The Quebec Cypher

She needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.

“As a single atom man is an enigma: as a whole he is a mathematical problem.”

– Winwood Reade


Lady Michaela was a worried woman.  Jack was missing, as was Tinkerbell.  Billy was out of contact, probably trying to get Jack out of whatever mess he was in.  Even though Robert was – technically – their boss, he’d appeared rather disinterested when she’d told him Jack and Tink were missing; all he’d seemed bothered about was finding his missing bod. Truth be told, she’d wanted to give him a sharp telling off when he’d insisted that she stop fretting: “They’ll turn up like the proverbial bad pennies they are.” And, she admitted to herself, she’d still not forgiven him for saddling her with Bunty: he should have known better than to ask her, and she should have known better than to accept.  He seemed completely oblivious that there was so much riding on all of this.  Frank’s death was serious of itself, and the summary of the Foxtrot File that Jack had shown her was enough to convince her that the simultaneous disappearance of Jack and Tinkerbell was neither a coincidence nor benign.  Maybe she needed to try again – insist he sat him down and listened to the whole story. The thing was, he might have resources that could be deployed on her behalf. Then again, he’d seemed to think that MI9 was for the chop, in this brave new post-war world.  Bravo might be reassigned, or more likely axed. Michaela noted the tension and felt the beginning of a headache clamping down. The work of Echo needed to continue; the Ahnenerbe had been a useful catalyst, but there was more at stake.

It was no good, she needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart, like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.  As a distraction, she decided that it was time to do the rounds and see what everyone was up to.  She had been a little erratic in this duty over the last few days, what with working on things for Echo, this Bunty nonsense, and of course finishing off Robert’s car. A little tour of the Manufactorium was certainly in order.

“Right!” With decisive emphasis she got up from the workbench where she had been building the prototype of an improved brake system for her electric-Bentley.  Walking out of her private office-laboratory, she energised the rune-wards and walked down the corridor.

Agnarr was working with some of the older apprentices, supervising their attempts at the carving of cuttle bone to produce delicate, detailed moulds for jewellery work.

“Suuriseppä.” In his slow, quiet way, Agnarr simultaneously acknowledged her presence, and invited her to contribute to the lesson.  She could have just stuck her oar in, of course, but Agnarr, Hildr’s husband, deserved better than that.  He and Hildr had her implicit trust, were excellent teachers, and she could not have built this Warren, let alone run it, without them.  Michaela, made a few suggestions to the awestruck apprentices, partly in order to show that she knew what she was talking about, but otherwise she was content to leave Agnarr to it.  He really did have a flair for jewellery, and other fine, precise work, which you would never have expected from his large hands and thick fingers.

She passed through various rooms where apprentices were at their daily tasks, carving wood, cutting stone, getting on with the various tasks that were required to keep the Manufactorium clean, tidy, productive, secret, safe.  Some were reading and making notes, preparing for their next prentice pieces.  All bowed respectfully as Michaela progressed through the Warren.  She spoke, even if only briefly, to everyone she passed.  She adjusted the angle of a chisel here, recommended a particular tome there, praised diligence wherever she found it.  She demanded the best of her waifs and strays, and got it, because they knew that she would always give of her all to help them grow.  She moved from the underground portion of the Warren, and climbed the steps to the main Forge, which was all that visitors ever got to see.

Juliet was working with one of the newer apprentices.  Every new apprentice learned smithing the hard way: menial labour to begin with, general assistance round the work being carried out.  The first rite of passage was to make themselves a sheath knife: they chose the design themselves, selected the stock, produced the blade and made the handle and sheath themselves.  All of this was done under the supervision of one of the journeymen, who helped with every facet – this was their test, to support without meddling.  When it came to the smithing of the blade, the journeyman had complete charge of the forge – under the watchful eye of Hildr, of course.

Hildr was at the bellows when Michaela walked in.  The fire in the hearth was glowing brightly and the iron bar was white-hot.  The apprentice – not noticing Michaela, thankfully, was looking for approval from Juliet – moved the bar to the anvil and started beating it rhythmically with a large hammer.  It was returned to the fire and the process repeated several times.  Finally, the apprentice looked critically at the blade that had been formed and, having developed confidence during his smithing, did not even look to Juliet, as he plunged his work into the quenching trough.  Clouds of steam rose up, and as he looked up he noticed Michaela for the first time.

“S…s…suuri…s…s….sepa…pa…pä!”  He stammered, panicking slightly, wondering how long that Michaela had been there.

“You looked very competent there, Pyry. May I see?”  Michaela held out a hand and the apprentice reluctantly handed her the cooled metal.  Michaela looked, first with her eyes and then she extended her sense of málmsjón to study the very crystals of the metal.  There was a temptation to skill-clean the blade before their eyes, to reveal the beautiful pattern created by the folding of the metal, but that would just be showing off, and no-one would benefit.  Instead she said:

“Very nicely done Pyry, very nice indeed.  Mrs Wilson from the village was hinting that she would like a new carving knife – you can make it.  Juliet, make sure you show Pyry how to mix the acid to etch the blade, once it has been cleaned and sharpened.”  Hildr snorted, no doubt at the thought of Juliet let loose amongst the chemicals.  Michaela continued as if she hadn’t heard.

“The cloud-form will be particularly pleasing in this blade.  If you can manage it again, Mrs Wilson will have a blade like no other – excepting in the Warren of course.”

Whilst they were looking at the new blade, nobody noticed that the fire, instead of dying down when Hildr stopped pumping the bellows, seemed to be intensifying, and was continuously changing colour, taking on hues that were unheard of in a well-behaved forge.  The flames finally settled into a vivid violet with hints of indigo and deeper purple, but flickered higher and began to curl into a circle.  Hildr was the first to notice: she looked up from her examination of the blade and spat an oath.  The others turned to see what was amiss, and in that moment Tinkerbell appeared from nowhere, emerging from the circle of fire, his battered old bag clutched to his chest.

His eyes glittered with anger and a fierce pride, but he attempted to look casual as he patted out little singed areas that continued to smoke gently, still threatening to break into flame.  As he did so, little electrical discharges in every colour of the rainbow flickered off and grounded themselves on every metal object within 10 yards, including the anvil, tools, and the blade that had just been made.  Tink looked around at the four faces, mouths still open in shock.

“No chance of a bacon sandwich, I suppose?  Touch of HP sauce, perhaps?  Pint o’ something to go with it?  Very good for rebalancing the electrolytes after dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni.”


It had taken every ounce of self-control from Michaela not to fall upon Tink to deliver the most enthusiastic of hugs but, remembering her status amongst the others just in time, she’d acted with as much nonchalance as she could muster up – “Tinkerbell, so good of you to drop in. Hildr, would you send Agnarr to me in the Warren and then join us there after you get things finished up here? Tink, come along!” Sweeping off without a backward glance, she left Tinkerbell to waggle his eyebrows at the remaining shocked faces, before following in her wake.

Once in the Warren, Michaela paced about until Agnarr knocked.


“Some of your very finest brew for my friend here Agnarr if you please”

Agnarr returned in moments carrying a large jug and a glass, causing Michaela to thank him profusely and ask if Hildr could possibly knock up some bacon sandwiches.

“Perhaps you could also ask Juliet to see cook in the house and ask for a bottle of brown sauce? My friend here has an inexplicable preference for it.”

“HP, preferably!” Tink added.

Politely inclining his head, Agnarr closed the door behind him. Having poured Tink a glass, Michaela waited whilst he drained it in one go. Raising her eyebrows, but saying not a word, she refilled it. This time Tink savoured each sip. “Mmmm, this really is an excellent glass of beer Michaela. My heartiest compliments to  … Agnarr is it? Dark, nutty and positively delicious.”  Finally Michaela allowed her mask to slip.

“Tinkerbell, it really is such a relief to see you. Jack’s still missing you know, and now Robert’s been in touch about some scientist bod that’s gone astray. Apparently it’s someone Jack knew and helped pick up in Europe.”

Mumbling through his beer Tink enquired “Mmmm, did my messages get through?”

“Yes, yes … although it took me a while to realise they were from you, but what did you mean by that date? I mean, I know its Guy Fawkes, but are you suggesting there’s another gunpowder plot?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what they’re planning, but that seems to be a key date they’re working towards. There’s a lot more I found out that night, but it was too complex to communicate … and I only had a few seconds. If I’d not been able to get back, I thought it might mean something to one of you.”

A tap at the door heralded the entrance of Hildr carrying a loaded platter of chunky bacon sandwiches. The bread was sliced generously, the bacon was crispy just as Tinkerbell liked it and the brown sauce looked rich, brown and fruity. With a slightly reproving look, Hildr placed the lot in front of Tink.

Jumping to his feet, he responded with a flourish “Bacon sandwiches is it? You have no idea how welcome these are. I’ve been positively starving for the past couple of days. Thank you my dear, this is food fit for the gods.”

Hiding a smile, Hildr nodded. “Suuriseppä, you will call if you need anything else?

“No, thank you, Hildr, this is excellent.  But perhaps you could make sure that the apprentices stay…occupied for the rest of the day?”

“Very good, Suuriseppä.  Hildr withdrew, closing the door behind her.

“Tight ship you run here, Mike bach” Tink said as he dolloped brown sauce generously on the sarnies.

Once again, Michaela had to stifle her impatience as Tinkerbell made rapid progress through the pile of sandwiches.  She returned to pacing, pausing occasionally to remove a mote of dust from a bench here, straighten a tool there.  Tink finished the last sandwich, and leaned back with a satisified sigh.  Suppressing a belch, he enquired –

“Now, what does Billy say about Jack?”

“Oh Billy says it’s not unusual, and I know he’s right, but … really … right now. It’s just … so vexing.”

Pleased that Michaela was starting to sound like her old self once more, Tink shared everything he’d learned that fateful night.  In addition to the date, there was the VLF frequency of course, and the conclusion that there might be a submarine involved somewhere.  It was building up to something, but what? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

“Oh, and it was worth disrupting all my molecules with the dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni -”

“Now that would be…let me see… quantum escape by energy control?  It’s no good trying to be mysterious, you old faker.  Nevermind, son’t look so surprised.  It was still very impressive, and the others were all suitably surprised.”

Tink hurrumphed slightly, but decided that this was not worth responding to.  Instead he drew himself up, and assumed a put upon expression.  ” As I was about to say, it was worth the effort because the jump allowed me think about the cypher they’re using.  It would normally be quite tricky, they’re using a book cypher, but with a wheeze.”

“Book cypher?”

“Yes, simple, effective, time-consuming to crack.  Each party has a book, and then you get a pair of numbers, page number and the number of a word on that page.  The papers that the courier was delivering gave the list of books to use for the next three months, a different one every week.  This week’s is ‘The Sun of Quebec: A story of a Great Crisis’.  It’s by a chap rejoicing in the name of Joseph Alexander Altsheler; if it’s like his other stuff, its a bit Boys’ Own.”

“And the wheeze?”

“Oh!  When they encode it, the offset every number using a keyword from the title.  So in this case, it’s Quebec.  So you’d split the message into groups of six letters, see, and then the first letter you add 17 to, the second 21, the third 5 and so on.  If we can get any more messages, they’ll be, heh, an open book.”

“Cledwyn Cadwalader! That is a terrible joke – and while our friends are missing too.”

“Sorry!” But he looked unabashed.

“We really do need to get hold of Billy though. Do you know how …?”

“Billy usually contacts me, not t’other way round.  There’s a few protocols Jack and I agreed for emergencies, but they might be stale by now.  Still, I’ll go up to town and see what I can find out.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“Michaela, m’dear, you’d stick out like a sore thumb in the East End. And one of us needs to be here in case Jack acts like a homing pigeon – he often does when in trouble. As I’m sure Billy’s got someone covering the garret, we’d have heard if he’d turned up there. I’ll head to the East End and ask around.  Billy will get the message and appear before too long. I promise to keep in touch by telephone. Now, can you run me to the station do you think m’dear?”

© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My primary blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics personal to me, including #ISWG reflections; I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun and my Life Coaching business is Caring Coaching. My previous general blog was Bunny and the Bloke- now in mothballs.

11 thoughts on “The Quebec Cypher”

  1. The clans are gathering – or are they? Will Tink find Billy … will Jack turn up … and wher is Charlie; morgue, hospital or hiding … will Jock and Snowy be in time? (Sorry, got a bit carried away there 🙂

    For our younger readers and the non-Brits Jock and Snowy were the sidekicks of (fanfare) Dick Barton – Special Agent a 15 minute radio programme broadcast by the BBC nightly at 18.45. It ran from 7 October 1946 to 30 March 1951. Each episode ended with a cliff-hanger, Dick Barton in peril and Jock and Snowy racing to the rescue. I had a rather thrilling theme tune.

    ” Nevermind, son’t look so surprised. ” = don’t

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blast! To the missed typo that is.

      Dare I admit that I never read (or heard) Dick Barton Special Agent (childhood in India prevented the latter, no idea on the former). Sounds fun. Is Snowy a person, or am I confusing Barton with Tintin?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. am I confusing Barton with Tintin?
        Yes! 🙂 Snowey (I got the spelling wrong first time) was one of ex-Commando Captain Barton’s wartime mates. If you want to catch up there are episodes on YouTube I think.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s annoying – I responded to this yesterday and my reply has disappaered :0(

        Theme tune is the Devil’s Galop [sic!] – killing two eductional birds with one youtube stone, here is the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain palying it, you’re welcome ->

        Dick Barton turns up on iPlayer sometimes. It can sound quite cliched today, but it was one of the shows that defined the cliche when it was broadcast. Top trivia: it was one of the most listened to programmes at the time, but one of the BBC brass didn’t like it, and so it was axed, in favour of…The Archers.

        I was going to be miffed that you’d compare Tink’s daring escape to “with a bound he was free”, but on rereading your original comment, I realise that the context is different, so I’ll forgive you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What? No bacon sandwiches to the station?

    I like the use of Welsh: yes, I copied and pasted into Google Translate. Some fantasy stories just go overboard with creating names and language that (to me) sometimes gets in the way of the storytelling/character development.

    I was in Wales a number of years ago. I was going to be spending a month in London (Graduate program with NYU), and wanted some alone time without a group. Spent a week there and it was worth it. Met some really nice people, traveled around by bus and walking, and just had a great time. Had my first (and only) proper breakfast.

    Thanks to Alan for the reference info. I have lived in New York City my entire life, and many of the GB references I have to look up, which I find fun. Not sure about the brown sauce, though.

    Hwylio Tale

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brown sauce is absolutely de rigeur with bacon sarnies (sandwiches). Some people choose ketchup, but …

      Your Welsh experience sounds far more pleasant than mine. The area I visited was simply beautiful and had the best sandy beaches I’ve seen in this country as well as gorgeous ice-cream coloured houses lining the coastline. But it was summer and we were staying in town where all the young ‘uns partied. It was a case of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and I had my worst ever hangover as a result. Never again …

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I have to admit that I used Google translate for the phrase so it might not be completely kosher – but I thought it was a nice Easter egg for Q. Q is always one of those that requires extra thought when you have a layer of theme on top of the AtoZ.

      Brown sauce is a must.

      Liked by 1 person

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