Endgame Enigma
Order by Mail
or Online

Sample Pages

Russians had been mistrusting and spying on each other for centuries, long before the abdication of the czar in March 1917 and the subsequent seizure of power by Lenin in November. Largely as a result of this kind of tradition, their officials worried about anything they couldn’t predict. They worried especially about behavior by their subordinates that they couldn’t explain to their superiors. Hence, all the way down the lines of command, the overriding formula for survival came to be: follow orders, don’t ask questions, never volunteer, and always behave predictably. One consequence was the stifling of innovation and creativity. Another was that they never—well, hardly ever—deviated from precedent. The operations analysts in Bernard Foleda’s covert section of the UDIA had established from records of previous tours of Valentina Tereshkova that the schedule, the route, and the procedures followed were always the same. This fact had been of great help in drawing up the mission plan.

As the party of a hundred or so visitors assembled from the elevators in the main central concourse at ground level, the guides divided it into a number of special-interest groups according to preferences which had been indicated in advance. Thus, all the visitors would be able to see what they wanted to without being wearied by overload and without taxing any one location unduly. Furthermore, in a way that was uncharacteristically flexible for Russians, people were allowed to change their minds and switch groups at the last moment. Invariably some did. On this particular tour it was certain that quite a few would, because they had been asked to. They didn’t have to know why.

Hence, for a while the compositions and sizes of the various groups would be uncertain. The Russians could have kept track precisely if they wanted to, of course, but not without subjecting the visitors to a lot of cattle-like herding and head-counting, which on previous occasions they had refrained from doing. It was certain, however, that the total would be verified when the whole party came together again for lunch two hours later. Thus, Paula and Earnshaw would have somewhere in the region of an hour and three quarters to complete their task and reappear by the time the groups reassembled in the central concourse before proceeding through to the restaurant.

The plan required them to leave the zone that visitors were free to move in, and the first problem was with the badges they had been given on arrival. As anyone conversant with security practices would have assumed—and checking with various intelligence sources had confirmed—the badges contained electronic microchips, which when triggered by a particular infrared transmission would transmit back a code uniquely allocated to the wearer. When sensors detected somebody about to pass through a doorway, say, the badge would be interrogated and its response forwarded to a computer that knew who was authorized to go where, and which would raise an alarm if it detected a violation.

Earnshaw and Paula drifted to the side of the central concourse. For the moment conditions were disorderly, with people milling around between the various groups, some splitting away into the short corridor nearby that led to the rest rooms, and others coming back out. Earnshaw looked around, saw nothing to arouse suspicion, and nodded. They moved on into the corridor. It was fairly broad, with the entrance to the men’s facilities lying to the right, the women’s to the left, and some doors to storage closets on both sides. Facing them at the far end was a second exit, which they knew from their briefings led to a foyer interconnecting various machinery rooms, technical workshops, and offices. A large sign above the far exit announced in several languages, no visitors past this point. There were no physical guards—shipping people from Earth was too expensive a business for them to stand around all day doing nothing—but it was clear that anyone setting off the alarm wouldn’t get very much farther before being apprehended. That was the way Earnshaw and Paula needed to go.

Earnshaw entered the men’s room and unslung his camera and satchel of accessories. A half dozen or so other men were inside, and some of the cubicles were occupied. To one side of the entrance was the white, louvered door of a janitor and maintenance technician’s closet. He looked around and overhead but could detect no sign of surveillance. According to a CIA report that he’d seen, the Soviets resorted to such extremes of snooping as concealing lenses in rest rooms only in top-security locations. This was hardly a top-security part of Valentina Tereshkova—indeed, according to the Soviet claims, the whole place was just a civilian experiment in space colonization. But on the other hand, if it really was a disguised battle platform . . . But there had to be some risks.

"Long way to come to see Disneyland, huh?" the ruddy-faced man wiping his hands by the mirror said.

"I guess this has to be the real Space Mountain," Earnshaw answered. The ruddy-faced man laughed and left.

Earnshaw locked himself in one of the cubicles and commenced his transformation. A touch of facial cream to dull his skin, some shadow to enhance wrinkles, a graying, ragged, Stalinesque mustache, and a modest application of hair whitener added a dozen years to his age. His vest, turned back-to-front, became a worn crewneck sweater; his suit reversed into a dark green, grease-stained work uniform; and a pair of false uppers changed his shoes into crumpled boots. The satchel that he was carrying wasn’t as rigid as it appeared. With its stiffening frame removed it could be turned inside out, and when the frame was put back again it became a toolbox of the kind issued to mechanics all over the colony, large enough to hold the dismantled "camera." Finally, he rubbed a trace of grime into the creases of his hands and under his nails, added a streak to his forehead, and pulled on a cap.

When the Russian steward stuck his head in the door of the rest room to check, all the visitors had left. "No stray sheep left in here?" he said to the maintenance engineer in the green uniform, who was rummaging in the closet near the door.

"They’re all gone," Earnshaw mumbled in Russian without looking round.

"It’s chaos out there this time. You know, I swear our schoolchildren make less fuss than some of those people."

"No discipline. That’s what it is."

"You’re right. Although, mind you, I wouldn’t say no to some of those American women out there. How do they afford such clothes?"

"Well, if they don’t do anything that’s worth enough to pay for them, then somebody else must pay for them. That’s capitalism."

"Give me a break. You sound like a Party hack."

Earnshaw finished putting tools into his box and turned from the closet, holding a reel of electrical wire. He had hidden his red-framed visitor’s badge in the closet and had exchanged it for an imitation blue-framed one, as worn by general workers and inhabitants of the colony. "I don’t know you," he said to the steward. "You might be KGB."

"Do me a favor! I transferred here from Landausk a few days ago."

"I see. Landausk, eh?" Earnshaw lifted a stepladder out from the closet. "I suppose we’ll be seeing more of you around here, then."

"Yes, I suppose so. Well, I’d better be getting back. See you around."


The steward disappeared. Earnshaw waited for a few seconds, and then carried the ladder out into the corridor. He positioned it in the center of the floor underneath the translucent panel covering the light, climbed up, and had just begun undoing the fastenings when Paula emerged from the ladies’ room. She was wearing a maintenance engineer’s uniform, too, now. Her face had shed its makeup, and she had acquired dark hair.

When a tubby man in a blue shirt came through from the off-limits direction a minute or so later they were hard at work, with several of the lighting tubes removed and wires trailing down from the opened panel in the ceiling. They said nothing, and the tubby man went through into the rest room. Earnshaw reached into his toolbox and handed down one of the subassemblies that the camera had come apart into. Superficially it looked like an electrician’s test meter. Recessed into it at one end, however, was a tiny lens sensitive to infrared. When the tubby man came out again and went back through the doorway, Paula aimed the unit to read the interrogation signal emitted by the transmitter above the door. It also read the response code from the tubby man’s badge, which reflected invisibly off the surrounding wall. A moment later, a sign appeared in the unit’s readout, confirming that the computer inside was set to mimic the tubby man’s code. Paula glanced up at Earnshaw and nodded.

Earnshaw came back down the ladder, and Paula plugged a lead from the unit into another meter to program it from the first. Then she disconnected it and handed it to Earnshaw. Now they each had a device that would mimic a valid response signal. Earnshaw picked up his toolbox and approached the doorway. A light on his unit flickered as he went through, indicating that it had been interrogated and had responded. Paula came after him, and hers did the same. Now they were committed. They followed the wall on the far side of the doorway for a short distance and stopped at a switch panel, where they set down their equipment and tools. Paula removed the coverplate and began loosening connections inside, while Earnshaw squatted down and made a play of searching in the toolbox while he checked the layout of the surroundings against what they had been led to expect. Two men walked by, talking, then turned a corner and disappeared. A woman came out of a door and went off in the other direction.

Paula fought to keep her hands steady and look as if she were working normally. The method they had used was far from foolproof, and it was possible, even now, that they had triggered an alarm, although there were no whooping sirens or flashing lights to indicate the fact. If the computer that the badge-readers talked to was programmed to check each individual’s movements from place to place, for example—which it possessed all the information to do—it would just have deduced that the same person had passed through the same point three times without going back again. Or perhaps the system used a one-time code for every badge, where the response changed according to a predetermined formula every time it was used. In a top-security environment, precautions like that would be routine. But the whole essence of the new plan was to avoid having to penetrate into such areas, and this location had been selected for the operation precisely because nothing of other-than-domestic significance went on there. In those circumstances, the Washington experts had pronounced—probably keeping their crossed fingers out of sight behind their backs, Paula had come to suspect only when it was too late—automatic tracking would be unlikely. As long as there was nothing to indicate that anyone had gone where they weren’t supposed to, and that no visitors were about to wander off and get lost, the computer would be happy.

Earnshaw seemed satisfied after surveying the surroundings. "Let’s go," he whispered. They had an hour and fifteen minutes.

Leaving a sign saying, in Russian, danger—high voltage, below the opened switch panel, they picked up their things again and followed a corridor out of the foyer to a metal-railed staircase. A flight down brought them to a landing overlooking a machinery bay, with a catwalk leading off and running along above it on one side. They went on down to where a narrow passage led the other way at the bottom of the stairs. A man in a white coat appeared out of the passage, stood aside and nodded perfunctorily as they passed, then went on up without giving them a second glance.

They entered the passage. After a short distance, one side opened into a gallery full of ducts, piping, structural members, and cable runs, with a bank of electrical cabinets standing in a line along one wall. The passage continued on, but they left it and picked their way through the gallery to a set of steps leading down into a shallow bay, partly screened from the corridor by the clutter of machinery they had climbed through. Three sides of the bay consisted of banks of plain metal boxes containing environmental monitoring and control computers, along with conduits bringing in signals from sensors and instruments in thousands of different locations. Although the place was normally unmanned, it contained a bench for use by service engineers when they came to perform checks or repairs. At one end of the bench was an instrument panel containing test meters, switches, a keyboard and display screen, and fitted with various supply sockets. One of these sockets was a standard type provided for the engineers to plug portable computers into to access the maintenance department’s database for reference data—with the complexity of modern systems, carrying the requisite manuals around would have required a wheelbarrow. And it was inside the maintenance department’s section of the databank that Magician had hidden the backup copy of Tangerine—the file that the whole operation was aimed at recovering.

Earnshaw took out the final section of the "camera" from his toolbox. It was, in fact, a specially designed microcomputer, with a plug that matched the standard Russian data socket. Paula pulled a stool from under the bench and sat down. She plugged in the set, connected the power lead, and activated a search routine to begin testing access routes into the system. She worked quickly, nervously, pausing to study a response on the set’s miniature screen, thinking for a second, entering a command—wanting to get it over with. Earnshaw stood behind, silent, watching the approach into the bay. There were maintenance points like this all over Tereshkova, but this one was more secluded than most. That was why they had picked it.

Paula bit her lip with suppressed tension as a hunch yielded a positive response. The maintenance department’s system used a fairly straightforward method of access codes, which was to be expected, since it contained relatively insensitive information. As another line of code appeared, opening the executive level of the file manager, she breathed a silent prayer of gratitude for Magician’s presence of mind in choosing this system to hide the file in. Or had it been simply because he worked in the maintenance department? Breaking into one of the higher-security systems, such as the research department’s, or the information bank kept by Tereshkova’s branch of the KGB, would have been impossible in the time available.

She attempted a direct request for the file. It failed. The initiating address pointer had been erased to make it invisible. She obtained a sector table, located the header she wanted, and commanded a forced read. The system acknowledged that it had the file, but demanded an access validation to release it. She supplied the code she had been given. There was a pause. Then a new line appeared, requesting an output-destination spec. "I think we’re getting there!" Paula hissed up at Earnshaw.

He turned and hunched down to peer over her shoulder. She entered another line and sat watching the screen tensely. A delay of perhaps two seconds dragged by. Then a confirmation appeared. In the same instant a line in English appeared below:

gp700 "tangerine"; stat ok: ready to read. mem des? file des? read acc?

Paula shifted the keyboard from Cyrillic alphabet to English and complete the dialogue. A final, single-word line confirmed:


She sat back, closed her eyes, and exhaled a long, silent breath of relief. Earnshaw’s fingers closed around her arm and squeezed reassuringly. She blinked and peered at the screen again, as if to make sure. The word was still there, glowing solid and jubilant. It meant that Magician’s file was being copied through to create a duplicate inside the high-density memory-crystal arrays contained in their portable device. The copying would take just a matter of seconds, and then the original inside the maintenance department’s databank would be destroyed. All that would be left then would be to get the copy home.

Content © The Estate of James P. Hogan, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.

Page URL: http://www.jamesphogan.com/books/info.php?titleID=4&cmd=sample&sample=36