have a crisis, and I’m handling it.” He eyed her thoughtfully. “I am the deputy director of operations.” A weary smile crept across his face. “And besides, I’m not alone. I’ve got Susan Fletcher on my team.”
In that instant, Susan realized what she respected so much about Trevor Strathmore. For ten years, through thick and thin, he had always led the way for her. Steadfast. Unwavering. It was his dedication that amazed her-his unshakable allegiance to his principles, his country, and his ideals. Come what may, Commander Trevor Strathmore was a guiding light in a world of impossible decisions.
“You are on my team, aren’t you?” he asked.
Susan smiled. “Yes, sir, I am. One hundred percent.”
“Good. Now can we get back to work?”
David Becker had been to funerals and seen dead bodies before, but there was something particularly unnerving about this one. It was not an immaculately groomed corpse resting in a silk-lined coffin. This body had been stripped naked and dumped unceremoniously on an aluminum table. The eyes had not yet found their vacant, lifeless gaze. Instead they were twisted upward toward the ceiling in an eerie freeze-frame of terror and regret.
“?Donde estan sus efectos?” Becker asked in fluent Castillian Spanish. “Where are his belongings?”
“Alli,” replied the yellow-toothed lieutenant. He pointed to a counter of clothing and other personal items.
“?Es todo? Is that all?”
Becker asked for a cardboard box. The lieutenant hurried off to find one.
It was Saturday evening, and the Seville morgue was technically closed. The young lieutenant had let Becker in under direct orders from the head of the Seville Guardia-it seemed the visiting American had powerful friends.
Becker eyed the pile of clothes. There was a passport, wallet, and glasses stuffed in one of the shoes. There was also a small duffel the Guardia had taken from the man’s hotel. Becker’s directions were clear: Touch nothing. Read nothing. Just bring it all back. Everything. Don’t miss anything.
Becker surveyed the pile and frowned. What could the NSA possibly want with this junk?
The lieutenant returned with a small box, and Becker began putting the clothes inside.
The officer poked at the cadaver’s leg. “?Quienes? Who is he?”
Japanese, Becker thought.
“Poor bastard. Heart attack, huh?”
Becker nodded absently. “That’s what they told me.”
The lieutenant sighed and shook his head sympathetically. “The Seville sun can be cruel. Be careful out there tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Becker said. “But I’m headed home.”
The officer looked shocked. “You just got here!”
“I know, but the guy paying my airfare is waiting for these items.”
The lieutenant looked offended in the way only a Spaniard can be offended. “You mean you’re not going to experience Seville?”
“I was here years ago. Beautiful city. I’d love to stay.”
“So you’ve seen La Giralda?”
Becker nodded. He’d never actually climbed the ancient Moorish tower, but he’d seen it.
“How about the Alcazar?”
Becker nodded again, remembering the night he’d heard Pacode Lucia play guitar in the courtyard-Flamenco under the stars in a fifteenth-century fortress. He wished he’d known Susan back then.
“And of course there’s Christopher Columbus.” The officer beamed. “He’s buried in our cathedral.”
Becker looked up. “Really? I thought Columbus was buried in the Dominican Republic.”
“Hell no! Who starts these rumors? Columbus’s body is here in Spain! I thought you said you went to college.”
Becker shrugged. “I must have missed that day.”
“The Spanish church is very proud to own his relics.”
The Spanish church. Becker knew here was only one church in Spain-the Roman Catholic church. Catholicism was bigger here than in Vatican City.
“We don’t, of course, have his entire body,” the lieutenant added. “Solo el escroto.”
Becker stopped packing and stared at the lieutenant. Solo el escroto? He fought off a grin. “Just his scrotum?”
The officer nodded proudly. “Yes. When the church obtains the remains of a great man, they saint him and spread the relics to different cathedrals so everyone can enjoy their splendor.”
“And you got the…” Becker stifled a laugh.
“Oye! It’s a pretty important part!” the officer defended. “It’s not like we got a rib or a knuckle like those churches in Galicia! You should really stay and see it.”
Becker nodded politely. “Maybe I’ll drop in on my way out of town.”
“Mala suerte.” The officer sighed. “Bad luck. The cathedral’s closed till sunrise mass.”
“Another time then.” Becker smiled, hoisting the box. “I should probably get going. My flight’s waiting. “He made a final glance around the room.
“You want a ride to the airport?” the officer asked. “I’ve got a Moto Guzzi out front.”
“No thanks. I’ll catch a cab.” Becker had driven a motorcycle once in college and nearly killed himself on it. He had no intention of getting on one again, regardless of who was driving.
“Whatever you say,” the officer said, heading for the door. “I’ll get the lights.”
Becker tucked the box under his arm. Have I got everything? He took a last look at the body on the table. The figure was stark naked, face up under fluorescent lights, clearly hiding nothing. Becker found his eyes drawn again to the strangely deformed hands. He gazed a minute, focusing more intently.
The officer killed the lights, and the room went dark.
“Hold on,” Becker said. “Turn those back on.”
The lights flickered back on.
Becker set his box on the floor walked over to the corpse. He leaned down and squinted at the man’s left hand.
The officer followed Becker’s gaze. “Pretty ugly, huh?”
But the deformity was not what had caught Becker’s eye. He’d seen something else. He turned to the officer. “You’re sure everything’s in this box?”
The officer nodded. “Yeah. That’s it.”
Becker stood for moment with his hands on his hips. Then he picked up the box, carried it back over to the counter, and dumped it out. Carefully, piece by piece, he shook out the clothing. Then he emptied the shoes and tapped them as if trying to remove a pebble. After going over everything a second time, he stepped back and frowned.
“Problem?” asked the lieutenant.
“Yeah,” Becker said. “We’re missing something.”
Tokugen Numataka stood in his plush, penthouse office and gazed out at the Tokyo skyline. His employees and competitors knew him a sakuta same-the deadly shark. For three decade she’d outguessed, outbid, and out advertised all the Japanese competition; now he was on the brink of becoming a giant in the world market as well.
He was about to close the biggest deal of his life-a deal that would make his Numatech Corp. the Microsoft of the future. His blood was alive with the cool rush of adrenaline. Business was war-and war was exciting.
Although Tokugen Numataka had been suspicious when the call had come three days ago, he now knew the truth. He was blessed with myouri-good fortune. The gods had chosen him.
“I have a copy of the Digital Fortress pass-key,” the American accent had said. “Would you like to buy it?”
Numataka had almost laughed aloud. He knew it was a ploy. Numatech Corp. had bid generously for Ensei Tankado’s new algorithm, and now one of Numatech’s competitors was playing games, trying to find out the amount of the bid.
“You have the pass-key?” Numataka feigned interest.
“I do. My name is North Dakota.”
Numataka stifled a laugh. Everyone knew about North Dakota. Tankado had told the press about his secret partner. It had been a wise move on Tankado’s part to have a partner; even in Japan, business practices had become dishonorable. Ensei Tankado was not safe. But one false move by an overeager firm, and the pass-key would be published; every software firm on the market would suffer.
Numataka took a long pull on his Umami cigar and played along with the caller’s pathetic charade. “So you’re selling your pass-key? Interesting. How does Ensei Tankado feel about this?”
“I have no allegiance to Mr. Tankado. Mr. Tankado was foolish to trust me. The pass-key is worth hundreds of times what he is paying me to handle it for him.”
“I’m sorry,” Numataka said. “Your pass-key alone is worth nothing to me. When Tankado finds out what you’ve done, he will simply publish his copy, and the market will be flooded.”
“You will receive both pass-keys,” the voice said. “Mr. Tankado’s and mine.”
Numataka covered the receiver and laughed aloud. He couldn’t help asking. “How much are you asking for both keys?”
“Twenty million U.S. dollars.”
Twenty million was almost exactly what Numataka had bid. “Twenty million?” He gasped in mock horror. “That’s outrageous!”
“I’ve seen the algorithm. I assure you it’s well worth it.”
No shit, thought Numataka. It’s worth ten times that. “Unfortunately,” he said, tiring of the game, “we both know Mr. Tankado would never stand for this. Think of the legal repercussions.”
The caller paused ominously. “What if Mr. Tankado were no longer a factor?”
Numataka wanted to laugh, but he noted an odd determination in the voice. “If Tankado were no longer a factor?” Numataka considered it. “Then you and I would have a deal.”
“I’ll be in touch,” the voice said. The line went dead.
Becker gazed down at the cadaver. Even hours after death, the Asian’s face radiated with a pinkish glow of a recent sunburn. The rest of him was a pale yellow-all except the small area of purplish bruising directly over his heart.
Probably from the CPR, Becker mused. Too bad it didn’t work.
He went back to studying the cadaver’s hands. They were like nothing Becker had ever seen. Each hand had only three digits, and they were twisted and askew. The disfigurement, however, was not what Becker was looking at.
“Well, I’ll be.” The lieutenant grunted from across the room. “He’s Japanese, not Chinese.”
Becker looked up. The officer was thumbing through the dead man’s passport. “I’d rather you didn’t look at that,” Becker requested. Touch nothing. Read nothing.
“Ensei Tankado… born January-”
“Please,” Becker said politely. “Put it back.”
The officer stared at the passport a moment longer and then tossed it back on the pile. “This guy’s got a class-3 visa. He could have stayed here for years.”
Becker poked at the victim’s hand with a pen. “Maybe he lived here.”
“Nope. Date of entry was last week.”
“Maybe he was moving here,” Becker offered curtly.
“Yeah, maybe. Crummy first week. Sunstroke and a heart attack. Poor bastard.”
Becker ignored the officer and studied the hand. “You’re positive he wasn’t wearing any jewelry when he died?”
The officer looked up, startled. “Jewelry?”
“Yeah. Take a look at this.”
The officer crossed the room.
The skin on Tankado’s left hand showed traces of sunburn, everywhere except a narrow band of flesh around the smallest finger.
Becker pointed to the strip of pale flesh. “See how this isn’t sunburned here? Looks like he was wearing a ring.”
The officer seemed surprised. “A ring?” His voice sounded suddenly perplexed. He studied the corpse’s finger. Then he flushed sheepishly. “My God.” He chuckled. “The story was true?”
Becker had a sudden sinking feeling. “I beg your pardon?”
The officer shook his head in disbelief. “I would have mentioned it before… but I thought the guy was nuts.”
Becker was not smiling. “What guy?”
“The guy who phoned in the emergency. Some Canadian tourist. Kept talking about a ring. Babbling in the worst damn Spanish I ever heard.”
“He said Mr. Tankado was wearing a ring?”
The officer nodded. He pulled out a Ducado cigarette, eyed the no fumar sign, and lit up anyway. “Guess I should have said something, but the guy sounded totally loco.”
Becker frowned. Strathmore’s words echoed in his ears. I want everything Ensei Tankado had with him. Everything. Leave nothing. Not even a tiny scrap of paper.
“Where is the ring now?” Becker asked.
The officer took a puff. “Long story.”
Something told Becker this was not good news. “Tell me anyway.”
Susan Fletcher sat at her computer terminal inside Node 3. Node 3 was the cryptographers’ private, soundproofed chamber just off the main floor. A two-inch sheet of curved one-way glass gave the cryptographers a panorama of the Crypto floor while prohibiting anyone else from seeing inside.
At the back of the expansive Node 3 chamber, twelve terminals sat in a perfect circle. The annular arrangement was intended to encourage intellectual exchange between cryptographers, to remind them they were part of a larger team-something like a code-breaker’s Knights of the Round Table. Ironically, secrets were frowned on inside Node 3.
Nicknamed the Playpen, Node 3 had none of the sterile feel of the rest of Crypto. It was designed to feel like home-plush carpets, high-tech sound system, fully stocked fridge, kitchenette, a Nerf basketball hoop. The NSA had a philosophy about Crypto: Don’t drop a couple billion bucks into a code-breaking computer without enticing the best of the best to stick around and use it.
Susan slipped out of her Salvatore Ferragamo flats and dug her stockinged toes into the thick pile carpet. Well-paid government employees were encouraged to refrain from lavish displays of personal wealth. It was usually no problem for Susan-she was perfectly happy with her modest duplex, Volvo sedan, and conservative wardrobe. But shoes were another matter. Even when Susan was in college, she’d budgeted for the best.
You can’t jump for the stars if your feet hurt, her aunt had once told her. And when you get where you’re going, you darn well better look great!
Susan allowed herself a luxurious stretch and then settled down to business. She pulled up her tracer and prepared to configure it. She glanced at the E-mail address Strathmore had given her.
The man calling himself North Dakota had an anonymous account, but Susan knew it would not remain anonymous for long. The tracer would pass through ARA, get forwarded to North Dakota, and then send information back containing the man’s real Internet address.
If all went well, it would locate North Dakota soon, and Strathmore could confiscate the pass-key. That would leave only David. When he found Tankado’s copy, both pass-keys could be destroyed; Tankado’s little time bomb would be harmless, a deadly explosive without a detonator.
Susan double-checked the address on the sheet in front of her and entered the information in the correct data field. She chuckled that Strathmore had encountered difficulty sending the tracer himself. Apparently he’d sent it twice, both times receiving Tankado’s address back rather than North Dakota’s. It was a simple mistake, Susan thought; Strathmore had probably interchanged the data fields, and the tracer had searched for the wrong account.
Susan finished configuring her tracer and queued it for release. Then she hit return. The computer beeped once.
Now came the waiting game.
Susan exhaled. She felt guilty for having been hard on the commander. If there was anyone qualified to handle this threat single-handed, it was Trevor Strathmore. He had an uncanny way of getting the best of all those who challenged him.
Six months ago, when the EFF broke a story that an NSA submarine was snooping underwater telephone cables, Strathmore calmly leaked a conflicting story that the submarine was actually illegally burying toxic waste. The EFF and the oceanic environmentalists spent so much time bickering over which version was true, the media eventually tired of the story and moved on.
Every move Strathmore made was meticulously planned. He depended heavily on his computer when devising and revising his plans. Like many NSA employees, Strathmore used NSA-developed software called BrainStorm-a risk-free way to carry out “what-if” scenarios in the safety of a computer.
BrainStorm was an artificial intelligence experiment described by its developers as a Cause Effect Simulator. It originally had been intended for use in political campaigns as a way to create real-time models of a given “political environment.” Fed by enormous amounts of data, the program created a relationary web-a hypothesized model of interaction between political variables, including current prominent figures, their staffs, their personal ties to each other, hot issues, individuals’ motivations weighted by variables like sex, ethnicity, money, and power. The user could then enter any hypothetical event and BrainStorm would predict the event’s effect on “the environment.”
Commander Strathmore worked religiously with BrainStorm-not for political purposes, but as a TFM device; Time-Line, Flowchart, Mapping software was a powerful tool for outlining complex strategies and predicting weaknesses. Susan suspected there were schemes hidden in Strathmore’s computer that someday would change the world.
Yes, Susan thought, I was too hard on him.
Her thoughts were jarred by the hiss of the Node 3 doors.
Strathmore burst in. “Susan,” he said. “David just called. There’s been a setback.”