Turing had cracked the code. It had been simple enough in the end, and he’d been surprised it had taken him so long – it had ended up being a minor piece of number crunching. Hess had not used a one-time pad, but had instead summed his plaintext with a known piece of text – which had turned out to be the first few pages of Mein Kampf. Hess clearly knew nothing of cryptanalysis, or he’d have realised how easy it would be to break such a code, even without knowing the key. It had only taken Turing so long because he’d assumed that the deputy Führer would have had access to some of the Reich’s more powerful techniques, and had headed down a few dead ends as a result.
In future, he would remember not to assume complexity. If one technique takes half an hour, and another takes a week, try the half-hour one first even if it seems much less likely to succeed.
After breaking the code, it almost seemed anticlimactic to read the actual text. It appeared to be a description of rituals to be carried out at dawn on the summer solstice. But what those rituals could be for, Turing didn’t know – except that given the source, they were unlikely to be anything good.
“At midnight, at the start of the longest day of the year, gather and perform these tasks. Before the time of the golden dawn, and the new sunrise, there must be darkness and death. Drink the elixir and prepare, for when the dawn comes you will see with new eyes the cleansing light of the truth.”
He read through the document carefully, sipping his foul-tasting tea as he did, but not really noticing the taste. It was absolutely fascinating for someone who, like Turing, had little time for occultists of any stripe. How could people believe this absolute rot? It made no sense at all to him.
He crossed his legs, stuck his finger between the grey, woollen, sock he was wearing and his leg, and scratched at his ankle. Damnable wartime shortages meant that there was no such thing as a comfortable pair of socks to be had any more, and his feet were constantly distracting him with their itching.
He turned his mind back to the paper in front of him. Much of it was fairly innocent – dancing and celebrating the dawn. Harmless fun, more like Morris dancing than anything. But then suddenly in the last couple of lines, it started to talk about “the sacrifice of the perfect victim”.
Turing had flicked through Frazer at university, and knew what that meant. But surely midsummer was the wrong time of year for that sort of thing? Normally you’d do that in midwinter, to try to bring the sun back. The longest day of the year made no sense for a ceremony to bring back the light …
And a single word at the end – Barbarossa.
The whole thing had a curious flow to it. For all that the ceremony’s purpose remained opaque, there was a fascinating logic to it. He could see how every point of the ceremony led, logically and inevitably, to the next point. What it meant, he didn’t know, but there were patterns there.
Turing’s whole training, first as a mathematician and later as a cryptographer, had been designed to make him able to see patterns wherever they existed, and he did worry at times that it also led him to see patterns that weren’t really there. But this time, it was too obvious. There really was something to his intuition here.
He ran his hands through his hair, distractedly. There was a hidden pattern here below the surface. It was almost like steganography – disguising a message in a larger one, full of irrelevant noise. Unless you knew exactly which bits to pick out, it would just look like a pointless pagan ritual.
He looked through the text more carefully, trying to pick out which elements were meaningless and which meaningful. The first task was just to cut out all the waffle about cleansing lights and truth and gold. Break it down into a series of steps, like an algorithm. A mechanical task that could be performed without thought. At this time, take this implement, and wave it three times. At this time, say these words. And at the moment of dawn itself, slice the knife through the throat of the sacrificial victim.
Obviously this was nothing good – but he’d known that, already. The Nazis were hardly going to be sending Hess over with a recipe for Christmas cake, were they? The question wasn’t what repulsive methods were described in the ritual, but what the end result of it would be.
Of course, the end result would be nothing – to say otherwise would be to admit the possibility of magic – but there must be an intention, a purpose. Those Turing would find. He knew it.
He pulled out a pencil and paper and started drawing diagrams. The participants in the ritual were acting almost like the components of a machine. The chanting…that had a timing element to it, didn’t it? It was acting like a clock, to keep the ritualists in step. If these two were raising their arms at the same time, why three syllables later was this one dropping a sprig of mistletoe to the ground? (And where the hell were they going to get the mistletoe anyway, in the middle of summer?)
It was just a matter of encryption again. The creator of this ritual had wanted to accomplish a goal. He had encoded his intention in the steps of the ritual. Now all Turing had to do was work back the other way. What did those steps tell him about the psychology of the person behind it?
This was a message, but it wasn’t saying what its sender thought. Somewhere encoded in this ritual was information about the eventual aims of the Nazis in the war. Given its origin, the information this magic spell contained about the psychology of the Nazi high command could be invaluable, even if the ritual itself was an obvious nonsense.
What was the sacrifice in aid of? That was the question, and Turing had to find the answer.
This is an excerpt from my novel, Destroyer. If you like this chapter, please buy the book. It can be bought in hardback from Lulu. The Kindle and paperback editions are available from Amazon (UK) and (US). For non-Kindle ebook versions This Books2Read Universal Link will give you links for your preferred ebook retailer.