"Hut 12 says we're a complete waste of space and should all be stationed on the Outer Hebrides decoding whale song," Gordon said, morosely scribbling equations all over the messages he was supposed to be working on. "That's not very nice of them. I think they should have some Christmas spirit left, it was only the day before yesterday."
"They do have a point, at least where Archie is concerned," Charles said. "Whale song does rather resemble the sounds he makes after an evening in the pub."
"Shut it, you," Archie said. "At least Gordon and me do some work around here."
"That's what the working classes are for," Charles said, with deep and happy malice. "And it's 'Gordon and I'. Honestly, Archie. Isn't anything resembling English spoken in your native land?"
"English is spoken all over England, Charles," Gordon said helpfully. "Even in Newcastle."
"Oh, thank you very much," Archie said, as Charles sniggered. "With friends like you –"
"Let's all just get back to work and prove that Hut 12 is full of nonsense," Gordon said quickly, belatedly registering that perhaps he'd been a bit rude. "We can break these codes today, we're a great team!"
"I wouldn't be so sure," Charles said, nodding to the deep shadows behind the filing cabinets where Winstanley had built his most recent nest. "I think there's plenty of evidence that over-exposure to numbers and mathematical theory has driven you plebeians around – as I believe young people say these days – the bend."
They all looked at the mysterious shadowy depths, from whence came the sound of frantic scribbles. A page covered in arcane symbols fluttered out to lie forlornly on the scuffed floor as they all stepped back.
"Why's he working back there, anyway?" Archie said, gingerly picking it up with the designated tongs.
"Ever since I had to tell him the tables we were working from are out of date he's refused to get off his hands and knees," Gordon said. "I tried explaining I just meant the Germans had updated their code tables since we got our hands on the old ones, but he just sort of howled a bit. You know how he is." He inched closer to the filing cabinets. "Winstanley? Would you like a cup of tea?"
Another page sailed out, neatly folded into a paper plane. When it was captured and safely flattened out under protective glass, Charles peered at it over Gordon and Archie's shoulders.
"Sumerian," he said cheerfully. "He's trying to summon ancient antediluvian demons to drive the Nazis out of Norway. And to make the tea rations stretch further. It'll never work."
"On account of how demons don't exist?" Archie said with withering contempt.
"No. He's mixed in some late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian forms. Typical beginner's mistake."
* * *
"Why is everything so complicated?" he sighed, his breath clouding out before him.
"Is due to rise of international fascism," Minka said in his ear. "And perfidious invasion of Poland."
"Gah! Minka! I mean, hello, Minka! You look lovely this evening."
"Yes, is true. You are covered with goose spots."
Gordon sighed. "Yes, I am a bit goose-pimply. Hut 12 thinks we're all useless; they called me a silly kid; Archie stole the cake my Mum sent me from home and he didn't even eat it! He smashed it in Charles's face when Charles said that Communists just go around stealing private property, and then Charles yelled at me for saying "Charles's" instead of "Charles'" and Mrs. Best has been looking at me like I'm a juicy lamb chop. It can't all be down to the invasion of Poland." He looked at Minka's expression and swallowed. "On the other hand, politics isn't my strong point."
"Hah," Minka said, good humour restored, "is true also! But is Minka's strong point! Minka was political science student in Jagiellonian University in Krakow before war!"
"As well as being a nun? And, er – everything else you've done?" Gordon said.
"Yes, why not? Now, you are suffering from downheartedness, yes? So, you will become hero of hour! No smashing of cakes or laughing at grammar! You will be like Minka, no one laughs at her grammar!"
"That's because everyone is terrified of you," Gordon said.
"Is because Minka is hero of Polish resistance! You will be Gordon, hero of Bletchley!" She paused, and looked him up and down. "Well, hero of Hut 33. Come, come, we have man on inside."
"Inside where?" Gordon gasped as she grabbed his arm and towed him away.
* * *
"Pah, I am not scared of ghoulies and long-leggedy ghost dog! Oh, look at me, with my glowing ectoplasm dripping from my slavering jaws! Is sight only to frighten small Nazi children."
"You've seen the ghost dog?" Gordon whimpered.
Minka looked at him in incredulous scorn. "Is no such thing! Like ancient demons from earlier. You English! You believe in very silly things."
"How did you know we were talking about demons?" Gordon said.
"Minka was there – who handed Archie sheet of glass to put on paper?"
"Now, serious matters. You will increase rations for all of Bletchley! Good dinner for everyone! You are hero, yes?"
"Oh! Yes! Erm - how?"
Minka casually shoved the heavy filing cabinets aside and indicated the revealed quivering lump of blankets like a magician who had just pulled a six-foot rabbit from a large metal hat.
"Inside man," she said. "Wakey-wakey, Winstanley. Your pathetic country needs you."
From within the lump of blankets Gordon could see the glimmer of feral eyes reflecting the dim moonlight that filtered in through the windows.
"Hello, Winstanley," he said, "it's Gordon."
Winstanley gave him the victory sign, or at least he thought it was the victory sign. It was difficult to tell under the blankets.
"Crazy code-breaker has ear to ground," Minka said. "Knows of plans for Norway."
"Oh dear," Gordon said. "I'm not sure the spell will actually work: you see, Charles said –"
Minka sighed noisily. "Actual plans, no spell. There is raid planned tonight on industrial plant. Also, there is fish processing plant, produces giant tins of tuna. You will issue order to bring back tuna, everyone has fish for Friday dinner, you are hero!"
"Hold on, is this all a plot so that you personally can have fish on Fridays?" Gordon said.
"Yes," Minka said. "As side effect, I make team member happy. Get to work, before Minka gets to work on you."
"But how am I supposed to give orders to an operation attacking Nazi-occupied Norway?" Gordon hissed.
"You have IQ of one hundred ninety-six, you will think of something. Also, Winstanley will help. He also has very high IQ, much good it has done him. Quick, quick, we must move the cabinets again, too much moonlight has already fallen on him, is not good."
Gordon blinked. "You can't seriously be suggesting that Winstanley is a werewolf."
Minka laughed, as merrily as if she had just reloaded all her weapons and had seen some particularly obtuse Nazis. "Do not be ridiculous! Werewolf, vampire, these are Eastern European problems. Winstanley is English. Move!" She tossed Gordon towards the cabinets and stepped back as there was a sudden flurry of movement.
Gordon shrieked as a sharp-nailed hand closed on his wrist and he was dragged under the blankets. As the thick stifling darkness closed around him, he heard the sound of Minka shoving the cabinets back in place, and then the receding sounds of her whistling the Polish national anthem as she left via a secret hatch in the ceiling. He had a very bad feeling about the whole thing.
* * *
"It's your patriotic duty to show up for work, man," Archie said. "I know you think it's your patriotic duty to show up for work in Berlin, but you'll just have to make do with us."
"Come on, Archie," Gordon said. "Charles can't help who his uncle is. Or his old school chums. Or his university exchange pals. Or his pen-pals." He paused. "Actually, Charles, do you have to keep in contact with the entire upper ranks of the Wehrmacht? I'm sure they'd understand if you let things slide for a while."
"I appreciate the attempts to draw me into this argument again," Charles said, looking out briefly from behind the paper, "but really don't have the energy until the morning tea-break. I'll pencil you both in for a fight then, seeing as you have nothing better to do."
"Ugh," Archie said. "I hate to say this, but Charles is right."
"Shut up, Charles! There really isn't anything to do – the last set of codes Josh sent over were actually cricket scores he'd forgotten he took down in a briefing. We might as well play cards."
"We'd need a fourth for bridge," Charles said.
They all looked towards the filing cabinets. Gordon twitched slightly. Everything was all right, he told himself firmly. He hadn't been arrested for treason yet, and if he had an overpowering urge to chant prayers to forgotten gods in ancient Mesopotamian languages, that was perfectly natural. Well, understandable anyway. Winstanley was awfully persistent in sharing his interests if you gave him a chance.
"Let's just play Snap," he said. "Actually," he went on, as Archie dealt the cards, "Winstanley is quite interesting when you take the time to talk to him."
"Oh, aye? When would that be? In between swinging from the trees or running naked around town? I'm sure he had a lot of interesting conversations with the polis when they finally caught up with him."
"He had perfectly rational explanations for doing those things," Gordon said, rather heatedly, before suddenly realizing that it would be difficult to explain the circumstances under which he had had a chance to discuss anything at all with Winstanley. "It's, er, just that most people wouldn't understand."
"You always think the best of everybody, Gordon," Charles said. "It's one of your most irritating attributes."
"Is not so bad as being lazy-pants German sympathizer," Minka said. "Snap!" She thumped the butt of her pistol down on the stack of cards.
"Gah!" everyone shrieked.
"Minka, please," Charles said. "I have a very delicate constitution."
"Constitution will be better with plenty of fish!" Minka said and winked at Gordon, elbowing him in the side and knocking him off his chair. Gordon lay on the floor in winded astonishment. He could have sworn she had been on the other side of the table.
The door opened, allowing both a frigid blast of air and Josh to enter.
"I say, chaps, any room for another?" Josh said, tossing his cap and a heavy parcel to one side.
"Can you play poker?" Archie said.
"Then sit down, that's what we're playing."
"What is parcel, Josh?" Minka asked, when everyone was up ten shillings and Josh was feeling he was doing very well, although the rules were still quite hard to follow. "Is it giant slice of tuna?"
"Tuna? Oh, dear me, no. I haven't been able to eat it ever since my last lovely salade niçoise on the final day of my holiday in France. Something about that day just ruined it for me."
"That would be the day when you gave the classified maps to the lost panzer division?" Archie said.
Josh blushed. "Look here, the officer was a perfectly nice chap and spoke really quite good English! How was I supposed to know he was a German?"
"The uniform," Charles suggested.
"The fact he was in a tank," Archie said.
"The hordes of fleeing villagers," Gordon said.
Everyone looked at Minka.
"You are sure it is not fish?" she said. "From giant can of tuna? From Norway?"
"Norway," Josh said, the unfamiliar furrows of thought crossing his brow. "There's something important about Norway –"
"Aye, the Nazis invaded, and we try to decode their messages from there," Archie said, rolling his eyes.
"They invaded Norway as well as France?" Josh said in astonishment.
"And Poland," Minka said. "Let us not forget important countries."
"Dash it all, that's rather greedy. We should stop them."
There was a short silence, as if no one quite wanted to be the one to tell him about the war.
"We would stop them if we had fish to eat," Minka said. "Norway has fish. Has Norway sent us fish, Josh?"
Josh sat up like a bolt from Heaven had hit him.
"Good heavens, there has been a delivery from Norway! You're really very clever down here, I barely understood where it was from even when I read the name on the paper – all the "o"s had been crossed out."
"That's actually a Norwegian vowel, Josh," Charles said.
"A crossed-out "o"? Dashed peculiar. Oh, ha-ha - dashed, you see!"
"Yes, very good," Charles said, casting his eyes upwards.
Minka seized the parcel and ripped the brown paper off, glaring at it in disgust.
"Is pile of paper," she said. "Not tuna."
"It's a little New Year's gift from the boffins up in the main house," Josh said. "There was some sort of shopping trip or other to Norway a week or two ago and our lads brought this back for you. Well, a copy for every hut in Bletchley, I hear. I suppose they couldn't really find the time to get something specific for every team."
"What is it?" Gordon said, feeling that it really was too bad that the main house thought that a ream of paper was a good present for anyone.
"Oh, some German adventure novel, I think. They had to mimeograph the original to have enough copies. Let's see, what did Colonel Standring call it – the German Naval Code, I think – steady on, chaps –" Josh clung to the table as Gordon and Archie flung themselves from their chairs onto the stack of paper.
"It is," Archie breathed. "It bloody is."
"Oh, God, I suppose that means we'll be back at work," Charles muttered.
"The odd thing is that the novel would never have been found," Josh said happily, "if it hadn't been for a last-minute set of orders sent to the submarine HMS Tuna. The lads were supposed to go to an explosives facility, probably to get some fireworks for the New Year, but a fish-oil producer was suddenly included in the destination as well. And they found this! I'm glad you like it – let me know if it's any good, I might borrow it when you've finished."
"It's not actually a novel, Josh," Archie said. "It's the key to the codes we're working on."
"Oh. Well, jolly good!"
"Submarine!" Minka groaned, shaking her fists at the sky, or possibly at the impressive cobwebs that festooned the ceiling. "Another week when Minka must steal ornamental goldfish from Colonel's pond!"
"Gosh, I wonder who sent those orders?" Gordon said, feeling like a spotlight was trained directly on him, and he would soon be asked inconvenient questions in all the languages the various translators of Bletchley knew.
"Oh, they're trying to work that out, the Colonel said," Josh said beatifically, "but it's dashed difficult. It used all the right call signs, and no one can really tell where it came from. Lucky for you egg-heads, though, eh? You've got something fun to read out of it! Maybe the Colonel should have the orders sent over to you for decoding, apparently they finished with a coded message no one can work out." He scratched his head. "Well, one of the chaps in Hut 12 says it's a Babylonian spell to summon demons, but that's nonsense, surely. Those Babylonian chaps are made-up fellows in the Bible! Everyone else thinks it's an unbreakable code. You could have a look if you like."
No one moved. No one looked towards the filing cabinets.
"I'm sure you're right, Josh," Gordon said, feeling light-headed. "What rot! What does Hut 12 know?"
"Aye, if the main house says it's an unbreakable code, that's what it is," Archie said.
"I am quite sure it in no way resembles proper Babylonian," Charles said firmly, "and let that be the end of it."
"Minka has no interest in which writing system was used to compose message," Minka said, sulking.
"Excellent! Then, back to work and a very Happy New Year, Hut 33!" Josh said.
* * *