Bombardier O’Reilly whistled while he unscrewed the metal box on the tall post. This high in the Alps, wireless transmissions were practically impossible, and the weather was too unpredictable and severe to use Verig Radiostars. Even the self-piloting ones would just run out of fuel before they had a chance to recoup the costs. The French had tried tethers a couple times, but Imperialist insurgents in the mountains kept cutting them. No sell.
So the Germans just stuck to standard telegraph lines. The Imperialists still knocked them down from time to time, but it was far cheaper to put a log back upright than to buy a new Radiostar.
This particular pole was special though. About six months ago, British intelligence had affixed a device to intercept German transmissions. Transmissions which had been vital to Professor Quirke’s own work decoding the German diplomatic code.
It was a fine contraption. It just needed a small little tweak.
Looking again at the instructions, Garrett stopped unscrewing the side of the box, and pulled out a pen. Pulling the panel back just as far as the half-unscrewed state would allow, he slipped the pen into the gap at the top of the box, three inches from the left hand side. He heard a click.
Garrett smiled and slipped the pen back into his pocket. The explosive trap disarmed, he resumed unscrewing the box.
When the panel was removed, Garrett took a look at the whirly-gig inside, and let his whistling trail off. He took a good look at the instructions again. There were a long list of modifications to make. Dials had to be turned from whatever that setting was to whatever else down here…that doodad had to go entirely and get replaced by this boon-doggle from the ship…the wireless thingy had to be tuned to the right settings to talk to the other such thingy on the ship.
It took a few more minutes to complete the changes than O’Reilly had been led to believe, but he did get it done. He resumed whistling as he screwed the box back together. He unhooked the harness that kept him from falling off the pole, and let himself fall about ten feet before firing his jet-pack. He zipped away just as the box began clicking and whirring.
The box attached to the pole in the Alps which Bombardier O’Reilly was in the process of escaping from was a bit of ingenious device from the Third Fleet’s engineers. Normally designed to record coded German messages sent along the line and forward them to a nearby listening post for Military Intelligence. This was incredibly useful, but not what Victoria needed. The changes to the device had been a special request she’d made of the Admiral. Normally, the designs for these devices were, naturally, the strictest of secrets even to officers of Vic’s ranking in the Third Fleet. All the same, she knew she’d need access to the listening box if she wanted her plan to succeed.
So the Admiral had supplied the designs, and the instructions for the modifications she wanted. She had dispatched O’Reilly to make the changes, and now she had exactly what she needed.
Now, instead of merely listening, the device would cut off any transmission sent in known German codes from traveling down the line (which, thanks to MI’s recent breakthroughs was nearly all of them) and send it to her ship. Using Issac’s notes, they could then send an appropriate response to the device and it would send it along in the proper direction.
The beauty of it was that any uncoded traffic would carry through just fine, and the Germans wouldn’t realize anything was amiss until 0sc4r and Issac were finished in Venice.
“It’s coming through now Skymarshal,” Mr. Lal said, reading the tape as it scrolled across his station, “Looks like the request for confirmation from the German Embassy. It goes just as the Professor thought it would.”
“Send the response, Mr. Lal,” Vic nodded. Now she just hoped that Issac’s message was as expertly crafted as he claimed it to be.
Issac was starting to sweat again.
Surely it shouldn’t be taking this long, he thought. All they had to do was ring the embassy and tell them he was here. Then the embassy would telegram Berlin and ask for the confirmation. That shouldn’t take long at all.
And yet, he’d been waiting in the lounge for almost an hour now. What was taking them so long?
What if his message had been flawed? If the code was wrong, German telegram policy would be to send the message again, and see if the response was flawed a second time. Even if the Skymarshal and her people knew the German procedure, they wouldn’t know where Issac went wrong. They wouldn’t be able to fix it.
What if it was worse than that? What if the embassy just knew it was fake. What if they took one look at that message, and decided it was a fake on the spot. It was more than likely these men had been informed that the diplomatic envoy was supposed to arrive by car.
“Surely,” they would say, “the code was perfect and the Kaiser has been known to keep plans for these things very close to the chest, but there is just no possible way the Kaiser has changed the plan so drastically and not informed us.”
Or what if the message had never even gotten that far? Duodo seemed a very sharp fellow. He was suspicious, that much was clear, but was that a normal degree of suspicion for a security chief, or was Duodo on to him somehow? Issac went over their short exchange out on the runway. Had he done something to give himself away already? He had felt very good about his abilities under pressure at the time, but…
If they did suspect him, and they were going to arrest him, why didn’t they just get it over with? Why would they make him wait this long? If they did come to arrest him, what could he do? Barrington had had great faith in 0sc4r’s ability to get Issac out if things went pear-shaped, but Issac didn’t see how. 0sc4r couldn’t use a weapon, and no matter how strong it was it was not likely to muscle its way through all the soldiers (particularly those with the lightning-throwers). Maybe there was a small jetpack tucked away in that chest cavity.
Just as Issac was about to question 0sc4r concerning escape plans there was a knock on the door and Sig. Duodo briskly entered the room.
“Apologies for the delay, Herr Ambassador, the cab took a wrong turn. They’re waiting for you out front,” Duodo still looked rather suspicious, but handed Issac his false papers back. Issac took them quickly.
“No apology necessary, Signor Duodo. The inconvenience of my arrival has not been lost on me and i thank you for your indulgence,” Issac said relieved.
“Of course,” Duodo mumbled.
Signor Piero Duodo watched ‘Herr Schultz’ and his automaton intently as they left. He knew something was amiss, but everything did seem to be in order.
The man’s papers had checked out, the embassy, while a little confused, had wired their masters and found that the man was indeed who he claimed to be.
Still (and Duodo felt very strongly about this), if that man was the German envoy Duodo would eat his own hat.
“Is something wrong, Signore?” one of his men asked.
Piero Duodo mused for a moment.
“Something is very wrong indeed,” he took out his watch. Not quite 5 o’clock, “Get me Signor Baroncelli. I’d like to see him for dinner.”