Issac stared at the papers arranged carefully on the floor of his cabin. Each one bearing notes on a particular protocol of German coding. He could read the code of course, but reading the code was not the same as forging it. It was like any language. Understanding it, and pretending to be a native speaker were very different things.
Issac took a deep breath, and plugged the wax into his ears.
The loud hum of engines, a near constant since he had come aboard, was silenced. The only reminder of it, was a faint vibration in the floor. Issac smiled.
He affixed Garrett’s boondoggle to his pipe; a dome of brass with a small wheel to strike a flint safely within. Tiny valves allowed air in and smoke out while keeping the flame away from anything flammable. Though it took quite the blaze to ignite the alchemical gas that kept modern airships aloft, regulations were still quite clear about open flames aboard.
Issac turned the little wheel and sipped on his pipe. It took a few tries to get the contraption to light, but light it did, and he soon filled his cheeks with sweet Cavendish smoke.
He closed his eyes, focusing his mind on the problem. It didn’t have to be perfect. It really didn’t. Just passable.
He opened his eyes and looked at the papers again. Each notation, each code, was a puzzle piece. Here, on the floor, was the forged message, waiting to be put together.
Each message started with certain, seemingly random letters. In truth, they weren’t random at all, and determined the location the message had originated from, the operator who had sent it, and particular breed of the diplomatic code that was in use. The confirmation had to be from high enough to be beyond question, but too high would arouse suspicion. The Kaiser would be too high. The Kaiser’s personal code was only used for a select few messages sent out. Only used when relaying messages to heads of state. Unless the King of Italy would be at the meeting in Venice, the Kaiser’s own word would arouse only suspicion from the German embassy. The Prime Minister wouldn’t do either. Since the death of Bismarck, German Prime Ministers didn’t seem to do much of anything aside from attending social functions. It would work, but again, it would look strange. Things couldn’t look strange. It had to appear so normal that it could safely be ignored.
Foreign Minister then? No, not the Minister’s personal code. His office though. A high ranking staffer’s code, on duty to wait for the Italian request, relaying the Minister’s blessing. Which staffer? Issac looked around the floor, and pulled a paper near the corner.
This fellow? He was clearly a high ranking staffer, but his code was the most frequently seen. So he would be the easiest to fake, but also likely the fastest to discover the forgery after the fact. Still, anyone less recognizable would not be accepted immediately. It would have to be risked.
Office and operator were set, now the breed of code. This was tricky. German diplomatic code had an equation that had slight deviations for different purposes, but also a different ‘tone’. Issac had tried and failed to describe it any other way to an Admiral in London. For a diplomatic envoy mediating a convocation of foreign dignitaries, the tone would be formal and polite, but cautious. If the meeting went badly, the Foreign Ministry would not like to look as though they supported too strongly an incompetent. The Kaiser was known to make examples of underlings for less.
Once he had a tone, he had to pick the deviation of the code equation to convey it. This was actually the easiest part. The Language of the message had many nuances, but the math was concrete, immutable, and finite. He need only identify the appropriate variables. He opened his notebook, and he scribbled out a few additional notes, tore out the pages, and placed them precisely among the papers on the floor. He stood, trying to look at all the notes at once. He climbed onto the chair, and then tried to balance atop the small desk against the wall.
He looked down at the notes, trying looking for the patterns. He leapt down, swore as his landing scattered some papers, replaced them, and then added a few more pages from his notebook with fresh notes.
He did this three more times, then sat on his bunk, puffing at his pipe with eyes closed for a good amount of time. Diplomatic code, from the Foreign Ministry, by an operator he had just now named Gerald in his head, with the tone of a politely hedged bet.
He went through three pipes worth of tobacco, and half a notebook’s worth of paper, jotting down thoughts as they came.
Several hours later, he sat up smiling. He took the smoke of his pipe into the back of his throat, and puffed out a single gray smoke ring.
He had it.
Office, operator and deviation. The holy trinity of a forged transmission. It would need work of course, but all the pieces were coming into place now.
He pulled a clean piece of paper, and began writing up his report for the Skymarshal.