Monday’s snippet will be the last snippet.
The Newton Cipher – Snippet 14
12:52 to Cambridge
A late morning crowd filled Coffee Island. The British, Ulrik explained, liked to “take tea” mid-morning, the American version of a coffee break.
Trina shifted as a smartly dressed group of young men, probably attorneys or bankers judging by the cut of their suits, occupied the counter next to them.
“If there was a bright light right before I blacked out,” Trina said, tuning back to Ulrik and lowering her voice, “What was it?”
Ulrik shrugged. “When I reached you there was no one around. What do you remember of your attacker?”
“I seem to recall him… trying to kiss me. Oh god — I hate to think what would have happened had I not screamed. It was a rapist, wasn’t it?”
“Maybe. But perhaps not. What did he look like?”
“I remember the face. Maybe I was just totally freaked out, but it was kind of monstrous. Eyes all black, weird mouth.” Trina noticed Ulrik had his notepad out again.
“Could have been a mask.”
“Maybe. He smelled awful. Like death.”
Ulrik jotted with a pen. “Homeless, druggie, both, neither. At what point did you notice the light?”
“Right before I blacked out. I was trying to fight him off, I screamed. And then there was this … light everywhere. Like, I don’t know, liquid moonlight or something. I was probably delirious, but the light seemed to take some kind of … form.”
“Form? What kind of form?”
“Just less light-like, I guess.”
“Huh,” he grunted. Trina noticed that Ulrik didn’t write that part down.
She shrugged sheepishly. “I’ll chalk it up to hitting my head against a tree.”
Trina thought, a little longer, then suddenly rubbed her neck. Her attacked had drooled on her, or something, and it had burned.
“Do I have a bruise here?”
“You have a lot of bruises,” Ulrik said. He reached out and stroked her neck gently with two fingers. His fingertips were rough, but his touch gave her a tingle of pleasure. She tried not to let it show.
“Looks almost like some kind of minor burn. Friction? Was he choking you?”
“Yes. But he also spit on me. Something gross came out of his mouth.”
“Hmm,” Ulrik said. “Now and then there are lunatics who commit acid attacks. But not with their mouths. If that’s what happened to you, it’s very mild. Do you want to see a doctor?”
“No. I only have a few more days. I don’t want to spend them in the hospital. Do I need to report this? That could take all day, couldn’t it?”
“Tell you what — I’ll file this for you. The police are pretty focused on the Tube Terror right now.”
“Do you think that’s who my attacker was?”
“Maybe. The one difference is that you’re still alive. If so, you’re lucky. As of last night there’ve been over twenty murders.”
“You’ve only been here a few days. You haven’t made any enemies, have you?”
His question was half in jest, but Trina suddenly slapped the counter. Their coffee cups clattered, and the attorney-bankers next to her turned sharply.
“I totally forgot,” Trina said in a soft hiss. “When I was at Westminster Abbey in the afternoon, there were these Russians.”
She explained how she had been replaced by the three Russian scholars. And then, later, how she had seen them at Westminster and thought they were following her, and how she convinced herself she was being irrational.
“Maybe I wasn’t, after all.”
“This changes things. Can you describe them?”
Trina described the woman with short hair, the slight man with the wire-rimmed glasses, and the tall man with the long, dark hair and beard.
“Any idea of their names?”
“No, I — wait.” She pulled out her phone. “Here. I took a photo of their signatures.”
Ulrik raised his eyebrows. “Why?”
“I don’t know. Frustration, I think. At being replaced by them. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Ulrik spread his fingers on the screen, enlarging the image.
“I think it was a good idea.” He copied down the three names, then handed back the phone. Trina glanced at the image:
“Do you think these are their real names?” Trina asked.
Ulrik shrugged. “Why?”
“They knew my name. But they certainly don’t act like scholars.”
“Because they weren’t wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches?”
“Funny. No, it was something in their manner. The woman was handling the documents without gloves, which can damage them. I mean, protecting documents is Research 101. Everyone knows to wear gloves. They had the air of collectors about them, not academics.”
“I can run these names as potential assailants.”
“Can you let me know what you find?”
He avoided her question. “So what will you do now if you can’t work at the British Library for a few days?”
“I was planning on going to Cambridge. I need to view some original samples of Isaac Newton’s signatures, and try to crack a code he left behind. And there’s someone I want to meet. A friend of Edelstein’s. Speaking of which, I need to catch the train soon.”
“Good idea,” Ulrik said. “If these Russians are after you, it would be wise to get out of London for a few days. Even if they’re not, Cambridge is beautiful. You’ll like it.”
Trina patted herself down. “Do I need to check myself for trackers?”
“I’ll find you if I need to,” Ulrik said, his eyes crinkling slightly. “So, what’s this about a code? Did Newton write secret messages?”
Trina got excited. “What do you know about seventeenth-century cryptography?”
“Nothing. Is it anything like modern cryptography?”
“The same foundations, though less sophisticated. Substitution ciphers were common then.”
She reached for his notebook and pen and started scribbling.
“Write the regular alphabet, like this.” She wrote A through Z. “Write it again below the first, but this time with the letters of the second row shifted five spaces to the left. So then the letter ‘F’ would be over the letter ‘A’ on this second row, and ‘G’ would be over ‘B’, and so on. That new alphabet, the lower line, is the cipher’s key. You can write a message with the alternate alphabet, and decode it with this key.” She tore off the paper and set it aside.
“Got it. Seems easy enough. And easy to crack.”
“Right,” Trina said, starting a new page. “There’s also what’s called the keyword cipher, where you put a keyword at the beginning of the alphabet in line one, and shift the rest of the letters over. The keyword could be ‘Ulrik,’ for example: ‘U’ becomes ‘A,’ ‘L’ becomes ‘B,’ ‘R’ is ‘C,’ and so on. When all the letters of the keyword have been used, you continue with the unused letters: ‘A,’ in this case, which becomes ‘F’ in the cipher.”
“I think I follow that. Nice to know my name can be part of a secret code.”
“See? You really are an international man of mystery. Of course, the letters can be arranged any way, or symbols could be used, or numbers, made-up doodles, whatever. The variety of possibilities for encrypting letters raised cryptography to a sophisticated art, even hundreds of years ago.”
“Interesting. So, what’s your point?”
She explained Manuscript B, and the four lines of Enochian symbols. “Newton was trying to hide something from someone. I don’t suppose you can run it though some powerful Interpol decoding database, can you?”
Ulrik’s response was impressively deadpan. “Sure. We’ve got an entire department dedicated to early-modern code breaking. Everyone knows the fate of the world rests on secret messages in old documents. After all, that’s how we realized that Elvis is alive and running the secret Illuminati organization that controls the UN.”
“Ha ha,” Trina said. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“Sorry. But if Isaac Newton turns out to be involved in the assassination of JFK, let me know and I’ll get right on it.”
Trina looked at her phone. Time to go.
“Will do, Agent Stander.”
Alice agreed to hold a room for Trina at the B&B when she returned in a few days. She even gave Trina a packet of tomato and cheeses sandwiches for the trip.
“I didn’t add cucumber,” she said as she walked her to the door. “Not everyone likes them, you know.”
Trina gave her a hug — a very impulsive, American thing to do. Alice returned it with gusto.
“I’ll eat whatever you give me, Alice. Everything you make is delicious.”
“I’m just glad you weren’t hurt too badly last night. Be safe in Cambridge.”
Trina was prepared to show her ID on the Tube, but the security checkpoints were gone. In less than twenty minutes she was back at Kings Cross station. She bought a ticket at a nearby kiosk and ordered a coke at a cafe with wifi.
Her smartphone came to life.
Hi Prof Piper! Your B&B confirmed: Prince’s Arms, 17 Earl St. 3 nights, 15 min. walk to Queens College & central Cambridge. Ok?
There was a second text.
Also, Edelstein still in hospital, but nurses say he’s getting stronger. Probably won’t be out by Thanksgiving though. Bummer. Hospital makes turkey dinner — that’s nice. Have fun in Cambridge! Sam
An overhead voice called: “Platform 8 for the 12:52 to Cambridge, now boarding please.”
She tapped a quick Thanks Sammy! and headed to her train, where she found a seat at the back of the last car. London receded quickly, and soon Trina was staring out the window at the English countryside. City gave way to suburbs, and soon little towns went by in a blur of stone walls and slate roofs.
Watching the world roll by put her in a meditative state, and her mind wandered back to Manuscript B.
Tulips in the Snow
Train to Cambridge
Outside the train it was raining. The drops streaked across the glass, blurring the bare trees and fallow fields speeding by. Trina curled into her seat, snuggling into her coat, and zoomed in on the photo of the back page of Manuscript B. There, beneath the fourth line symbols was Newton’s signature.
Mint, Tower of London, 29 Februarius 1727
Warder 3/12 4/20
It was an unsurprising mix of English and Latin. Years of experience examining historical documents conditioned Trina to expect a mixture of common tongues — like English or French — and Latin, along with a smattering of abbreviated words.
Incoming Call flashed on her screen, over the image of Newton’s signature. It was a London number.
“This is Trina Piper.”
“Miss Piper? Trina?” The voice sounded muffled, as if the speaker was whispering. It took her a second to recognize the voice.
“Alfie? Is that you?”
“Yes,” Alfie Gill said. His speech was both magnified and hushed, as if he were speaking through cupped hands. “Can you hear me? I’m in my office. I must be quiet and quick.”
“I can hear you, barely.”
“I have to keep my voice low. My director’s office is next door. She said you weren’t allowed to view the documents while the Russian contingent was here, but she never said I couldn’t call.”
“Thanks, I think. I don’t want you to get in trouble, Alfie.”
“I’ve had it with the Russians, Trina. They’re like bulls in a China shop. At least the woman is. I practically have to force the gloves on her hands before she handles the documents. The smaller man, he’s called Timur, runs their analysis equipment. He’s already torn the corner off of one page, and smeared the ink on another. The tall one, the rudest of them all, only comes in now and then. An hour ago I found him muttering strange words over the manuscripts, like some mystic wacko –“
“Wait — they tore the page?” Trina practically screamed. Historians and archivists would never, ever intentionally damage the documents they were working with.
“They did indeed. They claim it’s all necessary for their analysis, but I think they’re just quacks. Not nearly as professional as you are. I’ve begged to have them taken off the job, but my director says her hands are tied. Bullocks, I say.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Nothing, I’m afraid. But I did want to let you know we’ve had a rather interesting update. The analysis of the dried petals came back from Kew.”
“Petals? The once found with the Newton papers?”
“The very same, Miss Piper. They are tulip petals. I had to share the results with the Russians. It only seems fair I tell you, too.”
“Yes, and a very specific variety. According to Kew’s lab technicians, the petals come from something called the Semper Augustus, a rare and expensive seventeenth century tulip that no longer exists.”
Trina was scribbling madly in her notebook. “Semper Augustus,” she repeated. “Always August? Strange name for a flower.”
“I thought so too. According to one source it was so beautiful that the Dutch thought of it as a summer that never ended … at least into August. Or it could … older, Roman … Ever the Emperor. Either … of it.”
“Alfie? You’re breaking up. I’m on a train.”
“… why Newton would … petals … Dutch were crazy about … called ‘tulipmania’ … time of the second Anglo-Dutch War …”
Trina jotted frantically.
“… Dutch War. I’m losing you Alfie. I’ll call you later. Ok? Alfie?”
The connection dropped.
Trina put the phone down on the seat next to her and reviewed her notes, underlining tulipmania, Semper Augustus, and Anglo-Dutch War 2.
She started out the window for a while, lost in thought, and pulled out the sandwiches Alice had made her.
The landscape rushing by was mesmerizing, but after some time she wiped the crumbs off her jacket and picked up her smartphone. The photo of Newton’s signature was still on the screen.
Why were you being so mysterious, Isaac?
It occurred to her she was being drawn in by a mystery that wasn’t really hers to solve. She was only brought here to authenticate the documents, which could be done almost entirely by confirming the authenticity of the signature.
And yet, the presence of the Enochian symbols, the obvious encryption contained in the message, and the fact that Newton (or someone) had pressed extinct tulip petals into the pages of coded manuscripts … it drew her in and she didn’t want to let it go.
Besides, history had its share of mysterious, encoded documents — the Voynich manuscript was a good example — but none had been penned by someone as famous as Isaac Newton. Deciphering Manuscript B could make Trina’s reputation. She decided to break the puzzle down, starting with what she could understand: the signature.
That one was simple. Isaac Newton. Most samples of his signature she’d seen had an abbreviated first name.
Mint, Tower of London, 29 Februarius 1727
Again, fairly straightforward. He signed the document on February 29, 1727, from the offices of the Royal Mint in the Tower of London, the most secure building in the city at the time. Ah! And it must have been a leap year.
Latin. Easy. She translated this as “master of the key,” presumably an alternate title for Master of the Mint.
Warder 3/12 — 4/20
This line was a little more perplexing. Newton had held the post of Warden of the Mint, which Alfie had said was called “Warder” in the seventeenth century, a subordinate position to the Master. But that had been — she checked her notes on Newton’s biography — from 1696 until 1699.
But what was 3/12 — 4/20? March 12 to April 20? Of which year? He was Warden for three years, not five weeks.
She idly reviewed her notes of Newton’s life while her brain switched back and forth between Latin and English.
Dominus clavem … master of the key. In Latin, there was some flexibility with word order — you could mix things up a bit without altering the meaning. One could just as readily write clavis dominum, which would probably be more accurate for the title ‘Key Master.’
And “Warder” was definitely Warden. But March 12 and April 20? What was that about?
He certainly wasn’t warden after being master of the mint, or holder of the keys, or key master, or whatever —
Trina smacked her forehead. Dominus clavem. Not ‘Master of the Key’ … Master Key! She had added “of the” by a sort of scholarly instinct. But they didn’t have to be there. Latin syntax was a tricky thing.
Was Newton hinting at the key to deciphering the rest of the document?
Dominus clavem. Next line: Warder 3/12 — 4/20.
In her notebook she scribbled Master key is Warder 3/12 to 4/20.
Total gibberish. She tried again.
Master key is Warden 3-12 to 4-20.
Master key is Warden of the Mint 3-12 to 4-20.
Maybe calendar dates were the wrong approach. The hash marks between the numbers were rather horizontal. A proportion, perhaps? Three over twelve, four over twenty?
Or … wasn’t it just two hours ago she was explaining substation ciphers to Ulrik? Her mind wandered to Ulrik, to the crinkles around his blue eyes … his name as a cipher: ‘U’ for ‘a’, ‘L’ for ‘b’, ‘R’ for ‘c’, ‘I’ for ‘d’, ‘K’ for ‘e’.
She looked down, appalled to find she had been writing his name in her notebook like she was a daydreaming schoolgirl.
Focus, Trina. Focus!
Three over twelve, four over twenty.
She wrote down the letters of the alphabet and counted them out. The third letter of the alphabet is ‘C,’ the twelfth is ‘L,’ the fourth is ‘D,’ the twentieth is ‘T.’
She chewed the back of her pen.
Warder 3/12 — 4/20.
She counted. The third letter of Warder was ‘r.’ What if … ?
Three over twelve. She replaced that third letter in Warder with the twelfth letter: ‘l’.
Four over twenty.
The fourth letter of Warder was ‘d.’ Replace the fourth letter in Warder — now Walder — with the twentieth letter: ‘t’.
Walter? Walter who? No … that made no sense. Manipulating the letters of a word to make another word was easy; getting a proper name out of Warder was just a coincidence.
After all, Warder could also be altered to spell Walden. Or Wander.
But a name … that sparked a memory. When she had been researching Newton’s life, she’d read about the history of the Royal Mint, and those wardens who served under Newton when he was master. After all, Newton had hidden his papers beneath a stone in his office. Who might be in Newton’s confidence, who might have found a coded message left for them by their Master near the end of his life?
She called up an online encyclopedia on her phone and searched for Wardens of the Royal Mint.
There were a lot of them. Newton in 1696. Then, when he became Master of the Mint, he ran it for nearly thirty years. Five Wardens served under him: John Stanley, Craven Peyton, Richard Stanford, William Thompson, and, last of all …
Trina’s jaw dropped.
A voice announced that the train would be arriving in Cambridge in ten minutes. The rain outside had increased, the late-November sky was dark with storm clouds. The rain had become sleet.
She tapped the encyclopedia’s link to Walter Cary and read the brief entry: “Walter Cary (also spelled Carey) …” He’d been a politician, and a member of the Royal Society. In fact, Cary’s membership to the Society was proposed by Newton himself. So he knew Newton, and was even respected by him.
And he’d been Newton’s Warden — his Warder — at the Mintfrom 1725 until Newton’s death in 1727 — just a few months after Newton put his signature to Manuscript B.
Was ‘Walter Cary’ the master key?
She flipped pages of her notebook until she found the four lines of Enochian-to-English letters she had transcribed from Manuscript B, and started with the first one:
XY NJCDTY CLE BGPY MB JMLEML
She tried a standard keyword cipher decryption, just like she’d showed Ulrik, using ‘W-A-L-T-E-R’ as the keyword, with the top line the substitution alphabet, and the bottom line the regular alphabet:
With this key she worked through the letters of the first line of Manuscript B. The result was not much different than the encrypted header itself:
XY QNHIDY HCE GKSY PG NPCEPC
She crossed out
WALTER in her notebook and created a new substitution alphabet, this time using the keyword ‘C-A-R-Y.’
The deciphered result was slightly more promising:
YD PLAFUD ANG EIRD OE LONGON
That decryption almost looked like it contained real English words. Perhaps middle- or early-modern English, the languages of Chaucer and Shakespeare? Plafud — could that be playful? Longon — maybe London?
No … even if she accommodated for the inconsistencies in spelling and grammar that were common in the seventeenth century, it was too far off.
Trina tapped her pen against her chin absently, watching the sleet turn to snow out the window as the sun set lower. The train slowed. More and more houses, apartments and stores were sliding by. She was getting closer to Cambridge.
She looked over the Walter Cary encyclopedia entry again.
Walter Cary (also spelled Carey) …
The train pulled into Cambridge, brakes squealing as it came to a stuttering stop. The other passengers departed, and soon the car was empty. The clatter of train tracks had been replaced by near silence, the only sound the soft pelting of snow as it blew against the glass.
But Trina didn’t notice. She was engrossed, her pen flying as she scratched in her notebook, deciphering each of the letters one by one.
And then she was finished.
She sat there, mouth open, pen dangling limply between her fingers.
There is was, plain as day … the first line of Manuscript B:
Ye Plague and Fire of London.