Neal Stephenson : Cryptonomicon"There is a remarkably close parallel between the problems of the physicist and those of the cryptographer. The system on which a message is enciphered corresponds to the laws of the universe, the intercepted messages to the evidence available, the keys for a day or a message to important constants which have to be determined. The correspondence is very close, but the subject matter of cryptography is very easily dealt with by discrete machinery, physics not so easily." --Alan Turing This morning [Imelda Marcos] offered the latest in a series of explanations of the billions of dollars that she and her husband, who died in 1989, are believed to have stolen during his presidency. "It so coincided that Marcos had money," she said. "After the Bretton Woods agreement he started buying gold from Fort Knox. Three thousand tons, then 4,000 tons. I have documents for these: 7,000 tons. Marcos was so smart. He had it all. It's funny; America didn't understand him." --The New York Times, Monday, 4 March, 1996
PrologueTwo tires fly. Two wail. A bamboo grove, all chopped down From it, warring songs. ...is the best that Corporal Bobby Shaftoe can do on short notice--he's standing on the running board, gripping his Springfield with one hand and the rearview mirror with the other, so counting the syllables on his fingers is out of the question. Is "tires" one syllable or two? How about "wail?" The truck finally makes up its mind not to tip over, and thuds back onto four wheels. The wail- and the moment--are lost. Bobby can still hear the coolies singing, though, and now too there's the gunlike snicking of the truck's clutch linkage as Private Wiley downshifts. Could Wiley be losing his nerve? And, in the back, under the tarps, a ton and a half of file cabinets clanking, code books slaloming, fuel spanking the tanks of Station Alpha's electrical generator. The modern world's hell on haiku writers: "Electrical generator" is, what, eight syllables? You couldn't even fit that onto the second line! "Are we allowed to run over people?" Private Wiley inquires, and then mashes the horn button before Bobby Shaftoe can answer. A Sikh policeman hurdles a night soil cart. Shaftoe's gut reaction is: Sure, what're they going to do, declare war on us? but as the highest-ranking man on this truck he's probably supposed to be using his head or something, so he doesn't blurt it out just yet. He takes stock of the situation: Shanghai, 1645 hours, Friday, the 28th of November 1941. Bobby Shaftoe, and the other half-dozen Marines on his truck, are staring down the length of Kiukiang Road, onto which they've just made this careening high-speed turn. Cathedral's going by to the right, so that means they are, what? two blocks away from the Bund. A Yangtze River Patrol gunboat is tied up there, waiting for the stuff they've got in the back of this truck. The only real problem is that those particular two blocks are inhabited by about five million Chinese people. Now these Chinese are sophisticated urbanites, not suntanned yokels who've never seen cars before--they'll get out of your way if you drive fast and honk your horn. And indeed many of them flee to one side of the street or the other, producing the illusion that the truck is moving faster than the forty-three miles an hour shown on its speedometer. But the bamboo grove in Bobby Shaftoe's haiku has not been added just to put a little Oriental flavor into the poem and wow the folks back home in Oconomowoc. There is a lot of heavy bamboo in front of this truck, dozens of makeshift turnpikes blocking their path to the river, for the officers of the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Fleet, and of the Fourth Marines, who dreamed up this little operation forgot to take the Friday Afternoon factor into account. As Bobby Shaftoe could've explained to them, if only they'd bothered to ask a poor dumb jarhead, their route took them through the heart of the banking district. Here you've got the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank of course, City Bank, Chase Manhattan, the Bank of America, and BBME and the Agricultural Bank of China and any number of crappy little provincial banks, and several of those banks have contracts with what's left of the Chinese Government to print currency. It must be a cutthroat business because they slash costs by printing it on old newspapers, and if you know how to read Chinese, you can see last year's news stories and polo scores peeking through the colored numbers and pictures that transform these pieces of paper into legal tender. As every chicken-peddler and rickshaw operator in Shanghai knows, the money printing contracts stipulate that all of the bills these banks print have to be backed by such-and-such an amount of silver; i.e., anyone should be able to walk into one of those banks at the end of Kiukiang Road and slap down a pile of bills and (provided that those bills were printed by that same bank) receive actual metallic silver in exchange. Now if China weren't right in the middle of getting systematically drawn and quartered by the Empire of Nippon, it would probably send official bean counters around to keep tabs on how much silver was actually present in these banks' vaults, and it would all be quiet and orderly. But as it stands, the only thing keeping these banks honest is the other banks. Here's how they do it: during the normal course of business, lots of paper money will pass over the counters of (say) Chase Manhattan Bank. They'll take it into a back room and sort it, throwing into money boxes (a couple of feet square and a yard deep, with ropes on the four corners) all of the bills that were printed by (say) Bank of America in one, all of the City Bank bills into another. Then, on Friday afternoon they will bring in coolies. Each coolie, or pair of coolies, will of course have his great big long bamboo pole with him--a coolie without his pole is like a China Marine without his nickel-plated bayonet--and will poke their pole through the ropes on the corners of the box. Then one coolie will get underneath each end of the pole, hoisting the box into the air. They have to move in unison or else the box begins flailing around and everything gets out of whack. So as they head towards their destination--whatever bank whose name is printed on the bills in their box--they sing to each other, and plant their feet on the pavement in time to the music. The pole's pretty long, so they are that far apart, and they have to sing loud to hear each other, and of course each pair of coolies in the street is singing their own particular song, trying to drown out all of the others so that they don't get out of step. So ten minutes before closing time on Friday afternoon, the doors of many banks burst open and numerous pairs of coolies march in singing, like the curtain raiser on a fucking Broadway musical, slam their huge boxes of tattered currency down, and demand silver in exchange. All of the banks do this to each other. Sometimes, they'll all do it on the same Friday, particularly at times like 28 November 1941, when even a grunt like Bobby Shaftoe can understand that it's better to be holding silver than piles of old cut-up newspaper. And that is why, once the normal pedestrians and food-cart operators and furious Sikh cops have scurried out of the way, and plastered themselves up against the clubs and shops and bordellos on Kiukiang Road, Bobby Shaftoe and the other Marines on the truck still cannot even see the gunboat that is their destination, because of this horizontal forest of mighty bamboo poles. They cannot even hear the honking of their own truck horn because of the wild throbbing pentatonic cacophony of coolies singing. This ain't just your regular Friday P.M. Shanghai bank-district money-rush. This is an ultimate settling of accounts before the whole Eastern Hemisphere catches fire. The millions of promises printed on those slips of bumwad will all be kept or broken in the next ten minutes; actual pieces of silver and gold will move, or they won't. It is some kind of fiduciary Judgment Day. "Jesus Christ, I can't--" Private Wiley hollers. "The captain said don't stop for any reason whatsofuckinever," Shaftoe reminds him. He's not telling Wiley to run over the coolies, he's reminding Wiley that if he refrains from running over them, they will have some explaining to do- which will be complicated by the fact that the captain's right behind them in a car stuffed with Tommy Gun-toting China Marines. And from the way the captain's been acting about this Station Alpha thing, it's pretty clear that he already has a few preliminary strap marks on his ass, courtesy of some admiral in Pearl Harbor or even (drumroll) Marine Barracks, Eight and Eye Streets Southeast, Washington, D.C. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shaftoe and the other Marines have always known Station Alpha as a mysterious claque of pencil-necked swabbies who hung out on the roof of a building in the International Settlement in a shack of knot-pocked cargo pallet planks with antennas sticking out of it every which way. If you stood there long enough you could see some of those antennas moving, zeroing in on something out to sea. Shaftoe even wrote a haiku about it: Antenna searches Retriever's nose in the wind Ether's far secrets This was only his second haiku ever--clearly not up to November 1941 standards- and he cringes to remember it. But in no way did any of the Marines comprehend what a big deal Station Alpha was until today. Their job had turned out to involve wrapping a ton of equipment and several tons of paper in tarps and moving it out of doors. Then they spent Thursday tearing the shack apart, making it into a bonfire, and burning certain books and papers. "Sheeeyit!" Private Wiley hollers. Only a few of the coolies have gotten out of the way, or even seen them. But then there is this fantastic boom from the river, like the sound of a mile-thick bamboo pole being snapped over God's knee. Half a second later there're no coolies in the street anymore--just a lot of boxes with unmanned bamboo poles teeter-tottering on them, bonging into the streets like wind-chimes. Above, a furry mushroom of grey smoke rises from the gunboat. Wiley shifts up to high gear and floors it. Shaftoe cringes against the truck's door and lowers his head, hoping that his campy Great War doughboy helmet will be good for something. Then money-boxes start to rupture and explode as the truck rams through them. Shaftoe peers up through a blizzard of notes and sees giant bamboo poles soaring and bounding and windmilling toward the waterfront. The leaves of Shanghai: Pale doorways in a steel sky. Winter has begun.
Chapter 1 BARRENSLet's set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo--which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead. As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet. In the tradition of his namesake (the Puritan writer John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in jail, or trying to avoid it) the Rev. Waterhouse did not preach in any one place for long. The church moved him from one small town in the Dakotas to another every year or two. It is possible that Godfrey found the lifestyle more than a little alienating, for, sometime during the course of his studies at Fargo Congregational College, he bolted from the fold and, to the enduring agony of his parents, fell into worldly pursuits, and ended up, somehow, getting a Ph.D. in Classics from a small private university in Ohio. Academics being no less nomadic than Congregational preachers, he took work where he could find it. He became a Professor of Greek and Latin at Bolger Christian College (enrollment 322) in West Point, Virginia, where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers came together to form the estuarial James, and the loathsome fumes of the big paper mill permeated every drawer, every closet, even the interior pages of books. Godfrey's young bride, nee Alice Pritchard, who had grown up following her itinerant-preacher father across the vastnesses of eastern Montana--where air smelt of snow and sage--threw up for three months. Six months later she gave birth to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse. The boy had a peculiar relationship with sound. When a fire engine passed, he was not troubled by the siren's howl or the bell's clang. But when a hornet got into the house and swung across the ceiling in a broad Lissajous, droning almost inaudibly, he cried in pain at the noise. And if he saw or smelled something that scared him, he would clap his hands over his ears. One noise that troubled him not at all was the pipe organ in the chapel at Bolger Christian College. The chapel itself was nothing worth mentioning, but the organ had been endowed by the paper mill family and would have sufficed for a church four times the size. It nicely complemented the organist, a retired high school math teacher who felt that certain attributes of the Lord (violence and capriciousness in the Old Testament, majesty and triumph in the New) could be directly conveyed into the souls of the enpewed sinners through a kind of frontal sonic impregnation. That he ran the risk of blowing out the stained glass windows was of no consequence since no one liked them anyway, and the paper mill fumes were gnawing at the interstitial lead. But after one little old lady too many staggered down the aisle after a service, reeling from tinnitus, and made a barbed comment to the minister about the exceedingly dramatic music, the organist was replaced. Nevertheless, he continued to give lessons on the instrument. Students were not allowed to touch the organ until they were proficient at the piano, and when this was explained to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, he taught himself in three weeks, how to play a Bach fugue, and signed up for organ lessons. Since he was only five years old at the time, he was unable to reach both the manuals and the pedals, and had to play standing--or rather strolling, from pedal to pedal. When Lawrence was twelve, the organ broke down. That paper mill family had not left any endowment for maintenance, so the math teacher decided to have a crack at it. He was in poor health and required a nimble assistant: Lawrence, who helped him open up the hood of the thing. For the first time in all those years, the boy saw what had