Episode 548: Perhaps Not The News We Were Hoping For
Fenwick finished reviewing his work, stacked the papers neatly, and sighed
witgh relief. The secure cipher always posed a challenge. First one had to
identify the right keys -- this offered plenty of scope for error. Then one
had to cross-reference the ciphertext with a succession of tables to extract
the plaintext. Finally one had to check this for mistakes -- a
particular concern for messages like these, which contained long sets of
numbers and symbols. Satisfied that his product was accurate, he slipped it
into a sealed envelope, locked away the codebooks, and set off for Commodore
He found his superior making his way through the usual pile of paperwork.
Commodore Lawrence Bates-Shelby Michaelson had never seemed like a happy
man, and today was no exception. Fenwick had often wondered if this was
due to the burden of command, or some event in the Commodore's past that had
driven all the joy from his life, but it was hardly a junior signalman's
place to ask.
"What brings you here, Fenwick?" Michaelson said quietly. This did not
Fenwick handed over the envelope as crisply as he could. "We've received a
message from the R-128, sir," he replied. "Commander MacKiernan must think
it important, for he sent it in the secure cipher."
Michaelson checked the dates and signatures, unsealed the envelope, and
read through its contents. As he did so, his expression seemed to change.
Is that a smile? Fenwick thought. From Michaelson? Surely
"Do you know what we have here?" the Commodore asked Fenwick, in much the
same way a gambler might remark on a winning hand.
"It's a list of ports and dates of departure for ships that were carrying
matériel to the German nationalists' secret base," Fenwick replied.
"It may also tell us where that base is."
Members of the Royal Navy Airship Service's Signal Corps were trained to
hide their puzzlement under any and all circumstances. "Is there some
way I can assist with the analysis?" Fenwick asked.
Michaelson's smile broadened. It seemed he was not fooled. "Indeed you
may," he replied. "Go through this list, compile a table of differences
between departure dates for every two ports of departure, then fetch me
two thumbacks and a length of string."
Some hours later, Michaelson and Fenwick studied a chart on which the
Commodore had drawn a set of ellipses. They'd only reviewed a fraction of
the figures in Fenwick's table, but a pattern had begun to emerge.
"These curves all run through the Dutch East Indies," the signalman
"Indeed they do," Michaelson told him. "If we take each pair of ports and
assume that a single vessel, traveling at the known cruising speed of a
schnellboot, carried a cargo from the first to the Fat Man's secret
base, then set out for the second to pick up another, this gives us a set of
elliptical lines of position. Most will be erroneous, particularly if more
than one vessel was involved, but if several of intersect near the same
place, that should pinpoint the base. It would seem this lies somewhere
north of Java."
Fenwick nodded. Signal Corps training included an introduction to conic
sections. "How precisely will we be able to determine its location?"
"This remains to be determined," Michaelson told him. "But we won't be able
to do this if we're tired. Get some sleep and return after your morning
Morning brought another message, this one encoded using a one-time pad. In
some ways these were easier to decipher, since only one table was involved.
In others they were more difficult, since losing count of the characters
could lead to gibberish. It took Fenwick several tries to get a coherent
result, at last is efforts were rewarded. The Commodore would want to see
Once again, he found Michaelson seated at his desk. It seemed the
Commodore had spent most of the night working on the chart, which was now
criss-crossed with an elaborate web of lines. Does he ever sleep?
wondered Fenwick. There was something intimidating about that kind of
"I take it we've received another message," said the Commodore,
indicating the envelope in Fenwick's hand.
"Yes, sir," said Fenwick. "Captain Everett sent this using a one-time
Michaelson raised an eyebrow. A single-use code, by its very nature, was
not a resource to expend lightly. "Let us see what the good captain felt
justified such an extravagance," he remarked.
The message took very little time to read, and this time there was no
doubt about Michaelson's reaction.
"Well well," he said, in the closest Fenwick had ever seen him to glee.
"It would seem Miss Kim has given us the location of the Japanese
"Do you believe we can trust her information, sir?" Fenwick asked.
"She is hardly a servant of the Crown."
"In this instance I believe we can," said Michaelson. "Whatever her motives
or agenda, she's proved herself an enemy of the Japanese. It seems we may
soon know the location of both nationalist bases. You may return to your
duties and inform me if any more messages arrive."
No new message arrived that day, but the next morning brought a second
transmission from the R-128, encoded with one-time pad. Fenwick studied the
plaintext with a twinge of apprehension. It seemed unremarkable. Why had
MacKiernan felt it necessary to send this information in code? With a
shrug, he set off for Michaelson's office.
The Commodore was still busy with his charts and calculations. He
glanced at the signalman as if annoyed by the interruption. "What is it
this time?" he snapped.
"We've received another message from Commander MacKiernan," Fenwick told
him. "He reports that the kidnappers disembarked from the HL-62 at Port
Vila and transferred their captive to the Warfield's yacht."
Michaelson set down his pen and stared into space, as if looking at
something only he could see. "She would,' he muttered.
"Sir?" Fenwick asked in concern.
The Commodore shook his head as if dismissing a memory. "It would seem the
Baron and... his lady... really are involved with one of the factions back
in England. There can be no other explanation for their involvement. We
must take steps to deal with this development. Take a message for Captain
Everett and Commander MacKiernan, then tell Harris to prepare the R-87 for
Next week: You Could Hardly Expect Us Not To Notice...
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