The book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
The Newton Cipher – Snippet 15
The snow fell in wet flakes as Trina ducked from her train into the station. Unlike Kings Cross, which had multiple platforms beneath arched ceilings that seemed to rise a hundred feet in the air, Cambridge’s platforms were all outdoors, and the small indoor depot that served them reminded her more of a bus station, the kind that dotted the American midwest: a ticket office, some benches, and a small cafe.
She made her way out the front doors, to where taxis were idling in the snow.
“Prince’s Arms,” she said to the cab driver at the head of the queue. “You know it?”
“Earl Street,” the man said, smiling though his dark, bushy mustache. He was Pakistani, she could tell by the accent.
“Yes, that’s right,” Trina said. “Number 17.”
“American?” the man asked as he pulled away from the station.
“How’d you guess?” she laughed. “My accent or my attire?”
“We have many American students here. How long do you stay?”
“Just a few days. Then back to London.”
“Up from London? Is everyone scared there?”
It took Trina a second to realize he was talking about the Tube Terror, or whatever the news was calling it.
“Some are,” she said. “But everyone seems to be taking it in stride.”
“Keep calmly, carry on,” her driver said. “That is the saying there.”
It was past three o’clock in the afternoon by the time she checked into the Prince’s Arms. David, an undergrad at the University’s Wolfson College worked at the B&B between classes, and on evenings and weekends as needed. He gave Trina a pleasant little room with a fireplace, a desk, and a perfectly soft bed with a stack of plump pillows.
At the desk she opened her laptop and notebook, eager to finish deciphering Manuscript B. But then she saw the time. Three thirty.
She got on the B&B’s wifi and checked the website for Trinity College Library. It was only open for another two hours. She had a lot she wanted to do here, and she needed to take advantage of the facilities when they were available.
Reluctantly, she closed her laptop, stuffed her backpack, and headed out into the wintery afternoon.
Cambridge University was not like American universities. Over eight hundred years old, it was second only to Oxford in age among the world’s English-speaking universities. It was comprised of a number of different colleges: King’s, Queens’, Christ’s, Trinity, Darwin … thirty-one in all.
The colleges each had their own buildings, faculty, students and traditions; they joined together, pooling their strengths under the umbrella of the University for the benefit of all. It was the original meaning of an educational university, from the Latin universitas: entire, or whole.
The snow had stopped, but the air was cold. She made her way along straight, modern streets, between rows of flats that couldn’t have been more than fifty years old. As she approached the center of Cambridge, the streets curved more, brick buildings became age-grimed stone, and asphalt gave way to cobbles.
And then, coming through a final, narrow passage barely wide enough for a horse, she stepped out into King’s Parade. Before her was one of the architectural jewels of Cambridge: King’s College Chapel — a gothic masterpiece.
Trina had seen pictures of it, but seeing it now took her breath away. Eleven buttresses on each side held up a beautifully arched ceiling. Four towers, one at each corner, rose like intricate stone needles into the dark grey sky.
She followed King’s Parade northward; it narrowed and became Trinity Street. Weaving between hurrying shoppers and scarf-wrapped students zipping by on bikes, she passed some of the University’s other hallowed colleges: Clare College, and Gonville and Caius.
And then the lane opened up again, and on her left rose the massive, castle-like front gate of Trinity College.
She entered between the two towers of the gatehouse, stopping beneath the covered archway at the porter’s office. Cambridge colleges had employed porters for centuries, they were the gatekeepers, the guardians, the eyes and ears of a college. In centuries past, porters were more like watchmen: locking the college gates at night or fighting off club-wielding tavern keepers looking to collect unsettled student tabs. Now, a porters’ duties were more obliging: distributing mail, unlocking doors, and answering tourists’ questions.
The Trinity porter, a kindly-looking man in a slightly rumpled suit, sat in a compact alcove surrounded by bulletin boards and rows of pigeonhole mailboxes. Trina noted with surprise the keys that hung on little hooks behind his desk. There were hundreds of them, all coded with different colors and labels. If there was a door in Trinity College that needed opening, the porter obviously had the means of entry.
The porter’s eyes were fixed on a little TV wedged into a shelf above his desk; he was engrossed in the news, and turned only halfway when she approached his desk.
“I’d like to visit Trinity College library,” she said, handing her letter of recommendation to him over the wall. “Special collections.”
The porter took it, but didn’t look at it.
“The Wren,” he said. Then his eyes were back on the TV. The sound was low, but Trina overheard the broadcaster talking about more murders in London — battered bodies, some bruised beyond recognition, many with strange lesions. Some victims were found alive, moaning and pulling themselves along, only to die shortly thereafter.
“It’s getting worse,” she said.
“Thirty bodies today,” the porter replied. “Not all underground anymore, either. Right horrible, it is.”
“Anyway,” Trina said, trying to recapture his attention. “What’s the Wren?”
“Stay left through Great Court,” he said, not looking away from his TV. “First right along the walk, straight through to Nevile’s Court. The Wren is at the back. Bob’s your uncle.”
“Bob’s my uncle?” Trina was utterly confounded. “I’m sorry. You must have me confused with someone else. I’ve never been here before. I’m looking for the library.”
The porter turned to her and shook his head, as if seeing her for the first time.
“Deepest apologies,” he said, finally glancing at Trina’s letter. “Miss … ah, Piper, is it? So very sorry, I’m just a bit out of sorts right now. Me mum’s down in London, and I’m a bit worried for her is all. My sister’s up in York, and can’t get down to fetch her. And here I am, doing a rather miserable job as a porter.”
“No apologies necessary. I’ve just come up from London today for a bit of research. I thought I’d try to look at a few things in your library before it closes.”
“Absolutely,” he said, handing back her letter along with a map of Trinity College. He took a red pen and made a series of circles and lines on it.
“We’re here, at the gatehouse,” he said. “Turn here, go straight here, and then turn here and here. And then Bob’s your uncle — that’s how we Brits say ‘there you are.'”
He added that last bit with a wink.
“Got it,” she said. “I’ll keep my eye out for Uncle Bob.”
He laughed amiably. “Let me know if you find him. He’ll be wanted round here for other things.”
“Will do,” Trina said. “I hope all is well with your mother.”
The porter graciously walked Trina to the gatehouse door, ushering her into the college grounds.
Even in twilight, Trinity’s Great Court was gorgeous: a wide grass lawn — perfectly manicured and bisected with walkways — surrounded on all sides by the pale sandstone buildings that gave Trinity a unique old-gold luster. The college chapel took up much of the right side of the court, and in the very middle of the lawn was a stunning stone fountain that that burbled and splashed as she passed. She followed the porter’s directions, ducking through a narrow passageway that led past the college kitchens. Warm smells of baking bread and roasting meat made her mouth water.
Then she was out into another, smaller court. This was Nevile’s Court, according to the map. It was a far more intimate space than Great Court, with low, colonnaded passageways around a small square of grass in the middle. On the far side was the Wren library, where a small wooden door and worn stairs led to the main desk.
A small plaque half-way up the staircase informed her that the library was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the great seventeenth-century architect and contemporary of Newton, who helped rebuild London after the fire that destroyed the city in 1666. Wren also designed such iconic London structures as St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose dome rises nearly four hundred feet over London. Trina had seen it from a distance the day before, and made a mental note to visit it before she left if she had the time.
“Can I help you?” A young woman behind the desk looked up from a book.
Trina once more offered her letter of recommendation. “I’d like to see some of the Isaac Newton papers in Trinity’s special collections archive, ideally those with Newton’s signature on them.”
“Anything in particular?” the girl asked, typing at a keyboard.
“Anything, really. I don’t care if it’s Newton’s signature on a ledger, or an old note telling the gardeners to keep the hedges properly trimmed. I just need known samples of his autograph.”
“You’ve come to the right place. Newton was here for decades, and we’ve got loads of his stuff. Are you a historian?”
“I am,” Trina said.
“What’s your area?”
“Historical documents, mostly, with a focus on European and American manuscripts.”
“Brilliant,” the student said. “I’m reading history here at Trinity. My thesis is on women in French scientific societies.”
“Sounds fascinating,” Trina said. “Have you attended any lectures with Professor McFee?”
The girl’s eyes lit up. “I loooove Professor McFee. Sweetest professor ever. In fact, McFee is giving a course of lectures this very term on Renaissance Magic. There’s one lecture tomorrow, late morning. You should go, she’s amazing.”
The girl led her to a small desk. Trina pulled out her laptop, notebook, and a pencil and waited while her documents were retrieved.
The inside of the Wren Library was stunning. Black and white tile floors spread out beneath rows of wooden bookshelves, which were decorated with intricate carvings of flowers, animals and birds.
The student reappeared, pushing a small trolley laden with boxes and folders and the required cotton gloves.
“Usually the Newton papers require advanced notice,” the girl said. “But it’s a slow day, so I pulled a few strings. Have fun!”
The silence of a library, especially one as beautiful as the Wren, was heaven to Trina.
Example after example of Newton’s signature came under her scrutiny. Ledgers where he signed for deliveries, receipts for alchemical materials delivered to the porter’s office, even college exam papers.
By the time her hour was up, she knew with certainty that Newton’s signature on Manuscript B was indeed authentic, and furthermore was almost certainly written near the end of his life. And the other documents also matched his style of writing. In her professional opinion as a trained document examiner, the papers Alfie had shown her in the British Library could be attributed to Sir Isaac Newton.
Unfortunately, the Russians would probably come to the same conclusion, and beat her to it. Trinity College wasn’t the only source of Newton’s handwriting.
But at least she knew.
Out of professional courtesy, Trina returned the documents to their original boxes, gathered her things, and made her way back to the student at the main desk.
The girl was glued to her smartphone screen. From the look on her face, Trina could tell something was seriously wrong.
“Hey,” Trina said. “I’m all done, the manuscripts are ready to go back into storage. Are you ok?”
The girl looked up, her face pale.
“They’ve shut down central London. The Tube, the trains. And they’ve imposed a quarantine. They’re saying the victims of the murders are showing signs of some kind of contagion.”
Footsteps in the Fog
It was dark when Trina retraced her steps through Trinity College, the grassy courtyards now draped beneath a blanket of gathering mist. Lights from College windows were little more than hints of illumination through the skeins of fog.
When she finally turned the corner to the front gate, finding her way by following the stone path at her feet, warm light spilled out from the porter’s office. The porter was still glued to his TV, and Trina thought better than to disturb him.
Cambridge on a late-November night was a gothic dreamscape. She followed a trail of streetlights through the fog, beacons leading her back toward King’s College chapel. People appeared and disappeared in the murk around her, their footsteps muffled. The snow had melted but the wet remained, making the brick and cobblestone streets slick.
Shop doors opened and closed as she navigated the dark street, customers coming and going around her. She heard more than saw them, so thick the fog had become, and once or twice convinced herself — paranoid from the night before, no doubt — that some of the footsteps she heard matched the pace of her own.
Trina huddled deeper into her coat as she passed Clare College, its own porter standing vigilantly at the gate. Soft light bulged against the fog from thick glass windows. High above, towers and turrets were silhouettes in the mist.
The turn that would take her back to the Prince’s Arms was ahead now. But so was the inviting glow of a pub on the corner. Her stomach rumbled, and she knew that if she was to make it any further, she needed to eat.
And she did: a steaming steak pie, its crust perfectly golden, the potatoes, peas and carrots swimming in a thick gravy. A pint of hard cider helped wash it down — not that it needed much help. Then she was back out in the fog, which seemed to have only grown thicker — so thick that the lampposts she passed seemed incapable of doing their jobs.
It wasn’t until she left central Cambridge behind that she realized the footsteps she’d been vaguely aware of since she left the pub, footsteps that seemed always to be receding yet never quite gone, were still with her.
At a corner, just a few blocks from the Prince’s Arms, she stopped. Somewhere in the fog behind her there was a brief scuffing of soles … then silence.
A car turned a corner nearby, its headlights making a halo in the mist, and then it drove on. In passing made the darkness seem even darker.
Faintly, almost imperceptibly, Trina heard footsteps approach, but from which direction she could not say. Then the air around her went ice-cold. She could barely draw a breath. Trina choked and gasped, as if her lungs were being frozen from the inside out. In desperation she grabbed at her throat, tugging aside the chain of Edelstein’s necklace. Then, just as suddenly, the horrific chill was gone. She gulped in a ragged mouthful of wet air, her lungs expanding.
And she ran.
She sprinted from lamppost to lamppost, noting with increasing relief the familiar street signs she’d passed earlier in the afternoon.
Orchard … Elm … Parker …
Trina turned sharply on Earl Street and made for the Prince’s Arms. She was up the front steps in a matter of seconds, her hand on the door. Just before she turned the knob she held her breath and listened.
The night was quiet, the only sound the whisper of fog swirling around her as she opened the door.
David, the young Wolfson student, was waiting for her. His coat was on and he was fidgeting, with his smartphone.
“Just wanted to make sure you were in for the night before I headed out,” he said cheerfully. “Do you need anything?”
Trina thanked him for waiting up just for her, and said she was fine — even though she was a little shaken. She heard him lock the front door behind him. The sound of the metal bolt was reassuring.
She took a hot shower. The warm, steamy bathroom was a welcome change from the cold fog outside, and made her feel a little silly for running through the fog. The attack in Hyde Park had obviously shaken her. And now every little sound put her on edge.
Stepping out of the shower, she picked Edelstein’s necklace up off the counter. It felt warm and heavy in her hand, and she realized she been wearing it every waking moment. It gave her comfort. Holding it made her wonder how Alasdair was doing.
She traced the letters on the back of the amulet absently for a minute — G.S., E.P. — then set it down again. Water from her wet hair dripped down the small of her back and she shivered, wiping herself down. Her muscles were taut, firmed from years of working out, but right now she was feeling the lack of recent exercise. She could really do with a good, long run, or even an hour at a climbing gym.
Trina stared at herself in the mirror. Toned arms and legs, a flat tummy. Not bad. Gavin liked that she was fit. Gavin …. she hadn’t really thought about him … and that thought made her feel a little guilty, because as she stared at her body the person who suddenly came to mind was Ulrik Stander.
Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen.
Back out in her room, wrapped up in towels, she cautiously looked out the window. She saw nothing outside but the mist swirling down Elm Street. She tugged the drapes closed anyway.
David had lit the fireplace in her room before he left, filling it with warmth and a cheery, welcome light. She curled up on the bed with her notebook, eager to finish deciphering the rest of Manuscript B. Even walking though the stunning architecture of Trinity College or sitting in the picture-perfect Wren library, half her mind had been on the line she had deciphered on the train:
XY NJCDTY CLE BGPY MB JMLEML
YE PLAGUE AND FIRE OF LONDON
Every historian who studied England knew about the Great Fire of London. It started on September 2, 1666, and tore through central London. In 1666 London was still very medieval, a walled city filled with a maze of narrow lanes packed with homes and shops, centuries of construction piled haphazardly, squeezing itself together from its outer boroughs right down to the banks of the Thames.
The fire destroyed it all in a matter of days.
Thirteen thousand houses burned. Nearly one hundred churches were destroyed, while countless shops, inns and government buildings were consumed by the conflagration. Of central London’s eighty-thousand inhabitants, nearly seventy thousand lost their homes, their businesses, their belongings.
When the fire ended three days later, there were surprisingly few deaths: only six were officially recorded. But that was a rounding error compared to the number of Londoners killed just before the Great Fire. After all, London’s destruction in the inferno had come at the tail-end of the other great tragedy in London’s history, the Great Plague.
For eighteen months between 1665–1666, the bubonic plague devastated London and spread to other parts of England. One hundred thousand were killed, by most’ estimates. London, England’s largest city, was hardest hit. Then, just as the plague was finally winding down, the fire happened.
1666 was, Trina decided, a really, really bad year for London.
She reviewed her notes on Newton’s life, and realized he would have been, what? twenty three years old at the time of the fire. Cambridge was evacuated during the plague, and Newton went back to his mother’s farm. That’s when he accomplished most of his great achievements: the laws of gravity, the foundations of calculus, the analysis of light.
1666 may have been bad for London and much of England, but it was absolutely fantastic for Newton.
But most significantly, her deciphering of the first line of Manuscript B as “Ye Plague and Fire of London” proved she was on the right track. Those two events would have been some of the most significant in Newton’s young life.
Trina looked over the remaining headers. There was no way she would sleep if she didn’t decipher them before she fell asleep.
Trina opened a blank page in her notebook, and found the substitution alphabet she used earlier.
Below this she wrote down the remaining enciphered lines, crossing off the one she’d already solved.
XY NJCDTY CLE BGPY MB JMLEML
XY BGPY CS LYVKCPIYS SMVLY SM QSMN XY PYDGRGEY NJMS
IGLD NYSYP MB PTQQGC CS XY KGLS
PYCE XY CLDYJQ SMLDTY AX XY JGDFS MB XY QNGPGSTCJJ RFCKAYP
Before long Trina had the rest:
YE PLAGUE AND FIRE OF LONDON
YE FIRE AT NEWMARKET TOWNE TO STOP YE REGICIDE PLOT
KING PETER OF RUSSIA AT YE MINT
READ YE ANGELS TONGUE BY YE LIGHT OF YE SPIRITUALL CHAMBER
Trina leaned back on her bed, a smile on her face. Any lingering doubts about having the correct cipher key had vanished.
The deciphered phrases had far too much of an internal consistency, even down to the seventeenth-century spellings of otherwise familiar English words: ye for the, towne for town — even the extra ‘l’s were authentic.
And they referred to familiar things: a town called Newmarket … hadn’t she seen a Newmarket on the map, not far from Cambridge itself? King Peter of Russia … in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, that would be Peter the Great.
She’d nailed the deciphering, no doubt. But nailed what, exactly? She had the headers, but lacked the context. Each of these headers came before a blank space.
Except for the last one, the strange line about the tongue of angels and the spiritual chamber. What did that mean, anyway? And it came near the end of Manuscript B, just above Newton’s signature and the strange clues that led her to the cipher key.
Rain, or maybe sleet, began to patter her window. The sound was surprisingly soothing, as was the soft bed beneath her and the pillows at her back. It had been another long day, and she was exhausted.
The last thing she did before turning off the lights was to check the Cambridge University History Department’s website. The calendar showed Fiona McFee’s class on Renaissance Magic was at ten o’clock the next morning. She jotted down the number of the lecture room at Queen’s College.
As she drifted off to sleep, it occurred to Trina that England was turning out to be nothing at all like she expected.